My Lords, I rise to ask the Question that is on the Paper in my name, of the Under Secretary of State for War. I ask the noble Lord on what principle the sentences of rustication of twenty-nine cadets and the dismissal of some servants from Sandhurst has been carried out, and whether in any case a definite charge has been preferred against any of the persons on whom these penalties have fallen. The Sandhurst question has evoked such general interest that I do not think I need offer any apology to the House of Lords for putting this Question on the Paper, and I hope that your Lordships will, for a very few minutes, grant me your indulgence while I say a few words on the subject.
As your Lordships are well aware, Sandhurst is the military college which was removed a good many years ago from High Wycombe, and where the cadets are educated before they get their commissions in the Army. The college is under the government of a Governor, an Assistant Commandant, twenty officers, six companies of sixty each, each company being commanded by a captain who is an officer in the 1320 regular Army and one under-officer, and six corporals who are cadets; and in that way there is a certain amount of local self-government in the college. I might here say—I believe without contradiction—that for a great many-years very good feeling has existed in the college. The Governor is very much respected and very much personally liked, and the Assistant Commandant is, I am informed on the best authority, excessively popular with the cadets over whom he has command. I only mention this fact for the purpose of observing that this college is practically the poor man's road into the Army. The fees are, I believe, materially reduced, especially for cadets who wish to get into the Army in the Indian Staff Corps. The words, "the poor man's road into the Army," occur in a very remarkable letter, perhaps the most remarkable of the many letters that have appeared on the subject in the daily papers, written by Mr. Winston Churchill—a letter which is remarkable not only for its ability but also for the clearness with which he has stated the case and the moderate way in which that case has been stated.
My Lords, I have alluded to the good feeling and the good discipline which had for some years existed in the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, but last term a somewhat queer event occurred. Two fires, either by design or by accident, simultaneously broke out in the "C" Company's quarters at 3.20 p.m.; that was on April 23rd. On the 7th May another fire broke out, this time in the "A" Company's quarters; and exactly a month later, on the 7th June, another fire, which made the fourth, broke out in an office which was between the "B" and "C" Company, to which I am informed both companies have access, but which is not in any way connected with the quarters of cither company. That fire broke out between 4 and 7 a.m., after the usual annual ball which is given in the college had taken place. These four fires, curiously enough, happened in a shortish space of time, and the War Office then stepped in and directed the Assistant Commandant that all leave should be stopped till the incendiary, whoever he was, or incendiaries, were discovered. The cadets thought—I am not going to argue whether they were right or wrong 1321 —but they thought that this collective punishment, us it is called, was somewhat unjust, and a portion of them, I believe something less than half of the whole number of cadets who were in the college, broke out of the college one evening, while they were confined as it were to barracks, and they marched down in a body to a Foresters' fête which was being held at Camberley Fair. The fail-was held in a field which was enclosed by a paling, and the police, seeing a strong body of young gentlemen marching down, very prudently shut the gates, so that only thirty or forty of these gentlemen got into the enclosure. They got on the horses and the round-abouts and swings, and I believe they enjoyed themselves thoroughly. But, finding themselves in rather a tight place, they clambered over the paling, and I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that within half-an-hour or three-quarters of an hour after these gentlemen inarched out of college, the whole posse of them were safely back in barracks. I believe it is now acknowledged that this was a boyish freak, very much the sort of freak that young officers might indulge in. I do not stand up for one moment to defend it—I do not say that it is right—but I only say that I believe it was one of that sort of jolifications in which young officers sometimes indulge. But the War Office treated it as a very serious matter. They treated it as a matter of insubordination, and three corporals were reduced, and two were rusticated, I might here observe that being made a corporal at Sandhurst is highly prized and highly valued, and the corporals' and the sub-officers' positions are very much envied and looked up to. Then several minor punishments were issued out to the supposed ringleaders, and there the matter, I, suppose ended, for on June 24th of this year leave was restored. Now, I do not know what those who defend this course of action may say in defence of it, but I should like here most positively to assert that there is nothing in any way to prove that there was any connection between these four incendiary fires and the natural resentment which was felt at what was considered an unfair punishment, which culminated in the boyish outburst that I have mentioned. In fact, my Lords, I know—I am positive—that the feeling against this incendiarism among the 1322 gentlemen cadets was very strong, and that if any one of these gentlemen had had any proof positive that they could point to the individual who had caused these fires, they would unhesitatingly and at once have brought him to justice.
That ends the first stage, and I now come to the second. As I have said, on June 24th of this year, leave was restored, and it was supposed that all was going well. But, unfortunately, on June 25th, at 3.30 p.m. — the very same time at which the two fires occurred on April 23rd — another fire broke out, in a room which was occupied by three cadets, also of the "C" company, who immediately were placed under arrest. This was the first time that the gentlemen cadets were made responsible for these outbreaks of fire, and I do not think that any complaint can fairly be made of their being placed under arrest. An inquiry of four officers was at once ordered, and they sat from June 26th to June 28th, but nothing whatever could be proved against any one of these three gentlemen, and, of course, they were released. Now, I come to June 30th, two days after the release of these cadets. On June 30th the War Office telegraphed—they did not write, but telegraphed—the following message—Unless within twenty-four hours the author or authors of the fires which have occurred at Sandhurst have been found, all "C" Company will be rusticated, and all servants will be discharged, unless they can satisfactorily prove that they were not in the college at the time of the fire.Here I ask to be permitted to read a portion of Mr. Winston Churchill's letter, which accurately describes, in excellent language, what took place after that—At the expiration of the specified time, all the cadets of the company were brought before the commanding officer; no evidence was taken-on oath; no defence of any kind was allowed; and all who were unable to prove that they were on the cricket ground, or otherwise engaged outside the building, were summarily sent down. Amongst them were the three cadets who had already been exonerated by the Court of Inquiry.Perhaps the word "exonerated" is a little too strong; nothing had been proved against these three cadets who were added to the black list. That is what really happened.And—to make injustice even-handed—three wretched servants, old soldiers of the highest character, were also flung out.1323 The official notification of this action was sent to the parents of these cadets in the following courteous manner:—From Assistant-Commandant, R. M.College, Camberley.3rd July, 1902.I beg to inform you that, in accordance with instructions received from the War Office, your son Gent. Cadet. … has this day been rusticated, until the end of the term, on account of his being unable to prove an alibi on the afternoon of 25th ulto., when an outbreak of tire occurred in "C" Company's quarters.I may say that this polite communication reached the parents of these cadets in some instances alter the somewhat unexpected and unwelcome arrival of the cadets at their family homes. I must mention here that amongst them eight of these rusticated cadets were not in the "Camberley Riots," as they were called at all.
