HL Deb 26 January 1855 vol 136 cc949-60

in rising to call the attention of the House to the course taken by the press with respect to the war in the Crimea, said: I shall occupy your Lordships but a very few moments in drawing your attention to the subject which I am anxious to bring under your notice. I think sonic noble Lords may be inclined to remind me that this is one of those subjects on which "the least said the soonest mended;" and I have no doubt in my own mind that the noble Lords whom I have now the honour to address—and some, perhaps, of those who occupy the Treasury bench—may think that I have taken a bold course in venturing to place myself in opposition to the Times newspaper, and to risk the vituperation which no doubt I shall receive at the hands of the able writers of that journal, for daring to presume to call in question any part of the course which that journal has thought proper to adopt in reference to the war in the Crimea. But, my Lords, I never have been deterred, and I never will shrink, from boldly declaring my sentiments when I think that any part of the public press of this country outsteps its legitimate bounds, and I conscientiously believe that the course which it is pursuing is detrimental to the public interests of my country. My Lords, I am well aware how inferior I stand in point of talent and abilities to the majority of those whom I have the honour to address. I am perfectly sensible how little service I can render to my country from lack of talent and ability; but I trust I may be permitted to express my sincere hope that I have not been deficient in that moral courage which has so long adorned the House in which I have the honour of sitting, nor that I have been behind your Lordships in openly expressing, at every opportunity, my sentiments upon such subjects as may have come before us, at whatever risk and personal inconvenience. I regard this as one of the greatest blessings among many which I possess at the hands of God. It is this moral courage which enables a man to act up to his principles, and I trust that throughout life I have done so. That principle was strengthened and confirmed in me by the precepts, and, above all, by the example, of one whose memory I shall ever cherish with affection, and under whose tuition I passed my early years. Among his maxims was one which left a deep impression upon me. It was this—"Fear no man. Honestly and conscientiously do your duty in whatever state you may be placed; and God and your own conscience will support you and obviate the difficulties by which you may be surrounded." My Lords, there stands not among you a greater friend to the liberty of the press than I am. My opinion, perhaps, may not be in accordance with that of many of your Lordships, but I believe the public press has been not only of great public benefit, but, further, that it has been a great public blessing, Liberty, however, has its limits as well as everything else; and if those bounds are exceeded, liberty becomes licentiousness. I refer now to attacks upon private and public character—to those anonymous letters and attacks from which the writers, for some object or other, I will not say from cowardice, have thought proper to withhold their signatures. For my own part, in any communications I have made through the press, I have never placed a sentiment before the public to which I have not had the honesty and the boldness to attach my name. Now, my Lords, I am prepared to contend that the paper to which I have alluded—the Times—has exceeded the bounds of free discussion, and I am prepared to contend that it has exercised its influence against some individuals holding high situations of confidence and of trust in our army—men who are now fighting England's battles at this moment in the Crimea—in a manner most cruel and most unjust. I stand not here to vindicate the character and talents of those entrusted with the command of our armies. I am no military man myself, and I should scorn to form an opinion of the conduct of our generals until I had the fullest information. But not so the press. It is a new era in our history if the public press of this country is to send out an individual with our expeditions to comment upon all that takes place in the camp and in the field, to pass strictures on our military movements, and upon the conduct and character of those entrusted with the command of our troops, and, above all, to convey to the enemy information most dangerous to the interests of our army. My opinion is, that if a spy were within our camp, paid by all the gold with which the enemy could reward him, he could not give them more useful information, or more detrimental to the interests of our army, than the correspondent of the Times newspaper has afforded them. What would that