HC Deb 11 June 1863 vol 171 cc765-73

Bill, as amended, considered.

Clause 7—Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 31, to leave out the words "for any subscription or fine, or on any other account."—(The Marquess of Hartington)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."


moved the adjournment of the debate, for at that hour of the morning; (half past twelve o'clock) it was hardly fair to bring on such a discussion. When the Bill was last before the House, it was on the evening of the Ascot Cup, and there was a very thin attendance of Members in consequence, nor could there now be such a full discussion as a Bill of this importance demanded.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


said, he was perfectly aware, that if the hon. Member and his friends chose to obstruct the further progress of the Bill, it would be in their power to do so. But he would remind the House that this measure had been fully considered in Committee; and as the House was now well attended, and the only Amendment of importance on the paper was that of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir Robert Clifton), which had been discussed very fully the other evening, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would now allow the debate to proceed, and would not do anything calculated to obstruct the Bill.


hoped the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion of adjournment. He believed the country generally was favourable to the Bill; and as a large number of Members were now present, there could not be a better opportunity for discussing it. Many important discussions had taken place in the House after half past twelve o'clock, and he trusted there would be no attempt to obstruct the progress of the Bill.


said, that the Volunteers were very anxious that the Bill should pass, whatever difference of opinion there might be on one particular clause. He did not know where the hon. Member had been when he talked of half past twelve o'clock being too late for the discussion of the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 (Discipline of Volunteers while on actual Military Service).


said, that since he last addressed a few words to the House on this clause he was more than ever convinced that the feelings of the Volunteers in general were nearly unanimous on the subject of the clause. If he were to judge by leading articles in local newspapers, and by letters he had received, it was very generally obnoxious. He contended that a Volunteer once dismissed by his commanding officer had no power of appeal; for the demand for inquiry must pass through the hands of the commanding officer who dismissed the Volunteer, and he thought he should be able to show that Volunteers so dismissed had appealed to the Lord Lieutenant, and likewise to the War Office; but that the colonel commanding his regiment, by whom he was dismissed, never forwarded his petition. [The hon. Baronet here read two letters From Volunteers, complaining that, after being dismissed, they were unable to obtain a hearing of their case, and that their applications for inquiry received no attention.] On the last occasion when this subject was discussed, a good deal was said about a letter written by a Mr. Hutchins. That gentleman was said to have written a most improper letter; but he would show how far that statement was to be relied on by reading the letter. [The hon. Baronet here read the letter, in which the writer Stated that he had delivered over to the sergeant all the Government property issued to him, and he had no wish to continue a member of the South Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, feeling obliged to resign in consequence of the dismissal from the regiment of one of the corps without trial, and not choosing to render himself liable to similar treatment.] Now, he left the House to judge whether that letter could be termed a very improper one. It might be deemed so by Volunteer colonels, who wished to hold the despotic power which the present Bill gave them of dismissing without trial men who came forward patriotically to serve their Queen and country. In one case he had heard of a whole company resigning. If the House wished to annihilate this great movement, he had nothing more to say. He had received a hundred letters, and he had got upwards of sixty leading articles on the subject. These unfortunate Volunteers were liable to be posted in shop windows, and a Volunteer who was summarily dismissed from the Queen's Westminster Rifles was posted as having been dismissed from gross carelessness and negligence. Now, he thought that those who came forward to support the movement ought to be well treated, and that the Volunteer ought not to be worse off than the common soldier; but, like every other man, was entitled to have a fair trial.

Amendment proposed, In page 8, line 17, after the word "cause," to leave out to the word "Officer" in line 19, and insert the words "such cause or causes respectively to be committed to writing, and communicated to the accused by the Adjutant of such corps, and the existence and sufficiency of such causes respectively to be judged of by a court to be summoned by the Commanding Officer, and to consist of one Captain, two Subaltern Officers, and two Non-Commissioned Officers or Privates of the same corps."—(Sir Robert Clifton.)


