§ MR. E. JENKINS
, in rising to call attention to the Report upon the Table of this House on the proceedings in the Court Martial on Captain Roberts, 94th Regiment, and to move—That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, praying that, in view of the circumstances disclosed upon the proceedings, She will be pleased to reinstate Captain Roberts in his rank in the Army,said, the case placed the discipline and the administration of the Army in a very unpleasant light, and it had attracted considerable attention, not only among military men, but among the 924 public at large. Having had his attention drawn to it, he had on different occasions put Questions in that House to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War; and on looking back to his replies, the right hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Jenkins) thought, must entertain some resentment at having been made the instrument of equivocal statements. He had never seen Captain Roberts, and he had taken up this matter entirely upon public grounds. The case was a serious one for all parties concerned; it affected the right of an individual to receive justice, and the House was the proper tribunal to consider it. Captain Roberts had been dismissed from the Service on the ground that he was unfit to associate with gentlemen, while an issue was raised distinctly, though he submitted, improperly, by the Deputy Judge Advocate General in his charge to the court martial as to the character and reputation of his commanding officer. There were ample precedents for the course he was then taking. Last Session a similar case had been brought before the House by a then Conservative Member who was now a most distinguished Judge. Captain Roberts was an officer who had served his country for 20 years with distinction, and when in the 92nd Highlanders he was decorated with the Indian medal. Having gone on half-pay in consequence of the illness of his wife, he was subsequently appointed to a captaincy in the 94th Regiment. That occurred on the 30th December, 1874, and as it was alleged that for the time he interfered with and stopped the promotion of subalterns in the regiment, he would not be looked upon as a very welcome addition. It was during the stay of the regiment at Belfast that this officer of 20 years' service, decorated with the Indian medal, and against whom from first to last not a single atom of evidence could be adduced, was subjected to a course of treatment at the hands of a combination of his superior officers which at length drove him—or, at all events, induced him—to apply for leave to retire. He wrote a Memorandum embodying his grievances, and committed it to a friend, without giving him permission to use it in any official way, and simply for the purpose of getting his opinion as to the steps he ought to take in the matter. The Me- 925 morandum was handed by the gentleman to whom he had sent it to the hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Stacpoole), who consulted with the Members for Clare (Lord Francis Conyngham and Sir Colman O'Loghlen). These laid their heads together, and resolved to go to the Military Secretary at the Horse Guards, and make some representations to him in reference to the case, based upon the documents, in Captain Roberts' favour. They did not deposit the paper in the War Office, but in consequence of statements alleged to be contained in the documents Captain Roberts was placed under arrest. A court martial was held, and he (Mr. Jenkins) had to reflect rather strongly on the manner in which officers and gentlemen considered it proper to give evidence in courts of that sort. The evidence showed that Captain Roberts gave no authority to send the document to the Military Secretary; that his friend gave no such authority; and it was rather hard on him that, in these circumstances, it should have been so forwarded, although it might be in accordance with military theories of righteousness. The Articles of War were apparently not considered so binding in the Army as was generally supposed. The Articles of War made provision for an officer who felt aggrieved by the conduct of his superior officer forwarding his complaint to the Commander-in-Chief; but Captain Roberts was deterred from taking that course because he had been informed that on two occasions other officers had endeavoured to get their grievances carried to head-quarters, and had failed. That was a matter which demanded inquiry on the part of the Horse Guards. Then came the period during which Captain Roberts was kept in custody. He was arrested on the 20th of April, and not brought to trial until the 27th of July, although from the facility with which officers might have been obtained both in Belfast and from Dublin for the purpose, he might have been brought to trial within a week. That, again, was not in accordance with the Articles of War, which said that an officer under arrest should be tried within a reasonable time. Captain Roberts was not tried until 68 days after his arrest, and that was not within a reasonable time. What was the reason for this long detention? He believed the reason was 926 that an endeavour might be made to induce Captain Roberts to withdraw the grave imputations which he had, in the "Memorandum" he had signed, brought against his commanding officer. A letter was written by the Secretary of the Commander-in-Chief on the 23rd of May, stating that His Royal Highness was aware that Captain Roberts had made grave charges against his commanding officer, and felt bound to give him an opportunity of proving those charges, adding, however, that on consideration of the grave consequences that might ensue, if Captain Roberts came to the conclusion that he had made the charge under mistaken impressions, he was at liberty to make "such retractations of the offensive imputations as might enable the Commander-in-Chief to permit him to retire from the Service." How could any officer, having signed a Memorandum to which he was prepared to adhere, accede to such a proposal as that? The first statement of importance contained in the Memorandum was this—"I was relieved from the command of my company, which was in perfect order." His commanding officer, Lord John Taylour, had exceeded his authority in thus summarily relieving an officer of his company in the face of the fact that the company was in perfect order. Had the company not been in good order the case might have been different; but, as matters stood, there was no excuse, especially in time of peace, for the commanding officer taking such a hasty step as assuming a right to dismiss Captain Roberts from a position which he held by virtue of the Queen's commission. It was an arbitrary act, and calculated to make Captain Roberts