HC Deb 12 February 1836 vol 31 cc345-52
Mr. Hume

rose to submit to the House a motion of considerable importance, connected with the dismissal of military officers from the Army. He bad some time ago asked a question of the noble Lord, the Secretary at War, to which the reply was, that his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland was not on full pay, and consequently was not amenable to a court-martial. Now be put it to the House and to the noble Lord the Secretary at War, whether, whenever Parliament granted his Majesty power or authority to make such laws as he might deem necessary to carry into effect the discipline of the Army, there was any class of persons, or any individual, however high he might stand in rank or station, who, whilst enrolled on the list of the army, might presume to defy the orders of his Majesty? He conceived that no individual would be justified in doing so, whether he were on full-pay or half-pay. This was not the first time that he had brought before the House the question of the power of his Majesty to dispense with the service of officers in the army, without bringing them to a court-martial; and he had invariably heard from the Secretary at War that it would be perfectly ridiculous and absurd to intrust his Majesty with the power of making laws for the army, and at the same time to take from him the power of removing from the Army List such individuals as disputed his orders or degraded their station. And when the right hon. the Secretary at War placed upon the table of the House a return of the names of 1,000 officers who bad been dismissed from the army without any inquiry, or any cause assigned, be must say that be thought there was a great and serious ground of complaint. If such had been the case, if veteran and experienced officers had been summarily dismissed, without even the poor satisfaction of knowing the cause of their removal, what must be said, if at that moment they had an instance of the highest individual in the kingdom, next to the King himself, setting at utter defiance the orders issued by his Majesty's Commander-in-chief. He thought the House ought to take this matter into its serious consideration. His object was to have laid on the Table of the House a return of the officers of each rank in the army not on full-pay, or liable to trial by court-martial, who had been dismissed from the army by his Majesty's prerogative. As he wished only to show that the principle existed, it would not be necessary to go back many years. He knew that since the peace many officers on half-pay had been removed from the army by his Majesty, without any reason being assigned, though no doubt there were reasons operating on the mind of his Majesty for making the dismissals. If his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, whose excuse, he understood was, that he was not on full-pay, persisted in treating with derision, and setting at nought the orders of the Commander-in-chief, it was high time to consider who was really the first military individual in this country. If he continued to resist those orders, on the plea that he was not amenable to a courtmartial because he was not on full-pay, it became essentially necessary to show that no plea of that kind could avail, and that he was within the reach of the kingly prerogative. He (Mr. Hume) knew of no such thing existing in this country as that species of justice which sanctioned the dismissal from the army of officers holding subordinate ranks, while it sheltered a field marshal from similar punishment, although equally deserved. On the contrary, the field-marshal ought to be the first to be dismissed, seeing that a bad example by him most be more pernicious than the misconduct of officers of inferior rank. If, then, he should establish the principle for which he was contending, and if he should prove the Duke of Cumberland to be within the operation of that principle, it would be the duty of his Majesty's advisers to see that his Royal Highness should be immediately removed from the army. Should his Majesty not be advised to dismiss him, it would then become imperative on him to submit to the House the propriety of inquiring how far the Commander-in-chief, Lord Hill, had done his duty; and On that occasion he would prove that the House of Commons was the proper place where a remedy and relief were to be obtained. If those to whom the army was intrusted by the Act of Parliament, annually passed, did not do their duty, there was no other mode by which to ascertain the truth of that fact, than by an inquiry on the part of the House of Commons. On a future day he would prove that Lord Hill, in 1832 and 1835, issued two orders respecting Orange Lodges in the army, which formed part of the general orders delivered to every general and colonel of regiments; he would prove that the Duke of Cumberland, as a colonel in the army, had those orders in his possession; and he would prove that the Duke had acted contrary to those orders, and that he continued to attend Orange Lodges. He would further show that Lord Hill had not done his duty—that whilst he threatened individuals in the lower grades, he had been afraid to deal with individuals in the higher ranks of the army. That was not what the country had a right to expect from the Commander-in-chief. If he should succeed in proving these facts, it certainly became necessary for the House to ascertain what steps it would be proper to take. For that purpose he called for the present return. It was incumbent on them to have a full knowledge of their power, if, indeed, the controversy should come to this, who was to be the Commander-in-chief in this country? He could assure the House that when the time arrived he should be able to prove, chapter and verse, all he had alleged; and all that he now wanted to know was, whether any individual, not on full pay, had been dismissed from the army within a given time? He, therefore, begged to move that there be laid before the House a list of all officers, of whatever rank in his Majesty's regular service, who, when not on full-pay, and not liable to be tried by court-martial, had been struck out of the list of the army without their consent in each year since 1815, with the alleged reasons for such dismissal, and also a return of any persons who had been re-Stored to their rank after such dismissal, with the alleged reasons for such, restoration.