thought the House should receive the explanation of the Government upon this point. The strength of the Volunteer force depended upon the rank and file, and any conditions which were likely to be opposed to the feelings of the members of the Volunteer corps would tend to destroy the force. As an honorary member of several corps, he had been enabled to ascertain the views of the members generally, and he had found great dissatisfaction prevailing as to this clause especially. It was said that the power now complained of was given by the Act of 1804; but Volunteers could not be expected to be familiar with the details of an Act of Parliament passed more than half a century since. The War Office in 1859 issued model rules authorizing courts of inquiry for the dismissal of Volunteers, and therefore the principle now contended for was sanctioned. That House was rather a House of colonels than one of privates, but he thought that courts of inquiry would be found useful to commanding officers as relieving them from the opprobrium that might sometimes attach to their own independent action in dismissing Volunteers. He was informed by Lord Ranelagh that in the case of Mr. Meyrick a court of inquiry was summoned, but that gentleman declined to attend, and his dismissal took place with the sanction of the court of inquiry. So, in the case of Mr. Reece, of the Queen's Westminsters, a court was summoned, which suspended that gentleman from practice at the butts. There was a subsequent dismissal by the commanding officer, into the reasons of which he would not enter. Those cases proved the necessity of having the machinery of courts of inquiry to assist commanding officers.


said, that when the Volunteers entered the force, they had no conception that the colonels possessed the power of dismissal with or without cause. They were led to form that opinion by the rules issued by the War Office, which stated that the Act 54 of George III. applied to them, but made no mention of that particular power, and further stated that it should be lawful to assemble courts of inquiry to investigate any irregularities that might be alleged to exist. He could mention a great many cases of injustice and oppression on the part of commanding officers towards Volunteers; but at that hour of the morning he would mention only two. Mr. Fricker, a respectable auctioneer at Kingston, having absented himself from parade in consequence of a difference with one of the officers on a matter of business, was called to account for his absence, warm words ensued, and he resigned. Before, however, the fourteen days had elapsed, he received a dismissal. His two sons also resigned, and were treated in the same way. The truth was that some commanding officers behaved towards their men as though they were the mere scum of society, while others regretted that they had not the power of flogging. ["Oh!" "Name!"] He referred to Lord Ranelagh, whose evidence before the Commission showed that his desires lay in that direction. A resemblance was suggested between Volunteers criticising their commander and schoolboys criticising their teacher, and Lord Ranelagh was asked what he would say to the latter proceeding. His Lordship replied that boys ought to be well flogged, and added, "But how can you correct Volunteers? You can't flog them,"—as though he would fain have had authority to do so. The misconduct of the commanding officer of the Lanarkshire Volunteer Artillery had led to the resignation of an entire battery. The corps elected a certain gentleman to a vacant captaincy; but the commanding officer refused to transmit his name. The Lord Lieutenant and the Secretary for War were both appealed to, but replied that they could not entertain any memorial unless it came through the commander. Then the corps sent their complaint to their commanding officer, requesting him to forward it to the Lord Lieutenant; but he refused. After another vain attempt to procure redress, the entire battery of fifty men, officers and privates, resigned en masse. If Volunteers were to be used in that way, the movement would quickly come to an end. He therefore supported the Amendment.


thought there had been some misapprehension as to Lord Ranelagh's evidence before the Commission. Some time ago precisely the same statement which had now been made by the hon. Member for Finsbury—namely, that Lord Ranelagh was in favour of flogging Volunteers—was printed and circulated by two gentlemen in London for the purpose of casting odium on Lord Ranelagh. Thereupon Lord Ranelagh proceeded against his accusers in a court of justice; the magistrates who heard the case decided that the statement was libellous, and it was only by signing a humble apology, dictated by Lord Ranelagh, that the gentlemen escaped the penalties they had incurred. He believed that the other cases referred to by the hon. Member, if they could be properly investigated, would be found equally groundless. The truth was that an association had been formed for the purpose of exciting a bad feeling between Volunteers and their commanding officers; but it had not succeeded, nor would it ever succeed. It was all very well to hold up commanding officers as tyrants and ogres; but he protested against such statements, which had no foundation in truth, and had not been supported by a single well authenticated case. The rule of the War Office, which had been cited, merely permitted a commanding officer to call a court of inquiry if he should think it necessary to do so; but there was nothing in that discretionary power inconsistent with the clause now under consideration, which was similar to one in the existing Act. He trusted the House would adhere to the decision which, by a majority of 113 to 31, it came to on a former occasion.


