HC Deb 09 June 1857 vol 145 cc1437-41

, on, rising to move that the petition of the members of the Land Transport Corps presented on the 12th of May last be referred to a Select Committee, expressed his regret that he was obliged to ask the House to reappoint the Committee upon this subject to which the late Parliament had assented. He regretted it, because he had hoped that in the lapse of time which had occurred since the House had agreed to his original Motion, justice would have been done to the Land Transport Corps by the Authorities themselves, and he had reason to believe it, because, when the day arrived for the appointment of the Committee he was asked by the then Under Secretary for War to explain to him what it was exactly that these persons required, and he then informed the Under Secretary that they required, as stated in their petition, that the conditions of their original enlistment should be strictly fulfilled. After that he attended, by invitation, at the Ordnance-office. Many of the members of the Land Transport Corps attended also, and he brought them face to face with the Director General of the Corps, Colonel M'Murdo. The Under Secretary for War was also there, but as he did not appear to know much about military matter he was assisted by Sir Henry Storks, and he must say that he never saw a department in a greater state of confusion in his life than that same War Department was upon that occasion, Those gentlemen heard what the men had to say, and, so far as he could judge, they seemed to think there was some justice in their complaints. The interview ended by Sir Henry Storks taking down their names and addresses; he stated that he could give no answer in the absence of his superior, but that either he (Mr. Duncombe) or they should hear from him shortly on the subject. He was satisfied with that assurance, and he thereupon withdrew the nomination of the Committee. The general election followed, and from that day to the present the War Department had made no communication to him upon the subject, and had taken no notice whatever of the claims of those men. Nothing remained for him, therefore, but to ask the House to reappoint the Committee, and to allow these claims to be investigated. No doubt the Government had discovered in the meantime that rather awkward disclosures would be made if the Committee were allowed to sit, but that was no fault of his; they should have kept their faith with these men. Now, what the petitioners required was that the conditions on which they had enlisted should be fulfilled. They had enlisted for ten or twelve years, as Her Majesty should think fit, with the option of terminating their engagement at the expiration of five years, or at the end of the war. They had been promised free clothing and free rations, but both had been stopped out of their pay. They had also been promised fifty days' pay in advance on their embarkation, in order that they might make some provision for their families, but it had not been given them. About 2,100 of these men received no bounty and 2s. 6d. per day, and 7,000 of them received a bounty and 1s. 8d. per day. They had served in the Crimea nearly twelve months; many of them had died there; those who survived had discharged their duties well and had obtained the Crimean medal, and some of them might now be seen begging or selling pencils about the streets in a state of penury, with the medal on their breasts, while £10, or £12, or £14 of pay was still due to them. The first notice that they had upon their landing was that they were disbanded—they were just told in so many words, "Go about your business; here's your discharge, and 20s. to get home with as you can." It should be observed that there was no complaint with respect to those who were ill when they landed, and who were taken to Chatham and placed in the hospital, for they had been discharged in regular form; but there could be no doubt that that the other men had been improperly discharged. By the rules and regulations of the service it was provided that before a soldier should be permitted to leave the corps to which he belonged, preparatory to his removal from the service under any circumstances whatever, a regimental Board should be assembled to investigate, certify, and record as to his services, ability, character, accounts, and claims; and it was further provided that every soldier on being finally discharged should be furnished with a parchment certificate according to the prescribed form, which was to be confirmed in the Adjutant General's Department before being delivered to the man. But, instead of giving these men a parchment discharge, an old-looking paper was furnished to them all scratched over, so that no one could tell whether or not it was a legal document, or that the men had not made the alterations in it themselves. The men had a right to insist on receiving the prescribed parchment form of discharge, but that had been refused to them, and they had been told that this scratched paper was quite a sufficient protection to them. It was not, however, a protection to them, because many of these men had gone to firms and houses in the metropolis and been refused employment, being told that they had not got a legal discharge. Some had tried to emigrate, but had been refused permission to go on board the emigration ships, on the ground that it could not be told whether or not they were deserters. Thus the men could not obtain an honest livelihood by their industry, because they had been deprived of the legal document testifying their discharge to which they were entitled. Now, let the manner in which Englishmen, who had served the country well for twelve months in the Crimea, had been treated be contrasted with the conduct pursued towards the Foreign Legions. The men of the Land Transport Corps asked, at all events, for some gratuity if they were turned adrift. Well, the Turkish Contingent got six months' pay, and the Swiss one year's pay. The Italian Legion also got one year's pay and the offer of a free passage to South America. Look again at the German Legion—they got one year's pay and a free passage for themselves and their wives to the Cape, and a grant of land on their arrival. Yet not one of those parties ever set foot in the Crimea, while the Land Transport Corps had been there for twelve months. It was time that justice should be done to our own countrymen, and these German and other foreign predilections put an end to. This was partly the case he stated to the last Parliament, and he would not weary the House by going further into it now. He could not believe that a rumour he had heard was correct, that this investigation, which was granted in the last Parliament, was now, as it was likely to be inconvenient to certain parties, to be opposed, but, as he would not believe that the House would so stultify itself as to refuse now what it had granted in the last Parliament, he should therefore conclude by moving, That a Select Committee be appointed to examine into the allegations contained in the Petition of the Land Transport Corps presented on the 12th day of May last, complaining that the War Department had not fulfilled the conditions under which they had enlisted.


seconded the Motion. He said the question was worthy the consideration of the Government and the House. It involved the case of men who suddenly left their homes for foreign shores in the service of their country. A portion of these poor men, whose services were called for at a time of emergency, went to the Crimea, and others went to Varna, and had undergone great hardships. Their pay was not large—certainly not large enough to cover the risk of a specific contract not being carried into effect. According to the memorial, the contract made with them on quitting England was, that they were to have either a gratuity of three months' pay on dismissal or three months' notice of discharge. But these arrangements had not been carried out, and he thought it was only fair to the members of the Land Transport Corps that they should have an opportunity of stating their case, while he had sufficient confidence in the noble Lord, and the Government generally, to believe that they would do justice to them, and that that contract would be strictly carried out.


could not admit that these men had any just ground of complaint, because he thought that the mere difference between a paper and a parchment discharge was not a material point, and he understood also that in any case when application was made for a parchment discharge, instead of a paper one, the application was complied with. This question was discussed in the last Session of the last Parliament, and his right hon. Friend the then Under Secretary for War explained to the House the grounds on which the Government thought that these men had really no just or well-grounded cause of complaint. Nevertheless, the Government then consented so far to the Motion that they agreed to the appointment of a Committee, and that Committee would have sat, but for the early dissolution of Parliament. As the Government at that time consented to refer the question to a Committee, he did not feel, though his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury had allowed a good deal of time to elapse before moving again for the Committee, that the question stood now on different grounds, sufficient to justify the Government in objecting to the appointment of a Committee they before agreed to. He only hoped that his hon. Friend and the House would not found any false or exaggerated expectations on the consent of the Government, who retained their opinion, but, having agreed to the appointment of a Committee before, they were prepared to agree to it now.

Motion agreed to. Select Committee appointed, "to examine into the allegations contained in the Petition of the Members of the Land Transport Corps, presented on the 12th day of May last, complaining that the War Department had not fulfilled the conditions under which they enlisted.