HL Deb 10 July 1871 vol 207 cc1321-31

rose to call attention to the present unsatisfactory mode of adjudging the amount of rewards due to inventors whose inventions had been in whole or in part adopted by the War Office; and to move an Address for Papers. Everyone must be aware that within the last 20 years great changes had been made in the armaments of this country. It was not many years since the 68-pounder smooth-bore was the heaviest and most powerful gun in the service; whereas we had now rifled 600-pounders of 20 and even 35 tons weight. This country was admittedly in advance of other countries in its heavy artillery. We had made the experiments, and the results of them had to a great extent been made use of by other countries. The carriages necessary for the manipulation of these enormous guns had required great ingenuity and industry in order to perfect them, and which now worked guns of 12, 18, and 25 tons with as much facility as we formerly worked those of three and five. These results had, however, been obtained at an enormous outlay in experiments—hundreds and thousands of pounds had during the last 12 years been fired away at Shoeburyness and elsewhere. Where one invention had succeeded and been adopted into the service, many had failed and been found wanting. Many thousands of pounds had been wasted on stool projectiles or iron targets until our present cheap and efficient chilled iron projectiles were invented, and about £40,000 in experiments utilizing our old cast-iron service guns until the present system, known as Palliser's, was tried and adopted. While much credit must be given to the officials who conducted the experiments which had such beneficial results, there was one class connected with those results whose claims had, as a rule, to a great extent been overlooked or neglected—namely, the inventors, who, generally, at their own risk and expense, had perfected and reduced them into a practical form. In some cases others had profited by the ideas of the original inventors, made use of their official position for perfecting the inventions at the expense of the country in the Government workshops, and pocketed the rewards, while the original inventor had been left out in the cold unnoticed and unrewarded. In claims of this nature it was evident that the inventors must be brought into collision with the officials of the Government, who from interested reasons or professional jealousy might be disposed to throw obstacles in the way of a fair estimate of the inventor's claims to recompense. It was to remedy this unsatisfactory state of things that he wished to suggest that some independent tribunal of arbitration, unconnected with the War Office, should be constituted for the purpose of examining the claims of inventors whose inventions had been wholly or in part adopted by the Govern- ment. Such a tribunal should be composed of scientific men capable of entering fully into the merits of each invention. They should have no connection with the War Office, and the Minister for War should be guided in his decision by their award, as he was now by the Ordnance Council. The objection to the Ordnance Council was that it was composed, doubtless, of honourable and gallant men, but still subject to professional jealousies, not necessarily scientific, and therefore in so far incapable of judging of the merits of scientific inventions. It was not, perhaps, generally known that up to 1865 patents were hold good as against the Government, and if an invention was adopted by Government, the inventor could make his own terms. In that year a decision in the Court of Queen's Bench was given in the cause of "Feather v. the Queen"—Sir Roundell Palmer being Solicitor General—which reversed the old doctrine, and laid it down as law that no patent rights held good as against the Queen. Thenceforward the unfortunate patentee was entirely at the mercy of the authorities. But, notwithstanding this decision, the Government received a tax of £175 on each patent, and a patentee was therefore much in the position of a proprietor whose property was requisitioned for the public benefit. He was obliged to part with it. But the adjustment of claims in the two cases was very different. In the landholder's case an independent jury of householders was empanelled to assess the remuneration, or a sworn arbitrator was appointed. In the case of an inventor the interested party itself assessed the value. No doubt, as long as patents were considered valid as against the Government, there was great difficulty in dealing with patentees; but over since this decision—although for the purpose of making security more secure a special proviso was inserted in every patent specifying that if Government had need of the invention they were at liberty to use it—which had not yet been appealed against, the Government appeared to be recompensing themselves for the past by treating patentees in the most offhand manner. The consequence was that many valuable inventions were lost to the public, because patentees would not subject themselves to the injustice and humiliations to which they were at present exposed. He had selected four or five cases, which he would now shortly lay before their Lordships. Major Palliser, who claimed to have invented the mode