§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
I asked a Question of the Prime Minister yesterday as to whether he would give a day for the discussion of the Motion standing on the Paper relating to the loss of His Majesty's ship "Hampshire," and he gave a reply which was not only extremely unsatisfactory, as I shall be able to indicate to the House, but a reply that was not strictly in accordance with the facts. It is very well known to hon. Members of this House and the Government that not only is there a great deal of public feeling with regard to the extraordinary meagre reports that have been issued in the Press with regard to the circumstances attending the loss of the "Hampshire," but I believe I am correct in saying that the feeling of hon. Members of this House is demonstrated by the unusually large number of signatures that have been given to a Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). It 52does seem 1797 to me that, apart from any other consideration, in view of the feeling that there is amongst the public, and amongst hon. Members of this House, the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government ought to accede to the request that I made, and ought to give the House a day for discussing the Motion and allowing hon. Members to put forward and urge the reasons why they think there ought to be a public inquiry of some kind into the loss of the "Hampshire."
It seems to me that the Government is apt to forget that the loss of a vessel like that is a matter which in this case cannot be said to have anything to do with the disposition of the naval units connected with the War. It might, to all intents and purposes, have been a private steamer, but, as a matter of fact, it is a very rich possession of the country paid for by the taxpayer. If the Government can show that any further public inquiry into the loss of the "Hampshire" would really have a prejudicial effect upon our operations in the War, I am sure I and every hon. Member would support them if we believed that to be true. But, as that is not true, there is no reason why, under the circumstances, there should not be the usual court martial upon the loss of that vessel. I think there is a little misunderstanding as to what the First Lord of the Admiralty did say at the latter part of last year with regard to the policy which he on behalf of the Admiralty, proposed to follow during the War. On the 10th November last the First Lord of the Admiralty said:The tradition of the Navy is, as my hon. Friend suggests, that whenever a ship is lost, a court-martial should be held on the survivors. We desire to adhere to the spirit of that as far as the public interests and the conditions of modern naval warfare will allow.That: is a perfectly proper and intelligible view for any Minister to take, and if the right hon. Gentleman himself is prepared to state in this House, in view of the state of public feeling, that the Government are convinced that it is contrary to the interests of this country and the prosecution of the War, to do what I suggest, for my part, and I am sure on the part of other hon. Members, we would be ready to accept such an assertion. However certain one feels that such an investigation would not have any effect upon the prosecution of the War, if any Minister of the Crown assured the House and the country that there was some element of danger in having a further inquiry, everyone of us would be satisfied without putting any further 1798 question. I am not going into the details, but I have felt a little aggrieved at the answers which I and other hon. Members have received with regard to the loss of the "Hampshire," because those answers have been so very evasive. I have got a number of them here, and they all indicate one of two things, either an unwillingness, which may or may not have good reasons at the back of it, to tell this House and the public a few of the simple facts on questions which are most concerning their minds; or else if it is not an unwillingness, it shows a lack of knowledge of the real circumstances attending the loss of this boat and the circumstances which were presumably dealt with at the inquiry held some time ago. There are many disquieting rumours going round, and they are getting worse, and there is great anxiety as to whether the real facts with regard to the loss of this vessel have been properly inquired into and determined; and it is because I believe myself that there is good and fair reason, because the public have this feeling of anxiety, that I feel it my duty to raise this question here to-night. We have been officially informed, on the strength of the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, that the "Hampshire" struck a mine. If that is so, I cannot understand what information of value could be given to the enemy, or how our operations in the War could be prejudiced by, at any rate, a brief statement of the evidence or the facts which leave no doubt in the mind of the Commander-in-Chief and the Admiralty that the "Hampshire" actually did strike a mine.
