HL Deb 07 March 1842 vol 61 cc124-35
The Earl of Minto

wished to call the attention of their Lordships to a matter personal to himself. He was sensible of the great inconvenience of referring in that House to matters which had passed in the other House of Parliament, but there were occasions on which it was improper to allow extremely false impressions to go forth without explanation, and when he had read the passage from the newspapers which induced him to address the House, he thought their Lordships would agree with him, that the present was such an occasion. The passage to which he referred occurred in what purported to be the report of the speech of a gallant Member of the other House on Friday night, the object of that gallant Officer being to recommend to the notice of the House of Commons what he (Lord Minto) could not but consider a somewhat fanciful scheme of naval administration—a scheme which had been repeatedly suggested by him to the Admiralty, and was as often rejected. In pointing out the incompetence of civilians to fill the office of first Lord of the Admiralty, the gallant Member made the following observations:— When a first Lord came into power he was generally extremely ignorant, but after he had been there a little time he began to fancy that he knew a great deal, and had become a thorough sailor. This was very much the case with the late first Lord ('the Earl of Minto), who, after he had been at the Admiralty some time, assumed a great deal more power than he ever ought to have assumed. He (Sir C. Napier) had always understood that where there was a board the responsibility was divided between the members of that board. Now, the late first Lord had, in one instance at least, assumed the power of acting in opposition to the express desire of every other member of the board. An hon. Friend of his had informed him, that when the subject of manning the navy was under the consideration of the naval lords, a scheme was, after a great deal of trouble, agreed to, which met the views of every naval member of the board Among other things it was agreed, after long consideration and much discussion to reduce the complement of men by one-eighth. One or two lords were opposed to this reduction, but they yielded their views in order to secure unanimity, and at last the scheme was assented to by every naval lord, and received, in addition, the concurrence of Lord Dalmeny. The result was communicated to Lord Minto, who put the document in his pocket, and nothing more was for some lime heard of it. At length it was returned to the board, and it was then discovered that Lord Minto had assumed the power of reducing the complement of men not by one-eighth but by one-fifth. Now, he asked, was that a proper state of things to continue? Was it right that a man who knew little or nothing of the navy should assume such a power as this, contrary to the opinion of the naval lords of the board? Similar instances were on record.

Now, before he (Earl Minto) went further, he Would endeavour, in a few words —confining himself to the charge—to make their Lordships, if possible, understand what actually did take place on the occasion alluded to. He would not enter into the controversy as to the peace and war complements of our ships of war. He believed it to be a question of circumstances. In a time of profound peace he thought that it might be wise to have a large number of ships afloat with a smaller complement of men than would be required in time of war. But when the state of our foreign relations was at all menacing, it was necessary to increase the complement; and he thought that the present First Lord of the Admiralty was perfectly right in putting the full complement of men to all ships on foreign stations. He had said that he begged leave to call their Lordships' attention to the charge against himself personally, Which was, that certain complements were re" commended to him by the naval Lords of the Admiralty, which he took upon him. self to reject, substituting a scale of complements of his own. In order to make himself intelligible, it may be proper that he should first explain in what manner the complements had been determined which he found established in the navy. Under the presidency of the late King as Lord High Admiral, a commission had been appointed composed of able and scientific officers, in which Sir Thomas Hardy presided, to consider and report upon this subject. After much careful inquiry and consideration, a report was made recommending a certain scale of complements for such class of ships—and this when he came to the Admiralty was understood to form the recognised scale of complements for war— from which the peace complements had been derived by the deduction of he thought one-eighth. Now this in certain classes of ships undoubtedly produced a low peace complement. And a commission subsequently appointed by him in which Sir Pulteney Malcolm presided, recommended a partial small increase of complements. When he came into office he found much complaint of the want of sufficient complements in some classes of ships. Many new classes of ships have been introduced into the service since the former scale of complements was settled, and a new and more powerful armament had been recently established for the fleet. These circumstances seemed to require that the whole scale of complements should be revived, and in the autumn of 1838 the members of the Board of Admiralty occupied themselves with looking carefully into the subject, and many schemes were proposed; at length, when it was thought that sufficient progress had been made in the investigation to enable every one to form his judgment, a special meeting of the board was held, at which Sir William Symonds and Sir Thomas Hastings were present; the board had a long sitting, and took the case of one of each class of ships into consideration. At this sitting no doubt there were differences of opinion on details, but ultimately a scale of complements for war was agreed on unanimously, and he believed that Captain Berkely was present and took part in the proceedings. Some technical difficulties occurred to prevent the immediate promulgation of this scale of complements, but undoubtedly the scale was unanimously adopted by the whole board, and this was the scale which he (Earl Minto) had established in the navy for war complements. Then came the question of a peace complement: under the previous system, the peace complement had been reduced from the war complement by a reduction of one-eighth of the whole number of the crew. Instead of this, it was proposed to have a reduction of either a fifth or a sixth of the number of men appropriated to the guns—indeed both those propositions were made. Mr. Wood drew up one of his extremely clear and able minutes, which he laid before the board, in which he described the principle on which the board had proceeded as to the war complement, and a scale of peace complements was then brought before the board, which, after some discussion, was approved of by all the members of the board. This scale it was, that he (Earl Minto) was charged with having put into his pocket, proposing another scale of his own, in opposition to the opinions of all the naval members of the board. But that was not the case. When the scale was produced, he said, This is a great and serious question, involving a very large addition of expense, and requiring very careful consideration and inquiry, and one which cannot be disposed of off hand; I am bound, sitting here, to look after the public interests; I am bound to see that there is good reason for what is proposed, and that professional zeal or bias does not involve the country in more expense than is necessary; and I am bound to see that the former scale determined upon, after mature deliberation, by some of the ablest men in the service, is not lightly overturned; and I must therefore take time fully to consider this matter.

