HC Deb 11 May 1855 vol 138 cc403-5

said, it would be in the recollection of those hon. Members who saw day by day the accounts of what was supposed to pass in the Sebastopol Committee-room, that in the course of his examination, the Duke of Newcastle produced a dispatch written by himself to Lord Raglan, containing the orders of the Government with respect to the expedition to the Crimea and the siege of Sebastopol. The production of that despatch necessarily created a desire to see the answer returned by Lord Raglan to it. The Committee, however, did not call for the production of that reply, but simply instructed their Chairman to communicate with the Government as to the propriety of its being produced. He presumed the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Roebuck) had had that communication with the Government, and that the result was the notice which stood on the paper for that evening. If the intention of the Government was to produce a copy of the despatch from Lord Raglan, he should not have a word to say; he should wait with patience and anxiety for the production of that despatch; but, looking to the terms of the notice which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had given, he inferred that the Government, in their view of the interests of the public service, could only consent to the publication of extracts from the despatch. Now, as a general principle, where it was considered necessary that a correspondence between two parties should be published, the whole of the correspondence should be given to the world. He was aware, however, that it was necessary in cases of this sort for the Government to exercise a considerable degree of reserve. That reserve he was prepared to respect; but the question arose whether the reserve thus imposed upon the Government would enable them to lay before the public such portions of the despatch as should embrace a full and fair answer to the communication addressed to Lord Raglan by the Duke of Newcastle? It was that feeling which induced him to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether he could give the House an assurance that the extracts from the despatch, which he might think it consistent with his duty to lay on the table, would or would not materially alter the tenor and character of the despatch itself, and give a tolerably fair and accurate account of the views of Lord Raglan with regard to those important subjects to which the despatch referred? If the noble Lord could give that assurance, it would be satisfactory to every one; but if, on the other hand, the noble Lord, in his desire to comply with the wishes of the Committee, was so restrained by his sense of public duty, that he was able to give partial extracts only from the despatch, it was to be hoped that neither the Committee nor the House would call upon the Government to produce such portions of the despatch as would be considered by any one meagre and inconclusive. While, on the one hand, they ought to be careful not to wound the susceptibilities of one party, they ought, on the other, to be equally careful not to inflict an injustice upon another party; and, above all, they should take care not to publish important documents in such a shape as should create in the minds of the public nothing but dissatisfaction and disappointment, and possibly do a wrong to a distinguished servant of the Crown.


I have no doubt it will be in the power of the Government to give the despatch referred to in such a shape as will completely answer the object of the Committee, without doing the injustice the noble Lord seemed to fear.