HC Deb 13 June 1871 vol 206 cc2003-11

Clause 6 (Rules as to enlistment).


said, he would suggest that inasmuch as very extensive changes had been made in the second part of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War should, before proceeding further, furnish hon. Members with a printed statement of the clauses which he intended to retain, in order that they might have a full opportunity of re-considering them in their amended form.


said, with regard to Clause 6, considering the number of Amendments which were on the Paper, he proposed to omit it for the present, and to proceed with Clause 7 instead.


said, with respect to the clause in question, there was an important Amendment on the Paper by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), relating to the whole question of recruiting for our Army. He therefore hoped that the Government would consent to the Chairman reporting Progress, in order that the subject referred to might be brought on the first thing on Thursday; for that purpose, therefore, he would move that the Chairman report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Colonel Anson.)


said, the clauses of which he had given Notice he intended to propose omitting from the Bill were Clauses 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, and 34. He now simply proposed to postpone Clause 6 and to proceed with Clause 7. He did not believe there was ever an occasion in which a similar course was objected to by the House.


said, the difficulty in the matter was this—the 6th clause was in reality the 1st clause, which dealt practically with the organization of the Army. It appeared to him that this mode of proceeding was rather sharp practice on the part of the Government, for they could not expect hon. Gentlemen to keep in their memories the long string of clauses which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War wished to omit or retain—he (Lord John Manners) could not say exactly which.


said, he was much gratified at seeing the great interest taken by the noble Lord in those clauses. He (Mr. Cardwell) should be glad to see Clause 6 adopted, although its effect would be only to add to the powers given by the Act of last Session. Seeing, however, the number of Amendments on the Paper to that clause, he should simply move that it be postponed.

Question, "That the Committee do report Progress," put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 243: Majority 94.


said, that in order that the remainder of the Morning Sitting might be devoted to real business, he should move that this clause be postponed.


said, he had communicated his intentions with perfect frankness to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, and was ready to adopt any course that might suit the convenience of the House, his only object being to secure a discussion of one of the most essential principles involved in the Bill, and that which directly affected the civilian class. An opportunity should be given for an expression of opinion against that part of the Bill being wholly abandoned without their denying the right of the Government to withdraw any part of their Bill on stating fair reasons for so doing. Some reciprocity ought to be observed in these matters, and there were many hon. Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House who had not offered the slightest obstruction to the progress of the measure, yet felt so little confi- dence in it that they were unable to support the Government. Three months had been given to discussions about the officers, and now he asked for one day to consider the rank and file, as to which it would appear that his right hon. Friend had changed his mind since he introduced his measure. The interests of 190,000 men were at stake.


said, that his hon. Friend (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had made a very fair proposal, and he had undertaken to consent to any course that would give him the opportunity of taking the opinion of the House upon the subject referred to. But there was another question, and one of an invidious and unusual character, involved in this opposition to the withdrawal of the 6th clause. He remembered no instance in which, when the Government wished to withdraw a portion of a Bill, permission was refused, because that would lead to this practice—that the Committee would be engaged in discussing Amendments on clauses which the Government had no intention to press. The omission of the 6th clause would not prevent his hon. Friend from bringing the subject of recruiting forward in a separate form.


said, that he could give the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister a precedent for the course which the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) now proposed to take. The right hon. Gentleman had himself furnished the precedent. In the course of the debates on the Reform Bill of 1867, and when there was some talk of withdrawing a portion of it, the right hon. Gentleman dissented, saying that the Bill was in the possession of the House, and that he should insist upon its right to deal with it as it pleased. However, it happened that the right hon. Gentleman was in a minority on that occasion. Hon. Members were greatly embarrassed by the mode in which the Government were conducting this Bill. Now, he believed that there was no subject in which the country felt more interest than the subject of enlistment. It ought to have been brought under the attention of the House long ago; and more than one hon. Gentleman of position and influence had consulted him as to the best method of doing so. But he had always felt that while the Bill was before the House, and while the Amendment of the hon. Member for Finsbury was on the Paper, it was unnecessary to force a discussion on the subject, or to ask the Government to set aside a day for it, as the opportunity would be afforded in the natural progress of Business. But by the course now adopted by the Government that opportunity was lost, and they were prevented from discussing the matter, and placed in an absurd position on a subject of vital interest; for not the slightest allusion had been made in the House to one of the principal subjects on which the country desired to know the opinions of its Representatives. It seemed to him that the Committee had the right to expect that the Government should now place before them, in a clear and distinct manner, their views as to such portions of the Bill as were to be persevered with, and that it should not be asked to postpone this particular clause or to omit that one without any reference to the whole scheme of the Government. He could see no reason why this request should be refused; and though he had never sanctioned the use of Motions for reporting Progress as instruments of delay, and had not approved of the last Motion to that effect, it really appeared to him that they were now in a position in which they had the right to appeal to the forms of the House to protect them.