I should like the House to consider for a moment what is the result of this joint action of Mr. Secretary Brodrick and the noble Earl the Commander-m-Chief of His Majesty's forces, who I am glad to see in his place, because he will be able to correct me if by any accident I fall into any exaggeration or mistake. The person who caused these fires must evidently either have been a criminal or a lunatic—perhaps both; and the fact remains that he must have been either amongst those who were punished, or he was not amongst them. Just let us consider the first case. Suppose he was not amongst these gentlemen who were rusticated and sent down. I would very respectfully ask the House of Lords what possible justification is there for rusticating twenty-nine cadets, who deny all knowledge of this abominable action, for the reason given—(I will quote the exact words used by the War Office)—because they could not "successfully prove that they were not in the college at the time of the fires." Suppose that this criminal or lunatic was amongst these twenty gentlemen who were sent down — what was the crime? It was the crime of arson. And what is arson? Arson, in the English law, is the malicious burning of a dwelling or outhouse, which in common law is felony, and which, if any person is therein and is burnt to death, is a capital offence. Now, the punishment of this felon, if he was amongst these gentlemen, seems to have been a very curious one. 1324 It seems to have been cut into small pieces; it seems to have been made up into water-tight compartments; and it seems to have been equally divided between himself and twenty-eight of his brother cadets, all of whom are, presumably, innocent, and all of whom have denied any knowledge of or complicity in this abominable action. And what is the inevitable result? The War Office send these gentlemen down, including the felon, for a short time, with the certain result that they, the War Office, must inevitably re-instate the criminal in Sandhurst, with the possibility—one might almost say the probability—that he will immediately re-indulge his incendiary proclivities.
Now, my Lords, I have but little more to say, except to ask your Lordships to consider what the consequences of the action of the War Office are, not only to the cadets, but also to the servants, whose case, I respectfully submit, also demands some, consideration. The consequences to the servants are very serious indeed. The servants of Sandhurst are old soldiers of exceptionally good character. Their duties are very laborious. They have to look after six cadets apiece; they have to wait daily at three meals; they have to do two rooms, and make six beds; they have to clean twelve pairs of boots; and once in every week, I think, but certainly once in every few days, they have to do a sort of sentry go—in fact, I suppose they arc a sort of indoor police. For these services they are rewarded by the stipend of 18s. a week, on which they have to find their food, their lodging, and their clothes, and. of course, as valets, or servants, they must keep up a decent appearance. I do not think that the opinion of a Committee which has lately inquired into the various circumstances connected with the Army went any too far when they said that these people were "overworked and underpaid." They are now sacked and sent about their business, and that, to an old soldier, practically meansstarvation.
Now let us take the case of the cadets. What happens to them? They forfeit six months seniority; they have to go through another term, going through the same curriculum and doing again all the work that they had gone through 1325 before; and besides, there is a very severe loss to the parents. As I said, Mr. Winston Churchill called Sandhurst "the poor man's road into the Army," and I will just take two very hard cases which are set out in his letter. The father of one of those cadets who was sent down isa struggling country person, with a nominal income of £120 a, year, and a family of eight children. His eldest son has just returned from South Africa after twenty-nine months of active service, having won the Distinguished Service Order. Two other of his sons are in the Navy. It is doubtful whether the extra money can he found for the Sandhurst cadet. This is the kind of person who is struck: yet surely such a one deserves some consideration from the State.The other case I will cite is this—The father of another cadet, a master at Uppingham, is so badly off that the boy was only able to go to Sandhurst through the liberality of a relation, who found the necessary £150. 'The boy himself writes the head-in inter of the public school, 'is most conscientious, and has worked like a trooper to get into Sandhurst, and out again, for he is not elever. His prospects are entirely blighted, for the money cannot be found for another term, and the boy is broken-hearted at the failure of his hopes. Had he been on 'mufti leave like so many of the others, his alibi would have been accepted; but, he was working hard, more so, for the examination which was to begin the next day.Last Tuesday I put down this Question on the Paper of your Lordships' House, and I was requested to postpone it till today. I did so with a certain amount of pleasure, because I hoped that during the two or three days some action would be taken by the War Office to rectify what, to use very mild language, I must describe as a very unfortunate incident. I was not disappointed, because last night, in the House of Commons, Mr. Secretary Brodrick stated thatAll the cadets of C Company who could prove that they were not in a position to cause the last fire at Sandhurst were exempted by the Commander-in-Chief from rustication.But we knew that before. Those are the people who were in the cricket field outside the building altogether. Those are not the unfortunate individuals who wore reading up for their examination in the building itself. Those were the people who wore proved not to lie in the building at the time the tires happened.But as regards the cadets rusticated who were to undergo examination this term, the Commander-in-Chief is prepared to allow them to be examined during this month in London: so that if subsequently cleared—1326 Cleared of what? There has been no accusation brought against them; there has been no charge of any sort, description, or kind brought against these gentlemen; and yet we are told thatIf subsequently eleared they should lose no seniority in the Army. No promise can be given as lo commissions in these cases, pending discovery of the actual culprit.Now, my Lords, I think I am justified in saying that this action on the part of the War Office is perhaps intended to lake some portion of the sting out of the complaint, but I must point out that there is no abandonment of the vicious principle itself, and I most sincerely hope that the noble Lord who will answer this Question, the Under Secretary of State for War, will be able to give the House a more satisfactory explanation, and to announce a far greater modification of what we consider to be a most mistaken policy, I go farther still. I say that, the noble Lord ought this evening to give us a clear promise that no cadet shall forfeit any seniority unless It s guilt or complicity with this abominable offence is conclusively and entirely proved. I most sincerely hope, from the bottom of my heart, that the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, will be able to give us this assurance; but if he does not. I must respectfully ask your Lordships House to consider whether the criticism in The Times article last Tuesday was one whit, too strong when the writer said—This procedure is not consistent with the methods of British justice or with the practice of English gentlemen.I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.
My Lords, the noble Earl who has put this Question to me has gone so fully into the details of the case that I will not detain your Lordships by recapitulating the sequence' of events. I merely wish to point out this fact. A long series of fires had occurred at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. On June 10th, by the order of the Commander-in-Chief, all leave was stopped pending the discovery of the culprit. On June 11th occurred that breach of discipline to which the noble Earl, I regret to say, seems to attach exceedingly little importance. A 1327 certain number of cadets broke out of bounds. They began by dragging one of the trophy guns from the front of the college, with the apparent intention of throwing it into the lake, they were, however, prevented from doing so by the appearance of one of the officers of the college, and they very willingly restored the gun to its original position. Then a large number of cadets broke out of bounds, and proceeded to the Foresters' fete. There was also some question of a passing cyclist being pursued and stopped, and a certain number of lamps were broken. But the noble Earl is again correct in his facts when he says that the whole of the cadets had returned and were quiet in their places in the college within a short time. Sub-sequent to that disturbance, a Committee was sent down to inquire into the matter. That court of inquiry was composed of three distinguished officers—Sir Robert Grant, General Swale, and Sir Leslie Rundle. These officers went most carefully into the question of this disturbance, and also into the question of the fires. Contrary to the opinion of the noble Earl, they took a lenient view of what had occurred, and recommended that the outbreak should not be treated too seriously. The Commander-in-Chief accepted the view of that court of inquiry, and decided to treat this outbreak leniently. The noble Earl does not seem to think that there is anything in gentlemen who are occupying the important position of corporal assisting, aiding, and abetting in a disturbance of this character. I regret to say that I do not find myself in agreement with the noble Earl. At all events, the Commander-in-Chief decided that two of these corporals should be rusticated, that throe should be reduced from the rank of corporal, and that a certain number of the remaining cadets should he punished by restrictions—sixteen for three weeks, one for fourteen days, and one for seven days. That decision of the Commander-in-Chief's was given on June 18th, and, following up his policy of leniency, the Commander-in-Chief withdrew the general restriction of leave on June 23rd. On June 25th a fresh incendiary fire broke out in the passage of "C" Company—the same passage in which the three previous fires had occurred. In a matter of this kind, discipline is bound to be upheld, but there 1328 is a point which, it seems to me, both the noble Earl and the critics who write interesting communications to the public Press appear to lose sight of altogether—that is, that these incendiary fires not only endanger a very large amount of Government property, but also put in jeopardy a large number of very valuable lives.
It was obviously necessary that some steps should be taken to put an end to this state of things, which was apparently continuing. Investigations of the most painstaking and minute character had been carried out, and had resulted in absolute failure to bring home the fault to any individual or individuals. But there is one point, which, I regret to say, appears to me to have been brought out strongly during the course of these investigations. The majority of your Lordships have had the privilege, as I have, of being educated at one or other of our great public schools, and it is unnecessary for me to remind you that at those public schools the scholars are in the enjoyment of more liberty than is, granted in similar schools in any other country in the world. They obtain that liberty on conditions, and one of the conditions is that the scholars shall, if I may be allowed to use the expression, police themselves—that is to say that the scholars themselves shall assist the authorities in preserving order and maintaining discipline. The result of that is, that if anything occurs at any public school the headmaster, or whoever is the Chief of the particular school, can go with perfect confidence to the sixth form, or to the præpostors, or whatever the senior boys of the school may be called, and rely entirely upon them for their assistance in maintaining the discipline of the school. In the case of Sandhurst there has been a most regrettable absence on the part of the cadets of public spirit in this direction. Not only have the cadets apparently made little or no effort to discover the author of those abominable acts, but they do not scorn to mo to acknowledge that it is any part of their duty to give any active assistance to the authorities of the college in discovering the culprit or culprits. This I would point out to the noble Earl, who I regret to say seems to think those are mere boyish escapades.
No, I object to that. I never said incendiarism was a 1329 boyish escapade. I condemn it as much as the noble Lord. What I said was that these boyish amusements were not in any way very reprehensible; but I never said that incendiarism was a boyish escapade.
I beg the noble Karl's pardon. I did not mean to say that he thought incendiarism was not reprehensible, but that I think, in a matter of Unkind, the whole discipline; of the college is at stake, and that the noble Earl apparently thought these disturbances were mere boyish freaks. The want of that assistance which the authorities of the school had a right to expect from the cadets in matters of this description would be most unfortunate in any public school or similar scholastic institution; but it is to my mind, most deeply deplorable in a body of young men, many of whom in a short time, some of them in a few weeks, would be commissioned officers in his Majesty's service, and whose duty it would then be to uphold the authority of those above them, and to instil discipline into, and exact implicit obedience from, those below them.
Thus far I have explained as frankly as I can what had happened, and tin situation with which the military authorities were confronted. Several fires had occurred—incendiary fires; there was no doubt whatever that these fires were caused wilfully. Little or no assistance in the detection of the offenders was received from the cadets. It was almost certain that the fires were caused by some inmate of the college, either a cadet, or a servant. Otherwise the position would be this: it would be necessary to suppose that some outsider could come into the college in the middle of the day, when the cadets would be all about the passages of "C" Company, and proceed to start a fire in that particular passage which he must have known was being most carefully and specially watched. What steps were the military authorities to take? As I have said, they had valuable property in their charge, and they were the guardians of a largo number of still more valuable lives. It was the bounden duty of the military authorities to protect those lives and that property. We have been told by a large number of people what we ought not to do, but nobody 1330 has made the faintest suggestion as to what we should do. I would put to your Lordships this point—supposing in the house of one of your Lordships a series of occurrences of this description took place in one wing of the building in which certain people were; would you take no notice of it?. I think if no notice was taken by your Lordships, the assurance society would take some notice of it.
The noble Earl has animadverted very strongly on the subject of general punishment. I hold no brief on behalf of general punishment. On the contrary, I hold, as I think everybody holds, that as far as possible general punishments are to be, avoided. But in saving that I do not say that general punishments are never under any circumstances to be imposed. On this occasion the only resource was some form of general punishment. The Commander in-Chief decided to inflict a general punishment, but he arranged to the best of his ability to inflict that punishment on the minimum number of persons. The fires, with the exception of one, occurred in one particular passage, that was of "C" Company. There are sixty-two cadets in "C" Company. The Commander-in-Chief laid down that any cadet who could prove he was not in the passage at the time the fire, occurred should have no punishment indicted upon him. It was proved by experiments made by the court of inquiry that the fire must necessarily have been started in a very short time, that is to say, the tire could not have resulted from a smouldering match placed into the bed, some time previously. Therefore, it was only a short space of time that could have elapsed from the time that the fire was lit before it was discovered. Twenty nine cadets were shown to have been in the passage during the time when this fire must have been started. These cadets were sent down, or rusticated. With regard to the servants, about whom the noble Karl has also spoken, three have been dismissed from the service of the Royal Military College. They were men who were acting as orderlies in the passage at the time when the fire actually occurred. It is the duty of the orderlies 1331 to prevent such occurrences, and for want of the proper vigilance in the discharge of their duties these men were dismissed.
I now come to a subject which I am sorry to bring before your Lordships, because I think it should be avoided if possible—the subject of personalities. I might almost say that all the acts of the War Office are criticised as though the War Office was a sort of nebulous place in which anonymous clerks came to most momentous conclusions without any consideration whatever. I need not say to your Lordships that that is never the case, and it is, if possible, less true in this matter than in almost any other. The Commander-in-Chief came to his conclusion on this case after the most careful personal consideration of the whole matter. It is not necessary for me, it would not be becoming, to point out the services of the noble Earl the Commander-in-Chief, but I would like to point out one particular thing with regard to that great career. The noble Earl has commanded for many years large armies, both in peace and in war. Those armies have been composed of men of many creeds, many races, many classes, and, if there is one thing more than another which has distinguished the administration of those armies by the noble Earl, it is the high state of discipline which he has established and maintained in them. But over and beyond that, if there is anything which has more distinguished that great career, it is the extreme leniency and consideration which the noble Earl has shown to every one who has served under his command. I cannot help saying that, as far as my own personal opinion is concerned, I infinitely prefer to trust in the mature judgment of the Commander-in-Chief than in the half-informed opinion communicated to the public press by Gentlemen, however young or ill-informed those Gentlemen may be.
