HC Deb 11 February 1830 vol 22 cc332-4
Lord G. Lennox

obtained leave to bring in a bill for the relief of parishes from the expenses of maintaining the wives and families of men convicted under the laws for the prevention of Smuggling, and sentenced to serve in his Majesty's navy.

Mr. F. Baring

(such bill having been ordered) said, he rose to call for an explanation from the Admiralty, respecting their treatment of a man of the name of Millar, who had been sentenced in December, 1824, to serve on board one of his Majesty's ships for the space of five years, in consequence of his participation in some smuggling transactions. On the 23rd of December of last year, the term of his imprisonment expired, and he then applied, but in vain, for his release. He repeated the same application on his arrival at Plymouth; his officer forwarded the application to the Admiralty, who returned for answer that the man should be paid off with the rest of the crew on his arrival at Portsmouth. A few days afterwards the vessel arrived in Portsmouth harbour. Millar, on the expiration of his term, had firmly, but respectfully, refused to perform the duty expected from him. In consequence he was thrown into irons, and captain Elliott, his commander, who appeared to have acted throughout the business with considerable kindness, applied, on arriving in port, to the Admiralty for directions how he was to act. In consequence of such application a Court-martial was ordered to sit upon Millar; and by that Court-martial, in consequence of the peculiar circumstances of his case, and of the excellence of his character, he was only reprimanded, told to be more cautious in future, and discharged. The hon. Member said, that he would make no comment upon these facts: he would merely ask for an explanation of the authority by which all this had been done. If the law gave the Admiralty the power of protracting the service of a person convicted of smuggling thus indefinitely, some enactment was wanting to regulate the duration of a punishment which might last for six, seven, or ten years, instead of five, as was evidently intended. He wished to know, first, why Millar's discharge had been refused in the first instance? And next, by what authority Millar had been placed on his trial for life, after the period of his service had ceased?

Sir G. Clerk

said, that Acts of Parliament, by which smugglers were permitted to serve on board of his Majesty's ships in lieu of being imprisoned for the pecuniary-penalties to which they had rendered themselves liable by transgressing the law, had warranted the term of Millar's service; and he must contend, from a review of these Acts, that there was not one of them which limited the time of service to five years. The first question, therefore, to be considered in Millar's case was this—had he a right to claim his discharge at the end of five years? And then, supposing for the sake of argument, that he had such right, was he, having been offered full pay on board, authorized to disobey the orders of his commanding officer? He (Sir G. Clerk) contended that on both those points the decision must be clearly against Millar. As to the question why the man had been tried by Court-martial, the answer was easy. The Admiralty felt that as the question had been raised by Millar, without his having a shadow of legal ground on which to rest it, it would be for the benefit of the service to have Millar tried by a Court-martial, in order to have greater publicity given to their decision. The hon. Member opposite had said, that if there were any Act of Parliament in existence by which the Admiralty could prolong the service of a smuggler to seven or eight years duration, it would be necessary to remedy such an evil by legislative enactment. Now he could assure the hon. Member that such a legislative enactment was quite unnecessary, for the Admiralty had no wish to prolong any smuggler's term of service beyond the period of five years.