I have asked a question as to whether the sea was swept, and I have been refused any information. I think the right hon. Gentleman did say that it is clearly impossible, in the naval interests, to make any statements about the precautions taken by the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet for the protection of the ships in his command. Nobody asked for any such information. I asked whether the sea was swept for mines at the particular spot where the "Hampshire" went down. That ship is so detached from ships in military operations that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is justified in defending himself in this way, and I think he might tell us whether the seas were swept or not. The House knows quite well how extremely difficult it is for any Member of this House to get really dependable information. The survivors of the "Hampshire" did not agree in their own minds that the 1799 ship was destroyed by striking a mine which would be floating about in the sea, and that view is certainly not accepted by a very large number of the public. The first thing that created a deep interest in my mind with regard to the loss of this boat was this. The boat was lost on Monday, 5th June, at eight o'clock. At about two on Tuesday the information was made public through the Press, and before that evening had closed the Press were given information which showed that it had been determined to have a memorial service at St. Paul's in memory of Lord Kitchener. That was before the War Office could reasonably know whether Lord Kitchener had at that time met his death or whether he might not have been saved. Why that precipitous haste to have a memorial service at St. Paul's? What did the authorities know on the evening of Tuesday, 6th June, which made them certain beyond doubt that Lord Kitchener could not possibly have been saved? So far as we and the public are concerned, we have no direct evidence even now that Lord Kitchener is dead, though let me say that I do not for one moment suggest or myself hold the view that he is alive. I say, however, that it is not quite so foolish as some people might think to point out that there is no direct evidence that Lord Kitchener is dead. Yet that memorial service at St. Paul's had been arranged, by the authorities within some four or five hours of the public being made aware of the fact that the vessel had been lost.
I turn to another point that has created some anxiety. There was one very distinguished public servant, Colonel Fitz-Gerald, whose body was recovered. His relatives were allowed to receive his body for burial. An enormous number of bodies were recovered. Why was this one distinguished officer's body allowed to be returned to his family and buried at Eastbourne and no opportunity given for ether bodies to be brought home and buried in the family vault or wherever the relatives might desire? The matter is worse than that, because in some cases where the body was recovered on Tuesday, 6th June, the relatives were not informed that the body had been recovered until 24th or 25th June. The Admiralty presumably knew on the 6th or 7th. Why did they take nearly three weeks before they notified the relatives of the deceased officers on the 1800 "Hampshire" that the bodies had been recovered? It is one of those things that prompt questions when one's mind is a little perplexed as to what has been going on. The Admiralty even now have in their possession letters and articles of every description that were taken off the bodies of officers and members of the crew on 6th and 7th June. They have not yet returned them to the relatives. I want to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to another point. To my mind it is one of the most disturbing facts in connection with this deplorable tragedy. At two o'clock on Tuesday, 6th June, the public were first informed of the loss of this boat. That evening the Admiralty posted separately typewritten letters to the supposed widows of officers and members of the crew of the boat. I do not know how they did it. I cannot understand how they could do it in the time. Numbers of letters, separately typewritten, were on the evening of 6th June posted to the relatives of officers and members of the crew notifying the supposed widow that her husband had been lost, when they could not know, and did not know, as I can prove. They properly expressed their deep regret at the intelligence, and offered profound sympathy. A form of application for a widow's pension was enclosed. This was all done before they knew whether the man was dead or not. It was sent to women whose husbands were not dead and whose husbands have been saved. I cannot conceive a more brutally callous thing that any Government Department could do. But leaving that aside, how was it that the Admiralty were so certain before Tuesday evening had passed? What did they know which the public are not being told to-day about the loss of that boat? How were they so certain that every member of the crew was dead and beyond call that they were justified in sending this deplorable letter to women whom they regarded as widows and who they were sure in their minds were widows? In some cases they were not widows. In one, at any rate, I can give to the right hon. Gentleman, she was not a widow, because on Thursday she received a telegram from her husband saying that he had been rescued. That was one inexplicable event in connection with this tragedy.