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FIRST SEA LORD.

FIRST NAVAL LORD. 2. The Fighting and Sea-Going 2. Ships in Commission and in Efficiency of the Fleet, its Organisa- Fleet Reserve. tion and Mobilisation; the Dis. 3. Distribution and Organisation tribution and Movements of all of the Fleet. Ships in Commission or in Fleet 4. Appointments of Commanders Reserve.

under Captains. 3. The Control of the Intelligence, 5. General Supervision of IntelliHydrographical and Naval Ordnance gence Department (including Naval Departments.

Attachés) and of Mobilisation of
Fleet.

6. Complements of Ships.

7. Discipline-General and Special Questions.

8. Courts Martial and Courts of Inquiry.

9. Hydrographical Department.
10. Signals.
11. Collisions.
12. Slave Trade.

13. Naval Ordnance Department (except as provided under Controller).

14. Prize Questions.

15. Leave to Officers and Men in Sea-going Ships.

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The attribution of responsibility for the Fighting and Sea-Going Efficiency of the Fleet' appears, in so many words, in the later Distribution for the first time. According to some critics, of whom ‘Barfleur' is the most distinguished representative, they make an immensity of difference. The First Sea Lord,' says Barfleur,' 'is here made solely responsible for the fighting and seagoing efficiency of the fleet. This is an entirely new departure, which virtually makes him supreme over all his colleagues, since those words cover everything.' Now, under the previous Distribution the First Sea Lord was made responsible for “Ships in Commission and in Fleet Reserve,' that is, for all ships likely to be employed in war. Do not these words also cover everything and make the officer in question equally supreme-if he chooses to exercise such supremacy, over all his colleagues? To be responsible for all ships likely to be employed in war is surely to be responsible for their fighting and sea-going efficiency; and, if the officer in question cannot discharge this responsibility in person, he must, it would seem, discharge it through his colleagues and to that extent be supreme over them.

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In other words, there would be on the hypothesis of Barfleur' no responsibility at all involved in the words last quoted, although the very purpose of the Distribution which contained them was to define the responsibility of the several members of the Board affected. More. over, the Order in Council of 1872 and that of 1869 both made the First Sea Lord responsible for the movement and condition of Your Majesty's Fleet'; and, if the word condition' does not mean “fighting and sea-going efficiency, it almost passes the wit of man to discover what it does mean. Finally, we have seen that, in the great days of naval administration and naval victory, one of the greatest of First Lords declared it to be the duty of the First Sea Lord to attend particularly to the equipment of all ships and vessels of every description and examine frequently the navy weekly progress for that purpose.' Far from the First Sea Lord being made responsible for the first time in 1904 for the fighting and sea-going efficiency of the fleet,' he was actually charged with that specific responsibility by Lord Barham in 1805; and not perhaps even then for the first time, for no one was more deeply versed than Barham in the usages and traditions of the Admiralty.

But it is urged by the critics that not only do the words in question establish the supremacy of the First Sea Lord, but that that supremacy is actually confirmed and declared by a Note appended for the first time to the Distribution of October 1904, which runs thus :

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'It is to be understood that in any matter of great importance the First Sea Lord is always to be consulted by the other Sea Lords, the Civil Lords, and the Parliamentary or Permanent Secretary; and he will refer to the First Lord for any further action considered necessary, such as, for instance, bringing the matter formally before the Board. It is, of course, understood that all Members of the Board will communicate direct with the First Lord in accordance with immemorial custom whenever they wish to do so.'

Lord Selborne was the author of this Note, as he was of the whole document to which it was appended. I will make no comment on it myself, but will quote Lord Selborne's own comment on it in the last speech which

he made in the House of Lords as First Lord of the Admiralty. The date is March 21, 1905 :

'It never occurred to me that anybody would object to that note. It was not tended to introduce any new procedure into the Board of Admiralty, but to describe exactly what always has gone on at the Board of Admiralty. I go further and say that, unless that went on, the Board of Admiralty could not do its work. How is it possible for the First Sea Lord to advise on questions of policy unless his colleagues, with their responsibilities, are in constant friendly communication with him ? It is the way the work is always done. How is the Fourth Sea Lord to provide for the proper coaling of the Fleet unless he knows what policy is in the mind of the First Sea Lord as to the distribution of the Fleet? How can the Civil Lord see that proper barracks, docks, and other buildings are provided unless he is kept constantly in touch with the First Sea Lord in respect of any possible changes of policy? All this note is meant to indicate is that what has always been done should be done, and that on all questions of great importance and the word “great" is used very advisedly—there should be constant communication and conference between the Sea Lords.

