§ MR. ROEBUCK
I rise, Sir, to put a question of which I gave notice on Saturday. The House will recollect that both the noble Lord at the head of the Government and the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War stated the other night that the inquiry into the conduct of General Beatson was still pending, and that the House ought therefore to abstain from expressing any opinion on the subject. On the day after that statement was made, the 23rd of July, a letter was written by the Government to General Beatson, based upon documents which had been in the possession of the War Department a fortnight before, and giving a full acquittal to that officer. I wish to ask the noble Lord whether he was aware of those documents when he addressed the House the other night? I suppose he only spoke the words that had been set down for him. That excuse cannot, however, apply to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Peel), who must have had cognisance of the documents when he made his statement to the House.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, the circumstance to which the hon. and learned Gentleman alludes only shows the bad results attending the interposition of hon. Members, at the instigation of persons not in this House, upon matters which are still under the consideration of Government, and have not yet been made the subject of action, I practised no deception on the House. I was quite aware that this question had been considered by my noble Friend at the head of the War Department; and I stated the other night, as distinctly as I could, that in a very few days a decision would be come to by the Government and a communication made to General Beatson. I did not think it proper then to inform either the hon. and learned Member or the House what would be the decision on this matter at which the Government were likely to arrive. If any inconvenience has arisen it is owing, therefore, to the impatient haste of the hon. and learned Gentleman, acting on a suggestion of General Beatson, on a question that was pending elsewhere. Of course, until the decision had been definitively taken, and regularly communicated to the gallant officer concerned, it might have been liable to a change in the event of certain circumstances being brought to the knowledge of my noble Friend.
§ MR. FREDERICK PEEL
said, he 1498 would only add to the statement just made by his noble Friend, that in answering the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne) on a previous evening, he (Mr. F. Peel) said, in substance, that although the correspondence had not been completed, yet the communications received by the Government did not support the charges made against General Beatson.
said, he would give notice, that early next Session he should call the attention of the House to the manner in which officers in the army were put upon their trial on the most serious charges, without receiving any previous notice of the accusations brought against them. That practice was one deeply affecting the honour and discipline of the army, and must touch the feelings of every soldier.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, he should be glad to know whether, now that the inquiry in General Beatson's case was concluded, the noble Lord at the head of the Government had any objection to mention the name of the gallant officer's accuser?
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I do not know from whom General Shirley received the information which he communicated to General Vivian, and which the latter sent home to my noble Friend at the head of the War Department; nor am I aware that my noble Friend knows their names either. One officer whose name has been mentioned in connection with this matter is Colonel O'Reilly—a man of perfect honour and the highest integrity, who was distinguished for his ardent desire to improve himself in his profession, and who with that view served as a volunteer in the Sardinian army, and also in the armies of other countries. He afterwards went to Turkey, where he was appointed to the command of the Turkish cavalry. As far as anything communicated by General Shirley originated with Colonel O'Reilly, I am confident, therefore, that the latter stated only what he believed to be strictly correct.
§ SIR CHARLES BURRELL
said, he thought the proceedings instituted against General Beatson, whoso accuser was allowed to remain anonymous, were extremely harsh, and contrary to the spirit of the law of England.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, while General Beatson was in England the parties from whom the information came were at Schumla, and afterwards at Kertch. The inquiry ordered by my noble Friend was merely a preliminary one, to see whether further steps were necessary.