§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH:
My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government, with reference to a letter written by Captain Bacon, R.N., to the First Sea Lord in April, 1906, commenting on what he describes as "the Service agitation headed by Lord Charles Beresford and Admiral Lambton," for what purpose the letter was published and circulated; whether the Board of Admiralty as a whole consider that the letter in question with the sentiments expressed in it was a proper one to have been written by a junior captain to a First Sea Lord; whether they approve of its printing; and whether they approve of its publication and circulation.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE:
My Lords, I am not sorry that the noble Earl has put this series of Questions, because the matter, I understand, is one which has aroused some little interest in the Press and has led to Questions in another place. I understand that the letter referred to was a private letter written by Captain Bacon to the First Sea Lord, he having been previously at the Admiralty in a subordinate position closely associated with the First Sea Lord. The letter was not circulated or published. It is true that it was printed, but, as noble Lords opposite who are acquainted with the working of public Departments know, it is by no means an uncommon thing for a purely private letter to be printed for the convenience of the head of the Department. In this case the letter was printed for the convenience of Lord Tweedmouth, who was at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, and the printing was simply carried out for the purpose of convenience of record. That is a frequent practice. The noble Viscount opposite, Lord Midleton, who has been Secretary of State for India, knows that I am right in saying that practically every private communication received from India is printed. Therefore to assume, as the noble Earl, or those who have advised him, seem to assume, that the printing of a document of this kind implies in any sense publication is to be entirely mistaken as to the facts of the case.
The noble Earl
then asks whether the Board of Admiralty as a whole consider that the letter in question with the sentiments expressed in it was a proper one to have been written by a junior captain to a First Sea Lord. As a rule I strongly deprecate questions as to the opinions of particular members of the Board of Admiralty, or of the Army Council, or of any other kindred body. It is a custom—I think a very unfortunate custom—which has grown up of late years to attempt to go behind the opinion expressed by the political head of a Department and endeavour to discover what his permanent advisers think of a particular question. In this case I have no quarrel with the noble Earl for asking the question, because it is, of course, a personal matter, and one affecting the honour of individuals, and consequently it is relevant to ask what the opinion of the members of the Board may be. I am able to say that all the members of the Board of Admiralty, without exception, consider that the letter was a perfectly proper one to have been written by Captain Bacon to the First Sea Lord.
Then the noble Earl asks whether they approve of its publication and circulation. In one sense, as I have pointed out, the letter has not been either circulated or published; but in another sense, I am sorry to say, it has been published, or, at any rate, parts of it have been published, and it can only have been published through a flagrant breach of confidence on the part of some person; and, so far as that kind of publication is concerned, I am quite certain that not only the Board of Admiralty, but also everybody else, will strongly disapprove of the action which has been taken.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH:
Would it be indiscreet to ask whether any steps can be taken to find out who is responsible for the circulation of the letter?
§ THE EARL OF CREWE:
I will inquire.
House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock, till tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.