HL Deb 16 February 1871 vol 204 cc295-315

Before my noble Friend (the Duke of Somerset) rises to propose a Committee of Inquiry into the Board of Admiralty I must make an appeal to him as to the course he is about to pursue, and I trust your Lordships will agree that I have very good grounds for doing so. The noble Duke intends to propose "an inquiry into the present state of the Board with, reference to recent changes in its constitution, and the practical working of the Department." Now, with all respect to the noble Duke, I submit that the present is not a fitting time for such a Motion. I am far indeed from saying that, under ordinary circumstances, such a subject would not very properly engage your Lordships' attention; but at the present moment, in the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, neither I nor my noble Friend near me (the Earl of Camperdown), who is more conversant with the matter, feel that we possess sufficient knowledge of the opinions and views of the head of the Department to be able properly to discuss the question. It seems to me, too, that it is not an unreasonable request for us to make, that we should not be asked to consent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the Department of our absent Colleague, seeing that owing to illness he cannot be communicated with. If Mr. Childers had the opportunity of communicating his views to us, he might have furnished us with unanswerable reasons against the proposed inquiry, and during his absence from illness it would hardly be reasonable to ask us to agree to the Committee. Your Lordships may have seen, from correspondence which appeared in The Times this morning, that personal differences exist in the Admiralty as to questions of fact. There, again, though we have some information on the subject, the First Lord alone possesses the full and complete knowledge which would enable us, after communicating with him, to state his views or discuss the matter. I hope, therefore, the noble Duke will postpone his Motion. I do not think he will make any very great sacrifice in doing so. We have every reason to hope and expect that Mr. Childers will be at home in the course of next week—so that I do not ask for any long postponement. I may as well take the opportunity of stating exactly how the case stands with regard to Mr. Childers, because it is undeniable—and my Colleagues undoubtedly feel as much as any noble Lords opposite—thatit is most unsatisfactory for the head of one of the great Departments of the State to be absent at the opening of the Session. I hope, however, that when I have stated the circumstances your Lordships will not think this position of affairs so unreasonable as might at first sight appear. Mr. Childers had a very severe illness in the course of last spring, but was able to resume his place in the House before the close of the Session. I believe that during the summer he had entirely recovered. But in the course of the autumn the catastrophe which shocked everybody in the country occurred. Painful as the sudden loss of the Captain was to all of us, it was still more painful to Mr. Childers as the head of the Department which sent the ship to sea, and still more from the personal loss he sustained by the death of his son, who had joined the ship a very short time before. This calamity bore very heavily on him. In the autumn he went through a great deal of work, the pressure of which, added to the depression of mind and body he was labouring under, had such an effect upon him that early in January, thinking he would be unable to be in his place at the opening of Parliament,, he sent in his resignation to Mr. Gladstone. But Mr. Gladstone was unwilling to lose the services of one whom he regarded as a most valuable public servant, and after some communication with his medical advisers it was arranged that Mr. Childers should go away and be entirely relieved from business for about a month; at the expiration of which time it was hoped that he would be able to resume his duties, and, at all events, able to decide with more satisfaction to himself and his Colleagues whether it was possible for him to go on or not. That is exactly the state of the case. I do not believe the public service has suffered in the slightest degree from the temporary absence of Mr. Childers—an absence not altogether unprecedented on the part of the head of a Department, for there was one of longer duration a very few years ago. Before Mr. Childers left he prepared the Estimates, and gave directions for their completion. They were submitted to the Cabinet and approved early in December, and my noble Friend (the Earl of Camperdown) and his Colleagues had no difficulty in working them out, and making such alterations as the latest information rendered necessary. The Estimates, I may add, will be laid on the Table of the House of Commons earlier in the Session than was ever the case in the noble Duke's time or in mine. If when Mr. Childers comes home he thinks it impossible to resume his official duties, I am convinced that no man in the country would be more unwilling to trench on the indulgence of Parliament and the public than he would. He would in that case insist on his resignation being accepted. I hope your Lordships will agree with me, after this explanation, that the delay I ask for is not unreasonable. Whatever political differences may exist as to the value of Mr. Childers's labours, everyone will admit that he has been a hardworking public servant, and it is no extraordinary act of grace to give him a month's absence and rest, in the hope that it may lead to the recovery of his health. The noble Duke, I trust, will not refuse me the short respite, so to speak, that I ask for, until either Mr. Childers is personally in his place again, or we have at least been able to obtain from him that full and accurate information, without which discussion on this subject can hardly be satisfactory either to your Lordships or to the country.