feel that he was made the subject of injustice. One of the witnesses, Lieutenant M'Kinlay, who had since unfortunately died by his own hand, took over the company, and, in doing so, certified that it was in perfect order, and that he was satisfied with the state of the accoutrements, &c., and although he gave evidence before the court martial to the effect that they were in an unsatisfactory condition, yet it might be presumed that the first evidence in the shape of the certificate as to fitness and order was correct, especially when it was remembered that he had admitted that as senior lieutenant he had a chance of succeeding Captain 927 Roberts. The evidence of the commanding officer was denied by other witnesses equally credible. Captain Roberts was accused of inefficiency, and the commanding officer, Lord John Taylour, said that he did not know his drill, and that he was unable to give the order "Change companies fours about," until he was told by his Serjeant; but he (Mr. Jenkins) had been informed there was no such order known in the drill of the Army. There was, on the contrary, evidence given before the court martial that Captain Roberts was by no means deficient in intelligence, that he was well informed; but that, on the other hand, he had a disinclination to improve himself in professional matters such as rendered his example anything but beneficial to young officers. Captain Roberts complained that he, an officer of 20 years' standing, was sent for 80 or 90 days to drill three times a-day, and do the goose step with half-clad recruits, and in conspicuous places, where the officers of other regiments could and did look on. Lord John Taylour admitted that Captain Roberts was sent to drill for those days because he had made no progress in his drill; but he denied it was with half-clad recruits, although he admitted it was in the last squad. In reference to this, Major General Bell, commanding officer of the district, stated that he had been 34 years in the service, and he had never seen an officer at drill with recruits; and although Captain Roberts might have been rusty, having been five years on half-pay, it was a military indignity that he should be, by direction of his commanding officer, placed on drill with recruits for 80 or 90 days, without the protection of the presence of a superior officer. What would have been the feelings of any hon. Member under the circumstances? Would he not have felt that there must have been a motive for such treatment, and would it not have been natural that he should have given expression to his feelings? In addition to this indignity, Captain Roberts was ordered to attend all courts martial as a supernumerary, which was like sending him as a child to school to learn that which he already knew. The consequence was he was pointed out to all officers as a man who was unfit to discharge his duty. 928 Yet there was evidence that he had a theoretical knowledge of his duty, for when Lord John Taylour was asked what was the reason for objecting to his sitting as a member of a Court, the answer was that Captain Roberts did not take the evidence in his own handwriting; but there was nothing unusual in that, for the evidence was generally taken down, not by the President of a regimental court martial, but by a subaltern officer. Captain Roberts had also, on the death of a man belonging to it, been deprived of the command of his own company—a step for which a precedent could not be named, and implying that he was not fit to take 100 men through the streets of Belfast. When he entered the regiment he had leave of absence, which was afterwards renewed, on account of the imminent death of his wife, and, although he had four months' leave out of 10, it was not imputed that there was any want of good faith about the medical certificate relating to the wife's condition. Under all the circumstances it was not surprising that, in the written statement, Captain Roberts should have spoken of undisguised hostility; and, though a judicious friend at his elbow might have advised him not to put such conclusions on paper, they were probably no stronger than anyone else would have arrived at had he been exposed to similar treatment. The witnesses who had failed to observe any of the provocations which Captain Roberts received could not recollect that they were present on the occasions when it was offered; but it was shown that on several occasions the orderly-book had been snatched out of his hands, and he had rushed out of the orderly-room, complaining of the manner in which he had been treated. On the part of the commanding officer there must have been a certain animus, some concealed motive—his treatment of Captain Roberts was so severe and degrading, and in any other Army of Europe it would have compelled him to give "satisfaction." Here it was supposed to be sufficient to go to head-quarters for justice, and Captain Roberts was dragged there in spite of himself through the error of a Member of Parliament. Was the House satisfied with the result? He was acquitted of the first charge, and found guilty on the second, framed under the 105th Article of War, of "making false 929 imputations on the conduct of the commanding officer," with a recommendation to merciful consideration, for a reason which amounted to acquittal; for a man could not be guilty of making false imputations if he were innocent, as he was declared to be, of wilful malice or intentional falsehood. It seemed to him that to advise Her Majesty on such a finding to degrade an officer was a very strong proceeding; and he had thought it his duty to ask the House to join him in asking Her Majesty to restore this gentleman to his former position, in order that justice might be done, and that Captain Roberts might not go down to his grave feeling that he had been dishonoured by such charges and by an unjust verdict. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for the Address of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, praying that, in view of the circumstances disclosed upon the proceedings of the Court Martial upon Captain Roberts, She will be graciously pleased to reinstate him in his rank in the Army,"—(Mr. Edward Jenkins,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ GENERAL SHUTE
