HL Deb 21 February 1856 vol 140 cc1023-48

My Lords, the short and somewhat irregular, hut not unimportant, conversation which has just taken place seems to furnish an additional reason for putting to Her Majesty's Government the question of which I have given notice—a question which I trust Her Majesty's Government will have no difficulty in answering, and which I hope your Lordships will not think inappropriate in point of time, unimportant in relation to the public service, or ill-timed with regard to the recent changes in the department to which it refers. I need hardly say that, when two departments are in the slightest degree connected, two things are absolutely essential to the due administration of the public service, and without which it is quite clear the public service must sustain serious injury. First the duties of the two departments should be so distinctly and clearly defined, their responsibilities so ascertained, and the limits of their authority so clearly set forth, that there can be no possible conflict of authority between the two departments in matters which relate to both. And, next, in carrying on the business of those departments there should be a mutual desire on the part of the heads of each to facilitate that business by carefully avoiding encroaching either on the authority of the other, while at the same time they should be prepared on all occasions, to afford every assistance in performing their joint public duties. I need hardly say, also, that the necessity for these two provisions becomes greater and more absolute in proportion as any two departments are brought into habitual and daily contact. In proportion as business intermingled one with the other brings them into constant conference ought their relations to be of a more confidential and unreserved character.

I need hardly remind your Lordships that in the course of last year, shortly after the appointment of a Secretary of State for the War Department, and during the transition which was taking place in regard to the constitution of the militia from regiments being embodied, very considerable inconvenience to the service arose out of contradictory orders as to furloughs proceeding from the Secretary of State for the War Department and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The militia generally being under the direction of the Home Office, but in process of embodiment becoming a quasi military force under the Secretary of State for the War-Department, instances occurred in which confusion and inconvenience arose from the respective authorities of those departments not being clearly defined. It is also impossible to have read through the Parliamentary papers relating to the operations of the army in the Crimea without seeing that much of the distress and suffering of that army might have been avoided and mitigated, if there had been, in the first place, on the part of certain departments a greater readiness to take upon themselves an amount of responsibility beyond the strict and actual limit of their own sphere of duty upon any public emergency and for the purpose of co-operating with other departments; and that, on the other hand, difficulties arose and inconveniences were increased, from there being at some times considerable doubt in whose department a certain service lay which was essentially necessary for carrying on the operations of the army. I mention this only as an illustration of the general principle of the importance of a thorough understanding as to the respective duties and responsibilities of departments which have to act together; and I am sure my noble Friend at the head of the War Department will agree with me that if there are two departments whose joint action and co-operation are more important than any other, because of their more frequent and constant intercommunication, it is the two offices over one of which he presides and the other presided over by my noble and gallant Friend the Commander in Chief. The office of the Secretary for the War Department is one which your Lordships are aware in its present form is of very recent introduction; and when it was first proposed to separate the duties of that Department from those of the Colonial Secretary, I endeavoured—but I am sorry to say endeavoured in vain—to ascertain from the noble Earl then at the head of the Government (the Earl of Aberdeen), whom I see now in his place, what were to be the precise functions to be given to the Secretary for War. I could get no answer, except that they were to be the same duties which had been performed by the Colonial Secretary; or, at all events, I could get none but negative answers. The Secretary for the War Department was not to interfere with the patronage, he was not to interfere with the discipline, he was not to interfere with the promotions of the army; he was not to interfere with the militia; he was not to have anything to do with the Ordnance;—in short, the answers I received formed a succession of negations as to the duties to be performed by the War Minister in his new office. My Lords, I had for some time myself the honour of filling the office of Colonial Secretary—never at a time of war—except (and that is hardly an exception) during a very short period at the time of the expedition against China, when, in giving the necessary orders and making the necessary arrangements, I received most valuable assistance from my noble Friend above me (the Earl of Ellenborough), who was then about to set out for the assumption of the Government of India, from which part of the world the forces were to be sent out, and from which the operations were in a great measure to be conducted. But with regard to the ordinary military duties of the Colonial Secretary—and in this I am sure I shall be borne out by the experience of those who have filled that office—all I can say is, that they were of the most trivial and most insignificant description. They consisted, in the first place, in signing warrants for commissions for any officers who might happen to be in the Colonies; next, in taking the Queen's pleasure with regard to the decoration of the Order of the Bath when it was proposed to confer it upon any officer in the service, which was always done upon the recommendation of the head of the department to which the officer might belong—of the Commander in Chief with regard to the army, of the First Lord of the Admiralty as to the navy, and of the President of the Board of Control with regard to the Company's service. The only real business,—and that I must say was the least satisfactory of any I had to do with—was the correspondence generally of rather a protracted and dilatory character, which took place between the Governors of colonies, the Treasury, the Board of Ordnance, and the Colonial Secretary, whenever it happened that any arrangements were to be made with regard to barracks and other buildings in the Colonies. That was the only military business which the department had to perform, and, as I said before, it was most unsatisfactorily conducted. I do not at all mean to say that in a time of war the duties are of an unimportant or trivial character. On the contrary, they are of such importance and magnitude as wellnigh to overwhelm any man, however great his abilities, and however unceasing his attention. For the time he must be, with reference to military operations abroad, supreme over all. He must be responsible to the Crown and the country for the due conduct of the war. He is responsible, in common, no doubt, with the Cabinet of which he is a Member, for the selection of officers to command in chief, and (I must presume also) he is to a considerable degree responsible for the selection of officers to hold important commands under them. He must have entire control over the operations, as bearing upon the war, of the Commander of the Forces, of the Admiralty (although that department is presided over by another Cabinet Minister), of the Commissariat, of the Transport Board, and even of the Treasury itself—all these must be to a certain extent superintended by him, and it is his duty to combine and concert together the various powers and authorities of all those different departments in such a manner as to conduce to the proper management of the military operations of this country. Therefore, my Lords, I say that in time of war the duties of the Secretary for War are of such an exceptional character, that he may almost be considered for that time as a dictator, even over his colleagues, and there is no amount of power, and at the same time no amount of responsibility, which may not and ought not to devolve upon him with reference to the conduct of the war. But the question to which I am calling your Lordships' attention is not the exceptional case of a state of war, but the ordinary relations which are to be understood as subsisting between the Secretary of State for War and the Commander in Chief. I should say, however, that since the former office has been established there has been another change made winch has, no doubt, considerably altered the position and increased the duties of the Secretary of State for the War Department. Upon him has been thrown the duties formerly performed by the Secretary at War, the consequence of which is that he has now to exercise the control formerly exercised by that Minister over the financial affairs of the army, and, indeed, a control in matters of expenditure over all the military departments. That, however, is merely a transfer of authority from the Secretary at War—who is sometimes, though not always, a Cabinet Minister—to the Secretary for War, who is invariably a Cabinet Minister; but the relation in which the latter official stands to the Commander in Chief is in no degree different from the relation in which the Secretary at War stood under the former arrangement. There has been another alteration—the abolition of the office of Master-General of the Ordnance. What arrangements have been made with regard to that office, I confess, I am not practically acquainted with; but I apprehend that the principle upon which such a change was effected (I am sure it was so announced at the time) was to transfer to the Commander in Chief the same control over the Ordnance as he had previously exercised over the rest of the army. Therefore, my Lords, I wish to be informed whether the distinction which I understood to prevail in the first instance is still maintained and rigidly acted upon—namely, that with regard to the discipline, the patronage, the promotions of the army, and consequently, also, of the Ordnance, the whole sole and absolute authority rests with the Commander in Chief, uninterfered with by the co-ordinate authority of the Secretary for War? That is a principle which I think it important should not be for a moment in doubt, so that, in point of fact, we should know to whom for support, protection, and promotion the officers of the army are to look—whether to the Queen's Commander in Chief or to the Secretary for War, who is responsible not alone to the Crown, but also to Parliament? When I state this, do not let me be misunderstood so far as to say that either the Commander in Chief or any other person can be free from the responsibility which misconduct or mismanagement in his high office would expose him to in the opinion of Parliament. There can be no office where malversation or misconduct can fitly or properly be withdrawn from the cognisance of this or the other House of Parliament; but that is a very different case from the constant daily superintendence of Parliament, and the interference of a Minister responsible to Parliament for the ordinary execution of the duties of his department. Therefore, my Lords, the first point which I wish to have distinctly decided is whether, as in former times, with regard to the patronage, the first introduction into the army, the subsequent promotion, the conferring of honours and distinctions, the movement of troops, and the appointment of foreign garrisons, the authority rests now, and indisputably rests, with the Commander in Chief, and not with the Secretary for War.