My Lords, I entirely sympathize with the noble Viscount in his regret at the illness of Mr. Childers; but when my noble Friend goes on to say we are to put off the discussion of this subject until either he or the noble Earl near him (the Earl of Camperdown) can understand it—that is, until Mr. Childers comes home—I cannot agree with him. Why am I to wait till Mr. Childers comes home? When the First Lord of the Admiralty is in his place again, my noble Friend may say that the House of Commons is the proper place for the discussion; so that the appeal of the noble Viscount really means that this House is not to discuss the state of the Admiralty at all. I therefore feel it my duty to disregard his appeal, and to proceed with my Motion. If it is urged that personal questions should be avoided—which is one of the reasons my noble Friend has offered for the delay—I ask, Who first raised these questions? Who first attacked a Colleague, and sent the attack to the newspapers without that Colleague having the opportunity of seeing it? I ask any public man—I appeal to noble Lords on both sides who have been at the heads of Departments—whether the confidence that is so necessary to the proper working of the public Departments can be maintained if the head of a Department is to go behind a Colleague's back, write a report condemning him, and send it to the newspapers without so much as letting him see it? I am urged not to proceed with my Motion on the ground that it would be so hard on Mr. Childers; but other people have feelings as well as he. I have old Friends and Colleagues at the Admiralty, and if they are attacked unfairly, let nobody suppose that I shall not stand by them. I will now say, first of all, what I consider of the first importance. For six months the defences of the country have been the general theme of discussion. Now, the first line of these defences is the Navy, and I think I can show you that the administration of the Navy is at present in a very unsatisfactory condition. On the first night of the Session the noble Earl (Earl Granville) stated, in answer to a noble Lord opposite, that the Admiralty would go on under the Board as usual. Now, my noble Friend has been engaged all over the world; his mind has been expatiating from China to Washington; and, finding troubles cropping up in every direction, he cannot be expected to know what is going on at the Admiralty. The fact is, the whole system is so altered that the Board does not exist. I will show you how this has come about. An arrangement was made in 1869 by an Order in Council dividing the Board into departments. Now, I do not object to departmental divisions—I agree with having departments—I think it is a good arrangement. There always have been such divisions of business at the Admiralty. I said, when I was in the House of Commons— I do not care whether you call it a Board or not, but a civilian must have naval men round him. If he tries to go without their advice, he will get into continual difficulties, the public interest will suffer, and the profession of the Navy will be discontented with its management. Whether it is called a Board or heads of departments, so long as they meet to discuss together with the First Lord all important questions, I do not care. It is no matter by what name you call them, or whether they discuss in a Board-room or in the room of the First Lord; but it is essential that the heads of such departments as those for the building of ships and the fitting-out of vessels should meet with the First Lord, and discuss with him naval questions, for otherwise, as great misfortunes have already arisen, so they will again arise from keeping the heads of departments entirely separate. If the First Lord chooses to treat all the naval men around him as mere clerks, if he gives them their directions and sends them away, this must create not only great discontent but also great inefficiency. I should like to know what is the Navy for? It is for use in time of war, I suppose. Now, suppose a war should break out, and the First Lord should say—"I am responsible for everything," I think the country would look with no little surprise upon any gentleman who, with no knowledge of naval affairs, should undertake to direct great naval operations. It would not do, unless he had a Naval Council and listened to their requests. Yet that is the course which Mr. Childers seems to have taken—he has declared in the House of Commons over and over again that he was responsible for everything, everybody else being responsible to him; he insisted that the responsibility to Parliament and the country rested entirely on himself. When, however, that catastrophe—the loss of the Captain—happened, he wrote, as soon as he had recovered from the dreadful shock of that terrible calamity, an elaborate Report to show that he was not responsible at all. He laid the responsibility on the Controller of the Navy. Now, the Controller of the Navy had always objected to the building of the Captain. As long ago as when I was at the Admiralty, both he and the Constructor of the Navy strongly objected to vessels of that kind for sea-going purposes. The Controller said, they might do for coasting purposes; but "do not," he said, "go and put masts and sails in them with a low freeboard, or you will have some catastrophe." So much impressed was I with this that in 1869, before the other vessels were going to be built, I called attention in this House to the matter, and reminded you that the Monitor went down head foremost. I was told, in reply, that these vessels sat the water like a duck; but I remarked that they might also go down to the bottom like a diver: and I urged that before any more of such vessels were built we should have a little experience from trials of the Captain at sea. I was told, in reply, we do not want any lesson from the Captain; we know all about it, and the Captain can teach us nothing. Can the Captain teach them nothing now? The vessel went down, and people all asked how it came about, and whether there was any Report from the Controller? It turns out there had been a Report by the Controller condemnatory of the Captain as early as May, 1870. The First Lord laid on the Table of the House of Commons a laudatory Report from Sir Thomas Symonds in July, 1870; but he did not produce the condemnatory Report. Stranger still, he seems to have been of opinion, with many persons in the House of Commons, that this was the best style of vessel that could be built. Although the Controller pointed out when it was built that it was two feet deeper than it ought to have been—a very serious fault—yet, nevertheless, when Mr. Reed left, it is said that Mr. Childers offered the situation of Chief Constructor to the builder of the Captain. What sort of management was this? I say this was the management of a civilian, and that if he had had consultations with naval men this would not have happened. They do not seem to have been allowed to give their opinion. They come into the room, I suppose, and are sent out again. I undertake to say that there has hardly been a meeting of the Board for weeks