HC Deb 08 February 1855 vol 136 cc1379-91

On the Motion for the adjournment of the House,


said, he deeply regretted that in the present state of public affairs any Motion should be proposed to the House such as the Motion of which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given notice—namely, that the House should adjourn till Friday, the 16th instant. He was very well aware that those Gentlemen opposite felt very uncomfortable in their seats, and wished for time for re-election, and repentance he hoped. He did not think this country would submit to such an indiscreet postponement under the existing circumstances in which they were placed. He thought they ought all to offer their thanks to the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) for the inquiry he had promised to bring forward, and of the result of which there could be no doubt whatever. He wished the Government had a little more consideration for the brave soldiers and sailors composing our army than they appeared to have. He had last night, to his deep regret, seen upon the Treasury bench smiles that he thought most unbecoming, unfeeling, and indecent; and had not the House been in the state in which it was, he should have risen in his place and directed its attention to the subject. Now, when every hour was of importance, all the House had to look to was a shabby Ministry in a state of disgrace, who, he regretted to say, had not been finally excluded from office. He had, he hoped, the feelings of a soldier; and with such feelings he begged to ask in what state our army now was? Do let them know what was to be done—do let them be up and stirring; this sort of disgraceful apathy had already lasted far too long, and ought to be put a stop to. They were getting nothing done, and this Motion for adjournment was only a shuffling pretext to shelter a Ministry who had been guilty of ignorance, who did not know where they were, nor what they should do; but he trusted the time was not far distant when the House would send them off, never to return.


said, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a statement made by him yesterday, and which had had the effect of considerably cheering the people out of doors. The right hon. Gentleman was reported to have said that at the time to which he referred, the effective force before Sebastopol, including, of course, as was understood, the naval force serving on shore, amounted in round numbers to 30,000 men. This statement had also been repeated by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Works. Now, that statement had created considerable surprise in the minds of many who had friends in the Crimea, with whom they correspond. His attention had been drawn to it from the fact of having seen letters addressed to other gentlemen, and one received by himself, which did not agree with such a statement. The letter he had received came from a gentleman high in rank, capable of forming an opinion, and one whose statement might be relied on, and agreed with that read from day to day in the Times—namely, that the effective British force before Sebastopol did not, unfortunately, amount to more than 12,000 men. There was no party feeling in this question, and the right hon. Gentleman might take his (Mr. Butt's) word for it, that in calling attention to this he was influenced by no other feeling than that of the deep anxiety which he felt in common with the whole country for the remainder of that army which had achieved so much, and which, if possible, had suffered so much more. When the right hon. Gentleman had stated that the effective force of the army was 30,000 men, it was expected that such statement was based on returns which were made from time to time to the Horse Guards from the army, and his object in rising was to beg that the right hon. Gentleman would give to them the information which would assure them of the contrary of that which he must know was daily stated in the papers, and in the letters of those who wrote from the army. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to satisfy the country that his statement was one on which they could rely, for if they found that they could do so, it would give great relief to the country. When they read from time to time in one of the most influential papers of the day—the Times—that the remainder of the army was wasting away, and that—he would not use the strong expressions employed in that paper, but they amounted to this—that some frightful catastrophe was at hand—this was a state of things in which they could not count on the existence of 30,000 men; and he wished that they could with confidence count on the number mentioned in the letter he had received, which gave from 12,000 to 13,000 men for the effective force—he wished they could reckon on this, but, excepting the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, not one could he find which did not point almost to the annihilation of the army. The Committee of Inquiry would show who were to blame for the state to which our army had been reduced, but the country felt that the soldiers had been sacrificed to neglect and incompetence, which had, besides the sufferings occasioned, endangered the very security of the country. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would, if possible to-morrow, furnish the House with a statement from returns on which they could rely, that at the time to which he referred the effective force of the army amounted to 28,000 men.


