HC Deb 25 March 1879 vol 244 cc1767-71

in rising to move for A Copy of Correspondence which, took place in the year 1876, between Surgeon Major P. J. Clarke and Sir W. Muir, M. D., Director General of the Medical Department of the Army, and between Surgeon Major P. J. Clarke and the Military Secretary to His Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief, on the subject of the Supersession of Surgeon Major P. J. Clarke, said, he understood this Motion was to be refused on the ground that the correspondence was private. He quite agreed that private correspondence should not be published; but he maintained that this was not the case here. All he asked was that the Correspondence between Surgeon Major Clarke and the Military Secretary should be given to them, and this could not be considered in any way private correspondence. In fact, some of the Papers had been made public already; and, therefore, the objection of the Secretary of State for War was not a valid or a good one. The facts of the case were simply these. Surgeon Major Clarke was an officer in the Medical Department of 28 years' standing. He had been stationed in Dublin in charge of the Recruiting Department, and was entitled to be promoted to a higher grade in the Service. However, he was passed over, and he thereupon called upon the authorities to state the reason for his supersession. As that was not done, he appealed to His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief to issue directions to the Director General to state the reasons he was passed over. That was done in a Correspondence in the months of August and September; and in September the reasons why he was superseded were given. In the first place, it was said that he had been censured some 17 years ago, and had been removed from the 90th Regiment in which he was then serving. The other reason was that he had been removed- from the Inspectorship of Recruits. Now, the answer he made to these reasons was that in the year 1859, Surgeon Major Clarke, who was a most distinguished officer, had some dispute with his commanding officer as to the treatment of a patient suffering from cholera. Complaint was made to the authorities at home, when it resulted in his being removed from the 94th Regiment. Immediately on his return to this country, he demanded an inquiry into the circumstances of his removal, and His Royal Highness then intimated, that such removal would never interfere in any way with his promotion. This was stated in a letter from the Military Secretary of that period, dated the 31st of July, 1863, in the following words:— Dr. Clarke may be informed that he was considered by His Royal Highness to have committed an error in judgment; but there is nothing in the circumstances reported which is liable to prejudice his reputation or to interfere with his future advancement in the Service. Notwithstanding that letter, in 1876, he was informed by the Director General that he was superseded for what had taken place in 1859. That disposed, then, of one ground of the inquiry. It was a public ground, and if the Correspondence bore out the information he had now made manifest, he thought it must be admitted that this distinguished officer was superseded after promises made to him that what had taken place in 1859 should not in any way prejudice his future promotion. The next ground alleged in the letter of the Director General he would not deal with on the present occasion; but when he had all the facts before him in the Correspondence, he would certainly criticize the conduct of that gentleman in very severe terms indeed. He had been removed, it was said, in consequence of carelessness in the removal of recruits in Dublin; but, in point of fact, he was removed from the position of Inspector of Recruits, and on the 23rd September, more than a month afterwards, he was promoted to the post of Surgeon Major General. Therefore, it all showed that that was not a fair and genuine reason for the way in which he had been treated. It was with a view to bring all these facts before the House, and going into this case, which was of considerable importance—not merely a case of private grievance—but the question bore strongly upon the public administration of this Department, and he thought no reason had been shown why this public Correspondence should not be given to Members of the House, and should not be made public. Even if the Government refused, to circulate these letters he could promise them that they would not succeed in stifling the inquiry. But he must say, also, that it was most unusual to refuse information of this sort, especially when strong grounds for its publication had been shown.


in rising to second the Motion, said, he had read all the Correspondence in connection with this subject, and he should like to have an explanation on one paragraph. Before the Select Committee in 1876, His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief stated that it was absolutely necessary that such Reports as this should be made in the presence of an Officer or Inspector General. All the other evidence given on the subject of confidential Reports concurred in that opinion in the most marked manner. Yet, notwithstanding that opinion, there was not a single clause in the Queen's Regulations which enforced that rule. He supposed the authorities were answerable for the Queen's Regulations, and he should like to know why they had not carried out this opinion of the Commander-in-Chief?

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there he laid before this House a Copy of Correspondence which took place in the year 1876, between Surgeon Major P. J. Clarke and Sir W. Muir, M.D., Director General of the Medical Department of the Army, and between Surgeon Major P. J. Clarke and the Military Secretary to His Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief, on the subject of the Supersession of Surgeon Major P. J. Clarke."—(Mr. Meldon.)


was sorry that it was his duty to oppose the grant of these Papers; but he thought the House would be of opinion that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had pretty well proved that he (Colonel Stanley) was right in doing so. The hon. and learned Gentleman, by quoting the Correspondence, had shown that they were in possession of it already. The Correspondence was of no great moment, and, as had been pointed out on more than one occasion previously in the House, the case had been explained under a most entire misapprehension. It was not at all a case of supersession. When this gentleman had obtained a certain rank, it became a matter between himself and others who should be selected for a particular administrative post. Posts in the higher branch of the Medical Service required a considerable amount of ability; and, without any disparagement to Surgeon Major Clarke, other officers were selected to perform certain duties. As to these Papers, it was not usual to lay them before the House, except in cases of the very gravest moment and of general interest. Therefore, in this case, he must think he was justified in declining to produce these Papers.


said, this matter ought to be considered more seriously than it had been at present. For the last two years there had been considerable difficulty in getting qualified persons to enter the Army. When, therefore, they had one of the Medical Service merely asking for the publication of certain Correspondence in connection with arrangements affecting himself, it seemed to him that it was a thing which the Government ought to allow.


remarked, that there was one extraordinary thing in the Correspondence which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had not explained. Surgeon Major Clarke was told that what took place in 1859 should not injure his reputation or interfere with his advancement. Now, on the 26th September, 1876, they had a letter signed "R. B. Haughley," referring to an offence which Surgeon Major Clarke had been distinctly told, 17 years before, should not prejudice him in his Profession. It seemed to him, therefore, that these two letters were totally irreconcilable, and that there had been something very much like a breach of promise. A distinct and definite promise had been given at one time, and it had been broken at another. That was something not at all creditable to any Department, and there ought to be some explanation. The Papers ought to be published, that hon. Members might judge whether these charges were true or not.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 26; Noes 76: Majority 50.—(Div. List, No. 53.)