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions. First of all, is it a fact that in some cases either the 1801 clothing or the bodies showed signs of burning by acid? People who saw the bodies when they were recovered declare that was so, and I want the right hon. Gentleman, if he will, either to tell us it is true or, if it is false, to deny it. I am not quite sure about the laws of Scotland, but I think I am right in suggesting that in England, at any rate, any bodies washed ashore under any circumstances must have an inquest held upon them. I think I am right in saying, however, that there was no coroner's inquest held upon the bodies that were recovered from the "Hampshire." I want to ask another serious question—whether one of the survivors is at present under arrest in the care of the Admiralty? If so, is that man under arrest for an offence in connection with the loss of the "Hampshire"? Many people are asking whether the ship was or was not a fit boat to go to sea. Was it a fit boat for the Admiralty to charge with the commission of taking Lord Kitchener and his staff to Russia? Am I wrong in suggesting that some very curious events happened in connection with the "Hampshire," known to the Admiralty, in the months of December, 1915, and January and February, 1916? Have the Admiralty any reason to believe that there has been some member, or that there have been some members, of the crew of the "Hampshire" during these three months who on more than one occasion have committed acts to show that there were dangerous elements aboard? I do not want to go into details, and I do not think it wise to say too much—
I shall be very pleased. I do not think there can be any harm actually. I will ask whether it is a fact that in either January or February the "Hampshire" went for gun trials in the North Sea, and that the guns on one side of the vessel could not be fired? A wire had been maliciously cut, and I believe some form of inquiry was held in connection with that. Another instance I can give is that while the ship was in the neighbourhood of Belfast, I am informed, two members of the crew were found to be unsafe, and I believe I am right in saying that strict measures were taken in dealing with them. But about the end of January, or the first week in February, a member of the crew of the "Hampshire" had leave, and there is one case at any rate which I can substantiate up to the 1802 hilt, where this man, who I believe was only nineteen, and named Northover, told his parents and friends when he said "Good-bye" to them that he never expected to come back because there was something wrong with the ship. The right hon. Gentleman will be able to trace that name, if I am correct in giving it, and he will be able to ascertain whether there is proper foundation for the statement that I have just made. We have had a few, very few indeed, reports in the papers—I mean unofficial reports in some of the papers. For instance, in the "Weekly Scotsman" there was a report of an Aberdeen trawler, named "Effort" being close by. I want to know whether there has been any inquiry—the Prime Minister was so satisfied when he replied to me in the House that there was no necessity for any inquiry—and whether any members of the crew of the trawler "Effort" were at that inquiry. Then there is the supposed Dutch vessel, in another case of which we read, which was close to the "Hampshire" when she went down. If that is not true, then the House ought to be assured of that by the Government. If it is, has the Admiralty got to the bottom of why the vessel was there? Were members of the crew of that supposed Dutch vessel present as witnesses at the inquiry which was held? Then, again, was any evidence taken at that inquiry of any people who were on the shore? Was the evidence of any witnesses from the destroyers that were sent out, taken?
Speaking of the destroyers leads me to another statement, and that is that on one of the rafts which got away from one of the ships a searchlight was thrown. I do not know where that searchlight came from. It may have been from one of the destroyers, and it is quite conceivable that the destroyers were there that they might see the rafts, but that it might be impossible to make any attempt to do anything for the men on them, who might be making for the shore, and, as it is an extremely dangerous coast, the destroyers might have had to keep off. I do not make any suggestion that if it was a searchlight from one of the destroyers those vessels could have made any attempt to rescue the large number of men from the raft; but I do lead to this suggestion, that it appears to me that the naval authorities at Stromness, when they knew of the loss of the vessel at 8.35 that night, and when, if it is correct, as I am informed, a searchlight was thrown on one 1803 of the rafts with the men on it—did the naval authorities at Stromness take all reasonable and adequate precautions for the sending out of rescue parties all round this coast to help the men who had got off on the rafts, and were trying to make for this very rocky coast. These twelve survivors we have had enormous difficulty in getting ashore at all, I am informed, and only two were able to get ashore, and they were many hours before they could find any adequate help, either to assist them or their colleagues on that raft, let alone search parties, which I think should have been sent out, if they were not, by the naval authorities who might have done something to rescue some of the men on other rafts, or more men from that raft that did reach the shore.
