HC Deb 23 March 1849 vol 103 cc1190-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Mutiny Bill read.


Sir, in moving the second reading of this Bill, I wish to give some explanation of what fell from me on the occasion of my introducing the Army Estimates. I have received communications informing me that two of the statements I made on that occasion are questioned by the parties with regard to whom those statements were originally made. The parties who question those statements are the Liverpool Financial Reform Association, through their secretary, and the statements which are questioned are these. First of all, that I complained that that association had in their tracts charged the colonels and quartermasters of regiments with combining to cheat the soldiers; and, secondly, that the tendency of those tracts was to diminish the confidence of the soldier in his officer. Now, I should be sorry at any time to make a statement with reference to any body of gentlemen, or any individual, for which I had not in my own opinion good grounds. I therefore beg to state to the House very shortly the grounds on which I made these statements. Those grounds are to be found in the Tract No. 4, issued by the Financial Reform Association; and at page 52 of that tract is the following passage:— It is also necessary to remark that the clothes provided by the colonel are only a part of what the soldier wears. All linen, flannels, hosiery, shoes, forage caps, stocks, brushes, combs, and small articles, besides at least one pair of cloth overalls for dragoons, and occasionally trousers for infantry, are provided by the quartermaster, or his chief, the clothing colonel, and paid for out of the soldier's pay, by daily stoppages. The profits accruing from these regimental clothes shops afford an inducement to the heads of departments to be continually devising changes in the style of dress, of under-clothing, of boots, of shoes, and the other necessaries, so that the men are obliged to purchase new articles, and submit to stoppages in payment of them, while the articles set aside and declared to be unregimental, are yet in good condition—in many cases not half worn. Now, Sir, I maintain that if any colonel of any regiment, having the power to do this, which he has not, did so in combination with his quartermaster, he would be guilty of the act of cheating the soldiers; and the insinuation is so strong in this paragraph that the colonels of regiments and quartermasters have done this, that I think so long as this paragraph remains unwithdrawn and uncontradicted, my inference on that subject was a perfectly fair one. With regard to the second complaint, I have this to say. After a careful perusal of these tracts, treating, as they profess to do, on financial economy in the Army, I am sorry to say that, from the way in which the officer is mentioned throughout in these tracts, and held up in a sort of light to the soldier as though the Army was created and maintained for the benefit of the aristocracy, as it is stated—the whole object, in my opinion, seems to be to hold up the officer in an invidious light to the men, which goes very much to relax discipline; and I am extremely sorry that such a body as the Financial Reform Association of Liverpool should have worded their tracts in such a manner as to induce that opinion on my part. I hope I may infer from the communications that have been addressed to me in reference to my statement, that it is not the intention of the Association to call in question the character of the colonels and quartermasters, still less to sow the seeds of dissatisfaction between the officers of the Army and their regiments.


On the occasion when the right hon. Gentleman made the statement to which he has now referred, I ventured to say that there had been some misunderstanding on his part as to the objects of the Liverpool Association. If he will read the whole of their tracts, he will find that the system is attacked, and that the officers are mentioned undoubtedly, but only as being implicated in that system. If he will refer to the report of the Committee of 1837, appointed on my Motion, he will find the very same words used in reference to this system; the Committee say that such is the anomaly that parties who are not acquainted with the checks and controls which exist, might believe that the officers were benefited thereby. No one ever paid more attention to the inquiry than did that Committee, and yet nothing was elicited against the commanding officers; on the contrary, it appeared that they had nothing to do with the matter. But it was proved that if the clothing is made up cheap, the colonels get more money than if it is dear; therefore, to a certain degree, their profits depend on the price and quality of the article. I do not blame the colonels—it is the system that is in fault—and I hope the time is come when we shall see the necessity of abolishing such a system.


said, they were not likely to expedite the business of the House when they found not only a Member of Parliament, but a Minister of State, no less, indeed, than the Secretary at War, entering into combat with a Financial Reform Society. As this was the first time such an occurrence had taken place, so he trusted it would be the last—for he must protest against the interruption of public business by such discussions. Possibly they would have the tracts of the Anti-Corn-Law League, the tracts of the Protectionists, or they might have the tractarians of Oxford, answered in the House if such proceedings were tolerated. He had not given that thorough study to the tracts in question which the right hon. Gentleman informed the country he had done. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon the result he had aimed at; but for himself, he had formed a very different conclusion of the intention and objects of this Financial Reform Society in Liverpool. He had no doubt whatever that the intention of the society was to throw a stigma upon the British Army; but he would not condescend to notice efforts of that kind, respecting which he thought public opinion was already made up. That opinion very properly treated with contempt all societies whose labours were founded upon misrepresentations, and whose only object was to throw a stigma upon the cherished institutions of the country.