great man have said whose loss is felt more and more every day? Would the Duke of Wellington have suffered such a state of things in any army which he had the command of? Would he have allowed information to be conveyed to the enemy in this way? Would he have allowed the weakness and the losses of our army and of our lines of defence, the diminution in our forces, their sickness, our loss of cavalry, and other losses, to be detailed for the information of the enemy, so as to give encouragement to our foes, to show them our weakness, and to place our army in a still more fearful situation than that in which it is now placed? As I said before, I stand not here to offer an opinion as to the military talents of the men who command our armies. But there has been an attack not only against the professional character of Sir Richard England and of Sir John Burgoyne, but against the character of that noble Lord who commands our army in the Crimea—a noble Lord with whom I have been for many years of my life acquainted, and whose friendship I am proud to say I possess. What has the Times stated of that noble Lord? Why, that he has no feeling, no sympathy in the sufferings and privations of the gallant men he commands, that he never is seen in the camp and among his men. A more foul, false, and malignant calumny never was levelled against the character of any man upon earth; for, if there be one man more than another who possesses a really kind heart and sympathy with those placed under him, it is the noble Lord who commands our army in the Crimea. When writers talk about his not showing himself to his army, they cannot have taken into consideration how deeply and incessantly that noble Lord must be occupied in the difficult position in which he is placed—how fully occupied he must be in directing the different departments of his army, and in commanding it in the presence of an overwhelming force of the enemy. Perhaps, indeed, he may have shrunk from witnessing the sufferings of his poor sol- diers, from a conviction and a knowledge that it was neither in his power to alleviate or to remove them. But I say that the public press of this country has outstepped its province, and if it is to take upon itself the direction of the war and to pass censures upon what is done in the camp and in the field, the sooner the government of this country is placed in the hands of the press, and the sooner the noble Lords opposite abdicate their functions, the better. My earnest wish is that the Government had treated with coldness and with contempt the bitter taunts levelled against them with regard to the expedition to Sebastopol; that the Government had followed the sounder dictates of their own judgments, and had deferred the expedition until the spring, when a more powerful force might have been sent, and England might have brought into the field an army sufficiently strong to meet the Russian forces and to really besiege Sebastopol—which we have not yet done, for no place is besieged unless it is regularly invested. I believe the Government were warned of the fearful climate to which the troops would be exposed. I believe they had the opinion of many leading officers—naval and military—both in our own and the French army, that we could not send such an expedition at that time of the year without great risk to the health and to the lives of our men, and without great risk of total failure. But, returning to the main point of my observations, I want to know, if the state of things to which I have alluded is to continue, what man will take the command of an army in the field when he runs the risk of encountering such attacks arising out of offence given to the newspaper correspondent, as I cannot help thinking Lord Raglan appears to have offended in this instance? The question I wish to put to the noble Duke opposite is this—Has the correspondent of the Times paper in the slightest degree received the countenance of Her Majesty's Government? I do not ask the noble Duke whether the expenses attending that gentleman's transport from this country to the Crimea were defrayed by the Government; but I have been led to understand that he had a free passage out in one of Her Majesty's ships. I am further informed that this gentleman has regularly drawn rations for himself during the time he has been in the Crimea. I wish to have answers to these two questions; but I wish further to know whether the noble Duke has received any communi- cation from Lord Raglan, as Commander of the British forces in the Crimea, stating that the course pursued by the press has been detrimental to the best interests of that army, and calling for the adoption of some means by which to prevent the evil? I hope the noble Duke will be enabled to give a satisfactory reply to these questions.


