§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Order be postponed till after the Notice of Motion for nominating the Committee on the Army before Sebastopol."
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
Mr. Speaker, according to established usage and in conformity with a salutary practice, having ceased to be one of the confidential servants of the Crown, and now only holding office until my successor is appointed, I think it a duty incumbent upon me, with the permission of the House, to state the reasons which have induced me to take the step to which I have alluded. And, Sir, I have thought it best to avail myself of the opportunity when you have a Motion in your hands, to tender this explanation; because I am afraid it will be necessary for me to trespass for a short time upon the indulgence of the House, and in setting forth the reasons which have actuated me I may be driven to make some statements and use some arguments that may require reply; and, on the whole, this appeared to me the fairest and best opportunity for the purpose. I am more disposed to take this course because, having recently suffered from very severe illness, from which I am only imperfectly recovered, I was unequal to the task of attending in my place on the occasion when my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Roebuck) moved for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry, which Committee the House is now about to nominate. I did not take part in the debate which preceded the division on that Motion, and I was unable to record my vote on that occasion. I hope, therefore, I may crave the indulgence of the House while I enter into some of the reasons which have led me to think that the further prosecution of the inquiry by the Select Committee is, in the present circumstances of the country, inexpedient.
Sir, I may at once state that I observe 1744 that the Government has now adopted the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. According to a practice well known in this House, the original names proposed by the hon. and learned Member having been withdrawn, we are now about to consider an amended list of eleven names, which, for the purpose of removing all ambiguity, I think I may consider as a list fully discussed and finally settled between the hon. and learned Member and the Government, with the view of appointing a fairly balanced Select Committee. I must make an observation, as a prelude to what I have to state to the House, with respect to the composition of this Committee. If the executive Government has, on the whole, made up its mind that a Committee of this vast importance should be appointed under present circumstances, I regret extremely not to find, among the list of names now to be proposed, the name of any member of Her Majesty's Government included in it. I have a strong opinion, that if this inquiry is to be conducted into circumstances so delicate, with due regard to tile interests of this country, there would have been great advantage in having a Minister of the Crown present on the Committee, in order that if subjects of inquiry should be opened which, from his knowledge of our foreign relations, might appear to him inexpedient and dangerous, warning might be given to the Committee, and some influence exercised to check the investigation when trenching on dangerous grounds. But, Sir, it is not only the absence of any member of the Government from the Committee proposed to be appointed on which it is my duty to comment, I object to the appointment of a Select Committee. I think, from the very circumstances attending the nature of such a Committee, there are practical dangers at the present moment with reference to the proposed inquiry. You, Sir, will bear me out that it is quite in the discretion of the majority of the Committee now about to be proposed, consisting of eleven Members—it is quite open to a majority of that Committee to decide whether the inquiry shall be secret or open. If six out of these eleven Members should be of opinion that strangers ought not to be present, this Committee becomes a Secret Committee. If, on the other hand, their decision should be the opposite, it would then be an open Committee. Now, let me regard this question in its double aspect. If it should be a Secret Committee, 1745 all cheek of public opinion, as operating on the inquiry, will be withdrawn, the proceedings of the Committee will be unknown, persons will be inculpated by evidence without having the opportunity of defending themselves or of preparing for their defence, of cross-examining witnesses or of rebutting false accusations. Until the termination of the inquiry, the tendency of the evidence will remain secret and unknown. If it should be an open Committee, then from day to day the evidence will be published, most adverse comments of a party character will be applied to the evidence as published; and again, the most erroneous impressions, bearing hard on individuals at a distance occupying high situations, and fatal to their character and position, will be created, without their having the power of cross-examination or defence. In the conduct of the inquiry, too, there will be no appeal from any Member of the Committee to this House for the guidance of the Committee: when once this House has made a delegation to the Committee, there can be no appeal from its decisions, until the final Report has been presented. Now, Sir, I must say, considering the gravity of the subject, its immense importance, and its bearing on interests of magnitude almost uprecedented, such delegation to eleven Members appears to me to be a most dangerous course. I am not aware of any precedent whatever in our Parliamentary history for such a delegation or for the appointment of such a Committee. I am aware that rarely, but still occasionally, inquiries of this character have been instituted at the bar of this House. I should infinitely prefer such an inquiry to the one proposed. The investigation then would proceed in the presence of the public; in its conduct it would have the advantage of the intelligence and the knowledge of many Members of this House with respect to the subject-matter of inquiry; there would be publicity, but under check, through the medium of the ordinary channels of information; and, as between a Select Committee and an inquiry at the bar of this House, I should not hesitate to give my preference to the latter. An inquiry of this kind by a Select Committee is unprecedented; whereas, for an inquiry at the bar of the House there are some few precedents, though not at all applicable to the case now in hand. I believe that at a remote period in the reign of William, an inquiry was instituted with respect to the conduct of a naval expedition; and at a later period another inquiry 1746 was opened with respect to the Walcheren expedition. These were inquiries at the bar of the House; but in both cases the military operations were not pending, but were concluded, and the generals and admirals whose characters were at stake were present to defend themselves. In the Walcheren ease, Lord Chatham appeared at the bar of this House, and had an opportunity of stating Ids case and of being heard. But as the matter now stands, this question will he thrown down on the floor of a Committee; the condition of the army in the Crimea is to be time subject of inquiry, and no other instructions are given to the Committee. I understand that there were some instructions of which notice was given in the name of an hon. Member, but without his authority, and he is not now prepared, if I am correctly informed, to move those instructions. There is, it is true, an instruction to be moved by the hon. Member for Invernessshire (Mr. H. Baillie), and if there had been any doubt that the object of this Committee was to inquire into the conduct of our admirals and officers, that instruction so extending, in express terms, the scope of the inquiry would prevent all mistake on the point. Far be it from me to contest the power of this House in its largest sense. I know not any object so minute as to be below the notice of this House, or so exalted or so remote as to be beyond its reach. I am not one of those who have a secret desire to cut clown the authority or power of the House of Commons. My whole political life has been spent within these walls, and the great effort of my youth and of my mature age—I hold it not to be a matter of regret—has been to labour to increase the democratic influence of this House. Within its proper sphere no man more rejoices than myself at its power. It controls the appointment of the Ministers of the Crown, and, in its legislative capacity, it is equal and co-ordinate with the Crown and the House of Peers. It is greater even than the House of Peers with respect to taxation and to the supply of ways and means. Even as the grand inquest of the nation, I admit its constitutional authority; and I know no limit to that authority, except when in its exercise this House, in an ill-advised moment, trenches on the legitimate constitutional functions of the Executive.
I thought, Sir, on the first night of the debate, when this Committee was moved for, that it was admitted on almost every side of the House that the Motion for 1747 inquiry was only intended as a vote of censure on the servants of the Crown. I remember well the speech of the noble Lord late the President of the Council, who, on the whole, did not think himself able, satisfactorily to his conscience, to defend the entire conduct of his former colleagues; but as a vote of censure by implication, in the broadest manner he said it was impossible for him to support this Committee of Inquiry, because its institution, in his opinion, was incompatible with the legitimate and necessary functions of the Executive. It was stated, also, by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard), that he supported the Motion because he thought there was great ground for accusation against the Executive, and it was the first Parliamentary opportunity that had occurred of recording by his vote an opinion strongly entertained by him. He, too, added, if I mistake not—and he will correct me if I misrepresent him—that he did not anticipate any advantage from this inquiry, and only used the Motion as a mode of expressing want of confidence in the Government. I was present on Friday evening, when I heard the speech, which, on account of its ability, I should wish to have uttered myself—a speech far better than I can hope to make—of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir G. Grey), who put this question in a manner not to be gainsaid. He appealed to the House, and said—" Let us come to an understanding on this matter. I cannot believe you mean to press this as a substantive vote of inquiry; but you only mean it to be a censure on the Executive." That appeal was responded to by loud cheers on the whole Opposition side of the House. It was understood to be solely a vote of censure—it was supported as such—and was so regarded both by those who supported it and by those who opposed it. I am sure the House will permit me to state what was my own impression. I have declared that such was my impression at the time, and I am sorry to say that, looking back upon what has since occurred, I have not changed my opinion—that the Motion was proposed in this sense and carried in this sense. Well, Sir, how was the vote of this House regarded by Lord Aberdeen's Government? It was treated as a vote of censure, and acted upon in that manner, and one and all, Lord Aberdeen and his colleagues, took the only constitutional course which was open to them, and the following morning they tendered their re- 1748 signations. Now, allow me to ask, if censure is inherent in that Motion for inquiry, how are the circumstances altered by anything that has since taken place? If it was a vote of censure then, surely the nomination of the Committee is a vote of censure now. If it was right not to submit to that vote of censure in January, how can it be right to submit tamely and without any contest to the nomination of the Committee in the month of February? It appears to me that the ground is the same, the intention is the same, the objections are the same. There is, however, some novelty in the course now adopted. Hitherto, generally, when votes of censure have been proposed upon Governments, certain Parliamentary courses, well known and commonly recognised, have been adopted. A Motion that the House should resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House on the state of the nation is a recognised "notice to quit" to the Government occupying those benches. That is a vote of censure in a direct form—unambiguous, not to be mistaken; but the misfortune in the present case is, that a course has been adopted which is unprecedented, which is ambiguous, and which is capable of two constructions, though, as I contend, the only legitimate construction is that which was first put upon it, and upon which Lord Aberdeen's Government acted—namely, that it was clearly intended to be a vote of censure.
Well, it may be said—has nothing since occurred to alter the aspect of the Motion? Yes, much has since occurred. Lord Aberdeen, who, when the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield was brought forward, was the Prime Minister, upon the expressed and recorded opinion of this House, ceased to be a Member of the Administration. The Duke of Newcastle, yielding also to the implied censure of this House, no longer occupies a place in Her Majesty's Government. My noble Friend the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) supplies the place of Lord Aberdeen; but, although he supplies that place, he concurred with his colleagues in the Administration in regarding the vote for the appointment of the Committee as a vote of censure, he yielded to that vote, and he also retired. Lord Panmure supplies the place of the Duke of Newcastle. With the exception, I think, of Lord Panmure there is no Member of the present Government who was not a Member of the late Government—I mean as far as regards the Cabinet; all the Members of the present 1749 Government in the Cabinet, who fill offices of the greatest importance in the State, with the exception of Lord Panmure, are the identical persons who were Members of Lord Aberdeen's Administration. Allow me, in passing, to observe that on Friday last, when the noble Lord at the head of the Government opened the policy of his Cabinet, he appeared to me distinctly to recognise the existence of this Committee of Inquiry, if pressed, as a difficulty not to be lightly regarded, because he tendered and volunteered to the House the functions of the Executive in lieu of the prosecution of an inquiry by a Committee. But it may be said to rue, "How came you to accept office under the noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton if these were your impressions with respect to the proposed inquiry?" Now, I wish to state the ease with perfect frankness. When the noble Viscount paid me the great—the undeserved—compliment of wishing me to become a Member of his Administration, I was confined to my bed, and I was not in a condition to carry on protracted correspondence or to make many inquiries. I will tell the House, however, that there was one difficulty which with me was cardinal, and upon which I required to be entirely satisfied. I wished to know from my noble Friend now at the head of the Government, whether there was to be any change in the foreign policy pursued by the Earl of Aberdeen's Administration, to which we, as colleagues, had given our united consent; and also whether, with reference to the negotiations now pending at Vienna, any alteration was contemplated with respect to the terms which, in our opinion, were held consistent with the attainment of a safe and honourable peace. I thought it my duty to satisfy myself upon these points; and my noble Friend, in the most frank manner, gave me explanations which were entirely satisfactory. Being satisfied, therefore, on these points, which I considered those of main importance, I made no further difficulty upon any other subject, nor did I make any other inquiry whatever. I frankly said, being satisfied on these points, "I will do my very best, if you think my services can be useful to support and to sustain your Government." Sir, perhaps greater caution might wisely have been exercised by me with respect to this Committee; but I was of opinion—and until very lately I continued to entertain that opinion—that two Ministers, my dearest friends, whom I trust, whom I 1750 have trusted long, and whom I believe to be as blameless and as trustworthy as any Ministers who ever served Her Majesty-I mean the Earl of Aberdeen and the Duke of Newcastle—having incurred, as I think, unjustly, public obloquy, and having been sacrificed to the wishes of the country and to the pleasure of this House; and the national desire and the opinion of this House being, as I believed, strongly in favour of the elevation of my noble Friend now at the head of Her Majesty's Councils to the chief post in the Government—Lord Panmure, who is conversant with the administration of the army, having supplied the place of the Duke of Newcastle—I was of opinion that changes had been thus effected which might have been satisfactory to this House and to the country, especially when, coincident with these changes, an announcement of great administrative reforms was made.
I will not dwell upon what more immediately concerns the department I have just vacated; but, considering the novelty and the difficulty of the immense operations in which we have been engaged, it was impossible that errors should not have been committed, or that imperfections should not be discovered. With regard to naval transport, I believe that errors have been committed, and that the service has not been performed in a manner altogether satisfactory. Well, while I was serving Her Majesty, I, on my own responsibility, applied a remedy which I believe will be efficacious. I have, in that department over which I lately presided, established a board specially for the performance of these duties, under the control of the Board of Admiralty. The office of Secretary at War has been abolished; great changes have been made and are in progress in the military departments; the General commanding the engineers before Sebastopol has been recalled, and another officer now commands that force. With regard to the Quartermaster General's and the Adjutant General's departments of our army in the Crimea, a chief of the staff has been sent out; Commissioners have been appointed, emanating from the Crown—the legitimate authority, to which I attach great importance—and from whose services much good may be anticipated. I certainly believed, until very lately, that the changes to which I have referred would have satisfied the public mind, and would, in the opinion of this House, have superseded the necessity of proceeding with an inquiry before a Committee. 1751 I am aware that I may be charged with want of foresight, and I readily submit to that imputation, but I must claim for myself the right of entertaining an unchanged opinion with regard to the danger of the prosecution of this inquiry. In the first place, Sir, I believe it to be unnecessary. I am satisfied that the action of the Executive Government, possessing the confidence of this House, would be more efficient, more speedy, more certain than that of a Committee of Inquiry. While the Gentlemen composing that Committee, without any official knowledge, were picking out their way as best they might, without the guidance or assistance of any servant of the Crown, and were putting their questions, the Government would be deciding; and while the Committee were seeking how to reform, the Executive Government, using the power of the Crown, and possessing the confidence of this House, might rapidly, surely, and safely effect all the changes required. I have ventured to point out what has already been done with reference to the Naval and Military Departments. I am quite sure that more might be done, more ought to be done, and more would be done, if the Government were not hampered by the fear that this Committee, exercising functions not merely of a legislative character, but interfering with the Executive, would retard their proceedings and cramp their operations.
I have said that I consider this Committee unnecessary. I have a far stronger objection to it—I consider it to be unjust. Will the House bear with me while I say a few words on this point? The Executive Government of this country, armed with the authority of the Crown, appoints all the admirals, all the generals, all the officers in the army and navy on the most distant stations and in foreign parts. The servants of the Crown have the power of selection; they have the power of control; they have the power of investigation; they have the power of removal; they have the power of punishment through the means of tribunals organised by the Legislature of this country. I must say that I think officers so chosen, so controlled, so subject to the authority of the Ministers of the Crown, have a correlative claim. I think that the Executive Government, the servants of the Crown, are the protectors and defenders of those officers from any other inquiry behind their backs.
I have said that I think this inquiry is 1752 unjust; I have said that I think it dangerous—and I will show you how I consider it particularly dangerous in present circumstances. Will the House permit me to refer to an allegation which was made against me, with reference to my own department, from the very place where I now stand, on the last occasion that I had the honour of addressing it, that I was highly culpable as regards the blockade of the Black Sea? I met that accusation in my place, and on the spot. I told the House what were the circumstances which had led to delay during three months before the expedition sailed from Varna to the Crimea. I explained to the House how in the conduct of that expedition the whole naval forces of France and England were concentrated; how impossible it was to execute until October the purpose of instituting a blockade; and then, going to the very verge consistent with my duty, I shadowed forth the danger of prosecuting the inquiry further with regard to the reasons of subsequent delay. The House, with its accustomed prudence and indulgence, abstained from pressing further, and the statement led, I hope and believe, to no dangerous consequences whatever. But suppose a Committee, having called the admiral charged with these operations before them, presses that inquiry, does not exercise the forbearance shown by the House, seeks to go into details, which the House did not call upon me more fully to explain. Under the compulsion of a Select Committee, he is forced to disclose the reasons and the incidents which led to that delay. It depends on the prudence of six out of eleven gentlemen whether those inquiries are not so prosecuted. If, unhappily, imprudence should prevail, I state positively I am confident that inquiry will run directly into questions connected with the policy and conduct of our great and powerful ally. It is of vast importance that there should be no misunderstanding whatever, and I warn the House that in delegating this investigation, unaccompanied with any check or control, to the chance-medley prudence of a majority of six out of eleven gentlemen, it may involve this country in consequences, the fatal result of which cannot now be foreseen. I have said this only with respect to the navy. Let me carry this warning one step further, and let me just allude to the position of Lord Raglan, which bears directly on the question of the State of the army in the Crimea. I imagine, Sir, that of all the difficulties in which the most splendid human talents 1753 can be tried the successful command of an army in the presence of a superior force of an enemy is, perhaps, the greatest. The probability of success in command rests mainly on undivided authority. I may say, as has been truly said by one of the greatest commanders of ancient times, "Id est viri et duels, non deesse Fortnum præbenti se, et oblata case flectere ad consilium,"—that is, the operation of one undivided superior intellect; but if the command of an army is to be conducted by the side of an ally, there must be constant communications involving the most complicated considerations; there must be difference of opinion; there must be more or less compromise of opinion—always a weakness in itself—in the distribution of the relative forces there must be inequality. I will not go further. I have shadowed forth the dangers with respect to the navy. Apply these considerations with respect to the command of an army in from of Sebastopol; and, without further expression from me in this, the most intelligent audience that can be addressed in the world, there is not a gentleman who will not feel within himself the nature and the extent of the danger.
Well, Sir, but it is said, this inquiry, whatever the danger, is irresistible. Now, I denier to that doctrine. It is in itself the most dangerous doctrine which under any form of government call be propounded; all difficulties become irresistible when those whose duty it is to confront them have not firmness to resist them, and, yielding to dangers which, if they had been firm, might have been overcome, they are then burned into courses against their better judgment and their conscientious convictions.
I know that I am subject to the most painful of all taunts, "You are about to leave your colleagues in a moment of immense difficulty, and it is in moments of immense difficulty that the bonds of political union ought to be strongest, and ought religiously to be observed." But I must be permitted—and I hope I may say it without offence to my Friends on the Treasury bench—to deny that I am the deserter on this occasion. I took my stand in common with them in the resolution to resist this inquiry. It was resisted. The position was taken and firmly occupied. I still stand to the guns in that position, not believing it to be untenable. They abandon the position because they pronounce it to be untenable; they spike the guns and flee amain. Allow 1754 me still further to observe that I cannot believe that it is right in Ministers of the Crown, if they should be convinced that any given course is dangerous, because resistance may be unpopular—because resistance may be declared impossible—that they should not give this House the opportunity and the country the opportunity of reconsidering a foregone conclusion. I do not know a more honourable duty on the part of individuals, and it is a paramount duty on the part of a Government, on rare occasions such as this, in which men are acting from proper motives which will bear scrutiny, to stand up and avow their opinions, take the chances of failure or success, but, above all things be firm and manful in the bold execution of their trust. It is in the painful discharge of that duty that I appear before you. It would be unseemly, even if my strength would permit it, to detain you at much greater length. I know nothing more honourable than the service of the Crown, when united with colleagues in whose principles and opinions you agree, and when in possession of the confidence of the people. I know nothing more dishonourable or painful than assenting to measures, adopted by a majority of your colleagues, which you consider dangerous, which your conscience and judgment tell you are unjustillable, and, I must add, when you have the painful conviction that the confidence of this House is no longer reposed in the Cabinet of which you are a Member. It may be said, what right have you to make this last inference of want of confidence, when the Navy Estimates, with a large increase, have been voted, and the large Estimates, with a still larger increase, have been also voted? Sir, I have been long a Member of this House. There are indications which are not to be mistaken, and I should conceal the truth if I did not state that, having sat on that bench only three or four evenings ago, when great changes were announced to conciliate individuals and win the favour of this House, I had come to the painful conclusion—painful, indeed, under present circumstances—that the Administration, of which until to-day I was a Member, does not possess in a greater degree the confidence of the House than that Administration which only a few weeks since retired because it was convinced that this confidence had been withdrawn.
