§ MR. A. STAFFORD
said, he begged to call the attention of the House to the arrangements made for payment of the arrears due to those sick or wounded soldiers who had returned from the Crimea; and to ask whether it was intended to place invalid soldiers on board the hospital ship Britannia before the hospitals on shore were filled. He would not occupy the attention of the House for more than two minutes, but he was induced to put the question of which he had given notice, in consequence of the very unsatisfactory statement which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War on the subject. He (Mr. Stafford) believed that very few of the sick and wounded soldiers who had returned from the Crimea had been settled with since August last. He had had a long list of names placed before him of men who had suffered the greatest hardships in consequence of the retention of the pay due to them. The sums they claimed varied in amount, a great majority of the claims amounting to 5l. and 6l., and yet many of these men had been compelled to pawn their clothes to enable them to meet their relatives, or, after having received a small pittance with their furlough, to proceed to their several places of destination. There were few persons who were not aware of the numbers of these sick and wounded who had returned to their own several localities, where they were received and welcomed with the greatest kindness, though, unfortunately, they possessed but few representatives in the House of Commons. But what would be the effect of the statements they made to their relatives and friends? He apprehended that it must necessarily be not only to bring the Government into disrepute, but actually to stop the progress of the enlistment of the army throughout the country. He did not agree with the hon. Gentleman who had stated that by bringing forward this question he (Mr. Stafford) would himself be the cause of stopping the progress of recruiting the army. On the contrary, he thought it far better that those gallant young men who were willing to go forth to fight the battles of their country should know that there were some Members of 22 the House of Commons who were willing to take up the cause of the soldier, and to state the grievances that had been inflicted upon him. There never had been a House of Commons that had granted the supplies for the army with greater willingness than the present House had done; and he certainly believed that there never was a House of Commons which would more willingly see even larger sums granted, rather than that injustice should be done to those of whom, on every occasion, the House had been anxious to express its strong approbation, not without cause, nor in any exaggerated terms. He hoped the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War would contradict him if he were wrong, but he apprehended that one cause of the great delay in the payment of these arrears was, that the papers which would authenticate the claims of the men had been lost altogether. But, whoever might be blameable for the loss of those papers, it was perfectly clear that the soldiers themselves were not the cause of it, and that they ought not therefore to be the sufferers by reason of that loss. Next to the payment of these men from the earliest period that could be ascertained in the absence of documents, he hoped it would not be expecting too much that some expression of regret should be made on the part of some one high in office for the great delay that had occurred in the payment of the money due to these gallant men. He (Mr. Stafford) confessed that he was most reluctant in bringing this matter forward, considering how little credit it reflected on the whole system of management in relation to our army in the East; and, unless he had the assurance of the highest authority that he had not overstated the case, he should have been quite ashamed to mention it, presenting, as it did, so strong a contrast to the generous manner in which the British soldier ought to be, and, as he believed, generally was, treated. He trusted that some Member of the Government would give the House an assurance that this state of things should be remedied. These men had returned from the field of fight wounded and broken down in health, and what had they to say?—"Our country, on our return, far from showing us gratitude and favour, has not even done us common justice."
§ MR. FREDERICK PEEL
said, it was difficult for him to add anything to the explanation he had already given on this subject the other evening. He did not 23 think the House would consider that there had been any mismanagement in this matter, or anything objectionable in the manner in which this complaint had been met. He certainly was sorry that any soldier should be kept out of his pay. But the question was simply this—why had not the Government liquidated the arrears of pay to which the soldiers who had returned from the Crimea and the Bosphorus were entitled? The answer to that question was—"We do not know what the amounts of those arrears are." The only course Government could take would be to pay the men on their own statement. He thought the result of adopting such a course would be found to be rather inconvenient. In a few instances the Government had acted on the statements of the men, but in some of those cases it was afterwards ascertained that the statements made were incorrect. In fact, the men themselves did not know what their rights were. Some were entitled to good conduct pay, but that was a claim which depended entirely upon regimental documents, which had not been received. Then, again, it was not known what amount of pay was due to the men up to the time they left the Crimea. Instructions had been given three months ago to the paymasters of the different regiments to send home the necessary returns; and a considerable number—three-fourths of the whole number—had been sent in. Just by way of example, he would state that a return had been made from the 20th Regiment of foot. It contained the names of from 300 to 400 men, and in every instance there appeared to be some small sum payable to them, but in no case did the sums correspond with the amounts stated by the men themselves. This was an illustration of the difficulty that existed in paying these men upon no other statement than their own. But, after all, these returns only related to the time at which the men left the Crimea, or at most to the time at which they entered the hospitals. There being no paymaster at Scutari, the accounts were kept in a very irregular manner. A paymaster had now been sent out to the Crimea for the special purpose of making up these accounts, in order to satisfy these claimants; and, as far as it was possible, it was the intention of the Government to pay the men who were entitled to the money up to the time to which those returns would refer.
said, that the state- 24 ment of the hon. Gentleman only showed that proper precautions had not been taken in reference to this matter, and that the Government had not obtained the accounts owing to the blundering way in which they had been kept. Supposing the pay-sergeant were killed, the only means then of ascertaining what was due to the men would be their own statement, and that, he conceived, under the circumstances, ought now to be the guide. At all events, if any one was to be a loser in the adjustment of these accounts, it ought not to be the soldier.