HC Deb 04 July 1859 vol 154 cc610-3

said, he rose to move for a Select Committee— To inquire into the effects of the alterations in military organization regarding the War Office and Board of Ordnance which were made in the year 1855; and also to inquire whether any changes arc required to secure the utmost efficiency and economy in the administration of military affairs.


said, that he had given notice of a somewhat similar Motion, but, as the subject was now in better hands, he should withdraw it. The object of his Motion was merely to inquire into the civil organization of the War Department, which was in such bad order and so unworkable that it would be impossible to go to war until it was altered. He did not wish to interfere with the prerogatives of the Crown or the administration at the Horse Guards, but merely to secure the efficiency of the civil department of the War Office.


said, that he could not agree to the description of the state of the War Department given by his hon. and gallant Friend. It would be better if his hon. and gallant Friend had waited for the Report of the Committee before he made such statements. If the country were obliged to go to war, he believed the War Office would be found to be in the best possible condition for performing their duties to the public satisfaction.


said, he wished to suggest that at this late period of the Session it was not likely the Committee could terminate their inquiry in any satisfactory manner. Was it worth while, then, to appoint the Committee during the present Session?


said, he believed that the Secretary for War might make any ameliorations and improvements without waiting for the Report of the Committee.


observed, that he perfectly agreed with the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) that it would be well to postpone this Committee until next Session. The subject was very large and of the greatest importance, and a Committee appointed on the 8th or 10th of July could not go fully or sufficiently into it. It would he impossible for them to do more than commence their inquiry, and all they would be able to elicit would be the existing state of the Department. Seeing that there would not be time to hear the well-considered views of persons on both sides who were competent to give an opinion, he recommended that the Committee should begin to sit at the commencement of next Session.


said, he must acknowledge that the arguments of his hon. and right hon. Friend in favour of a postponement had had a contrary effect upon his mind. It was because the subject was very large and of great importance that he wished the Committee to begin immediately, that they might the sooner come to a conclusion. He did not hope or expect that the Committee would finish their labours this Session, nor did he propose that they should come to a conclusion upon insufficient evidence. But he was very anxious to know what defects existed in our military administration, in order that he might know what remedy ought to be applied. It was very late in the Session, no doubt, to appoint such a Committee, but they might have at least eight sittings, in which they might examine many im- portant witnesses on each side, and enable hon. Members to come to a mature opinion during the recess. By appointing the Committee at once they might come to a decision, and make a report early enough next Session to enable the Government to act upon their recommendations.


said, he did not think that the military element was fairly represented in the Committee of last Session. It was not fair that such a Committee should be almost entirely composed of civilians. He agreed, however, that it was desirable they should commence the investigation at once.


said, he trusted the House would consider the question before they agreed to the proposition of the Government. His own impression was, that we should attain little advantage by appointing the Committee at once. Look at the language of the notice. "Select Committee to inquire into the effects of the alterations in military organization regarding the War Office and Board of Ordnance which were made in the year 1855." Now, the right hon. Gentleman could hardly have had an opportunity of making himself master of the changes which had occurred in the office over which he presided in consequence of those alterations. But, since 1855, very considerable alterations had been introduced by his right hon. and gallant Friend near him (General Peel), and many changes had been ordered which had not yet come into operation. He thought, then, that greater progress would be made if the Committee were postponed till the next Session. He should not, however, press that opinion of his own against any strong opinion that might be entertained by the Government; but he did hope that the Government would well consider, or reconsider, the proposition before the House. With regard to this being a large subject, that therefore no time should be lost, and that there was probably an opportunity of having some eight sittings on the subject during the present Session, this might not improbably lead to the not uncommon, but the inconvenient consequence, of no inconsiderable body of evidence, all of one complexion, being circulated amongst hon. Members before the inquiry was completed. Now, if the Committee were to be appointed, and there were to be only eight sittings, he thought they should examine into the opinions of at least what might be called the two schools on the subject. But considering the large number of alterations which had been adopted since the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the War Department gained his experience in office, the important alterations introduced by his right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel), together with other changes which, as he had said before, had been ordered, but had not yet come into operation, he thought it would have been as well if those changes had been allowed to be completed before the Committee were called upon to consider them. Again he would repeat that he would not press his own views against any strong notions which might be entertained by the Government on the subject; still his own opinion was a strong one, and if the Committee wore postponed till the next Session he thought the House would arrive at a more satisfactory result.


said, he thought the weight of argument was in favour of the immediate appointment of the Committee. He had the honour of serving on this Committee before the dissolution, and in their sittings they took a great deal of evidence, which it would be exceedingly important for the House to know. There could during the present Session be, at all events, eight sittings and probably more; and in those sittings they might place on record evidence on both sides, applying to changes which had been made; and with regard to any alterations which the right honourable Gentleman who had recently filled the office of Secretary of State for War might have ordered, and which might be still in progress, the Committee might be re-appointed next Session, and then the inquiry might be resumed and completed. But he hoped that the House would not lose what remained of the Session with put commencing the inquiry. To do so might be regarded as shelving the investigation, and he therefore hoped that the Committee would not be postponed till the next Session.

Select Committee appointed.