HL Deb 20 June 1873 vol 216 cc1220-3

THE DUKE OF RICHMOND rose to ask the Under Secretary of State for the War Department Whether any Reports were made by Lieutenant General Sir Robert Walpole, Lieutenant General Sir John Michel, and the Generals commanding Divisions, upon the working of the Control Department during the last Autumn Manœuvres; and, if so, to move an Address for their production. As had been stated at the time they were proposed, the Autumn Manœuvres were designed to serve as schools of instruction and to test the efficiency of every arm of the service. It therefore was important to know whether the Control Department—an important feature in Mr. Cardwell's re-organization of the Army—had proved efficient at at present constituted. What he desired to ascertain was the working of the Department, and whether it was likely to be efficient in time of war as proved by its efficiency in time of peace. The Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, in his interesting Report on the last Manœuvres, had spoken of the whole arrangements as more or less tentative, and had commended the zeal and attention of the officers of the Control Department. But without disparaging His Royal Highness's opportunities of seeing what occurred—he had himself said he frequently knew no more of what was going on than a casual spectator—it was obvious that the Generals commanding the various forces and their Brigadiers could give a more detailed account of the working of the Department than the Commander-in-Chief. The only subordinate officer, however, who in the published Report had been allowed to give his version of the proceedings was Mr. Maturin, a subordinate officer of the Control Department, who, alluding to reports that there had been inconvenient delays on the part of his Department in the supply of provisions and forage said, he had made inquiries which had shown that they were unfounded, and that he had much satisfaction in referring to the "favourable opinion expressed by the General Officers of Divisions, &c., as to the proceedings of this Department." Now, what might satisfy Mr. Controller Maturin might fail to satisfy their Lordships, and it would create a bad precedent to allow a public officer to refer to the opinions of other officers and to refuse the production of those opinions. He hoped, therefore, these Reports would be laid on the Table.


said, Sir Robert Walpole and Sir John Michel had reported to His Royal Highness on a great number of subjects, including the working of the Control Department. The Generals of Divisions had also reported to those two Generals, whose Reports, indeed, were founded on those of the General Officers. The object of the Manœuvres—the testing in time of peace the efficiency of our arrangements for war—rendered it necessary that everything should be freely reported upon by the General Officers in command of corps d'armée; but it would be impossible for this to be done with the requisite freedom if it were known to those by whom the Reports were prepared that they would be circulated as public documents. He believed the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief would support him in this view. With regard to the published Report of Mr. Controller Maturin, had he (Mr. Maturin) specially referred to the General Officers' Reports as expressing approval or disapproval of the system of the Control Department, he could not have objected to their production; but this was not the case, for Mr. Maturin's reference was to the efficiency of the Control officers, whose exertions had been spoken of with commendation by His Royal Highness in his Report. Indeed, Mr. Maturin's Report had, in the first instance been appended to that of His Royal Highness and had been published as an integral part of the latter.


then moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copies of the above Reports.


remarked that according to this doctrine, Controller Maturin had more power than the Members of Parliament, for no Minister of the Crown could state the purport of a document in the possession of the Government without producing it.


contended that as a Member of the Government he was at liberty to state that diplomatic Correspondence was in a certain direction without being bound to produce the whole of that Correspondence.


hoped the noble Duke would press his Motion.


approved the principle of concentrating the great departments of supply; and remarked that many of the difficulties encountered by the Control Department, such as railways and horses, would not arise in time of war. He had heard various complaints showing that the Control Department had not always worked satisfactorily, and he could not see that any disadvantage would accrue to the public service if certain extracts from the Reports of General Michel and General Walpole, and from the Reports of Brigadiers if necessary, were laid before Parliament.


hoped the Motion would not be pressed, for it was impossible to expect that officers would report frankly and unreservedly if their Reports were to be published; and, moreover, complaints really trifling would be supposed by the general public, lacking the knowledge necessary to to judge such points, to be important. He might have been in fault in publishing Mr. Controller Maturin's Report—and there was clearly no more reason for publishing this than the Reports of General Officers. The conduct of the officers of the Control Department was admirable, and no men could have shown more zeal; but there were, no doubt, shortcomings in the system, and many points would require amendment. It was important the shortcomings should be ascertained, in order that they might be remedied, and he believed the Control Department would by degrees be brought into such a position that it would not encounter so many detractors as it certainly did at present.


said, that after what had fallen from the illustrious Duke he did not think he should be justified in pressing for the production of the Papers; but he was satisfied, from the course of the discussion, that he was quite justified in drawing their Lordships' attention to the subject—particularly as he found it required a great deal of persuasion to induce the Control Department to believe there was any possibility of their having any shortcomings. He had heard that the Control Department had not been a complete success during the Manœuvres, and that statement seemed to be confirmed by the fact, that the Under Secretary for War had declined to produce the Reports upon the subjects—if these Reports had been of a favourable character there would have been no difficulty about producing them. He hoped that for the future any document referred to in a published Report would be produced.


said, that half the difficulties of the Control Department were attributable to the want of draught horses, and to the absurd and wasteful plan of converting cavalry horses into draught horses. This was like using blood horses in farming. It was unwise to attempt to save expense in such a way.


said, that the impression produced on his mind was that great care and efficiency had been shown by the Control Department in connection with the Autumn Manœuvres, both in the preparations beforehand and in the actual practice in the field.


explained that the objection he had taken was to the principle of the production of the Papers—an objection entirely borne out by what had fallen from the illustrious Duke.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn).