HC Deb 27 February 1917 vol 90 cc1983-6

Resolution reported,

"That 400,000 Officers, Seamen and Boys, Coastguard, and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea and Coastguard Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I regret that I must ask the House to return for a very few moments to a subject which was raised in the course of the discussion on the Committee stage. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. Meux), in the course of his speech, made reference to two matters connected with the past naval administration which reflected on various officers in the Service and which require a brief mention from me this evening. My hon. and gallant Friend dealt, first of all, with the question of the removal of Admiral Hood from the Dover Command, and he sugguested that this removal was part of a policy of proscription pursued by Lord Fisher. There is absolutely no-truth whatever in the accusation. It is a pure invention, and there can be no-difficulty whatever, if research is made, in proving that fact by reference to the documents in possession of the Admiralty. Admiral Hood was a most brilliant and charming officer, and he had distinguished himself in all the operations in November, 1914, on the Belgian coast. Early in 1915 I formed the opinion that a sea-going command would be more suited to his abilities and special qualities than the peculiarly complicated and tactical conditions which prevailed in the Straits of Dover. There we were endeavouring to organise a great trap for submarines and there we required not only the skill and daring of a naval commanding officer of experience, but the technical skill of an inventor and the special aptitude of an officer accustomed to improvisation of all kinds. At any rate, it was decided to make this change. I was the person responsible and not Lord Fisher. He had nothing to do with it at all, except that I obtained his general concurrence. I was the person responsible for removing Admiral Hood from the Dover Command and of appointing in his stead Admiral Bacon. Admiral Hood was given an appointment at sea, and almost immediately afterwards it was possible to appoint him to the command of a Battle Cruiser Squadron, and that I did. After all, he was naval secretary to me for a year at the Admiralty, and I think I knew his views and wishes. A sea command was far more congenial to the temperament of this gallant officer than working out the extremely technical and scientific problems connected with the Dover Straits. At any rate, he went away with the Battle Cruiser Squadron, and in that command he perished most gloriously in the Battle of Jutland, adding renown to the ever-famous name he bore. In his place Admiral Bacon took up the command of the Dover Patrol, as it was then called, and he has held it ever since under two totally different successive Boards of Admiralty for over two years. He has held it, I believe, with the entire confidence of the different chiefs under whom he has served. To make out of this case a charge of proscription or intrigue or favouritism is not only grossly unfair, but a mental process which does contact with truth at any point however remote.

The other point which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend was that connected with appointments of Admirals of the Fleet. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that a special change was made in the method of appointing Admirals of the Fleet at the instance of Prince Louis of Battenberg, in order that he might remain an Admiral of the Fleet. That was an odious charge against Prince Louis. No man has deserved better of this country; no man has suffered more from the hard accident of war and fortune of war than he has. What are the facts? I noticed some hon. Gentlemen who were carried away by the oratory of my hon. and gallant Friend cheered that reference to the question of appointing Admirals of the Fleet. But what are the facts? The system of naval promotion is very peculiar. You have a strict system of selection up to the rank of captain, and after that a rigid system of seniority. It is the reverse of the system which prevails in the Army practically, but by that system, whether a man is to be Admiral of the Fleet, is practically determined by his promotion from commander to captain. If he is promoted from commandor early and gets a reasonable share of employment afterwards, he must in the ordinary course of events, if he lives, become an Admiral of the Fleet. I thought that was a very absurd system. I thought it was due to the dignity of the Admiral of the Fleet that it should be placed on something like the same basis as Field-Marshal, of which it is the correlative rank; it ought to have some basis corresponding in merit. It seemed absurd that men like Sir George Callaghan or Sir John Jellicoe should never be able tote Admirals of the Fleet, and should be automatically cut out, while admirals who had never been used for any great command, or had never taken any leading position in the Navy, should naturally and automatically pass to this great dignity. It is true that theoretically there was discretionary power. It did not go by absolute seniority—there was discretionary power of selection. But that had only once been exercised in several generations, and I thought it was necessary and right to give a reality to this rank. I suggested three conditions which should govern the appointment of Admiral of the Fleet Prince Louis of Battenberg had nothing to do with it at all, although he assented to it as a member of the Board. I ask the House whether the1 conditions are not reasonable? The first was twelve months' service in command of the principal Fleet, or twelve months' service as First Sea Lord, or distinguished war service rendered since the rank of captain had been attained. One of these three qualifications I proposed to the Board should be in future indispensable to the exercise of the selecting power for Admiral of the Fleet. My hon. and gallant Friend who raised this question had no reason to complain because he came under the third qualification. I made these proposals to the Board of Admiralty, and they were unanimously accepted by the Naval Lords. They are in practice at the present time, and I doubt if they will ever be departed from. I have not entered into any of the personal matters upon which my hon. and gallant Friend was so eloquent, because in these times they would seem to be rather far beneath the attention of the House; but I did think it necessary these two points to which I have referred should receive categorical refutation. I have no doubt that the House will accept my statement on the subject, but if there should be any doubt in anyone's mind as to the facts I have stated, I have no doubt they will be confirmed by the representative of the Admiralty.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution reported, That a sum, not exceeding £1,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Wages, etc., to Officers, Seamen, and Boys, Coastguard, and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918.

Resolution agreed to.