There is another class of cases in which I desire to know where the authority rests, or how it is divided. Suppose it is intended to increase or to alter in any way the fortifications of this country or of the Colonies, and to erect new works, whether for defence or for the accommodation of troops—no doubt over all these points the Secretary for War exercises that financial control which is inseparable from his office, and any plans for the erection of such works must of course receive his concurrence in a financial point of view. But I wish to know whether in all these cases it is distinctly understood that the initiative rests with the Commander in Chief—that he sees and approves the plans proposed—that to him the Inspector General of Fortifications makes his report—that to him the Director General of Artillery would make his report—and that he subsequently receives the financial assent of the Secretary for War for those works which, in his military capacity, he judges to be of national importance.

There is another subject upon which I should wish to know how the matter stands—namely, with regard to the bestowal of honours for service in the field. I believe that the usual course is, that recommendations for every distinction proceed from the officer commanding upon the spot; that those recommendations are made to the Commander in Chief, and, having received the sanction of his authority, are forwarded to the Secretary of State for War, by whom the pleasure of the Crown is signified. Now, I wish to know from Her Majesty's Government whether the Commander in Chief may be presumed to exercise his own discretion, acting upon his own responsibility, as to complying with all the recommendations he may receive, and rejecting the claims of some officers, and including others not recommended by the commander on the spot? I wish also to know, if it is competent for the Secretary of State for War, on his own responsibility, to disregard the recommendations received from the immediate commander, even if they have subsequently received the sanction of the Commander in Chief, and whether there have been any instances in which the Secretary of State for War has considered himself at liberty to reject the recommendation of the Commander in Chief, or to confer distinctions upon officers who have not been recommended either from the Crimea, or by my noble Friend the Commander in Chief.