There is only one other point which I wish to touch upon, and that is the idea that the future career of these young men is permanently closed. In the worst possible case they will lose only a few months seniority. The Commander-in-Chief has intimated that it is his intention to allow those cadets who would have come out of Sandhurst in the ordinary course of events at the end of this term, to be examined, during this month, in the same examination in London. If subsequently cleared they will 1332 lose no seniority, and if anything should happen to relieve any particular cadet or cadets of blame every consideration will be shewn to them.
§ LORD HENEAGE
Perhaps it would be a convenient course if I took advantage of the question which has been asked by my noble friend to make the few remarks I desire to make in the way of an appeal on behalf of these cadets. I cannot help making one observation with regard to the speech to which we have just listened. Not only was it eminently unsatisfactory, but my noble friend the Under Secretary of State for War has introduced an entirely novel procedure into this House. From start to finish he has entirely ignored the fact that there is a Minister for War. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has resigned since he made his speech the other night, but my noble friend has done that which only a few years ago would have been looked upon with the greatest scorn by the Ministers on the Bench: he has put the whole of the blame, or responsibility, or whatever it may be, on the Commander-in Chief. We were told not many years ago that the name of the Commander-in-Chief was never mentioned, and I think it is extremely unfair to those who now take part in the debate that it should be made to appear, after the speech of the noble Lord, that they were making an attack upon the noble Earl, the Commander-in-Chief. I do not intend to make any such attack, nor do I wish to make an attack upon the Minister for War, but I do desire to appeal to His Majesty's Government to reconsider the determination to which they have come. I fear that the historical portion of this incident at Sandhurst, and the disciplinary ideas with regard to Sandhurst, have been allowed to overshadow the particular case about which my noble friend asked his question, and with which I have to deal. I am not going into the history of this incident at Sandhurst; there is no necessity whatever for so doing. The reason for the rustication of these cadets was stated most clearly in the letter sent to the parents, by which they were informed that, according to instructions received from the War Office, their sons, being unable to prove an alibi on the afternoon of June 25th, when the fire occurred, and on that ground alone, had been rusticated. Therefore, simply because those cadets 1333 could not prove an alibi they were sent down, thereby incurring the loss of six months' seniority, with all its necessary consequences, which perhaps they do not themselves appreciate, but which their parents and friends do. The matter, however, is made much worse, because in this case young gentlemen who were idling away their time on the cricket field or elsewhere have been absolutely exonerated, whilst the men who were working in their rooms for the examination which was shortly to take place have been rusticated, because they were doing that for which they were sent to Sandhurst, and this immediately after the publication of the "Report on Military Education," in which it is said that young officers will not learn their work, and are very much in need of education.
But, apart from what I venture to think is the injustice and even folly of this order, and the interests of the parents of the cadets, let me point out an indirect and perhaps even more far-reaching result of this decision. These cadets in "C" Company will return to Sandhurst after their rustication is over, and they will then be on exactly the same footing as all the other cadets. When they have passed their examination, they will be entitled to become officers in the Army. But they will be branded with the stigma that they have been sent down suspected of complicity in arson, that their word has not been believed, that their honour has not been trusted, and that they have been accused of disloyalty to their officers and to the college. This is a stigma of which they will not be able to rid themselves for years. They have been sent down without one tittle of evidence against them. That appears to me to be a very strong point. We are told by my noble friend the Under Secretary of State for War that four officers were sent down to inquire into the various things that had happened. The questions I would ask is this—What was General Markham's opinion? What was the opinion of General Grant? What was the opinion of Sir Leslie Rundle? Did they, or did they not, believe the cadets when they said they know nothing whatever about these occurrences? It appears to me from what happened afterwards that they must have believed them.
1334 Now I come to what, I am sorry to say, appears to me to be an even worse part of the case. It was bad enough for these cadets to be rusticated without the slightest evidence against them; it was bad enough for them to go home with this stigma upon them; but what did the Secretary of State for War say in the House of Commons the other day? I really cannot think that he appreciated the gravity of his words. He stated in the House of Commons, speaking of the fire of June 25—No charge has been brought against individual cadets, but the fact remains that this occurred within the same block, and in all probability it was within the knowledge of many of those concerned, some of whom were seen to enter the actual room within twenty minutes or half-an-hour before the last event occurred. Therefore, there was absolute reason, and this after the report of the general officers, to suppose that several of the cadets who were rusticated were implicated in this unfortunate business.Then, after some interruptions from his own side of the House, he went on to say—There was a mutinous outbreak in which the very cadets implicated broke bounds.If the Minister for War, who has not been alluded to in the speech of the Under Secretary of State for War, knows the cadets who were implicated in these fires, why is it necessary to rusticate all the cadets who were present in the barracks of "C" Company? If he does not know who were implicated, what right, or reason, or justice is there for saying that these cadets were implicated in the fire, and that many of those who were sent down knew about it? After that, it is impossible to say that these cadets have not gone down with a stigma upon their names. It is very well known to the relatives and friends of these cadets, and of the cadets in other companies, that from the very beginning the cadets have given positive assurances that they know nothing whatever about these fires, that they deplored them, that they consider the acts to be criminal, and that they would not screen the author of them. I have heard some of them use much stronger language, and say that if only they could find out the culprit they would first duck him in the pond, and hand him over to the authorities afterwards. They regret the occurrences as much as anyone, but 1335 what has happened now is that you have told these men that you do not believe them, and these are the very men who are to be our officers in. the future. I would venture to ask Ministers, as a whole, to look into this question. I would ask them not to wrap themselves in the cloak of Ministerial infallibility, and not to allow these young men, at the very beginning of their career, to have cast upon them the stain of dishonour, disloyalty, and untruthful-ness, which will attach to them for many years to come. I for one, and I know something about some of them, believe the assurance of these cadets.
But assume, for the sake of argument, that it was some insane cadet who committed this act. Why should it be a cadet of "C" Company? No people are more clever than mad people, and if a cadet is insane enough to commit a series of acts such as these, and yet not be found out by those in the college, he is quite clever enough not to do them in his own quarters. I cannot myself see that there is any evidence which goes to show that the cadet was of "C" Company, and I am also certain of the fact that a large number of cadets at Sandhurst arc of that opinion themselves. At the same time, they do not believe it was a cadet; they have always said that in their opinion it was a servant. It might possibly be a cadet, but at any rate I am perfectly certain that they know nothing about it.
Then there is another point I should like to refer to, and that is that the last fire occurred on the very day when these young gentlemen all had their leave restored, and when they were under the belief that they would be free to come up to those events which they were anxious to see in London. It would, therefore, have been an insane act on the part of anyone of them to bring punishment upon the whole of the college when they themselves were so anxious to get rid of this prohibition of leave. That appears to me to be a very strong point.