said, he rose, he must confess, with feelings of such indignation at the attack which had been made upon the officers of the English Army, that he could hardly reply with becoming coolness. The officers of the 94th Regiment, who had given evidence at this court martial, had been virtually accused by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Jenkins) of want of truth and of honour and of everything of which British officers were proud. No accusation could be more unfounded or unjust. It was only within the last three days he had read the proceedings at the court martial, and the reason he had not earlier acquainted himself with the subject was, because he did not think that House a proper Court of Appeal in these matters. ["Oh, oh!"] It was not fit to be a Court of Appeal on military questions; and if its authority in the capacity were recognized, why should not every Serjeant, corporal, or private in the Army who thought he had a griev- 930 ance come to it for redress? As for the case itself, it appeared to him that Captain Roberts could not object to any part of the treatment he had received, though he might well wish to be preserved from his friends. The hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Stacpoole), in his examination, had declined to say from whom he had received the incorrect and insubordinate document of complaints, which he gave to the military authorities, alleging that he had not the permission of the person from whom it had come; but the Court had, in his opinion, neglected their duty in not insisting on an answer to the question, for under the 13th clause of the Mutiny Act they had ample power to enforce it. Captain Roberts was in rather a hard position, supposing that he had never given the document to be used as it was, and naturally he might have supposed that any real friend in whose possession it came would have consulted some officer of experience as to the expediency of giving it to the Military Secretary, who would have known that to give it to that officer at the Horse Guards would be simple insanity. That was the most incomplete part of the whole story, and an answer should have been given to the question for the sake of both parties. It was impossible that the court martial could have decided otherwise than it did, for no harsh treatment, whether real or imaginary, could be accepted as an excuse for a gross breach of discipline; but he agreed with the general recommendation to mercy. The document which had been mentioned as a statement of Captain Roberts's grievances was too monstrous to be passed over; and, considering that it contained complaints of "an organized system of persecution," of "intemperate and insulting language," of a denial of the usual leave," and of "his life having been made intolerable for the last 12 months," he could only say that no honest friend would ever have let it come under the notice of the authorities, unless, which was not the case, there were positive proof that all the accusations it contained were strictly correct. But with respect to Captain Roberts himself, he could not altogether withhold his sympathy, as when he was ordered to join the 94th he had been 20 years in the Service, but had only passed 18 months with a regiment. He might 931 fairly ask, then, whether it was just and proper to send as captain to a regiment a man who had never had more than 18 months of regimental life and that in time of the Mutiny in India, when there were few opportunities probably of learning the details of drill? They had it from the colonel and two majors of the regiment that he was, as was only natural under the circumstances, utterly ignorant of the rudiments of drill. What on earth, then, was the colonel to do? He could not very well employ a company of formed soldiers in marching about the barrack yard in order to teach an officer who knew nothing. The colonel of the regiment felt that the best course was to drill that officer with the first class of the recruits without arms. He (General Shute) did not say that if he had been the colonel he would have done the same; but it was a great trial to a colonel to have in his regiment an ignorant captain who might ruin the simplest movement in the field, and who he and those under him found it impossible to teach—in fact, an exemplification of the vulgar saying, that "you cannot teach an old dog new tricks." Throughout the whole of those proceedings there was not an instance in which the colonel was proved to have been either intemperate or insulting towards Captain Roberts. It was alleged that the colonel had snatched the defaulters' book out of Captain Roberts's hand in the orderly room. There was no proof of that; but if a commanding officer had to do with an ignorant, stupid officer who was not up in the interior economy of his company, or his troop, and was very slow in finding a prisoner's defaulters' sheet, he might naturally in such a case take the book out of his hand and look at it himself. Then it was said that Lord John Taylour was not so intimate and so on with Captain Roberts as with some of the other officers of the regiment; but though it was the duty of the colonel to be courteous to all his officers, it was not possible that he could be on the same free and intimate terms with an officer who knew nothing of his duty as with one who was a zealous, painstaking, good young man, competent in his duties. Again, he asked, would colonels of regiments be doing their duty to the public or to the tax- 932 payers if they retained in their regiments, unless they could not help it, a man who was totally useless as an officer? A commanding officer always wished a funeral—when 100 men were marched through a town and were inspected by everybody—to be conducted by a good officer, and it was nothing astonishing, therefore, if Lord John Taylour did not employ an incompetent officer on such an occasion. For himself, he agreed with the court martial, and he maintained that Captain Roberts was not justified in saying that the colonel had wished to get rid of him in order to give a step of promotion in the regiment. In conclusion, he held that if the proceedings of courts martial of this kind were liable to be set aside by political influence, insubordination in our regiments would be encouraged, and that our Army would not long remain what it had hitherto been, probably the best disciplined in Europe.