HC Deb 08 April 1856 vol 141 cc658-63

said, he would now beg to move for a copy of the correspondence which had taken place between the Clerk of the Ordnance and Lieutenant Colonel Harness, respecting his removal from his military position. His object in making that Motion was not alone to procure the production of the correspondence in question, but also to bring under the consideration of the House the evil consequences resulting from the adoption of the new system of making the military departments of the Ordnance subservient to the civil. The House would remember that on a previous occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Clerk to the Ordnance, in answer to a question which he had put to him, stated that Lieutenant Colonel Harness had been removed from the position of Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications in consequence of a misunderstanding with him, and he went on to pay a high tribute to the professional abilities of that officer, and stated that he had been sent to Malta; and he went on to add, in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne) that he hoped that military etiquette would not interfere to prevent the best man taking the position for which he was adapted. In referring to the case of Lieutenant Colonel Harness as an exemplification of the disadvantages of the system he had just alluded to he might be allowed to observe, that although he had, for a long time, been well aware of the high reputation which Lieutenant Colonel Harness bore in his profession, yet he had never met him. Very soon after Lieutenant Colonel Harness had entered the service be had been taken away from the regular duties connected with his regiment and had been appointed commissioner of roads in Wales; the labours of which position he had discharged so efficiently that he had, after the lapse of a short time been made a commissioner of railways under the Board of Trade. He had afterwards occupied the situation of second master at the Mint, and having set the Mint to rights, had recommended to the Government the abolition of the office which he filled, as one of the changes expedient to be made in reducing the staff generally. He had then been appointed one of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, with a salary of £1,000 a year, which situation he continued to occupy until his appointment to the office of Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications, He had been selected for that laborious office out of the whole corps of engineers, at a salary of £600 per annum, and it appeared that in the discharge of the duties of his new position some correspondence had taken place between him and the Clerk of the Ordnance with reference to the appointment to some minor situation under his direction. Lieutenant Colonel Harness had made a statement in writing to the right hon. Gentleman, in connection with the matter, and in that statement had used some phrase which he had been called upon to withdraw. That phrase, it seemed, he had withdrawn, and the dispute he (Captain Vernon) believed had been made up between the parties. The Clerk of the Ordnance might, therefore, be said to have condoned the affair; but, be that as it might, Lieutenant Colonel Harness had shortly afterwards been requested to send in his resignation. With that request the gallant officer had declined to comply, and he had thereupon been removed from his situation and sent out to command the Royal Engineers at Malta. The Government, in taking that course, had caused Lieutenant Colonel Harness to supersede a gallant officer perfectly competent to the discharge of the duties of commander of the Royal Engineers at Malta, and those changes had been the result of the necessity for consulting the convenience and comfort of the Clerk of the Ordnance by removing Lieutenant Colonel Harness from his position as Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications. It was in order that civil etiquette might be observed that military etiquette had been violated in superseding the officer of Engineer at Malta. Those observations naturally led him to the more general question, that of making the military subservient to the civil department in the state. Under the present system of military organisation, the Clerk of the Ordnance might be regarded as Master General of the Ordnance. Indeed he possessed all the power and patronage of the latter functionary, without any of his responsibility. The existence of that state of things must lead to results the most disastrous, and, in his (Captain Vernon's) opinion, nothing could be more productive of inconvenience than to set aside the ordinary channels of departmental communication. To the adoption of a contrary course might be attributed the removal of Lieutenant Colonel Harness from his former situation to supersede a brother officer, in contradiction to every rule of military etiquette.

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, a Copy of the Correspondence between the Clerk of the Ordnance and Lieutenant Colonel Harness, Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications, respecting his removal from that military position.


