§ MR. BENTINCK
, in rising to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the practice of placing at the head of the Admiralty civilians, who from their antecedents cannot be conversant with the business of that Department, is detrimental to the interests of the service,said: Sir, the importance of the subject to which I am about to refer must be my apology for asking for the attention of the House. It is not over stating the case, if I say that not only the honour and the welfare, but that the very existence of this country must depend mainly on the efficiency of our Navy. When we consider our insular position, our many and distant colonial possessions, and, still more, when we consider that in time of war this country must depend on our Navy for her supplies of food, it will be admitted that I have not over-stated the importance of the efficiency of our Navy. But, Sir, if the efficiency of our Navy is at all times of the highest importance, it becomes in the present aspect of the affairs of Europe, if possible, more important still. That which is 1874 commonly known as the "Eastern Question" may, at any moment, lead to consequences of the gravest kind. We have heard much also lately of the question of the Suez Canal. Well, Sir, without going further into that question, I contend that the country which will control matters with respect to the Suez Canal, will be the country which holds a naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. How do we try to maintain the efficiency of our Navy? A system prevails in the constitution of the Board of Admiralty, under which we attempt to combine responsibility with an utter want of knowledge of all professional details. Now, Sir, in adverting to this system, I beg to be understood that I am not attacking individuals, but that I condemn a system which places men in a false position. I give full credit to the many distinguished civilians, on both sides of the House, who have held the office of First Lord of the Admiralty, for the energy and ability which they have shown, but I contend that a civilian, with no knowledge of naval matters, cannot fill that post, either with advantag to the country, or with credit to himself; and I contend that the combination of responsibility with ignorance must lead to the most disastrous results. It is said that the First Lord is guided by the advice of his Naval Colleagues; but those Colleagues are not responsible, and men devoid of responsibility will often sanction that which they would not endorse under a sense of responsibility. Many events have occurred lately which may be traced to the evil influence of the present system. I will advert to only a few of such cases. Take the case of the Megœra. Had there been a sailor at the head of the Admiralty, responsible for the conduct of the business of that Department, I cannot believe that after the report received from the naval authorities at Queenstown, that vessel would have been sent to sea on a long voyage in the condition in which she was, and the consequence of which was the loss of the ship, and a narrow escape from the loss of many lives. A sailor would have understood that the vessel was not in a condition to be be sent to sea with safety, and he would not have sanctioned a piece of paltry economy, which could be the only motive for not substituting another vessel for the service which had to be performed. Take the 1875 more recent case of the Vanguard. Again, I cannot believe that a sailor, solely responsible for the conduct of the business of the Admiralty, would have sanctioned the practice of sending to sea a fleet of heavy iron-clads, to cruise in narrow waters, under-manned, and with scratch crews, a practice to which the loss of the Vanguard must be chiefly attributed. I would remark also, that had a sailor been at the head of the Admiralty, I doubt whether the Admiralty Minute on the Vanguard Court-martial would ever have appeared. All these incidents show that the political and not the naval element is in the ascendant at the Admiralty. I will only further advert to the practice of supplying Her Majesty's ships with chain cables insufficient for the weight of the ships, if the old scale of the cables for tonnage is to be relied on. This practice is another specimen of mistaken economy, which would not be sanctioned by a sailor responsible for the safety of Her Majesty's ships. All these cases show, with hundreds more which I could quote, how civilian mismanagement is destructive of the efficiency of our Navy. There is no precedent for, the practice of selecting a man who can have no knowledge of its business, to preside over a great Department of the Government. Such a practice would be scouted as an absurdity in any other Department, and in any business, naval or other, conducted by private enter-prize. Would any man in his senses embark his capital in an undertaking if he knew that its management was to be confided to a man who had no previous knowledge of the business to be conducted? I will take the case of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. He is a man highly educated, of great ability, and of high moral character. Well, Sir, it would create some surprise if we were told some morning that my right hon. Friend had been made Archbishop of Canterbury. And yet I contend that my right hon. Friend could fulfil the duties of an Archbishop, with more advantage to the Church, and with more credit to himself, than he possibly can perform the duties of First Lord of the Admiralty. It has been said that Parliament must have control over the Admiralty, and therefore that the head of the Admiralty must be in Parliament. Why, Sir, so long as the money for the Admiralty 1876 depends on the Vote of