Sir, I said I would speak without reserve that which I felt and which I believe. By your kind indulgence I have executed 1755 my purpose imperfectly, but honestly. Honeyed words at parting with colleagues are almost always nauseous, generally delusive, and, like lovers' vows under similar circumstances, they are unavailing and are laughed to scorn. I shall not, therefore, make any professions; but it shall be my endeavour to mark by my conduct my sense of the responsibility incurred by the step I have just taken. With my colleagues, from whom I am now severed, I have acted for two years. They are my friends. I esteem them. I value them. I could not be led by them to take a step which my judgment and my conscience disapproved; but if my leaning towards them, instead of being strong and friendly, were infinitely more adverse than it is, under the present circumstances I should hold it to be my paramount duty to give the humble support which is in my power to the Queen's Executive Government, however constituted. I shall, therefore, religiously abstain from anything that can partake of a factious character. I shall hope to give a cordial support generally to the measures of the Government. I will make no further professions, but, instead of professions, I will endeavour to prove by my conduct that with me the safety of the State, in the midst of a great emergency, is paramount to every other consideration; and I can only now thank the House cordially for the patience with which they have listened to the expression of opinions, shared, I believe, only by a small minority.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I am one of those forming the majority of the House, I suspect, who are disposed to look upon our present position as one of more than ordinary gravity. I am one, also, of those, not probably constituting so great a majority of the House, who regret extremely the circumstances which have obliged the right hon. Gentlemen who are now upon this bench to secede from the Government of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton. I do not take upon me for a moment to condemn them; because I think, if there be anything in which a man must judge for himself, it is whether he should take office if it be offered to him, whether he should secede from office, whether he should secede under a particular leader, or engage in the service of the Crown, or retain office in a particular emergency. In such cases I think that the decision must be left to his own conscience and his own judgment; and I should be the last person to condemn any one for the decision 1756 to which he might come. I think, however, that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is one which the House cannot have listened to without being convinced that he and his retiring colleagues have been moved to the course which they have taken by a deliberate judgment upon this question, which, whether it be right or wrong, is fully explained, and is honest to the House and to the country. Now, Sir, I said that I regretted their secession, because I am one of those who do not wish to see the Government of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton overthrown. The House knows well, and nobody knows better than the noble Lord, that I have never been one of his ardent and enthusiastic supporters. I have disapproved much of his policy both at home and abroad; but I hope that I do not bear to him, as I can honestly say that I do not bear to any man in this House—for from all I have received unnumbered courtesies—any feeling that takes even the tinge of a personal animosity; and, even if I did, at a moment so grave as this, no feeling of a personal character whatever should prevent me from doing that which I think now, of all times, we are called upon to do—that which we honestly and conscientiously believe to be for the permanent interests of the country. We are in this position, that for a month past, at least, there has been a chaos in the regions of the Administration. Nothing can be more embarrassing—I had almost said nothing can be more humiliating—than the position which we offer to the country; and I am afraid that the knowledge of our position is not confined to the limits of these islands. It will be admitted that we want a Government; that if the country is to be saved from the breakers which now surround it, there must be a Government; and it devolves upon the House of Commons to rise to the gravity of the occasion, and to support any man who is conscious of his responsibility, and who is honestly offering and endeavouring to deliver the country from the embarrassment in which we now find it. We are at war, and I shall not say one single sentence with regard to the policy of the war or its origin, and I know not that I shall say a single sentence with regard to the conduct of it; but the fact is that we are at war with the greatest military Power, probably, of the world, and that we are carrying on our operations at a distance of 3,000 miles from home, and in the neighbourhood of the strongest fortifications of that great military empire. I will not stop to criticise—though it really 1757 invites me—the fact that some who have told us that we were in danger from the aggressions of that empire, at the same time told us that that empire was powerless for aggression, and also that it was impregnable to attack. By some means, however, the public have been alarmed as if that aggressive power were unbounded, and they have been induced to undertake an expedition, as if the invasion of an impregnable country were a matter of holiday-making rather than of war. But we are now in a peculiar position with regard to that war; fur, if I am not mistaken—and I think I gathered as much from the language of the right hon. Gentleman—at this very moment terms have been agreed upon—agreed upon by the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen; consented to by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton when he was in that Cabinet; and ratified and confirmed by him upon the formation of his own Government—and that those terms are now specifically known and understood; and that they have been offered to the Government with which this country is at war, and in conjunction with France and Austria—one, certainly, and the other supposed to be, an ally of this country. Now, those terms consist of four propositions, which I shall neither describe nor discuss, because they are known to the House; but three of them are not matters of dispute; and, with regard to the other, I think that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London stated, upon a recent occasion, that it was involved in these terms—that the preponderant power of Russia in the Black Sea should cease, and that Russia had accepted it with that interpretation. Therefore, whatever difference arises is merely as to the mode in which that "preponderant power" shall be understood or made to cease. Now, there are some Gentlemen not far from me—there are men who write in the public press—there are thousands of persons in the United Kingdom at this moment—and I learn with astonishment and dismay that there are persons even in that grave assembly which we are not allowed to specify by a name in this House—who have entertained dreams—impracticable theories—expectations of vast European and Asiatic changes, of revived nationalities, and of a new map of Europe, if not of the world, as a result or an object of this war. And it is from those Gentlemen that we hear continually, addressed to the noble Lord the Member fur Tiverton, terms which I cannot well understand. They call upon 1758 him to act, to carry on the war with vigour, and to prosecute enterprises which neither his Government, nor any other Government has ever seriously entertained; but I would appeal to those Gentlemen whether it does not become us—rewarding the true interests and the true honour of the country—if our Government have offered terms of peace to Russia, not to draw back from those terms, not to cause any unnecessary delay, not to adopt any subterfuge to prevent those terms being accepted, not to attempt shuffles of any kind, not to endeavour to insist upon harder terms, and thus make the approach of peace even still more distant than it is at present? Whatever may be said about the honour of the country in any other relation in regard to this affair, this, at least, I expect every man who hears me to admit—that if terms of peace have been offered they have been offered in good faith, and shall be in honour and good faith adhered to; so that if, unfortunately for Europe and humanity, there should be any failure at Vienna, no man should point to the English Government and to the authorities and rulers of this Christian country, and say that we have prolonged the war and the infinite calamities of which it is the cause. Well, now, I said that I was anxious that the Government of the noble Lord should not be overthrown. Will the House allow me to say why I am so? The noble Lord at the head of the Government has long been a great authority with many persons in this country upon foreign policy. His late colleague, and present envoy to Vienna, has long been a great authority with a large portion of the people of this country upon almost all political questions. With the exception of that unhappy selection of an ambassador at Constantinople, I hold that there are no men in this country more truly responsible for our present position in this war than the noble Lord who now fills the highest office in the State and the noble Lord who is now, I trust, rapidly approaching the scene of his labours in Vienna. ["Hear, hear!" and cries of "No, no!"] I do not say this now to throw blame upon those noble Lords, because their policy, which I hold to be wrong, they, without doubt, as firmly believe to be right; but I am only stating facts. It has been their policy that they have entered into war for certain objects, and I am sure that neither the noble Lord at the head of the Government nor his late colleague the noble Lord the Member for London will shrink from the responsibility 1759 which attaches to them. Well, Sir, now we have those noble Lords in a position which is, in my humble opinion, favourable to the termination of the troubles which exist. I think that the noble Lord at the head of the Government himself would have more influence in stilling whatever may exist of clamour in this country than any other Member of this House. I think, also, that the noble Lord the Member for London would not have undertaken the mission to Vienna if he had not entertained some strong belief that, by so doing, he might bring the war to an end. Nobody gains reputation by a failure in negotiation, and as that noble Lord is well acquainted with the whole question from beginning to end, I entertain a hope—I will not say a sanguine hope—that the result of that mission to Vienna will be to bring about a peace, to extricate this country from some of those difficulties inseparable from a state of war. There is one subject upon which I should like to put a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I shall not say one word here about the state of the army in the Crimea, or one word about its numbers or its condition. Every Member of this House, every inhabitant of this country, has been sufficiently harrowed with details regarding it. To my solemn belief, thousands—nay, scores of thousands of persons—have retired to rest, night after night, whose slumbers have been disturbed, or whose dreams have been based upon the sufferings and agonies of our soldiers in the Crimea. I should like to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government—although I am not sure if he will feel that he can or ought to answer the question—whether the noble Lord the Member for London has power, after discussions have commenced, and as soon as there shall be established good grounds for believing that the negotiations for peace will prove successful, to enter into any armistice? ["No! no!" and "Hear, hear!"] I know not, Sir, who it is that says "No, no," but I should like to see any man get up and say that the destruction of 200,000 human lives lost on all sides during the course of this unhappy conflict is not a sufficient sacrifice. You are not pretending to conquer territory—you are not pretending to hold fortified or unfortified towns; you have offered terms of peace which, as I understand them, I do not say are not moderate; and breathes there a man in this House or in this country whose appetite for blood is so insatiable that, even 1760 when terms of peace have been offered and accepted, he pines for that assault in which of Russian, Turk, French, and English, as sure as one man dies, 20,000 corses will strew the streets of Sebastopol? I say I should like to ask the noble Lord—and I am sure that he will feel, and that this House will feel, that I am speaking in no unfriendly manner towards the Government of which he is at the head—I should like to know, and I venture to hope that it is so, if the noble Lord the Member for London has power, at the earliest stage of these proceedings at Vienna, at which it can properly be done—and I should think that it might properly be done at a very early stage—to adopt a course by which all further waste of human life may be put an end to, and further animosity between three great nations be, as far as possible, prevented? I appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government and to this House; I am not now complaining of the war—I am not now complaining of the terms of peace, nor, indeed, of anything that has been done—but I wish to suggest to this House what, I believe, thousands, and tens of thousands, of the most educated and of the most Christian portion of the people of this country are feeling upon this subject, although, indeed, in the midst of a certain clamour in the country, they do not give public expression to their feelings. Your country is not in an advantageous state at this moment; from one end of the kingdom to the other there is a general collapse of industry. Those Members of this House not intimately acquainted with the trade and commerce of the country do not fully comprehend our position as to the diminution of employment and the lessening of wages. An increase in the cost of living is finding its way to the homes and hearts of a vast number of the labouring population. At the same time there is growing up—and, notwithstanding what some hon. Members of this House may think of me, no man regrets it more than I do—a bitter and angry feeling against that class which has for a long period conducted the public affairs of this country. I like political changes when such changes are made as the result, not of passion, but of deliberation and reason. Changes so made are safe, but changes made under the influence of violent exaggeration, or of the violent passions of public meetings, are not changes usually approved by this House or advantageous to the country. I cannot but notice, in speaking to Gentlemen who 1761 sit on either side of this House, or in speaking to any one I meet between this House and any of those localities we frequent when this House is up—I cannot, I say, but notice that an uneasy feeling exists as to the news that may arrive by the very next mail from the East. I do not Suppose that your troops are to be beaten in actual conflict with the foe, or that they will be driven into the sea; but I am certain that many homes in England in which there now exists a fond hope that the distant one may return—many such homes may be rendered desolate when the next mail shall arrive. The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings. There is no one, as when the first-born were slain of old, to sprinkle with blood the lintel and the two sideposts of our doors, that he may spare and pass on; he takes his victims from the castle of the noble, the mansion of the wealthy, and the cottage of the poor and the lowly, and it is on behalf of all these classes that I make this solemn appeal. I tell the noble Lord, that if he be ready honestly and frankly to endeavour, by the negotiations to be opened at Vienna, to put an end to this war, no word of mine, no vote of mine, will be given to shake his power for one single moment, or to change his position in this House. I am sure that the noble Lord is not inaccessible to appeals made to him from honest motives and with no unfriendly feeling. The noble Lord has been for more than forty years a Member of this House. Before I was born, he sat upon the Treasury bench, and he has devoted his life in the service of his country. He is no longer young, and his life has extended almost to the term allotted to man. I would ask, I would entreat the noble Lord to take a course which, when be looks back upon his whole political career—whatever he may therein find to be pleased with, whatever to regret—cannot but be a source of gratification to him. By adopting that course he would have the satisfaction of reflecting that, having obtained the object of his laudable ambition—having become the foremost subject of the Crown, the director of, it may be, the destinies of his country and the presiding genius in her councils—he had achieved a still higher and nobler ambition; that he had returned the sword to the scabbard—that at his word torrents of blood had ceased to flow—that he had restored tranquillity to Eu- 1762 rope, and saved this country from the indescribable calamities of war.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
I trust, Sir, that in the peculiar situation in which I at present stand, the House will grant me their indulgence while I endeavour to explain the reasons which have actuated me in the course I have taken, of seceding from the Government of the noble Lord; and in making those explanations I will be as brief as I can, first, because the greater portion of what I might have had to state has been anticipated by my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham), and partly on account of physical inability to address the House at any great length at the present moment.
Sir, I feel that the position which I occupied in the late Government differed somewhat from that which was held either by my right hon. Friend lately the First Lord of the Admiralty, or by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford. I was connected by my official position with one of the War Departments; and was, therefore, though in a secondary degree, implicated in the censure which has been passed by the House upon the management of those departments; and, although by all constitutional theory every man who forms part of any Cabinet is equally as responsible with his colleagues for whatever may have been done by that Cabinet, yet, at the same time, our common sense teaches us that those who are the most nearly allied to the departments the operations of which have been condemned, do, in fact, bear a heavier weight of responsibility, are more liable to censure, and are, therefore, bound to endeavour to stand more clearly before this House. Now, as far as that is concerned, I wish to say one word with respect to the latter portion of the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck). The Motion of my hon. and learned Friend was divided into two portions; he proposed in the first instance to institute an examination into the state of the army before Sebastopol; and in the next place, to institute an inquiry into the conduct of those departments of the Government which were concerned in the due maintenance of that army. Now, Sir, I draw the widest possible distinction between the two cases—and for this reason; the House of Commons not only has the right, but it is its solemn duty to institute the most searching investigation into the conduct of the Ministers of the Crown, if 1763 it is so minded; and, therefore, I have not one word to say against that portion of my hon. and learned Friend's Motion which concerns the conduct of the Ministry. He had a perfect right to bring his Motion forward, and the House of Commons had a perfect right to pass it—just as much as any man had a perfect right to resist it, as I did, who felt conscious that the imputations which it involved were not deserved. Not only was my hon. and learned Friend right in bringing it forward, if he thought there was any necessity for it, but he was right also in adhering to it, for, at any rate, he brought it forward upon a distinct view which he had in his own mind, that there had been malversation or misconduct on the part of the functionaries of the Government. The tribunal which he proposed was a constitutional tribunal, and—what is most important to bear in view in considering this case—a tribunal which from its proximity to the scene of action was both able and powerful, and sufficient and efficient, to investigate and sift these charges to the bottom, and either to acquit or to condemn. I do not object, therefore, to that portion of the Motion, and am ready when the Committee sits, to go before it. I have nothing to conceal. I was going to say I had nothing to regret—but would to God that any of us, taking a retrospective view of all the details of this war since it first commenced to the present moment, could say that!—but what I do say is, that I have done nothing which I shall be ashamed to look back upon—nothing which I am afraid to put before the light of day. Not a word have I said, not a sentence have I written, but what I shall be willing to place before the Committee, and shall be perfectly well satisfied to abide the issue. I say emphatically, let no man hint for one moment that I am attempting to shirk or to evade inquiry. I may speak, and I may vote, as a Minister of the Crown, against inquiries of this character; and I am justified in so doing, because the appointment of such a Committee as this is in the nature of an accusation against the Ministers of the Crown, who ought not to be placed under accusation so long as they retain their places. I felt, therefore, as one of the Ministers of the Crown, that I must share the censure with which they have been visited, since those were gone who were possessed of more direct authority and influence in this department than 1764 myself; and I conceived it was not right, while this inquiry was pending, and while my conduct was being investigated, that I should still retain the office of a Minister of the Crown; for though in civil life we hold that a man is to be considered innocent until he is proved guilty, that is not so with respect to an Administration. They should suffer no breath of suspicion to exist with respect to their conduct; for the moment in which they pre suspected should be the last of their power.
But, Sir, this Committee has a different and a wider scope. I have seen upon several occasions in this House much confusion and difficulty resulting from Motions being brought forward, the objects of which, in themselves, were clear and direct, but which were couched in language so ambiguous that men might take them in whatever sense they pleased, and convert them to their own purposes, This Motion, when brought forward the other night, was supported by a vast number of Gentlemen in this House entirely on the consideration that it was a vote of censure. I recollect the words of an hon. and learned Gentleman sitting below me, who said be should vote for the Motion, but that the sitting of the Committee would be ridiculous, that the efficiency of the services would be paralysed, and that it was monstrous, it was absurd, to suppose that after the vote was passed, and after the object of it had been attained, the nomination of the Committee was to be proceeded with. The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the appointment of this Committee, and other individual Members, may have entertained a different notion; but the question is, what were the general feeling and the general expectation of the House upon the subject? I do not hesitate to aver that the general expectation was, that when, by means of this Motion, Lord Aberdeen's Government had been put an end to, we should hear nothing more of the Committee but a formal negative of the names proposed for the Committee. The right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) said, that be may be accused of great want of foresight; but, Sir, I think the House of Commons may equally well be accused of great want of foresight, for, to a very great extent, they shared in his opinion. My colleagues shared it, and I can answer for it that the noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury shared it up to last Friday, for the speech which he made on that occa- 1765 sion was that of a man who considered that the whole object of the Motion had been attained, and that it was done with. I have the very words of the noble Lord here, and, with permission, I will read them to the House, for it is important to see up to how late a period this conviction existed. The noble Lord says—In undertaking, however, the task which Her Majesty has confided to our care, it would be useless to dissemble the difficulty which meets us and stares us in the face—namely, that difficulty which arises from the notice of Motion which my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roebuck) has given for Thursday next. I will not attempt to disguise that I feel the same objection to the appointment of the Committee of which he has given notice as Iliad the honour to express when the subject was first under discussion. My opinion is that such a Committee would in its action not be in accordance with the true and just principles of the constitution, and that it would not be, for the effectual accomplishment of its purpose, a sufficient instrument."—[See p. 1424.]Well, Sir, I must say that that statement of my noble Friend was in strict accordance, in strict consistency, with everything which fell from him at the interview which I had the honour to have with him at the time when, after some conversation, I accepted the position which he offered me in his Cabinet. The noble Lord then thought that the Motion for the nomination of the Committee would afford no obstacle or difficulty in the way of his Government; he was of opinion that it would be negatived without discussion. But I will put that out of the question, and will consider the Motion for the Committee in the second point of view. What is the meaning of such a Committee as this? Sir, while the Committee was in the course of formation, a very marked change took place in opinion out of doors; and this vote, which had done its duty for the purpose of extinguishing an Administration, was taken up by the public, and honestly taken up, as a means of inquiring into those evils which are gigantic in their proportions, and which have perplexed every one. That circumstance has altered the aspect of the Motion in this House. But then comes the question—if the people of England are determined, and, as I think, rightly and justly determined, to have a searching investigation into these matters, is this the best—is it the most constitutional—above all, is it the most efficient—tribunal for getting at the truth? Take care that, in coming to a decision upon this question, you are not perpetrating a fraud upon those who honestly think that it is so. As 1766 I said before, for the purpose of inquiring into the state of the departments you could have nothing better—you could send, at five minutes' notice, to any man for every paper or despatch that was written; but for the purpose of inquiring into transactions that have been going on 3,000 miles off, I tell you the Committee will be utterly inefficient. Certainly, inquiry must be confined to the past physical state of the army. I do not know how you can possibly inquire into the future state of the army. What has happened may be investigated, but I do not see how you can pursue an inquiry into what may hereafter happen. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, he did opt give notice of that instruction, and that it was placed upon the paper by mistake. I do not attach much importance on the withdrawal of that part of the Motion—it does not get rid of the difficulties inherent to the question. What the "past" is, is not specified, and what happens to-day will be "past" to-morrow. I apprehend the Motion must be for inquiry into the existing as well as the past state of the army. Then, again, I apprehend what it means is not simply to inquire into the state of the army—as to how many are sick and how many are dead—God knows we have heard enough of that without troubling any Cummittee—but all that we want to know is as to the causes of these great calamities. Well, Sir, I say that for any such purpose this Committee will be useless. You might have had a Commission to do that; you might have appointed a Commission in whom the country would have confidence, who, sitting on the spot, would then and there have endeavoured to ascertain what were the causes of these evils, and to whom likewise might have been entrusted a remedial power, emanating from the Crown, which is the rightful authority. But, if you trust to this Committee of the House of Commons, I must say I entirely share the objections which the right hon. Baronet took to its composition—that you are going to appoint a Committee of Inquiry without the presence upon it of any Minister of the Crown. If not the Prime Minister, at least the Foreign Secretary or the Minister for War should he there. Those are the departments whose acts are to be scrutinised, and which may be supposed to be in danger; in these are involved the delicate and difficult relations of this country which you are going to take away from the charge of responsible men sworn to secrecy, and trust to an irre- 1767 sponsible body, who may, perhaps, publish everything the next day. Now, in the first place, I would just ask you this—What is your own opinion on the point? How do you indicate your own opinion as to the Committee you are about to appoint? You advise the Government, you entreat the Government, to pay no respect to the operation of this Committee, but to institute its own inquiries—not to wait for the Report of this Committee, but to act at once from its own investigation and its own observation. What, in all probability, will be the result? When the Report of this Committee makes its appearance in the form of a blue-book four months hence, it will be as waste paper; and it will be treated with the utmost contumely by your Executive: you will with great pomp and ceremony have installed a Committee upon which you yourselves ask the Executive to heap every disrespect—disrespect in not waiting to know its opinions, and not acting upon its advice. I must say, I do not myself see on what principle we can, after an interval of two weeks, take a course diametrically opposite to that which a fortnight ago we deliberately adopted. Recollect what has occurred since. One object which hon. Gentlemen had in view in bringing forward that Committee is accomplished. There is less necessity, therefore, for this Motion now. As a vote of censure it is valueless, for its work is done. As an inquiry I tell you it is nothing but an immense sham. I defy you to get to the bottom of any of these defects; but, if you do, you do it at the risk either of disorganising your army, or of exciting the susceptibilities or shaking the confidence of your allies. You cannot attach too great weight to the warnings which the right hon. Baronet addressed to you on that subject. If you succeed in avoiding this danger through the intuition of some Member of that Committee, who shall have influence enough in it to arrest its progress when you come to dangerous ground in that respect, then you may do the grossest injustice by sacrificing officers whom you may bring before that Committee—officers to whom you may put questions of an accusative character, but who will not be allowed to answer questions directed against themselves, because they cannot do it without trenching upon ground too delicate and too dangerous for them to be allowed to approach; nay, in the case of many, these accusations will be brought against them in their absence. The accused will never 1768 be confronted with the accuser. They will not have even the opportunity of defence. I say, Sir, that I, who have held for a long time a position in connection with the administration of the army, and who in the course of this period have met from that noble service every mark of kindness and support, owe a debt of gratitude to the members of that service, and feel that I should be ashamed of myself if I could allow such a course to be instituted here without raising my voice against it, and offering it may be my humble and feeble protest against placing them in a situation so false, and in which everything that is dear to them—their character and their honour, dearer than life itself—may be attacked in such a manner that they will be unable to defend themselves.