I hope that your Lordships will not consider that I am entering too much into detail, because the subject is one upon which considerable doubt and uncertainty exist in the public mind, and it is of the utmost importance that we should have an express declaration from Her Majesty's Government with regard to it. I believe that in the year 1812 some document was drawn up which distinctly laid down the limits of the authority which could be exercised by the Commander in Chief and the Secretary of State; but at the present moment great uncertainty exists upon the subject. With regard to appointments to foreign stations, does the selection of officers rest with the Commander in Chief or with the Secretary of State? A distinction may be drawn between honours given and offices conferred upon officers for distinguished services, and what I wish to know is whether those distinctions are conferred upon the single and undivided responsibility of the Commander in Chief, or whether that responsibility is shared by the Secretary of State for War? With regard to the appointment of officers to permanent situations, such as those of the Quartermaster General and Adjutant General, I wish to know whether those appointments are made by the Commander in Chief acting independently of the Secretary of State, or whether the sanction of the Secretary of State is necessary, and whether he has the power, upon disapproval of the recommendation of the Commander in Chief, to interpose his authority, and to prevent the appointment recommended being carried into effect? This subject, my Lords, is not very remote from one which has already been a subject of conversation at an earlier period of the evening. In the last few months, two appointments have been made, with regard to which great discussion has taken place, and much misunderstanding prevails—I allude to the appointment of a noble and gallant Friend of mine, whom I see near me (the Earl of Cardigan) to the office of Inspector General of Cavalry, and that of a gallant officer with whom I have not the honour of being acquainted—I mean Sir Richard Airey—to that of Quartermaster General. The appointment of my noble Friend took place in January, 1855, and it was made, as I have understood, by my noble Friend the Commander in Chief, upon the strong recommendation of the noble Duke who was at that time Secretary of State for War, and the appointment of Sir R. Airey to the office of Quartermaster took place in December last. Now, my Lords, I see that many attempts have been made, in the first place, to impugn the propriety of those appointments; and, in the next place, to throw the undivided responsibility of them upon my noble Friend the Commander in Chief; and I now wish to be informed whether the responsibility of those appointments, be they good or be they bad—and upon that point I shall not say a word—rests exclusively with my noble Friend the Commander in Chief, or whether they are appointments over which the Government can exercise any influence? for, if they are so, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War must be prepared to take his full share of responsibility in regard to them. The appointment of Sir Richard Airey to the position of Quartermaster General not unnaturally brings me to that which a short time ago we were discussing, I mean the report of the Crimean Commissioners, which has been laid upon the table of your Lordships' House, and which impugns the conduct of certain officers who held high positions in the army of the Crimea. I entirely concur with what has fallen from a noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) with regard to that Report, for I think that, unless Her Majesty's Government were prepared to adopt that Report, they were bound, in justice to the officers whose conduct has been impugned, to abstain from laying that Report before Parliament until they had afforded them full opportunity of being heard, and of making their cases known to the country. I think that, in consequence of the Government not having adopted that course, serious injury has been done, not only to those officers themselves, but to the service generally, and the Government are placed in a position of great difficulty as regards rectifying the serious error into which they have fallen by the premature publication of the Report. If, however, a statement concerning the duties of the Commander in Chief which I have heard be true, there is another point which has a more immediate bearing upon the subject which we are now discussing. I should wish, my Lords, to be informed whether or not the theory be correct that the Commander in Chief is the guardian of the character of the officers of the army? It is to him that those officers look for protection, for praise, and promotion—from him that censure proceeds; and if it be true—and I shall believe it to be true until I hear the reverse from my noble Friend the Commander in Chief, who I hope will speak out upon the present occasion—that my noble Friend never saw the Report of the Commissioners, although it was received in June last, until it was laid upon your Lordships' table; then, I must say, that withholding that Report from my noble and gallant Friend was an act of injustice to him. That point alone, affecting as it does the public service of the country, affords sufficient reason for my putting these questions to Her Majesty's Government. Such is the statement, and I shall rejoice to hear it contradicted. The noble Lord the Secretary for War says that the first Report, received in June last, was a meagre document, and contained only general statements referring to the Commissariat Department; but the noble Lord cannot have forgotten that in that Report serious charges of neglect in the management of the cavalry were made against my noble Friend (the Earl of Cardigan). In that Report it is stated that— When the supply began to fail the Commissariat officer (Deputy Assistant Commissary General Cruikshanks) referred to, who appears to have done everything in his power to meet the difficulties of the case, proposed, as he knew there was plenty of barley at Balaklava, that if a detachment of the horses was allowed to go down daily he would engage to bring up enough for the rest of the brigade. This proposition appears to have been brought specially under the notice of Lord Cardigan by Lieutenant Colonel Mayow, Assistant Quartermaster General of Cavalry, who states that his Lordship declined to accede to it, as he had previously done when a similar proposition was made to him to send the horses down for hay before that supply failed.


That is all they say.


But I do not think that the noble Lord the Secretary for War will contend that that passage does not impugn the conduct of an officer of high rank in the army, or that more especially when it concerned the salvation of the troops, it was not a fitting subject for him, as Secretary of State, to communicate with the Commander in Chief. I was astonished that the Government, having that document in its possession, did not call upon the officer whose conduct was impugned for that explanation which in the Crimea he had no opportunity of affording. I say, my Lords, that although the duties of the Secretary for War should be clear and distinct, and that there should be no question as to the authority and jurisdiction of one department or the other, yet it is essential, for the good of the public service, that no communication of importance which bears upon discipline or the character and conduct of officers of the army should be withheld, for one moment, from the knowledge of the Commander in Chief, who is responsible for the character and conduct of those officers. It is clear that the Commander in Chief never can properly perform his duty of superintending the conduct of the army if documents of a character such as that to which I am referring are withheld from him for months, and only are first brought under his notice when they are laid upon your Lordships' table.