Viscount Howick

said, as a considerable portion of the remarks of the hon. Member for Middlesex related not so much to the question of granting the returns he had called for, as to that Motion of an. Address of which he had given notice, he (Lord Howick) should defer any remarks he might have to make on that subject until they came to debate it in a regular manner. For the reason already stated by his noble Friend near him (Lord J. Russell), he thought it highly inconvenient that such a discussion should be prematurely entered upon and conducted, as it were, piecemeal. He had no hesitation in agreeing at once with the proposition, that the Crown undoubtedly had the prerogative of striking officers off the list without trial by court-martial, even though upon half-pay, and therefore not liable to be brought to court-martial; nor had he the slightest objection to lay upon the Table the returns required to afford any further clue that might be necessary to the hon. Member for bringing on his subsequent Motion. But he thought there was a very reasonable objection to laying the returns on the Table in the form now proposed. The hon. Member had asked for the names of all the officers struck off the Army List, and the reasons for their being so dismissed. Now, he believed that every hon. Member was aware that this was a power belonging to the Crown, which was rarely, if ever exercised, except in consequence of some highly disgraceful conduct on the part of the individual. He was sure the House would feel that it would be an unfair and an unjust aggravation of the punishment of those individuals who had already suffered, if now, after the lapse of a considerable number of years, their names and particularly their offences, were to be held up to the public eye. For that reason he hoped the hon. Gentleman would content himself with asking for a return, showing the number of officers who, not being on full pay, had since 1815 been without their own consent removed from the army. That return would show, not only that the power of dismissal did exist in the Crown, but, in point of fact, that the power had been exercised; and if the hon. Gentleman should then be able to make out a proper case on the facts he had stated to the House, he would have a full right to call upon the House to address the Crown upon it.

Colonel Verner

said, although he was neither on full pay or on half-pay, yet as his name stood enrolled amongst those of the gallant defenders of their country, he might be permitted to say a few words. Having been allowed in consideration of his services to his King and country, to retain his rank in the army, and not being aware of having done any thing dishonorable or disgraceful to his Majesty's service, or unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, he thought it would be extremely unjust that his name should now be struck out of the list of the army, in which it had appeared for upwards of thirty years, for having belonged to a society, at the head of which two of his Majesty's brothers were placed.

Mr. Scarlett

was very much surprised at what had fallen from the hon. Member for Middlesex. Did he intend to abridge personal liberty by attempting to prevent a man, because he happened to be on half-pay, from belonging to a society which no law of the country had proclaimed to be illegal? "Would the hon. Member for Middlesex, in defiance of all law, commence a bitter persecution against men because they might belong to an institution of which he did not approve, but which the law did not condemn? He trusted the hon. Member would allow others the same liberty he claimed for himself.

