HC Deb 20 April 1855 vol 137 cc1611-22

rose to move, that Mr. John Ball be discharged from further attendance on Army before Sebastopol Committee, and that Captain Scobell be appointed in his place. The hon. Gentleman said that he wished, in bringing forward this Motion, to state in the first place, that he did so without any wish to disparage the hon. Gentleman whose name was involved in it. Upon general grounds no one probably was more competent to be a Member of the Committee than the hon. Member for the county Carlow; but it appeared to him to be perfectly impossible that an hon. Gentleman who was a Member of the Government could look upon a Committee, or upon the report of a Committee, which was to try the conduct of that Government, with the same impartiality as if he were sitting below the gangway in the place he occupied in the early part of the Session. A great deal was said at the time the Committee was formed of the importance of having the most impartial names that could be selected for the purpose. With that view various names were selected and various names were rejected. Now, to have on that Committee the name of an hon. Gentleman himself a Member of the Government, was, he humbly submitted, a proceeding wholly inconsistent with previous acts. They might be told, however, that the present Government was not that whose conduct was being inquired into. But hon. Gentlemen opposite would be pleased to recollect that there were at least eight Members of the present Cabinet who were Members of the late Cabinet; so that there were no less than eight Members of the present Cabinet whose conduct was involved in the report which would issue from the Committee sitting up stairs. Now, although the House had seen of late a rather glaring instance of a Member of a Government deserting his colleagues, in the case of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. B. Osborne), still it was scarcely to be expected that a Member of the Government would be the most impartial person to select as a Member of the Committee. It was quite certain, at all events, that the country would not be satisfied with a report of such a Committee. Now, in order to avoid the appearance of having acted from mere party motives—an insinuation often thrown out against those sitting on the opposition side of the House by the Gentleman opposite, as well as to supply an element greatly deficient in the composition of the present Committee, he proposed the name of the hon. Member for Bath (Captain Scobell) to fill the place of the hon. Member for Carlow, believing him to be a person that could greatly aid the labours of the Committee.


seconded the Motion.


fully concurred with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bentinck) as to the propriety of discharging the hon. Member for Carlow from the Committee; but he thought the hon. Member was going somewhat beyond his province in nominating the Member who should supply his place. It would be remembered that there was a distinct understanding that the nomination of a portion of the Committee should be left to the Government, and amongst those whom they selected was the hon. Member for Carlow; but the hon. Member having been appointed Under Secretary for the Colonies, he had become incompetent to discharge his duties as a Member of the Committee. As he began the Committee, so he should continue to support it; and since, by arrangement, it was left to the Government to nominate a portion of the Committee, and one of the Members whom they selected was the hon. Member now proposed to be discharged, he thought, in all fairness, they ought to have the power of naming his successor. But it was said the naval element was wanting in the Committee; he did not think it was; but the Committee had, amongst other matters, to inquire into the clothing of the army, and therefore he thought a tailor might have been proposed just as well as a sailor—[Oh, oh!]. Hon. Members might cry "oh, oh!" but he wanted to know, if the argument was good in the one case, why should it not be equally good in the other? He wanted to know why it should be necessary to have a sailor on a Committee appointed to inquire into the state of the army before Sebastopol? However, he understood that the Government intended to propose that the hon. Member for the county of Limerick (Mr. De Vere) should supply the place of the hon. Member for Carlow; and, in accordance with the arrangement to which he had already referred, he thought the matter ought to be left in their hands.


asked upon what ground the Government could claim the right of appointing a Member of this Committee? Who first called for the inquiry? Why, the people; and Parliament, responding to the appeal of the country, consented to the appointment of this Committee to investigate the conduct of those whose mismanagement had destroyed one of the noblest armies that had ever left our shores; and that House, as representing the people, ought to appoint the Members of the Committee and not the Government. And yet they were told that by arrangement the Government had the right to appoint a portion of the Committee. He protested against such an extraordinary doctrine as that laid down by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), and thought the House would best discharge its duty by disregarding the arrangement, if there was any, and filling up the vacancy themselves.