My Lords, I do not know how I can add anything to what I have already stated. I have not entered into any details, because, not being a military man, I am by no means conversant with that part of the subject; but I may say that I am afraid that considerable confusion has been occasioned by the late changes which have taken place, more especially with regard to the Board of Ordnance; and that the breaking up of that office has not been accompanied with such a complete regulation of the respective duties of all the officers as might have been desired; and that there is, consequently, considerable uncertainty among subordinates as to whom they are to make their statements, and from whom they are to receive their orders. I shall be glad to hear from the noble Lord opposite a distinct statement of his views of the mutual responsibilities and duties of himself and the Commander in Chief; or, it would be still more satisfactory, if he would lay on the table any such document as that to which I have referred, and for which I have moved as a matter of form, which would set forth those relative duties. I think that such a document ought to exist. I think that no such extensive change in the distribution of duties as has taken place ought to be made without our having upon record, in the most complete and authentic form, a declaration of the new duties which may be created, and of those which may be transferred to other bodies. Such a document might well be embodied in an Order in Council; and, if that has not been done, I think that it ought to have been done. If there should be such a document in existence, I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will have no objection to produce it. If it do not exist, I think that it is a matter for the serious consideration of the Government whether such a distinct order should not be made, and whether there should not be such a declaration, in writing, of the duties of the two departments as shall prevent, so far as it is possible to prevent, that which I am afraid is only too likely to occur—some conflict of authority, mutual jealousies, and mutual differences, and which, undoubtedly, cannot occur without serious injury to the public service. I beg, therefore, to put the question of which I have given notice; and, at the same time, to move for the document to which I have referred. Moved—"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, for a Copy of any Document in which the respective Duties and Responsibilities of the Secretary of State for the War Department, and the Commander in Chief of Her Majesty's Forces are limited and defined.


My Lords, the question of which the noble Earl gave notice has now resolved itself into four or five distinct inquiries. I do not, however, complain of that, and will endeavour to answer them as I best may. Dismissing for a moment the important questions—and I admit none can be more so—with respect to the relative duties of the Secretary of State for War and the Commander in Chief, I will advert to the last question put by the noble Earl, and which bears upon the Report which has been made by the Commissioners. The noble Earl stated that there was a rumour that the first Report which was made by the Commissioners, and which was sent me at the latter end of June, was not placed by me in the hands of the Commander in Chief. Undoubtedly that Report was not placed by me officially in the hands of the Commander in Chief. The noble Earl, I observe, exhibits marks of surprise at the announcement; but I think when the nature of that Report is considered, the noble Earl will see that it is a matter which need not greatly excite his surprise; for I will ask him to read that Report through, and point out to me, with the exception of the single sentence to which he has alluded, referring to the noble and gallant Earl opposite (the Earl of Cardigan), one word which refers to any single department over which the Commander in Chief has any control, or for which he is responsible in any manner. Under these circumstances, I think it need hardly be a matter of wonder that I did not think it necessary to trouble my noble and gallant Friend with the Report; and in the only sentence quoted, all that is alleged is that the commander of the cavalry being asked to send some of his horses down to Balaklava, refused. Why, my Lords, he might have had the very best possible reasons for refusing. It must be remembered, too, that there was no accompanying evidence to the Report—that it was a naked Report, from which no judicial conclusion could be drawn. So that even had that sentence been submitted to the Commander in Chief, how could he have dealt with it except by asking a personal explanation, and receiving an ex-parte statement from the noble and gallant Earl? I did not for those reasons refer it. The other Report, which was accompanied by the evidence, was placed in my hands for the first time on the 20th of January. It took me a few days to go over the Report and the evidence; and according to my feeling of the engagement which I entered into with Parliament and with the country when I sent out that commission, I conceived that it was my duty—without binding myself to statements impugning the conduct of officers referred to in that Report—to place it before the public at the earliest possible opportunity. I did so, my Lords; I presented it on the third day after Parliament met; and the first printed copy which I saw, with the exception of the proof, was delivered to me after it had been presented to Parliament. I considered that I was bound by good faith to Parliament and the public to present it immediately; and if in doing so I have committed any error, I am willing to take on myself the entire responsibility of it.