There is one other point, and I am extremely glad that the Home Secretary is here to-night, because last week I made a statement in the House that the Press Bureau had issued three instructions to the Press. I will take only the most important to-night. The third was that the Press Bureau instructed the Press not to report or to refer to the fact that Lord Kitchener would embark on the "Hampshire" at a point four miles north of Stromness. The right hon. Gentleman later, when he spoke, said he had caused a message to be sent to the Press Bureau, and that he was happy to inform the House that my statement was absolutely false. I must plead ignorance in not appreciating the distinction between the Press Bureau and the Press Censor. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in saying—which I did not know at the time—that the Press Bureau had not given any such instructions to the Press. I have had the matter further looked into, and I find it was not the Press Bureau but the Press Censor. I allege again to-night that the Press Censor did—
I do not know whom the hon. Member means. The censorship is conducted at the Press Bureau.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am extremely glad to know that, because I have not been able to make clear what is the difference between the Press Censor and the Press Bureau. So I take it, from what the right hon. Gentleman says, that the Press Bureau includes the Press Censor, more or less, and that it comes under his jurisdiction. In that case, the denial that the 1804 right hon. Gentleman gave me a week ago to-night clearly referred to the Press Censor. I have had the matter looked into, and I am assured on evidence which neither he nor I can dispute that the instruction did come, and that it is on the files of the leading papers to-night.
The hon. Gentleman must produce his evidence because, not only did I receive information from the Press Bureau that nothing of the sort was done, but as the "Times" did not publish the statement the Press Bureau wrote to the "Times," and they next day inserted that specific statement. I have seen it, not merely on the telephone message, but in writing.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has accurately what the "Times" said. The "Times," last Saturday, on its middle page, said, I think, that "they had been asked to state"—they did not say they had their own authority for stating it—that they had been asked, I do not know by whom, and they did not say by whom. I saw it, because my attention was drawn to it. I do not know who had given them the instruction, and it made no particular impression on my mind. But I do say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am assured by a person who has seen and knows these instructions, a person whom I have seen since, and who swears to me as solemnly as any man can, that he did see the instruction on the file—and that it is there now, unless it has been removed since—of one of the leading papers in London. Let me say that if the right hon. Gentleman says that I am wrong in that information—
§ Sir R. COOPER
I must accept that now. Of course, if I am wrong—it is very hard for me to believe it, but I must accept that statement, it is obviously dangerous for any Member of this House to make a statement like that that has no foundation. Therefore, on the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman gives me, that it is not true, I am at any rate not so lacking in faith in him, and other members of the Government, as not to apologise and to withdraw it. It is a matter of great importance to me, but I apologise and withdraw it. Having dealt with that there is another important matter to which I must refer. There are a very large number of question which hon. Members will probably 1805 think might be raised, but it is extraordinary that two German papers, the "Berliner Tageblatt" and the "Leipziger Nachrichten," should both have stated, I think I am right in saying, on that day that they knew that Lord Kitchener was dead. They had his obituary, and they said they had anticipated his death, because they knew he was going to Russia, insinuating, although they did not say so, that they knew before he left this country that he was going to perish. That is the obvious insinuation. We all know quite well that the Germans, if it suited their purpose, would say anything. The only impression this makes upon my mind is that I cannot conceive any possible purpose the German papers had to serve in making such a statement as that. It could do them no good; it could not deceive their own people. It is a curious fact that they had it the next day, or the second day, with a long history of Lord Kitchener's life. They evidently had it all ready. I cannot conceive what purpose they could serve by stating that they knew he was going to perish. The Admiralty, at any rate, are getting wise in time, because immediately after the loss of the "Hampshire" they suddenly issued new and very much more stringent instructions with regard to the freedom of people going to and from the Orkney and Shetland Islands. On the 7th October, the Wednesday, they announced by the following Order:The Admiralty are of opinion that, in view of the public safety and the defence of the Realm, it is desirable to impose restrictions on persons proceeding to or from ports of the Orkney Islands—There is more of it. Nobody is going to read that without connecting it with the event of the "Hampshire."