explained that the existing Committee was appointed upon an understanding with himself, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, which understanding gave the Government the right to nominate a portion of the Committee, and all that he now said was, that that understanding should be adhered to, and that one of the Members appointed by the Government having been withdrawn, they should propose another in his place.


said, it was the uniform practice of the House, when a Committee was to be appointed to investigate matters of such deep and great importance as those which had been submitted to this Committee, that the Members to serve should be selected by the Mover of the Committee in communication with the Government of the day—not that the Government were always to appoint the persons to serve on the Committee; but it was only right and proper, when matters were to be investigated, in which the conduct of the Government was concerned, that only such persons should be appointed, who, by their impartiality, by their competence, by their ability, were the best qualified to perform the duties and execute the task confided to them. It was in that sense, and in that sense only, that according to the established practice of the House the Government and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield agreed in communication with each ether upon the persons who should form the Committee. Those who had watched the proceedings and conduct of the Committee would agree with him that the choice was well made, and that only those Members had been selected who were the best fitted to be entrusted with the difficult and delicate investigation which had been confided to them. From the moment, however, that the hon. Member for Carlow accepted the office of Under Secretary for the Colonies, it was quite impossible that he could continue to be a Member of the Committee. His official occupations would have interfered with his attendance on the Committee; but it was not so much that as his belonging to the Government that disqualified him from continuing a Member of the Committee. Then came the question who should succeed him? Now, his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow was the only Irish Member on the Committee, while he thought it was understood when the Committee was appointed, that it was only right and proper that there should be at least one Irish Member on it. Therefore he should propose that the hon. Member for the county of Limerick should be appointed in the stead of Mr. Ball, and that being the choice of the Government—a choice which the hon. and learned Chairman of the Committee did not object to—he should have no alternative but to oppose the appointment of Mr. Scobell, with the view of nominating. Mr. De Vero on Monday.


said, the inquiry was one which had been demanded by the nation, and accorded by the House of Commons; and it was the duty of the House to see that the inquiry was an impartial one. Now that could not be if the Members were to be left to the selection of the Government, or if the House refused to place a Member of the naval profession on the Committee, which, he believed, had become absolutely necessary.


discharged from further attendance on the Committee.


then rose to propose that Captain Scobell should be placed upon the Committee in the room of Mr. Ball. He had no doubt that the arrangement declared to have been made between the Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck), was very satisfactory to the parties concerned; but he, for one, was not inclined to concur in that arrangement. The rule that the Government and the mover of the Committee should come to an understanding in a case like the present, and that the appointment should rest with them, might be a very good rule under ordinary circumstances, but could not be accepted now. It was a monstrous proposition to assert that the Government were to have the nomination of half a Committee, when that Committee was called upon to inquire into their conduct and character. He had no wish to say anything disrespectful of the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. De Vere), but that Gentleman had only been a Member of that House for three or four months, and he would ask whether a gentleman who had had such short Parliamentary experience was fit to be placed on the Committee in the middle of its deliberations? The country was looking with intense interest for the Report of this Committee— the characters of many public men depended upon it; and nothing could be more absurd than that they should choose as one of the Committee an hon. Member who had not had the advantage of more than two or three months' Parliamentary experience.


said, it was at all times exceedingly difficult to select competent persons to serve on Committees. The House complained, and justly too, of the enormous lengths to which the Reports of Select Committees ran; but that arose in a great measure from the circumstance of appointing Members who were unable to give their full attendance upon the Committee, or who did not understand the question to be inquired into, and, there- fore, in order to make themselves masters of the subject, they asked all sorts of questions, until there was no end to the printed evidence. Now under these circumstances, he and his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roebuck) consulted with the various heads of as many parties as had heads, as to the persons who might be agreeable to them, or who were in their opinion the best qualified to serve on the Committee. In that way it was arranged that a certain number should be nominated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), and the same thing was done with regard to the Government. Now the Gentleman who had just been superseded was one of those nominated by the Government, and the House was, in his opinion, bound by the original agreement to support the Government in their nomination of his successor.


