HC Deb 15 June 1863 vol 171 cc958-64

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said, he rose to move that the Bill should be re-committed, with the view of striking out the 20th section, in order to insert a clause empowering the commanding officer of a Volunteer corps to suspend a Volunteer for a period not exceeding two months, and authorizing him in addition to, or in lieu of, such suspension to assemble a court of inquiry, consisting of himself as president, and six other members of the corps, to investigate any charge against a Volunteer, such court to have power of suspension or dismissal. The clause which he proposed would in effect carry out the War Office regulations. He held in his hand a bundle of letters all in favour of the institution of a court of inquiry as opposed to arbitrary dismissal, and another packet to the like effect, exclusively from officers of the Volunteer service. The commanding officer of the 3rd Lancashire Rifle Volunteers wrote that a meeting of officers had been held, at which it was unanimously agreed to petition against the power conferred by sections 21 and 24 of the present Bill. The lieutenant colonel commanding another regiment stated that— A properly constituted court of inquiry, far from weakening the commanding officer's authority, would strengthen his hands, by guaranteeing to him possession of the true facts of the case before he was called on to act, and in many cases would relieve him from great difficulty and embarrassment. Lieutenant Colonel Luard, Inspector of Volunteers, when questioned before the Commission as to the power of dismissal, said— It is a greater power than is awarded to any officer in the army; and I should say it is a power which ought not to be in the hands of the commanding officer of any Volunteer corps. His noble Friend (Lord Elcho) said, "Why not adopt the law of 1804?" But he would ask his noble Friend whether he was prepared to adopt in all points the law as it existed in 1804? In the Annual Register for that year he found the following case:— Robert Howes, J. Reynolds, and J. Cody stood in the pillory at the corner of Duke Street for having assumed the character of merchants and drawn bills of exchange on each other. He maintained that in forcing the clause upon the Volunteer force the Government were not only doing much to destroy the Volunteer force, but were actually creating a power unknown to the common law and in direct contravention of the War Office regulations. Some commanding officers, with the qualifications of his noble Friend, were perfectly fit to be intrusted with the proposed power; but he could contemplate cases in which such a discretion would not be safely or properly reposed. He hinted that some of the military or naval Members of the House would give them the benefit of their opinions on the clause.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the word "re-committed,"—(Mr. Hennessy,)—instead thereof.

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


said, the Volunteers of the county which he had the honour to represent felt very strongly on the subject. Having mixed a good deal with them of late, he knew that but one feeling existed in the force, and that was in opposition to the power asked for. Having had the command of a militia regiment both at home and abroad, he knew that circumstances were constantly occurring which were calculated to irritate and annoy commanding officers; and this certainly would be a very oppressive power to put into the hands of any man who might happen to lose control over his temper.


said, that at that moment commanding officers of militia in Ire-laud could recommend the dismissal of any member of the permanent staff. He presumed a similar power existed in England. He did not, therefore, see why Volunteers should object to it.


said, in his opinion the power was necessary, but it should be so guarded as to prevent abuse. He therefore thought that the commanding officer should be required to record the reasons for the dismissal of any officer under his command.


said, the Bill only proposed to continue a power which already existed, and which, up to that time, had been found to act in a highly beneficial manner. At the first blush they must all feel that it was an arbitrary power to give to any individual; but it was very difficult to avoid it, because there would be no Volunteer force at all if a court martial, or anything like it, was applied to the Volunteers. As matters stood, commanding officers had power to assemble courts of inquiry. That power was not taken away by this Bill; and he had no doubt that it would continue to be made use of to the same extent which it had hitherto been. In the army and in the militia there was such an organization as permitted a court martial being held, but it was different in the Volunteers. If they made it compulsory in the Volunteer service to hold courts martial, it would be, in fact, to place the command of every regiment in the hands of a committee, and it would be necessary to make the committee, and not the commanding officer, responsible for the discipline of the corps. He believed the vast majority of the Volunteer force were aware of this, and he believed that the introduction of the clause sought to be introduced would be, in the minds of that majority, fatal to the service.


remarked, that he differed very much from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and he thought the clause to which exception was taken one of the most arbitrary which could possibly be drawn. The Volunteers asked for a court of inquiry, precisely in the same way as a court of inquiry or court martial was held on the privates and non-commissioned officers in the militia and regular army. It was true punishment could be inflicted on militiamen and soldiers which could not be inflicted on Volunteers, but the punishment of dismissal was quite as serious in its effect on the character of the Volunteer who was dismissed as any punishment authorized by the Articles of War. Why was the Bill pressed forward in such haste? Were the Government afraid of Petitions coming in? He had promised that Petitions would be presented, and they had been presented in some numbers; but in a week or ten days they would be sonumerous as to show, that if the clause were retained, the Volunteer force would be destroyed. From a letter which he had received from Lord Ranelagh, he understood that the noble Lord was annoyed at an observation made by him (Mr. Cox). He (Mr. Cox) thought he had only made a fair deduction from the noble Lord's evidence; but the noble Lord said he never intended such deduction to be made. Any one had a right to make his own deductions from evidence; and if the noble Lord did not intend such deduction to be drawn, the person deducing was less to blame than the witness who had given evidence which was liable to such deduction. However, the noble Lord said he did not intend such deduction to be made; and he (Mr. Cox) wished to give him all the advantage of the greatest possible publicity to his denial.


