HC Deb 08 May 1838 vol 42 cc1024-7
Mr. R. Palmer

moved for a "copy of the report of the state of efficacy of the Wooldey troop of Berkshire Yeomanry Cavalry, on its inspection in the year 1837." He wished, in moving for this return, to state the grounds on which he made the motion. It would be in the recollection of the House, that in the debate on the Ordnance Estimates a question had been put by his hon. Friend, the Member for Cambridge University, as to the reason why the Government had retained the Hungerford Berkshire troop, in preference to any of the three others which belonged to that county. It was then stated, that the selection was in consequence of the report of the inspecting officer having been more favourable with respect to the Hungerford corps than any of the others. This statement had given the officers of the rejected corps considerable annoyance, and they had requested him to move for a copy of the report of the inspecting officer, which report recorded the efficiency of these corps in 1827. He could not read the report of the field officer as to the efficiency of these corps, but he would read his opinion, as expressed in a private letter. He said, "I am perfectly satisfied with all that I have seen and inspected. Your corps equalled all in general practice, and excelled them in one thing, the compactness of their movements. I beg you to return my thanks to the men, and to state that I shall make a full report in the proper quarter." The officers complained, then, of observations which had been made in the House, inconsistent with this address, and that was his reason for moving for a copy of the report.

Mr. F. Maule

denied, that he had sought to fix any imputation upon the character of the troop in question. The present motion was one, however, to which he could not accede, not from any inconvenience which would result to the Government from the production of the report, but because he thought it would be most inconvenient to the inspecting officers either of the Yeomanry or of any other force that their confidential communications to Government should be made public. He was not aware, that on the occasion to which his hon. Friend had referred, he had drawn any invidious distinction. He trusted he never had been in the habit of drawing comparisons which would hurt the feelings of any per- sons out of that House, who could not be there to defend themselves; and he could assure the hon. Member, that he had not drawn any such distinction between one particular troop of Yeomanry and another, belonging to the county which the hon. Gentleman represented. The only distinction he had drawn was between "very good, and good" These two corps—the Wooldey and the Hungerford, were inspected by different field officers; and the mere fact that the Hungerford had once been called out to aid the civil power, when the Wooldey had not, led to the conclusion that the former ought to be retained. This was the special ground for retaining this troop, and no reference whatever was had to individuals. At the same time he must say, that he was not aware on what occasion the corps was called out. He should have no objection to the production of Colonel Reid's report, only, that communications of that nature were considered of a private character, and if they were to be submitted to public inspection he was apprehensive it would be found very difficult to find officers to discharge this duty. He considered such reports to be confidential, in the same manner as reports of generals inspecting regiments were considered confidential at the Horse Guards. He trusted the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with this explanation.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Elgin having, during the discussion upon the Ordnance Estimates, stated as a reason for disbanding a troop of the West Essex yeomanry, situated in the neighbourhood of the Waltham powder-mills, that the works themselves furnished a sufficient defence, he was induced to ask the hon. Gentleman, not for the production of a confidential communication, but for the report of the officers of the Board of Ordnance to the Secretary of State, in which they expressed their complete power of protecting the property at the Waltham powder-works in such a manner as to render useless the maintenance of a troop of yeomanry cavalry. The old rule of the House was, that no Minister should refer to any document which he was not prepared to lay on the table of the House, if required; and the hon. Member would allow him to say, that when allusion was made to confidential communications, it should be done with some little discretion.

Mr. F. Maule

said, that the communication which had taken place with the Board of Ordnance with reference to the disbandment of the West Essex troop was a verbal communication between the departments, and not made in the shape of a report. The result of the communication was, that the Ordnance were perfectly able to maintain discipline at Waltham by means of the force upon the spot. The whole of the surrounding villages were occupied by persons who were employed at the works, and whose interest it clearly was to protect them.

Sir Robert Peel

was bound to state his conviction, that the hon. Gentleman had done all he could to satisfy the feelings of the commanders of these troops; and that his remark was a valid one with regard to the confidential communications of inspecting officers. At the same time, he considered it to be highly creditable to these corps to have manifested these jealous feelings upon a subject affecting their character in the estimation of the country. He thought the hon. Gentleman's explanation was quite satisfactory, inasmuch as he had shown that there were no grounds whatever for retaining the Hungerford corps rather than the others. The hon. Gentleman had stated two grounds on which this troop had been kept up—first, that the report stated, that the three troops were good, while this was very good, but then the hon. Gentleman had disposed of this ground by remarking, that the inspection having been made by different officers, no comparison had been made in reality. The other ground was, that this corps had been called out to assist the civil police, but the hon. Gentleman said, he knew no reason why the corps should have been called out.

Mr. F. Maule

said, the right hon. Baronet for the sake of having his laugh, had slightly misrepresented him. What he said was, that he was not aware on what occasion the corps had been called out.

Motion withdrawn.