Sir, I having on a previous occasion expressed how firmly I held the opinion that a naval officer ought to have been included among the Members of the Committee, that inquiry embracing the conduct and administration of the Transport Service, and the condition of Balaklava harbour, I had not been induced to have addressed you, Sir, at this time, were it not from the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) having expressed his opinion that a tailor would be of as much use as a sailor in the Committee. Now the fact is, did the House possess such a Member? A tailor would render good service in the Committee, seeing that so much turned upon the arrangement for clothing the troops, and the mismanagement in that department. For my part, I cannot but repeat how deeply I regret that no Member of the naval profession was placed upon that Committee, for none but a seaman is capable of eliciting such information and such answers as ought to satisfy the Members whether there was any foundation for the charges made against the naval authorities on the very difficult and complicated subject of the Transport Service and the management of Balaklava harbour; and the inevitable consequence of naming a Committee of hon. Members without a naval officer has, I know, produced much dissatisfaction in the country. I, in common with hon. Members, only desire a fair inquiry and no favour, such as may enable us to avoid fresh disasters and mismanagement of affairs. An able naval officer ought to have been at every port whence transports were laden and sailed, to regulate their departure and superintend the cargoes placed on board them, with correct invoices furnished to the several departments. As I trust the committee will soon bring their labours to a close, it might be too small advantage at the present time in Captain Scobell being placed upon it. I think, however, it was a disrespectful and most unbecoming observation of the hon. and learned Gentleman to say they might as well put a tailor as a sailor on the Committee. I mean no disrespect to tailors, but I do not consider it other than a coarse expression to compare a tailor with a naval officer. [Mr. ROEBUCK understood the gallant admiral to say, that if there were a tailor in the House, he ought to be put on the Committee.] I said no such thing—I said if the House possessed a tailor as an hon. Member, a tailor would be very useful, as the inquiry turned so much upon the clothing of the army; and I said this only in reference to the observation which fell from the hon. and learned Member.


submitted that he had correctly represented what the gallant admiral had said. The gallant admiral seemed to have confounded the province of a witness with the province of a judge. Any one of common sense could judge of the matters which the Committee were investigating, and no hon. Member had forborne to give his opinion because he was not a sailor. One official had arrived, and he was given to understand the gentleman who was in command at Balaklava was on his way to this country. The Committee had examined some witnesses as to the conduct of persons in Balaklava harbour, and they would examine those gentlemen also. He wanted to know why they were to be called upon to appoint a gentleman on the nomination of hon. Gentlemen opposite? He could only repeat that the Committee was formed upon an understanding. ["No! "and" Hear!"] Could there be any man in that House who did not know that propositions of that sort were always made upon an understanding? Without an understanding he could not have carried the Committee, or any Member of it. He went behind the Speaker's chair, and entered into correspondence with gentlemen on both sides of the House with the view to form a Committee which would give satisfaction to the country. It would be seen by and by whether they had performed their duties to the satisfaction of the House and of the country. It seemed to him that the understanding with which they had entered on the constitution of the Committee was that the Government should have the nomination of a certain part of the Committee. A Member having withdrawn whom the Government had nominated, he thought the Government had the right to nominate to the vacancy which had been created.


denied that it was right, though it might be the practice, to enter into a sort of cabal with the Minister as to the members to be nominated on a Committee. He also denied that any man of common sense would be a fit person to be nominated. A good ploughman might have common sense, but he was not therefore a good judge of the circumstances attending the loss of the Prince. Could they tell him that any man of common sense could sit on the woolsack where the Lord Chancellor sat? He must have received a legal education. Education was of all qualities the most essential in the selection of a judge. He thought it most invidious to object to his gallant Friend (Captain Scobell), in whom a large constituency put their trust, and he trusted the House would not be led away by the sophistry of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield.