of breeching heavy rifled guns, as now adopted uniformly throughout the service, and also to have invented the principle upon which all rifled projectiles were now studded, had been offered the ridiculous sum of £1,500, which he had declined. The £22,000 which he received was for other inventions, and was a very inadequate sum for what had saved the Government hundreds of thousands of pounds. Captain Scott, R.N., invented the present mode of controlling the violence of recoil of the heavy rifled ordnance used in the Navy, without which it could not have been worked. His invention was universally adopted, and he patented his plans by special permission of the Admiralty, who in a Minute forwarded to the War Department, said— The Admiralty consider Captain Scott's claim to be entitled to a large and liberal consideration. In another Minute dated January 28, 1870, occurred the following:— In the Hercules, the 10-inch muzzle-loading rifled guns are worked with extraordinary facility by the admirable machinery of Captain Scott, whose improvements in gun-carriages and their gear have been extensively adopted in the Navy. Sir Spencer Robinson, late Controller of the Navy, remarked— I certainly am of opinion that, as far as the experiments have gone up to this time, most important benefits have accrued to the naval service through Captain Scott's exertions, and that, without those exertions, neither 12 nor 20-ton guns would have been successfully worked on the broadsides of ships. After Captain Scott's inventions had been adopted into the Navy, he applied for remuneration, and was answered by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that all expenses connected with guns and gun-carriages were borne on the Army Estimates, and that they would be prepared to report fully to the Secretary of State their opinion as to the value of his plans. Captain Scott remonstrated, on the grounds that some of his improvements for which he was seeking reward were essentially ship questions, and that in others his plans had been adopted by the Admiralty after they had found plans of the War Department impracticable or unsuccessful; in addition to which the advisers of the War De- partment for war material had been his competitors for gun - carriages. Notwithstanding Captain Scott's remonstrance, the Committee recommended £2,000 as a full remuneration for his broadside carriages, including all the personal expenses he had incurred during nine years' experiments. This remuneration was immediately rejected as totally inadequate. He now came to Mr. Lynall Thomas, who claimed to have been the first to introduce the heavy rifled ordnance on the present system. In 1858, when he first proposed to make a 7-inch 6½-ton gun and an 8-inch on the principle of the ordnance now in use, he was told that Sir Baldwin Walker, then Surveyor of the Navy, had said that no ships ever could carry such guns, and that the very idea of utilizing such guns was preposterous. It was not till the next year that he could get a guarantee from the Government. General Peel being then in office, that he should be remunerated in case of success. With his 7-inch gun—the first with which a heavy shell of 150 lbs weight had ever been fired with so high a velocity from rifled ordnance—the enormous range of 10,000 yards and upwards was obtained, and this success was the cause of the experiments with Armstrong guns during the next few years, on which upwards of £2,000,000 was expended. The Armstrong guns were now superseded by the Woolwich gun, which, in manufacture and principle, was identical with that recommended by Mr. Lynall Thomas, who had received no remuneration whatever. Frazer, who received £5,000, was declared by Thomas to have pirated his patented system, and Mr. Thomas claimed that all the 7-inch, 8-inch, and 9-inch guns now adopted into the service were identical with his recommendations. In 1868 Commander Harvey brought under the notice of the Admiralty a torpedo which he had invented. The Admiralty declined to adopt the invention; but having learnt that it had been adopted by a foreign Government Mr. Childers thereupon had fresh trials instituted, and became so satisfied with it that he adopted it into the service. Commander Harvey estimated his claim at £5,000, considering the great expense he had incurred; but the Government awarded to him only £1,000. The Government had, at the same time, offered £15,000 to an Austrian for his fish torpedo, which was as yet unproved, while Commander Harvey's had been thoroughly proved, The reason was that in one case the Austrian kept preserved his secret; whereas in the other Commander Harvey, having given his secret to the War Office, was at their mercy. He (the Earl of Denbigh) believed that it was necessary for the honour and also for the interest of this country that some independent tribunal should be formed by which all such claims as these should be properly examined. It might be said that the claims of inventors were very excessive; but these were as a drop in the ocean when compared with the enormous amount expended on experiments. An arrangement could be made by which the expense of such a tribunal could be covered by the forfeiture of deposits paid before arbitration in case an invention proved to be frivolous.

Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for,

  1. 1. The documents submitted to the Committee that decided on Captain Scott's claims, and the subsequent correspondence thereon:
  2. 2. Correspondence between Mr. Lynall Thomas and the War Office, from 29th March 1871 to the present time:
  3. 3. Correspondence relative to Major Palliser's claims to certain inventions adopted into all the heavy wrought-iron guns of the service known as the "Woolwich guns," and also to the system upon which all the heavy projectiles in the service are studded.—(The Karl of Denbigh.)


said, the noble Earl (the Earl of Denbigh) suggested that those who had decided the claims of inventors were prejudiced against those claims; but the system by which inventors' claims were at present discussed by the War Office afforded no ground for the imputation of prejudice. The Ordnance Council who considered these claims consisted of the principal officers of the Department, and as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, he was the President. On that Council there were the Surveyor General of Ordnance, the Financial Secretary, the Adjutant General, the Inspector General of Artillery, the Inspector General of Fortifications, and other high officials. The cases to which the noble Earl had alluded would be an illustration of the practice of the Council. To take the case of Captain Scott first. There was not the slightest doubt, on the part of anyone who had knowledge of the subject, of the value of Captain Scott's in- ventions. Those inventions were mainly for the naval service, and they came only incidentally under the consideration of the Ordnance Council. The Board of Admiralty requested the Ordnance Council to consider the subject, and asked that a sub-committee should be appointed to investigate and report to the Ordnance Council respecting the remuneration that should be given to Captain Scott. The sub-committee was entirely independent, and had no connection whatever with any rival of Captain Scott. They considered the case with great care, and came to the conclusion that £2,000 was a sufficient reward to give to Captain Scott, taking into consideration that he had been employed on full pay to carry out his invention. Captain Scott conceived that this was not a sufficient remuneration, more especially as he represented that he had been put to considerable expense in carrying out his invention. The Board of Admiralty, accordingly requested that further investigation should be made into the expenses incurred by Captain Scott. With respect to the case of Major Palliser, it seemed to him to be an instance showing that the claims of inventors had not been overlooked. Major Palliser had received, in the shape of rewards, and of payment for expenses incurred by him, £22,500 up to the present time; and, in consequence, he had given tip all claim on the Government with respect to two of his inventions. But he had raised a number of claims on minor matters of which he conceived himself to be the inventor, and which he conceived would be of great benefit to the War Office. Those minor claims had been considered by the Council and also by a sub-commit tee, who reported that in respect of two out of these five or six claims it might be equitable to give Major Palliser £1,500. Out of all those who decided the question he thought only two could be said to be associated with the manufacturing Departments. All the rest were perfectly independent of those Departments.


asked, Whether in these cases inventors were allowed to plead their own cases? If not, it would appear that the War Office got confidential reports from officers, and who those officers were nobody knew.


said, he would come to that point. He could assure their Lordships that it was with the greatest difficulty that he individually was induced to agree in the opinion of the sub-committee that £1,500 should be offered to Major Palliser in respect of these inventions. With respect to the proceedings of the Council, when it was desirable to do so they received personal explanations from inventors and, if necessary, called in a referee. As to Mr. Lynall Thomas, five or six Secretaries of State, he thought, had severally considered his claims, and had successively come to a conclusion adverse to them. In 1859 or 1860 Mr. Lynall Thomas produced the gun to which the noble Earl (the Earl of Denbigh) had alluded. The noble Earl, in calling attention to Mr. Thomas's claims, had omitted to mention the fact that the first gun produced by this inventor in 1859–60, burst on the 16th round; whereupon Mr. Thomas desired to construct another gun, but the proposition was opposed by the Ordnance Select Committee, who recommended that no further gun should be produced of that description. In 1861, when he was Secretary of State, he was directed to intimate to Mr. Thomas that if a second gun were produced its soundness should be tested by two large charges of powder, and that its construction would be at his own risk and expense, as the Department were not prepared to encourage his proceeding with the construction of a second gun. That second gun, however, was made, and it also burst at the second round. Mr. Thomas was called upon to refund a sum of money expended at Woolwich upon the gun; but unfortunately he was not in a position to refund the money, and up to the present time it had not been refunded to the public. Mr. Lynall Thomas had also made application for a reward on account of certain theories he had hold for many years on gunnery; but competent authorities had given the opinion that those theories were not sound. Lastly, Mr. Lynall Thomas had raised a claim in respect of an alleged similarity between some patent of his, and an improvement that Mr. Frazer had effected in the construction of the Armstrong gun; but their Lordships would agree that no consideration could be given to this claim until at any rate some primâ facie evidence was produced by Mr. Thomas in support of his state- ment. In regard to the general principle on which this question rested, a circular published on the 23rd of February, 1809, clearly laid down—that no liability on behalf of the public would be recognised on account of any expenses incurred by inventors, unless such expenses had been incurred under the distinct and written authority of the Secretary of State. It appeared to be impossible to lay down any plan under which inventors should have a right to appeal to arbitration against the Government. The Secretary of State acted not for himself but as the guardian of the public purse in respect of those claims. An arbitrator would have no data to go upon in these matters. It would be impossible for an arbitrator to form any satisfactory opinion as to the value of these inventions. He hoped their Lordships would believe that these claims were investigated with every desire to do justice. As to the Papers which had been asked for, they were so incomplete—for in all the three cases there were representations made which had not yet been decided—that it would not be advisable to lay them on the Table.