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, the hon. and gallant General who had just spoken had partly admitted the fact that Captain Roberts had not been treated in a manner becoming to men of fair minds, and that he had received less than common justice. He did not think that the Judge Advocate General would say that this was not a case which justified the expression of strong language. The House of Commons was a Court of Appeal to everyone in the kingdom who had been wronged, and on so glaring a case as this the House of Commons ought not to be asked to speak with bated breath. He took rather a lawyer's view of the case. He hoped others would take the view of human freedom; and if there was a wrong, it ought to be heard in that House without any fear of injury being done to the discipline of the Army. It was clear from the evidence that Captain Roberts was not received in a friendly manner when he first entered the regiment. He wrote the letter to which reference had been made, and which had been made public through the action of three Members of Parliament. It might not have been a discreet letter. The hon. and gallant General complained of its being circulated; but Captain Roberts said he was not responsible for that which the the three Members of Parliament did, and that it was unreasonable to say he was. He (Mr. Hopwood) also said it was unreasonable, and few men, unless 933 they placed the discipline of the Army above all right and justice, would say it was reasonable. Then as to the finding of the court martial. It acquitted Captain Roberts of the charge that he he had made wilfully false and malicious statements with reference to the colonel. In fact, by its verdict of acquittal of one of the charges, it affirmed the truth of a large part of Captain Roberts's complaint against his commander. Could any one doubt, who read the facts of the case, that Captain Roberts had been subjected to an organized system of annoyance? The evidence showed that most clearly. It was a pretence to say that he could not march a company through a town properly. Any Volunteer officer could do that. Was it true that "his life was intolerable and his position insecure?" It was not necessary that the court martial should express an opinion upon that, but, no doubt, his life was intolerable. There was abundant evidence to show that the gallant gentleman was treated in a manner which was unbecoming, and he appealed to the House to express in unmistakable terms its opinion of such treatment, and to say that, whether in the Army or elsewhere, it should not be tolerated.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Jenkins) had brought very grave charges, not only against the officers of the 94th Regiment, but also against the superior military authorities, and had not even spared the department over which he had an humble control. But if the House would permit him to adhere simply to the matters at issue, he trusted he would in a short time be able to show that the conduct of the Government or of the Horse Guards could not be justly impugned. In spite of what had been said on the other side, the great and primary objection to a Motion of that sort was, that it constituted an appeal to that House from the ordinary legal tribunal. ["No!" and "Hear!"] Hon. Members said "No;" but during a long series of years that had always been the opinion of high authorities in that House. Lord Russell had laid down this principle as follows:—What I wish to guard the House against is assuming an authority which is properly given to courts martial of this country without extraordinary necessity and without any sufficient 934 reason, so that any person who may be hereafter led into improper conduct which may expose him to a court martial may he told that he may have the whole question re-opened before this House, by whom there will be a different finding and a different sentence, not acknowledged by the tribunal which had formerly tried and condemned him. Sir, I think that to establish such a precedent would be to shake the discipline of the Army, and not only to relax obedience, but to make all officers on courts martial afraid to do their duty in certain cases under the apprehension of their being re-tried before a Committee of this House.Some 12 years since the "Simla" court martial, which had already been referred to, but which was distinguishable in many particulars from the present case, was discussed in the House, and on that occasion Lord Hampton, then Secretary for War, and his noble Friend the Member for Radnor (the Marquess of Hartington) and General Peel, both ex-Secretaries for War, Sir John Karslake, and other high authorities, all concurred in the view of Lord Russell's which had been cited. There was also an absolute objection to discussing in the House of Commons questions which depended entirely upon the evidence adduced at a legal trial. How was it possible that hon. Members generally could give the time and attention necessary to study and master evidence taken during 10 or 12 days, so as to be enabled to come to a just decision as to the matters at issue? and he (Mr. Bentinck) protested against the course taken by the hon. Member for Dundee, who, for the space of an hour, had read isolated portions of the evidence without the context. He (Mr. Bentinck) could conceive no proceeding more calculated to mislead and perplex the judgment of the House. But coming to the actual merits of the case the main points were these—first, had the law been fairly and efficiently administered? and, secondly, had either wrong orinjustice been done to Captain Roberts? Now the circumstances antecedent to the court martial were these. In September, 1875, in consequence of confidential reports, the Military Secretary wrote, that His Eoyal Highness the Commander-in-Chief was of opinion that Captain Roberts'sremaining in the 94th Regiment would be of no advantage to the Service, and suggested his immediate retirement.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
rose to Order. He said, documents were being referred to which were not at pre- 935 sent before the House, and, as the right hon. Gentleman had quoted, he must produce them.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the right hon. Gentleman is quoting official documents, it is no doubt the practice they should be laid upon the Table.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
again rose to Order, and said, they were not; and he wanted a promise that these documents, now they had been quoted, should be produced.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, the hon. Member for Dundee had admitted in his speech all that he desired to say on this subject.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
again rose to Order, amid cries of "Order!" from the Ministerial Benches.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already stated what the practice of the House is, and having made that statement, I presume the right hon. Gentleman, having quoted official documents will lay them before the House.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
was proceeding to say, that on April 5 Captain Roberts was under orders, when—
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said: I must again rise to Order. [Loud cries of "Order!"] It is you who are calling out "Order" that are in disorder, and I am the person who is in Order.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
Then I address myself to you, Mr. Speaker, and again ask, whether these official documents to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred ought not to be produced.