the House of Commons, that control must always exist. What is wanted is a Naval Secretary in the House of Commons, who without interfering with the business of the Admiralty, would bring forward the Estimates, and state the condition and requirements of the Navy. Moreover, I should prefer to see the Estimates presented to the House in print rather than in a long speech, which is susceptible of misconstruction. It has further been urged by the opponents of my views that naval men are apt to be prejudiced. Sir, I would ask whether civilians have been always found exempt from that weakness, and if it were so with naval men, I would ask whether total ignorance is not of the two the greater drawback to the discharge of complicated duties? It has been also urged that as a rule naval men are not to be found equal to the position. I believe this to be a libel upon the higher ranks of the Navy. Nothing conduces more than a sea life to give a man habits of thought and general knowledge, and I believe that a Cabinet might easily be formed from the higher ranks of the Navy which would contrast favourably with any Cabinet of civilians. I have by me a list of the First Lords of the Admiralty, for nearly a century, which shows that in almost all the most important periods of our history naval men have been at the head of the Admiralty, and that civilians have been chiefly resorted to in time of peace. Another drawback to the present state of things is the recurrence of a change of system in the Admiralty, with every change of Government. But, Sir, I should wish to quote one, and only one opinion upon the question to which my Motion refers, but it is an opinion, the weight of which must be admitted by the House. I will read to the House what Sir George Cockburn, who was for 17 years First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, says upon the subject. Sir George Cockburn, in a pamphlet devoted to this question, writes—I have no hesitation in stating that I consider the present establishment of the Board of Admiralty to be the most unsatisfactory and least efficient for its purpose that could have been devised.Again, Sir George Cockburn writes—Secondly, as regards the proceedings of the Board, when united for general business, I must 1877 premise that nothing can well be more contrary to reason, and, I may say, to common sense, than for a person to he selected to preside at such professional Board, who is totally unable, and admits his inability to understand three-fourths of the professional statements, or even expressions, contained in the various documents read on such occasions to the Board, and which therefore the professional members of the Board, become obliged to occupy time in explaining, and endeavouring to make him comprehend, which nevertheless cannot be always sufficiently effected.Sir, I could quote much more that Sir George Cockburn has written to the same effect, but I have shown the opinion of the highest authority extant on the subject involved in my Motion. This is no Party question. Both sides are interested in the efficiency of the Navy, but the post of First Lord is too good a prize in the political lottery to be readily abandoned, and the efficiency of the Navy is sacrificed to the cupidity of professional politicians. Sir, the importance of the efficiency of our Navy cannot be over estimated. That efficiency is impaired by the present system. My Motion involves an assertion which cannot be contradicted, and I ask the House not to sanction the continuance of a system, which has lowered the efficiency of the Navy, which is in itself a practical absurdity, and the disastrous consequences of which are constantly forced upon the attention of the country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ MR. MONK
, in rising to second the Motion, said that, as a considerable portion of his hon. Friend's remarks did not reach that side of the House, he trusted he should be forgiven if he should inadvertently travel over any portion of the ground which had been gone over by his hon. Friend. A Motion affecting the constitution of the Board of Admiralty was one of great moment, and was surrounded by many difficulties; while, at the same time, it was one of such vital importance to the Navy, that, as a civilian, he should have shrunk from offering any opinion if he did not think it necessary that the views which he held, and which were certainly entertained largely out-of-doors, though they might not meet with a responsive echo in that House, should be fairly and fully stated. He agreed with his hon. Friend that the practice which had been so long pursued was detrimental to the 1878 public service, and he wished to know why a different principle should be adopted in appointing the First Lord of the Admiralty from that which was followed in the appointment of the heads of other Departments. When the Woolsack was vacant did they take a nonprofessional man, however able, and place him at the head of the law? On the contrary, they looked for one of the most distinguished lawyers at the Bar and made him Lord Chancellor. When a vacancy occurred at Lambeth did the Government recommend any one to fill the See of Canterbury but an eminent divine, distinguished for his learning and his piety? Yet when appointing a First Lord of the Admiralty, instead of seeking for a man of great naval experience, they selected a civilian, who had had no special training, and whose previous official life had been spent at the Board of Trade, at the Treasury, or at the Home Office. How was he to gain his naval experience? It could not be acquired by mere summer cruises, or visits to Dockyards, or consultations with his Naval Advisers; but even when the First Lord began to acquire