and weeks. My noble Friend (the Earl of Camperdown) said the other night that the Naval Estimates had been settled by Mr. Childers. I deny that they were settled by Mr. Childers. As far as I can ascertain he settled the first two Votes, but not some of the most important ones, and the Memorandum he left was altogether set aside when he was gone. The fact is nobody is responsible for these Estimates: and this is what the House of Commons calls perfect responsibility, having one man entirely responsible. A vessel goes down and nobody is responsible. The Estimates are brought forward and nobody is responsible. Is this, I ask, the way things are to go on, and are we to wait till Mr. Childers comes home and can explain it all in the House of Commons? Why has the Controller left the Admiralty? The correspondence on the subject published in The Times this morning is the most extraordinary and curious Lever saw. I wondered when I read it where in the world Mr. Kinnaird was. He should have been at hand to explain what Mr. Gladstone should have written. The real position of affairs at the Admiralty at the present moment is that there is now nobody there who has the whole grasp of the Department in his hands. The absence of the First Lord is like the removal of the spring from the works of a watch; the other members know their several departments, but not the Admiralty as a whole. There is the Secretary, who is very good for his own work—the buying and selling stores. I have heard accusations against him; but I believe he has been doing the duties of his department remarkably well, and has brought about economy. Look at the Order in Council of 1870. It was most mischievous. It said that if a man remains at the Admiralty a certain time without active service he is to retire. And what is the effect of that? Lord John Hay is at this moment obliged to run away in the course of the next fortnight, or he would lose his position in the Navy under that Order. The effect of that same Order would have been to prevent the employment of Lord Lyons and Sir Alexander Milne. Why should such men be excluded? Why should the Government thus restrict its own power of selection? I could never see any good that could arise from it; but I can see that great mischief has arisen from it. Men will not enter the Admiralty for fear of being put on the shelf, or, if they enter it, they are always on the look-out for some occupation to avoid being shelved. Can anything be worse than this? An officer who looks after the details of management at one of the dockyards can keep his flag flying and have his time counted as active service; but if he comes to the Admiralty, where he has to look to the interest of the Navy from Japan to the River Plate, to consider the available force at each station all round the world, and decide where the naval stores and supplies of coal are to be kept — a serious question in time of war—he is told—"You are not in active employment and must therefore be put on the shelf." No statesman would have made such a monstrous system. Another most injurious Order is that limiting the number of lieutenants to 600. I showed last year that during five or six years of peace more than 600 had been fully employed, and that in war they were the strength of the Navy. I have since had many letters from naval men of all ranks, telling me I was quite right, that the lieutenants are the backbone of the Navy, and that cutting down their numbers in this manner would be detrimental to the honour and safety of the country. Is this, again, no subject for inquiry? The present state of the Admiralty, without a First Lord, without a Controller, without a Chief Constructor, without a Storekeeper, without a Controller of Victualling, without a Chief Engineer, is clearly a ground for inquiry. I wish to restrict it to a few points. As to administration by the heads of departments, I do not think the country and Parliament understand how the present system works. When I was at the Admiralty the Board met for an hour and a half every day. All the Lords heard the transactions, and anyone of them could state objections to anything that was done. When more difficult questions arose, I asked them to come into my room at a later hour, where these questions could be more fully discussed; but all the routine work was transacted in the Board-room, as I say, where everybody was together, and then the Secretary heard and knew all about everything, whereas now he can only answer for his own department. This state of things could not work if the services of the Navy were required for active operations. In the event of war, the first thing that would be done would be to alter the system, for the country would not be satisfied with a civilian First Lord solely responsible for the operations of the Navy. They would say—"Give us a Naval Lord who knows something about the matter." While I was at the Admiralty the difficulty about the Trent happened. One of the Lords asked me what would be done if there were war. I replied—"I can tell you one thing I shall do. You will have to sleep on the Admiralty Board table, for I will not let you go away from the office. I will not be responsible without having three or four of my Colleagues at hand, and if you have to sleep in the Board-room you must make up your mind to it." Any civilian ought to feel the same, for there would occur innumerable questions to be decided, and orders to be given which he could not undertake without professional advice. If Mr. Childers does not come back to the Admiralty—I hope it will not be so—the Prime Minister will have to look round the Benches behind him to catch a new First Lord—for he must be a Member of the House of Commons, though the noble Viscount (Viscount Halifax) has been sitting in the Admiralty nest, just keeping the eggs warm till Mr. Childers comes back. But if he should not come back the Prime Minister will have to find on the Benches behind him somebody who can speak fluently, and somebody secure of reelection—and this is not always an easy matter; what with the Permissive Bill, and what with the Contagious Diseases Act, and one thing and another, I am afraid he would be in great difficulties. These are some of the difficulties in selecting a First Lord: but when he has been obtained, what is he to do? He will not have the advantage of a Board. Where there is a Board discussing the various matters of Admiralty business, a man with a little common sense can pick up the merits of the case and form a decision, if he hears competent people state their opinions; but if he goes into a room by himself and is asked to settle difficult questions off-hand, or if anyone were to put a question to him in the House, he will be in a disadvantageous position, not having heard the matter previously discussed. As I have said, I think departmental divisions good; but I want to add to departmental division some means of joining frequent meetings, in which naval opinions can be properly considered. I think I have shown good, grounds for an inquiry; and when Mr. Childers comes back he will be a most useful witness on many points.

Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present state of the Board of Admiralty with reference to the recent changes in the constitution of the Board and the practical working of the Department."—(The Duke of Somerset.)


said, he was very glad that the noble Duke had brought forward this Motion, for never was there a Department in greater confusion than the Admiralty was at that moment—it was worse even than prevailed at the War Office. He understood that the Board of Admiralty did not exist, as it used or ought to do, by virtue of the patent which authorized, its members to exercise the duties of Lord High Admiral. The name of the Secretary did not appear in the patent, as he was nominally appointed by the Board, though really by the Government, and he was, in truth, the servant of the Board and not its master. Now, however, he was informed that the Secretary was placed over the various Lords of the Admiralty, and they took orders from him instead of giving them to him. He (Viscount Melville) could not understand how the Naval Lords could submit to such an indignity being placed upon them. In the absence of Mr. Childers the First Sea Lord should be the person to carry on the duties of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Whether this were so he did not know. What the noble Duke had now stated he had previously heard was perfectly true—that the Lords of the Admiralty now never sat as a Board, and never consulted together upon naval matters or the supply of stores, or other things which a Board should discuss. Each acted in his own department, and one Lord did not know what the other did. Instead of this they should act with unanimity. With regard to the Order in Council, he was at a loss to see how such an Order could supersede the patent issued by the Queen, commanding certain gentlemen to execute the office of Lord High Admiral. He was perfectly certain, from all he heard out-of-doors, and from the dissatisfaction that existed in the Navy, that the noble Duke had done the greatest service in moving for this Committee, and he should heartily support the Motion.