§ Sir R. COOPER
I meant June. It was a day or two days after they knew of the loss of the "Hampshire." It is impossible to read the Order of that date without the suggestion coming to anybody's mind that the loss of the "Hampshire" had shown them that their own precautions were not strong enough. What for? Preventing spying; nothing else. It is a very logical conclusion. To what other conclusion can we come? That is the conclusion I draw, and the conclusion a great many other people draw. 1806 These are all the points I am going to raise to-night. Take any one of them alone, or take any two of them alone, it might not be sufficient to establish a case for a further public inquiry into the loss of this boat. I submit that, taking the points I have mentioned—there are many other points, including that of the destroyers returning, and points that have occurred to hon. Members and to the public—taking all these points together, it is impossible to resist the feeling that the whole of the facts relating to the loss of that boat are not known, and that the public have a full right to know more accurately and to be informed really of what is known of what did take place, what is the evidence of those who were called, and what led the Admiralty to the certainty that the "Hampshire" struck a mine. I would ask hon. Members of this House to picture for a moment what would have happened supposing, for the sake of argument, that instead of Lord Kitchener it had been the Prime Minister himself who had been on board. Does anybody believe that this House would have been content to leave this matter where it is, that it would not have insisted upon a public inquiry and on knowing more about the circumstances in which a leading Member of this House had lost his life? I am certain that every Member would. I am certain I would, and I am certain that everybody on this side would. Why should we not do the same for Lord Kitchener? It does drive one to the conclusion that, in the opinion of the Government, Lord Kitchener's death is not worth even a public inquiry or court-martial. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" and "Withdraw!"] I know hon. Members do not like such a statement as that, but here is the nation losing—I do not want to exaggerate—at least one of its greatest men. If you ignore some of the serious things I have put forward, and if you look only at the reports which have been published, there are circumstances which, in the average mind, make people say, "I do not understand this," or, "I do not understand that." That is what people are saying and feeling. People want a public inquiry into it. You have the evidence of the Order-book that a large number of Members of the House feel that justice has not been done in the information which has been given, and I want to appeal once more to the right hon Gentleman that he will represent to the Government and to the Prime 1807 Minister himself that, taking one thing and another, it would be in the public interest, if only to remove the rumours which are going about the country.—[Interruption.]—They are going. They are being hinted at in the Press, and there is more than one largely read journal at present threatening to expose them all. They are doing it. I have no connection with them, but they are doing it. I see them and they are brought to my notice. If these papers are wrong and men like myself, who stand here and ask these questions and make certain suggestions, are wrong, it is in the interest of the country and it is the duty of the Government to prove to the people that we are wrong and to satisfy history and satisfy the people who are coming after us that the circumstances under which Lord Kitchener met his death and the "Hampshire" was lost are justifiably credited to the striking of a mine, which the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet has stated in his official report is, in his judgment, the cause of the tragedy.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
The hon Baronet is obviously quite sincere and convinced of the truth of the statements which have been submitted to him and by him repeated to this House, and it is possible that after my reply he may remain of the same mind. His sincerity is beyond doubt.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
All I can do is to hope that I can carry conviction to him in the statement that I have to make. He has complained of lack of information. Let me remind him that the first communiqué was on 6th June, apart from the publication of the names of the twelve survivors; the second was on 10th June, and the third, which was a full summary of the report of the inquiry into the loss of the "Hampshire," was published on 15th June. I do not know what more could have been done and I stated to him on 22nd June that a Committee of Inquiry would be held by order of the Commander-in-Chief immediately the survivors could be got together. I stated in reply to a question on 27th June that the inquiry was held at a naval base under the presidency of a captain of the Royal Navy. It was, of course, a full and careful inquiry, each survivor being examined. The Court found, as was stated 1808 in the communiqué issued by the Press Bureau on the 15th, that the vessel struck a mine, and the hon. Baronet knows that a communiqué of 15th June summarised the report of the circumstances which followed the striking of the mine.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Then the hon. Baronet complains that the Prime Minister has replied to him to the effect that he will not hold a further inquiry. That is the answer which was given yesterday. All I can add to that is that I cannot see what useful purpose could possibly be served by collecting the survivors together and taking them away from their proper duties in order to repeat, in effect, the proceedings to which I have already referred, and to which the Prime Minister has referred the hon. Baronet. As regards the alleged conflict of view amongst the survivors as to the cause of the sinking of the ship—an allegation twice repeated by the hon. Member—there is no such conflict. I have read the evidence. It is quite true that some of them would not venture an opinion, which is quite natural, but all who did stated that their opinion was that it was due to a mine. It is not true to say that there is any conflict of evidence. That is the judgment arrived at by the Court, and concurred in by the Commander-in-Chief and Board of Admiralty.