But I am told—this is now the common expression—that the present demand for inquiry is irresistible. Well, Sir, I confess that I have seen, in the course of my short experience in the House of Commons, a resistance made, and successfully made, to feelings quite as strong and quite as universal as those which now prevail in this House—nay, I have seen resistance made against plain and decided convictions which pervaded the whole of this House, sincerely and according to the plain sense and meaning of the words. Now, at the present moment, this is not the case. We have some men who voted for this Motion on one ground and some who voted for it on another. We have men voting for it as inquiry, who know that it will not and cannot be an inquiry at all; and we have men voting for it because, in the present state of things, they say they can see nothing but chaos. Well, but is there not a Government?—is there no man who shall bring order out of this chaos, and who, by his commanding position, may take the lead of the House, which, like all popular assemblies, is willing to be led, if it discern, in those who aspire to lead it, the qualities necessary for that purpose? I have seen this House rescind a vote at the bidding of Sir Robert Peel; but it was after the reasons for doing so had been fully and gravely stated, and from a conviction on the part of the House that they were dealing with a man of great judgment and, above all, of strong will; from their conviction that they must either rescind that vote, or part with a Minister whom they then thought necessary for the common welfare. I heard two years ago—it was during the Administration of a 1769 Government of which I had the honour of being a Member—a decided expression of opinion—it was a feeling that pervaded the whole of the House, that you should have no income-tax in this country, unless it were a graduated one. Yet, by the firmness, by the weighty arguments, and by the eloquence of one man, the House came to a different conclusion, and, in adopting the proposals which he had made, they not only accepted his arguments, but they honoured the genius and the courage of the man who had stood forward boldly to oppose them. Depend upon it, Sir, what you want is a strong Government. I confess my own impression is that the right hon. Gentleman near me (Sir J. Graham) has analysed truly the state of feeling in the House, when he said that he believed that the Government, as it was constituted (when we were Members of it, at any rate), had not the confidence of the House of Commons. It had a great deal of professed support. Some on the bench above me declared that they gave it critical support; a few supported it because they believed it inclined to war at all hazards; others, again, because they fancied that under its auspices we should have peace at any price; and then there was, from hon. Gentlemen opposite, what we may call a vituperative support. But genuine support given to the Government—a support founded upon the single object of the common welfare—is a thing which in this House, at the present moment, does not seem to exist. Well, for my part, under these circumstances, not having succeeded in my humble capacity in conciliating any the smallest share of confidence, I felt myself willing to go again into the ranks and attempt to give the Government a support—not critical nor vituperative—but a support given to the Executive because I think it is necessary it should be supported, and with the single object in view of giving stability to the Government and strength to the country in a moment of great difficulty, and of seeking the promotion of the public welfare. Sir, you will not have a strong Government by having in it strong men who take a weak course. You must have strong men taking a strong course. They must not at the first moment throw down the reins, and act contrary to the opinions which they strongly expressed only a fortnight ago, because the House at the moment happens to demand it. The Government, to be a strong Government, must be something more than the mere 1770 reflex of the caprices of a large popular assembly. For these reasons, the Government must not only be a Government of strong and independent men, but it must act strongly. Sir, I have felt that in the course which the Government are now about to take, such a condition is not likely to be fulfilled. I disapprove of this Committee. If it be inevitable—which I deny—that is no reason why I should vote for that which I disapproved of at first and still disapprove of. I will not make myself a party to what I disapprove of because I cannot prevent others from doing so. But I deny that this inquiry was irresistible. I think if the House of Commons had given the Government a fair chance—if the public outside had had a thorough explanation put before them—if it had been represented to them and to this House that the Government was more interested than they were in having a searching investigation—a public which is now perplexed by reading official despatches, representing the existence of a certain state of things, and private letters, some corroborating, some denying, the truth of those representations, while they have constantly before them the letters of writers in the newspapers, which, however graphic pictures in themselves, are more like a species of scene painting, and are written to produce a great effect rather than to narrate the facts in any great accuracy of detail—if, I say, the public had been told that the Government have really the greatest interest in instituting an inquiry which should be thorough and searching—if the public had had that case put fully before them, and the dangers of the course they are now invited to take had been pressed upon the attention of this House, I think they would have hesitated. The House of Commons is not a tyrant which none can approach without cringing; it is an assembly of the most educated men, of men occupying the highest position in this country, who feel their responsibilities, and feel also that the great secret of their power is their unwillingness on any occasion to transgress its limits. In the same way, while the Government, I think, might have guided the House, there is an intelligent community out of doors who look to be guided by this House, and who accept the direction and lead from this House, who, however, in this instance are not giving it—for the public, I fear, are being deceived with the hope of an investigation which can be no investigation at all. An investigation 1771 into the conduct of the Government or of its late Members? Yes—for that purpose the Committee may be efficient. But the promise of an investigation into the state of the army and the causes of that state is, I believe, delusive. An investigation, to be effective, must be conducted on the spot. You cannot net it through a Committee of the House of Commons; and it is a mere piece of Parliamentary red-tapism to say yen can; in the nature of things you cannot. The public should have had warning of the danger they incur and of the risks they run by adopting this course. I am confident that had such an appeal been made, we should not have heard that this Motion was irresistible, and that had the Minister who opposed this Committee a fortnight ago declared that he persisted in that opposition to what he deemed a useless inquiry, the Government would not now have taken up the Committee as though they thought all their previous arguments fallacies.
I will not much longer detain the House, but I wish to say one word by way of comment on what has fallen from my right hon. Friend (sir J. Graham). He has said that the expression of compliments on colleagues from whom you have separated are delusive and had better be avoided. I am younger than my right hon. Friend, and, perhaps, a more youthful temperament may account for a more trustful feeling in that respect; but I say, with sincerity and truth, that I never left colleagues with greater pain than those with whom I have served for the last two years. I have served with them in what is popularly denounced as a "Coalition Ministry"—by which is meant, a Ministry in which men are supposed to have coalesced while holding opposite opinions on Certain questions, and whose conduct on matters of public policy is supposed to be the result of compromise. Well, I am happy to state that I have acted with those colleagues for the past two years in a spirit of the most perfect harmony and with the most perfect sympathy, and I shall always look back with satisfaction to the period when I co-operated with them, and to the friendships I acquired during that period of co-operation, and which, I hope, I shall ever retain. I have this conviction, which is most agreeable to me, that no men—and I believe that yon nowhere see men so thoroughly as in a Cabinet where you are acting together in the most Close and intimate connection—while acting together, 1772 could have displayed a more cordial spirit towards each other, and I rejoiced to see by what high motives, and high sense of honour and of duty, men were prompted to act in the councils of the nation. I have left those colleagues with the deepest regret. I particularly lament that at this moment I should have been severed from my connection with them. I do not think it selfishness to say that, having passed through this gloomy period with them, I regret that I shall not share with them in any forthcoming prosperity. I will not profess that entire indifference to office which many men on such occasions think it necessary to profess. I will say frankly that, holding a position in which the greatest and most important interests which could be entrusted to any man had been committed to me, I had questions before me which I had hoped to settle—upon the settlement of which any man who had the good fortune to achieve it might look back with pride end congratulation; and I honestly confess that I gave up that position with pain; but I gave it up as I part from my colleagues, from a paramount sense of public duty. I am told that I have deserted my colleagues at a period of great difficulty. I say, like the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), that I have deserted no man. I was prepared to stand by my colours, and I must not be called a deserter for so doing. But, Sir, in the course which I shall pursue hereafter I trust that I may learn a lesson from the conduct of many whom I have seen in this House, professing to support Her Majesty's Government, but at the same time throwing every possible impediment in its way. I have no inclination to take any such course. I can, therefore, only look trustfully forward, hoping that the conduct of the Government may be such as I can cordially and heartily approve. I do so for their sakes, I do so for my own sake, I do so above all for the sake of my country, which I now see to be involved in great difficulties, but which I trust will, by the energy of a wise Administration, by the courage and bravery of out armies, and by the wise and deliberate councils of Parliament, retain that position which as a military nation she has always hitherto held.
§ MR. MILNES GASKELL
said, he had listened to the speech of his right hon. Friend who had just sat down (Mr. Sidney Herbert), and to that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), with feelings of very great sur- 1773 prise. He owned he was at a loss to understand how those right hon. Gentlemen, or how any man, could have expected the noble Viscount at the head of the Government to insist on the reversal of a decision which had been arrived at by so immense a majority, and on an occasion of such immense public importance. It was too much the habit in that House to shrink from dwelling on the real facts of this case, and not sufficiently to bear in mind the gravity of the occasion, or the reasons for the decision to which the House had come. The occasion had been the wasting away by disease, by mismanagement, by neglect, of a British army: The facts had been admitted by the Ministers of the Crown—they had been described in thrilling but unexaggerated language by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and the decision to which the House had come had been this, that they would institute a searching inquiry into the cause of these disasters, and endeavour to apply a remedy. He (Mr. Gaskell) would take leave to add that, however unpalatable that decision might have been to the right hon. Baronet and his friends, it had been honourable to the House of Commons, and had met with the almost unanimous approbation of the country. And what were the circumstances under which the noble Viscount now at the head of Her Majesty's Government had been expected to propose the reversal of that decision? The facts of the case remained the same. It was not denied that there had been grievous errors, that there had been almost unparalleled suffering, that there had been gross and culpable negligence, either here or elsewhere, in the management of this expedition; and were they to be gravely told that because there had been a partial, a very partial, change in the composition of the Government—that because a Secretary of State, however distinguished, had become First Minister of the Crown, and because another noble Lord, much less distinguished, had become Secretary for War, the necessity for inquiry had ceased? It was said, indeed, by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), and by others, that these things should be left to the Executive; but the complaint of the country was, that they had been left to the Executive, and that these disastrous consequences had ensued. They (the House of Commons) had recognised and deplored these evils—evils which had brought discredit upon our name and 1774 nation: they had resolved by an over whelming majority to investigate their cause, and it was too much to find three distinguished Members of the Cabinet leaving the Administration almost as soon as formed, because the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown was not imprudent enough,—he (Mr. Gaskell) had almost said, not insane enough—to run counter to the declared and deliberate opinion of the vast majority of the representatives of the people. He (Mr. Gaskell) could perfectly understand the argument, that in time of war a despotic form of Government might in many respects be better than our own—that it might give greater facilities for unity of action and for singleness of purpose; but as long as we retained our free institutions, unless we wished them to become a byword of reproach throughout Europe, he trusted the House of Commons would not consent to such an abandonment of duty—such an abdication of functions as these right hon. Gentlemen would recommend. With him (Mr. Gaskell) this was no question of confidence in any Government, no question of compliment to any Minister. He felt that it was the paramount duty of that House to give effect to their previous decision, and if unhappily they should fail in the performance of that duty, and retrace the step which they had taken, it was his firm conviction that they would strike a fatal blow at the character of representative institutions.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
said, that, great as were the difficulties with which he had to contend in comprehending the proceedings of that House, there was one which peculiarly pressed upon his mind, and that was, that he was not quite sure in what language it was that the House spoke. He had hitherto believed that they were in the habit of speaking in a dialect of the English language; but when he was told, after he had in the honest simplicity of his mind been voting, as he thought, for inquiry, that he did not mean by that vote any such thing as inquiry, but that he really meant a want of confidence in somebody, he confessed he was totally at a loss how to proceed. But even if he admitted the translation of his vote into that sense, still he hardly knew the meaning of it, or what the words "want of confidence" meant. He had full confidence in the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he would not rob the till, but was he to be supposed to mean by that that he should have confidence in the right 1775 hon. Gentleman as commanding the army? Not at all. However, he supposed he must take all these words in a non-natural sense, as that was the only way in which these matters could be reconciled. As he had taken some part in recommending the House to adopt the inquiry, he begged leave to say that, if he had seen any reason to retract that vote, nothing would prevent his voting against the Motion now. But let them remember this fact—the House had no knowledge before it. Ministers came down and gave the House no information, and there was nothing for the House to act upon except what certain individuals had been told in private letters. The House itself knew nothing, except that on every occasion they had been asked to do so they had voted very large sums of money and large numbers of men. It was true that they saw by Gazettes that enormous numbers of these men had died or were sick; but whenever any hon. Member spoke of the state of affairs in the Crimea the Ministers were most eloquent in defence of themselves, and in uttering panegyrics upon each other; but when any hon. Member spoke of the houseless, starved, frost-bitten, and annihilated army, there was—No pitying heart, no eye t' affordOne tear to grace their obsequies.["No!"] Well, since the hon. Gentleman was so positive in his contradiction, he would challenge him to produce his Hansard, and show to him one single sentence—until Friday last, when the noble Lord now at the head of the Government agreed to this Motion—one single word from any Member of the Government expressive of sympathy for the painful and degraded state of the army. The Ministers positively denied the state of the army to be such as it was represented to be. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who last spoke, that one most remarkable thing in the present situation of affairs was, that the three Gentlemen, Members of the Privy Council, who had retired, did not seem at all particular in what manner they abandoned their functions, or in what state they left the Executive. At a moment when negotiations were going on which could not be suspended without detriment to the public service—at a moment when every delay caused additional hardships to our wretched army—at a moment when it was of the utmost importance to be provided with a strong Government—what were they doing? They were either running 1776 away from their places, or, like spoilt servants when the house was on fire, and the mistress called for their services, it was, "John won't come unless Bill will," "Tom won't come unless Harry will," and so the house went on burning. They had heard before of the farce of High Life below Stairs, but this was the tragedy of Low Life above Stairs. That, however, was not the worst of the matter; this Government, which had confessedly by sheer incompetence destroyed an enormous army, which had brought the mockery of all Europe upon us, and which had brought the criticism of all the German papers upon our military skill, at that very moment advised the Crown to give the highest mark of favour it could confer upon the head of that Government—in mocking insult to the votes of the House of Commons, and in defiance of the common sense of Europe. He did not deny that there was much danger to be apprehended from this Committee; but were they to be scared by the report of the danger which might arise if they voted for it? Let them be taught to avoid it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sidney Herbert) was afraid that the Committee was to be a sham. He promised the right hon. Gentleman that it should be no sham—he need not be in the least concerned on that score. The opponents of this Committee raised a number of questions which they themselves knew were never intended to be put—which they knew would never be gone into at all—and then they asked, "Will you trust these eleven men to go into such questions?" It was not intended to touch upon these matters at all; but perhaps the Committee would be able to find out how it was that these very eminent statesmen, who at the end of nine months of war were beginning to find out, at last, that something like a waggon-train was wanted, and why, when they made the waggons, they forgot the harness. Why, there was not a country booby throughout all England who, when he went to buy a cart, did not know it was also necessary to provide the harness and horses. It was thought that the national prejudices of the country were now likely to be at an end; but he should like to know what, at a time when the country was running breast high against French influence, would have been thought if the day would ever arrive when this country would have 10,000 of its soldiers fighting in French uniform, and receiving, as an act of charity, 10,000 1777 rations of fresh meat—the only fresh meat they were enabled to get in consequence of the want of brains displayed by the Government. Talk about danger! Could not the Committee find out how it was that all the horses had been starved? Could not they find out how it was that the wooden huts, when they were made, remained at Bristol and Southampton for no one knew how long? What was requisite was an inquiry into the conduct of the civil departments; but there had never been any intention upon his part, or upon the part of any hon. Gentleman who had supported the Motion for inquiry, to inquire into anything relating to the conduct of the war. Such a course would, he thought, be exceedingly dangerous, and so dangerous that he thought the House ought to take upon itself the duty of giving instructions to the Committee. He did not think that the inquiry ought to be left altogether to the discretion of a Committee. He had no wish to excite the John Bullism of hon. Members, or to rouse their anti-French feelings; but he would appeal to their common sense, and ask whether they had wisely or unwisely gone into partnership with another Power, without having passed a Bill for limited liabilities? It would neither be fair nor honest for the Committee to inquire into anything with which they had no right to interfere:— they had no right to make the misconduct of their own Government an excuse for inquiring into the conduct of the French Government; but it was absolutely necessary to inquire into the misconduct of their own Government, though how that was to be done he would leave to others to say. Whether the Committee were to act upon their own responsibility or upon instructions from the House of Commons he could not tell, but somehow or other the inquiry ought to be made.
said, he was anxious to state, as his name appeared in the list of the proposed Committee, that he had originally voted against this Committee, and that he was still of opinion that an inquiry at the present time would be fraught with great inconvenience to the public service. It would be injurious to the army in the Crimea, it would be embarrassing in regard to those preparations that ought to be made for the next campaign, and it would not be without danger as connected with our noble allies the French. But he understood that the Government had acceded to an inquiry; and 1778 having been asked by a Member of the Government to allow his name to stand on the Committee, he had felt it his duty to consent, after consulting with his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry (Mr. Ellice), who agreed with him in all he now stated as to the inconvenience of the inquiry, and as to its danger, unless carefully guarded by the instructions of the House of Commons or the good sense of the Committee itself—a matter which, with the strong feeling now existing in the country, would be very difficult to accomplish. At this moment, now that they were about to institute an inquiry, they ought to be making every preparation for the approaching campaign. They ought to communicate with the Government of France, and decide now what course they would take for military operations in the spring; but, instead of that, what would all the military departments be doing? Why, every one of them—the War Office, the Office of the Secretary at War, the Horse Guards, the Ordnance, the Commissariat, and the Medical Department, instead of looking to the approaching campaign, would be making every exertion to defend themselves against the inquiry which would be taking place before the Committee. He felt as strongly as any one the difficulties which this inquiry must impose upon the public service; but he also felt that if there was to be an inquiry, then it must be a searching inquiry. It would not do to make the inquiry anything but a strict, searching investigation. It must, in justice to the army in the Crimea, in justice to all the relations of persons who had been employed in that expedition, and in justice to the Members of the late Government, whose character and conduct were impugned. It must also be a searching inquiry for the vindication of the character of that House, and in obedience to the general opinion of the country. Let the House then consider what would happen. They would call individuals before them who would say, "We did all in our power, but the error arose in the Crimea." The consequence would, therefore, be that a charge of neglect or mismanagement would be hanging over the heads of parties serving their country in the field, without those parties having any possibility of setting the matter right for the next three months at least. This was a serious thing, but it was one which must occur. He wished to know if this was to be a public or a secret inquiry. There were great objections to 1779 a Secret Committee, and even then things most dangerous to the interests of the country might get published; and if it were a public inquiry, the accusations against the different departments and against individuals would be published in the newspapers of the following day, and might, for months before they could possibly be answered, excite the public mind, and do injustice to persons who, when the inquiry was concluded, might be acquitted of all blame. He felt strongly these difficulties, and hoped the House would consider well what instructions they would give to the Committee. Would they limit the inquiry to the civil departments concerned in the management of the army? If they did that, they would then draw a distinct and clear line for the Committee to follow; but if they proposed that the Committee should go rambling over all the matters that might incidentally arise upon this very wide question, he feared that it would be an almost endless inquiry, and that, from the largeness of the field over which it would extend, it would be most unsatisfactory. Whatever course the Committee might take, he trusted that the House would take upon itself the task of telling the Committee what it was really required to do. He had voted against the Committee, but, after the overwhelming majority by which it was carried, he did not think it was possible to do away with it; and he thought that the Government had taken the same view of it, for, on looking to the speech addressed to his constituents by the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert), he found that he had said that there must be a searching inquiry. He (Lord Seymour) thought, though he had evidently misinterpreted the right hon. Member, that the Government had acceded to the inquiry; and that the only question would be as to how it was to be regulated; and he hoped that the Government would have stated their views on the point. What the public desired to know was, how the mismanagement in details had happened; and he thought that they could satisfy the public on these points without entering on matters it would be inconvenient for them to deal with.