§ MR. E. JENKINS
said, the communication in question was set forth in the Papers submitted to the House.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
resumed by saying that in consequence of these and other Reports, and particularly a Report made by General Bell, commanding the Belfast district, to the effect that Captain Roberts's remaining in the 94th Regiment was not desirable, and that he took no interest in his regiment or duties, and occupied the place of an efficient officer, the Horse Guards 936 determined that Captain Roberts's retirement by sale should be immediately proceeded with, and this final decision was communicated to Captain Roberts on the 5th April, 1876. Two days subsequently, and on the 7th April, the document which had been referred to as "Captain Roberts's case," was brought to the Military Secretary by three Members of Parliament, the noble Lord the Member for Clare (Lord Francis Conyngham), the right hon. and learned Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen), and the hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Stacpoole). Now, this document was brought not as a private memorandum, but for a public purpose, and it was, therefore, in every sense, a public document, and a libel clearly published, both from a military and a civil point of view. Under these circumstances the Military Secretary had no alternative, by reason of the accusations which the document contained, but to act as he did, else he would have been guilty of a clear neglect of duty, and when such scandals were alleged, have been liable to the suspicion of shielding Lord John Taylour. A trial by court martial then became imperative; but Captain Roberts had no ground of complaint; because, before assembling the court, His Royal Highness gave him the opportunity of retiring from the Army, as decided on April 4th, on retracting the offensive imputation against his commanding officer; and he (Mr. Bentinck) desired to maintain most strongly that the letter of His Royal Highness, to which exception had been taken, was not only intended to save Captain Roberts, but was most kind and considerate in its terms. But Captain Roberts declined the proffered assistance, and elected to stand by the result of the court martial, which thus could not be avoided. Well, then came the question as to whether the prisoner had a fair trial; and could anyone doubt, he asked, who had read the papers, that that question must be answered in the affirmative The prisoner was found guilty on the second charge, with a recommendation to mercy, on the grounds stated. It became his (Mr. Bentinck's) clear duty to advise Her Majesty to confirm the sentence upon the simple ground that there was abundant evidence to go to what may be termed the military jury; but he was bound, in candour, to add, that, in his opinion, the finding of 937 the court martial was right and just, and he failed to see how they could have arrived at any conclusion more favourable to the prisoner; who also, by the gracious favour of Her Majesty, had, by the permission given to receive the value of his commission, obtained the utmost extent of mercy which could be accorded him, compatible with his non-retention in the Army. The late hour would not permit him to discuss at length the evidence given in the case, even assuming he was bound to do so, which he contended he was not; but in order that the House might know the exact truth with regard to Captain Roberts's entire unfitness for the position which he held in the regiment, he would cite the evidence of that most distinguished officer, General Bell, who commanded the district, and who was a disinterested witness in every particular. Major General Bell deposed that when he inspected the 94th Regiment, on the 6th and 7th July, 1875, Captain Roberts was quite unacquainted with his drill, and that he reported Captain Roberts's inefficiency to the Military Secretary and to the Adjutant General, and the result of his Report was that His Royal Highness suggested Captain Roberts should retire; that the Military Secretary asked his (General Bell's) opinion as to the advisability of Captain Roberts remaining in the Service, and he replied that Captain Roberts' sretirement was necessary for the good of the Service; and on cross-examination by the prisoner, General Bell said that it was with his knowledge and sanction that Captain Roberts was drilled shoulder to shoulder with last joined recruits in the barrack square, because he considered him unacquainted with drill; and being further asked by the prisoner whether he considered it just that he (Captain Roberts) should have been deprived of the payment of his company, because he was inefficient at his drill, General Bell replied that he was deprived of his company because his commanding officer had reported him thoroughly inefficient, he considered his commanding officer was right in doing so. The officers of the regiment gave similar testimony, and he (Mr. Bentinck) could also adduce much evidence, if necessary, of a similar purport. Under these circumstances he submitted that the case for asking a revision of this court martial had entirely 938 failed. The trial disclosed neither illegality nor injustice, and he asked the House to reject a Motion which had no substantial basis, and which was expressed in terms unsupported both by Parliamentary precedent and public policy.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