I am sure my noble Friend will excuse me if I do not follow him upon the present occasion into any discussion as to whether we have been taunted by the press into undertaking the expedition to the Crimea prematurely, and have placed the English army in any danger in consequence. My noble Friend upon the cross-bench (Lord Lyndhurst) has given notice of a very stringent Motion upon this subject for Friday next, and it will be my duty, on that occasion, to vindicate the Government from any such charges, quite irrespective of the conduct of the press. My noble Friend and the House will probably forgive me, therefore, if, upon the present occasion, I am not led into that discussion which, towards the close of his observations, my noble Friend rather seemed to anticipate. I concur with my noble Friend that the press of this country has not acted upon all occasions with judgment and discretion. I would say, indeed, that I think it has acted with great lack of judgment and of discretion in publishing information which it has on various occasions communicated, not to the people of this country—for, if that was all, I should rejoice at every information which could possibly be given, be it good or bad—but in publishing information which we must recollect has been conveyed at the same time, and that, too, with the greatest rapidity, to the Emperor of Russia. I believe it to be the fact that there are persons in this country who are in the habit of communicating to the Emperor of Russia by telegraph information which is published by the press of this country in the morning, so that that information may be known at St. Petersburg in the course of that very day. I say, then, that I do think the press of this country—though I will not impute to them a want of patriotism—have evinced a want of discretion in the way in which they have published intelligence from the army. My noble Friend asks me whether the correspondent of one particular paper has received from the Government any encouragement or assistance in the functions which he has performed in the course of the expedition, and he has pointed out two allegations which have been made to him—one, that the individual in question has, with the concurrence of the Government, drawn rations with the army in the East, and that, secondly, he was afforded a free passage on his way out with the army. As it is first, in point of time, I will first address myself to the latter allegation. It is perfectly true that an individual, who was certainly not entitled to give such a permission, did intimate that in one of the vessels—I think it was the first vessel which sailed from this country—which was to convey troops to Malta, the gentleman referred to might have a free passage. Before, however, that vessel sailed the fact came under the notice of the Government, and we sent down express to Southampton or to Portsmouth—forget, for the moment, which of those two places—a message stating that it was contrary to rule—that vessels were taken up for the conveyance of troops alone, and that the gentleman—who was, I believe, at that moment, on board the vessel—must leave. Accordingly that gentleman did leave the vessel and went in his own way, and of course at his own expense, to Malta. I hope I have satisfactorily disposed of this question. Now, with regard to the second statement—as to rations. If this question had been put to me at the beginning of the month of December, I should have given my noble Friend as positive a contradiction as I have been enabled to give to the other one of the statements he has repeated. I answer in these terms for this reason—that it has been my duty to give such an answer, of course under the thorough conviction that that answer was a perfectly true one. At the commencement of December applications were made to me by the editors of two newspapers in this country, requesting that their correspondents in the Crimea might receive rations along with the troops. It was my duty to inform such applicants that it would be contrary to all the rules of the Commissariat service to grant their requests—that no persons could receive rations unless they were present with the army upon public duty, and that, therefore, it was quite impossible that such assistance as they asked for could be afforded. A rejoinder was made by one of these gentlemen, to the effect that the correspondent of one of the London papers was already in the enjoyment of this privilege. It so happened that I had had an opportunity, not long before, of conversing with a friend who had been in the Crimea, and, upon his authority, I positively contradicted that statement. Just before the meeting of Parliament, however, I received an intimation from another gentleman who had come from the Crimea of such a nature as led me immediately to make further inquiries. It is right that I should here state, what is already before your Lordships in the papers I have presented, that it was only in the course of December that the Commissariat came under my immediate