This was all that passed on the occasion, and the course which he thus took was so obvious and natural, that no one seemed to think it strange that he (Earl Minto) should adopt it. He had gone very minutely into the case, but he had all along stated to the board, that he thought the question one so purely professional, that he should feel bound to adopt what should turn out to be their real opinion, after a full and careful consideration. It very soon appeared that the principle on which they attempted to form complements for manning the ships was inapplicable to the case. To establish any one proportion between the peace and war complement for all descriptions of ships was found to be impossible, for it would give too large an allowance for one class of ships, and too small for another, and the whole scheme turned out to be arrant nonsense although it appeared very well on paper. It was therefore determined to take each case separately; accordingly one ship of each class was selected, and the board carefully went into the whole matter. A scale of peace complements was devised, and the proportionate complement in each ship was made greater in most cases and smaller in others than was formerly the case. The proposed scale of manning was first agreed to by the four naval lords. He then took the papers into his consideration, and he consulted the best counsellors that he could refer to on the subject, as to the most advisable course to take, namely the two senior naval lords, in both of whom he placed the most implicit confidence. After some suggestions had been made by Mr. Wood some slight change was made in the plan, and a new minute was drawn up and at last agreed to by the board. He admitted that Captain Berkeley was no party to this arrangement, but this was no fault of his, as that gallant Officer had left town; but he should have been very glad to discuss the matter with that Gentleman, who had undoubtedly paid very great attention to the subject. He trusted that he had said enough to show that he did not reverse the decision of the board at his own whim and pleasure. He might, however, observe, before he sat down, that he thought that the scale went too far in some respects, and as he at the time thought there was an error in there being too great an excess in manning ships, he sent down a minute desiring to know if the scheme of complements in question was recommended to him by the two senior naval Lords of the Admiralty, namely, Sir C. Adam, and Sir W. Parker. The messenger shortly after returned with the paper, marked— yes; signed "C. A.," "W. P." He hoped that he had thus succeeded in exonerating himself from the observations which had been made upon him elsewhere. He had no desire to bandy words between the House of Lords and the House of Commons as to the proper complements for ships in the navy, and still less did he wish to occupy the time of Parliament with matters which might appear personal to himself; he trusted, however, that the House would feel that he was called upon to make some explanation on the subject. He would only detain the House with adverting to one other point. Another charge brought against him was, that he had been guilty of an undue exercise of authority in sending out orders to the Admiral in the Mediterranean without the knowledge of the board. Sir Charles Napier said He would mention another instance in which he thought Earl Minto had assumed a great deal. He had read in a letter the other day, that that noble Lord had addressed a letter to Sir Robert Stop ford, desiring him to proceed to Candia, and there wait for further orders. Was it to be endured that such power should be assumed by the First Lord of the Admiralty.

It was well known to noble Lords opposite that a Cabinet Minister in the situation which he held must often make confiden- tial communications to the naval commander in chief of a fleet, and must sometimes even direct his movements. Now, the Members of the late Government, as well as himself, reposed the most entire confidence in Sir Robert Stopford, and he might be permitted to add, that Sir Robert Stopford had showed that he was most deserving of it. This was not a singular instance of his writing a letter to that gallant Admiral; for he could refer to fifty instances in which he sent letters to Sir Robert Stopford, to explain to that gallant officer the views of the Government. He did not give that gallant officer orders, but as the organ of the Government in this department he had communicated the views of Government, which could not be well discussed openly at a board. He begged to call their Lord ship's attention to a letter which he had that day received from Sir Robert Stopford. It was in these terms:—

"Royal Hospital, Greenwich, 6th March, 1842

My dear Lord,

With reference to Sir C. Napier's assertion in the House of Commons, that it was in consequence of a private letter from your Lordship, I proceeded off Candia to establish the authority of the Sultan in that island, I find upon reference to my papers, that an order to that effect proceeded from the Board of Admiralty, dated 22nd of Oct., 1840, transmitting instructions from Lord Palmerston, dated 19th October. But as I could not procure Turkish troops which I demanded to carry this order into execution, and considering the marines insufficient for that object, I never did proceed to Candia.

