HC Deb 13 June 1879 vol 246 cc1868-72

, who was precluded by the Rules of the House from Moving the following Amendment:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to take such steps as may seem most fitting to secure to all persons wearing Her Majesty's uniform in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Auxiliary Forces, or other of Her Majesty's Services, all the rights, privileges, and immunity from special or vexatious or exclusive regulations or practices as are enjoyed by Her Majesty's subjects not specially serving Her Majesty or enlisted in Her Majesty's sea or land forces, or wearing Her Majesty's uniform, in theatres, music, concert, or lecture halls, or other places of public resort under the control of the Lord Chamberlain, or licensed by magistrates, or under the control of any recognized authority, or in railways, trains, or steamboats, or other conveyances plying for hire, provided for the public use by companies or private persons under Acts of Parliament, or licensed by or under the control of magistrates of any other recognized authority; said, that in theory all persons were equal in this country, and those who had to manage the travelling arrangements of the country, or who conducted theatres, had no right to make any difference between any class of Her Majesty's subjects. Some years ago this question came before the House of Commons, not with regard to places of amusement or of travelling, but with respect to the liberty of soldiers to obtain seats in the Strangers' Gallery to hear the debates, like other persons. Two orders were given by two hon. Members, one to a soldier in the Royal Artillery, and the other to a soldier of the 17th Lancers; but when they presented themselves at the Gallery of the House of Commons they were refused admission, simply because they wore attired in uniform. The matter was subsequently brought under the attention of the House. Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister at the time, and referred it to Lord Eversley, who was Speaker, and he said that although it was objectionable that soldiers wearing arms should be admitted, the objection did not apply to soldiers who did not wear arms. The consequence of that had been that soldiers had ever since been admitted to the Strangers' Gallery of the House of Commons when in uniform. In most foreign countries soldiers, instead of being subject to such insults and disabilities as they were in England, enjoyed particular privileges. They were allowed admission to the theatres at a lower rate than the general public, and they could travel in a superior class of carriage for a low rate. In this country, however, where it was most necessary to encourage good and respectable men to enter the Army, they found these curious disabilities existing. It might be said the reason was because, as at the time of the Duke of Wellington, the Army was recruited from the lowest class; but he was bound to say that reason no longer existed, and they ought to strive by every means in their power to put an end to the existing objectionable state of things. A few years ago, a corporal in the Coldstream Guards—a man of a somewhat superior character—married a young wife, who was also of a superior class. They were travelling together to the country, and the man desired to come over from Holyhead in the saloon of the steamer; but he was told that, while his wife could be allowed to do so, he could not be booked by the saloon, because he was attired in uniform. Another soldier had told him that on one occasion he formed one of a party of friends who applied for admission to the stalls of a theatre, and he was refused because he was in uniform, and he left the theatre in such a feeling that he was sorry he had ever entered the Army. The curious thing was, that if that soldier had put on plain clothes, he might have gained admission to any part of the theatre for which he could afford to pay; but, immediately he presented himself in Her Majesty's uniform, he was denied admission. Similar instances might be quoted in reference to seamen serving in the Royal Navy. Surely, something should be done in order to prevent a recurrence in places of public resort of such cases as he had referred to. If soldiers and sailors possessed the means to bring their grievances before the Law Courts, they would, he believed, obtain redress; but, unfortunately, they were not sufficiently well off to resort to the legal tribunals. Per haps the most painful part of the case which he was laying before the House was the fact that instances had occurred in which insult had been offered to the wearers of Her Majesty's uniform when in church. It would be difficult to find any place of regular public resort which was not in the Metropolis under the Lord Chamberlain, and in the Provinces under some local authority. It seemed to him that such outrages as were complained of might be prevented by the interference of the Lord Chamberlain and the local authorities. It was a shameful thing that men who, when leaving for foreign service, had been cheered to the echo by the public—men who, when abroad, fought with the utmost gallantry and devotion, behaving like heroes at Rorke's Drift and Isand-lana—should, on their return home, be liable to receive insult and contumely. He could only compare that with the treatment by a man of the world of his mistress, whom in private he professed unbounded admiration and regard for, but whom he "cut" if he met her while he was in the company of his family. He hoped that his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War would give him a more satisfactory answer than that which had been so often made—namely, that the matter should be left to the good sense of the public. He wished strongly to impress on the Secretary of State for War the importance of taking some steps in the matter, either by framing bye-laws for places of amusement, or by providing in the licences granted for places of public resort, for the proper treatment of soldiers in uniform.


said, that as far as his personal feelings were concerned he entirely sympathized with the object which his hon. and gallant Friend had in view. He was equally with him distressed at the instances he had brought forward, though he was not in a position to judge of the truth of the last analogy which the hon. and gallant Member drew as to the regard in which the soldier was held. This matter had been brought before the House on several occasions; but, with a right appreciation of its own powers, the House did not undertake more work than it could fulfil; and he could not at that moment see that any advantage could be derived, even if the Forms of Parliament permitted it, from an Address to Her Majesty, praying Her to take certain stops with regard to a question in which private interests and private arrangements were so largely concerned. The wearing of a red coat ought, no doubt, to be considered an honourable badge of service, and the man who wore it ought not to be precluded from anything that his position and means in civil life, were he a civilian, would entitle him to. he could not entirely endorse the opinion of his hon. and gallant Friend that the Government had the power either to interfere with the bye-laws of railways or the conditions on which licences were granted; but the matter was one which deserved consideration, and they were indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for pressing it again on the attention of the House and the Government. It was a fact within his own knowledge that noncommissioned officers had been precluded from entering into various places of amusement when wearing uniform, and it had struck him with surprise that those who were interested in the subject had not combined to see whether in point of law the managers of public entertainments had the power to enforce such regulations. Such a course would do far more to settle the question than any Parliamentary action. It would not be wise for Parliament to attempt to exercise its powers unless they were satisfied that it could be fully carried out. He would warn the managers of public entertainments and other persons concerned, that the time might come when the public would not be satisfied with the existing state of affairs, and when they would insist on some such steps being taken as those indicated by his hon. and gallant Friend. He trusted that his hon. and gallant Friend would accept his assurance of sympathy in the object he had in view, and rest content for the present with the public attention that had boon directed to it.


observed, that his hon. and gallant Friend had done good service in bringing this subject under the consideration of the House, and he was well pleased at the answer that had been returned by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. The Army was composed of a better class of persons than was formerly the case, and he contended that the Queen's uniform, so far from disgracing them, was an honour to them. He believed that it would be seen and allowed that these men ought to be admitted wherever other persons of the same position were allowed to go, so long as they conducted themselves properly.