management. It was about the middle of December that the arrangement took effect, and, consequently, I was not personally cognisant of the details of the business transacted in that department. The fact is undoubtedly that, by a private permission given by the head of this department of the Treasury, the correspondent in question has received rations from the Commissariat. I can only say that the moment it came to my notice that such a permission had been given, I intimated, through my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the disapproval of the Government at the course which had been taken, and I should certainly hope that that course has since been pursued which ought to be taken—namely, that the privilege in question has been abandoned. I wish, my Lords, that these circumstances should be distinctly understood, and if your Lordships think I have erred, I wish, at all events, the fact should be known that, under the circumstances, I did not think it was fair at once to give a peremptory order that the privilege should be withdrawn. I have trusted to the good feeling of the gentleman referred to at once to abandon a privilege which certainly, according to the rules of the service, ought never to have been conferred upon him. At the same time, I have signified my positive diispleasure and disapproval of any such exception having been made. It is not only in reference to this gentleman or to any individual traveller; the Commissariat ought never to give out rations at all under such circumstances. As far as I am individually concerned, therefore, and as far as the Government is concerned, such a course will not be continued, and if this gentleman has not withdrawn from the receipt of rations, undoubtedly it will be the duty of the Government to issue a positive injunction upon that subject. My noble Friend asked me, further, whether I had received any complaint from Lord Raglan with reference to the information which had been conveyed to the enemy by the publication of articles, or rather of correspondence, in the newspapers? I have received such representations from Lord Raglan. The first which I received from him was on the 5th or 6th of December. He sent me an extract from a newspaper, pointing out how admirably the writer had—no doubt, unwittingly—managed to assist the objects of the enemy, and to thwart the objects of the allied army; and he applied to me to use my influence to endeavour to prevent a recurrence of that. Upon receiving this communication I took a step which, I believe, a Minister of the Crown is not justified in taking except in very extreme cases indeed. I addressed myself to the editors of the newspaper press of London, requesting that they would abstain from publishing such intelligence as might be useful to the enemy, and so prejudicial to the operations of our own army. It was the first time I ever made such an application, and I should not have done so—feeling the impossibility of attempting to interfere peremptorily—if I had not absolutely felt it my duty to interpose in a friendly spirit to endeavour to obtain so great an object. As I before said, I wrote to the editors of the London press, stating the nature of the complaints made by Lord Raglan, pointing out the inconvenience which had arisen, and appealing to their patriotism and sense of duty to exercise a vigilant control over communications not only from their own correspondents, but over the private letters received by them, which are in many instances doubtless as mischievous, if not more so, than the letters of newspaper correspondents, and urgently requesting them to put a stop to the mischief which resulted from such publication. From some of the conductors of journals thus addressed I received no answers, but those I did receive were of a most courteous description, promising that the greatest care should be taken for the future. I can only say I do regret that the courteous promises contained in these letters have not been as completely and as thoroughly fulfilled as, I must say, I had reason to expect; for Lord Raglan has had occasion to make another complaint, which I received only the day before yesterday, pointing out reports of the same character proceeding from the same quarter on the 18th of December. I deeply deplore these facts, but it will not be my duty to make a similar communication again, and I can only regret that my first communication has not been so successful as I had reason—on the part of the public, and not in any way on my own account—to anticipate. I shall rejoice, indeed, if the remarks made by my noble Friend this evening induce these gentlemen in future to exercise greater control over their correspondents and over themselves, and to abstain from publishing facts which, however much they may interest the public here, must be most prejudicial to our army by the information communicated, not merely to the Emperor of Russia, but, with the greatest possible rapidity, to the commanders of the enemy's forces in the Crimea.