some knowledge of his Department, he was either transferred to some other office or lost his post by the incoming of a new Government, and another civilian took his place who was equally inexperienced. The witnesses examined before the Duke of Somerset's Committee were unanimously of opinion that the present constitution of the Board of Admiralty was unsatisfactory; and Mr. Vernon Lushington expressed his opinion that it was a great advantage that the First Lord should be a professional man. The position of the First Lord was most exceptional. His power was paramount, and he was wholly irresponsible. True, he was responsible to Hoi-Majesty and to Parliament, but everyone knew what that responsibility meant. Practically he was irresponsible, unless it were to public opinion, and even against that he might be upheld by the Parliamentary majority of his Party. He had three Naval Advisers, indeed, but it was not obligatory on him to take their advice. The recent reversal of a portion of the finding of the Court-martial on the loss of the Vanguard was far from satisfactory to the Service, and certainly caused a great deal of surprise among all classes of the coun- 1879 try. He believed that all the naval officers who had spoken in the debate on the subject had found fault with the mode in which the First Lord had dealt with the finding of the Court-martial. Was it right that a civilian should set up his opinion against that of distinguished officers such as those who sat on that Court-martial? No doubt, on such an occasion, the First Lord would consult the Naval Advisers of his Board; but were they as competent to form an opinion as those who sat on the Court-martial and heard all the evidence? He would go further, and say, that in his opinion a civilian was not the best judge of what was due to the personal and professional honour of officers of the Navy. In the case of the Army, a distinguished military officer was at the head of it, and he did not see any reason why a distinguished naval officer should not be placed at the head of the Navy. For these reasons, he had great pleasure in seconding the Motion.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the practice of placing at the head of the Admiralty civilians, who from their antecedents cannot be conversant with the business of that Department, is detrimental to the interests of the service,"—(Mr. Bentinck,)
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, several Motions of a similar character have been brought forward before by the hon. Member for West Norfolk, and now he calls upon the House to declare—That the practice of placing at the head of the Admiralty civilians, who from their antecedents cannot be conversant with the business of that Department, is detrimental to the interests of the Service.Now, when a Motion is brought forward of this character, and when we are called upon to declare what the Motion asserts it is exceedingly desirable that the House should, before they decide, obtain, as far as they can, an accurate idea of what the business of that Department is which the civilian First Lord of the Admiralty is called on to perform. Now, at the Admiralty there is a programme of duties apportioned to the different Members of the Board, and among them there is what is called a table of 1880 duties to be performed by the First Lord. I will read that table to the House. In that table the following duties are allotted to the First Lord:—First, he has the general direction and supervision of the Department; second, he has to attend to all political questions; third, to promotions; fourth, to honours; fifth, to civil appointments; sixth, to the conservancy of the River Mersey; and, seventh, to appointments to naval commands. Now the House will at once see that, so far as that table of duties is concerned, the civilian First Lord of the Admiralty is called upon to fulfil no duties which an experienced statesman ought not to be perfectly prepared to perform. As, however, the business has increased and time advanced, that table of duties, though still in record at the Admiralty, is not a sufficiently complete and full one of those which the civilian First Lord of the Admiralty is called on to perform; and I think we may add to it the following duties:—He is directly responsible to Parliament for the expenditure of £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 of the public money. In him is centred all naval, political, and civil questions generally. He is responsible for the disposition of the Fleets abroad, and for all political complications where the Navy is concerned. He is answerable for the entire Dockyard management, involving the employment of from 15,000 to 20,000 men, and for seeing that the money voted annually is economically and properly administered. The financial policy of the Board is under his exclusive control. In addition to these duties, all new works, questions of pay—naval and civilian—training ships, Reserves, stores, and numerous other matters are directly under his management. I think the original table of duties, with those which I have now enumerated, will give the House a complete account of the duties which have to be performed by a civilian First Lord, and I ask the House to consider whether there is anything in the items which I have mentioned which a man who has been long in either House of Parliament, whose life has been devoted to the study of public questions, and who is not only by courtesy, but in reality entitled to be styled a statesman—I ask whether there are any of those duties which such a man is not able adequately to discharge? Well, there are other duties unquestion- 1881 ably which have to be performed at the Admiralty. There are the