The House will not be surprised if I have some difficulty in determining at which point I am to begin, where so many have teen dealt with; for the noble Duke has touched upon everything connected with the Navy, as well as the administration of the Admiralty, down to the latest Order in Council, and the unfortunate loss of the Captain. I think your Lordships will excuse me if I do not again open the debate upon the Order in Council, when it is recollected that it was so fully discussed in this House last year. I shall, therefore, pass it over with the simple remark that the noble Duke was not correct in saying that officers cannot now serve at the Admiralty if they wish to avoid being placed upon the retired list, for no officer of flag rank can be placed upon the retired list until he has been for 10 years not upon full pay. The noble Duke may be right in his opinion; but still it has been maintained that a flag officer to be of service at a crisis, and to be fit to take the command of a fleet at sea, ought to have been in command within the previous 10 years. There have, it is true, been a few notable exceptions; but I would ask your Lordships whether you think it would be well, as a general rule, to count an officer who had spent 15 or 20 years in the civil departments of the Admiralty as available for service at sea? I will pass briefly over what has been said with regard to the Captain, because I have already laid upon the Table the Minute of the First Lord, and I have given Notice that I shall move to-morrow for the reply of Sir Spencer Robinson; and when your Lordships are in possession of the facts, it is possible that your Lordships may have a debate upon the subject. With reference to Sir Spencer Robinson, I am sure your Lordships will excuse me from undertaking the unpleasant and almost impossible task of discussing matters which turn on questions of fact as to what passed between the First Lord and the Controller, and of which they alone are cognizant. Adverting, then, to the real subject of the debate—the constitution of the present Board of Admiralty—I may remind your Lordships that the Board was constituted under the Order in Council of 1869, and that the main principles on which it was founded were three in number. They were—first, that the First Lord should be supreme, and have entire control over the Board; second, that each of the other Lords should be individually responsible to him for their respective departments; and third, that there should be complete control over all expenditure of money by officers responsible to Parliament. I am glad to hear from the noble Duke that he is in favour of the departmental system, for that is one great point gained in favour of the present system. At present, all transactions involving expenditure of money must be approved by at least two members of the Board. I suppose the noble Duke, when speaking of the old Board, did not intend to imply that every single transaction in his time was considered by the full Board before being finally settled. I can assure the noble Lord opposite (Viscount Melville) that it is an entire mistake to suppose that the Board of Admiralty never meet. Until the illness of the First Lord it met twice in each week; and there is nothing to prevent any member of the Board from bringing any matter he wishes to have discussed before the Board. I can also assure the noble Duke that it is an error to think that the First Lord treats his naval Colleagues simply as clerks. He considers them as his equals, with whom he is only too delighted and anxious to consult. I will venture to say that on no occasion has any one of his Colleagues who has gone to see the First Lord, or expressed a desire to discuss any question with him, ever met with anything but the most courteous attention; and that no proposal has been rejected without careful consideration. The noble Duke says that the place of the Naval Lords during a crisis was at the Admiralty, and that in the case of the Trent affair he expected them to find their beds in the Board-room. I am happy to say that during the present Board's tenure of office no such crisis has arisen; but, in the event of such a contingency, I hope Sir Sydney Dacres, and the other Naval Lord, will find the table of the sitting-room of the First Lord a not more inconvenient resting place than the Board-room table in the noble Duke's days. The noble Viscount (Viscount Melville) has just said that no one at the Admiralty knows what his Colleagues are doing. Such a thing may be possible; but, if so, it is the fault of the person who is in ignorance, because they all receive a daily Minute of all transactions of any importance in every department. The noble Duke also stated that nobody is responsible for the Estimates, and he said that he was in a position to prove that the First Lord had nothing, or very little to do with them.


Only the first two Votes.


How did the noble Duke obtain that information?


Grant the Committee, and I will tell you.


I think the noble Duke need not ask for a Committee, for he already knows everything he proposes the Committee shall find out. He knows more about these matters than I do myself. I may say, however, that the number of men in the Navy and dockyards were settled, and the whole skeleton of the Estimates made out by the First Lord himself, and the figures were discussed and settled in the Cabinet; therefore, it is hardly fair to say that he had nothing to do with the Estimates. The noble Duke referred to the position of the Secretary to the Admiralty. I have heard all sorts of complaints about him. It has been said over and over again that he is not able to purchase stores, and that he has no stores; the Leader of the Opposition in "another place" has said that there is an extreme lack of stores and provisions, and that we are living on what was left by the Conservative Government. So far is this from being the case, that when it was considered advisable that assistance should be sent to Paris to relieve its distress, my hon. Friend the Secretary was able to send no less a quantity of provisions than 2,500 tons at one day's notice, and I think your Lordships are bound to admit that that is one point in his favour. I have heard it said to-night that the Secretary is at present practically the First Lord. The simple fact is, that no expenditure of large amount can be made without his sanction. The arrangement is a simple and intelligible one. The principle was laid down in the Order of 1869 that no money should be spent without the authority of those who are responsible to Parliament: it therefore follows that, during the First Lord's absence, that officer who is responsible to Parliament should, for the time, take upon himself the responsibility of financial control. I believe I have now answered all the questions addressed to me; but, if I have omitted anything, I shall be glad to be reminded of it. Without presuming to dictate to the noble Duke, I cannot help saying that I think he has shown no special reason for granting a Committee of Inquiry into the position of the Admiralty at the present time. There is this one great objection to an inquiry, that it would greatly interfere with the working of the Department the operations of which the noble Duke is so anxious to facilitate. If he has any grievance to allege against the Admiralty, I would ask him to give us, in some specific terms, the Instructions which he proposes to give to this Committee.


