HL Deb 09 March 1882 vol 267 cc442-9

said, he rose to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether any change was contemplated in the Board or in the Office? During the last 20 years a great number of changes had taken place in the matériel of the Navy—not only in the construction of ships, but in the style of armour, both offensive and defensive. Those were changes which had come within his own personal observation during his connection with that Department. For example, they began with a 4½-inch plate. By the time he left the Admiralty they had got as far as a 14-inch plate, and he believed they had now got as much as a 24-inch armour plate. Their offensive power had also increased. Twenty years ago, 35-ton guns were considered enormons; now they had guns of a calibre of 80 tons, and he believed there was some even larger. When all these changes were going on, it was natural that the public should be anxious to know upon what principle these changes were made. There was a general feeling—a feeling which, he believed, was shared by the Board of Admiralty and the First Lords—that some great changes were required in the office of the Department. Taking, for example, a ship like the Inflexible, which, he believed, had 39 engines on board, and all sorts of arrangements and contrivances, it was natural that there should be some superintending authority, with special qualifications, able to guide the Admiralty in the matter. He did not desire to removes the Naval officers from the Board, as he believed that they were necessary; but, in addition to them, there should be some person possessing scientific skill and a practical knowledge of the management of large engineering establishments. He was not one of those who were very anxious that rapid progress should be made in the building of large iron-clads. He rather doubted whether we were not going to see a further change in the system of shipbuilding. He believed that ships of a lighter draught and greater speed were coming into favour—ships capable of carrying heavier guns, and with a cellular system of water-tight compartments, rather than ships covered with heavy armour-plating. He did not attach much importance to a great deal that had been said during last autumn as to the inferiority of British ships to many in the French Navy; but he observed that among those who were acquainted with the subject there was great interest in the question as to the course that should be pursued with the view of placing at the command of the Admiralty the greatest engineering ability. He wished, therefore, to ask the First Lord whether any changes in this direction were contemplated? He was not satisfied with the gun, the ram, or the torpedo. As regarded the gun, he believed we were still keeping to the system of muzzle-loading. He had long since come to the opinion that we must have breech-loading guns. Further, he thought that a gun of 50 or 60 tons was preferable to a 100-ton gun, if we had compressed steel; and if that was not possible at present, it would be soon. Again, there was the torpedo—an engine which required great care in its management to prevent it damaging the very vessel which carried it. As to the ships, they must be constructed with the greatest care, and every attention paid both to the armour and all the internal parts—the machinery. Those were only a few of the difficulties in the way of the Board, and they made it very desirable that more mechanical and engineering skill should be brought into the Admiralty. He hoped, therefore, that his noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty would be able to state that some changes were in contemplation, and that he would give their Lordships some idea of what they were.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Duke for giving me an opportunity of shortly explaining to your Lordships a change which is proposed in the constitution of the Board of Admiralty, with the object of strengthening the administration of the matériel of the Navy. But, before doing that, I should like to say one word upon a subject touched upon by the noble Duke—namely, the large guns which are now being manufactured at Woolwich for the future ships of the Fleet. The present arrangement with respect to large guns is that they shall be breech-loading, and not muzzle-loading guns. The alteration in the construction of guns and the enlargement of the powder chamber has given greater power to the guns than they had under former systems. To obtain a very powerful gun the barrel must be long, and therefore it must be loaded at the breech, in order to be worked on the broadsides of ships. The noble Duke has rightly pointed out that by using steel instead of wrought iron for coils greater strength will be given to guns; and I have no doubt, speaking on the authority of able officers who are acquainted technically with these matters, that it will be possible to place on board ship guns of a weight not exceeding 60 tons which will be sufficiently powerful to pierce any armour-plate, whether compound or otherwise, on any ship now afloat or building. With regard to the Question of the noble Duke, your Lordships are probably aware that the business of the Admiralty is transacted in three principal divisions—The personnel of the Navy and the movements and condition of the fleets, under the