purely naval questions, such as the construction and building of ships, their armour, guns, and the innumerable technicalities attaching to naval architecture and naval warfare. Besides these there are the appointments to naval commands, and the delicate and important question of promotions. These are questions for the settlement of which it may truly be said that a civilian competent to form an opinion on public affairs—a man, generally speaking, of great ability and considerable political experience—might not be found inadequate. On these points, however, the First Lord is not asked to take the initiative, but, being advised by the Naval Members of the Board, he sifts the pros and cons, and decides as he deems best for the Service. Although he certainly possesses a supreme command—and without that the administration of such a Board would soon be anarchy—yet, practically, the decision of professional questions is left to the Naval Lords. It is, therefore, I think, advisable that in considering this question the House should have a clear, though a general, idea of the duties which the civilian First Lord of the Admiralty, whose employment is said to be detrimental to the interests of the nation, is called on to perform. The gist of the argument of the hon. Member for West Norfolk is, that in the office of First Lord there is a combination of responsibilities, or rather, I think he said a knowledge combined with ignorance of the subject, which comes to pretty much the same thing. I have heard the hon. Member speak upon this subject before, and not only once. I remember that nearly 20 years ago he seconded Sir Charles Napier, who brought forward a Motion on the unsatisfactory state of the Navy; and it is only justice to him to say that from the first he has been thoroughly consistent in his views upon this matter. The object of Sir Charles Napier was to prove that the Navy was going to ruin, and that that lamentable state of affairs was to be attributed to the fact that the Chief of the Admiralty was a civilian. Unfortunately, it came out on that discussion, as I well remember, that Sir Charles Napier had solicited a post of Lord at the Admiralty from the civilian Chief of the then existing Board; and 1882 though that fact might in some degree affect the arguments of the gallant Admiral, it did not affect that of the hon. Member for East Norfolk, who seconded him, and who now adheres to the position he has always taken. His two objections to the present system are that it is attended by too frequent changes, and that there is too much of a jobbing propensity in such a Board of Administration. With regard to changes which occur in the Board of Admiralty, which is a Parliamentary Board, we must remember that if you are to have a strictly professional Board, the tendency to change would rather be increased. Generally speaking, the Board of Admiralty is disturbed now only on the occurrence of a change in the Ministry; but if you are to have exclusively Naval Members it would be altered, not by change of Ministry but by change of service, because its members naturally look to the preferments to which they have a right to succeed. With regard to the jobbing propensities of the Board, I would recall what was said by Sir Sidney Dacres in his evidence before a Committee in 1871.Admiral Sir Sidney Dacres was asked by the Duke of Somerset, 'Is the recent Order in Council which prevents Admirals employed on the Board of Admiralty from counting their services at the Admiralty as sea time calculated to interfere with the future efficiency of the Board of Admiralty?' He replied, 'No, I do not think so. I think that the fact of officers remaining long at the Admiralty destroys their usefulness as sea officers.'If that is a sound opinion—the authority is great, and it seems to have been accepted by the Committee—it destroys the argument of the hon. Member based on the objection that the present arrangement leads to constant changes. As to the jobbing propensities of these Parliamentary Boards, I would cite the opinion of Sir James Graham, Sir John Barrow, Sir Charles Wood, and, still later, Admiral Lord John Hay, who agree in substance that civilians are much less likely to be prejudiced in making appointments than naval officers would be. I will read the opinion of Lord John Hay, which is the most recent one, and many of us know him, for he was long a Member of this House. He said—I think that with reference to the question of promotion and patronage, and all that, it is absolutely necessary it should not be in the 1883 hands of naval men; not that they are not as honest and conscientious as everybody else is, but simply because their views with regard to promotion and patronage all run in grooves: they are too much influenced (although insensibly) by people whom they have known upon particular stations, and by their followers. I think that they are not so well fitted for dispensing the patronage as a statesman and a civilian.These remarks apply appositely to the two great objections which are always urged against the present system by the hon. Gentleman. His chief argument is that there is a combination of responsibility and ignorance, and the consequence of that is the occurrence of naval disasters; and he adduces two cases in proof, one of which is that of the Megœra. I put it to any hon. Gentleman on the other side who heard that case as stated by the hon. Gentleman, whether it had really anything to do with the question of the Chief of our Naval Administration being a professional man or a civilian. If it means anything, it means, so far as the ease goes, that there was false economy at work, and that, I imagine, may occur with a naval Chief as well as a civilian Chief, for