'Then it is supposed that, when I say that the First Sea Lord will refer to the First Lord for further action considered necessary, that is as much as to say that the question cannot be brought forward before the Board by the First Lord unless with the concurrence of the First Sea Lord. Nothing could be further from the fact. It has always been possible for any member of the Board to bring any subject absolutely independently before the First Lord; and I go further and say that any member of the Board has a right to claim that any question he chooses shall, with the concurrence of the First Lord, be brought before the Board formally for settlement. Until I saw the public comments, it never occurred to anybody inside the Board of Admiralty that this described anything but tbe constant, immemorial, necessary usage. If there is a difference of opinion between the Sea Lords, it is the First Sea Lord naturally who will bring the matter to the First Lord. There never was a First Sea Lord more steeped in the traditions of the Admiralty as to the Navy than Lord Walter Kerr; there never was a First Sea Lord more conscious of his responsibility for maintaining the full rights of the Board; there never was a First Sea Lord less likely to try and impair the authority of his colleagues or to fail in respect for their separate and independent position. If there was a

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difference of opinion between the Sea Lords which could not be settled, they always went to Lord Walter Kerr, who came to me and said, “This point we are obliged to refer to you." Therefore this note does nothing more than indicate what has always been the custom.'

It only remains to add that, after ten years have elapsed, after the whole policy of 1904 has passed under the review of four successive First Lords of the Admiralty, Lord Cawdor, Lord Tweedmouth, Mr McKenna, and Mr Winston Churchill, and after the office of First Sea Lord has been held by Sir Arthur Wilson, Sir Francis Bridgeman, and Prince Louis of Battenburg, in succession to the great administrator who held it in 1904 and now holds it once more, the Distribution of Business, modified from time to time in many of its details, still assigns to the First Sea Lord responsibility for the fighting and sea-going efficiency of the Fleet. The Note appended to it now runs as follows: • It is to be understood that in any matter of great importance the First Sea Lord is always to be consulted by the other Sea Lords, the Civil Lord, the Additional Civil Lord, and the Parliamentary and Permanent Secretaries; but each member of the Board and the Parliamentary and Permanent Secretaries will communicate direct with the First Lord.'

I have now established two propositions. The first is that the First Lord, being responsible to the Crown and Parliament for all the business of the Admiralty, is ipso facto supreme and may in virtue of that supremacy act on occasion on his own initiative, with or without the concurrence of the Board, the letter of the Patent notwithstanding. The second is that the First Sea Lord, being in a sense the alter ego of the First Lord-he was explicitly so designated by Barham in 1805—is and always has been so far invested with authority over his junior colleagues that no matter of great importance' can be brought' to maturity, or perhaps even initiated, without his cognisance, nor, subject to the final decision of the First Lord, without his concurrence.

These propositions, however, unimpeachable as I have shown them to be in themselves, are not to be taken as covering the whole situation. The supremacy of the First Lord is limited on the one hand by the superior authority of the Cabinet,

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and on the other by the fact that, if he acts arbitrarily on his own initiative or if he demands the concurrence of his colleagues in measures of which they strongly disapprove, he may be confronted with their resignation in a body—a situation which in the majority of cases, if not in all, would assuredly lead to his undoing. In like manner the more limited but still real authority of the First Sea Lord over his junior colleagues is checked and controlled by the supremacy of the First Lord.

That is, perhaps, as far as we can take the matter from & strictly constitutional point of view. Subject to the limitations above defined, it is hardly possible to say that any act done by the First Lord or, within his more limited province, by the First Sea Lord is outside the constitutional prerogatives of either office, although its policy, its wisdom, its propriety, its conformity to the traditions of the Department and the sentiment of the Sea Service might be open to grave question. Individual action, although constitutionally quite legitimate, might easily be very ill-advised. In the first part of this article it

was pointed out that the relations of the First Lord to his colleagues and mutatis mutandis the same may be said of the First Sea Lord— are just as much founded on usage and prescription as his own supremacy is; and it is manifest that the Board could not work at all unless those relations were marked by goodwill, good feeling, good sense, and a spirit of loyal co-operation.' Thus the Board works best when it works harmoniously, and its voice is most respected when it speaks collectively and

anonymously. This is a very important point in its relation to the Sea Service at large. The Sea Service has long learnt to look up to My Lords

" Commissioners of the Admiralty' as the supreme authority it is proud to obey, not to any individual member of the Board. It is accustomed to take its orders from the Board, and, when by its obedience to them it has earned praise or reward, it is content that the Board should award them. Individual members of the Board may come and go, but the Board itself is an abiding and venerated authority throughout the Navy. That is the immemorial attitude of the Sea Service, and it is not expedient that it should be lightly disregarded.

JAMES R. THURSFIELD.

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