§ MR. LOWE
said, that, after the speech they had just heard from, he might presume, the intended Chairman of their Committee, he hoped the House would permit even so insignificant a person as himself to offer the reasons which weighed strongly in his mind against proceeding 1780 any further in the proposed inquiry. The hon. Member for Wenlock (Mr. Gaskell) had asked, whether it could be supposed that the House of Commons would be so foolish as to reverse its judgment. He hoped that in supposing the House could be induced to amend its Resolution when it found that it had been induced to come to a hasty and improper decision, he was paying a higher compliment to the House than had the hon. Member. The House was called upon to grant a Committee to inquire into the condition of the army before Sebastopol, and into the conduct of those departments that administered to that army. It was the desire of the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Drummond) that they should limit this inquiry in some way; but in what way was the inquiry to be limited? Were they so to limit it as to exclude from it any inquiry which would prove dangerous to their alliance with France? How was this to be done? Let them not confine themselves to vague generalities. They would not find the solution of this question in the declamation they had heard; and, notwithstanding whatever the hon. Member for Surrey might say, he was sure that there was not a man in the House so unfeeling as not to have made this subject his thought by night and day—it had been a nightmare that they could not throw off, and it had embittered and poisoned all their hours of pleasure and relaxation ever since this misery had begun. They could not limit the inquiry so as to exclude France. Let them look at what the Committee would have to do. They were to inquire into the condition of the army before Sebastopol; and in this would be involved the conduct of those who had the charge of the army; and the first question raised would be—" You had, side by side with you, another nation not possessing so great maritime resources as yourselves, and how does it result that their army is in a prosperous condition while yours is in misery?" Then, if persons were allowed to defend themselves—and he had very great doubt whether, under the conditions of this Committee, they would be permitted to do so—they would argue, and would call witnesses to prove that the difference between the French and English was not in truth so great as had been stated. This was the issue that would be raised, and on this the verdict of the Committee would have to be given. If they intended to do justice to the parties accused, 1781 this question could not be excluded from the consideration of the Committee. They might do so by an arbitrary rule; but if they did, those put on trial would be deprived of the most powerful argument in their favour, in a case which, if it were decided against those who had the conduct of affairs, would fix an indelible stain on their names. He agreed with the hon. Member for Surrey, that there would be the greatest danger, the absolute certainty, of imperilling their alliance with France, if they dragged to light that which the Emperor of the French desired—and he had an undoubted right to do so if he thought proper—should not be given to the public. It was not to be expected that the Emperor of the French would attach the same value to an alliance with this country if we, for political and party purposes, wished to inquire into every act connected with the administration of his army. Let hon. Members, then, well consider this—that if the Committee did not go fully into this question they would deprive those whose interest and reputation were called in question, of their most powerful weapon of defence; and, if they did go into this portion of the inquiry, they would imperil the safety of our invaluable alliance with France. This was the state of the question; and he should like to know, from those who followed him in this debate, how they could escape from this dilemma. There was another objection which was cognate to the one he had just taken—would they, in this inquiry into the conduct of the generals, be so unjust as to carry on the inquiry in the absence of those who were accused, who, if they were present, would be able to call these under whose orders they had acted and carried on the expedition, and thus defend themselves, and, perhaps, by the aid of evidence, exculpate themselves? If they did allow this, then the inquiry was virtually at an end, for they must wait until the expedition was over, and do that which the noble Viscount at the head of the Government had asked them to do—adjourn the inquiry for some time, until they could get that evidence which in justice they must have. It was very good, no doubt, to inquire into public abuses and to apply remedies to them, but the maxim salus populi suprema lex was to be regarded; and in this case they must also look at their alliance with France, the negotiations they were entering into, their position in Europe, and the absolute im- 1782 portance—a month before the campaign was to open anew—of the whole attention of every department being exclusively devoted to it without let or hindrance, and of being undisturbed in the performance of the onerous duties and enormous labours which they were called upon to discharge. Let the House weigh these considerations. Let them look also at the position of the noble Lord at the head of the War Department. What were his labours? Lord Panmure had taken a department that was newly founded in June last, and, before sufficient time had elapsed for this department to be in an efficient state, on the top of it was placed, in December, the Commissariat, taken from the Treasury; and then came the Ministerial crisis; and on the top of all these conjoined departments was placed the department of the Secretary at War. This was like placing Ossa on Olympus, and Pelion, with all its woods, on Ossa. He believed that these departments were still in great confusion, and that there were great practical difficulties in connection with them, with which not only the Minister of War, but the country, would have to deal before they could make these departments efficient to carry on the war; and, indeed, he believed, before they could be made fit working instruments, these departments must be taken to pieces and put together again. Then there were those who took exception to the administration of the army, which had remained intact for years, and expected great reforms to be carried on, while at the same time the war at its most critical period was also to proceed with vigour. All this was expected; it was a labour superhuman, and beyond the powers of living man; and what would be the result when, into all the confusion arising from this additional amount of labour and the amalgamation of offices, was introduced the distraction that would be furnished by this Parliamentary investigation, ranging over all the departments? He would point out to those desirous of improvements being effected in the administration of the army, that whatever practical suggestions might be made—and never was there a time when such suggestions would be of more importance than the present—would have to be delayed until the Reports of this Committee were made, until the wide range of its investigation had been brought to a conclusion. He also had other objections to this Committee; he could not look upon it as a vote of censure on this or any parti- 1783 cular Government—it was a blow struck at all executive government. The House by allowing it, would diminish the power of all future Governments. The present Government might submit to it, but they would, by so doing, be giving away that which was not their own—the rights and privileges of executive government in general. An hon. Gentleman had said that they were asked to leave it to the Government; but that they had already left too much to the Government. The meaning of the hon. Member was, that the House of Commons was going to take the executive government upon itself, and that the executive government was no longer to have the same ample powers and functions and responsibilities that it possessed before the inquiry, but that a portion of them was to be passed over to the Committee. He earnestly entreated the House seriously to consider what this would amount to. Let them think what had been the history of all juntas appointed by legislative and popular assemblies which had taken on themselves, as delegates from those assemblies, the functions of the executive government. Their history had been one and uniform; they had resulted in despotism, misconduct, and complete absence of responsibility. The persons who exercised these powers did so, not as responsible Ministers of the Crown, liable to dismissal or censure, but in their legislative capacity, which placed them out of the reach of such proceedings. At the point at which we had arrived in Europe, when it was the fashion to say that our institutions were in some discredit through our ill-success, he asked the House of Commons whether it was right or prudent—whether they would be acting in the spirit best calculated to impress their allies with confidence, to strike terror into their enemies—if they set up a power antagonistic to their own Government, and taught foreign nations to consider that the Executive of this country was a system of duality, and that those persons with whom negotiations were carried on, as the ostensible heads of the Government, did not really possess its power, but shared it with others who had been set up to act with them by this House. He would not trespass on the House any longer; he was quite sure that what he had said was opposed to the views of the vast majority of those whom he was addressing, and it was ridiculous to suppose that anything which he could urge would produce the slightest effect upon their 1784 minds; but he was anxious that this great breach in our system of government—that this formidable attack upon our means of offence and defence in the war—that this measure, which so clearly menaced our alliance with France and imperilled our position in Europe—should not be carried out without his having offered his strong protest against it.
said, the House was kind enough, upon a late occasion, to give him the opportunity of expressing his opinion upon the danger of appointing the Committee to inquire into the working of the departments, or into the conduct of those engaged in the Crimea. His name had now been placed upon the Committee; but he must say that he still felt, as he felt then, that the result of the inquiry must be valueless, if not absolutely injurious. If, in entertaining those opinions, it was considered that he could be of any use to that Committee, he was willing to work to the best of his ability, and to assist it in realising the expectations of the country—an object which could be obtained only by the strictest impartiality, and by being conducted by gentlemen who would not shrink from full inquiry, and at the same time would not condemn any without giving them the opportunity of defending themselves. He wished to say one word more, as to a word which he was reported to have used upon a late occasion, but which he should consider as of great importance if falling from the lips of any Englishman. He was reported to have said that "he was not at all surprised at the 'despondency' expressed throughout the country at the state of our army in the East." What he said, or what he intended to say, was, "The 'indignation' expressed by the country." He did not think that there was any despondency on the part of the country; it was a feeling which he, for one, never entertained for a single moment; and though we might have horrors and distress to face at the beginning, he never desponded at effecting any object which the English people took upon themselves to accomplish.
§ MR. F. SCOTT
said, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe) had given to the House an account of the arduous duties which would devolve upon the War Office if the Committee were granted; he stated that the load of duty which fell upon that office was quite sufficient, without its being called upon to inquire into the causes which had led to those occur- 1785 rences which they all deplored. The hon. Gentleman had completely overlaid the subject, and had endeavoured to withdraw attention from the subject which was uppermost in the mind of the country. The question at present before the House was, the conduct of the three right hon. Gentlemen sitting now below the gangway, who lately sat upon the Treasury bench. Every one lamented, and none more than the hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, the loss to the country of the talent and administrative ability of the right hon. Gentlemen. But if their regret at the absence from power of those right honourables was great, most undoubtedly their wonder exceeded their regret, because where were the altered circumstances, where the difference between the aspect of affairs now from what they presented when they so lately joined the Government? The House had come to the conclusion that there should be an inquiry into the cause of our failures and disasters in the East. It might be convenient for the right hon. Baronet, speaking with that power, and vigour, and experience which always commanded attention—it might be convenient for him to state that the matter brought before the House by the hon. Member for Sheffield was merely brought forward as a vote of censure; and it might also be very well for the right hon. Member for Wilts (Mr. Sidney Herbert) to deny the existence of the strong opinion of the House, and say that many voted for the Resolution in that sense; but he had his own opinion as to the conduct of the Government, and he stated his own opinion, and he believed he stated the opinion of the great majority of that House, when he said that the principal object of that Resolution was to inquire into the causes of the unparalleled sufferings and the losses which the army had suffered, and by which it had been reduced from 55,000 men to 15,000. The House and country wanted to know what had become of the remaining 40,000, and what was the reason of so deplorable a loss. He believed, moreover, that the effect of that inquiry could not be so prejudicial to the interests of the country as that which would be produced by the sudden withdrawal of three right hon. Gentlemen who had undertaken to serve the Crown, without any sufficient reason, thus leaving the country in the state of having no Government at all, when a strong and energetic Government was so much re- 1786 quired. The noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) had gone to Paris, and thence to Berlin, and from there he was to proceed to Vienna. He was to point out to the Emperor of the French what was the policy of our Government upon the important subject of the war; at Berlin he was to use his influence with the King of Prussia to bring him into an agreement with the policy of Great Britain;—but what was that policy? Who was to say that the policy of yesterday would be the policy of to-morrow? Look again to the state of our hospitals at Scutari and at Balaklava. What would the public say when they were told that the interests and feelings of individuals had been accepted by the House of Commons as a sufficient reason for rescinding an inquiry into the causes of the sufferings and distress that there prevailed? Why should not men high in office have their conduct inquired into? The question was, how had these great disasters come to pass? and when the lives and sufferings of our fellow-subjects were in question, no considerations of party should interfere. The Resolution asking for an inquiry was passed by a majority of more than two to one. It was no party victory; there were no cheers from one side or the other upon the announcement of the division; it was received in solemn silence, without any expression of party triumph; because the House considered it not as a vote of censure, but as the expression of the feelings of the House, that a close investigation and a close inquiry should be instituted into the circumstances which had produced such disasters to our soldiers. It appeared that the ground on which the right hon. Gentlemen opposite took office in the Government was, that this should not be a bonâ fide inquiry, and they appeared to have made it a condition precedent with the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that this inquiry should be a farce. But the idea of an inquiry into such a loss of lives not being a bonâ fide inquiry was not to be entertained for a moment. He thought the glowing epitaph pronounced by the right hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) upon the late Administration would well apply to that which had so lately been formed. For himself, he would say—" Here are the Members of a disheartened and incapable Ministry, who, having taken the reins of office, were unable to hold them. Belonging to all parties, they had the principles of none; 1787 and having no confidence in each other, they soon lost the confidence of all besides. Finding England at peace, they plunged her into war. They exposed her best and bravest sons to needless dangers; they repaid their heroism with starvation and misery. Unmoved at the great hecatomb they were making, and collectively condemned by the indignant voice of an universal people, they shrank from office, dwelling upon their own misfortunes rather than admitting the sufferings of their victims. After a vicarious sacrifice they returned to the occupation and emolument of office, whose duties they were not able to discharge. Having arrived at this point unmoved, they shrank from the heartrending and horrible details of the victims of their own incapacity—for that exposure they had not the courage or the strength to endure." They were told that the Government could not go on while the Committee was sitting; but he must remind the House that the duties of the Committee were retrospective, and those of the Government prospective, and that the Committee would be able to assist the Government in the matters which the Members of the Government had not been themselves able to master. One reason why the Government had not been enabled to obtain sufficient recruits was, that the people had no confidence that due inquiry would be made by the Government into the causes of the loss of life which had occurred in the army in the East. The appointment of the Committee, supposing it to be formed of men of competent ability, would restore confidence in the Government, and no difficulty would be felt in obtaining recruits for the army. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in the condition of persons who, having been called upon to find bail to the country, had chosen to forfeit their recognisances. He did not see why the proposed inquiry should involve us in any difficulty with the French Government. He could see sufficient reasons why our Government should not inquire into the condition of the French army, but none whatever why they should not inquire into the condition of our own.
§ MR. GRANVILLE VERNON
thought that if anything could have added to the strength of the arguments adduced by the late First Lord of the Admiralty and Secretary for the Colonies, it would have been the speeches delivered by three of the future Members of the proposed Commit- 1788 tee. An hon. and gallant General (General Peel), whose name was in the list of the Members of the Committee, described its appointment as dangerous and inconvenient; and the speech of the noble Lord the intended Chairman of the Committee (Lord Seymour), was to the same effect. But the speech of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) unanswerably proved that it would be worse than useless—that it would be mischievous—for he said that he meant that the Committee should be no sham, but that all matters should be sifted to the bottom; and he then went on to admit that there might be danger and inconvenience in many questions that might be put. The hon. Member said that there was no intention to inquire into the conduct of the war. What, then, was the inquiry for? Was it solely as a vote of censure on those who had the conduct of the war? It was not denied on any part that there had been mismanagement and suffering which might have been avoided; but he (Mr. Vernon) did not see what utility could result from an inquiry by a Committee in this country as to the condition of the army 3,000 miles off, and into the reason why roads had not been made between Balaklava and Sebastopol. He knew from private information that shortly after the army arrived at Balaklava 400 or 500 men were set to work to make a road, and a report was drawn up, if he were not misinformed, that that road would take two or three months to execute, and so the men were taken off, the General supposing probably that the place might be taken sooner. That was a mistake; but were they to blame the Government at home for it, or indeed any one, until they were aware of the reasons for that opinion? They ought to back up their Generals if they wished the army to be victorious, and he trusted that the Ministers of England would ever throw their mantles over the officers engaged in the service of the country, and that, should mistakes occur, they would rather sacrifice themselves than cast blame on their officers. He regretted to hear Members of that House talking of national disgrace and disaster. Had disgrace been incurred by the men of Alma and of Inkerman? Perhaps it might be said that disgrace was the result of the conduct of the Administration at home. That, of course, was matter of opinion; but he believed, in common with many others, that an army of unparalleled magnitude, 1789 considering the resources of this country, had been sent out fitly and adequately provided for, and, if there had not ensued that speedy success which some sanguinely anticipated, they must seek for the reason in causes over which human foresight or sagacity had little control. It had been said that it would not be necessary for the Committee to inquire into the conduct of the French army; but questions connected with the English army were so mixed up with the state of the French army that it would be impossible to separate them; and it was not desirable that the susceptibilities of our allies should be wounded, and the alliance perhaps thereby endangered. The people of England were anxious on the subject; but what they cried out for was a change of men and speedy action, and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had presented them a long and slow inquiry instead; and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) had anticipated inquiry and prejudged the verdict. He was inclined to give his most cordial support to the present Government throughout the conduct of the war, and he trusted also on many occasions afterwards; but he did not think that the Government had been much strengthened by the change of the Minister of War. He believed that great injustice had been done to the Earl of Aberdeen and the Duke of Newcastle. He had scarcely the honour of personal acquaintance with the first-named nobleman, but he had always admired his prudent and temperate course of foreign politics; and of this he was certain, that no man had been more forward than the noble Earl in supporting the introduction of every liberal measure. Of the Duke of Newcastle he felt a delicacy in speaking, as that noble Duke was his friend; but he believed that if the proposed inquiry took place, justice would be done to the noble Duke's ability, constant activity in business, his integrity, and unremitting attention to his duties. There was a cry raised about the aristocratical system of our army; but he could not believe that the system of purchase in the army was the fault—he saw nothing in the system of purchase that rendered the army inefficient. The officers and the men who fought at Inkerman exhibited no symptom of inefficiency, and there was shown bow deep was the attachment of the soldiers to the officers, and how great the sympathy of the officers for the men. He, therefore, did not think the system of purchase a 1790 faulty one. No doubt, there might be contrivances devised by which promotion should be given to merit, and he hoped to see some relaxation of the system; but the cry against the system of purchase was fallacious as applicable to our troops. We had now at the head of affairs the man who had been called by the common acclaim of England to preside over its destinies and conduct this war, and why was his Government not to be granted a fair trial? The Motion for inquiry, disguise it as they might, was a vote of censure upon the late Ministry. Attached to the members of a party which might now be called defunct, he pledged himself to lend the noble Lord's Government his best support, although he might not sit with his knees in the noble Lord's back, and he trusted that the House would act in the same manner. The hon. Member for Manchester had that night made a speech which would live in the hearts and memories of all who heard it, and than which it had never been his good fortune in Parliament to listen to one that had moved him more strongly. It was delivered with a truth, a fervour, and an honesty which did the hon. Gentleman the highest credit, and he (Mr. Vernon) could only echo its sentiments. Let the noble Lord not be led away by chimerical views of the balance of power, or captivated by wild schemes in favour of "oppressed nationalities," but bear stedfastly in mind, that the true and legitimate objects of the war were the defence of the violated rights of Turkey, the vindication of the interests of the Powers of Europe in the Black Sea, and, above all, the securing of a just and honourable peace.
§ MR. PALK
said, he had heard that night for the first time that those who retained office were deserters, and those who quitted it were faithful; but, in his opinion, on the contrary, those who, under difficult circumstances, remained at their posts were faithful, and those who quitted them were the real deserters. He trusted that the result of that night's debate would be to clear the eyes of the country of some of the dust with which recent events had blinded them. It was now ascertained that the present Government had been formed to "burke" that inquiry which the all bat unanimous Resolution of that House, ratified by the universal voice of the country, imperatively demanded. The popular cry brought the noble Lord into power, not simply because of his great 1791 merits and long official experience, but from the belief that rival parties would be reconciled by his instrumentality and a powerful Government formed. A Ministry, heralded by the press as strong from its unity of sentiment and principle, had been constructed; but the first question on which its Members had to give an opinion had served to scatter its discordant elements and rudely dissipate the illusion of its boasted strength. There was, however, something much more important to the country than the rise and fall of Governments. It was impossible that the present state of Ministerial disorganisation could continue, and that the country would be satisfied with hearing, week after week, the explanations of Ministers and ex-Ministers, and doing nothing else besides. The Government, in disappointing the popular voice, as they were doing, were playing with edged tools, and raising a storm which they would by and by find themselves unable to control. The country asked whether the reforms, now so urgent, were always to be postponed; and already ominous murmurs were heard against "the cold shade of the aristocracy." The present posture of affairs was not due to the influence of the aristocratic element in that House, but was the fault of politicians possessed of distinguished talents, who thought they could retain office without a principle or a party. As to the proposed inquiry into the state of the army, sufficient had been proved already to justify heavy censure, if not even impeachment, but a Committee of that House was not necessary; and the effect of further investigation could only be to give increased prominence to that disastrous misgovernment which had first disorganised and ruined an army originally 60,000 strong, and then left the country at the present moment without an Administration, without an army, and without a general.