My Lords, I did not distinctly understand from the noble Earl (the Earl of Camperdown) whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to resist the Motion. If it is not intended to refuse this Committee, I will not say another word about it; but if the Government do intend to resist the Motion, then I shall offer a very few words, confining myself to the simple question—Ought we to grant this Committee or ought we not? It is admitted by Her Majesty's Government that there has been a very important change in the working of the Board of Admiralty. Until two years ago a system was maintained which, practically as well as theoretically, was, in my opinion, a wise one. It maintained the complete control of the Executive Government over this great Department of the State, by placing at its head a person who generally and properly was a civilian; but, in order that he might not be left without proper professional advice and assistance, the First Lord of the Admiralty was required to carry on the business of the Department with the assistance of other Lords, some of whom were necessarily naval officers, practically acquainted with naval matters. This arrangement in no way detracted from the complete authority of the First Lord, for if differences of opinion unfortunately arose between him and one of his Colleagues no division of the Board took place on the subject, but the authority of the First Lord was invariably acknowledged, and any Naval Lord who, upon a grave question, was unable to concur with him in opinion felt it his duty to resign. Several well-known cases of this kind have occurred. The proper and legitimate authority and responsibility of the First Lord as the head of the Department and a Minister of the Grown were thus kept unimpaired, but at the same time the Sea Lords of the Admiralty had a responsibility to the profession and the country, and if any measures which they thought unfair to the profession or injurious to the country were proposed, though they could not control the action of the First Lord, yet by their resignation they had it in their power very plainly to convey to the profession and the country their sense of these proposals. If, on the other hand, those Naval Lords continued to hold their offices, they were in the same position as an Under Secretary would be who waived his own opinion and accepted his share of responsibility for the course taken by the Government. This was the theory of the Board of Admiralty as formerly constituted; and effect was given to the system by periodical and frequent meetings of the Board, at which all important matters were brought forward and discussed, being first prepared for consideration in the several departments. The noble Earl who has just spoken took great credit to the present First Lord for the departmental system; but this is by no means a new thing at the Admiralty. In consequence of the Notice given by my noble Friend (the Duke of Somerset) I referred to the speech of Sir James Graham, in which he described the alterations that were made in 1832, when the minor Boards—the Navy Board and Victualling Board—were abolished and the whole business was concentrated at the Admiralty, and I find that he then distinctly explained his proposal to be that each Lord of the Admiralty should, in his own department, be specially charged with the conduct of the business, and should have the assistance of a permanent officer who would not give up his place upon any changes of the Administration. To the success of this system periodical meetings of the Board were absolutely essential; for unless those meetings were held, and an opportunity were afforded of discussing the various questions as they arose, and thus bringing more than one opinion to bear for the information of the First Lord, there was a very great chance of mistakes being made. Such was the constitution of the Board of Admiralty, and for many years it worked well. Two years ago, however, when the Navy Estimates were brought forward, we learnt that Mr. Childers described very considerable alterations which were contemplated. I believe that in the form of the patent no change occurred — appointments and Orders were still issued nominally by the authority of the Board of Admiralty. But if I rightly recollect the speech made by Mr. Childers in moving the Estimates in 1869, he distinctly said that the consultations of the Board were practically to be discontinued, and that in future the responsibility would fall upon him exclusively, after he had communicated with each individual member of the Board as to his own special department. That is my understanding of the speech as we find it recorded, and it is in accordance with the common report of what actually occurred in the Department. Now that, I say, was a most important change; and after the new system has been some two years in operation, is it not right that we should proceed to make inquiry how it works? Is it not especially incumbent upon us to do so when circumstances have arisen leading, if not forcing, the public to believe that the results of this absence of consultation have been most serious? Take one case. The catastrophe of which we all heard with such surprise and such grief and horror, would that have occurred if the old system of conducting business at the Admiralty had been adhered to? If the Naval Lords had discussed, in the presence of the First Lord, the propriety of sending such a ship as the Captain to sea with masts and sails at a stormy season of the year, would that ship have been allowed to incur the risk to which she was exposed? My Lords, I must confess my belief that she would not. At all events, if there had been such a discussion, and if the question whether at such a time she ought to have been employed on such a service had been fairly considered, there would have been no question then as to who was responsible. The whole subject would have been before the Board, a Minute would have been made, and every member who acquiesced in that Minute would have shared the responsibility. This one single circumstance — for I will not trouble your Lordships by going into others which occur to me — establishes to my mind a primâ facie case, showing that the important change made in the working of the Board of Admiralty two years ago was an injudicious change, and one which is not working satisfactorily. I do not say more; it is possible that upon inquiry it maybe shown that no one was to blame with respect to the catastrophe I have referred to, and that the new mode of transacting business may be better than the old one. But I do assert that a primâ facie case exists for believing that the change at the Admiralty was a change for the worse, and that inquiry by Parliament is imperatively demanded. At this moment, in the agitated state of the world, I do not think it would be becoming of your Lordships to go into minute details—to inquire into a mistake here or a mistake there; the less interference in that way with a Department the better—but there is, I think, strong ground for inquiring whether the general system of management introduced two years ago at the Admiralty in substitution for the system which formerly prevailed is or is not a wise one. That is my reason for supporting the Motion; and I do trust Her Majesty's Government will not put us to the pain of going to a division. Can they, I ask, in the face of the country and with the strong grounds which exist for investigation, refuse an inquiry which will let us ascertain for ourselves the working of the system? I earnestly trust they will grant the Committee; and I equally trust that the noble Duke, in conducting the inquiry, will abstain from the discussion of details which have nothing to do with the functions of Parliament and can only be dealt with properly by an Executive Department, and will confine himself to the broad and leading question of the constitution of the Board, which, in my opinion, forms a most legitimate subject for inquiry.