First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, assisted by the Second and Junior Naval Lords. The matériel of the Navy, under the Controller, a Naval officer, who is appointed for five years; he is not a member of the Board of Admiralty, but has the right to attend the Board when designs for ships or any other matters emanating from his department are discussed. The third division is the finance of the Navy, under the Financial Secretary. These high officers are responsible to the First Lord of the Admiralty for the business under their charge; and he, again, is responsible to the Queen and to Parliament for all the business of the Admiralty. This distribution of business, and this respon- sibility, were prescribed almost in the very words I have used by an Order of the Queen in Council, passed in March, 1872, when my right hon. Friend Mr. Goschen was First Lord of the Admiralty, founded upon a former Order framed by Mr. Childers, and it has remained in force up to the present time. My Lords, during the last 25 years I have been connected with the Admiralty in different capacities. I was Private Secretary to Lord Halifax at the end of the Crimean War, and afterwards Civil Lord under him. I was subsequently Secretary to the Admiralty under the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset). I have, therefore, some experience in the matter; and I can say, with perfect sincerity, that I believe the Department has never been in better working order than it is under the provisions of the Order in Council which was passed by Mr. Goschen in 1872. My Lords, while this is so, I have found it generally admitted that the machinery of administration which deals with the matériel requires strengthening. I use the word "strengthening" deliberately, for I do not wish it to be supposed that I desire to make any substantial change. In my opinion, and I believe in that of all my Predecessors, it is essential that the responsibility for the matériel of the Navy should be placed upon a Naval officer of distinction—such as Rear Admiral Brandreth, who now fills the office of Controller—who knows the requirements of the Service, and possesses the confidence of the Navy. As to the constructive and engineering staff, I have taken every opportunity of ascertaining the sentiments of officers of the Navy and other professional men; and I feel confident that the constructive staff of the Admiralty may fearlessly challenge comparison in respect to the ships of war built of late years, and their engines, with the Naval Constructors of any other nation. But the want which I have indicated has been pressed upon me by the very men who are engaged upon this important work—by Admiral Sir Houston Stewart, the distinguished officer who for 10 years filled, and who has only very lately left, the office of Controller, and by Mr. Barnaby, the able and accomplished Director of Naval Construction; and the reason of this want requires but little explanation. It has arisen from the vast changes which, as everybody knows, have taken place of late years in the types of our ships and guns, and in the introduction of torpedoes as an arm of offence and defence. These changes involve not only new problems of Naval construction, but engineering and mechanical contrivances of great intricacy and delicacy, upon which the efficiency of our fighting ships must in future greatly depend. Your Lordships will readily perceive that it has thus become not only greatly to the advantage of the Public Service, but even an absolute necessity, that the Admiralty should be able to command the ablest advice and assistance from outside upon these subjects. It is, therefore, proposed to make no substantial change in the duties or responsibility of the Controller of the Navy, or in the Constructive Department, but to strengthen the Controller by giving him the assistance of a gentleman who, to use the terms of the proposed Order in Council, Shall possess special mechanical and engineering knowledge, as well as administrative experience in the superintendence of large private establishments. The best and most appropriate position for our new Adviser is that he should have a seat at the Board of Admiralty as an additional Civil Lord, and this necessarily involves replacing the Controller upon the Board—a position which he held for some time before the Order in Council of 1872. It will be provided that neither the office of additional Naval nor that of additional Civil Lord shall be held by a Member of Parliament. By this plan the Board of Admiralty will secure the advice and assistance we require in the most convenient manner, and with the least possible interference with present arrangements. I must, however, frankly admit to your Lordships that the success of such a proposal as I have sketched must mainly depend upon the selection of a fit and proper person to fill the new post upon the Board of Admiralty. I have the satisfaction of feeling that in this the Government have been fortunate, for they have been able to secure the services of Mr. George Rendel, who is well known as one of the ablest engineers and mechanicians of the day, and who, as one of Sir William Armstrong's partners in the management of the great Elswick factories—a connection which he will, of course, now give up—has had large experience in the construction of the wonderful hydraulic machinery which