Sir, I differ from the opinion expressed by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down.


called the right hon. Gentleman to order, and put the question, that the Bill be read a second time.

Bill read a second time.


having put the question that the Bill be committed on Monday,


said: I am now in order in stating that I differ from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, as to the course which it was right that I should take on an occasion like the present. When I make any statement in this House, which is either contradicted or impugned, or called in question by any party, I think it is the most manly course to explain that statement, so as to leave no doubt on the mind of any one what that statement was.


I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, in noticing this charge of the Liverpool Reform Association, has alleged rather more against them than the extract itself warrants. As I understand it, they state that the system at present adopted holds out the inducement to certain things. That is their language. But the right hon. Gentleman charged them the other night with having actually alleged that the officers did do these things. The extract he has read merely says that the inducement is held out. And, whatever may be thought by many Gentlemen in this House, I believe it is the opinion of the country generally that the system is a bad one. I believe that the system of clothing the regiments, by giving an indirect bounty to the officer, is a bad one; and I have heard the colonels say so themselves. Sure I am, that if I were a colonel—a clothing colonel, that is the proper term—of a re- giment—I would infinitely rather receive 500l. directly than have 750l. by profit upon clothing. But the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire has ventured to censure the right hon. Gentleman for having alluded to the society at all. But the hon. Members with whom that hon. Gentleman acts were never so scrupulous with regard to the Anti-Corn-Law League; for, if you look at the records of Hansard, you will find it was the subject of nightly discussion for many years. So far from thinking with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire that public opinion has already decided against the merits of the Liverpool Financial Reform Association, as I am informed, in almost every large town in the kingdom—in London, Edinburgh, Manchester—aye, and in many smaller towns and villages—there have been kindred societies formed, in imitation of the example of Liverpool, for the purpose of carrying out the same object. And, differing from the hon. Gentleman as I do in my estimate of this society, I cannot let the opportunity pass without saying, that I think not only the country but this House and the Ministry themselves, are infinitely indebted to this Liverpool Financial Reform Association; and I cordially join with my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose in expressing the hope that if the country thinks any retrenchment is to be effected in this House, they will establish in every town and village a Liverpool Financial Reform Association.


wished that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War had followed the example set by the right hon. Member for Tamworth when he was in office. When did the right hon. Member for Tamworth, or any of his Colleagues in the Government, ever call the attention of the House to the tracts issued by the Anti-Corn-Law League? To have referred to this matter when the Army Estimates were under consideration, might, perhaps, be excusable; but to reopen the whole subject gratuitously was a different thing; and the Government could not fail to perceive, from the extent to which this conversation had already been carried, that the course pursued by the right hon. Member for Tamworth, when in office, was better calculated to expedite public business than that which had been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War. At all events, such a proceeding was not likely to expedite the business of the House, or the respect due to it.


said, the question was not whether the system pursued in the Army was a good one or a bad one, but whether the Association had addressed itself to the subject in a spirit hostile and detrimental to the honour and interests of the Army. These gentlemen at Liverpool assumed that they were thoroughly acquainted with this subject, and put forth a variety of details, one-half of which were well known to be inaccurate, and this too at the very moment when hon. Gentlemen in that House were about to investigate this very subject, in reference to which his wish, as well as that of every one connected with the service, was for a full and fair investigation. But he did not like to see a number of tracts sent forth in a spirit which was anything but creditable to their candour; and he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War had done no more than his duty on this occasion.


I think we may safely draw this inference from what has passed—that the whole of this discussion has arisen from an ill-considered charge having been brought against a respectable association. ["Oh, oh!"] A charge has been brought in this House against an association. That charge, in the first instance, was made hastily; and that brought on the necessity, on the part of the Minister who made the charge, of explaining voluntarily to the House the grounds on which he made that imputation. I think he took the course, and the only course, which a Gentleman in his position could take, when a charge has been hastily made without sufficient consideration. The hon. and gallant General the Member for Westminster has fallen into precisely the same error as the right hon. Secretary at War: he has made a hasty and ill-considered charge against a respectable association. For I challenge the hon. and gallant General to produce instances of these great inaccuracies which he says the Liverpool Association has been guilty of. I understand that the fact as regards the clothing by the colonels is not denied. I understand that a committee of general officers have themselves deemed that the system might lead to the inferences which have been drawn; and all that the Association, if I understand the matter right, has said is this—that it is a bad system, that it may lead to improper inferences, and that it does afford inducements to officers to do certain things which I am not aware that the Association charges them with having actually done. I do therefore hope, that, for the future, we shall not have these heavy imputations thrown upon societies which, I must say, are not established; and I think the whole proceeding has been brought upon us by these sweeping and ill-considered censures.

Bill committed for Monday next.