while he admitted the difficulty experienced in the settlement of inventors' rights, said, he did not propose to enter into the question of the Patent Laws, but wished simply to state what he knew of Captain Scott's construction of a gun-carriage—as he happened to be at the Admiralty when Captain Scott introduced that invention. When very heavy guns were first put on board Her Majesty's ships, and the opinion was expressed by a noble Lord that the guns could not be used at all, the War Department were asked to make some carriages for those guns; but although they made several attempts they utterly failed, as was shown by a trial which took place on board an American vessel, when the second shot rendered the ship incapable of carrying on an action. At the time when the Government were most anxious to have an efficient gun-carriage Captain Scott came forward and devoted himself to the subject with such success that the Admiralty appointed him to the department charged with the fitting up of gun - carriages, and his efforts had been of great service to the department. True, he received full-pay, and that he also received about £2,000; but, considering his close devotion to the improvement of gun-carriages for so long a period, the present Admiralty, without being very lavish, might fairly give Captain Scott some additional remuneration for all that he had done for them. With regard to Major Palliser, no doubt his invention of a particular kind of shot was of great value when the Government were paying very dearly for steel shot; but the amount of award in his case was widely different from that in Captain Scott's, since the former received £22,000, while the latter obtained £2,000 only. He hoped, therefore, the Admiralty would re-consider the case of Captain Scott, and decide to give him a further award.


thought that when inventors laid their schemes before the Committee referred to they should at the same time submit a statement of the expenses to which they had been put in carrying out their invention, in order that the Committee should have sufficient data upon which to make their award.


urged the necessity for having independent judges to decide upon the value of inventions. Out of the £22,500 Major Palliser had received he had spent £13,000 or £14,000 upon the experiments necessary to enable him to bring his invention to perfection. A large part of this was personal expenditure; nor could it be said that these experiments had been senseless or extravagant, for the War Office themselves had admitted them to be prudent and well-conducted.


said, it was no easy thing exactly to determine the value of inventions before they had been put into actual practice for some time. In estimating the amount of remuneration that an inventor should receive, it must be borne in mind that there were two classes of inventors—those private inventors who carried out their experiments at their own expense, and those who, being in the public service, obtained the assistance of Government materials and machinery in perfecting their inventions. But beyond this it could scarcely be said that Captain Scott had been altogether unremunerated for the expenses to which he had been put. He believed that he was accurate in stating that it was partly in consequence of his inven- tion that that gallant officer had obtained the rank of captain; that during the period in which he was engaged in prosecuting his experiments he had been in receipt of full-pay; that he had been permitted to make use of Government materials; and that he had been engaged in experimenting on board Her Majesty's ships. Moreover, that the question as to the amount of remuneration he was to receive for the expenses he had incurred in conducting his experiments was not raised before the Committee of Ordnance was owing entirely to the fault of Captain Scott himself, inasmuch as in making out his claim to remuneration he had omitted altogether to make any statement with reference to such expenses. Captain Scott now refused to receive the £2,000 offered to him on the ground that it does not include his expenses; but he had been informed by the Admiralty that if he would lay before them a statement of the amount of those expenses, and show where and how they had been incurred, they would remit the matter to the Council of Ordnance for re-consideration without loss of time. He regretted that the noble Earl (the Earl of Denbigh) had not given notice of his intention to refer to the case of Commander Harvey's torpedoes; because had he done so he (the Earl of Camperdown) would have taken care to place himself in a position to furnish the noble Earl with the information he required on the subject. If the noble Earl desired to allude to this matter again, and would put a Notice of his intention to do so upon the Paper, he would gladly give him any information upon the subject that he could obtain.


said, he would not press for the Papers named in his Motion after what had fallen from the noble Earl who had spoken on behalf of the Government; although he must express his regret that no answer had been given to his Question whether or not inventors were allowed to plead their own causes before the Committee of Ordnance, either in person or by their agents?

Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.