HC Deb 15 March 1855 vol 137 cc619-23

in moving for an address for Copies of any Despatches or correspondence that bad passed between Field Marshal Lord Raglan and the Minister for War relative to the wants of the army in the Crimea, said, he would shortly state the reasons which induced him to ask the House to assist him in obtaining these documents. The House would recollect that a few days ago he had asked the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War, whether there would be any objection to lay upon the table the correspondence that had passed between Lord Raglan and the Minister of War relative to the wants of the army in the Crimea. To that inquiry the hon. Gentleman gave an extremely unsatisfactory answer, for he stated that he objected to the production of the papers because it would not be right to produce a portion of the correspondence, and the House ought, therefore, to wait until the Government was prepared to produce the whole of it. Now, he wished to know, when the Government would be prepared to do so, and who the Government might be when that time arrived? He did not want the whole correspondence, he only asked for such extracts as related to the wants of the army and the causes of the disasters which had befallen it; he did not want those portions which related to other subjects. His principal reason for asking for it was the great interest and anxiety on the subject which existed not only in this country, but also among the officers of the army in the Crimea. It was stated that representations had been made not only to head quarters at home, but also to Lord Raglan, with regard to the wants of the army, the clothing, food, and medicine—and also with regard to the ambulance department, and many persons thought his Lordship had not attended to those representations. He was not one of those who believed that Lord Raglan was wanting in humanity, as it had been represented in some of the public prints; any one who knew that noble Lord must know that he was of a perfectly contrary disposition. He knew from officers who had served with his Lordship in the Penin- sula, that if he were now indifferent to the wants of his men he must he very much altered, because, if he ever had exceeded his duty, it had always been upon the side of too much consideration for the men under his command. He believed that Lord Raglan had made representations to the Government of the wants of the army; he could not believe that the Duke of Newcastle had been indifferent or had not attended to these representations, for he could have no interest in withholding what was asked for; and he (Mr. Duncombe) had a right to assume that the stores of food, clothing, and medicine, had been supplied. The non-production of these papers, which might exonerate Lord Raglan and the Duke of Newcastle, was most unfair to those noblemen. With whom did the blame rest? He believed that these papers, if produced, would show that those whose duty it was to attend to the wants of the army in the Crimea—the Commissariat, the quartermaster general, and the adjutant general—were to blame in many particulars. He should like to know whether it was true, that the French had lent the English army 10,000 great coats; whether the French had been obliged to bake the bread for our soldiers; and also, whether they did not convey our sick and wounded soldiers in their ambulances. He should also like to know the state of our ambulance department. They had a Committee sitting upstairs, and had he been on that Committee, the first thing that he should have asked for would have been the correspondence between the Minister for War and the Commander of the Forces. It would have served as a guide, and should the House consent to its being laid on the table, the next step he considered would be to refer it to the Committee. The production of the correspondence might exonerate Lord Raglan, but it would inculpate, he believed, the Commissariat; and, if it did so, a punishment ought to be inflicted. In the case of the two soldiers at Chatham who were charged with having wasted their ammunition—which was, no doubt, a military offence—in firing at a figure of the late Emperor of Russia, one of them was sentenced to sixty days imprisonment with hard labour, and the other to forty days; and even-handed justice would also require that those through whose negligence and incompetence the army had been sacrificed should also receive punishment. He trusted that the House would support him in compelling the Under Secretary for War to place the correspondence to which the Motion referred on the table.

Motion made and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of any Despatches or Correspondence that has passed between Field Marshal Lord Raglan and the Minister for War, relative to the Wants of the Army in the Crimea.