remarked that the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) who had just preceded him, had so completely demolished the calumnious insinuations of the hon. Member for Finsbury with respect to the evidence of that energetic officer, Lord Ranelagh, before the Commission, as to any desire to see flogging introduced into the Volunteer force, that he did not think it necessary to add one word on the subject to weaken the effect of his Lordship's rebuke. He (Colonel Edwards) had always felt the deepest interest in the movement, and had seen a great deal of the Rifle Volunteers since the first organization of the force, and he had no hesitation in stating that it was their great ambition to be acknowledged by the Government as a contingent of the regular army, and, when under arms on duty, to be placed as far as possible under military discipline. An hon. Member had alluded to letters by the hundred, and Petitions about to be presented against the provisions of the Bill from Members of different regiments, but he had heard of none. If disaffection existed, why, he asked, had no Petitions been presented to the House? The hon. Member for Finsbury said, he could mention many cases of injustice and oppression on the part of commanding officers towards Volunteers, but he had utterly failed in the examples he had adduced. His (Colonel Edwards's) conviction was, that if the opinion of the entire force could be obtained, out of the 150,000 men at present enrolled there would be found but very few who would not be satisfied to leave the decisions with their commanding officers, and they looked for no other tribunal to settle disputes arising amongst them. He believed the cases of dissatisfaction were very rare, and hoped the noble Marquess would persist in retaining the clause under discussion. He would take the opportunity of adding that the Bill introduced and carried up to its present stage with so much ability by the Under Secretary at War did him infinite credit as his first effort on the Treasury bench, and, as a whole, he had no doubt that it was most popular with the force throughout the kingdom.


was surprised at hearing it said, that this Bill merely embodied that which had heretofore been the law in England on this subject. Why, the famous Volunteer Act of 1794 provided that no Volunteer should be liable to be punished except by a court martial composed entirely of officers serving in Volunteer corps; while Blackstone had laid it down that the peculiarity of our military system was that there was no such thing as punishing any one on the arbitrary authority of a single individual. He had heard something about the impracticability of this Amendment. In the rules of almost all Volunteer corps there was a provision that it should be lawful for a commanding officer to summon a court of inquiry. It was admitted, then, that there might be a court of inquiry. Surely that showed the thing was practicable. He hoped the House would not refuse to Volunteers that which every man already had by common law—a fair trial when accused of an offence.


said, he would not so ill reward the House forgoing on with this Bill at so late an hour as to trespass at any length upon their time. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Darby Griffith) had said that Volunteers of the present day could not be expected to be acquainted with all the details of an Act passed fifty years ago. He admitted that neither in the rules nor in the circulars issued universally to the Volunteers had this power been specially alluded to; but as early in the progress of the Volunteer movement as 1860 a circular was sent from the War Office to certain of the corps, in which this power given to commanding officers was expressly referred to, and never till now had any complaint been heard against it. The Volunteers had greatly prospered under that rule, and until it was discovered in this new Bill, and the ques- tion was so sedulously agitated as it had been within the last few weeks, not a single complaint of the misconduct of those officers had arisen. Nobody denied that courts of inquiry might generally be useful for the purpose for which they were prescribed—namely, for supplying the commanding officer with the information he required; but in the regulations it was distinctly stated that the object of those courts was to procure information which the commanding officer could trust, and not to pass any sentence whatever. If therefore the clause was altered, as the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir R. Clifton) proposed, the functions of the court of inquiry would be changed. It was said that the power of appeal given to the War Office would he entirely nugatory, because it was necessary that the appeal should be forwarded through the commanding officer. That was quite an error. When a Volunteer had been dismissed, he was no longer a Member of his corps, and therefore he could bring his case to the notice either of the Lord Lieutenant of his county or of the Secretary of State in the form he thought best. The circumstances connected with the Lanarkshire Volunteers had been referred to; but although those circumstances might be an argument in favour of the Volunteers having the power of electing their officers, they did not apply to the summary power of dismissal in the commanding officer. The case of Mr. Reece, which had been placarded in the streets of London, had also been adduced; but the sentence passed upon that gentleman was passed by a court of inquiry by the very process which the hon. Member for Nottingham proposed to make compulsory. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Cox) admitted that the commanding officer ought to be responsible for the discipline of the regiment; but then he proposed to take away the only power given to him for preserving it. He did not believe that any such feeling as had been stated existed in the Volunteer force; but even if there were such a feeling, the object of the Government was not to show a force numerically large upon paper, but a force whose efficiency and discipline proved it to be worthy the assistance which the House had decided on granting them.


also showed that by means of circulars the Volunteers had been informed that they were subject to dismissal by the commanding officers.


said, it was not correct that Mr. Reece's sentence had been passed by a court of inquiry. That gentleman had not been dismissed by such a tribunal, but by the Lieutenant Colonel commanding.

Question put, "That the words pro posed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 29: Majority 71.

Other Amendments made.

Bill to be read 3o To-morrow.