hoped the House would give themselves no great trouble about his feelings or his desires, for he had no great feeling or desire to be upon the Sebastopol Committee. It should be remembered that no vacancy was declared by the Government until this Motion was made. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) said to him, he thought the Under Secretary for the Colonies ought to vacate his seat; and would he allow his name to be proposed, as it would not do to propose any Member from the Opposition side, the Member withdrawing having sat on the Government side of the House? He concurred in thinking that the hon. Member for Carlow was disqualified from acting on the Committee by accepting office, and consented to the proposal of his name. He thought the joke about the tailor and the sailor unworthy of the quarter from which it came. He expected to have found more solidity in the learned Gentleman than was consistent with cracking jokes, because the two words, with the exception of a letter, were identical. But, since sailors were dispa- raged, he would observe that he had been a magistrate for thirty years, and as much in the habit of conducting examinations as the hon. and learned Gentleman himself. He believed he was as capable as most men of putting ordinary questions, and he supposed conjuring questions were not required. The hon. and learned Gentleman was a comparatively young man when he (Captain Scobell) first became a landsman; for such was the system, that when once a man got on shore he was never allowed to go to sea again while men of greater influence were to be found, and the worst of it was that if a man had once been to sea it seemed to be thought he was fit for nothing else. The First Lord of the Treasury said they wanted men of impartiality. The noble Lord dared not, and could not impeach his impartiality, though, perhaps, he was a little more independent than was agreeable to the Government. With respect to ability he was not a judge, and he must, therefore, leave the noble Lord to form his own opinion whether he was fit or unfit. The hon. Member for Surrey spoke of the thousands of questions that had been put—he did not know how many thousands he said — [Mr. DRUMMOND: 14,000]—but the hon. Gentleman implied that because he had been to sea he would ask more questions than any other person, since, as the hon. Member confessed he did not not know the person even of the other hon. Member whose name was proposed, he could not know that few questions would be put if he were appointed. He was just in the same position as the hon. Member for Surrey. He did not know even the person of the hon. Member whose name was proposed, but if the House thought his name preferable it would cause him no disappointment. He thought it his duty to reply to some personal observations which had been made, and from which he gathered that he was not estimated so highly as other Members on that side of the House. The reasons which had been given were all hollow, and might be summed up in this, that the Government and the Gentlemen whom the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had consulted had made a kind of bargain, which would be broken if he were placed upon the Committee. The noble Lord said it was necessary to appoint a person of impartiality, as if he did not possess that quality. He had now been for some years a Member of that House, and while always endeavour- ing to act impartially, he had not shut his eyes to the faults of the Government.


said, he should be extremely sorry if the hon. and gallant Member were to leave the House under the impression that anything which he (Viscount Palmerston) had stated, was meant in the slightest degree to impugn his impartiality, ability, and least of all, that upon which the hon. Gentleman very properly prided himself—his independence. He could assure his hon. and gallant Friend that what he had stated had no reference to his hon. Friend personally, but referred entirely to the question of the manner in which understandings took place with regard to the appointment of Committees. What he had intended to say was, that an understanding between the mover of a Committee and other persons in the House was absolutely necessary, in order to secure the services of hon. Members competent, by their impartiality, ability, and other qualifications, to discharge the duties intrusted to them. That observation applied to the general question, and not in the least to his hon. and gallant Friend, who, in point, of impartiality and ability, was, undoubtedly, as fit to serve upon the Committee as any other Member of that House. The grounds upon which he had thought the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. de Vere) a more fit person to be chosen upon the Committee than his hon. and gallant Friend were, that, inasmuch as the vacancy had arisen in consequence of the withdrawal of an Irish Member, and as there was no other Irish Member upon the Committee, there ought to be upon it at least one Irish Member, considering how deeply Irishmen and Irish matters were interested in the inquiry. It was solely upon that ground that he had objected to the proposal of the hon. Member opposite; and he hoped if his hon. and gallant Friend left the House, he would carry with him the conviction that nothing had been further from his (Viscount Palmerston's) intention than to state anything in the least disparaging of the independence and ability of his hon. and gallant Friend.


