HC Deb 05 March 1805 vol 3 cc707-9
The Secretary at War

proceeded to move the third reading of the mutiny bill. In making this motion he was afraid that lie should disappoint the expectation of the hon. officer on the other side, (general Fitzpatrick) as he was not prepared to submit the propositions which that hon. officer recommended on a former flay. For himself, he was ready to confess, that those propositions appeared to be perfectly reasonable. They were, according to his recollection, that the members of regimental courts martial should be sworn, that they should be authorized to administer oaths to witnesses, &c. and that no president of such a court martial should be under 21 years of age. However, al- though they were unexceptionable in his opinion, there were many officers of considerable experience and high rank who entertained doubts of the propriety of introducing such innovations into the old established system of the army. To the doubts of such persons he. thought it proper to defer, although he was free to own, that in the objections they advanced he saw no force. Yet it was due to them to allow time for fuller deliberation on the subject, and with a view to that he would propose a slight alteration in this bill, which could not be conveniently delayed in its progress, to this effect, "that it might be altered or amended within the session." This alteration would, he hoped, meet the concurrence of the hon. officer, as it would afford an opportunity of introducing the amendments he suggested.

General Fitzpatrick

said, that in consequence of the conference he had had with the right hon. gent. and the obvious justice and necessity of the propositions he suggested, which met that right hon. gent.'s entire concurrence, he had thought it unnecessary to trespass on the attention of the house, by stating the grounds upon which he was urged to submit those propositions. Those grounds were such as he had very little doubt would convince the majority of the house of the propriety of adopting the amendments he proposed. He had, indeed, never heard any serious objection urged against them. It therefore struck him as rather extraordinary, after the declared coincidence of the right hon. gent, to be told that some military officers entertained doubts upon the subject. No doubt was expressed by any person of that house; not a sentence of objection was heard from any member; and yet those salutary improvements, for the adoption of which policy, humanity, and justice equally called, were to be rejected or delayed, because some military officers doubted. How, he would ask, were the objections of such military persons to be brought before the house in a parliamentary form? and the mere statement of their objections, unaccompanied by any reason for such objections, was not, he contended, a parliamentary ground for the delay on the promotion of any measure. The time required in the opinion of the right hon. gent, to deliberate upon the propositions he had felt it his duty to recommend, was attainable in his judgment, with out proposing the alteration the right hon. gent, alluded to, There was no necessity to hurry the bill through the house. This was only the 5th of the month, and there was yet time enough to pass it even should the right hon. gent. consent to postpone the third reading until some day next week. For himself, he must say, that he felt he was at present rather awkwardly circumstanced. He had declined to prepare the clauses he wished to introduce into the bill, relying that the right hon. gent, would bring them forward. The right hon. gent. would, however, he trusted, agree to postpone his motion; particularly as no inconvenience could result from such postponement. He also trusted that the right hon. gent. would not withhold his assistance from him in drawing up the necessary clauses; further, that the right hon. gent, would manfully maintain his declared opinion, and second his endeavours to promote the adoption of those clauses.

Colonel Stuart

thought the principle of the propositions recommended by the hon. officer ought to be carried farther, and that the degrees of punishment to be inflicted by regimental courts martial ought to be limited. The number of members on such courts martial ought, in his opinion, to be in no case less than 7, unless where a field officer presided, and, in such case, not less than 5. This was a regulation, which appeared to him highly necessary, but he particularly enforced the propriety of prohibiting the sentences of regimental courts martial from inflicting beyond a certain degree of punishment, not more than 2 or 300 lashes.

The Secretary at War

expressed his readiness to assist the right hon. officer in drawing up the clauses wish respect to the propositions he mentioned, and in which he perfectly concurred. He also assented to his wish for postponing the motion, and should therefore move the third reading on Monday next.

Sir Eyre Coote

cordially approved the propositions of the right hon. officer, and thought that no officer should be admitted a member of any court martial who was under 21 years of age. This alteration would, he was persuaded, be very grateful to the feelings and conducive to the interests of the army.—The order for the third reading of the bill was postponed till Monday.