Colonel Thompson

happened to be a half-pay officer, and if he acted according to his own desire, he should be proud to establish a Reform Association in every regiment in the army. There were many interesting questions which he should be happy to bring before both the soldiers and officers; particularly the question of military punishment. Nothing would delight him more than, within the next six months, to establish such associations, and to be personally active in directing the attention of the soldiers to that and many other most important points. But he had always been restrained from an idea that there was a sort of point of honour in the army, a kind of feeling at least, that it was prudent, politic, and wise to abstain from the introduction of politics among the soldiers. He wished to know whether that point of honour was to be abrogated, as regarded Orange Lodges and Field Marshals? because he was at a loss to understand that kind of Irish reciprocity which was all on one side. If the bar was to be removed on the one side, it ought also to be removed on the other. He wished, then, to be informed whether he should incur any danger if he should be discovered establishing Reform Associations in the army? Would the power of the Crown be exercised against those who should promote Reform Associations in the army, and not against those who formed Orange Lodges? who formed them, he had no doubt, from the purest motives, and without rendering themselves liable to any imputation of dishonour. He could imagine that hon. men, stimulated by a desire to promote those principles which in their hearts they thought right, would be found engaged on either side. But if the bar were done away on one side, it ought to be so on the other. The hon. and gallant Member on the other side (Col. Verner) had complained (if he, Col. Thompson understood him aright) that he had been treated severely for some political interference. He believed that the hon. and gallant Member and himself were of the same rank; therefore he had a suspicion that there was something in the rank which made that perfectly legal and honourable in one member of the profession which was illegal and dishonourable in another. Entertaining this belief, he must point out the great desirableness of having a regular and well-defined line drawn; in order to point out where this distinction of rank lay, and whether a colonel, a general, or a field-marshal only was at liberty to introduce politics into the army. He men- tioned these things, because a state of certainty was always better than a state of doubt. He had ever thought that what was strong sound sense in civil life, was as sound and as strong sense in the army; and he claimed for the army the privilege of having that principle applied to it, which was found to be wise and politic in every-day life.

Viscount Howick

—Supposed that the hon. and gallant Officer imagined that from what he had meant to imply, that officers on half-pay had been allowed to exert themselves in establishing Orange Associations in the army, it never entered into his mind to say so. The purport of what he stated was this, that officers on half-pay being considered as civilians, were usually treated as such, and might belong to reform, or any other associations which were not prohibited by law; and that the Commander-in-Chief did not think it necessary to interfere with officers so situated. But, undoubtedly, the order issued by the Commander-in-Chief, in August last, applied to Orange and political societies of every kind established in the army. It would be an act most grossly improper for any officer to assist in supporting any associations of the kind; and most clearly, if an officer, even on half-pay, were to be instrumental in setting such associations on foot in the army, it would bring him within the terms of the order. He was not going into the question, for be the facts as they might, those who were interested in Orange societies denied that they had promoted associations in the army; but most undoubtedly, he must say, to establish such societies in the army, would be, in officers, from the highest to the lowest, an offence of the very gravest nature.

Mr. Hume

felt the force of one of the noble Lord's objections—that it would be unnecessary for the purposes of the Motion, to drag forth any individual who had retired into civil life, and whose name and offence were forgotten. But he differed from the noble Lord when he said that it would be cruel to set forth the conduct of such an individual. This was false delicacy. It was not doing justice to the army at large, to refrain from publishing the grounds why any officer had been struck off the list. Indeed, he made this a matter of complaint against the Commander-in-Chief. By the publication others would learn what they themselves had to avoid, in order not to incur similar degradation. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Scarlett) had asked whether he (Mr. Home) would by these proceedings attempt to abridge the liberty of the subject. He assured the hon. and learned Member, that no act of his would abridge the liberty of the subject, except the hon. and learned Member meant the liberty to do wrong. He begged to call the attention of the House to the two last sentences of the hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Colonel Verner), who had said how cruel it would be on him to be removed from the list of the army for the offence of belonging to any society to which two of the brothers of the Sovereign belonged. He wished hon. Members to bear that in mind, because he did most sincerely agree with the hon. and gallant Member. He thought it would be cruel. It was upon that ground he wished to see the subject on a future day fairly discussed.

The returns, as suggested by Lord Howick, were ordered.