said, he did not know Captain Roberts, and was only anxious that justice should be done in his ease. He had gone carefully through it, and he feared from what was contained in the Papers that a series of mistakes had been committed with regard to Captain Roberts from the very commencement. He had requested to see Captain Roberts's commission, and found that it was signed by His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief and by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. They, therefore, when they signed it, must have believed him to be efficient; and, if he were inefficient, it was a mistake to put him on full pay. What security had the House that such commissions were not being issued every year? The court martial had in effect condemned Lord John Taylour and General Bell. It was the duty of the House to look after the young men who went into the Army. He did not agree with the terms of the Motion of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Jenkins), and he was aware of the difficulties in carrying out a Resolution worded as that was; but the recommendation of the court martial was the ground on which he asked the Secretary of State to show some leniency to Captain Roberts. There could be no doubt that the recruit drill, and other irritating duties, had been put on this unfortunate officer solely for the purpose of driving him out of the regiment. After being put to recruit drill, he was sent to the adjutant drill, and then to musketry drill. He was then sent back to recruit drill, and was drilled in the public barrack square with half-clad recruits. He had, in fact, been treated with indignity, and his punishment had been greater than he deserved. The practice of suspending a captain from the command of his company was quite unknown 20 years ago, and was never mentioned in the Queen's Regulations. Reviewing the proceedings of the court martial, he contended that its members had neglected their duty in not asking for explanations and checking irregu- 939 larities in the conduct of the prosecution. The court martial did not appear to have contemplated so severe a punishment as that which had been inflicted. If, instead of dismissal, Captain Roberts had been allowed to retire, discipline would have been sufficiently vindicated.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he had never heard a lamer defence than that of the right hon. Gentleman the Judge Advocate General. There was no desire to turn that House into a regular Court of Appeal from courts martial in all sorts of cases. All that was wanted was, that in cases of flagrant injustice there should be a right of appeal. If such a right did not exist, he wondered where officers of the Army would be in the hands of such despots as Lord John Taylour. After reading the evidence, he had no hesitation in saying there had been a great deal of injustice done to Captain Roberts, and that he had been the victim of gross despotism and cruelty. He thought, also, that the sentence of the court martial was more severe than the evidence and even the finding justified. As to Captain Roberts's letter, it was exceedingly mean to have used it as it had been used. Before taking it for that purpose warning should have been given that it might be so used. Let the House recommend Her Majesty to take a more lenient view of the case. He hoped the House would always be found ready to take up such flagrant cases of injustice.
§ MR. FORSYTH
said, that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (General Shute) had said that the House of Commons ought not to be a Court of Appeal from the sentences of a court martial; and his right hon. Friend the Judge Advocate General had said the same, quoting Lord Russell. But Lord Russell had qualified his opinion by adding—"without sufficient reason." If there was to be no appeal to the House of Commons, an officer condemned by a court martial could have no redress. He could not bring an action in a Court of Law, and he would be without a remedy. He (Mr. Forsyth) quite agreed that the House of Commons ought not to interfere unless a strong case were made out. But the question was—Whether in the present instance such a case had not been established? The short facts were that Captain Roberts—an officer of 20 years' standing, who had been for five years 940 in the Gordon Highlanders—was transferred to another regiment, and was drilled with common recruits. All he had done was to state this fact, and it was admitted to be unprecedented, and an insult to a captain, by the witnesses for the prosecution. The answer of Lord John Taylour—"Not to my knowledge," was an admission that he had ordered Captain Roberts peremptorily to "leave the room." ["Oh!"] To refuse leave of absence without reason was insulting. It was simply—Hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas.A recommendation to "merciful consideration" always had weight with a Judge in a Criminal Court, and yet in this case the sentence was almost as heavy as it could have been if there had been no such recommendation. No money received for his commission could compensate Captain Roberts for the social injury done to him while his sentence remained in force.