Then with regard to these general punishments,—they have always failed in Public Schools. They have failed because they are opposed to the traditions of the country and to the spirit of Englishmen, and they will fail when they are brought into military colleges or 1336 elsewhere for the same reason. Moreover, they are opposed to our love of justice and to our judicial procedure, whether in military or in Civil Courts of law. If there has been one tradition and boast of free England it has been that twelve guilty men should escape punishment rather than one innocent man suffer. I ask whether that principle has been acted upon in this case? Why have the traditions of English justice been put on one side? I entirely agree with everything said by my noble friend as to the necessity of enforcing discipline, and, if possible, of doing something in some judicial way to find out how these fires originated. But I do not think you will achieve that end by the course which has been adopted. It is against every idea, of justice that you should rusticate twenty-nine young gentlemen who are about to become officers in the Army, simply because you cannot find out who is the guilty person.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I should like to say a word on this question in response to an invitation which fell from the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War. He asked what we would do if repeated incendiary fires occurred in one of our own houses. I happen to have had that experience. It is now many years ago, but I was once living in a house where a series of incendiary fires occurred. I can tell the noble Lord what we did not do. We did not dismiss the whole of the servants.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
Well, we did not dismiss any of the servants, but we adopted what, I venture to think, is a juster and more intelligible course. We took very good care to have the house well watched, and to let everybody know that it was being done. I do not wish to say exactly what happened, but I may say this—that the person who I have no doubt was really guilty took very good care to disappear from the scene. That is the way in which in ordinary cases we deal with incendiary fires.
I have been surprised at a great deal that has passed in this debate. I was surprised on the one hand, that the 1337 noble Earl who brought forward this question should have introduced the topic of the poverty of the families of some of these cadets What has that to do with the question? If a crime has been committed, that crime must be punished. No judge in Court of Justice ever considers, when the crime of arson has been committed, whether the relations of the criminal are rich or poor. To bring forward such considerations is, if I may say so, to draw red herrings across the scent. Then the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War tells us that these fires are very serious things. Again, what has that to do with the matter? Nobody disputes that the fires are very serious things, but the fact that a crime is a serious crime floes not make an injustice any the less an injustice. I must express my great astonishment that in your Lordships' House such—if 1 may say so with all respect—confused ideas of justice and injustice should be put forward, and I have thought that some comment was necessary.
The noble Lord drew a distinction between Sandhurst and the public schools. He said that in the latter there was public spirit in the higher classes which enabled the scholars themselves to police the school, so that the head master was able to rely upon them for discipline. I should like to ask the noble Lord to consider how that comes about. How has that feeling been created in our public schools? Has the noble Lord never known that feeling to die away? It is kept up by the conduct of the head master and the masters generally. It is a creation of the management of the school. I know nothing of the management of Sandhurst; at the present moment I do not know even the name of a single officer in command there. I am therefore speaking absolutely without personal reference of any sort or kind when I say that I think this is a matter which those responsible for the conduct of the great military colleges should take to heart. If it be true that this public spirit has not been created at Sandhurst, it is a matter for which they should feel themselves very gravely responsible. It is not fair to put the blame of such a state of things upon the scholars, and to take none of it themselves.
Like the noble Duke, I should like to give the Under Secretary of State for War an answer to the inquiry which he made of your Lordships as to what any of you would have done in a similar case. I think the incident I am about to relate will be even clearer and more convincing than that put forward by my noble friend. I would like, first, to refer-to the answer given by the Under Secretary of State for War. I do not think I shall be accused of using exaggerated language when I say that the reply of tin1 noble Lord was the weakest possible defence to a very serious charge. The noble Lord said that and the War Office are opposed to the system of general punishment where it can be avoided.
§ VISCOUNT HAMPDEN
The only case in which it can be applied—and very properly—in the Army, as far as I know, is a case of insubordination. There was insubordination among these cadets, but it has to be borne in mind that that act of insubordination was reported on by a Committee of the War Office; a decision was taken upon that act of insubordination, and that act, whatever it was, was condoned. It is, therefore, impossible to say that the War Office can rest their action in this case upon that act of insubordination. It really comes to this, that the act which is to be inquired into and considered, and for which, possibly, these cadets are to be punished, is an act of arson, and none other. In this case there is no doubt that you are punishing a large number of innocent cadets for the offence of one person who may not be a cadet at all. I call that rank injustice.
The noble Lord asked us, "What, then, should the War Office have done? What would any of your Lordships have done? "All I can say is that, about two years ago, I, like the noble Duke, had a fire in my house. I did a commousense thing—I sent for detectives, and discovered the criminal, who afterwards got three years penal servitude. Surely the War Office might have endeavoured, by some proper system of detection, to discover the criminal in this case. They have not taken that course; they have made the 1339 innocent suffer with the guilty. I protest that this is not a question of the; great and magnificent services of the noble Earl, the Commander-in-Chief; it is a question simply of the justice or the injustice of the decision of the War Office, and I hope that either in this House or in the other, some Motion will be tabled regretting the action the War Office have taken.