"I am quite certain that I never received any private communication from your Lordship upon that subject.—Believe me, my dear Lord, very faithfully yours,


Thus, although these assumed orders had not been issued regarding Candia, he found on referring to the Levant papers, the following letter referring to a wish expressed by him for the assembly of the squadron at Cyprus.

"Princess Royal, off the South End of Cyprus, July 11, 1839.

"I have the honour to inform your Excellency with my arrival here, with the squadron under my command, in pursuance of a private intimation from Lord Minto, signifying his wish for the squadron to assemble in this neighbourhood, and to await further orders.

"As the accounts of the Sultan's death, and the defeat of his army, which reached me this morning from Candia, and have been confirmed by the Rhadamanthus from Alexandria, may render it necessary for the squadron to take up another position, I have to request your Excellency will be pleased to favour me with such information for my further guidance as you may judge fit to give me under those altered circumstances.—I have, &c.,


This was the most complete answer to the statement of which he complained, sufficiently proving that Sir Robert Stopford did not consider the communication made to him in the light of an order which he was hound to observe. He had now, he thought, sufficiently replied to the charges made against him by the gallant Officer. He was aware of the extreme inconvenience of debating in that House matters which had been discussed in the other House of Parliament, and the propriety of avoiding anything which might tend to handy controversy between them. He had, therefore, carefully abstained from all discussion on the question as to what was or was not the proper peace complement, and he hoped their Lordships would feel that he wag justified in calling their attention to the attack which had been personally made upon him, and that he had not exceeded the hounds which he had endeavoured to lay down for himself in replying to it. He felt that it was extremely inconvenient to make observations in one House as to what passed in the other; hut he hoped that he had abstained from all observations that were at all calculated to give rise to further discussions of the same kind.

Lord Colchester

believed that it was contrary to the orders of the House that such discussions should take place, and certainly they could be attended with no public advantage. As the matter had been broached, however, he felt called upon to make one or two remarks on some observations made by the noble Earl. The noble Earl had alluded to what had occurred after the minute respecting the complements that ships of war should have in times of peace, which had been agreed to by the Board of Admiralty. The noble Earl said that this minute, drawn up by Mr. Wood, embodied the opinions of the four naval Lords. But it appeared that the noble Earl, from his own statement, got the two senior naval Lords with him to discuss the subject, and, no doubt, by the influence of his authority induced them to alter their opinion. The noble Earl added that this might be a very proper regulation as to the manning of ships, but for other political objects, such as the expense, &c, it was inexpedient to adopt the proposition. He did not say the change was made at the dictation of the noble Lord, but he thought he should have given his reasons to the whole Board, instead of referring the matter to only two members of it and himself. With regard to the other charge—that of issuing a private order, he thought the letter of Sir Robert Stopford which had been read to the House by the noble Earl sufficient evidence. He understood from that letter that the gallant officer went to Cyprus by order of the noble Earl, but that upon arriving there he found a new set of circumstances, which rendered it necessary for him to refer to the ambassador for such commands as he might deem fit. Indeed it appeared to him (Lord Colchester) impossible for any one to read that document and not come to the conclusion that the noble Earl did send a private communication to Sir Robert Stopford to proceed to Cyprus, and there await further orders. He, therefore, did not think that the gallant Officer who had alluded to the subject in the other House of Parliament could be fairly accused of having made an erroneous statement. That hon. and gallant Officer had told him that he had read the letter he had just quoted in a public paper. He did not wish to enter into any general discussion of the question, but he certainly thought that the hon. and gallant Officer who was supposed to have addressed the other House of Parliament, was in no degree open to the charge of having misstated facts. He must be permitted to add, that he thought her Majesty's present Government had acted with great prudence in increasing the former establishment, and he offered them his best thanks for having done so.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that nothing could be more inconvenient than that a noble Lord should make observations on a speech delivered in the other House of Parliament, which he had not heard, but which he had only seen in the newspapers of the day. It was contrary to the orders of their Lordships' House. He was, however, unwilling to prevent his noble Friend from rising on the present occasion. His noble Friend had made a statement to-day in reference to something which had fallen from Captain Berkeley. He considered the charge made by the noble Earl against that gallant Officer a very serious one. He charged him with making, in his place in Parliament, a statement which was not true. Of course, the gallant Officer could not wish that charge to go forth uncontradicted, and, therefore he would get some Peer to rise in his place, and to make a statement for him; and without being a prophet, it was extremely likely when the Navy Estimates came before the House of Commons, that both these Gentlemen (Sir C. Napier and Captain Berkeley) would again defend themselves, and then the noble Earl would have to make another statement in reply. Could anything be more inconvenient than such proceedings? His noble Friend had read an extract from a report in a newspaper. That report did not give correctly the extract from Captain Berkeley's letter which Sir Charles Napier read. He would read to the House what Captain Berkeley really did write, and what Sir Charles Napier really did read. Captain Berkeley, after quitting the Admiralty, wrote a letter, from which this was an extract:— Let there be no mistake as to my reasons for quitting the Admiralty. After mature deliberation, a scheme for the complement of each ship was agreed on, and approved of by all my Colleagues, and acceeded to by Lord Dalmeny. One-eighth was to be struck off for the peace establishment, and to this I consented—though disapproving of all reduction—for the sake of unanimity. This, which he considered a boon to the service, was approved of, and laid before the Board by the Secretary, and Lord Minto put it in his pocket; and then Captain Berkeley received a letter from Mr. Wood, who said that it was to be not one-eighth, but one-fifth. The matter was not again brought before the Board of Admiralty. The whole of the naval Lords at that Board agreed to one-eighth, but the noble Earl said that it must be one-fifth, without even again consulting them. His noble Friend said that he did consult the two senior naval Lords, and that he sent a memorandum to that effect, and that they put their initials to the bottom of it with the word "Yes." But that, he said, was not placing it before the Board of Admiralty. The noble Earl admitted that he did not bring it before that Board, because, if he had, he would have heard from different members of it their disapprobation of the change. Under such circumstances he thought that Captain Berkeley would not have acted properly if he had not at once quitted the Board of Admiralty. With regard to the general question, he must say that his opinion was that ships should never leave port unless they were fully manned. He would rather that we had only two ships afloat well-manned, than that we had a dozen inefficiently manned. His noble Friend had also referred to the opinion of Sir Thomas Hardy. He knew that that gallant Officer stated over and over again to Captain Berkeley that he was one of the old-fashioned men, who thought that our ships ought not to go to sea unless properly manned. He thought the extract which he had read showed the inconvenience of discussing questions where the facts were disputed.