complained that the House of Commons was becoming every day more and more a cipher. He felt in great difficulty upon this subject. He had not the honour of knowing the hon. Gentleman whose name was proposed to be added to the Committee, even by sight, and in voting for a member of the Committee he should like to know whom he was voting for. He certainly could not make up his mind to stultify himself by voting for a member on the nomination of the Government, simply because the Government had lost a member of the Committee. He entertained great respect for many Members of Her Majesty's Government, but he could not place the highest confidence in them as a whole.


said, the noble Lord at the head of the Government had appealed to the Irish Members to vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), but he thought the hon. Gentleman deserved the greatest credit for the manner in which he had brought his proposal forward. The noble Lord said, it was desirable to have one Irish Member on the Committee; but, if that were desirable, why had not more than one Irish Member been placed upon it? The conduct of many of the men who sat upon the Ministerial bench was involved in the inquiry, and it would be unfair to the country to allow the Government, by the connivance of any party in that House, to pack the Committee in their own favour. He acknowledged the abilities of the hon. Member for Limerick; but he must say at once, that he thought the hon. and gallant Member for Bath a more fit person to appoint upon the Committee. With regard to the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), the hon. Gentleman had merely acted upon this occasion as he had upon many others, namely, made a speech upon one side of the question, and ended by voting on the other. It appeared from the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield that a most important witness—a gentleman who had charge of Balaklava harbour—was about to be examined, and it was, therefore, highly desirable to have a naval officer upon the Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield asked if the public were not satisfied with the Committee. He would give the hon. Gentleman an honest answer. He fully believed in the uprightness of the hon. Gentlemen, but he must say the tone and whole object of the Committee seemed to be to deal with the inquiry rather delicately. There was a vast amount of mealy mouthedness exhibited in that House, and a great deal of delicacy upstairs. In his opinion there was one man whose conduct ought particularly to be inquired into, and it was highly requisite that the Committee should ascertain the reason of the lethargy which had characterised the conduct of that man for months, while the noblest army ever sent into the field was withering away. The person he referred to was Lord Raglan; and he wished to ask where had been the inquiry into his conduct? The Committee had elicited a great amount of useful information, but only to confirm what The Times had already told the country, and what had been sneered at and denied front time to time by the Government. The country desired to know why Lord Raglan was sleeping while his army was rotting away; and the only way to obtain that information was by putting independent men upon the Committee, determined to probe the subject to the bottom.


, in reply, expressed his surprise at the persistence of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield in the extraordinary argument he had adopted. The hon. Gentleman told them that the Committee was formed upon an understanding between the Government and certain other persons; but he (Mr. Bentinck) contended that that was not the principle on which the Committee ought to be formed, and was a total misconception of the manner in which Committees were nominated in that House. The process of appointing a Committee was for the mover of a Committee, after having obtained the sanction of the House to his proposal, to submit to the House a certain number of names; but this was the first time he had ever heard the doctrine broached that the Government ought to be consulted as to the composition of a Committee. Such a doctrine would be highly objectionable, especially where the character of the Government was involved. As an independent Member his conduct was not called in question in the investigation, whereas the conduct of at least half of the Members of the Cabinet was impugned, and he, therefore, submitted that as an independent Member he was more entitled to suggest who should compose the Committee than the Government.

Motion made, and Question put, "That Captain SCOBELL be added to the Committee."

The House divided; Ayes 68, Noes 81: Majority 13.

The House adjourned at Eleven o'clock till Monday next.