many of your Lordships may have admired on board the Inflexible and others of our most recent men-of-war, as well as in the designing and fitting of ships of war, and in the management of a large manufactory. I have never, in the course of my experience, found so great an unanimity of opinion among all persons qualified to judge, as upon the value of Mr. George Rendel's services in the particular position which I have indicated. I am authorized by my Predecessor in my present Office (Mr. W. H. Smith), to state to your Lordships that he had come to the conclusion that it would be greatly to the public advantage to obtain Mr. Rendel's services, and that he had already entered into some communications with him on the subject before Lord Beaconsfield's Administration resigned. This change, my Lords, which will immediately be proposed for the approval of the Queen in Council, and carried into effect as soon as I am satisfied of the concurrence of the other House of Parliament, will add two members to the Board of Admiralty, although, as respects one of them—the Controller—it is hardly a real addition, for he has now the right to attend the Board when business relating to the matériel is under discussion. The number of the Board will be six besides the First Lord, and I am satisfied that no practical inconvenience will result from this addition. The Board of Admiralty is now, as your Lordships are probably aware, used as a consultative body only for the discussion of subjects of considerable importance; and, as a matter of fact, the number of members will now be no more than the number which composed the Board during the 30 years which ended with 1822. I may observe that the Order in Council has been so drawn as to provide that, in case my successor at the Admiralty should wish to revert to the present arrangement, the Controller, if no longer appointed to be a member of the Board, would continue to hold his Office for the term of five years for which he was originally appointed, and the Office of additional Civil Lord would lapse. Your Lordships will understand that it would not be consistent with the constitution of the Board of Admiralty that the tenure of Office of any member of the Board should depend upon anything else than the Letters Patent issued from time to time by the Crown. Mr. Rendel fully understands this, and has accepted the position subject to the same conditions as attach to the tenure of Office of other Lords of the Admiralty. I feel that I shall be excused for not dwelling any longer upon my own reasons for the conclusions which I have thus shortly explained when I inform your Lordships that the changes which I have described have received the unanimous and cordial support of Sir Cooper Key and the other members of the Board of Admiralty, as well as of Mr. Trevelyan, who so well fills the Office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. We trust that the change will promote the efficiency of the administration of the Navy, as well as the most advantageous disposal of the sums of money which the liberality of Parliament places at the disposal of the Board of Admiralty. I may take this opportunity of mentioning a smaller change, which, if, indeed, it can be rightly termed a change at all, will be proposed in the new Order in Council. Under the scheme of 1872 three Secretaries to the Admiralty were provided—the Parliamentary Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, and the Naval Secretary. In 1877, when Mr. Vernon Lushington left the Office of Permanent Secretary, it was decided, I think rightly, that two Secretaries besides the Parliamentary Secretary were not required. The Office of Permanent Secretary has accordingly not since been filled up, and the secretarial duties have been faithfully discharged by the Naval Secretary, Vice Admiral Hall, without a Colleague. The term of service of Vice Admiral Hall will shortly expire, and it is proposed to revert to the old arrangement—that besides the Parliamentary Secretary there shall be only one Secretary, who shall be called the Permanent Secretary, and who, as in former times, may be a Naval officer or a civilian. I have much pleasure in informing your Lordships that when Vice Admiral Hall's term of Office expires, the Office will be filled by Mr. Hamilton, the Accountant General of the Navy, one of the ablest members of the permanent Civil Service, who will, I am confident, be a worthy successor to the many dis- tinguished men who have filled that important post.


said, that he had hoped to hear from the noble Earl that very much more substantial changes were about to be made. He was glad to hear that the Controller was about to have a seat at the Board; but nothing was said about the Constructor. He would suggest that in view of the large number of persons in this country who were engaged in the ship-building trade, the Government should deal with the matter of construction on a broader principle than that on which they now acted—that it would be far better if the Admiralty, having first settled as to what ships they wanted, should throw the matter open to the whole Kingdom, inviting designs, and leaving the Board to decide as to what ships should be built. Such a system would prevent the Department from falling into any particular groove. He congratulated the Government on having secured the services of Mr. Rendel.