economy depends upon a greater power than any Board of Admiralty. Then the hon. Member brought forward the case of the Vanguard, and he considered that all the accidents that led to the disastrous loss of that vessel were due to a civilian being at the head of the Admiralty. If he had said it had resulted from a civilian being at the head of the Squadron I could have understood the argument, and I think it probable that things would have been as well managed as they were by the professional officers. I really think the two instances brought forward are not such as ought to lead us to adopt his Resolution. The hon. Member rested his arguments mainly upon the authority of Sir George Cockburn, whom I remember in this House; he was a most gallant officer and a man of stern and severe character, and I acknowledge the weight of his authority. I believe that during his 17 years' naval administration he had pretty well his own way, and therefore he was hardly the witness I should have thought would have been brought forward against the present system, because it was very well known—certainly while Lord Melbourne was First Lord of the Treasury—Sir George Cockburn exercised a preponde- 1884 rant power, and the generally satisfactory state of the British Fleet during that period was attributed by the country mainly to the character and influence of Sir George Cockburn. In the latter part of his life he became, as we are all accustomed to become, too critical; when he was no longer in office he probably thought affairs were not managed as well as they were during his 17 years' tenure of office, and he left a legacy to his countrymen, from which the hon. Member has quoted profusely this evening. The Duke of Somerset has been quoted more than once. He is a member of the Liberal Party; he is a statesman who is much respected on both sides of the House. He is a man whose capacity is always at the service of the country, and at this moment he is engaged upon business of grave importance. He was, although a civilian, a most able First Lord of the Admiralty for six years. He was examined before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1861, and in his examination by the Chairman these questions and answers occur—I wish to know whether your Grace thinks that any difference would arise if the First Lord were a professional man, instead of, as hitherto has been the case, a civilian?—I think there would be some advantages and some disadvantages from that. The first question is, whether the First Lord of the Admiralty is to be a Minister or not. I do not think that, with a Representative Government in the country, you could go on without having the First Lord of the Admiralty a Cabinet Minister. I consider that that would be found to be necessary; and if you are to have the First Lord a Cabinet Minister, it will not often happen that no officer will be found in the Navy in that position in Parliament to be made a Cabinet Minister. That is the first difficulty that I see in what the hon. Member seems to point at—namely, having the First Lord essentially a naval man.Has your Grace formed any opinion as to any advantage which might be derived by such a change as having a naval person for the First Lord?—I think it an impossible condition. If Parliament is to manage and control the Navy affairs, and the Admiralty is to be represented in Parliament, I think it would be an impossible condition to make it essential to have a naval man at the head. I observe that even in France, where they have not that same necessity, they do not put a naval man at the head of the Admiralty. At the present moment they have a civilian; and in years back there have been more civilians than naval men as Ministers of Marine in France.I think I rightly understood your Grace's opinion as expressed on a former day, turning to a different subject, to be rather against than in favour of an idea which prevails in some 1885 quarters, that the First Lord of the Admiralty ought to be a naval officer?—I do not think that there is any reason against a naval officer if the naval officer is in a position to he First Lord of the Admiralty. But, as far as we know from history, naval officers have not been very successful First Lords; and it has had this effect—it has not tended so much to bring naval knowledge to the Admiralty, but it has tended to carry politics into the Navy, and if we were to refer to past times, we should see that when naval officers were at the head of the Admiralty, there was a question of even whether an officer of opposite politics could safely take the command of a fleet. Therefore, it will be seen that Naval First Lords were not successful in administering the affairs of the Navy. I think if I were to go through the periods of Lord Keppel, Lord Howe, or Lord St. Vincent, they are not successful examples of Naval First Lords of the Admiralty, and they are the last examples that we have had.There has been one since the Committee—the Duke of Northumberland—but his period of Administration was brief. Then we have the evidence of Sir James Graham, a Member of the Liberal Party, who is also recognized by both sides of the House, I believe, as a successful First Lord of the Admiralty. He was supposed to combine great efficiency in the Service with admirable financial reforms. He was four years at the Admiralty, and, as we all know, was one of the most experienced men who have ever taken part in public affairs. On this subject—I do not know whether it was before the same Committee, but it was, at all events, before a very modern Committee—he was asked—May I ask your view with reference to the opinion held by a great number of individuals as to the office of First Lord being held by a naval officer?