Sir, having agreed to the appointment of the Committee upstairs, I can, of course, have no desire, or intention, to withhold from Parliament any information which may be necessary for the full investigation of all those matters for which the Committee was appointed to inquire into. I am sure the House will see that it cannot be useful to carry on two inquiries parallel with each other at the same time. The House might have adopted the course of taking the inquiry into its own hands, and then hon. Members might have moved for such written documents as they thought desirable to notice, and they might have examined witnesses at the bar, and inquired into all these matters; but the House determined to appoint a Committee, and delegated to that Committee all the powers which the House possessed. The Committee has full power to call for all these documents, or any other papers which they may think it necessary to have in pursuing the performance of their duties. I therefore submit to the House that it will be far better to leave these papers and writings to be dealt with by the Committee. The Committee will judge of the information which it has before it in investigating all these matters. The Government will grant all those papers and documents in which is not involved political matters which may be inconvenient or dangerous to the public service; I therefore submit to the house that it will be far better to leave these papers in the hands of the Committee, who will exercise their own judgment as to the course which they will pursue, and the proceedings which they will adopt.


said, he must humbly beg leave to demur to the doctrine laid down by his noble Friend, that the hands of the House were to be tied by the Committee. He (Mr. Milnes) had from the first seen the great danger of difficulties arising from this or any Government being enabled to refuse information, on the excuse of a Committee sitting upstairs. That anticipation had been, to a great extent, already fulfilled; and it would be necessary, on that or on some future occasion, to prevent that conclusion from being more fully carried out. The Committee was only now at the commencement of its inquiry; it might last the whole Session, and the Report would probably be deferred till the end of the present or some time in the course of the succeeding Session. Was the House, then, to be prevented from discussing any matter relating to those great transactions which were now causing the hearts of the people of England to palpitate? Were they to wait upon the progress of the inquiry, and was every step of the House on such a momentous question to be subordinated to what might happen in a Committee upstairs? The country really demanded that some of the correspondence between Lord Raglan and the Minister of War should be laid on the table. The character of that gallant commander was not merely imperilled by what had occurred, but the root of all the evil that had led to so much misery and confusion lay in the circumstance that the people of England were not allowed to know, in the frank and open manner to which the spirit of our institutions entitled them, what had been the real defections in the Crimea, what it was that had been asked for there, and what had or had not been supplied. Day after day they had been left without any other official information on these all-important affairs, but what they could glean from those meagre and scanty despatches—for such they undeniably were—proceeding from the commander of our troops. All that they knew beyond what was thus communicated as to the state of our army in the East was derived from those indirect channels which some thought ought to be closed altogether—the organs of the daily press. Where, in all Lord Raglan's despatches, excepting in one solitary instance, had they any record of fraud that had been detected, of incompetence that had been reprimanded, or incapacity that had been superseded? Where were the proofs that he had exercised that vigilant supervision over matters which perhaps, after all, he had exercised, and found himself thwarted, it might be, by great impediments that all his talents could not overcome? So, again, with the Government at home. The Duke of Newcastle would have done well for his own reputation, and that of his Friends in the late Cabinet, if he had not allowed these affairs to come out by chance communications, but had laid on the table such a selection, at least, from the correspondence between himself and the Commander in Chief at the seat of war as might not affect our great military operations, or endanger the interests of the public service. This question seriously involved the character of public men in this country, and especially that of those right hon. Gentlemen who had lately seceded from the Government, and stood at this moment, as it were, at the bar of public opinion. Above all, it affected the commanders of our army, in whom if we had not confidence, how was the cause of this country likely to prosper in the future military operations to be undertaken? Therefore, for the sake of our Ministers and our commanders, as well as for the best interests of the country, his noble Friend should pause before he refused even a modified assent to the present Motion, and said that it must be left to depend upon the mere will of some Member of a Committee upstairs, whether that information upon which the heart of the country was set should or should not be suffered to transpire. The Committee, no doubt, would ultimately reveal the mystery better than some of those who resisted it imagined; but at the same time it would not be just either to that House or to the public that the proceedings of any Committee should estop the progress of that House in demanding what it had a perfect right to demand; or that, while the House was prevented by its own forms from alluding to what passed in the inquiry, the Committee should be permitted to exercise an exclusive right and domination over all those questions with which the House was told it must not interfere.


said, he fully agreed with the noble Lord at the head of the Government in thinking that, as the House had delegated the inquiry to a Committee, with power to call for all papers, documents, and records, it would only be fair and straightforward to leave the Committee to conduct the investigation to a close.


said, that if any Member of the Committee would give the House an assurance that these papers would be moved for, he would not trouble the House to divide.


said, that there was no reason for assuming that the Committee would not do its duty.

Question put and negatived.

The House adjourned at Twelve o'clock.