said, he thought the explanation of the hon. Member for Finsbury very insufficient. He was authorized by Lord Ranelagh to say that not a tittle of his evidence could be construed to bear the meaning which the hon. Member had tried to put upon it. No one deprecated more than Lord Ranelagh the flogging of Volunteers, and he was astonished that the hon. Member for Fins-bury should shield himself under the privilege of a Member of Parliament to make scandalous and unfounded assertions.


said, he rose to order. He moved that the words just used by the hon. Member be taken down. The words having been taken down by the Clerk at the table,


I certainly should myself have risen to state that the observations which fell from the hon. Member in regard to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury were not Parliamentary, and were such as he himself must on reflection regret he had used.


Sir, I am sorry if I have said anything disrespectful to this House. But when a man is not here, and cannot defend himself, there should be better grounds for the allegations that are made against him. However, I am sorry if I have transgressed against the rules of the House.


The hon. Member having expressed his regret for the language he has used, that expression of regret must be satisfactory to the House.


said, the provision of the Bill under discussion was of a most objectionable character. In fact, the whole system of courts martial in the army itself required an alteration, and he could not think that the arbitrary powers conferred under the clause were popular with the Volunteers.


said, in the absence of the noble Lord who had been the subject of attack by the hon. Member for Finsbury on a previous occasion, he wished to say a few words to the House. The noble Lord had, he thought, just reason to complain of the language of the hon. Member for Finsbury on the former occasion to which he referred; and that evening, with the denial of the noble Lord in his hand of the Opinion imputed to him, the hon. Member for Finsbury had uttered the most scanty—he would almost say the most ungenerous expression of regret which had perhaps ever fallen from an hon. Gentleman under similar circumstances. A charge resembling that made by the hon. Member for Finsbury had before been made against the noble Lord. [Mr. Cox: I made no charge.] Well, then, the statement he made—


I made no statement. What I said was that some commanding officers appeared to regret that they had not the power of flogging.


That was supposed to apply to Lord Ranelagh. A similar statement had already been the subject of an inquiry before a magistrate, and Lord Ranelagh thought it his duty to bring the author and disseminators of that calumny before the tribunals. Lord Ranelagh upon that occasion distinctly denied that he had ever made such a statement, or given any evidence to justify it, and that any such imputation was contrary to every opinion he had ever held. Yet, after that denial, the statement was repeated by a Member of the House. [Mr. Cox: No.] Lord Ranelagh thereupon wrote to that hon. Member to say that the opinion imputed to him was quite contrary to his views, and could there be a more grudging and scanty apology made to that House than for the hon. Member for Finsbury to say "I will give the noble Lord the benefit of his denial?"


said, he could not altogether regret the debate Which had just taken place, because it had afforded the hon. Member for Finsbury an opportunity of retracting some aspersions which he had cast upon a noble Lord. [Mr. Cox: I cast no aspersions.] He could have wished that that retractation had been more complete and generous than the hon. Member for Finsbury had made it. The statement of the hon. Member might lead the House to think that it was only since receiving the denial from Lord Ranelagh that he had been aware of the noble Lord's real sentiments. Lord Ranelagh had, however, taken every opportunity in his power of denying the accusation made against him as distinctly and completely as possible; and it must have been within the knowledge of the hon. Member for Finsbury, when he spoke the other night, that Lord Ranelagh had denied, and successfully denied, what had been imputed to him, and had obtained an apology from those who had accused him. The proposal of the hon. Member for the King's County to re-commit the Bill was most extraordinary. He could understand a Motion against the third reading, but to move to re-commit the Bill for the purpose of expunging a particular clause which had been already twice discussed, was bordering on what he might term trifling with the House. The question had been so fully discussed that the House would, he hoped, forgive him if he declined to argue the clause again. Not a single new argument had been brought forward in favour of the Amendment, and of all the cases which had been brought before the House in its support (and they had certainly been raked up in a most industrious manner) not one had been substantiated. He did not underrate the value of the opinion expressed by the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Fane); but almost every Volunteer who had spoken had expressed a contrary sentiment. He did not think the clause was unpopular with the Volunteers, who were, he believed, aware of it when they enlisted. The Bill had been pressed forward in order to entitle the Volunteers to receive the grant during the present year, and he trusted that no further opposition would be made to the passing of the measure.


did not believe that the clause would make the service unpopular. It was a mere re-enactment of the existing law.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 138; Noes 31: Majority 107.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3o, and passed.