My Lords, having stated thus much on this question, I come now to one of far greater magnitude and far greater importance, which the noble Earl has put— namely, what are the relative positions of the Secretary of State for War and the Commander in Chief? In doing this the noble Earl has opened up a wide subject, and one which at the present moment is attracting the attention of the public out of doors. I did not wish to anticipate the discussion which must arise when we shall have to deal effectually and openly with the whole of these questions in Parliament; but the noble Earl's reference to-night to the subject leaves me no alternative but to state one of two cases, and to avow openly and honestly whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to abandon the present system as it exists, or whether we will maintain it in its integrity as it now stands. Now, in considering the relative positions of the Secretary of State and the Commander in Chief, I think it will be necessary first of all to make a slight reference to the administration of the military departments when they were separate. My Lords, with respect to the conduct of military affairs by Her Majesty's servants at that time, the Secretary of State for the Colonial and War Department exercised those influences and those powers over the administration of the army which have since been transferred to the Secretary of State for War. Your Lordships are aware that that minister was the Secretary of State for War as well as for the Colonies. His duties I will not recapitulate, because you will find them clearly laid down in the very able Report of the Commission, issued in 1837, over which my noble Friend behind me presided. It was the duty of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, among other things, to take Her Majesty's pleasure as to the establishments of the army, and having done so, to convey the orders to the Commander in Chief. It was his duty also to control all that related to the movement of troops in the Colonies under his charge. If certain troops were required by certain colonies, he it was who intimated the fact to the Commander in Chief, and the Commander in Chief earned his wishes into effect. It was his duty to sign commissions for all officers proceeding abroad; and it was further his duty to submit to the Sovereign the names of those officers who were recommended by the Commander in Chief for honours. Such is a brief review of the duties of the Secretary for War and the Colonies as they formerly existed. I think that the noble Earl opposite has somewhat confounded these duties relating to fortifications abroad with certain others. With respect to fortifications in the Colonies, the noble Earl does not seem clearly to have comprehended what the duties of Colonial Secretary were. If fortifications were required in any particular colony, he not only had the financial control of the amount to be expended on those fortifications, but if they were recommended to him by the Master General of the Ordnance, it was presumed that he had consulted his own officer, the Inspector General of Fortifications; and then the Secretary of State was to be the judge of the necessity, and to be responsible to Parliament for the erection of the fortification as well as the proper expenditure of the money. Parliament might vote for the purpose. If a fortification were erected in a position where it should turn out to be useless; if the design were bad, or the situation an improper one, then the responsibility rested upon the shoulders of the Secretary of State. Then, again, with reference to the Secretary of State of the Home Department:—he too had, in his capacity of Secretary of State, a certain control over the Commander in Chief. He conveyed to the Commander in Chief his pleasure as to where troops should be stationed at home, whether in one district or another, forming his judgment on the information he received as to where the necessity most existed. He signed all commissions, of officers appointed to commissions, or promoted at home, and in some other matters he exercised authority co-ordinately with the Commander in Chief. Now all these powers were transferred to the new Secretary of State for the War Department. It is his duty to communicate with the Commander in Chief as to the stations of the troops that are quartered either at home or abroad, unless sonic sudden emergency should arise which would render it necessary either for the Colonial Secretary, or the Home Secretary, to order the movement of troops, when it would be their duty at once to communicate with the Commander in Chief, without calling for the interposition of the Secretary of State for War. My Lords, the duties of the Commander in Chief were formerly such as the noble Earl has very accurately described to your Lordships. It was the business of the Commander in Chief to conduct the discipline of the army. It was his business also to administer all the appointments and promotions in the army, taking the pleasure of the Crown upon the subject of those appointments and promotions. But I must not omit, my Lords, to state at the same time, that in respect to all appointments to the higher commands, and all the higher promotions in the army, it always was, and it still is, the practice of the Commander in Chief, before making any of those appointments, or submitting them to the Sovereign, to consult with and to obtain the sanction of the Secretary of War. Hence in all appointments and promotions of any importance the Secretary of State shares, if indeed he does not take the greater part of, the responsibility attaching to them by sanctioning their being formally submitted to the Sovereign by the Commander in Chief. I may as well, perhaps, allude here to the question of those recent appointments to which the noble Earl opposite has directed your Lordships' attention—I mean the appointment of my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Cardigan) to the office of Inspector General of Cavalry, and the appointment of Sir Richard Airey to the office of Quartermaster General of the Army. For both these appointments, whatever may have been stated to the contrary, it is a mistake to say that I am not as responsible as my noble Friend the Commander in Chief; and I shall be quite ready, when the proper time comes, to offer such a defence of them as will, I hope, prove satisfactory to your Lordships.

So much for the past relations between the Secretary of State and the Commander in Chief. I shall now pass to a consideration of the relations which have been established between them since the creation of a Secretary of State for War. When that office had first been constituted, there was no intention, I believe, of carrying the duties attached to it further than to provide for the transference to the Secretary for War of all the powers relating to the army previously vested in the other Secretaries of State. It was considered that the exercise of those powers would afford ample employment to the new War Minister. But in stating what the duties of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies formerly were, I have omitted one of the highest importance, which was likewise transferred to the new Minister. On all occasions of foreign war it was the duty of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to conduct the correspondence with the generals commanding the troops abroad, who all took their orders directly from him. So completely indeed was the commander of the forces abroad under the direction of the Secretary of State that he did not correspond with the Commander in Chief at all. It is quite true, as stated by the noble Earl, that it was found from the very commencement of the war that difficulties and confusion arose in consequence of the collisions which took place between different departments, all conducting different branches of the military administration. At that time the Commissariat was under the direction of the Treasury; the Ordnance was a distinct department in itself; and the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary at War were two distinct and separate offices. Soon after my appointment as Secretary for War—having been formerly six years Secretary at War—I saw no difficulty whatever in combining that office with the office of Secretary of State; and before long I found from experience, that it was absolutely necessary to place the Ordnance Department, so far as the civil duties were concerned—the branches of stores, supplies, contracts, and manufactures—under the entire and sole control of the Minister for War; and so strong; were my convictions upon those points, that even in the midst of war, at a time when great changes could not be made without considerable inconvenience, I deemed it indispensable that those additional branches of military service should be brought within my immediate jurisdiction. Now, therefore, all the civil departments of the army—all that relates to the Ordnance Department—all that relates to the clothing of the army—all that relates to the storekeeper's department—all that relates to the department which superintends the contracts for the supply of the army, and all that relates to the manufacture of those supplies, are under the control of the Secretary of State for War. And I may add, that since that control has been committed to my hands I have been enabled, with the assistance of the gentlemen connected with each separate branch, to secure for the British army abroad full and abundant supplies, not only of all the matériel of war, but also such supplies of the necessaries and even comforts of life as must render the condition of that army during the summer, and the condition in which it now is, matter of deep gratification to your Lordships and the country at large. After all the civil departments of the army had been brought under one and the same control, I took care that all the military departments should be placed in their proper relative positions; and the result of the important changes that have been accomplished in that latter direction is, that now for the first time the Commander in Chief of the British army is commander, in fact as well as in name, of every arm in the service—of the Artillery and the Engineers, not less than of the Cavalry and the troops of the Line. In carrying out those extensive reforms, it was impossible to lay down on paper any rules which should establish a distinct line of demarcation applicable to every case between the civil and military departments of the service. It is true, as the noble Earl has said, that an attempt was made to lay down some such line of demarcation in a paper drawn up in the year 1812. A very long controversy had at that time arisen between the then Secretary at War and the Commander in Chief. I have read at the War Office the correspondence through which that controversy was conducted, and I may observe that I have found therein exhibited on the part of a noble Friend of mine, who then occupied the office of Secretary at War (Viscount Palmerston), that talent which has since so signally developed itself, and which has been productive of so much benefit to his country. So warm, however, became the controversy between the two functionaries, with regard to their respective jurisdictions, that the difficulty was solved by an Order in Council in the year 1812, which laid down to a certain extent a very broad line of demarcation between the War Office and the Horse Guards; and that line of demarcation has been observed ever since. But the line is not rigidly defined, and it was quite impossible that the Order in Council should draw a distinction in all respects because questions arise every day in which points of discipline and points of administration are so nicely mixed up, that it would be utterly out of the power of any man, however skilful, to determine precisely where the one jurisdiction should commence, and where the other should end. Many of these questions are settled by means of private communications between my noble Friend the Commander in Chief and myself, as similar questions had been settled at a former period between the Duke of Wellington and me, when I was Secretary at War. Those questions are settled amicably between the two departments; and I cannot conceive that any such rupture can arise between the Commander in Chief and the Secretary for War as could lead to the necessity of having recourse to that appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury provided in the document of 1812—an appeal to the First. Lord of the Treasury, or to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to one of the Secretaries of State. But it is impossible that some difficulty should not occasionally arise in drawing the line of demarcation between the two offices. For instance, that difficulty presented itself in the very case of an Inspector General of Fortifications to which the noble Earl has referred, for an Inspector of Fortifications has civil as well as military duties to perform—civil duties in the erection of barracks, and military duties in the erection of places of mere defence. How is it possible to distinguish accurately between them? Under these circumstances it appears to me, that to attempt to lay down by any definition a strict line of demarcation between civil and military duties in the management of the army, would only be to attempt to frame a rule which must be revised from day to day; nay, from hour to hour.