My Lords, I think this House cannot refuse to grant the Committee asked for by the noble Duke. A state of things has been reached in the world in which men's minds are turned to war, and when public feeling generally is growing anxious on the subject of our defences. I look upon the Admiralty as a mysterious office. The public know nothing of its deliberations, and can only judge by the results. It is the custom, I know, to boast of the strength of our Navy, and of the number and condition of our ships. To my mind, they are nothing but experimental ships, every one of them. It may prove, in the end, that they are neither fitted to act together as a squadron of defence, nor to keep the sea as individual cruisers. And then we are confronted with the difficulty of not knowing what to do with it, or how to keep the fleet in order. If our ships were brought into battle and were shattered — and the chances are that they would be very seriously injured—it would be found that no arrangements had been made in our dockyards and arsenals for repairing them. Every ship in the present Navy differs from all the rest in the dimensions of her masts, sails, and engines, and consequently a different fitting is required for every ship. Such a system, it is obvious, is very expensive and must lead to a great loss of time. In former days there was a complete understanding with regard to classes. We had then four classes of ships, four kinds of masts, four kinds of sails, and so on. The result was that in the event of a vessel being shattered, she could be soon repaired. If the Committee were appointed, it would be able to expose the defects in the present system; and the result would be that the Admiralty, instead of taking into their councils iron-ship builders, steam-engine makers, and men of that kind, would look to old and practised seamen, who had some idea as to what the equipment of a ship ought to be. For although we now employ steamships, it is most important that their sailing qualities should not be over-looked. The first point was that our ships of war should be made safe and sea-worthy; the second is speed; and the third is to equip them with efficiency. I am afraid that the first point—safety—has of late years been overlooked, and that our ships are dangerous. The result of the late catastrophe will, I trust, be that the ships of our Navy will be made safe; and another consequence will be that experimental ships will be at an end. We have made sufficient experiments to show what we wanted; and if those experiments were united they will bring about the production of a good fleet. I maintain that we still require what we had in olden times. What we require are sea cruisers, an equipment suited to the narrow seas around this island, and a complete system of conveying troops with facility and despatch to all parts of the world. Above all, we require complete means of defending our whole Empire. All these points being of the utmost importance require careful consideration. In the Speech from the Throne, Parliament was not requested to examine into the state of the Navy; for I suppose Her Majesty was told by her responsible Advisers that the Navy was perfect. I assert, on the contrary, that the Navy—looking at the difficult circumstances in which the country is placed — was never in so useless a condition as at present. I thoroughly believe that the proposed inquiry will be of immense value, as it will bring to light, first of all, the secrets of the Admiralty, and, next, the secrets with regard to the construction of the Navy.