§ EARL ROBERTS
It seems desirable that I should say a few words in explanation of the action which has been taken in regard to rusticating these cadets, and which has brought forth questions both in this House and in the House of Commons. When the report of the fires reached me, I sent for the Commandant at Sandhurst, and I asked him if he could tell me how these fires occurred, or whether he had suspicions of any particular person or of any class of persons, and what his views were generally upon the matter. Sir Edward Markham told me that he had no suspicions, but he said he felt sure it must be either the cadets or the servants, some person who had an intimate acquaintance with the locality. No stranger could possibly get into the quarters without the knowledge of the servants or the cadets. I was a cadet at Sandhurst myself, and I quite realised the truth of what Sir Edward Markham said. It seemed almost impossible that any-one could enter the quarters without the knowledge either of the servants or of the cadets. When the cadets were away or at their lessons or schools, the servants had orders to be about. After school some of the cadets were sure to be in some part of the building. I suggested to Sir Edward Markham that perhaps it would be advisable to employ, as I understand the noble Duke (Northumberland) employed, some person to ascertain, if possble, how fires in his own house had taken place. General Markham assured me that that was out of the question, that on a former occasion it had been tried, and that after a certain time the man had come to him and said: "All know exactly who I am; I am the only stranger in the place, and it is quite impossible for me to find out anything." The noble Lord has asked why the Secretary of State has not been 1340 mentioned. The very moment the report reached me, I went to the Secretary of State and told him everything, and he said to me, "This is a matter of discipline; I wish you to deal with it." After I had seen Sir Edward Markham I came to the conclusion that it was advisable to limit the boys' leave, and to see if we could possibly find out anything about it, being so satisfied myself that it must be someone in the building who was the cause of the fires. The order was issued restricting leave. The very next day a number of these boys broke out. That was, of course, most improper behaviour. It showed that the cadets resented the order, and that there was a want of discipline amongst them. I then convened a Committee. and sent them down to inquire into the case. The report came back to me, and the Committee exonerated the cadets so far as to say they believed the outbreak was unpremeditated, but that at the same time the cadets had behaved in a very unruly manner, and it was necessary to mark my displeasure at their conduct. The two head boys, the corporals, were the ringleaders in this outbreak, and I thought it very lenient punishment indeed to rusticate them. With regard to the others, I left it to the General to act as he thought proper. I said that I would not be unduly severe, that I thought there were some perhaps not so much to blame as the two senior corporals, and that they deserved some kind of restriction, but I left it to him to do what he liked. He confined them to their quarters for a few days. The boys at Sandhurst were coming up to take part in the King's Coronation, and I was most anxious that they should not be deprived of this honour, so after a few days I decided to communicate again with Sir Edward Markham. I sent for him, and said: "If you see no objection, on June 23 I will send you an order cancelling the restriction of leave." That order was published on the 24th in Sandhurst. The 25th was the day they were to come up to London in order to take part in the Coronation on the 26th. Unfortunately, and to my great disappointment, on the 25th another tire took place in the same block. What was to be done? You could not possibly allow the fires to go on. If they had not been discovered, they might have burnt 1341 the place down. They might have taken place at night, and lives might have been lost. Something had to lie done. Sir Edward Markham told me they had done all they possibly could about it. I sent for him again, and said, "The only thing I can think of, as you yourself are satisfied that it is either the cadets or the servants, is that the cadets and the servants must in some way be punished." I then ordered that the cadets who could prove that they were away from the buildings should be allowed to remain, but in regard to those who were anywhere near—we knew the time that the fire could have been kindled, and the exact time that it was discovered, and the whole period was only about three quarters of an hour—should be rusticated for the remainder of the term. I myself, as the noble Lord has said, am not in favour of general punishment, but I do think that at times it is inevitable if discipline is to be maintained. Serious crimes cannot be allowed to go on merely because the guilty individual cannot be identified.
All I can say to satisfy your Lordships is this, that I myself will go carefully into each individual case. I will endeavour to see that no boy shall lose time in the service by what has happened; but I could not for a moment think that it would be right to allow these boys to return wholesale to Sandhurst unless we come to some satisfactory conclusion as to how these fires took place. I. may say, further, that in the interests of discipline, I much regret the letters that have appeared in The Times. They most certainly make the cadets imagine that they have been treated harshly and unjustly and they incite them to protest against the orders of the military authorities. Now, these boys are not yet officers; but they are shortly to become officers, and what worse advice could possibly be given to a young officer than to tell him that he is to cavil at, and object to, orders given to him by his military superiors?
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I should be the last person in the world to say one word that would in any way increase the difficulties of maintaining discipline at Sandhurst or elsewhere, I fully concur in all that has 1342 been said as to the necessity of, and I would do all I could to assist in, maintaining that discipline, But I think it is worth while to put in a plea for reconsideration, even after the words which have fallen from the Commander-in-Chief. The point I wish to make is this; what justification have we for thinking that this general punishment has been rightly applied to the particular twenty-nine cadets who belong to Block "C"? Why is it to be supposed that these atrocious acts were necessarily committed by a cadet belonging to "C" Company at all?
I must go very briefly through the history of these fires. The first fire was a double fire; it took place in two rooms in Block "C." In each case it arose in a chest of drawers. In the first case much damage was done; in the other very little damage was caused. The next fire did not take place in Block "C" at all, but in Block "A," 300 yards away. The fourth fire took place in the office of the Engineering Instructor, just off his lecture room, between Blocks "A" and "C." Some Orders of the Day were hanging against the door; these were set fire to, and a big hole was burnt in the door. So far as these two middle fires are concerned, there is no case whatever for saying they proceeded from the action of a cadet in Block "C" any more than from the action of a cadet in any other part of the College. It is true that the last fire occurred in a room in Block "C." Then, the matter has been somewhat confused by the introduction of the outbreak at Camberley Fair. I do not think it is fair to mix up the incendiary crimes with the outbreak at Camberley Fair at all. That outbreak may have arisen from the feeling excited by the stoppage of general leave. Here, again, I would point out that you are unable to show that the cadets in Block "C" took a greater part in the outbreak at Camberley Fair than the cadets in any other part of the College. Take the three corporals who suffered. Two were rusticated and degraded, one was degraded. Of those three corporals, one belonged to Company "A" and two to Company "D." Of the nineteen or twenty cadets who were under restrictions, only three or four belonged to Company "C." As a matter of fact, I know of three or four 1343 cadets in Company "C" who did not take part in the Camberley Fair outbreak at all—who were in their quarters all the time; they certainly suffer very unjustly if they are punished for anything in connection with the Camberley Fair outbreak.
It seems to me that two or three considerations arise. The first is, whether a collective punishment is a good thing at all. We all of us have some experience, in one form or another, of these collective punishments, and I think we all know that they generally prove extremely unsuccessful. There is also this to be said against them—that they sin against the first principle of the administration of British justice, in that they assume the guilt of the person who is punished, and say, "You shall receive this punishment unless you can prove your innocence." That is not at all a satisfactory way of meting out punishment. Then there is another point. Assuming for the moment that a general punishment is desirable, I would ask whether the particular general punishment which has been given to these twenty-nine cadets is a suitable form of such punishment. It seems to me that if you are to have a general or collective punishment at all, it should be one that, whilst disagreeable to the persons punished, and, therefore, a real punishment, should be no drawback to their career in the future. The very essence of this particular punishment is that the cadets lose six months seniority.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Duke of DEVONSHIRE)
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
Necessarily, unless the criminal is hereafter found out. I understand that that is the effect of the concession which has been made. Of these general punishments, a particular punishment inflicted for the purpose of finding out the culprit, or of inducing somebody to confess, rather partakes of the character of a trial by torture. You are really applying the thumbscrew, as it were, to these people, in order to make them confess their knowledge, whether it be of guilt in themselves or or guilt in others.
The next point is whether this particular offence is a suitable one for punishment by collective punishment. To that 1344 I think the answer must be "No." To say that criminal acts such as repeated attempts at arson can be properly punished by the rustication of twenty-nine cadets for a term, is a proposition impossible of maintenance. The punishment, if it is to be taken as a punishment for arson, is utterly inadequate. It is no punishment at all, whereas the infliction of this loss of time on twenty-nine innocent men, as they may be, is a very great hardship indeed.
I do not want to press upon the House anything that would savour of a desire for the relaxation of due discipline, but I would press upon your Lordships the desirability of further inquiry into this matter, with a view to changing the punishment which has been meted out, to replacing these cadets in the position they have lost, under, as I think, somewhat hard circumstances, and to taking more effective steps to find out and severely punish the man who is really guilty of the crime for which these twenty-nine cadets are now suffering.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I think your Lordships will not desire much to prolong the discussion on this case, which, whatever we may think about it, we must all regard as one of a particularly distressing and unsatisfactory nature. I should have thought that even those who were most inclined to espouse warmly the case of these young men would have been content to leave it where it was left by the Commander-in-Chief at the end of the extremely convincing and temperate speech he delivered just now. I understood the Commander-in-Chief to tell your Lordships that he was prepared to review these cases himself with the utmost care, and that he hoped to be able so to arrange the matter that none of these gentlemen cadets would suffer permanently in seniority in consequence of what has taken place.