Then, my Lords, with regard to the patronage of all those civil departments which have been placed under my charge as Secretary of State for War, it is extremely large, and if administered by me would lead to embarrassment. I hold myself responsible for all the appointments to those departments, but I leave many of the details to those gentlemen who have been placed at the head of them. I have the utmost confidence in their discretion. I am satisfied that no man should be introduced into any of the offices of those departments who is not so far fitted for them as to be able to pass the examination required by the Civil Service Commissioners; and I take care that after he has so passed he shall rely for promotion on his merits, and on his merits alone. Such is the state of things with regard to the civil departments of the Secretary for War.

With regard to the present state of the Horse Guards, all that I have to say may be summed up in these few words—that the Commander in Chief still continues to administer the discipline of the army uninterfered with and uncontrolled by the Secretary for War. He still continues to administer the patronage of the army uninterfered with and uncontrolled by the Secretary for War, further than that in all the superior appointments, either regimental or on the staff, the Commander in Chief consults the Secretary for War before he takes the pleasure of the Crown with respect to them; and so far the Minister for War renders himself responsible for the acts of the Commander in Chief. The Secretary for War does not interfere in the first appointments to the army; but at the same time I do not deny that I ought, perhaps, to be considered legally responsible for these appointments; because there is no act of the Commander in Chief, however small or however great, that does not constitutionally come within the revision of my department. That is the present state of these two departments.

My Lords, there is no document such, as the noble Earl has moved for to be laid upon the table of the House; and I have already said enough to show that I conceive it would be impossible for me to frame any document which would precisely define the respective duties of the Commander in Chief and of the Secretary for War. But I must say, that in all material points the line of demarcation between the two departments is so great that no necessity can exist for attempting to draw no any such document.