said, he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was about to give any promise for a future day, but for his part he did most earnestly deprecate the repetition of statements of this kind on the benches of that House. Those statements were not only read and heard in that House and in the country, but they were read and heard elsewhere also. Hon. Gentlemen ought therefore to feel the very deep responsibility that was laid upon them as Members of that House. For his part he could not understand that patriotism which indulged itself in repeating what he believed to be exaggerated statements of the weakness of our forces before Sebastopol. He could not understand what good it was to serve. Was it supposed by any man that what the noble Lord the Member for the City of London described as the "horrible and heart-rending" sufferings of the army were subjects upon which any Government could be indifferent, or that the existing wants of the army were not ever present to the mind of the Government? Was it not the fact that the House had insisted upon a substitution of the men engaged in the supervision of the War Department, for the very purpose of endeavouring to effect an alteration in the existing state of things; and was there any advantage, or any national object, to be gained by repeating, day after day, those melancholy statements—statements which, he again said, he believed to be grossly exaggerated? He believed there were few of them who had not friends and relatives in the Crimea. He himself had blood relations there, shedding their blood and doing their best in the service of their country. They all received private letters from their friends there. He knew that those letters spoke with feeling and pity of the sufferings of the soldiers, but he had still to learn that any officer had yet written from that camp in terms of despondency. Everything he had seen and heard confirmed his belief that the officers' letters from the camp, while they lamented the hardships our brave soldiers so heroically underwent, contained expressions of the utmost confidence in the result of the enterprise. A comparison had been drawn between the state of our army and that of the French army. He asked, was it fair to draw any such comparison? It was not for him to state what was the exact position of the French army; they heard very little about that army, because it was very little spoken of; but he was certain that the condition of that army would be much worse than it was if there were in France opportunities of making statements like some that were made in that House. But was this all? If these statements did not serve this country, whom did they serve? In making statements so well calculated to discourage their own soldiers—if it were possible to discourage them—they did everything it was possible to do to give spirit and encouragement to the enemy. He would venture to say that if another attack should be made upon our position, and another battle of Inkerman should be fought, those who made such statements would have incurred a fearful responsibility. He believed that the Russian army had suffered quite as much as it had been represented to have done, for on no other supposition could he account for its inaction. If hon. Gentlemen desired the present state of things to be remedied, let them have a strong Government—let them sanction the selection of the Crown, if, as he believed was the case, a strong Government could be formed; but let them not, night after night, make statements of facts which, in his belief, were greatly exaggerated, and would assuredly incite the enemy to attack the army. He had very lately seen statements in the French newspapers which were well known to be inspired by high authorities in that country, expressing their astonishment and shame at the tone assumed by certain Members of the House of Commons. They pointed out the pregnant fact that since the year 1815 this country had asserted that it was a non-military Power, and had tried to forget the art of war, resting upon the laurels which it had already won; they pointed out, also, that since 1815 France had been anxious to retrieve the position of her army by every means in her power; that for twenty years they had had campaigns in Algeria, as the best school for their army, and that the English army was at that moment reaping the fruits of the experience which they (the French) had acquired under the walls of Constantina.


said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had thought it right to volunteer a lecture to an hon. Member on his (Mr. Baillie's) side of the House. Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman's lecture ought rather to have been directed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it was in consequence of a voluntary statement made by that right hon. Gentleman that all this questioning arose. He could very well understand the inconvenience of a Minister making statements and giving information on such subjects—he could very well understand the right hon. Gentleman saying, when questioned, that he ought not to answer the question, as it would be inconvenient to the public service; but the right hon. Gentleman had done no such thing. The right hon. Gentleman had in his speech made a voluntary statement the other night, and another voluntary statement had been made by another Minister—the right hon. Baronet the First Commissioner of Works last night. But when those voluntary statements turned out to be quite different to the private accounts—for he himself had read a statement describing matters to be far worse than those represented by the Ministers—then he thought hon. Members had a right to ask on what grounds those statements had been made; and he thought it would be well if the right hon. Gentle- man the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave some explanation on the subject; for there could be no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman had included in his return, not only the effective British troops before Sebastopol, but the Turks under the command of Lord Raglan, and the sick and wounded. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No, no!] There appeared to him, however, to be no other way to account for the statements made to the House. He knew that accounts had been received at the Horse Guards, and he believed that the latest return sent to this country did not give more than 10,365 as the number of effective British bayonets before Sebastopol.


I do not wonder, Sir, that my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. S. Wortley) wishes to deprecate a discussion of this kind, but at the same time there is one statement which has been so commonly put forth, that I am not surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite ask for some explanation, and that they are surprised that there should be a discrepancy between what is ordinarily circulated as the state of the army and the official account which they hear from the Ministers of the Crown. The statement usually put forward fixes the number of men before Sebastopol at about 12,000 or 14,000, and it is generally understood that 54,000 have been sent out. It is then asked, how is it possible that, having sent out 54,000, you have now only 12,000 remaining, and how comes it that so enormous a number as 40,000 or 42,000 men have been lost to the army. Now the House ought to be informed that this is not a fair comparison. If you take 54,000 on the one side as the number sent out, you ought not to take 12,000 as the number remaining in the Crimea. The 54,000 men sent out includes all the cavalry and all the artillery; it includes every commissioned and every non-commissioned officer; it includes every man present under arms, every one employed as an orderly, upon hospital duty, or in any way whatever. Hence, when you have taken away all the artillery and all the cavalry, all officers whether commissioned or non-commissioned, and all men employed in various other duties not strictly military, you will then get at a fair number with which to compare the amount of men now spoken of as actually under arms in the Crimea. If you add all these men—all those officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, you will find that, instead of 14,000 or 12,000 men, you have a force of some 28,000 or 30,000 men, and adding 14,000 for sick and wounded, the number of 44,000 will be accounted for. I admit that the mistake is a very reasonable one for hon. Gentlemen to make, but it is a mistake which I think ought to be corrected; and I cannot but think that it will be a comfort to the House and the country to know the real truth. Of course the state of our troops has been lamentable, and I should be the last person in this House to say that hon. Members should not feel deeply upon the subject. At the same time I think it right to state that only yesterday I happened to meet a gentleman, a civilian, who had just returned from the Crimea, and that I took the opportunity of inquiring into the actual state of the army before Sebastopol, and whether it was the fact that the men were so emaciated and failing in strength as has been represented. He told me that a great many men had died, and that a great many were still sick, but with regard to a great portion of the troops who were of stronger constitutions, he said that they appeared to be in possession of all their strength, and ready to perform any duty which might be required of them. The House will permit me also to call attention to the filet that ours is not the only army before Sebastopol. There is the considerable force of our allies before that place, so that in fact not less a number than 80,000 men are there collected. I cannot but take this opportunity to say that I have seen, with some disgust, the attacks which have been made on the gallant commander of the British part of that force. I am sure Lord Raglan is not only an experienced soldier, but that he is as feeling and attentive to the sufferings of those under his command as any man who ever wore the British uniform. I hope, I believe, that he will rise above the attacks which have been made upon him by a ribald press, and that he will long continue to enjoy the respect of his country. I must also take this occasion to say a word upon the present position of the Executive. My right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder of London has very properly placed before the House that we now have a First Lord of the Treasury who has great experience upon all these subjects, whose vigour and ability are undoubted, and who has always satisfied Parliament and the country by the declaration of sen- timents most patriotic, and by the manner in which he has discharged the duties of the important offices with which, at various times, he has been intrusted. I am also glad to hear that another noble Friend of mine (Lord Panmure) has accepted the office of Minister of War. My noble Friend was for a long time Secretary at War in this House; he is a perfect master of the principles which regulate our army, and he will, I doubt not, turn his immediate attention to any improvement which can be suggested. He will not, I believe, be induced to adopt, under the name of improvement, innovations which might be destructive to the very existence of the army; but he will adopt, I am sure, every plan which the science of the present day, and the skill which enterprising men have brought to hear upon every kind of arms placed within his reach, for the purpose of raising the condition of our soldiers. I believe that my noble Friend the present Secretary of State for the War Department will be ready to place that army, which has suffered so much, not from want of discipline, or of military organisation, but from the failure of the civil departments, in a position to sustain the reputation of the British soldier. I have heard suggestions made that the whole military organisation of this country is defective. I do not pretend to speak as to the details of that organisation, but this I know perfectly well, that when the Duke of York fitted out regiments for service which the Duke of Wellington commanded, there was then no want of organisation—there was then no want of a force ready to sustain at any moment the reputation of this country. Nor can I think that there is so much of faultiness as it is now the fashion to impute to our system. I have no doubt that, in the years of peace which we have passed through, many parts of our system may have got out of use. It may be that in the first year of a war you cannot be able to furnish all those means of transport and all those civil services by which an army is supplied—the want of which has occasioned those grievous misfortunes which the country now deplores; but I really think that the services and establishments which are required to be regulated by my noble Friend will be adequately supplied, and no doubt the House will vote the means requisite for the restoration of those services and establishments to a state of complete efficiency. I will add, before I resume my seat, that I have every con- fidence in the Ministry named by Her Majesty, and I am sure that a majority of this House will give it their cordial support—but, of course, retaining the power of interfering at any time if they find the interests of the country neglected or disregarded. The House, I am sure, will give the new Ministry an opportunity of carrying into effect, by means of the executive, all the measures which may be required, without any undue interference on its part which might be prejudicial to the best interests of the country.


begged to assure the House that in asking the question in the early part of the evening which had been so frequently alluded to in the course of this conversation, he had not had the slightest intention to impugn the statement that had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His only object in asking that question was to afford to the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of stating the facts as they really were. There was undoubtedly a very great discrepancy between the two calculations—that which described the forces in the Crimea as amounting to some 12,000 or 14,000 men, and that which estimated them as amounting to as large a number as 28,000; nor, to speak the truth, could he altogether understand how the discrepancies could be reconciled even by such explanations as the noble Lord the Member for the City of London had just submitted. However, that was a matter for the House to determine. It was greatly to be desired that there should be laid upon the table of the House such official returns as would enable the country to understand how the case really stood. There was no use in concealing the facts. No good purpose could possibly be served by concealment; on the contrary, he believed that a true statement of the facts as they really were would best conduce to our interests. He believed that it was desirable that the truth should be known to England, to France, and even to Russia. He was not, one of those who had any misgiving as to the ultimate success of the campaign. He did not believe that there was any reason for despondency as to the eventual result, but he thought it of the highest importance that there should be such an official statement of our position as would enable the country to comprehend the true state of our case.


said, he must beg to explain that he had not in- tended to animadvert upon the question which had been put by the hon. Gentleman, but he confessed that the language with which it had been accompanied by the hon. and learned Member for Weymouth had excited him to make a few observations.


said, he had put no question, but had merely pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should give an explanation of the fact he had stated.


said, that one of his nearest and dearest relations was with the army before Sebastopol, and therefore he felt a deep interest in what was taking place there. He thought he should be neglecting his duty if he did not state that the private letters he had received were of a very different complexion from those to which the hon. and learned Member for Weymouth had alluded. He admitted that his letters contained many statements of hardships, of pain, and of suffering, of occasional bad weather, although not nearly so bad as had often been described, but their language throughout was that not only of hope, but of confident expectation. There was no desponding. Many of the statements they saw were certainly not borne out by many of the letters they received.


said, after what had been stated so well by his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) with respect to the explanation of the apparent discrepancy between the statement he had made and the account contained in the public journals, he should have felt that it was almost unnecessary for him to address a single word to the House, if it had not been for the imputation which had been thrown out by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. Baillie). His noble Friend had pointed out the difference in the mode of estimating the forces of an army, which would really account for nearly the whole of the apparent discrepancy between those statements. Not only in the statement referred to were the officers excluded, and all the forces except the infantry excluded, but a considerable portion of the rank and file themselves were excluded, because, in every army, a large portion of the rank and file were perpetually employed from day to day in duties, not military duties, which portion was not included in that statement. But he desired more particularly to contradict the observation of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire, who said that in the number of 28,000 men, who, according to the statement he had made, were discharging military duty before Sebastopol, were included a force of Turks, and the wounded and sick. Now there was not a single sick man, a single wounded man, a single Turk, or any other person except members of the British army included in the numbers he had stated to the House when he said that there were 28,200 men engaged in the discharge of military duty before Sebastopol. This was strictly true; of course he meant it was strictly true at the time when he had made the statement; but ten days had since elapsed, and of the changes which had occurred in that time, although he had no reason to believe they were great, he could not speak without more correct and recent information. He must confess that he could not wonder that statements of this kind should be made in the House, nor could he venture to complain of them. The tide of feeling ran so strong when those who were possessed of all our sympathies were in a situation of so much hardship, privation, and suffering, that we should be either more or less than men if the anxieties that were so intensely felt did not find for themselves some, even although it were rather an irregular, channel of expression. He therefore did not presume to read any lecture, or to make any complaint to any one. All he did say was this—he would beseech and entreat hon. Members to place upon their feelings as much restraint as they possibly could. It was hardly necessary to say that he entirely acquitted the hon. and learned Member for Weymouth (Mr. G. Butt) of being actuated by any spirit of party in the remarks he had made. No man in that House would be guilty of such a thing; but when the hon. and learned Gentleman said it appeared from private accounts that a great disaster was at hand—[MR. G. BUTT: I said, I had read the statement in the newspapers of today.] Those statements were, of course, founded upon private accounts. He would entreat the hon. and learned Gentleman to bear in mind that, although he might have made the statement in that House not as his own opinion, it would yet go forth to the world as his own opinion. Nor was this all, for that which was spoken in the House of Commons, when it went forth to the world, was carelessly and loosely examined by promiscuous readers of imperfect reports, and was supposed, in some vague and indefinite sense, to carry with it the authority of the House of Commons. On that account, reports of this kind, if taken up and promulgated by Members of the House, really became productive of great practical mischief; and without presuming to complain of hon. Members, he would venture to ask of all of them to use the utmost caution, and to place as much restraint on themselves as their natural interest in the fate of the army would allow, before they gave what may be considered as currency and authority to such statements. It was a perfectly rational course to put questions and to ask the Government for information, and it was a more useful and a less dangerous method than to deal in intelligence of this more or less questionable description, and to give it an authority which it did not otherwise possess.


said, he had but lately returned from the Crimea, and he could state from personal observation that there was no feeling of despondency amongst the soldiers of the British army. In a note which he had received in December from an aide-de-camp in the Second Division, it was stated that out of four battalions there were only 1,200 rank and file, fit for duty, the nominal amount on paper being 2,714. These 2,714 were in existence, but were not at that time available for the trenches or for action, many of them having been sent to Scutari, and others having come home. But notwithstanding this, he did not take quite so desponding a view as some hon. Gentlemen were disposed to do, although he admitted that matters were very bad. When he was in the Crimea he saw that the men suffered very much from exposure, from cold, and from want of proper clothing; but he had left in the latter part of December, and since then large supplies of clothing had arrived at the camp. One of the greatest difficulties with which the men had to contend was the want of fuel, without which they could not cook their provisions; and when he was at Malta he had observed with great pleasure that a public company—he believed Price's Patent Candle Company—had devised a scheme and submitted it to the Secretary at War, by which six pounds of composition would be sufficient to keep a tent warm. The men for want of fuel, had frequently been obliged to eat their rations raw: and a man who had nothing to eat but a slice or two of raw pork could not be expected to do any work. He had no doubt of the ultimate success of the expedition; for when two such countries as France and England combined to carry out a great work, nothing on earth would stop them; but it would be attended with a great loss of life. For the last forty years but little thought had been concentrated upon those contrivances in the art of war which in the other arts had been brought to such a pitch of perfection, and be had been told by an officer of artillery that many lives had been lost in the batteries by the bursting of our own cannon. But the talent of the mechanic would now be brought into play, and the energy which England would put forth would no doubt ultimately bring success. He might perhaps at a future time have an opportunity of telling a plain unvarnished tale of what he had witnessed, and any information in his possession he should at any time be most happy to communicate to those to whom it might be useful.


said that every vote which the Government had proposed for the carrying on of the war had passed unquestioned.

Motion agreed to.

The House adjourned at half after Six o'clock.