The Earl of Minto

denied that he had brought any charge against the two gallant officers referred to; all that he wished to show was, that these gallant officers had imagined, in one case, that a state of things had occurred which never had happened; and in the other, he had endeavoured to show that he was justified in the course which he had taken. His noble Friend said, that the matter had never been brought before the board as to the complement on board men-of-war for a peace establishment. This was not so; the two senior naval officers at the board, after they had deliberated and fully discussed the subject, somewhat altered their opinions, and their final decision was equally assented to and sanctioned at the Board.

Lord Fitzgerald

expressed his regret that the House had been drawn into this irregularity, and which, irregular as their proceedings had often been, could find no example. Anxious as the noble Earl naturally was to make a statement in vindication of his conduct as First Lord of the Admiralty, and disposed as every one was to do the noble Earl justice for his anxiety, yet he could but remark upon the danger of replying in that House to speeches delivered in the other House of Parliament, and not only stating the general substance, but quoting the very language, and naming the persons by whom they were spoken. He regretted that the noble Earl had not pursued the more regular course of moving for papers, instead of replying to speeches made by gallant Officers in the House of Commons, without any question before the House.

The Earl of Minto

said, it had been his intention to have made a motion, but the habitual violation of the rules of the House would, he thought, justify his not doing so. He hoped, however, that noble Lords would give him credit for abstaining from making a reply to anything that had passed in another place, except upon the points which personally affected himself, and for not imputing blame to any of the Gentlemen who had spoken elsewhere.

Lord Fitzgerald

remarked, that the noble Earl's own reference to the habitual violation of the rules of the House fully justified the remark he had made.

The Earl of Minto

had often thought that the Lord Chancellor should be expected to interfere and prevent these irregularities.

The Duke of Richmond

thought, that if this were the case his noble Friend on the Woolsack would have no sinecure. They should recollect that the Speaker of the House of Commons was elected by the House, whilst the Speaker of that House was chosen by the Crown. This made a great distinction, and he hoped the House would never give up the power of regulating their own proceedings. At any rate, he knew very well that no Lord Chancellor could do it.

Four or five noble Lords rose together, but gave way to

The Lord Chancellor

,who amidst great laughter, gave notice that he would tomorrow lay upon the Table a bill for altering and amending the law with respect to proceedings in lunacy.

Subject at an end.