was understood to say that he had been informed that a meeting of the correspondents of the newspapers had taken place, and that Lord Raglan, or some one in his behalf, had addressed them all, and remonstrated with them as to communicating information which might be detrimental to the allies and useful to the enemy; that some one of these gentlemen had used insolent and arrogant language, and that Lord Raglan had found it necessary to send him out of the camp. He understood further that all the newspapers but one had given Lord Raglan an assurance that they would not communicate anything detrimental to the service. That gentleman said he was under no obligation whatever to observe secrecy; that he was sent there to report what fell under his observation. He believed that a second remonstrance had also been made, urging upon those gentlemen the propriety of being more discreet.


stated, that he had understood that Lord Raglan had, either by himself or through others, remonstrated with some of the individuals who were the correspondents of newspapers in the Crimea, but he was not aware of the circumstance of any of those gentlemen having used arrogant or insolent language in reply, or of their having been subsequently sent out of the camp. If any gentleman had so conducted himself, after having been remonstrated with in a proper form and upon sufficient grounds, he should, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, consider Lord Raglan as fully justified in sending such person out of the camp; and most undoubtedly that noble Lord would be supported by the Government if he should consider it his duty, under such circumstances, to remove any correspondent of a newspaper from the camp.


stated, that in the course of the observations just made by the noble Duke, he had said that the Commissariat Department had not been handed over to his control until the middle of December. Now, on the 18th of December, a Motion was made in that House for the production of copies of any Order in Council respecting the establishment of the separate departments of the Secretary of State and the War Department, and of any correspondence which had taken place between the departments on the subject. In consequence of that Motion, which was at once acceded to on the part of the Government, papers had been laid upon the table of the House, from which it appeared that somewhere about the 12th of June the office of Secretary of State for the War Department was constituted, and the noble Duke was appointed by an Order in Council. With respect to correspondence on the subject, only one paper had been produced, and that was a Treasury minute dated the 22nd of December, four days after the Motion was made, and which could not, therefore, be referred to at the time the Motion was made. Was the House to understand that from the 10th of June to the 22nd of December, no correspondence whatever had taken place on the subject, or that no record existed of it, and that no arrangements had been made regarding the functions of the Secretary of State for the War Department, as constituted by the Order in Council of the 10th of June, with the exception of the letter of Sir Charles Trevelyan, produced in compliance with the Motion of the 18th of December?


The noble Earl had, as usual, in addition to putting his question, endeavoured to draw unfavourable inferences from circumstances which he had but imperfectly stated; he had, however, no objection to answer the question. When the noble Earl moved for a copy of the minute to which he had referred, and of other papers on the subject, he (the Duke of Newcastle) mentioned this Treasury minute as being then in existence. It did undoubtedly bear date four days after the Motion was made, but it had been prepared at least three weeks previously. When the noble Earl gave notice of his Motion, he (the Duke of Newcastle) was perfectly cognisant of the contents of the minute, and he had every reason to believe that it had passed the usual assent of the Treasury. But those who were acquainted with the mode of conducting business in the Treasury knew that, although the First Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reality controlled the minutes of this description, it was necessary to pass them by the junior Lords before proper validity could be attached to the minute; and from this circumstance it occurred that, although the minute in question had been previously approved by the heads of the Government, still the minute bore date, according to the Treasury rules, several days later than the day on which his noble Friend brought forward his Motion. The noble Earl wished to know whether any other communications had passed with respect to the arrangements of the military departments. When the noble Earl made his Motion in December, he expressly stated that he did not of course refer to any private correspondence which must in all cases pass between the heads of departments before so important a change could be effected. No doubt a very considerable amount of private correspondence had passed between the various departments on the subject of the establishment of a Secretaryship for war; but the only official document was the Treasury minute which had already been presented to the House. It was not usual to communicate to the House communications which were, generally speaking, of a confidential character, and he thought it would be unadvisable at the present moment that such communications should be produced. With respect to the transference of the Commissariat to the War Department, although the two Secretaryships were divided in June, still it was not until December that the unfortunate Secretary represented in his person had a room in which to put his head, and he was conducting his business as best he could in two rooms lent to him by the noble Earl at the head of the Government. Under such circumstances he refused to undertake the duties of the Commissariat Department, which, being nominally under his direction, would be actually under the direct control of another department. Such a state of things would be neither fair towards that branch of the service nor to himself, and it was not therefore until offices had been provided for him that the duties of the Commissariat had been transferred to him.


was understood to ask the name of the officer in the Commissariat Department who had allowed the Times correspondent to use army rations.


stated, that it was not usual for the Government to cast any blame upon its subordinate officers, and, as far as possible, it was the duty of the Government to assume the blame of all transactions to themselves; still at the same time the instructions in respect to the correspondent of one of the newspapers being of a private nature, and being decidedly unauthorised, and therefore unprotected by the usual good official rule, he could not under such circumstances decline mentioning the name of the gentleman who had given instructions—it was Sir Charles Trevelyan.

House adjourned to Monday next.