There are one or two other points on which the hon. Baronet desires a reply. He says that Colonel Fitzgerald's body was brought to Eastbourne, but that the bodies of the poor unfortunate sailors were not taken to their homes for burial. I will certainly inquire whether there was anything different from the usual proceeding. So far as I know the usual proceeding would be followed, that where any request is preferred the body shall be transferred to a place of burial near the home of the deceased person. I have not the faintest reason to suppose that any differentiation of any kind applied to this case. The same remark is true as regards the effects. The hon. Baronet says that the effects have not been sent home yet. That may very well be, but there is no sinister reason why they should not have been sent home. The explanation may be that the Department which deals with these matters is simply doing its work in its ordinary way, and will send the effects home in the ordinary 1809 way. If the hon. Baronet says they are being held back for some reason or other, I am entirely unable to see what he is trying to suggest.
§ Sir R. COOPER
The Admiralty have had them in their possession for one month. Why do they want to hold them for a month, when these effects mean so much to the widows and relatives of these men?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I agree. It is our policy to send home the effects of deceased sailors as soon as we can. I want the hon. Baronet to understand that there is no sinister reason why they should not be sent home as quickly as possible. I will look into the matter. It may very well be that there may be administrative necessities which would take a month. The hon. Baronet also complains that we issued notices on the night of the 6th June. That was a day after.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Notices were posted to the effect that those who had lost relatives would receive whatever financial consideration was due to them. That was on the night of the day after the occurrence. The only thing that strikes me is that the Department acted with such despatch in this case. Of course, it is desirable that we should get into touch with the relatives as soon as possible, and the hon. Baronet would be the first to complain if we did not do so. I have no knowledge of the precise moment when the notice to the relatives was posted as to what was due to them in the way of pension and so on, but I will make inquiry. My hon. Friend says that some of the bodies showed traces of burning. I have never heard of that, but I will make inquiries. I do not know whether the suggestion is that there must have been some foul play on the ship, but at any rate, if he wants to know whether we can say if any of the clothing was burned and why, I will inquire. My hon. Friend asks whether one of the survivors is now under arrest by the Admiralty, and apparently he suggests some reason or other in connection with this tragic event. Is that what the hon. Baronet means?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I really wish that my hon. Friend would give me something to go on, and I will promise to do my level best for all I am worth to get at the facts. But here is a survivor, we are told, under arrest. I do not know; I hope that it is not so. I hope that he has not been misbehaving himself. Does the hon. Member suggest that this man is under arrest because of something in connection with this tragic event? Because otherwise it has nothing to do with the case at all, even if he is under arrest. But I will inquire. I want to clear up the point. Then the hon. Member made a series of statements about discipline on this particular ship during some earlier period. Again I know nothing about that, but I will inquire. He even mentioned a particular name. Is the suggestion that there was some evil influence in connection with this particular ship?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I will make inquiry about the matter. Then my hon. Friend says, "Has it not been said in the papers that there was a Dutch trawler about?" Certainly I saw it in the papers myself, and I went back to the office and asked if anything was known about it, and nothing was known. Then my hon. Friend asked about the destroyers. I inquired about that, because a question was asked me about them before. They were detached on account of the very heavy seas. The destroyers and patrol vessels were sent out afterwards, because in an emergency no matter what occurs they would try to save life, but I do not see how it can be said that the destroyers could in any way assist an inquiry into the cause of the disaster. The hon. Member asks why were the people not satisfied upon the matter some time before. I would remind him, if he takes such an interest in the matter, that when he complains that nothing was sent out, he should have read what was sent out. He should have read the communication which was sent out on the 10th June. Of course he read it, but he has forgotten it. On the 10th June the information was sent out that destroyers and vessels were immediately dispatched, and search parties were sent out to work along the coast. You cannot overlook important matters of that kind, that destroyers and vessels were dispatched and that search parties were sent out to work along the coast. I hope I have dealt with the whole of the points. 1811 I have inquired before as to suggestions made by the hon. Baronet, and he knows that.