I wish, however, to say one word with regard to a complaint which was made by Lord Heneage against my noble friend the Under Secretary for War, to the effect that during his speech my noble friend had ignored the Secretary of State for War, and had thrown the whole of the responsibility for what had occurred on the shoulders of the Commander-in-Chief. I no not think that was a very 1345 just or a very generous complaint to make. My noble friend must be aware that, under the existing constitution of the War Office, discipline is a matter that particularly concerns the Commander-in-Chief, and which concerns him more at this moment than it did twelve, or at any rate eighteen, months ago, it was, indeed, in no slight degree owing to the discussions in this House that the Order in Council of 1895 was modified, and that discipline which, under that Order in Council, lay almost entirely with the Adjutant General was placed under the direct control of the Commander-in-Chief. And although I am the first to contend—and I have done so in this House—that for any action of the War Office the Secretary of State for War must be primarily and above all others responsible, I do not see that my noble friend was unreasonable when he pointed out that this was particularly a case of discipline, that the Commander-in-Chief had personally investigated it, and had made recommendations which received the concurrence of the Secretary of State for War.
This discussion has turned really upon a single point—whether what has been described as general or collective punishments are or are not admissible. The noble Lord who introduced the subject spoke of the vicious principle of general punishments. I dislike general punishments as much as the noble Lord. They are at best but a very clumsy expedient: they involve the punishment of the innocent as well as the guilty, they create a great amount of sympathy with and feeling for the offenders; and I go as far as any Member of this House in holding that punishments of this kind should be resorted to only in the most extreme and inevitable cases. But we must all of us, in the course of our experience, have known cases where such punishment has been resorted to; and, although it may not have exactly the effect we might desire from it, there is one effect which it is calculated to produce, and which I do not think has been referred to at all during this discussion—I mean it acts as a deterrent. The knowledge that punishment of this kind can be inflicted is, at any rate, likely to discourage other offenders from repeat- 1346 ing the original offence. In this case, as the Commander-in-Chief said, if there was to be no general punishment, what was to happen? The Commander-in Chief demolished altogether the suggestion that the remedy lay in the employment of detectives. The fact is that this is a case where you had eithert o resort to general punishment or to allow these incidents to pass by altogether unpunished.
The noble Lord who spoke first described these fires at the Royal Military College as queer incidents, and he spoke of them as resulting either from accident or design he—did not know which.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Well, that point has been investigated, and I am able to say that the military authorities are absolutely certain that these fires were not accidental; whatever they were, they were not accidents. The military authorities, therefore, had to consider what was necessary in order to enforce discipline and to ensure the safety of the premises, and they resorted to this expedient. In so doing I believe they took the only course which was open to them; it is a course which has its unfortunate side, but I cannot help hoping, after what we have heard from the Commander-in-Chief, that he may find it possible so to temper justice with mercy as to prevent any of these youths, whose guilt cannot be clearly established, having their careers in the Army permanently marred, by the fact that they were at the college when these unfortunate occurrences took place.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I rise for one practical purpose, and that is, to ask the noble Marquess what it is the Commander-in-Chief has promised. I understand him to say he would go into every case personally. What does that mean? Does it mean that the Commander-in-Chief, or the Secretary for War, is prepared now to take the course which some of us think might have been taken before, of taking evidence from the cadets who were in the building at the time, and of taking their declarations on the subject of their innocence or their guilt? What does the promise of the Commander-in-Chief amount to?
§ EARL SPENCER
Merely to enforce what my noble friend has said, I should like to point out that the gallant Field Marshal said—
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I should like an answer to my question; otherwise, I have not finished my remarks.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The noble Earl wants an answer. I am afraid that the only person who can answer his question is the Commander-in-Chief himself, and he has left the House. I have endeavoured to reproduce as nearly as I could the words which fell from the Commander-in-Chief.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I am absolutely bewildered. I remember the declarations of the noble Marquess when he was at the head of the War Office, that we were absolutely forbidden to think of the Commander-in-Chief. Although I hail the appearance of the Commander-in-Chief in his corporate capacity, and although I quite admit that since that time there has been a new Minute as to the duties of the Commander-in-Chief, I really cannot suppose that the whole policy of the Government in a matter which has created such universal interest is under the hat of the Commander-in-Chief and has left the House with the Commander-in-Chief. Are we to understand that this is an individual question, simply, a matter which the Commander-in-Chief has settled off his own bat, to use a popular colloquialism, and that the Government knows nothing of what it is the Commander-in-Chief intends to do?
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I will tell the noble Lord how I understand the matter. I understand that the Commander-in-Chief, being responsible for the discipline of the Army, offered to your Lordships an assurance as to the course which he will recommend to the Secretary for War, and which it will be for the Secretary for War to adopt or not, as he thinks proper.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Now we are getting into a denser fog than ever. I understood that the Commander-in-Chief was going to make a separate examination in each separate case, and was to take 1348 care that no unnecessary hardship should accrue. What I now understand from the noble Marquess, the late Secretary for, War, is that he understands that the Commander-in-Chief will make a recommendation, the nature of which he does not know, to the Government, and which the Government will then consider. The noble Marquess, a moment ago, was surprised that any discussion should continue to smoulder after the speech of the Commander-in-Chief, which, he said, was so satisfactory, and yet now he shows himself to be totally unable to interpret that speech himself.
This is a matter in which, for my part, I certainly do not wish to interfere, but which involves very grave issues. I put aside altogether the extraordinary condition of affairs in which we are left by the speeches of the noble Marquess and the Commander-in-Chief, who seem to be acting in total independence of each other. The whole matter is one of gravity, and I cannot join in the censures which have been freely lavished by the Government on those who have raised this question in the daily Press. It seems to me that in this discussion there has been a tendency to contuse two or three incidents which should have been kept perfectly clear and distinct. In the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Carrington, there was, perhaps, a tendency to make too long a historical statement of the transactions which have led up to these untoward occurrences. But you had the occurrence at Camberley, which seems to me to have been of a very venial description. I must honestly say that if the noble Marquess looks back on the career of those who were with him at Oxford, he will doubtless find incidents not wholly inconsistent with such operations. At any rate, I myself should plead guilty to being able to tax my memory to that extent. But the incident at Camberley was followed by an inquiry. That inquiry appears to have laid it down that there was some mischief afloat, but after consultation between the Commander-in-Chief and the Governor, it was thought best to pass a sponge over the past. Then there came this fire, which is the real topic before us. Now, into this fire, and the circumstances connected with it, there does not seem to have been any regular inquiry at all.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
On that occasion I understand that three cadets were acquitted. But that was a minor inquiry compared with the great forces of the State which were put into operation in regard to the Camberley incident. What did the Government determine— I do not know whether it is the Government or the Commander-in-Chief—I have got so bewildered by the various statements that it is impossible to ascertain who it is—but the great superior forces which dominate in this matter, what did they determine? They determined that 29 cadets who happened to be pursuing their studios in the building at the time of the fire should, without discrimination, be rusticated. People talk of the ulterior results which this incident is likely to have. I for one think there will be this result. It will be extremely unfavourable to study at the Royal Military College, because if those who were practising games in the field are exonerated from any unfortunate incidents which may occur within the walls of the building, the net results will be, if I may prophesy from the records of the past, that in future there will be a wild rush on the part of the cadets to extricate themselves, at the first possible moment, from the walls of this fated college, and seek the fields, where they can enjoy a game of cricket, lest by pursuing the studies to which the college is consecrated, they find themselves rusticated for an occurrence with which they had no contact or dealing whatever.