said, in answer to the first part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement, that he must beg to inform him that there was no official correspondence that had passed between Lieutenant Colonel Harness and himself respecting the removal of that gentleman from his military position. Undoubtedly there had been some correspondence between them, but he should not be justified in producing it without Lieutenant Colonel Harness's consent. With that consent he should not object to produce it, though he thought it was not altogether conducive to the well-working of the different departments of the Government that such correspondence should be laid on the table of the House. With regard to all that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had stated as to the military ability of Lieutenant Colonel Harness he (Mr. Monsell) entirely concurred. He (Mr. Monsell) had had the gratification of introducing that gallant Officer to the post of Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications. He was not acquainted with anything that could affect the high character of Colonel Harness. He would retract no opinion which he had ever expressed in regard to his professional merits. At the same time he considered that his noble Friend Lord Panmure had exercised his just right in the course he had taken with regard to the removal of Lieutenant Colonel Harness to Malta. He had met Sir John Burgoyne, who had expressed to him that there was not the slightest difficulty in removing Colonel Harness to Malta. As to the idea that seemed to be floating in the mind of the hon. and gallant Member that there was an intention to make the military departments entirely subservient to the civil, he could assure him that no such intention was entertained. The military Deputy Inspectors of Fortifications had to discharge their duties in obedience to the Commander in Chief and the Inspector General of Fortifications. Everything with regard to plans and the site of fortifications was to be decided exclusively by military men, and afterwards to be submitted to the Government. The duty he had to discharge in the office which he had the honour to hold was one of a financial character; and certainly nothing would be more contrary to all principle than that the military departments of this country should be removed from all responsibility to the House of Commons. There was one observation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Vernon) which ought not to pass unnoticed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that there appeared to be a desire on the part of Lord Panmure to interfere with the organisation of the gallant and distinguished corps to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself belonged, and to supersede it by the formation of the Army Works Corps. He could assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that no such idea ever entered the mind, either of his noble Friend or himself. Both he and his noble Friend were fully alive to the merits of the body to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman belonged. It was quite an error to imagine that there was any want of respect towards that corps, or any undue preference felt for the Army Works Corps, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman had asserted on a previous occasion. But the formation of the latter body was actually forced upon the Government by the injudicious extent to which the corps of Sappers and Miners had been reduced. In the course of this year 1,140 men had been added to the corps of Sappers and Miners, and when he moved the Estimate he stated that that was done with a view to prevent the necessity of embodying an Army Works Corps, and he at the time expressed his opinion that it would be infinitely better if they had a sufficient number of Sappers and Miners to perform the siege operations at Sebastopol. Therefore there was not the slightest pretence for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to suppose that the Government wished to substitute for the Sappers and Miners any body of civilians. The hon. and gallant Member had also referred, on a previous occasion, as an illustration of the policy he attributed to him, to the course which he had thought it his duty to pursue in recommending Captain Boxer to an appointment. He could only say that, if there was ever anything in which he felt proud in having done, it was in having placed so efficient an officer in a position in which he was able to render essential services to his country. It was utterly impossible to overrate the value of the services which that distinguished officer had rendered in enabling many important military operations to be carried out. He would only repeat in conclusion that he had no objection to the production of the correspondence which had taken place if Colonel Harness should desire it.


said, he thought the House had a right to be made acquainted with the grounds on which Lieutenant Colonel Harness had been removed from so important an office as that of Deputy Inspector General of Fortifications. The matter was the more deserving of attention, as, in consequence of that removal, Lieutenant Colonel Harness had been promoted to a new and high office at Malta, over the heads of three distinguished officers. Such a transaction ought to have been the subject of an official correspondence, and the very fact that it was only recorded in a private letter showed, in his (Colonel Dunne's) opinion, that the mode of managing business in the office of his right hon. Friend the Clerk of the Ordnance was not what it ought to be. He had himself invariably experienced the utmost courtesy and consideration from his right hon. Friend in the course of any communications which had ever passed between them; but he could assure his right hon. Friend that some of his appointments created considerable dissatisfaction among the officers of the profession, and that many of those officers felt they were not treated as soldiers ought to be treated. The belief among them was that his right hon. Friend was led away by his excessive confidence in certain members of the profession; but he (Colonel Dunne) could not undertake to say how far that belief was well or ill founded.


said, he understood his right hon. Friend the Clerk of the Ordnance to state that as no official correspondence had taken place none could be produced. The correspondence was private, and he therefore hoped the House would not agree to the Motion, as, if it were carried, the return to it would, he apprehended, be nil.


I do not wish to press the Motion. If the correspondence I want does not exist, of course I cannot have it.


said, he thought the Clerk of the Ordnance had stated that he was willing to produce the correspondence if Lieutenant Colonel Haines desired it.


said, he regretted the existence of any clashing between the departments; such a state of things could not but be detrimental both to the country at large, and to the public service. With respect to what had occurred with regard to pointing out the merits of military officers, as far as their merits were concerned military officers were the best persons to discover those merits. Civil officers might receive and act too hastily on incorrect information, and make appointments exceedingly galling to military officers. He thought, therefore, that, for the good of the public, concessions should be made between the departments.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.