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I do not suppose that I can shake the hon. Member's belief that there has been some espionage in connection with this. I think he may finally dismiss that from his mind, though I do not suppose I can bring conviction to his mind. There are times in which it is our duty to overlook no possibility, no matter how remote, and to resist no suggestion however obviously fantastic, and all I can say is that those responsible are doing everything possible in the direction of care and discipline, and doing it unceasingly and unrestingly.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I endeavoured to persuade my hon. Friend not to raise this question on the Adjournment. I think this House is an unsatisfactory tribunal to try grave charges, and I think that some of the charges that have been made are very vague. We have a Motion for inquiry which raises our case on quite different lines. I will take the charge to which the hon. Member referred as to the record of Lord Kitchener's life having been prepared beforehand. I remember that eight or nine years ago I was asked to write the obituary notice for filing of a distinguished Admiral who is still living, and I hope will do so to a very ripe old age. The twenty-eight members who have put down a Motion rest their case on the broad lines, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that it has been the invariable rule, without a single exception, extending over two centuries up to the year 1907, to have a court-martial whenever a ship is lost, and the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the previous First Lord of the Admiralty was justified in the House of Lords on the ground that there were precedents for not holding courts-martial in sixteen cases between 1815 and 1841. I obtained the names of these ships which constituted precedents, and I submitted my proofs in sixteen separate questions that in each case there was a court-martial except where there were no survivors to bring before a Court. I think the Admiralty have accepted my researches as accurate, and I am glad that the Secretary of the Admiralty agrees that that is so. I think a Court of Inquiry is nothing like so satis- 1812 factory a tribunal as a court-martial. You have a court of inquiry about an anchor or about a Whitehead torpedo, and in the case of the "Hampshire" you had a Court of Inquiry. Surely the Admiralty would not class the "Hampshire" and, most of all, Lord Kitchener, in the same category as a piece of iron. If you had held a court-martial it could have been held in secret, but we would have known that the case had been properly tried, since the members of the Court, as well as the witnesses are on oath, and tradition makes them a very independent body. I think one of the reasons why the Admiralty of late have taken a dislike to courts-martial is that courts-martial have been known to bring in verdicts blaming the Admiralty. There was a court-martial in the case of H.M.S. "Captain" on the few surviving men, which blamed the Admiralty, and there was another, of which the Member for Portsmouth was a member, in the case of the loss of the "Cobra," which also blamed the Admiralty. I do not think the Admiralty liked that and that that is one of the reasons why they are extremely anxious to get rid of courts-martial. So invariable has been this habit of holding courts-martial in the case of every ship lost that the Order for a court-martial bore the words "Pursuant to the custom of the Navy to inquire into the loss of the said ship." When this question was raised by the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition, now Secretary of State for the Colonies, said, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, they regretted the facts that courts-martial were not being held to inquire into the loss of each ship, and that that was a bad departure. I presume he spoke for the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty, as one of his followers. He said he spoke on behalf of all his colleagues. His words were:I have discussed it with my colleagues, and we all feel—I am speaking of my colleagues on this side of the House—that, so far as we can judge, this is a bad departure. We would like to see a reversion to the older practice. Having said that, we can say and do no more.That is my opinion. I am not prepared to listen to all the yarns brought to me. One hears all sorts of yarns. Recently there has been a column in the newspapers about His Majesty's ship "Hampshire" and the Battle of Jutland. Some of us know that the "Hampshire" was never in the Battle of Jutland: yet there was a column account by a bluejacket stating what had taken place on board 1813 His Majesty's ship "Hampshire" at the Battle of Jutland. If you tell me you have not time to hold these courts-martial I will quote Sir Michael Culme-Seymour:There were plenty of courts-martial in the old wars, and there is no difficulty whatever in holding them now.I believe it is a common occurrence to-day to have courts-martial in disciplinary cases now. I make no charge against the Navy in regard to the "Hampshire," because I know nothing about it. I plead for a court-martial. Least of all would I make any charge or raise this question—and I am very sorry it has been raised on the Adjournment—on an evening when dispatches are being published of a victory which has won imperishable fame for our Navy from the highest to the lowest.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter before Eleven o'clock till Monday next, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February.