—At my present age, and in my present state, I am a dispassionate spectator. I have no interest whatever in that question personally, but I have some experience, and I am strongly of opinion that while our Government is Parliamentary, it is greatly in favour both of the Service and of the State that a civilian should be at the head of the Board of Admiralty.Would you hold that opinion as strongly if the office was entirely divested of any political bearing?—Under our Parliamentary Government, I cannot conceive it to be divested of political hearing. Next to the Army, and almost equal to the Army, the expenditure of the Navy is the largest branch of the annual outlay of the State submitted to Parliament in annual Estimates; and my strong opinion is that the House of Commons, being now the great centre of power (I wish to speak respectfully of the House of Peers, and should be very sorry that Peers were hold disqualified from being First Lords of the Admiralty), on the whole, it is desirable that the 1886 First Lord should be a Member of the House of Commons, and a man who, by Parliamentary experience and Parliamentary training, has fitted himself for high office, or is supposed to be fitted for high office.Mr. Austin Bruce, a Member of the Committee, who now sits in the other House as Lord Aberdare, then addressed Sir James Graham—You have expressed a decided opinion in favour of a civilian First Lord, rather than a professional First Lord. Does that objection to a professional First Lord arise from the difficulty of obtaining a man of adequate Parliamentary weight and capacity, and of securing for him a seat in the House of Commons?—No, it rests on more general grounds. Certainly, as the question conveys, there is a great difficulty in finding a naval officer, however eminent in his own profession, consistently with Parliamentary government, capable of performing adequately the political functions; and, looking at the matter historically, I see that all the most successful naval administrations have been the administrations of civilians, and, speaking generally, the most unfortunate and the worst have been those of Naval First Lords.The Administration of Lord Chatham was perhaps the most successful Administration in English history. You recollect that Lord Anson was his First Lord of the Admiralty?—Yes.Was Lord Anson's administration a failure?—I cannot answer particularly with respect to Lord Anson's administration; but, coming a little nearer, I have strong historical evidence of the greatest evils arising from a Naval First Lord, and his professional prejudices. I would illustrate it by the case of Lord Keppel in 1782. There is this remarkable fact, that Lord Keppel had serious quarrels and misunderstandings with Lord Rodney; and Lord Keppel, being First Lord, recalled Lord Rodney from the command in the West Indies in a manner the most summary and the least considerate that can well be imagined. The historical statement will be found in the seventh volume of Lord Mahon's History. It so happened that the order for his recall from the West Indies crossed the despatch bearing Lord Rodney's account of his great victory of the 12th of April, and it was by mere accident that Lord Rodney was not recalled on the eve of the battle of the 12th of April.I do not know whether the House will bear any further recollections of this kind, but it is important that we should decide this question by the authority of the most eminent men we have produced. In the evidence of Sir James Graham we have the opinions of an able statesman, entirely free from passion or interest. He was asked further—Besides Lord Keppel and Lord Anson, who have been mentioned, there have been the administrations of Lord Howe and Lord St. Vincent. What is your opinion of the administration of Lord St. Vincent as First Lord?—I regard Lord St. Vincent as one of the greatest 1887 of our naval heroes, and, on his own element, almost unrivalled in history. I have read the debates when Lord St. Vincent was First Lord of the Admiralty, in which Mr. Pitt, after the Peace of Amiens, discussing the naval preparations and the defences generally of this country, made a Motion for inquiry, which Mr. Fox supported; and I find that by almost universal consent at that time Lord St. Vincent's naval administration at the Admiralty was condemned, he being certainly, on his own element, one of the greatest of naval commanders.Thus, when Lord St. Vincent was First Lord, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox agreed—in what? In condemning the administration of the Navy by a naval officer. The evidence continues—Then the popular motion that Lord St. Vincent's administration laid the foundation, to a great extent, for the triumphs of Lord Nelson, you conceive to be fallacious?—I should certainly say it was not Lord St. Vincent's naval administration that led to Lord Nelson's triumphs in 1805. Lord St. Vincent was not then at the Board of Admiralty, though it does so happen that a naval officer was at the head of the Board of Admiralty, a man of very inferior naval reputation to Lord St. Vincent—I mean Lord Barham. Lord Brougham, who was a young man then, and may be said to have been a contemporary of Lord St. Vincent, states' that Lord St. Vincent and Lord Eldon were the only two eminent statesmen in the Administration of Mr. Addington;' and he adds that while he was First Lord of the Admiralty he laid the foundation of a system of economical administration, which has since been extended from the Navy to all Departments of the State.' I need not ask you whether you share the opinion of Lord Brougham as to the efficiency of Lord St. Vincent's administration?