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Navy—Sir Thomas Symonds

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 12 July 1870

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Question

said, he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether Sir Thomas Symonds was invited to resign the command of the Channel Squadron in the midst of trials of great importance, and when only one-half of the period during which such commands are usually held had expired, in exchange for a Vice Admiral's Good Service Pension which he had earned by long and distinguished service, and by his position at the head of qualified candidates on the Vice Admirals' List; whether Sir Thomas Symonds expressed to the First Lord of the Admiralty his earnest desire to be permitted to retain his command, the Good Service Pension, which he had accepted, remaining in abeyance until its termination, in conformity with the provisions of the 6th and 7th Clauses, under the head of Pensions, in the Order in Council of February 22nd, 1870; whether Sir Thomas Symonds was specially commended by the First Lord of the Admiralty for the good he had done, and was doing, to the Squadron, and received a Board Letter of thanks for his able and zealous service, and the state of the discipline of the Squadron; and, whether, although he was ordered to haul down his flag on the plea of his appointment to a Good Service Pension, the command of the Channel Squadron was almost immediately afterwards offered to another Vice Admiral (by whom it was declined), to whom the Good Service Pension had been given on the same day as that on which it had been conferred on Sir Thomas Symonds?

Sir, I think the House will agree with me that the Questions put by the right hon. Gentleman are of a most unusual nature; and, coming from one who has been himself First Lord of the Admiralty, rather surprising. There is no duty performed by the First Lord of the Admiralty more delicate and responsible than that which relates to commands and good service pensions; and, if, without any imputation of malfeasance or corruption, the House of Commons is to be the arena for discussing questions of this kind, based upon rumours which hon. Members may hear or read in the papers, this most important duty will be rendered far more difficult unless it is desired that the government of the Navy should be undertaken by the House itself. I therefore most respectfully decline to answer so much of the right hon. Gentleman's Question as relates to reports whether particular employments were offered to this or that officer, or as to what the opinion of the First Lord may be as to the merits of any particular Commander-in-Chief. Nor would the House, I think, expect me to give minute explanations as to the circumstances under which good service pensions are awarded to particular officers; and I will only say that I believe the First Lord of the Admiralty has faithfully carried out the provisions of the late Order in Council, which placed these pensions on a much more satisfactory footing than the previous system, under which, practically, seniority was almost the only consideration. As to the particular case of Sir Thomas Symonds ceasing to be Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet the right hon. Gentleman is entirely in error. Sir Thomas Symonds elected to strike his flag soon after his intended return, not the other day, but on the 3rd of April last. He was then virtually second Vice Admiral on the list, and as he would be superseded on promotion (which then appeared probable before the end of the present year), he was offered either to remain in command until superseded in due course, and to take his chance of a pension, or to strike his flag soon after he returned, with a good service pension which was then vacant. He elected the latter, his words being—"It would be agreeable to me on the terms you propose; I consider it a very great honour." It so happens that no admiral has since died, and if Sir Thomas Symonds had elected to retain the command he might have had it for a few months longer; but in that case the good service pension would not have been awarded to him, considering the claims of other officers employed as well as himself.

I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman, Whether the short answer of Sir Thomas Symonds which he has just read was not sent by telegram, and in cipher; and, whether Sir Thomas Symonds did not subsequently write to the First Lord a letter in which he requested permission to retain his command of the Channel Fleet, the Good Service Pension remaining in abeyance in conformity with the terms of the Order in Council; and, whether he did not dwell upon the great hardship to which he had been subjected by the Board of Admiralty?

I must put it to the House whether I can be expected to reply to such a Question without Notice.

said, he wished to put a Question, but, if necessary, would give Notice of it. He wished to know, Whether Admiral Drummond was offered the command of the Channel Fleet?

I have already stated that I must respectfully decline to answer Questions of that sort.