HC Deb 28 February 1917 vol 90 cc2037-9
Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX

As a matter of personal explanation, may I crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. On Monday evening, after our Debate in the afternoon, I had a conversation with the right hon. and gallant Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill), whom I am glad to see in his place, and he told me that he meant to answer me, but later on he said that he did not think it worth while, and he did not do so. This morning, on waking up and reading my papers, I received rather a shock to see the speech which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman delivered last night. Unintentionally, no doubt, he rather misrepresented me in what he said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1917, col. 1985.] So it would have been if anybody had made it, but I did nothing of the sort. What I said was a totally different thing. I am quoting my speech from the OFFICIAL REPORT: Some few years ago there was a curious alteration made in the system of promotion of Admirals of the Fleet, which was never thoroughly explained by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. Of course, he knew nothing about it. There was only one reason why the regulations relating to Admirals of the Fleet were altered—that was, that under the existing regulations then in print it was quite impossible for Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg—I regret to have to mention his name—to become an Admiral of the Fleet unless at least two of the men senior to him were disqualified."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1917, col. 1717.] This is absolutely and entirely true. Under those regulations, it was impossible for Prince Louis of Battenberg to become an Admiral of the Fleet. I never said that he instigated the change. I do not know who worked the hon. and gallant Member's board. How could I know? I knew the result was that by the new Regulations two English admirals of unblemished reputation lost their opportunity of becoming Admirals of the Fleet.


On a point of Order. Is not this a matter for debate?


I think in saying what he did last night the right hon. Gentleman was hardly fair. Everyone knows that what I stated is quite true. These two people were turned out by this Regulation. I dare say people will notice that the right hon. Gentleman thought I ought not to consider that the Regulation should not have been framed. The other point is a very short one, and there again I think the right hon. Gentleman rather misled the House and the public by turning off my charge that Admiral Hood had been treated in a bad manner in being dismissed from his command. But I only found fault with the manner in which he was dismissed. In any class of life, whether it be a butler, a gardener, or anybody else, if a man is dismissed at twelve hours' notice without any reason of any sort or kind being given, that man is disgraced in the eyes of his friends and of those round about him. That happened to Admiral Hood, and I think everybody will agree that, although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman gave him an appointment three weeks or so later, that had nothing to do with it.


I do not know whether I shall be permitted to say a word, but it shall be only a very few words, in answer to the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend. With regard to the removal of Admiral Hood from his command, and the manner in which it was done, circumstances of war necessitate when changes of command are decided upon they should be executed with the utmost rapidity. That is the universal rule in the Army. As for twenty-four hours' notice being a hardship, half an hour's notice is very often more than is given in important changes of command in all Armies serving at the front. The rule in this matter must be entirely and solely the military advantage of the Service and the carrying on successfully of the War. With regard to what my hon. and gallant Friend said in regard to Admirals of the Fleet, the only point of his statement that was offensive was the suggestion that Prince Louis of Battenberg, who was First Sea Lord, was the prime mover in bringing about the change in the Regulations, not for the benefit of the Service or for the securing of a better system, but in order to obtain for himself this great honour. I read the speech most carefully, and I listened with the utmost attention to it, and the impression formed on my mind, and I think on the minds of any hon. Members who were present, was that it was an attack upon Prince Louis. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Then if it was not a charge against him, if it was not a suggestion that Prince Louis in any way tried to advance his own interests in the matter, I fail to see the relevance of the hon. Gentleman's attack, 'because the change, on its merits, is one which would commend itself to the House, and has commended itself not only to the Board of Admiralty of that time, but to succeeding Boards of Admiralty which have administered the Regulation thus framed.