said, there was no practical difference of opinion between them as to the latter part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Though he should regret the loss even of the half-hour that remained of the Sitting, he should not prolong the contest if hon. Gentlemen opposite were determined to prevent further progress being made with the Bill. As to the request that the Bill should be re-printed, the Secretary for War had already entered into an engagement that that should be done. With respect, however, to another matter, he must dispute the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman, and deny that there was any precedent for considering in detail a portion of a Bill which the Government wished to withdraw, and he challenged him to prove that that course was taken on the Reform Bill in 1867. In his opinion, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was totally inaccurate from beginning to end. A proposal was made to the House for an Amendment in the Reform Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. If his memory served him right, the right hon. Gentleman said that if that proposal were carried the Government must re-consider their position with reference to the Bill—distinctly intimating that they might think it their duty not to persevere with the Bill. Upon that he (Mr. Gladstone) rose in his place and said the House had then reached an advanced stage of the Bill, that the Bill had been moulded by the House, and that if the Government chose to decline to carry the Bill onwards, the Bill would be the property of the House, and the House would be entitled to proceed with the Bill. That was a matter entirely different from and had no relation to the subject now before the House. The Government did not propose to abandon this Bill. They did not propose to abandon those which were deemed, to be the vital parts of the Bill, and the objection taken by himself was not such an objection as was taken by the right hon. Gentleman. The Government intended to ask the Committee to negative one of these clauses; but the right hon. Gentleman wished that a series of Amendments upon it should first be discussed in detail. The clause itself might be negatived. Could anything be more unsatisfactory than the course proposed by the right Gentleman? Would it be possible for the Government to enter into a consideration of Amendments upon a clause which the Government were predetermined, if they had the power, to reject it?


said, he had always understood—and he was confirmed in that understanding by what had just fallen from the Prime Minister—that when a Bill, or any portion of a Bill, was laid before the House, it was the property of the House. The Government had laid a Bill on the Table, and now they announced their intention of omitting certain clauses which the majority of hon. Members thought were the most important clauses in the Bill. He hoped his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire would maintain the position he had taken up.


said, if the important question of enlistment was to be argued out, he did not see why it should not be argued on this clause.


said, the Government to-day were acting inconsistently with the course they took yesterday. He held that this clause which the Government wished to withdraw or to have negatived would, as it stood, simply increase the destructive powers of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, and those powers were sufficiently given by Clause 1, which the Committee had already passed. But the question of the men in the Army was the main thing after all, and he wanted, if possible, to prevent the disorganization of the men. It was possible that if this clause were retained, his hon. Friend opposite the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) might introduce some Amendment which would prevent boys of 16, 18, or 19, from being sent out, as now, to rot in the colonies and in India.


said, that when the noble Lord talked of inconsistency, he would recommend him to refer to that speech which lasted two or three hours, on the second reading of the Bill, in which the noble Lord pointed out, most elaborately, that the Bill had little or nothing in it except the purchase clause. But this afternoon and last night this clause that the Government proposed to withdraw had become of paramount importance, and far more important than the purchase clause. The noble Lord knew as well as he (Mr. Cardwell) did that what the Government were endeavouring to do was to facilitate the Business of the House. The noble Lord had just stated that he had the greatest possible objection to this clause, and yet he objected to its withdrawal. If his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) wished to bring forward his proposal about enlistment, he could obtain an opportunity of doing so at another time. Upon those who impeded the attempt of the Government to facilitate the progress of Public Business would rest all the responsibility of stopping it.