§ MR. LAING
said, that the prolonged Ministerial crisis now threatened such serious national misfortunes that it behoved the Government and its supporters to come to a mutual understanding; and for this purpose it was necessary that expression should be given to the sentiments of hon. Gentlemen of different shades of opinion on the Ministerial side of the House. The late Secretary of State for the Colonies had told them that the Government had not enjoyed the confidence of a large proportion of those who sat upon its own side; but he (Mr. Laing) could state for 1792 himself and for other independent Members with whose sentiments he was acquainted, that they had given a cordial and disinterested support to the late Ministry, and were equally prepared to accord the same to the existing Government, upon the single condition that the urgent demand for army reform was fairly and promply acceded to. But there were two great questions which entirely overshadowed the question of the change of Government—the negotiations for peace now going on and that of the vigorous prosecution of the war. As to the negotiations now pending with Russia, if peace could be obtained by the sincere and honest acceptance on the part of that Power of the terms agreed upon by the noble Lord at the head of the Government and by the noble Lord who had proceeded to Vienna, in concert with the Cabinets of France and Austria, there surely could be but one opinion as to its being the bounden duty of a Christian country to embrace such a solution of the dispute. As for the relief of "oppressed nationalities," and other such impracticable and extreme schemes, he could not conceive that anybody, in or out of the House, would wish to incur the responsibility of prolonging war and bloodshed for such chimerical objects. This was emphatically a statesman's war. It was against a great Power, undertaken, not for the purpose of territorial aggrandisement, but to preserve the balance of power in Europe, to defeat the aggressions of Russia, and to make Turkey one of the European family of nations, and to secure her independence; and if these objects could be obtained on terms which met with the concurrence of Powers even more interested than ourselves in this matter, it would be a piece of suicidal madness for England to hold out for more rigorous conditions. With this opinion, he had supported the past and would support the present Government. But there was another and still more important question which had arisen out of the war—the state of our military and naval establishments as disclosed by the result of this year's campaign. It was, indeed, absolutely appalling to consider how these departments had failed. What if we had got into a war with France instead of with Russia, as some people ridiculously feared two or three years ago, and as some foolish Members of the Cabinet went about trying to persuade the country was likely to be the case? What if The vigour and resources of the new empire had been turned against 1793 us, and 100,000 French soldiers had landed on our coast, and we had had to resist them with such a military administration, such generals, such a Commissariat, and such a staff as had figured in the Crimea? We had been paying millions yearly for the maintenance of our military establishments, but what had been the product of all this cost? We found when we wanted to make use of them, that the money which we had been spending during the last thirty years as a sort of assurance against such dangers had been absolutely thrown away—we had been insuring, in fact, in an insolvent company, and we might as well have thrown our money into the sea. The noble and generous pride of England was cut to the quick by the figure we had made in this war. While the practical men of the age—the countrymen and followers of Arkwright, Watt, and Stephenson—had been straining every nerve to raise the country higher than she had ever stood before, mid while they were flattering themselves they had succeeded, the veil was suddenly rent from their eyes, and they found that in this conflict, entered into with all the resources of the nation and the unanimous support of Parliament and the people, England actually went far less than a single second-rate Power, like Sardinia, probably might when she descended into the arena. The feeling that civilians knew nothing of military matters and were not competent to give an opinion on them was now entirely thrown aside—every man felt himself called upon in this matter to exercise that plain common sense with which God had gifted him. It was not from any want of valour in our soldiers that these failures had occurred; they had never fought better, and, as it appeared, the regimental officers had never behaved better; but it was that the whole administration of the army was conducted with a total disregard of the common-sense principles which were held to be essential to the success of every private undertaking. In the first place, for a private undertaking to succeed, there must be somewhere a clear undivided responsibility—there must he one head, dealing with a series of efficient instruments, to whom all things must be referred, who would direct all and be answerable for all. But who was responsible for the whole administration of our army? Until within the last few weeks the administration of the army had been conducted by the Secretary for War and the Secretary at War and half-a-dozen 1794 different departments, and all responsibility was completely evaded. One of the greatest disasters that had ever befallen this country—the Cabul disaster—was attributable in a great measure to the appointment of an improper and incompetent general to the command of the army; but to this day the country did not know who was the man responsible for this appointment. What we wanted was one man, like the Minister of War in France, who would be responsible for the whole army—one man who would have all the power and all the responsibility. Then, again, another principle essential to the success of private undertakings was the proper division of labour among different departments; and this principle should have been applied to the case of the Commissariat, the transport, and all the other civil departments of the army; but the manner in which we had totally failed in matters in which England was pre-eminent showed that this principle had been entirely neglected in the administration of the army. Were there no men in England who could make a road or maintain a regular communication between England and the Crimea? There were hundreds of men, he believed, in the City of London, who would be ready to-morrow to contract to supply the army with food and clothing, and who would perform the service, too, with regularity and despatch. The whole transport service of the army in the Crimea was an operation of far less magnitude than his hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Lindsay) was accustomed to deal with every day in the ordinary course of business. Then, for the land transport service, were there no Chaplins and Hornes, no Pickfords in the country, whose special business it was to do these things? Were there not, too, in this country a class of men who had arisen out of the extension of our railway system—the great contractors—whose business it was to do the very things that were wanted to be done, and were they not men who managed to keep themselves out of the Gazette by the exercise of those administrative abilities from the want of which the present deadlock had arisen? Were there no Petos, no Brasseys—men who could make a road, or half a dozen roads, if they were wanted, between the camp and Balaklava, carry up the huts, and, in fact, do the very things which the military authorities had failed in doing? Now, indeed, they had sent out some "navvies," but not half enough for the work, and 1795 some three months too late. It was clear that we never could be a great military Power; but as our army, though limited in numbers, was unrivalled in its materials, and as we possessed unlimited supplies of labour of every description, our best policy must be to keep our soldiers as much as possible as fighting machines. For fighting, none in the world could beat them; but when it came to manual labour one navvy was worth half a dozen soldiers, and we had in this country somewhere about 200,000 navvies. It was in the proper distribution and employment of the vast amount of skilled and unskilled labour which the country contained, and of our superiority in the mechanical arts, that success for us in great military operations must be sought. Another radical evil in our military administration was the present system of promotion. The experience of every man engaged in large commercial operations would bear testimony that promotion by merit was the mainspring of efficient service; but our system of promotion in the army seemed devised purposely to exclude merit, and to drive away the very men who had been placed in a position to acquire the requisite experience. It would be naturally supposed, with the vast advantages which the Indian service presented for military education, that that country would have been looked on as the nursery for our army, and that we should take every opportunity of availing ourselves of the services of Indian officers. But how different was the case. Algeria was the India of France; and what should we think of the French Government if it were to refuse to accept the services of any officer of the Algerian army, however distinguished, and however great the emergency? If we treated our Indian army as France treated her Algerian army we should have no want of experienced soldiers and commanders. It was evident that powerful obstructions were opposed to remedial measures; and if the House of Commons was satisfied with plausible explanations, and abstained from urging the absolute necessity of reforms, the existing difficulties, which, as the right hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) had said the other night, were gigantic difficulties, were not likely to be removed. He should be most happy to think that such would be the case, and he most deeply lamented that occasion had arisen for even the semblance of such a course as the House had adopted. But it 1796 had been forced upon them. The emergency was great; and would the nation be satisfied if the House of Commons gave up the idea of appointing a Committee, abandoned investigation, and was satisfied with vague promises that Commissions were to be sent here and there, and that, though nothing could be done while the war continued, when it was concluded some measure of reform should be adopted? He could assure the House that there was a spirit abroad in the country that must not be trifled with. He was sorry to say that elements of almost a revolutionary agitation existed, although at present they were not very prominent, which, by a wise course on the part of the Government might, he believed, be prevented from developing themselves, but which, by an imprudent persistence in an arbitrary and unpopular refusal to grant inquiry, or by neglect of vigorous action, might, he feared, rapidly urge on the country to a condition which he shuddered to contemplate. He knew it was said by some persons that those who expressed those opinions were opposed to the aristocracy, and wished to hound the people on against the aristocracy, and to exclude them from the army. Now, he must say, with the most perfect sincerity, that nothing could be further from his wish. He was proud of the aristocracy of this country, and he was delighted to think that our ancient nobility and gentry had not, like the aristocracies of other nations, become effete and effeminate, but displayed a vigour and a spirit which reflected upon it the highest credit. He need only refer to the cavalry charge at Balaklava, where the peer and the peasant fought side by side and displayed equal courage. But did not that same lesson teach them that that band of heroes had been hurried to destruction by orders which had been either improperly given by one noble Lord or improperly carried out by another? He believed it was owing to the want of business qualities on the part of the commanders that those brave troops were hurried to an untimely death, and that that brilliant effort of heroism was productive of no advantage to our arms. He was satisfied that it was for the interest of the aristocracy that cautious and moderate reforms should be effected in the administration of the army. For his own part, he desired no more democratic reforms than those which had been adopted in the Sardinian army, of which a very interesting account had recently been pub- 1797 lished. During the recent unsuccessful war for establishing the liberties of Italy, in which Sardinia was engaged, it was found that defects existed in the administration of the army, and an officer who only six or seven years ago was a captain of artillery—Lieutenant General La Marmora, who was selected solely on the ground of merit, was appointed Minister of War, and introduced into the army moderate and useful reforms. No sweeping democratic changes were made; the aristocracy were not excluded front the army, but the gentry were encouraged to enter as officers, while a certain number of appointments to the rank of officers was thrown open to meritorious non-commissioned officers. He asked for no more extensive measure of reform than this, and he thought this country, which had reformed its domestic institutions and its commercial policy, had a right to expect that the necessary reforms should be effected in its army. He and those Members of that House who were prepared to support the Government of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton were most anxious to see the noble Lord undertake these reforms, and obtain the credit of them, rather than allow them to be effected by others whose tendencies might be more democratic. If the noble Lord would set about the vigorous reform of our military administration, he (Mr. Laing) thought he could venture to promise him the support of the great majority of the thinking people of this country; and, speaking for the majority of his (Mr. Laing's) friends in that House, he was sure they would readily support the noble Lord, to whom, as Liberals, they looked as their leader, and whose kind and manly bearing to all parties in the House had secured their affectionate esteem. Upon the other hand, the nation was truly alive on this question, and would not be content that things should be going on as they had gone on in the Crimea during the last campaign. They would not be content that a war undertaken with a strong sense of its justice, and a high and not unreasonable expectation of success, should be brought to a degrading and humiliating termination. The Government should not fall into apathy on the subject, nor allow the catastrophe that had occurred to produce no more effect on the nation and its representatives than had been produced by the catastrophe of Cabool.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
The present state of public affairs appears to me 1798 to be so critical and so menacing, and the state of the Government of the country is so peculiar and so unsatisfactory, and, as I think, so discreditable, that I feel very desirous to address some observations to the House. I feel this the more strongly as I am one of those Gentlemen who have been selected to be proposed to the House this evening as one of the Members of the Committee of Inquiry which is about to be appointed, and of the proceedings of which we have heard so much this evening. What is the present state of public affairs, and what is the main ground of the desire that, now exists in the public mind for inquiry? The finest army that England ever sent forth has been victorious, and has perished. It has perished by disease, by cold, by fatigue, and by the most protracted sufferings. Is this no case for inquiry? Am I going too far when I use the expression that I fear that before another month has passed, as the 63rd Regiment has already gone, as our noble brigade of Guards is almost gone, so will the whole of that fine army have gone? Then, how is that army to be recruited? Have we the means of recruiting it, and of restoring our strength in the Crimea? It was only yesterday that a very distinguished officer told me he had seen the last draught of men that left England for the Crimea. It consisted, he said, of 2,000 men, who sailed from Portsmouth, and his description of them was, "they wore red coats and carried muskets, but they were not soldiers." There was not a man among them who had been embodied as a soldier more than three months-many of them only two—and I have a right to ask, is this acting fairly towards those whom they are sent to assist? Is it fair to the Allies with whom we are associated in this war? Is it fair to England? If such be the state of affairs abroad, what do we find to be the state of affairs at home? We find that the time which ought to have been devoted by a united Government to the most energetic action is consumed in promoting the interests of personal ambition and the struggles of contending parties. Is this no case for inquiry? And what is the state of feeling out of doors in reference to this state of affairs? The hon. Member for Manchester has referred to the state of public feeling, in terms of great moderation, but of great truth. I believe that the feeling out of doors, at this moment, is one of deep indignation. It is deep, and it will soon be loud. The 1799 people of this country will demand to know what are the causes of these misfortunes. They are looking anxiously to the proceedings of this House—they expect inquiry—and rest assured they will not be satisfied without inquiry. They expect to be able to ascertain—and it is our duty in this House to assist them in the inquiry—who is to blame for the misfortunes and calamities that have overtaken our army. I think any man is greatly to be censured who at a moment like this hesitates to express his opinion on the state of affairs, and I have no hesitation in expressing my distinct conviction that the blame for this state of affairs is to be attributed to the misconduct and mismanagement of the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen. I do not deny that great mistakes have been made in the Crimea, and that much that has occurred there has led to part of the suffering that has been endured by our army in that quarter of the world; but it is my deliberate opinion that it is the bad policy of the late Ministry, and their mismanagement of affairs, which have, in a very large measure, conduced to the misfortunes which this country has now to deplore. My belief is that from the commencement of this unhappy war, and the negotiations that preceded it, the conduct of Her Majesty's late Ministers has been marked by a series of the gravest mistakes and blunders. But when I use this language I beg to say I entirely agree with those who, in the debate on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, altogether disclaimed the intention of attacking any one individual Minister. Undoubtedly, I agree in the opinion that the whole Cabinet must be held equally responsible, and the right hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) has broadly and fairly accepted that issue to-night. The right hon. Gentleman urged that if mistakes had been made the whole Cabinet must be responsible for them. I allude to this matter the more particularly, because, in one of the speeches we have heard to-night from one of the Gentlemen that have retired from the Government, it was said that the Earl of Aberdeen and the Duke of Newcastle had been sacrificed to the public obloquy that had fallen on them in consequence of the disasters in the Crimea. If I were called upon to name the Members of the late Government who, in my judgment, bore the heaviest share of the responsibility of the unfortunate events that had occurred in 1800 the Crimea, I must honestly confess, without having any political leaning to the noble Duke—I should not name him as one of those men. Whatever mistakes had been committed in the Duke of Newcastle's department, I am free to own that the mode of his retirement is more honourable to him than the mode in which others have contrived to retain possession of office. If I were to name the members of Lord Aberdeen's Administration to whom I am disposed to attach the greatest share of blame for the misfortunes that have occurred, I should name the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and the noble Lord opposite, who is now the Prime Minister of this country. The reason why I thus refer to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London is this:—the Duke of Newcastle himself, in that remarkable defence of his conduct which he recently made, distinctly stated that when the new office of Secretary for War was created, as an office distinct from that of Secretary for the Colonies, he strongly remonstrated against the incompleteness of the arrangements then made. Last year, when the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) explained the new arrangements that had been made, and stated that a Secretary for War was to be created, but that no consolidation of the various offices of the army was to take place, it will be in the recollection of the House that I, for one, took objection to the imperfection of these arrangements. I complained of the absurdity of retaining a Secretary for War and a Secretary at War, and stated that it was impossible to conduct the administration of the army on such principles—I said that in time of war especially they could not conduct the affairs of the army satisfactorily unless some consolidation took place of those various and conflicting departments by which the army had hitherto been governed. I was, however, overruled. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire said my objections were groundless; but I now find that at the very time I made these objections in the House of Commons, the Duke of Newcastle had urged—and urged in vain—the same objections in the Cabinet, and was also overruled. The noble Duke appears to have urged with truth, "I cannot discharge my duty as Secretary for War under this imperfect arrangement;" but he was overruled by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and the Cabinet, on the ground that Par- 1801 liament demanded the change, and that to please Parliament the change must be made. I think it is a most grave charge against the noble Lord and all his col. leagues. I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion that, whatever may have been the talent or capacity of the Duke of Newcastle, I do not believe that any Minister would have conducted the war satisfactorily as Secretary of State for War, with the department in the divided, conflicting, and unsatisfactory state in which it has remained up to this time—when we are at last told that under the pressure of irresistible necessity that consolidation is now to take place which I, for one, urged in vain last Session—which was urged with consummate ability by Earl Grey—and which it appears the Duke of Newcastle urged on the Cabinet, but was overruled by the rest of his colleagues, because they thought more of what would be acceptable for the moment to the House of Commons than what was desired by the country, and what would be most conducive to the proper conduct of the war. The passage in the speech of the Duke of Newcastle to which I have referred justifies me in opinion that the member of the Government most responsible for the failure of affairs in the Crimea is the noble Lord the Member for the City of London. I have alluded to the noble Viscount the present Prime Minister on account of his connection with the militia. I believe one of the gravest errors of the late Government was their neglect of the militia. On the 2nd of May last a friend of mine, the hon. Member for Dublin, in putting a question to the Government, said he trusted the Government would state their intention on the subject of calling out the Irish militia. The answer of the noble Lord was this:—With respect to the Irish militia, it was not the intention of the Government during the present year to organise or enrol the Irish militia. It was not desirable to incur any large expense if the public service did not require it. What might be done in another year was a matter for future consideration."—[3 Hansard, cxxxii. 1173.]We have been told that from the commencement of this war Her Majesty's Government contemplated an attack on the Crimea. In the month of June the order for the attack on the Crimea was issued. In May the noble Lord said the Irish militia was not then to be enrolled or embodied. Were the English or Scotch militia embodied at the proper time, or was any one step taken to 1802 secure to the country that legitimate and constitutional reserve from which the army ought to be recruited? We are told to look upon the noble Lord as the man to relieve us from our present difficulties. For the sake of the country I devoutly wish he may, and no one will be more ready to give him credit for it if he shall succeed; but what am I to think when I find him holding this language in May last, and exhibiting such a complete absence of the foresight and sagacity that ought to distinguish the Minister of this country at such a moment, when it was clear to every one who considered the state of affairs that we were about to embark, not only in a serious war, but to make that war an aggressive war by invading the soil of our enemy? The first duty of the Government on the outbreak of the war was to take every step in their power to embody and enrol the militia, and to secure to the country that legitimate and constitutional reserve. I have, therefore, a right to impute to the noble Lord a large share of the misfortunes which have occurred. We are feeling the effect of this neglect in the instances I have given of the sort of recruits sent out. Why are the recruits inefficient but because there has been no reserve upon which to draw? As I have said before, I do not regard the Motion of the hon. and learned Member fur Sheffield, and the division which took place on that Motion, as a vote of censure on any individual member of the late Government; but I regard it as a vote of censure on the conduct of the Government; as a vote of censure on the collective Government that Motion was accepted by the noble Lord, and he now sits, as Minister of the Country, subject to a vote of censure, which was agreed to by an unparalleled majority. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) has expressed very great dislike to the Committee about to be appointed, and has objected that those who voted for it did not intend seriously to have a Committee of Inquiry, but only intended to censure the Government. Let me remind the right hon. Baronet that those who assented to that Motion as a vote of censure, and as such gave it their support, did not anticipate that the immediate consequence of their vote was to be the return to office of the very same men who had been condemned; and I am free to say that the common sense and right feeling of the country were never more outraged than 1803 when the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen, after that vote of censure had been passed, returned to office, I may say unchanged. A strong Government was desired; and how was the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen strengthened? It was strengthened by taking away two of the most experienced statesmen of the day, in the persons of the Earl of Aberdeen and Lord John Russell. The right hon. Baronet and three of his Friends have since retired, and I think they have retired on sufficient grounds. In my opinion they have retired from office in a manner highly to their own honour. I think, after the course they followed in the debate on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, they have taken a consistent and honourable course, and, entertaining that opinion, as I sincerely do, I must say I think the position of the Prime Minister is, at least, a most extraordinary one. I ask, whether the course advised by the noble Lord on Friday last, or the course taken by him on this Friday, is the proper and constitutional course for him to follow? I cannot understand how the noble Lord can get over the objection he expressed last Friday. I can perfectly understand why the noble Lord thought it better, instead of giving his aid to the formation of a strong Government, which he was invited to do, to place himself at the head of a weak Government. I can perfectly understand that there may be an occasion on which he might be obliged to take a course in opposition to his own judgment, but I cannot so easily understand hew any Prime Minister can think it consistent with his duty to consent to a course, of which, on Friday last, he not only expressed his entire disapprobation, but further declared not to be in accordance with the spirit of the constitution. Did the noble Lord mean what he said on Friday last? and, if he did, is he now prepared to take a course which is not in accordance with the constitution? Are we to have the Prime Minister of this country setting an example to the House of Commons of taking a course that is not consistent with the constitution? This is for the noble Lord to explain; and I confess I think the position of the noble Lord is not that which, under such circumstances, the Prime Minister of this country ought to hold. But, on the other hand, I am quite unable to agree with the strong objections which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle has expressed to-night to the appointment of this Committee; and I think 1804 the House cannot fail to have been struck with the discrepancy of language between the right hon. Baronet and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire. The right hon. Gentleman only took exception to inquiry by Committee into the condition of the army in the Crimea. He said it was quite constitutional to inquire into the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers, and into the conduct of the departments which administer to the wants of the army, but he objected to the nature of the tribunal; he objected to a Committee of the House of Commons, but he had no objection to a Commission. The country has demanded an inquiry, and you cannot resist it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire says he would prefer a Commission to a Committee;—then why have we not had a Commission offered? But, Sir, since no Commission was offered, I was very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he takes no exception to an inquiry, at least into the conduct of Ministers; and, as far as my opinion goes, I consider that to be the principal subject of the inquiry. I fear, however, that there will shortly be no reason for proceeding with that branch of the inquiry, since I doubt whether, in a very little time, there will be any army to inquire into. ["No, no!"] Some hon. Gentlemen express dissent; but they cannot feel greater regret than I do at being compelled to make that confession. This is not a question of opinion or feeling, it is a question of fact; and I fear that I resort to no exaggeration—I fear that I am speaking too strictly in accordance with the facts—when I make that statement. The right hon. Member for Carlisle objected altogether to a Committee. He condemned inquiry as dangerous, and one of the principal arguments upon which he relied was, that such an inquiry was without precedent. My answer to that is, that our calamity in the Crimea is without precedent. Was there ever an occasion which called more loudly upon Parliament than this, if there be no precedent, to establish one? I think that this is a case in which a precedent must be established. The army has been neglected—grossly neglected—and I say that, so long as the Treasury benches are filled by the Members of the Government which caused these disasters, there remain fair and legitimate grounds for inquiry into the conduct which led to them. As I have been selected to be one of the Members of the Committee, I am very desirous, before my name is proposed 1805 and consented to, that I should state frankly to the Government and to the House the spirit in which I shall enter into the inquiry if I am appointed a Member of the Committee. Accidentally I was not consulted before my name was placed upon that Committee. It was placed there by a Friend of mine who did perfectly right in agreeing to place my name there, and who could have done nothing more painful and disagreeable to me than to have hesitated for a moment in putting my name upon the Committee, if, in his opinion, I could have been of any use as a Member of it. That being so—as I was not consulted beforehand—I feel bound frankly to state to the House the views which I entertain with regard to the inquiry; and it will then be for the House to say whether I ought to be a Member of it. I only consent to serve upon that Committee on two distinct and clear conditions. One is, that the inquiry shall be complete and searching. Public indignation and public justice demand it. The calamity is without precedent, and the inquiry must be searching. The other condition is, that, as regards the conduct of those departments which are to be made the subject of inquiry, we shall begin at the beginning. Do not let us be told that we are to take this inquiry from November. The noble Lord the Member for London seemed to think as regarded himself that if he deserted his colleagues on the eve of a critical division, and then read a correspondence written in November relative to the changes he wished to see made in regard to the conduct of the war, that he could evade his responsibility for these events. There never was a greater mistake. No doubt the sufferings of our army commenced in November, disease and death began their havoc in November, but the responsibility of the Government commenced in June and July. That was the time when the real responsibility for these affairs began; and I say that if we are to embark in this inquiry we must do it with a full and deep sense of the responsibility we have incurred. This House has stepped out of its way—it has taken an unusual course—it has appointed a Committee of an extraordinary nature; but it has done so under extraordinary circumstances, and I trust that we who are likely to be Members of the Committee will not close our eyes to the magnitude of the responsibility under which we are to conduct that inquiry. I wish to ask, in the first instance, are we to inquire into 1806 the circumstances under which our army was first sent to the Crimea? I do not touch upon the policy of going to the Crimea. That may be beyond the scope of our inquiry. I do not touch upon the abstract policy. In my mind, that is a grave question which must be some day discussed; but at present we should reserve our judgment upon it. But are we to inquire into the circumstances of sending that army to the Crimea late in the autumn, without adequate means, ignorant of the force of the enemy, and ignorant of the nature of the fortress which we were about to attack? Is that to be the subject of inquiry?—because, Sir, if it is, I happen to know from private sources that the very highest military authorities exercised all the influence they could against this unhappy and ill-fated expedition. I know not whether the Queen's Government were warned; but this I know, that the generals commanding were warned—and warned, too, by military authorities of no ordinary eminence—that if they went to Odessa they might inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy and be successful, but that if they went to the Crimea they knew nothing of the enemy they were going to attack—they incurred frightful risks, protracted success might be more disastrous than immediate failure, and if they attempted to winter there the army of England would be destroyed. It is within my knowledge that that warning was given; and fearfully has every word been fulfilled, Are we to inquire into that? Are we to inquire why, when such an expedition was sent out, there was no reserve either at Constantinople or Malta? The hon. and learned Member says, "Let us inquire into the conduct of the departments which minister to that army." But what department so important as that which ought to have had a reserve at their disposal? Are we to inquire into that? Are we to inquire why no militia yet exists from which the army could be recruited? Are we to inquire why our battering train was wholly insufficient for the object for which it was sent? why the army was so badly provisioned? why those huts which were essential, not only to the comfort, but to the lives of the soldiers, were never prepared or sent out—not even the order given—as I understand—until the third week in November? It was perfectly clear at the end of September that we were involved in a protracted struggle, that we could not 1807 take Sebastopol by a coup de main, and that we had, in all probability, a winter campaign before us. Still, there were no huts ordered until the third week in November. Are we to inquire into that? These are some of the subjects well worthy of inquiry, wholly irrespective of the condition of the army, and the conduct of the generals, which deeply implicate the conduct of the Gentlemen who now sit upon the Treasury bench. Are we to inquire into these things or are we not? If we do not it will be a mere mockery of an inquiry, and the country will reject with indignation and disgust what they will deem to be only an evasion of that inquiry. These are the opinions which I have thought it my duty to state upon the nature of the inquiry before us. If it should be the opinion of the House that, having expressed these views, I am precluded from taking a part in the Committee, if they think that with these strong impressions I am unable to act judicially, I shall at once acquiesce in that opinion. If, on the other hand, it is desired that I should be a Member of that Committee, I shall discharge the duty imposed upon me as fairly, as justly, as impartially as I can; but only upon the understanding—and about this let there be no mistake—that the inquiry is to be a thoroughly sifting one. The Committee is not yet appointed, and it is now open to the House to take what course it likes with regard to myself; but, if I am appointed, I can only consent to serve upon the distinct understanding that the inquiry shall be full and complete. There must be no evasion for the sake of screening any person in office or out of office, whether high or low, whether at home or abroad, and then there may be a prospect that those who have been guilty of these unhappy calamities will be discovered and exposed.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
said, he could assure the House that if this were a mere party question he should feel that his position in that House would prevent his taking any part in it; but as he but seldom obtruded his opinion upon the House he trusted that he should be excused if he asked to be allowed to give expression to the strong feelings which pervaded his mind. He had voted against this inquiry, with the full persuasion that it was a most unconstitutional proposition, and that it would eventuate in no good to the country. But if he had entertained that opinion at the time when he gave that 1808 vote, certainly every speech which he had heard that evening—he spoke not of his right hon. Friends who sat before him (Sir J, Graham and Mr. S. Herbert)—but the speeches which he had heard from every quarter had tended to confirm him in the opinion which he had originally formed. Admitting that the appointment of the Committee was not unconstitutional, it was at least exceptional; admitting, for a moment, that it would not be dangerous, it was at all events most inconvenient, and must be, if carried out, attended with great and manifest injustice. He would pass no opinion upon the course taken by his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, nor upon that of his colleagues who had left the Government; but upon this point he entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), that upon the question whether a man ought to remain in or retire from office, his own conscience was the best monitor; and had he been in a similar position himself, he could not, under all the circumstances, and entertaining the opinions they did, see how he could take any other course than the one they had adopted. He regretted exceedingly that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had so readily yielded to the appointment of this Committee. He admitted that there was great difficulty in resisting it, but he believed the best interests of the country would be eventually best served by averting it. There were three cardinal objections to its appointment. The first was, the danger of disturbing our alliance with France. Now, every one must admit—and especially those who took the most desponding view—as he regretted the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down seemed to do—that the French alliance was essential to the success of the expedition. Was there, he would ask, no danger of losing this alliance if this inquiry was proceeded with? Why, they were to have a searching inquiry. The country was told they were to have a searching inquiry, and the country expected it. If there was not a searching inquiry, the indignation of the country would be raised beyond what it then was. Well, what was the very first question that would be raised in the Committee? Why did you go to the Crimea so late in the season? Was that a question which applied to the English army alone? Were they to inquire into what had been termed in a well-known public document "the timid counsels?" Again, 1809 suppose we inquired into the condition of the army before Sebastopol and its causes—how that condition was brought about—would not another question naturally arise out of that—namely, why was not Sebastopol attacked by land and sea immediately after the battle of the Alma? ["No, no!"] Why, there were many persons who were strongly of opinion that, had Lord Raglan marched upon Sebastopol twenty-four hours after the battle of the Alma, and the fleet attacked it by sea simultaneously, Sebastopol must have fallen into the hands of the Allies. Well, would not this question again raise the other question of the conduct of our allies? The real fact of the matter was, those hon. Members who were foremost in proposing and advocating a Committee already appeared to shrink from its consequences. We would investigate anything that concerned our own Government, but the moment one word was said about France or the French army, the witnesses' mouths would be stopped. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), whose wit and eloquence he much admired, had even admitted the danger of disturbing the French alliance. That hon. Gentleman said, that the Committee could inquire into such circumstances as, whether the waggon-train had been despatched without harness, and similar circumstances, but the country expected, if there was an inquiry at all, not only an inquiry into the administration of the War Department at home, but a full and searching inquiry into the conduct of the war. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) shook his head, but he would tell him, that there could not be a searching inquiry into the state of the army before Sebastopol which did not involve the consideration of the whole conduct of the war. There was another objection of great force. It was all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for War, in a chivalrous spirit to offer no objection to an inquiry into the administration of the department with which he had been connected, because, no doubt, he was conscious of having done all in his power to discharge the duties of that department. Nothing could be more natural than that that right hon. Gentleman should adopt that course, but the conduct of the war could not be separated from the conduct of our allies. There was another objection of the gravest moment. He was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member 1810 for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) speak in such terms of the Duke of Newcastle. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. He made no doubt but that there was nothing the noble Duke desired more than to remove from himself the load of obloquy under which, in his (Mr. S. Wortley's) opinion, he most unjustly suffered. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of War would no doubt, as he said, desire also to go before a Committee, and to vindicate himself and his colleagues; but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe) had clearly demonstrated how this inquiry must be carried out, and what it must of necessity involve; and he, too, asked, as well as that hon. Gentleman, was it fit, was it right, was it for the welfare of the public service, that at a time when men should be concentrating all their vigour, energy, and intellect for promoting the work of the several departments for a spring campaign—that at that very moment civil and military servants should have their exertions paralysed, and their minds occupied with preparing for their own defence? Another, and, in his opinion, a paramount objection to the appointment of this Committee was, that it would necessarily tend to the perpetration of great injustice against those who might be inculpated. Were those insignificant persons they were going to put upon their trial? It had been said there was no sympathy on the part of the Members of the Government for the condition of the soldier. He (Mr. S. Wortley) did not subscribe to any such assertion. God knows there was sympathy in every part of that House. There was not a man in it that did not feel, and feel acutely, for their sufferings. Well, but he asked, were they going to put men upon their trial who had been for the last half-century engaged in the public service—who had spilt their best blood in fighting for their country—who had left all but their lives on the battle field; were we going to arraign our most distinguished, most zealous, most loyal, and most faithful officers—men who had supported the honour and glory of England in hard-won fields; were we going to inculpate those men—["No, no!"]—were we going to arraign them in a spirit of what might be almost termed vindictiveness? ["No, no!"] Yes; hon. Gentlemen might say no; and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield might shake his head. Such might not be his view, or wish, or inten- 1811 tion. But what were the views of the hon. Gentleman who sat next him—he meant the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard)? Did the House forget the eloquent speech of that hon. Gentleman a few nights ago, in which he spoke of the way in which he thought matters ought to be dealt with in the Crimea. The hon. Gentleman spoke of cutting at the root of the system there—he spoke, too, not of things, but of persons—and he intimated that his object was to remove every man who now held command there. The hon. Gentleman did not hesitate to point to Lord Raglan, and blame that noble Lord for the course he took. Again, he must say he did not think it was quite a constitutional course for that House to take upon itself to arraign our eminent public servants, and that such a proceeding ought to emanate from the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) had stated, a few nights ago, that this inquiry ought to be secret. Secret! Why, was a secret inquiry practicable? Would a secret inquiry satisfy the country? He felt certain it would not. Did not the public expect to hear of the cause of the disasters which had occurred before Sebastopol? Why, was not that one of the main objects of their desire, to see how it was that their relations had perished? What would be the consequence? Day by day they would have in all the public papers the bitterest inculpations against men who were 3,000 miles off, where communication, except by telegraph, would occupy six weeks in transmission; and no evidence could be obtained to refute those charges until a deep impression had been made on the public mind, and perhaps a most unjust one, and until the refutations, however complete, would be looked upon as stale, and would not be cared for. In concluding, he would again warn the House not to proceed with this inquiry, for in his opinion the most dangerous consequences were likely to result from the appointment of the Committee.
§ MR. WALPOLE
I have listened, Sir, with extreme surprise to the observations made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), and also to those of the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) on the constitutional rights, privileges, and duties of Members of this House—observations more extraordinary than any I ever heard from statesmen of authority. The 1812 right hon. Baronet has told us that the inquiry will not only be unjust and unconstitutional, but that it is likewise without precedent. There is no precedent, he says, except a precedent in the reign of King William and the Walcheren expedition, in which the House of Commons has inquired into naval or military operations of this description, and that in both the cases to which I have referred the operations were at an end when the inquiry took place. Now, Sir, I will presently show that there exist many authorities of the greatest weight, both in this and in the other House of Parliament, that where there has been calamity—where there has been disaster—where there has been mismanagement and supposed misconduct—it has always been reckoned the duty of this House and the duty of the other House of Parliament to inquire into the cause of those calamities and disasters which were the apparent result of such mismanagement and supposed misconduct. I have heard it stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Wiltshire that this is an inquiry which cannot be acceded to upon the part of the Government, because an inquiry of such a character, if acceded to, would be tantamount to dismissal. Does not my right hon. Friend know full well that inquiry after inquiry is often acceded to on the part of the Government with reference to almost every question of foreign and domestic policy, without any imputation on those who are the subjects of it, and further, that this House most wisely awaits the result of such inquiries before it expresses an opinion on the matter, instead of taking the other alternative to which such an argument would lead, namely, the alternative of condemning first and inquiring afterwards? My right hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down tells us that we are infringing upon the duty and functions of the Executive Government, because this House has determined to have a searching investigation into all the circumstances connected with this case, not for the purpose of condemning prematurely or censuring unnecessarily, but in order to ascertain whether the allegations which have been made against the system or against the men by whom that system is worked, are or are not correct and well-founded. Surely, when you have before you every kind of conflicting statement, it would be idle to stop the legitimate mode of ascertaining the true facts of the case; and to say we are not to inquire is 1813 to say, that this House—which, as the right hon. Member for Carlisle most justly reminded us, is the grand inquest of the nation—is to shut its eyes to the fact that the army is perishing before us and to close up with a strong hand all sources of information, when from one end of the country to the other that information is loudly demanded and strongly needed; and we are told that the justification for such a proceeding is, that, by persisting now in the assertion of our rights and the discharge of our duties, we are trenching upon those functions of Government which ought to be left simply and solely to the Executive. Who ever heard of such an argument? I am willing to concede, what may very properly be conceded, that inquiries of this kind which in any way whatever affect the functions of the Executive Government, are always attended with considerable inconvenience, and oftentimes with serious evil; but I ask you to consider fairly whether there are not times, and whether this is not one of them, when inconvenience is unavoidable, and even evil a necessity? As well as I can understand our present position, such a time is forced upon us now, and remember it is not forced upon us by any clamour or agitation from without; it is not forced upon us by caprice or waywardness on the part of the people; it is not forced upon us by any selfish ambition to displace the Government; but it is forced upon us by the calm, strong, deliberate conviction in every Member's mind, that there is something wrong which ought to be remedied, and that this remedy can best be applied by searching into the causes which have led to the wrong. This conviction is nothing more and it is nothing less than the echo of an equally strong conviction out of doors. Under such circumstances, you are bound to ascertain—if you can ascertain—the cause of the calamities by which you are surrounded, to detect the errors which may have been committed, to punish the faults, if faults are brought home to any one whatever, and to remedy the evils of the system itself, if all these calamities are to be attributed to the system, and not to the men. Now, Sir, it being, as I take it, a sound constitutional principle, that you are entitled and bound to institute inquiry when grounds for inquiry are brought under your notice, I am willing to admit, that unless those grounds are strong and urgent, the functions of the Government ought not to be interfered with, for I am not one of those who would lightly 1814 or unnecessarily intermeddle with those functions, but I would preserve them to the utmost fur the good of the country, to be interfered with only when circumstances require it. At the same time I would equally preserve the rights, the privileges, and the duties of this House; I would keep the two acting together. I would leave to the Executive the full power of an Executive; but if Her Majesty's Ministers, who are the responsible advisers of that Executive, have either brought us, or are supposed to have brought us, to anything like calamity or disaster, then, on the part of this House, and consistently with my duty towards the Executive, I would assert to the utmost the right of Parliament to investigate the matter till the truth is discovered. In asserting that right, and still more in acting upon it. I have stated before, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle has a little overlooked some of the historical precedents which a moment's reflection must have brought to his mind. He will probably recollect that in the War of Succession, when General Stanhope was driven to capitulate for himself and his forces, to the number, I think, of 2,000 men, Parliament—I believe, on the very next day, certainly within one or two days at furthest, after information was received of that event, without a message, and without even waiting for official intelligence—Parliament insisted upon an instant inquiry, although the war was then going on, and although that humiliation was followed by a victory. The right hon. Baronet will not forget the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga. Who was the greatest man at that time in this country? Lord Chatham. Was he silent when the intelligence of that disaster came upon this country? No. Both the Houses of Parliament resolved themselves into Committees to consider the actual state of the nation, and in the House of Lords, Lord Chatham moved for all the papers, which showed, while the war was actually going on, a full and complete exposition of the state and condition of the army and navy, and he also moved, though there he was beaten, for the orders and instructions by which General Burgoyne was directed to make the attack upon Saratoga. When the war was continued, greater disasters happened even than the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga; and during its continuance, and when those magnificent colonies were about to be severed, through the success of the inhabitants of the United States, 1815 from this country, what was the conduct pursued by Mr. Fox in the House of Commons? Was he silent then? Did he teach us the doctrine that the executive functions of the Government would be interfered with if this House inquired into the causes of the disasters and calamities which then befell us? I hold in my hand the report of the proceedings of this House at the commencement of the Session of 1782, and I find that Mr. Fox, after calling the attention of the House to all the circumstances connected with the disasters to which I have adverted, ended his speech with this Motion—That it be referred to a Committee to inquire into the causes of the want of success of His Majesty's military and naval forces during this war, and more particularly in the year 1781.That is to say, down to the very time when Parliament was sitting, Mr. Fox insisted upon an inquiry into all our naval and military operations. The matter was referred to a Committee; Lord North at first was opposed to the Motion, but Ministers were forced to give in, and a Committee was granted. That Committee was afterwards turned into a Committee of the whole House. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course, I am aware of the two objections which occur to the minds of hon. Members—namely, first, the change from a Select Committee to one of the whole House, and secondly, that these inquiries were supposed to be retrospective. I will not blink the difficulties of the question; but I think that the precedent to which I have adverted shows that the inquiry was an inquiry into operations which had been actually going on down to the moment when the inquiry was granted. The distinction about the Select Committee was not taken, the Committee was granted; and it was turned into a Committee of the whole House on Mr. Fox's own Motion. And why? because in the interval he had moved for papers which made out his case, and the Solicitor General was the only man who had the hardihood then to resist the Motion on the ground now taken—namely, that it would interfere with the functions of the Executive. Lord North himself, however, assented to the Motion, but Mr. Fox, having obtained the papers he wished for, and finding there was no longer any necessity for inquiry, moved a direct censure upon Lord Sandwich, who was at that time First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1809, the year before the Walcheren expedition, after Sir John Moore's retreat to 1816 Corunna, and after what was called the Convention of Cintra, Mr. Ponsonby, the Whig leader in this House, at the very commencement of the Session which followed that event, moved generally for inquiry into the conduct of the war, and the causes of the want of success in the campaign of the preceding year. That was followed in the next year by the inquiry into the Walcheren expedition, which has been so often adverted to in the debate; and then, in 1813 (if any further authority could possibly be needed to crown this series of precedents), after the retreat of Lord Wellington from Burgos, Lord Wellesley found such fault with the conduct of Ministers in not supplying that great general with sufficient resources to enable him to carry on the campaign with success, that he moved in the House of Lords, supported by Lord Grey, in two speeches of the highest constitutional wisdom and knowledge, and with powers of eloquence which have never been surpassed, even if they have been equalled, that under the circumstances to which he adverted in his speech, the House should—do what?—resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the state of affairs? No! Lord Wellesley moved the following Resolution—That a Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances and results of the late campaign in the Peninsula.Now, observe! You have the authority of the greatest statesmen who ever lived in this country—of Lord Chatham, of Mr. Fox, of Mr. Ponsonby, of Lord Wellesley, and Lord Grey—for insisting upon the right of Parliament to make inquiries into military and naval operations, which inquiries might, moreover, affect the executive functions of the Government at the time. Two of these Motions, the one moved for by Mr. Fox, in 1782, and the other by Lord Wellesley, in 1813, were not Motions for inquiry at the bar of the House, were not Motions for a Committee of the whole House to take into consideration the state of the nation, but they were Motions for Committees to make inquiry into all the circumstances connected with the naval and military operations which were then going on, or which had been going on, down to the very period when those Committees were nominated. Well, then, having shown you that upon principle you are entitled to inquire, having shown you that this principle has been repeatedly recognised by high authority, the next circumstance you have to look to is simply 1817 this—whether the circumstances of the present case are sufficient to justify and call for such inquiry. Sir, after the numerous arguments and observations we have had in this House upon that point, I think it would be almost a work of supererogation to say anything on this subject. It has been remarked upon by the greatest authority in this House, it has been recognised by almost every Member who has spoken in this debate, that whether you have inquiry, or whether you forbear to inquire, the calamities which have befallen our army are heartrending and inexplicable. Now, if these calamities are so great as to be called "heartrending," I am sure they are of a nature to justify inquiry. But if, in addition to this they are inexplicable, it throws upon you the duty and the necessity of instituting an inquiry, in order that you may be able to solve the mystery in which these "inexplicable" disasters are shrouded. The circumstances of the present case, therefore, will, I think, be admitted on all hands to justify and call for immediate investigation, but then comes the next point—granted that there ought to be some inquiry, ought it to be instituted before a Select Committee, or should it be conducted at the bar of the House and before a Committee of the whole House. Now, nothing is easier, when you want to avoid an unpleasant subject, than to say that some other course would be better than that which is distinctly proposed. But I feel confident, if any one had proposed that you should institute an inquiry into the state of our army and the conduct of the war departments which have had to administer to the wants of that army before a Committee of the whole House, you would immediately have been met by these forcible objections:—that the whole business of the country would be stopped by such a proceeding; that evidence must be taken, examinations must go on, cross-examinations must be allowed on the part of any and every Member—that this would lead to interminable delays; and that, under those circumstances, you could neither conduct the operations of the war, nor any other business with any prospect of advantage or success. Now, Sir, in principle there can be no reason why you should not refer this matter to a Select Committee. A Select Committee is nothing more nor less than a delegated authority from this House to certain of its Members to act for it, when it would be inconvenient for it to act as a col- 1818 lective body. Remember, also, that one great objection which is always taken to an inquiry before the whole House, in addition to the objection that it puts a stop to public business, is that in point of fact it becomes so inconvenient to go on with an investigation conducted in this way that it is really a good mode of getting rid of the inquiry altogether. More than this, von cannot fail to observe that you must either exclude all strangers from this House, or allow the proceedings to be daily published; and I can conceive nothing more inconvenient or more dangerous than to say that these proceedings shall be published to the world from day to day; that evidence partially taken shall be partially known; that a pre-judgment of the case shall therefore take place, and that the result of the inquiry shall be canvassed in a manner which takes away from this House its deliberative judgment upon the circumstances which are ultimately to be submitted to it. For all these reasons—though I grant that there are difficulties with reference to a Select Committee—I still think it is preferable to refer the matter to such a Committee, limiting time inquiry (if limitation be necessary) in such a manner as not unduly to interfere with naval or military operations. But then we are met with another observation—"Why not have limited the inquiry at the time you granted this Committee? Why not have conducted the inquiry by means of a Commission instead of a Committee?" The answer is, I think, obvious. Inquiry was a duty. In discharging that duty, it was for this House to insist upon an inquiry generally, but if that inquiry when so insisted on was likely to be attended with disadvantages in the form in which it was moved for, it was incumbent upon the Ministers of the Crown to advise the House how far that inquiry should be limited and qualified; and, having so advised it, that then the inquiry should be allowed to go on under these limitations. When I addressed the House before on this subject, I remarked then that this was the duty of the Ministers of the Crown; that independent Members could do no more than either assent to or dissent from the inquiry, unless prepared to take upon themselves the responsibility which belonged more properly to the Executive. That remark I again repeat. And now, before I sit down, I cannot help taking notice of an observation which seems to me to be totally uncalled for, and which will 1819 not, I trust, be again repeated here, as it is, I consider, derogatory to the character of this House, in the sense, at least, in which it is insinuated. I have heard it said that this House is now upon its trial, that responsible government is now upon its trial, that representative institutions are now upon their trial. I agree in the observation, but I deny the inference. This House is indeed upon its trial, and what it has got to answer for upon that trial is, whether it will insist upon all its former rights and privileges, or whether it will now consent to abandon them, and with them abandon its duty. Responsible government is undoubtedly that which we ought all of us to uphold to the utmost of our power, and we ought to take care that in upholding it we are not trenching in any way upon those executive functions of the Crown which are necessary to its efficient working. But what is the very essence of responsible government?—publicity, inquiry, and, if necessary, exposure. Our duty is to award to Ministers a just measure of approbation when they act wisely and do what is right, while we do not hesitate to pass censure on them when they go wrong. Publicity and inquiry are the life and soul of responsible government. Without them, it is nothing. These are in truth the very springs by which responsible Governments are put in motion; they are also at the same time the correcting power, by means of which that motion is kept within due bounds, and through which it is directed to wise and beneficial purposes. Take away the controlling power of this House, take away its right of pronouncing approbation or censure, and you take away all checks upon public men, and all stimulus to public exertion. Then, indeed, you will injure irreparably responsible government and representative institutions. On every account, therefore, I intreat you to maintain, and now to exercise that one high privilege and duty which has always belonged to you. In justice to those who still form that gallant army now before Sebastopol you ought to inquire into these complaints; in justice to those whose relations and friends have suffered such loss from mismanagement or misconduct, you cannot refuse what you would grant to the relations and friends of those who had met their death in an unaccountable manner in this country; and I must also and that, in justice to yourselves, in justice to the generals. in justice to every ane who might be implicated in the in- 1820 discriminate charges that are now brought against all alike, you are bound to separate the innocent from the guilty, the capable from the incapable, and those who have discharged their duty from those who have neglected it, and you ought to express your approbation of the one, while you visit the other, if that be necessary, with your censure and your punishment.
It is impossible, Sir, to magnify the importance of the public question which the House on this occasion has before it; if we take no account of the minor consideration that three persons who have recently stood, under arduous circumstances, in the position of responsible advisers of the Crown, and have felt themselves compelled by an imperative sense of public duty to separate from their colleagues, all of whom they esteemed, and with whom they agreed, in respect to public affairs, are desirous to submit a statement of their motives for having so separated from them. It can be but rarely that the patience of this House can be so severely taxed by a series of personal explanations; and, for my own part, I could have been glad, agreeing as I do in every particular with the observations and statements made by both my right hon. Friends who have already addressed the House, simply to adopt and to be judged by those statements which they have so made, were it not that the question which led to our resignation is one of deep political and constitutional importance, and that our individual fates—in themselves wholly insignificant—are mixed up inextricably with matters of the greatest interest to the nation. As far as I myself am concerned, Sir, perhaps I may be permitted, without leading the House too far back—inasmuch as we are (it has been justly so observed) in something like a chronic state of Ministerial crisis, and inasmuch as it is difficult to separate the events of the last few days from those which preceded them within a very short period—to allude in one or two sentences to the first series of events in this crisis, and to the position in which my own name has appeared before the public in connection with the early stage of the proceedings. Sir, in that early stage, when Lord Derby received a commission from the Crown to form a Government, an offer was made by the noble Earl to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Wiltshire and myself, together with the noble Lord now First Lord of the Treasury, to take office 1821 in his Government. That matter has been explained in several not wholly accordant forms. I received, first, from my noble Friend the present Prime Minister, his account of the communication. Some time after there appeared a different version of it from a statement made by the noble Earl in another place; and lastly, after a multitude of conjectural explanations serving rather to confound than enlighten, I heard a third authoritative statement from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), delivered in this House, so much varying as to the nature of that communication, I will not say, from what had been said, but from what had been understood to be said, that I venture to assure both you, Sir, and the House (though I do not know that it is of much historical interest), that at this day I am in ignorance of what was really the offer made to myself by Lord Derby. But, whatever it may have been, I wish the House to be aware of the part which I took in that matter, and as my share in that communication remains in writing, and has been alluded to both in this House and in another place, perhaps I may be permitted to read a short letter which I addressed to Lord Derby, and in which I conveyed my answer to the message from him, such at least as I then understood it. In that answer I have ventured to express an opinion, that the best thing that could have happened for the country, under the circumstances of the late crisis, brought about by a vote of the House of Commons, would have been, that Lord Derby himself should have been in a position to form a Government from among his own adherents. I entertained that opinion with especial reference to the circumstances of the country, which appeared to make it advisable that the great question of peace and war should be dealt with by persons holding a position free from the embarrassment entailed upon us by recent proceedings. I also did hope and did believe that I should have had the pleasure of affording my humble assistance to Lord Derby in an independent position with a view to cancelling or neutralising the consequences of those proceedings; and that, instead of being asked to adopt the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), which, I believe, is fraught alike with danger and with delusion to the country, we should have substituted for it some other mode of inquiry into the causes 1822 which have led to the calamities we all lament, that would have been more effectual, more constitutional, and more satisfactory both to Parliament and the people. However, the letter I wrote to Lord Derby was in these terms—Downing Street, Jan. 31, 1855.My dear Lord Derby—Lord Palmerston has communicated to me the wish you have been so good as to express, that, in common with him and with Mr. Sidney Herbert, I should become part of the Administration which you have been charged by the Queen to form. I also learn from him that he is not of opinion that he could himself render you useful service in that Administration, but that he would have every disposition to give you the best support in his power, and he has Just left me with the announcement of his intention to write to you an answer to this effect.I may, perhaps, here interpolate an explanation, that my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston) did not, at the moment when he made the announcement to me of Lord Derby's wish, inform me that he did not think that he himself could accept the offer made to him. It was at a later hour of the same day, when my noble Friend had made some further progress in his communications, that he expressed to me that opinion. My letter proceeded thus—I think it only remains to me to reply in similar terms. Any Government, owing its origin to the late vote of the House of Commons, and honestly endeavouring to do its duty, must have peculiar claims to support in connection with the great national interests involved in the question of war and peace. On public grounds I am disposed to believe that the formation of a Government from among your own political connections would offer many facilities at this moment, which other alternatives within view would not present; and, unless when my opinions might not leave me a choice, it would be my sincere desire to offer to an Administration, so constructed under you, an independent Parliamentary support.Now, Sir, that is the beginning and the close of my communication with Lord Derby. But I am bound to say that I so far agree, though so far only, with the opinion expressed the other night by my right hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), with respect to the late coalition, that I believe the best thing that could now have happened for the country, considering the state to which parties, and to which this House had actually been brought, was, that an attempt should be first made to form a Government under Lord Derby, and, if that could not be accomplished, then to form a Government from this side of the House, to be composed exclusively of those who had for a long period, or through their po- 1823 litical lives, acted together. I am bound to say that events, so far as they have gone up to the present time, have strongly tended to confirm me in that opinion. With respect to the intermediate proceeding—namely, the formation of the Government of my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston), my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) has announced that the great question of foreign policy was the only one which formed the subject of any stipulation or understanding between us, or which caused even a moment's delay; and it is needless for me to say more than that, whatever I might think of the Parliamentary prospects of that Government in the ordinary sense, yet, under the circumstances, having no differences with him, but feeling a warm and high regard for my noble Friend, founded on an experience both of community of opinion as a colleague, and co-operation with him in a political combination, during two very eventful years, I think I should have been wanting in my duty to my country if I had not accepted the offer which my noble Friend was so good as to make. But I am bound to say that there was to me a painful matter of a personal character involved in the whole transactions, for which my noble Friend is in no way responsible. To me nothing could cause, in public life, suffering more acute than to be separated from my noble Friend the Earl of Aberdeen. This House has listened—as it was bound to listen—with patience to attacks made from various quarters upon the fame and public conduct of that noble Lord. While in office, it was, perhaps, difficult for me to have endeavoured to defend him from those attacks. But he has been dismissed, by a blow darkly aimed, from official life; and now at least, when my right hon. Friends and myself have followed him into exile, I hope I may be permitted to express my feelings and state my opinion with regard to Lord Aberdeen. I believe Lord Aberdeen to be a man who has been much misunderstood. Twenty years have elapsed since I heard Lord Aberdeen denounced in this House by one of the most honest statesmen of his day as a person holding principles that made him the enemy of mankind. Such was the idea that men could then entertain of Lord Aberdeen. I am unwilling to name the individual who uttered those words, but I am quite sure he has long since deeply regretted the attack he then made on Lord Aberdeen. 1824 But after that Lord Aberdeen lived to become the trusted colleague, the admired colleague, the eulogised colleague of Sir Robert Peel, his faithful ally, and the first to encourage him in every measure that had for its object the benefit of the people. Now, again, for a moment only, I believe, Lord Aberdeen has become the subject of an adverse opinion. He has fallen from his distinguished place in public favour; but as that, I will not call it calumny, but error of twenty years ago was dispelled, so, you may rely upon it, these prejudices will also be dissipated, and the fame of that man, not so much on account of the high office he has held, as from his elevated and admirable character, will not only live, but his name, I venture to say, will be enshrined in the grateful recollection of his country. [Mr. LAYARD: No, no!] Well, Sir, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Aylesbury is so intolerant. I really should have thought that he would have been content with the latitude of vituperation that this House allows, and properly allows him. I believe he belongs to what is termed a Liberal party. But Liberal in what sense? While I remained Chancellor of the Exchequer, I forbore from wounding his tender feelings by allusions of this kind, but surely, now that he has purged the Government of the foul element in my own person and those of others, it may be permitted to me, by the kind indulgence of the House, to express an opinion that I conscientiously entertain, and that I know to be shared by every man who has been the friend and colleague of Lord Aberdeen. This is no gratuitous sally upon my part, for to-night I have witnessed fresh assaults on Lord Aberdeen. Even his retirement from public life is not sufficient to mitigate the wrath of some gentlemen among us, because he has retired with a mark of his Sovereign's regard, an honour well and nobly earned by half a century of service.
Now, Sir, thanking the House for permitting me these retrospective and personal allusions, I pass on to the question now before the House. We have quitted Her Majesty's Government because that Government, placed, I grant, in circumstances of great difficulty, has made a choice between the alternatives which were before them, and has made what we think a fatal choice. Sir, I heard to-night an hon. Gentleman, the Member for South Devonshire (Mr. Palk), remark that he had heard for the first time in this de- 1825 bate with unspeakable surprise that those who retained office were deserters, and those who quitted it were faithful. The hon. Gentleman asserts the opposite doctrine. He says, those who under difficult circumstances retain office are faithful though they change their intentions, and those who keep to their intentions and quit office, according to the Member for South Devonshire, are deserters. Well, Sir, I confess I was surprised to find the hon. Gentleman entertain that opinion, because I do recollect a case in point, which, if I may presume to make him a suggestion, I would commend to his serious meditation. Under difficult circumstances in this country, at the end of the year 1845, with a famine impending at home, Sir Robert Peel adhered to office and changed his intentions, Lord Derby adhered to his intentions and quitted office, and I am afraid, according to the doctrine of the hon. Gentleman, that Sir Robert Peel was faithful, and the Earl of Derby a deserter. I certainly have never applied that term to Lord Derby. It seems to me unjust so to apply it, and I did not expect to see a rule involving such injustice laid down in such a quarter. And undoubtedly I do not venture to pronounce censure of any kind on the course taken by my right hon. and noble Friends. I know, Sir, too well from experience the difficulty, the pain—I might almost say the agony—of arriving at decisions for the government of one's own conduct in sharp passages of public affairs. I know that too well to presume to find fault with those who may arrive at conclusions opposite to my own. But, Sir, I am sure that from my noble Friend at the head of the Government and his colleagues we shall hear no such imputations, because our case, whether we are right or wrong, is a very simple one. You may say we ought to have changed our intentions, but the very head and front and sum and substance of our offending is that we have adhered to them. We have nothing to do but to repeat on the 23rd of February the expressions we used on the 29th of January. It is impossible for me to-night to denounce this project of a Select Committee of inquiry into a great warlike operation, now pending and in progress, more decidedly, I would almost say more violently, than I ventured to do on the occasion when it was first mentioned in this House. I think that, next to eating one's own words, one of the most disagreeable processes within my knowledge is reading one's own words. 1826 But in times like these it is necessary to go back upon former proceedings, for in the rapid whirl of events we forget to-day our feelings of yesterday. I venture to say, however, that I look back now with some satisfaction to the expressions I used myself with respect to this Committee on the 29th of January. I then ventured to tell this House that its business was not to govern, but to call to account those who govern. I further spoke as follows—Your Motion is without precedent, and precedent in these matters means wisdom. The hon. Member for Aylesbury condemns the Committee as unworthy and ridiculous, and he is right in his condemnation. It is nugatory for the true purposes of inquiry—namely, the remedy of evils. It is unconstitutional; it will lead to nothing but confusion and disturbance, increased disaster, shame at home, and weakness abroad. It is useless and mischievous for the purpose contemplated, and it is full of danger to the power, dignity and usefulness of the Commons of England. Sir, I used those words on the 29th of January, from the bottom of my heart, and it requires little apology now for appearing in the face of the House of Commons to state to them why I resigned office rather than be a party to measures which I then so vehemently denounced. I make no light matter of the resignation of my office. It was painful for me to part from the work of my department in a period of arduous exertion—it was painful for me to part from my colleagues whom I cordially esteemed—and it was painful for me to part from the admirable public servants with whom I had been associated in the Treasury and revenue departments. But these pains must be met and borne. They are incidental to the course of public life, and if the House differ in judgment with regard to the wisdom of the decision arrived at, they will at any rate perceive that that decision was one for which I am not obliged to go out of the way to imagine extraordinary and far-fetched motives, but that it was one founded upon convictions deliberately entertained and expressed with all the force of language I could command.