We have heard many platitudes and a great deal of general moralising on the subject of general punishments. I put all that aside. General punishments may be right or they may be wrong, but surely there is a way of applying general punishments so that they may have as little as possible of the injustice that is inherent in them. In the first place, you take it for granted in this 1350 case that the crime, the outrage, or whatever you choose to call it, must have been the work of one of the cadets of the "C" Company. To the ordinary, natural, uninstructed civilian intelligence, a different conclusion would have been obvious, namely, that if an incendiary fire was intended by any ill-disposed persons it would not take place in that part of the building with which he was specially connected, and to which a penalty was likely to attach. That is not convincing, but it is prima facie. The next point is this. These young men are not, it is true, officers, but they are as nearly as possible officers. They are in receipt of the King's pay. They are presumably gentlemen. In a month or two their honours would have been believed in the Army and in a court, and I do not see why their honours should not have been believed on this occasion. Was there any attempt to obtain from those young men any sworn declaration, or any declaration on their honour, as to their participation or non-participation in this outrage? I believe there was none. If that be so, I confess I think a cruel injury has been inflicted on those innocent young men, and on their still more innocent parents.
The noble Duke said the question of finance was outside the case. I cannot agree with him. It is quite true that any moral stigma that may attach to these young men—though I confess I do not think, under the circumstances, any stigma will so attach to them — is a graver punishment than any pecuniary loss. But still I think that that is a matter which we are entitled to consider. Many of them arc the sons of poor parents; many of them have absolutely come to the end of the resources that they had set apart for their education. Some are the sons of poor officers or poor clergymen, who have to count every shilling that they spend, and by this somewhat arbitrary decision they are, some of them, deprived altogether of the chance of entering the Army, and in any case mulcted with severe pecuniary fines.
This Government has one peculiarity, which it enjoys more than any other Government of which I have ever had any experience. Their defences are not always adequate—to my mind, they are seldom so—but they always set up one plea: "What is it that you would have us do? What is it that you would advise us 1351 to do? What is it that you would have done yourselves?" I do not think that I have ever hoard a discussion on the conduct of the Government in which that plea has not been advanced, and I was not surprised to hear it advanced on this occasion. I cannot say—not being responsible for discipline in the Army, or for any discipline, having no contact with Sandhurst or with its traditions—what I should have thought it necessary to do had I been in either of those positions; but I do think this, that in a case which involves the future of thirty young men destined soon to be officers of the British Army, I should at least have made a personal inquiry of each of them as to their innocence or guilt, which would have placed me in a better position to judge as to the extremity of the punishment that they were to undergo, or whether any general punishment was necessary or not. As it is, the only consolation that it appears tome the Government can offer to them is that they will have, when the Recess is over, three months more of the education at Sandhurst, which, if the Blue-book issued under the authority of the Government is to be believed, leaves very much to be desired.
THE DUCK OF DEVONSHIRE
If we had not received the assurance of the noble Earl that he had only risen to ask a practical question on a very limited point, I should have been inclined to think that he had risen for the purpose of making a speech on the whole question. But as I cannot gather that he added anything to the arguments which have been already several times adduced and replied to by two or three speakers on this side of the House, I do not propose to follow him through the whole of that speech. There is one observation, bow-ever, which occurs to me to make, which is, that if the noble Earl feels so strongly as he appears to do upon this subject, and is so impressed, as he appears to be, by the extreme unfairness and injustice of the course which has been pursued towards a certain number of cadets at Sandhurst, I am rather surprised that he should confine himself to making a speech in a discussion raised by a question, and that he should not take the course of impeaching the conduct of the Government and taking the sense of the House upon what he considers to be so manifest an injustice and an act of such impolicy. 1352 I do not know whether it would be considered in the interests of the public service or in the interests of discipline that this House should be invited to express an opinion on what are, to all intents and purposes, questions of discipline, just as much as if this House were invited to undertake the revision of a trial by Court-martial in the Army. This is a question of discipline as has been mostly distinctly indicated by the Commander-in-Chief, for which the Commander-in-Chief takes, as far as he is able, the whole responsibility. The noble Earl seems to think that it is in the interests of the Army that Parliament should not acknowledge the Commander-in - Chief as the chief authority for discipline, and should take upon itself the duty of revising the decisions which are come to on subjects purely of discipline by the Commander-iii-Chief, and by those who are responsible for the action of the Commander-in-Chief. There is only one other observation that I wish to make on the arguments of the noble Earl, and that is in reference to that part of his speech in which he said the proceedings at Camberley Fair were, in his opinion, of a venial description. Taken by themselves, they might have been; but in connection with what events did that affair take place? There had already been several incendiary fires, in consequence of which the authorities considered it necessary to issue orders involving some restrictions of leave and other privileges. It does not appear that the cadets who took part in this Camberley disturbance took a very grave view of the occurrence, in consequence of which these orders had been issued. One would have thought that a body of gentlemen, amongst whom an offence of the gravity of an incendiary fire had taken place, would have been the first to welcome any steps which might have been taken by the authorities for the purpose of preventing such a grave occurrence in the future—an occurrence for which they might be held to have some responsibility. But far from taking that view of these orders, a body of cadets appear to have resented them, and to have taken the first opportunity of indulging in a somewhat disorderly 1353 and insubordinate protest against them. From that point of view, it does appear to me that the incident at Camberley Fair, which might have been a very trifling matter if it had not been connected with one of very much greater gravity, cannot be held to be altogether unimportant in connection with the circumstances of this case. As I have said, I do not notice that the noble Earl has brought before us any point which has not been fully discussed in the course of this debate, and I will therefore conclude by expressing my hope that if the noble Earl takes such a grave view of the matter as from his speech he appears to take, he wall not content himself with that protest, but will invite the House to give its judgment upon the conduct of the War Office and of the Commander-in-Chief.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.