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
supported the Motion. He was surprised to have heard it opposed as unconstitutional, when all that was asked was, that the recommendation of the court martial should be acted upon, and that Captain Roberts should be re-instated in his former rank, even if only for one day, so that he might be relieved of the stigma of having been dismissed from the Army. In this case, when Captain Roberts asked for leave to send in his papers, permission was refused. Thereupon he sent to a friend in London a private letter, which was subsequently communicated to the military authorities. He did not defend the intemperate language of that letter, which had constituted the charge against him; but it must be remembered that it was written when Captain Roberts was labouring under feelings of indignation at the refusal of his colonel to give him leave of absence. He (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) admitted that it was a mistake on the part of himself and of two of his Friends that that letter was handed to the Military Secretary, and he took his share of the responsibility. It was, however, shown to the Military Secretary merely to save time, and with no intention that it should be put forward officially. The Military Secretary forwarded the letter to the Adjutant General, and the result was the court 941 martial which removed Captain Roberts from the Army. In his opinion, the charge brought against Captain Roberts was the vaguest upon which a man could be put upon his trial. Still, that point had been decided by the Judge Advocate General, and consequently the House had nothing to do with it. The question arose, however, whether there were not facts in the case that justified them in asking for an Address to the Crown to carry into effect the recommendation to mercy, because the evidence disclosed circumstances of the greatest oppression on the part of the colonel of the regiment. Further, the court martial had acquitted him of the more serious imputations—namely, of malice and untruthfulness. Under all the circumstances, he hoped the Secretary of State for War would re-consider the case, and restore this much aggrieved gentleman to his former rank.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, there was a great deal in the present case that was of a very painful character. There could be no doubt that up to the time Captain Roberts was placed in the 94th Regiment his character was unimpeachable, and, indeed, remained so, till these proceedings, which had been caused by the intemperate letter of which so much had been said. He was rather surprised, however, to find that the hon. and gallant General opposite (Sir Alexander Gordon) should have quoted the respectful language of a purely formal document as a voucher for Captain Roberts's character.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
said, he produced the document, not as a certificate of character, but as a certificate of efficiency.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
remarked that that only made the hon. and gallant Member's conduct the more extraordinary, considering the language he had used. The hon. and gallant Member must be perfectly well aware that officers were moved from half-pay to full-pay without undergoing any new examination. That had been done in Captain Roberts's case, and no one could pretend that it was done with ill will. On the contrary, Captain Roberts was treated with every consideration, and when he found it disagreeable to go with the 20th Regiment, he was allowed to go into the 94th, where, according to his own admission, for a time things went smoothly. 942 Now, what was it that in course of time made things not go smoothly? Was it any ill-feeling in the minds of the other officers against Captain Roberts, or was it a display of such complete inefficiency, amounting almost to a by-word in the regiment, on Captain Roberts's part as to render him quite unfit for his position? No one, he thought, who had read the whole of the documents, and not isolated passages of them, could have any doubt on the subject. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir Alexander Gordon) thought it not inconsistent with his duty as a General of the Army to impute misconduct to the court martial. But that court martial was admitted by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) to have acted with great fairness and consideration. Yet the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of that court martial in a manner which would have been unbecoming in a civilian, and was still more so in an officer of the Army. ["No, no!"] The fact was that not a single officer who sat on the court martial was an officer of the 94th Regiment. They were all independent members, without favour or affection, and they had no interest except to do justice to the officer who was brought before them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had spoken of Captain Roberts having been subjected to treatment in the regiment calculated to produce irritation on his part. But the evidence of independent witnesses went to show that there was no such intention, but that Captain Roberts was an inefficient officer, and they strove to make him efficient. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Clare, having been Judge Advocate General, went with two other Members of Parliament, taking a formal document containing a statement of charges, to the Military Secretary of His Royal Highness. The Military Secretary was not a private secretary, but an official, acting as assistant to the Commander-in-Chief, and therefore he was only an instrument in passing on a document with which he could not deal himself, either to His Royal Highness, or to the Adjutant General, who was responsible for the discipline of the Army. He would venture to say that there was no official who, when three Members of Parliament brought him a document referring to a public matter, would not have supposed 943 that he was to deal with it officially. The evidence of the hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Stacpoole) was to the effect that he, in company with the hon. Members for Clare County (Lord Francis Oonyngham and Sir Colman O'Loghlen) went to Sir Alfred Horsford, who declined at first to see three Members of Parliament, but was willing to see one. But when he was informed that the matter would be brought before Parliament, he said he would see the three. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) had said that the conduct of Sir Alfred Horsford was "mean;" but a bolder, a more gallant, or more straightforward officer than Sir Alfred Horsford there was not in the Army. Sir Alfred Horsford did his duty; he referred the letter to the Adjutant General. The letter was not marked private, and therefore it was not a private communication, but was, as stated at the time, to be brought before Parliament. And then an opportunity was given Captain Roberts by His Royal Highness to withdraw the document. The right hon. Gentleman then read a letter in proof of that statement. That was the letter which the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Jenkins) said suggested to Captain Roberts a dishonourable course. It seemed to him (Mr. Hardy) no dishonour to call upon a man to say whether he persisted in certain charges he made against the officers of his regiment, and if he could not retract or explain them, that he should put them in a form in which they should be consistent with military discipline. He refused, and there was no other course in justice to the officers whose conduct was impugned, and to Captain Roberts himself, than to bring him to a court martial. The hon. Member for Dundee complained of the delay which had occurred. That delay was made with no intention to injure Captain Roberts, and certainly a large part of it was at his own request. The trial by court martial was held, the charges being for making certain statements which were false in themselves, and for making them wilfully and maliciously. He was acquitted on the latter, but found guilty of the former. So far as regards the organization of which Captain Roberts complained, there was no trace whatever in the evidence. The only charge he made was that against his command- 944 ing officer. It was with great reluctance that he (Mr. Hardy) referred to the evidence given before the court martial; but when a charge was made against a commanding officer, it was right to see whether that commanding officer, Colonel Lord John Taylour, was acting in defiance of his superior officers, or in obedience to what they thought right. One charge was that he had deprived Captain Roberts of the command of his company. Major General Bell was asked what would be the duty of the commanding officer, where a company was suffering from the neglect of the officer in command; and his reply was, "to deprive him of that command;" which was done. He was charged with being an inefficient officer. Major General Bell inspected his regiment six months after undergoing drill, and he was asked if all the officers were equally acquainted with their drill. The reply was that they were not equally acquainted with their drill, and that Captain Roberts was quite unacquainted with it. That was the statement of the inspecting officer, who was quite an independent witness. Major General Bell said he was asked as to the advisability of Captain Roberts remaining in the Army, and his reply was that his retirement was necessary for the good of the Service. That was said by Major General Bell with the immense responsibility which attached to him, and the House would not think of doubting the evidence of an officer in the position of Major General Bell, who was responsible not only to the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, but also to the Horse Guards authorities. With reference to the next charge—that of being sent to drill with the recruits—it was a pity that some of them were in mufti; but, as a matter of fact, every officer when he went into the regiment had to drill shoulder to shoulder with the recruits. No doubt, Captain Roberts was in a peculiar position. He was a man of 20 years' service. He had forgotten his drill, and if he did not like to learn it in the position in which he was placed, he might have gone back to full pay and retired from the Army. Major General Bell expressed an opinion that the commanding officer was quite right in refusing leave to an officer who was not efficient in his drill. There was no doubt that Lord John Taylour was a strict officer, and he never denied that 945 he had put this officer to recruit drill, and that, in his view, he ought to retire from the Service. He might cite another instance of the inefficiency of Captain Roberts. He had been told to make a recognizance report himself; but, instead of doing so, he had obtained the services of a sergeant to draw it up for him. It was much to be regretted, he might add, that Captain Roberts had gone into the 94th Regiment; but, at all events, when he was brought back to full pay, and when the money due to him was given him, he had the opportunity of retiring. It was further alleged that a book had been snatched from him by Lord John Taylour; but in accordance with the evidence of Captain Harvey, the book had been taken from him in the quietest manner, while every one of the witnesses stated that they had never seen anything insulting in the conduct of Lord John Taylour towards him. It was clear that Captain Roberts was in the wrong place, and that he had violated military discipline in a manner which amounted to a very grave offence. That he was guilty of a breach of discipline was admitted, and as to the appeal ad misericordiam which was made on his behalf, he would remind the House that Captain Roberts might have retired from the Army with his money; but he endeavoured to destroy the character of his commanding officer and to injure that of his brother officers, that he took the chances of a court martial with that object, and that he had been found guilty of misrepresentation. These were grave military offences, but in compliance with the verdict of the court martial that mercy should be shown him, although he was sentenced to retire from the Service, he received his money. That was the judgment pronounced in his case, and although the House, influenced by kindly feelings, might be disposed to take the side of an old officer who had done meritorious service before he entered the 94th Regiment, he hoped it would not set itself up against the verdict of a court martial admittedly fair, whose sentence was mitigated in the most lenient manner by those by whom it had to be revised.
§ LORD FRANCIS CONYNGHAM
, as one of those who had been alluded to as going to the Horse Guards, on the part of Captain Roberts, wished to say one word in explanation. He thought it 946 was his duty to do so, and see the Military Secretary. They went, however, as Members of that House, and not in a private capacity. He believed the case of Captain Roberts was a very hard one, and on that account he wished to obtain a remedy from the military authorities. At the same time, he fully admitted that Sir Alfred Horsford could not have acted other than he did. He implored the House to remember that this was the case of a man who had for many years served his country faithfully, and who was a widower.
§ MR. STACPOOLE
reminded the House that Captain Roberts gave no authority to anyone to give this document alluded to to the Military Secretary, and under all the circumstances he hoped the House would support the Motion brought forward by his hon. Friend (Mr. Jenkins).
§ MR. KING-HARMAN
opposed the Motion, saying it was a common thing for officers, after a long absence, to be sent back to the goose step.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 72: Majority 65.—(Div. List, No. 225.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."