§ The Report of the Board of General Officers which sat at Chelsea, to inquire into certain charges contained against various officers in the Report of Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch, was brought up by—
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
, who said: In moving, Sir, that these papers be laid upon the table of the House, I will ask leave to notice a statement of an extraordinary character that I am informed has been made in another place, with respect to this Report in connection with myself. I am told that a noble Lord, in complaining that the Report had not been laid upon the table sooner, ascribed the delay to the fact that I had drawn the Report, and that I had been dilatory in the matter for the purpose of serving the objects of the Minister of War. Now, Sir, the reason why I do not believe that this noble Lord has been correctly reported is, that if he made such a statement it is impossible for any man to have uttered a more unmitigated untruth; and I cannot, therefore, believe that the noble Lord has been correctly reported. I beg to state that I never drew the Report, and I never delayed its presentation to Parliament. The general officers drew their own conclusions from the evidence submitted to them, and were quite competent to do so; and I did not delay the presentation of the Report—because I had no power to do so if I had wished it, and I had no object or interest whatever in doing so. I do not believe that anybody deserving the 1116 least respect has ever offered any reason for supposing that I had done so. The noble Lord has been in constant communication with persons who have been connected with this inquiry, and I do not believe that anybody of the least authority has given him this information. He has not obtained it from Lord Hardinge, with whom he has been in frequent communication of late about a portion of these proceedings, for Lord Hardinge knows that all this noble Lord is reported to have said of me is unfounded in fact. Neither has the noble Lord had it from Sir Alexander Woodford, for I have applied to him to know if he considered that what was reported to have been said by this noble Lord was true, and whether he thought that, by any accident, anything could have been said or done by the Board that could have led the noble Lord into error. Sir Alexander Woodford's reply was that, as far as the Board was concerned, it was a gratuitous mistake, for it was perfectly untrue that I had ever wished or attempted to postpone the completion of the Report, and that nothing that had been said at or by the Board could for a moment justify such a thing being said; that the General officers had finished their Report as soon as they were able, and that they were much indebted for the assistance that had been rendered them from the Judge Advocate's office. The noble Lord could not have learned it from Lord Beauchamp, who that noble Lord had probably forgotten was in the same House as himself; for he rose, after the noble Lord had spoken, and, like a man of honour and a Gentleman, refuted the calumnies which he heard unjustly uttered against an absent person. I do not, Sir, therefore, know where the noble Lord got his information from, if he is correctly reported. It is further reported that this noble Lord imputed to me partiality during the conduct of the inquiry, and that I had abused the authority with which I was invested, in order to prejudice him. Sir, I think this House will support me in saying that I should degrade myself, as well as the office that I have the honour to hold, if I were to descend to notice such a charge. The proceedings were—fortunately for me—public; and that portion of the public who attended in the Court was able to judge of the conduct and demeanour of all those who were parties to the proceedings, and I hope the noble Lord is as 1117 ready as myself to abide by their judgment. The noble Lord complains that the inquiry was political in its character, owing to the circumstance of the Judge Advocate General being a Minister and attending the Court. Sir, so totally opposed is this to the fact, that I solemnly declare that I never, during the whole inquiry, asked or heard what were the politics of the general officers who composed the Board and of which I knew nothing, with the exception of the three who were in Parliament; but since the noble Lord has made this assertion I have inquired, and have been credibly informed that every one of the general officers is of the same political party as the noble Lord himself. Besides that, Sir, there was a gentleman who acted as private secretary to Sir Alexander Woodford, who was in the room the whole time when the doors were closed, who, as I believe, was a private friend, and, as I know, was a strong political partisan of the noble Lord, so that in that respect he had everything in his favour: and the noble Lord's judges, they who tried him, and who judged and acquitted him, were his own political partisans. But I hope, sir, I may not be misunderstood to imply that therefore they were actuated in the smallest degree by political motives. I should be ashamed of myself if I imputed this motive to them, because I am satisfied it would be untrue. I believe the general officers gave a careful, anxious, and honest consideration to the evidence which was submitted to them; and I believe that they did what, as judges, they were bound to do,—namely, decide upon the evidence that was laid before them; and I am bound to say I believe that, however incomplete the inquiry and insufficient the evidence may have been in Lord Lucan's case, yet the general officers, looking to what evidence they had to decide upon, have given a just verdict. For what purpose, therefore, the noble Lord wants to discredit the inquiry by casting these imputations upon those who have not injured him I cannot say—I have considered it a duty to myself to notice them, and I trust the House, when they consider that there is no other way, for a Member of this House to meet such charges than to refute them here as publicly as they have been made elsewhere, will consider me excused for having, in my own defence, intruded these observations upon them.
Sir, as a member of the Board of General Officers who sat at 1118 Chelsea, I have not the slightest hesitation in expressing my opinion that the charge adverted to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman as made by a noble Lord in another place, is perfectly unfair and unfounded. So far from the right hon. and learned Gentleman having been influenced by political feelings, or having attempted to interfere with the opinion of the Board of General Officers, I can safely assert that I know of no inquiry which has ever been conducted with less reference to political feeling. For my own part, with the exception of those three Members of the Board who have seats in this House and in the other House of Parliament, and whose political principles may therefore be assumed to be known, I have not the slightest idea what political views were entertained by the Members of the Board, and I am certain that all were men of far too high a sense of honour to have allowed themselves to be actuated by political principles in giving judgment on the professional conduct of a brother officer. The position of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as regarded his relation to the Board, may have been an anomalous one, and the question may arise as to what position the Judge Advocate should hold in relation to the Court in inquiries of a similar character; but I can only say—and I am sure that I express the feelings of the whole of the Board—that I am at a loss for language sufficiently powerful to express the opinion of the advantage which the Board derived from the assistance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, he thought it was very inconvenient that a statement should be made in that House in reply to a charge made in the other House of Parliament. He himself had had no communication with his noble Friend Lord Lucan, but he felt certain that if he had made a wrong statement he would be ready frankly and fairly to withdraw it.
§ Subject dropped.