—No; I do not share Lord Brougham's opinion in the smallest degree upon that point. Is there not a great deal in the career of an eminent naval officer which naturally prepares him to take a useful political part in the Cabinet? Being much employed in negotiation, and large discretionary powers being constantly vested in him, he must necessarily acquire a familiarity with great political questions. Would not ail those points be of great importance in preparing him, in addition to the professional and administrative knowledge which he must necessarily have, to play an important part in the Government of the country?—If you find that happy combination, I would certainly say it would be so; but I do not admit that the professional training and habits of the most distinguished officers lead to that combination. They have great opportunities, at any rate, of exercising their judgment in matters of great political importance?—I do not think they have the opportunity of exercising much judgment from their being instruments acting under orders that have been issued; but, with regard to negotiations, they constantly exercise a wide discretion. It is a great characteristic of the profession that they are subject to rigid command, and that their obedience is implicit. They are the very best instruments of Government which can be found, but their habits are obedience and reliance on authority.1888 I have now laid before the House the evidence of Sir James Graham—reports of this kind are only too easily forgotten, though they should be of perennial interest—and I think it is not difficult to trace his character in all his observations. Coming to the evidence of the late Lord Northbrook, then Sir Francis Baring, on this subject, I find he says very properly that he should be sorry to see the Crown limited in its choice, and I think all of us must agree with him in that. I am not at all to be understood as contending that a naval officer should not be made First Lord of the Admiralty if he has the necessary qualities for the office. As the matter at present stands, the Crown has the power of appointing either a naval officer or a civilian. Sir Francis Baring says—The difficulty with regard to appointing a naval man is the selection of a fit person; looking at the age of those who are high in the naval service, and the importance of having a person responsible to Parliament in whom Parliament has confidence, I think there is a great difficulty in selecting a naval man; but I am not at all prepared to say that a naval man may not be found who would make a very good First Lord, and, if so, I do not know that there are not some advantages in having a naval man; as to whether a naval man would make a good First Lord, I cannot give an opinion; but I remember the opinion of a much better judge than I am—namely, Lord St. Vincent. Lord St. Vincent was himself First Lord of the Admiralty, and there is in Mr. Tucker's work a letter published of Lord St. Vincent's, in which he announces to Lord Keith his appointment of First Lord of the Admiralty. He first announces to Lord Keith that he is appointed; he then says—' How I shall succeed remains to be proved; I have known many a good Admiral make a wretched First Lord of the Admiralty.' That is Lord St. Vincent's opinion; and when you look back upon the names of naval men who were First Lords of the Admiralty, it is remarkable. There were Lord Howe, Lord Keppel, Lord Hawke, Lord Anson, and Sir Charles Saunders. I think those must have been the naval Lords from the beginning of the reign of George III., whom he must have alluded to.Again, Sir Charles Wood, now Viscount Halifax, who was First Lord for three years, being asked whether he considered that the First Lord had better be a civilian than a naval man, said—My opinion is that, upon the whole, without excluding a naval man, it is better that he should be a civilian. He must be a Member of the Cabinet; and the choice, of course, of men of business is greater among the whole class of civilians than among the limited class of naval officers; and I think that, upon the whole, he is more likely to exercise an impartial judgment, 1889 so far as relates to the question to which I understand you refer—namely, the promotion and appointment of officers.Now I have read to the House the evidence of three distinguished civilians who were First Lords—Sir James Graham, Lord Northbrook, and Viscount Halifax. I cannot venture to go at any length into the evidence which I have before me from the Naval First Lord, or, rather, the Naval Lord of the Admiralty. There is, however, one piece of evidence by Sir Maurice Berkeley which I must read. He says—I am quite aware that civilians who have filled the office of First Lord of the Admiralty are men who are trained to Parliamentary practice, and are always Cabinet Ministers, as they ought to he; and if you could find me an Admiral who, as well as being at the head of his profession, and being a man who is looked up to by the profession, has great administrative powers, and who is in the Cabinet, I should prefer him; but unless you can combine all those qualities in an Admiral I do not think it desirable for him to be First Lord.That is the opinion of a distinguished officer. I should now like to read the opinion of a man who was Under Secretary and Secretary to the-Admiralty for 40 years; a man of unrivalled experience, the late Sir John Barrow, who recorded his opinion in the Life of Lord Howe. He says—Naval officers in general would naturally enough ask, Who is the description of person most likely and best qualified to do justice to those who have had the labouring oar in fighting the battles of the country, in the issue of which is involved all that we hold dear? And the answer would naturally be, a Naval