But there remains behind the important question raised by the noble Earl, as to what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the continuance of the present relative powers of the Secretary for War and the Commander in Chief. My Lords, it would be quite useless for us to attempt now to shrink from a consideration of that question. We all know perfectly well that it largely occupies the public mind, and that it is much discussed in the public prints, and that opinions have been formed regarding it in both Houses of Parliament; I believe, therefore, that it is now high time for the army and the country to be made acquainted with the views of Her Majesty's Government upon the subject. Hitherto the Crown has administered the patronage of the army through the Commander in Chief; and through him the Crown has conducted the discipline of the army. But the Crown would not be able either to administer the patronage of the army, or to conduct its discipline, unless Parliament in the first instance granted the money required for the maintenance of the troops, and passed the Mutiny Act, by which they are made amenable to military law. And while Parliament continues to possess the power of voting the supplies for the army, and of passing the Mutiny Act, it is useless to say that its constitutional power over the army is not ample and complete. But you would find that you would have to deal with a different state of circumstances if you were to determine that noble Lords and honourable Gentlemen, as well as officers in the army, should have to look to the Ministry of the day for the introduction of their sons to the service, and for their subsequent promotion while they should continue attached to it. I say that such an arrangement would be as fatal to the efficiency of the army as it would ultimately be unsatisfactory to the people generally of this country. An idea has got abroad that the management of the patronage and discipline of the army is in the hands of an officer not himself directly appointed by Parliament, and, therefore, that in his case no responsibility at all to Parliament exists. There never was a more erroneous impression. An idea has also got abroad that because the patronage of the army is in the hands of an officer in the position of the Commander in Chief, it is exercised unfairly, and even that it is exercised in obedience to some secret influence on the part of the Crown itself; but a greater mistake than this again was never made. It may be, my Lords, that in dealing with this question, I am taking what is at present the unpopular side; but I am quite sure that if I were to advocate a system which should place the patronage of the army in the hands of the Minister of the Crown, we should have Parliament interfering from day to day in the administration of the discipline of the troops. I believe we should thus establish a practice which could not tend to promote the interests of the nation, or to uphold the dignity of the Crown. Therefore, looking at all the circumstances of the case, and convinced as I am from experience that the present system is the one best calculated to give satisfaction in the end, it is my intention to support the authority of the Commander in Chief, and to maintain, as far as I can, the connection which the Crown at present holds through the Commander in Chief with the army. I can see no constitutional objection to that course. None of the Commissions which have inquired into the state of our military administration have seen their way to the abolition of the office of Commander in Chief. The Commission of the year 1837 stated that they had no intention of altering the relative positions of the Commander in Chief and the civil administration of the army. I see no reason myself to change the opinion I have hitherto always held upon that subject. I must further say that during the period when I had the honour of filling the office of Secretary at War while the Duke of Wellington was Commander in Chief, I never knew that great man to have exercised unfairly the patronage of the army; and having been connected by friendship and by public duties with my noble Friend the present Commander in Chief, I will publicly say that any charge that may have been made against him of mal-administration in dispensing the patronage of the army, is utterly and entirely false as far as my knowledge goes. I know no man to whose hands so great a trust has been committed that has more worthily used it.

I have now answered, I hope with sufficient distinctness, the questions put to me by the noble Earl; and, in conclusion, I will only say that I trust if ever this question is again to be brought under our consideration, your Lordships will carefully deliberate before you determine on increasing the power of the Minister and of diminishing the authority of the Crown over the discipline and patronage of the army, as at present exercised through the Commander in Chief, by altering the relations which now subsist between that high functionary and the Secretary of State for War.


My Lords, I wish to say a very few words in consequence of an observation which fell from the noble Earl who spoke at the beginning of this discussion—that he thought the Commander in Chief ought to have taken measures to defend the character of the officers whose conduct had been impugned in the Report of the Commissioners. I did not receive that Report till the 30th January, and so soon as I read it I put myself in communication with my noble Friend behind me (Lord Panmure). To that Report it is not necessary that I should now particularly refer—it was one which placed me in great difficulty—but I may state that I concurred with my noble Friend in thinking that the best mode of meeting the difficulty would be to refer the matter to a Court of Inquiry, similar to that which was appointed in 1808. I may also observe that I desired the Adjutant General to send to my noble and gallant Friends whose conduct had been impugned copies of the Report; and I also desired that the officers whose conduct had been blamed, and who were in this country, and whose evidence might be of importance, should not return to the Crimea till the whole matter had been inquired into, in order that there should be every facility for obtaining the requisite information. I confess that I felt great difficulty with regard to the steps that should be taken in vindication of the officers whose conduct had been impugned. The two members of the Commission are men of undoubted honour and respectability, and I would not venture to take any steps that might call in question the accuracy of the Report. At the same time, I could not but feel that, whatever might be my opinion with reference to the Report, it involved considerations of a very important public character, and I therefore thought that the best course. I could pursue would be to refer the question to some such tribunal as I have mentioned. With regard to the question as to the respective powers of the Secretary of State for War and the Commander in Chief, I am not aware that the duties of the Commander in Chief have been in any degree restricted by the recent changes in the composition of the War Department. On the contrary, my duties have been greatly enlarged, and are much more severe than they formerly were by having the military duties of the Master General to perform. With respect to the officers whose names have been brought before the public—the two noble Earls opposite, Sir Richard Airey, and Colonel Gordon—I can only say that their appointments were fully concurred in by the noble Lord behind me. I knew that Sir Richard Airey was a man of very considerable talent, and one who had rendered great services; and as he had performed his duties in the Crimea—as far as I was then informed—during the siege in a most efficient manner, I felt it to be my duty to recommend that his services should be rendered available to Her Majesty at home. When, therefore, the office of Quartermaster General became vacant I recommended that the name of that officer should be brought before Her Majesty; and my noble Friend behind me concurred in the arrangement. [Lord PANMURE: Hear, hear.] He and I were not aware at that time of any allegations against Sir Richard Airey, and I entertain so high an opinion of that officer that I feel confident, when the time for explanation comes, he will afford an explanation which will be satisfactory to the public and to Parliament. I have no desire to make any further observations to your Lordships. I think that my noble Friend has answered satisfactorily the questions that have been put to him. I have not had an opportunity, since I have been in office, of discussing with my noble Friend any question regarding the distribution of patronage or power, but I can state, so far as the duties of the Commander in Chief are concerned, that, so far from their having been curtailed, I have had additional labour imposed upon me.