said, he thought the Secretary of State ought to inform the Committee what were the views of the Government upon the subject of the clause which they wished to withdraw, for at present everybody was dissatisfied with the system of recruiting.


said, the Committee were in a difficulty by the fault of the Government. At the same time, he did not see how the Government could have taken any other course, after the peculiar opposition offered to the Bill. The regular course would be to re-commit the Bill pro formâ, in order that it might be reprinted; but if they did, the Opposition would insist on their right of debating all the clauses again. It would be unfair to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. W. M. Torrens) to proceed now, and he therefore moved that the Chairman report Progress.


said, as he understood they were about to assent to the adjournment of the discussion, he would not be wasting time if he were to lay before the Committee some of the impressions which this and other scenes of the same kind which he had witnessed had made upon the mind of one, who, without pretending to have any claim to be heard in the discussion of purely military questions, was a very great well-wisher of the Army, of the honour of the country and the credit of Parliament. The Government had introduced this Bill, desiring that all the parts of it—the clauses which they now proposed to withdraw and the other clauses—should be debated upon their merits and considered in due course by the House. What was the reason why now, upon the 13th of June, that could not be done? He did not hesitate to say that it was because a course had been taken which he never remembered anything like before. They had had other great measures discussed in that House, and other great interests involved. Two years ago they had the question of the Irish Church. People felt very keenly and deeply on that question, and yet they went into the discussion in Committee upon each particular clause bonâ fide, and simply with reference to the merits and character of the matters involved, and they did not consume time for the sake of preventing the measure from being carried by a majority. Again, last year another question, certainly as trying as any possibly could be where great interests were concerned and great principles involved—the question of the Irish land — was before the House, and though there were most numerous Amendments, and most anxious questions discussed, yet the House, and particularly those hon. Gentlemen opposite whose interests were affected, and who were apprehensive of serious evils from the Bill, did themselves, in the estimation of the House and the country, infinite honour by the practical, businesslike manner in which they went into the details. They recognized on those occa- sions the duty of above all things respecting the principles of Parliamentary Government, and not conducting the opposition to that Bill or any other Bill, however great its importance, in a manner which might set the example of disorder and confusion in that House, and prevent the majority from having its due power and influence upon that or any other occasion on which there might be anything like a powerful minority. What was the appearance of what was going on now?—he would not say the intention, though it looked decidedly like the intention of consuming time as it had been already consumed in the debates over and over again. What he was contending for, was the principle of Parliamentary Government—that the decision of the majority of that House must be acquiesced in and submitted to. But what was the appearance of the present state of things? The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, simply because he was in danger of being beaten by time, proposed to withdraw clauses which otherwise he was desirous to carry. To these clauses there were a great number of Notices of Amendments, and it looked as if the tactics of those who had hitherto caused so much delay, were again about to be brought into play. To insist that every one of those clauses should be brought forward in its turn, in order that the Amendments might be considered and decided upon when the Government abandoned the clauses altogether, must be merely to consume time without any useful result. The noble Lord (Lord Elcho) considered the clauses very objectionable as they stood; and yet they were to be brought forward merely for the purpose of discussing in detail numberless Amendments which would consume time and end in the rejection of the Bill. He did not know what the intention might be; but of this he was perfectly sure—that it was neither in the interest of the Army, nor of the officers of the Army, nor of Conservative principles, nor of the party opposite, for whom he, for his own part, had a most sincere respect, that this course should be pursued upon that or any other occasion.


said, he must express his surprise that a Gentleman for whose abilities and talents he had so great a respect should have fallen into so great an error. This clause in itself involved a most important subject—the recruiting of the Army; and the question was, whether the Government were to be allowed to withdraw it from the House in that manner. He utterly disclaimed the idea of standing in the way of the Bill; he had never opened his lips on the questions that had been before the House; but in this subject of the recruiting of our Army he took the deepest interest.


said, that this clause was nothing more than a repetition of the Bill of last year, which had the most disastrous effect, and he and those who thought with him were most anxious for an opportunity of amending it.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday next.

And it being now ten minutes to Seven of the clock, the House suspended its Sitting.

The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.