First Lord;' and yet they will find that on taking a retrospect many bitter complaints have been made from their own corps against a purely naval administration, on the score of partiality. How, indeed, can it be expected that a professional man should be able to divest himself of prejudice in favour of those individuals with whom he has associated, sometimes almost exclusively for years, in a confined and uninterrupted intercourse? How can it be expected he should cast aside the best feelings of human nature and disregard those early and ancient friendships from the moment he takes his seat at the head of the Admiralty Board—that he should turn aside from these companions of his early days, who gained laurels by his side, who shared with him his dangers 'of the battle and the breeze,' and participated in his pleasures? Such are the officers, whether most fit or not, who will expect to share, and who will share, largely in a Naval Lord's patronage. Besides, the education of a seaman is not exactly such as is suited to fill an important place in the Ministerial Cabinet. The time that is taken up in acquiring that degree of professional skill and eminence of character which could alone 1890 justify the appointment to such a situation almost precludes the acquisition of that general knowledge, and of those broad and comprehensive views inseparable from the character of a great statesman. Take the list of admirals as it now stands, and let any one ask himself how many flag-officers there are upon it whom he conceives the Minister would deem qualified to fill the office of First Lord of the Admiralty? Then, if distinguished success against the enemy be allowed to furnish a criterion of good management as it regards good ships and good officers, it will be found that the proudest triumphs, the most brilliant victories, have been achieved by fleets and squadrons prepared and distributed under the direction and management of landsmen as First Lords. Thus the battle of Rodney with Don Juan do Langara, and his splendid victory of the 12th of April, 1782; the defeat of the French fleet on the 1st of June, 1794; the victories of Cape St. Vincent and of Camperdown in 1797; of the Nile in 1798; the battle of Copenhagen in 1801; and the total defeat of the combined fleets of France and Spain before Trafalgar, were all obtained by fleets prepared and commanded by officers appointed by First Lords who were landsmen. Though Lord St. Vincent actually sat at the Board when the battle of Copenhagen was fought, the preparations were made under Lord Spencer's superintendence. It was also a Naval Lord who presided on the 12th of April, 1782, yet the arrangements and disposition were actually made by his able predecessor, Lord Sandwich. It was on this occasion that Lord North, addressing himself to the new Ministry in the House of Commons, observed—'It is true you have triumphed, but you fought with Philip's troops.' It must be admitted, however, that without the assistance of two or three able, honest, and judicious naval coadjutors no landsman, whatever his talents might be, could attempt to carry on the numerous duties of this important office. On the other hand, a naval First Lord may not always be disposed to seek for such assistance.That is the opinion of Sir John Barrow, written towards the end of his life, after mature thought and under a due sense of his professional responsibility. I cannot help thinking that this evidence which I have placed before the House will make them hesitate before adopting the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Norfolk, which I confess, and I have always admitted, is of a very plausible character. I will not trouble the House with many more extracts; but there is a modern one, from the evidence of Lord John Hay, in 1871, which I wish to read to the House. He is asked if he thought there would be any advantage in the First Lord being a naval man, and he says—Certainly not; I have hardly ever seen a Naval Lord whom I thought fit to be the First Lord of the Admiralty; but I think we sailors should always like to have a statesman of great 1891 weight and authority and importance in the country, representing us in Parliament; I think that we should go rather to the wall if we had no man of that sort, whereas we at present hold our own very well.That is the opinion of Lord John Hay. You are asked, and not for the first time, to terminate this system; but I have adduced evidence which must weigh heavily with every impartial mind. The evidence is contributed by statesmen who have been connected with the Liberal Party chiefly—men like Graham, Halifax, and Northbrook, with whom we were proud to mingle in political life. I have also placed before you the testimony of Mr. Secretary Barrow, a man of high consideration, and whose judgment must carry great weight. But beyond all this, look to the practical results of the present system. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion, I believe, stated that our disasters might be attributed to having civilians at the head of the Administration, and that all our glories, our chief glories, were owing to administrations presided over by professional men. But the contrary is really the fact. Prom 1782, from the days of Rodney to the Peace—from 1782, that battle when the line was first broken, to the great day of Trafalgar—the whole series of glorious victories were achieved under naval administrations headed by civilians—by Sandwich, Spencer, and Melville. It appears to me we should be taking a rash step if we adopted the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman, and therefore I give it my opposition.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 261; Noes 18: Majority 243.