My Lords, although I do not at all concur in the views of the noble Lord (Lord Panmure) with regard as to the policy of maintaining the office of Commander in Chief on its present footing, as I feel that this is not a fitting or convenient opportunity for discussing so large a question, I will not now go into it, and I am the less disposed to do so because I have already had more than one opportunity of expressing my opinion on that subject to your Lordships. I wish, however, to express the satisfaction with which I heard my noble Friend the Secretary of State for War admit the complete responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for every act of military administration. I confess that I heard with a good deal of astonishment some parts of the speech of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby), and I think great inconvenience would arise from any misapprehension on this subject. I say it is absolutely necessary, if we mean to preserve the essence of the constitution, that Her Majesty's Government should be completely responsible for every act of military administration, from the highest to the lowest; and that if they are to incur this responsibility they must have the power of controlling the measures for which they are answerable. This is no new principle. From the earliest time at which a Commander in Chief was appointed, you will find that the Government, and not the Commander in Chief, have invariably been considered responsible for the administration of the army. By no one was this doctrine more distinctly acknowledged than by that eminent man who held the office of Commander in Chief at the time when I had the honour of being Secretary of State. How frequently have I heard the late Duke of Wellington say, "I think such a thing should be done, but the Government must decide—the Government are responsible; they must signify to me Her Majesty's pleasure, and whatever they order shall be done." I have heard that opinion expressed by the Duke of Wellington not once or twice, but repeatedly. Practically, there is not the least difficulty in uniting complete control on the part of the Government with the absence of any irritating interference with the Commander in Chief; and my noble Friend has correctly explained the working of the system. With regard to all important measures the Commander in Chief invariably consults the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister. Until very recently—I believe until the year 1835—you will not find a single instance of a regiment being given away without the concurrence of the Prime Minister. I can answer for that having been the universal practice; and with regard to appointments abroad, I can state from my own experience that no general officer was appointed by the Duke of Wellington to any colonial command, during the time I was Secretary of State, without the Duke having previously asked my opinion as to the proposed appointment. I have no doubt that in like manner the noble Duke, with reference to appointments at home, consulted the Secretary of State for that department. Upon all important matters of this kind the Commander in Chief invariably consults the Government. If any difficulty arises with regard to subjects which are purely matters of discipline, he equally goes to the Government. I have mentioned on a former occasion that when I was Secretary at War a great difficulty arose as to whether soldiers should be allowed to wear their side arms. Lord Hill, who was then Commander in Chief, came to me and said, "This is a subject of too much importance for me to decide upon; I must know what is the wish of the Cabinet." I accordingly consulted the Cabinet; an order was prepared with their concurrence, and the Cabinet was responsible. If the Commander in Chief adopts any wrong course, I contend that the Government are bound to interfere, to call upon him to retrace his steps and to pursue a different course; and if the Government do not do so they are responsible. It is, I conceive, most important for the best interests of the country, that this principle of the responsibility of the Government for every act, great and small, of military administration, should be distinctly recognised, and I therefore heard with very great pleasure what was said upon that subject by my noble Friend. I am glad to find that although he maintains that the office of Commander in Chief ought to be kept up in a manner which does not, in my opinion, enable the Government to exercise as complete and close a superintendence over the military administration as I think desirable, he yet clearly recognises their constitutional responsibility for all military measures. I will only add that I entirely differ from the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) as to the amount of military duties formerly performed by the Secretary of State in a time of peace. I can state from my own knowledge that the Secretary of State was formerly bound in a time of peace to decide the amount and description of force to be employed in every colony, and to specify the particular regiments that shall relieve others. Not a single regiment can be removed without the Queen's pleasure being signified through the Secretary of State. With regard, also, to the distribution of honours, the Secretary of State by no means fulfils his duty if he acts blindly on the recommendation of the military and naval authorities in advising the Crown on this subject. He is bound to exercise his own judgment, and has always done so. I remember it once happened to me to have to state to the Commander in Chief that too numerous a list of honours was proposed, and to suggest that such list should be diminished. Now, no difficulty can arise in cases of this kind, for in every matter of the sort the Secretary of State, as the organ of Government, is supreme. All important questions are submitted to the Cabinet and to the Crown, and the Secretary of State, as the organ of the Crown and of the Government, communicates their decision to the Commander in Chief, and the Commander in Chief invariably carries out his wishes.


I wish to say, in explanation, that I did not intend to impute any blame to the Commander in Chief for not having instituted an immediate inquiry into the conduct of the officers whose conduct has been impugned in the Report of the Commissioners: on the contrary, the statement I made was confirmed by my noble Friend—because he said that as soon as he became possessed of the charges contained in the Reports he had felt it necessary to give the officers to whom those charges applied an opportunity of defending themselves. What I complained of was, that the first Report, and indeed the second Report also, were not communicated to the Commander in Chief before they were laid upon the table of the House, and that, consequently, it was not until after the characters of officers had been thus impugned that my noble Friend had the opportunity of taking the course which I felt he would feel it his duty to take at the earliest possible moment. I complained that my noble Friend was not consulted, and that the Reports were not communicated to him in the first instance, nor until the time had come for laying them before Parliament. I think it is matter of very serious regret that a different course was not pursued, and that the Reports were not withheld until the noble Lord had an opportunity of taking such steps as he thought necessary. With regard to the statement I made of the duties devolving upon the Colonial Secretary, I certainly did omit in my enumeration some of those duties; but what I meant to show was that the labour and responsibility imposed upon him in connection with the army were very inconsiderable and quite insufficient to occupy any great portion of his time. I cannot sit down without expressing the satisfaction with which I heard the statement of the noble Lord opposite. I think he explained his own position and that of the Commander in Chief as clearly as the nature of the subject permitted; and I believe that explanation will help to remove many misconceptions and misunderstandings. I especially rejoice at having obtained from the noble Lord the formal declaration of his determination, and that of the present Government, to maintain inviolate in the hands of the Commander in Chief the control of the discipline, the organisation, and the patronage of Her Majesty's army.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned till To-morrow.