said, the noble Earl on the cross Benches (Earl Grey) had very correctly described the constitution of the Board of Admiralty as it was modified by Sir James Graham, in 1832. He himself had had the honour of holding, at one time, the position of Secretary to the Admiralty, and afterwards that of First Lord, and he had never thought there was much room for improvement in the mode of working and management of the Department. Formerly, the Senior Sea Lord was charged with superintending the department which had the building of ships of war, and the second Lord with superintending that which had the responsibility of providing stores; and it struck him there was a great deal to be said in favour of uniting these two departments, which must work together, under one head. The noble Duke had said it was quite immaterial whether the members of the Board met in the Board-room or in the First Lord's room, provided that the First Lord did actually consult his naval advisers. There were three naval officers at the Admiralty, and there was no reason why the First Lord should not consult them. The Board meetings were held twice a week, and any member had only to bring forward any proposition for it to be taken into consideration, and the opportunity was afforded for the statement of individual opinion. He denied the correctness of the assertion that the loss of the Captain was due to the Board not having met more frequently. His noble Friend said that a warning would have been given if the Board had met. From whom would the warning have come? The most likely person to have given such a warning was Sir Spencer Robinson, who disapproved of the construction of the Captain in some respects, but entertained no fears for her safety. In a Paper prepared by Sir Spencer Robinson after her loss, dated some day in November, and printed in the Appendix to the Minute of Mr. Childers, this sentence occurred— I am still of opinion that the ship was safe, if properly handled, so far as relates to her stability at her loadline, and the means existing to restore it as she became lighter. There would be laid on the Table of their Lordships' House a Paper, which was the answer of Sir Spencer Robinson to the Minute of Mr. Childers, and in this Sir Spencer Robinson said— Neither did I nor Mr. Reed consider that the Captain was unsafe to be tried at sea, if properly handled. That might be said of any ship in the world; and any ship, if improperly handled, might be upset. When the designer and the builder of the Captain, when the Chief Constructor and Controller of the Navy, stated their opinion that there was no risk in sending the Captain to sea, and when it was obvious from all the Papers, whatever might have been the qualities of the ship in other respects, that no one considered she was unsafe, it was out of the question to maintain that there could have been any warning of her being unsafe. If a Committee was to be appointed, he hoped the scope of its inquiry would be restricted, as suggested by the words of the noble Duke's Motion, that it would be confined to the constitution of the Board of Admiralty and the practical working of the Department, and that it would not extend to the Order in Council of last summer and other matters, as the noble Duke seemed to suggest that it should. The noble Duke fell into one or two curious mistakes; and one was as to the effect of the Order of 1870, which applied to admirals a rule, as to service in the Admiralty, that had been applied to captains from time immemorial. The noble Duke said that the Order in Council of 1870 would have deprived the country of the services of Lord Lyons. Now, it so happened that the Order in Council which would have had that effect, was an Order in Council passed by the noble Duke himself in 1866, fixing for the first time the age at which admirals must be removed from the active list. Unless his memory failed him Lord Lyons, at the time when he was performing such distinguished service in the Black Sea, was above the limit of age named in the Order of 1866. It was the Order in Council of the noble Duke himself, and not that of Mr. Childers, which would have deprived the country of the services of Lord Lyons. Although the Committee would be inconvenient, he offered no opposition to its appointment, if it were clearly understood that its inquiry was to be limited by the words of the Motion.

Motion agreed to.

And, on Thursday, February 23, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

Ld. Privy Seal E. Camperdown
D. Somerset L. Eliot
E. Derby L. Auckland
E. Malmesbury L. Belper
E. Grey L. Lyveden
E. Beauchamp L. Houghton

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till to-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.