And now, Sir, I come to the question of the Committee upon its merit, and I beg to call the attention of the House strictly, and with distinctness, to the matter which is at issue between us. This subject is one of such deep importance that I confess my extreme anxiety that there shall be no misunderstanding on that point. And here 1827 let me say a word in reference to what fell from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) with respect to the Committee. I listened attentively to his speech, and I thank him for his generous appreciation of the motives of my right hon. Friends and my own. But I listened with particular satisfaction to an observation which touched upon matter of much higher public interest. If I understood him correctly, he stated this—that in his opinion there was much in the conduct of the Government that demanded strict scrutiny; and, secondly, if I understood him right, he intimated an opinion that if the alternative had been open to him to pursue that inquiry by means of a Commission appointed by the Crown, in lieu of a Parliamentary Committee, he would have been ready to close with the tender of such a Commission. I hope, and am glad to infer that I have correctly understood the right hon. Baronet. I have repeated his sentiments, not for the purpose of establishing points of difference, but rather for the purpose of establishing points of agreement. I trust it will be clearly understood that we are not here as the opponents of inquiry. We are not here as the opponents of inquiry even in the sense of endeavouring to shut out from the view of the House that which, under ordinary circumstances, it might be desirable so to exclude from their view. The question raised here is as to an inquiry properly twofold. It is, first, with respect to an inquiry into the state of the army in the Crimea, and it is, secondly, with respect to an inquiry into the conduct of the Government departments. Now, Sir, as respects the inquiry into the conduct of the Government departments, if there be, as there has been stated to be, a difference between my right hon. Friends on this point, I venture to say it is a difference in words only. I am sure I am speaking the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) when I say that his desire is that the conduct of the Government departments should be inquired into and examined to the fullest extent which does not involve examination by this House into the state of the army in the Crimea. That is the point which has so greatly weighed upon us. My right hon. Friend was of opinion that it would be most difficult, if not altogether impossible, to examine into the conduct of the Government departments without bringing into view all that is em- 1828 braced by those words the state of the army in the Crimea. We were all alike of opinion that the state of the army in the Crimea was not a fit subject for inquiry at the present moment, if that inquiry were to be conducted by a Committee of this House. That is the sentiment upon which we are all agreed; that, and no more than that, is the objection upon which we take our stand. Well, Sir, no doubt the greatest inconvenience will attend an inquiry, even if limited to the Government departments. When the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) made his explanation upon his retirement from office, it will be recollected that, though he felt unable to join with us in giving a negative to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck), yet, on the other hand, he found himself also unable to give his countenance and sanction to an inquiry such as that proposed. And if I remember rightly, his expressions were these, that the inquiry of that Committee, sitting for weeks—probably for months—would paralyse the action of the several military departments of the Government. I am afraid, Sir, as I have said previously, that there may be much inconvenience in this inquiry: that inconvenience, I, for one, should not, on the whole, have treated as a conclusive objection to an immediate inquiry by this House; but yet I am decidedly of opinion that, looking to the credit and authority which the Executive Government must carry with them to enable them to conduct the public affairs safely, it was far better for the public service that my right hon. Friends and I myself, as concerned with the management of affairs, should appear before the Committee to give an account of ourselves, if we are called so to appear, out of office rather than in office. On the other hand, I do not think our retirement from office will involve any Parliamentary detriment to my noble Friend at the head of the Government. I am sure there are gentlemen in this quarter of the House with whom I may now hope to cultivate the amicable relations of good neighbourhood; in whose minds the uppermost thought is one of great satisfaction that the Government should be rid of such worthless, or, at any rate, such incongruous materials. But I must confess that I appreciate the desire for inquiry as a fact apart even from the reasoning. I grant you that there is a state of feeling in the country which requires that you should proceed with the utmost 1829 caution and circumspection, and I further grant that every vote of this House—unless it can be shown to involve the most serious and substantial detriment to the public interests—is entitled to the deference of every public man. With these feelings I should, notwithstanding the inconvenience it would give rise to, have been content to submit the conduct of the Government departments to inquiry; but the larger question which we opposed a fortnight ago—which began by distracting the councils of the country—and which has not even vet run its course or reached its end—the larger question is, whether a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the state of the army before Sebastopol?
In proceeding to state the principle on which we have ourselves acted, I conceive that I shall not undertake a very difficult task if I presume to draw an outline of the duty of the House with reference to this subject. Now the House cannot but view with feelings of horror the sufferings to which our troops have been exposed, but I hope it will not adopt the strain of exaggeration with reference to them which I am sorry to see creeping unconsciously into the language and feelings of the Members of this House. The hon. Member for Pontefract (Hr. M. Milnes), if he had sat through these debates as I have, would have been compelled to admit the justice of my observation. A mode of speaking prevails which I cannot sit here to censure, because I know it is due to the strong feeling which exists on the subject; but it is said that army has been annihilated, has perished, has disappeared. We have heard this said by three or four hon. Members, Gentlemen of ability and dispassionate judgment, but I hope the House will not adopt a tone so dangerous and so mischievous, nor give its countenance to accounts of the state of things so far beyond the reality. Still the pains and sufferings of our army dash and subdue the joy with which we have contemplated their brilliant exploits. I admit, as fully as my right hon. Friend whom I follow in debate, that the House ought to ascertain the cause of these sufferings; but how and when are you to do this? If you are to examine into these sufferings with a view of calling to account the Ministers—with us who are out of office you may deal; but if you are to examine into them with a view of calling to account those who are in command of the army in the Crimea—then I protest most solemnly, and with all 1830 my power, against such a proceeding. If, on the other hand, your object is not to call to account any of those persons for the present, but simply to reserve to yourselves the right to do so hereafter, then I say, the real object yon ought to consider on the present occasion is, not whether this or that man holding any command or station in the Crimea is justified in his conduct—for you have not yet in your hands the materials necessary for a right and sound judgment; but you ought to consider what remedies ought to be applied to existing evils, and, especially, what remedies are likely to he the most efficacious and expeditious. That is the issue: are we agreed in this principle? If we are, I do not think it will be difficult to show that those who thus agree with us ought also to join with us in our protestations against this proceeding—in our resistance to this Committee. I came down to the House with the strongest determination indeed to this effect, yet, also, with an impression that I should hear a great deal so id with Which I could not agree, but still a great deal said with ingenuity and with force in favour of the appointment of the Committee. I have been a patient and interested listener to the debate since half-past four o'clock, and I must say if it were possible for me to entertain feelings of malevolence towards an abstract proposition like that of the appointment of a Committee, I should have had those bad feelings gratified to the utmost by the mode in which hon. Members have joined us in deprecating and denouncing the appointment of the Committee of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. Prepared as I was to make sacrifices rather than accede to it, I have seen with feelings of delight that predominance of true English good sense and perspicacity which, notwithstanding all the disposition which may have existed out of doors to see this Motion carried, has given the tone to our debate. You have heard, Sir, in the course of the evening something like twenty speakers, and yet no answer has been given to the argument used by my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) except upon the single point of historical precedent, and to that I will presently refer. The late First Lord of the Admiralty brought, as I think, his heavy guns into action, and offered very formidable arguments against the appointment of this Committee. No answer to him has been attempted; no man has attempted to meet in detail his masterly, argumentative 1831 statement; he has been grappled with on the score of precedent, but he has not been grappled with on the score of wisdom and of prudence. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) followed with arguments against the Committee which likewise remain wholly without an answer. We indeed were prejudiced; we had arrived at foregone conclusions; but our conclusions seemed after all not to be disputed, and even this was not all; further consolation was designed for our ears, for from all quarters rose protestations against this Committee. The hon. Member for South Devonshire (Mr. Palk) stated in the fairest manner his apprehensions; the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe) delivered an able speech, to which no answer was attempted; my right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder for the City of London (Mr. S. Wortley) followed in the same strain, and no answer was made to him. Not that our House is indisposed to inquiry. I am not going to fight the battle against inquiry, for we say, "Give us the best and most searching inquiry, but do not, under the form and name of an inquiry, give us that which must prove an imposture or a mistake, and, probably, may prove both." I will not go through the names of many other Gentlemen who were avowed opponents of this Committee; but I select my hon. Friend below me, the Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), who made a speech, entertaining as his speeches always are, and who seemed to imagine that he made a speech in favour of the Committee. All minds are subject to occasional delusions; and, perhaps, the most brilliant minds are even peculiarly liable to the infirmity which attaches to those of a common order. Well, my hon. Friend said that there was an infinity of danger in this Committee, and that he could not go into it with a safe conscience, unless it were limited by instructions as to the course of its examination. I do not wish to misinterpret him, but I understand this to mean, that the hon. Member desires a code of questions to be formed for the Committee. Very sound doctrine this may be, but yet the recommendation is most strange from the mouth of a Gentleman who terms the inquiry politic and judicious. We then had still more important declarations from the noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour) whose great experience and ability appear to have designated him, in the 1832 minds of hon. Members, as the Chairman of this Committee; it was almost cruel to hear the long string of charges that the noble Lord, urged by the force of his candour, launched against it. I am sorry that my memory was too weak to retain them, but, in fact, there was nothing that he did not say; there had been no argument brought forward that the noble Lord has not endorsed, and he added also a goodly number of his own to the accusations previously made by others.
Again, Sir, we may form some idea of the inexpediency of this Committee from the difficulty there is in inducing hon. Members to accept the responsibility of serving on it. There is a sentiment of Burke's, applicable to this subject, and founded, as his sentiments usually are, on practical wisdom. I do not recollect the exact words, but in substance it is this—You ought not to commit the management of any institution or instrument to persons who disapprove its nature and character. Now, let us apply this test to the proposed Committee. It is to be composed of eleven Members. Now, of the sentiments of four of them there can be no doubt, because they have recorded their sentiments by dividing against it. I believe I may name them—Lord Seymour, Mr. Ellice, Mr. John Ball, and General Peel. In passing, I may observe, that no one has struck harder blows at this Committee than the hon. and gallant General, being moreover as he is one of the most dispassionate and not the least shrewd Members of this House. Then there is Sir George Lewis, who had no opportunity of voting on the question of this Committee; he stands, therefore, as a neutral, but I think it easy to divine the opinion he is likely to have entertained on its original appointment. Here, then, are five men who—I do not say will stifle inquiry—I make no such charge as that—but who disapproved the original appointment of the Committee. Then we have the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), who said he could not go into the Committee with a safe conscience unless its course were marked out in a specific and peculiar manner—he may, perhaps, be quoted as making a majority of the Members of this Committee who are against its appointment; but, whether he can or not, there is, at any rate, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard), who, acting in a manly manner, has never suppressed his opinions—he has used the very strongest language upon the subject, and I believe I have his 1833 concurrence in saying that he still disapproves the Committee, and is of opinion that it may prove highly mischievous. Now I have a majority; and it is certainly very odd that six Gentlemen out of the eleven composing the Committee should disapprove, either certainly or presumably, of the appointment of that Committee. Nay, more; I venture to conjecture, and that with very considerable confidence, that among the remaining four I might, were it in my power to put them under examination, find some not altogether in their own minds friendly to the Committee. I am a determined opponent of the ballot; but I am certainly of opinion that, if this House were at this moment to decide by ballot on the subject of the appointment of the Committee, the side of the question on which I should vote would at least make a very respectable muster, if it were not even more probably found in a majority. But, now, what have we heard upon the other side? We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wenlock (Mr. Gaskell) that it was impossible to suppose that the people would be contented without this inquiry; and the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) also said, the House of Commons has given a vote—it is a law of the Medes and Persians, therefore do not worry us with any more of your reasons, but appoint the Committee. If these hon. Gentlemen think that by these observations they are paying a compliment to the public out of doors, I differ from them; I have a higher opinion of the people of this country. I think our duty is, when we entertain a conviction, to state that conviction respectfully but manfully; and the very debate of this night, the very answers made to my right hon. Friend's appeal from quarters where we did not expect them, and the total want of any attempt to show that this instrument—this Committee—is really adapted for the purposes it professes to carry into effect, have convinced me of the correctness of that opinion and the wisdom of applying it to our own practice.
I must confess that there is a topic connected with this subject which does not affect the House, but which has most materially affected myself as a person holding office, and to which I cannot help alluding. To me it would have been most difficult to have convinced myself that I was acting in a manner conformable to the laws of personal honour, as having been one of those who had appointed Lord Raglan to a charge involving his great—I may rather say his tremendous responsibility and who had at 1834 least stood by while the other appointments in the Crimea were made by the proper authorities, if, while he was engaged in his unspeakably arduous task, and we, the advisers of the Crown, had not thought proper to recall him, we had declined to act as his protectors and defenders, but had abandoned his feelings, his honour, and his character, to the good or the ill conduct of a Select Committee. I hold it, Sir, as a principle of Government, that no persons, being advisers of the Crown, have a right to pursue such a course. They appoint men to go, it may be, to the ends of the earth, and there to discharge duties the most responsible, the most difficult, the most truly overwhelming, that can fall to the lot of man to perform. Those men go forth, laden with the sense of their responsibility, educated in a profession the very vital air of which is its high sense of honour—men perhaps who have served their country for half a century—men, it may be, who have been mutilated in its defence—these men go forth to lead your armies, and then, in the performance of a task for which no human ability except the very rarest can suffice—only consider for a moment to what they are liable, upon What terms, so to speak, they serve. They know well that they cannot have an immunity during their absence from free, it may be licentious, comment upon their proceedings by the public press; they know that unbounded liberty in this sphere is essential to our free institutions, and that, in matters where the heart and the soul of the people are deeply engaged, many sharp and painful, many hasty and precipitate, and therefore cruel, things will be said. They know that the mouths of Members of this House cannot be shut, and that even here many things will be said in haste, in heat, or upon faulty or imperfect information, which those who said them will one day lament having uttered. Surely, these are enough of hard things for the generals and others acting in the Crimea to bear. Have they no defenders? Is there no body of men whose duty it is to support them? I say there is, and that body of men are the advisers of the Crown. Upon them they have a right to rely for protection, countenance, and support; and so long as the Ministers do not recall them, so long as they leave them in the exercise of those duties which nothing but their confidence and support can enable them to perform, so long have they a right to expect that they shall be shielded in their character, and honour against unjust attack, and that the Queen's 1835 Government shall not hand over even to a Select Committee the task of defending and caring for that character. I hope, Sir, it will be understood, when I speak of inconsistency with personal honour, that I do not presume to judge for other men. I do not suppose that I am one whit better qualified to fix a standard of what is conformable with personal honour than my noble and right hon. Friends the present Ministers of the Crown. They are at least as competent or more competent than I am to judge in this matter, and I am certain they would faithfully adhere to any obligation they may recognise; but I think it fair to state that which deeply weighed on my own mind—namely, my belief that if I had brought myself to consent to the appointment of a Committee, as a Minister of the Crown, standing in the relation I held towards those men, peace of mind would have been a treasure which I should have had difficulty in retaining.
But, after all, it may be said, that is no argument for the House. The House, in the discharge of its duty, has to deal both with Ministers and with those whom Ministers appoint. If the Committee be a constitutional, just, and effective engine of inquiry, I grant that the House is bound to appoint it. Let us then ask what are the purposes it is to fulfil? Is it a Committee of punishment? My right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole), who has just sat down, thinks he has proved much when, in triumphant language, he asserts the right of the House to call Ministers and others to account. But, if my right hon. Friend chooses that field to show his prowess, he will find, I apprehend, no champion to meet him. I am also ready as he is to maintain that proposition. That is not the question. No one will tell me that you are going to appoint this Committee for the purpose of calling to account the generals in the Crimea; that is not the defence of the Committee; on the contrary, a part of the charge against the Committee is, that you cannot help making it a Committee of accusation against those who are charged with the direction of our armies in the Crimea. We never supposed you capable of forming, with open eyes, such a scheme as to proceed against them in their absence; but there is no doubt that a Committee of accusation against some person or persons absent, and unable to defend themselves, it must and will be.
A Committee for the purpose of calling a general, or even those under him, to 1836 account cannot with justice be appointed until the transactions or else their concern in them shall be at an end; that is my answer, in a single sentence, to my right hon. Friend's (Mr. Walpole) speech. He has expended much learning in the discovery of precedents, and I grant that in two cases he appears to show that the investigation of military operations has been intrusted by this House to Select Committees. But the objections taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, to the mode of proceeding by Select Committee were altogether of a subsidiary and secondary character. The use of a Select Committee, with respect to a military. matter, may be wise in certain cases, but is without precedent in a case such as that of the siege of Sebastopol. But I am now an objecting party, not to the mere mode of carrying into effect what is legitimate in itself; I deny that your purpose is legitimate—I deny that you will act either prudently or constitutionally if you investigate, even at the bar of this House, much less if you instruct a Select Committee to investigate, the state of the army pending a great military operation. This operation is one still in progress; here is the ground of contest; let there be no mistake about it. I do not care one tittle if I am told that unanimity prevails on this subject. Prejudices of that sort will soon be dissipated, when the matter shall be brought to a practical discussion. Hitherto it has, most unhappily, been mixed up with political considerations, and perhaps, in some minds, I wish to speak mildly and without offence, even with objects of party. These are the unfortunate incidents that disturb in a free country the progress of public affairs, but surely, when we come to examine this question, reason and justice will prevail, and if it shall indeed appear that your Committee is an illegitimate, and, moreover, an ineffective instrument for the purpose to which you propose to apply it, rely upon it the mere popular cry for inquiry by a Select Committee is one it will be easy to subdue by the force of truth. I shall now, Sir, assume that this Committee is not intended to be a Committee of punishment, and that you will not say you are preparing to call to account generals and others exercising command and holding responsible situations in the Crimea so long as they continued to be engaged in the siege of Sebastopol. Well then, Sir, is it to be a Committee of remedy? Can you contest the proposition that it is your duty to apply to the case of your army in the 1837 Crimea those remedies which are the most effectual and expeditious? Now is this the most expeditious or the most effectual form of remedy? Are Committees instruments suited for the purpose of applying effectual and rapid remedies to evils, of which the causes and the particulars are subject to every kind of contest and every degree of uncertainty, and which have their scat in a country 3,000 miles distant? I once sat upon a Committee, not by any means illegitimate in its character, which had to inquire into distant operations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) will recollect the Committee to which I refer; it had to inquire respecting a then recent rebellion in Ceylon; he will recollect the long laborious days; the overpowering fatigue it caused; the wearisome and endless examinations during the two Sessions in which it sat, and the perfectly abortive, nugatory, worthless Report which it produced. If I recollect right my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir J. W. Hogg) was another of my fellow sufferers on that occasion, and he will also remember that, after sitting for two years to investigate the cause of the rebellion, we ended by stating, I think, our total incompetency to deal with the subject, and recommending the appointment of a Commission. That is a specimen of the efficiency of a Committee for the purpose for which you require it. It is said that, for one thing, reliance can be placed on a Committee, and that is to ask 20,000 questions. A Committee is extremely well fitted to investigate truth in its more general forms by bringing every possible form of thought to bear on the points before it; but it is also well fitted for overloading every question with ten or fifteen times the quantity of matter necessary for its consideration; and, therefore, as ill as possible calculated for those rapid, searching, and decisive inquiries which bear practical remedies, rather than arriving at general propositions for their main business. That at least has been my experience, and I believe it has been the experience of every Member of this House, Your Committee will remedy nothing. Its power is limited to this country. Sir, I grieve to weary the House by taking up so much of its time. But how will your Committee be enabled to examine into the state of the army in the Crimea? It has no power there. Its powers, even through the medium of this House, cannot be exercised beyond the limits of this country. Well, then, it is, I suppose, to hear 1838 witnesses at home, who will come and state their views of the case, and it will have no power to call upon those generals and others who are in the Crimea, and who are the most important and indispensable witnesses in the case. I do not now stop to examine into the merits of the measures adopted by my noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston), but it is impossible not to see the great advantages which those measures possess over the inquiry by a Committee of Members of this House. My noble Friend sends out Commissioners—men armed with powers to ascertain the truth—and they are to consult with Lord Raglan, and, in concert with him, apply the remedy. You may spend twice or thrice the time in the Committee in ascertaining the truth, and when you have, as you think, arrived at it, you will have no power to apply the remedy, but you must make your application to the authority of the Crown, which you have begun by disparaging and thrusting aside.
The real purpose of this Committee is now coming out. It is not to be a Committee of punishment, it is not to be a Committee of remedy. Then what is it to be? It is really, so far as it is anything practical, a Committee of Government, a Committee, too, which takes out of the hands of the Executive the highest, the most important, and the most solemn, of its functions. I am convinced that an inquiry such as is proposed by a Committee of this House is incompatible with real confidence on the part of Parliament in those who hold executive office, and entirely incompatible with the credit and authority which ought, under all circumstances, to belong to the Ministers of the Crown, whatever party or political creed they may profess. The inconvenience of such a course is aggravated by the fact that these powers and functions are to be exercised by a Select Committee, because you are not only taking to yourselves the powers of the Crown; for that you may, perhaps, find precedents, inasmuch as this House has used such a method of declaring its want of confidence in an existing Administration. But in such cases it grasps at those powers in order that they may be taken from unfit and given to fit men, not in order to hold them itself. Now, you are going to do worse than hold them yourselves; you are going to delegate those powers to a small Committee upstairs. It may seem at first sight that this is a very simple matter, that it is quite 1839 easy to come at the state of facts, and it may appear as if the Government cannot but know all about it. But now let me illustrate the difficulty that you will have in arriving at the knowledge of facts which have happened 3,000 miles off. I trust the House will bear with me while I briefly illustrate this subject by a particular instance. I heard the hon. Member for Aylesbury the other night state that whatever else might be obscure, it was quite clear that it had become the duty of the Government at once to proceed to the dismissal of Captain Christie, the head of the Transport Service, on account of his inefficiency. Well, now, how stands the case as regards Captain Christie? Let me point out the facts to the House, for they show that the Government are beforehand with you in cases where the facts are at all clear. The hon. Member for Aylesbury said—and he made it a part of his case in attacking the Government—" Why do you not dismiss Captain Christie? Why do you not put him out of office?" Now, had Captain Christie been put out of office? He had, then, already been dismissed by my right hon. Friend near me. But is that all? Captain Christie was on his way home—he had reached Malta, when my right hon. Friend, hearing that Captain Christie had been chargeable with mismanagement, sent to stop Captain Christie, and made him return to the East in order that he might take his trial by court martial. The hon. Member said Captain Christie had been guilty of mismanagement, and in that respect his opinions agreed with the presumptions of the case as it came before my right hon. Friend. Well, Sir, the hon. Member had just been in the Crimea, and we are in the habit of thinking a great deal of what any one says who has just been in the Crimea, so much so that if some one comes home from the Crimea and says that the army is perishing, and that no one is doing his duty, then within twenty-four hours some hon. Member is sure to rise in this House and say, "I have just seen a gentleman who has come from the Crimea, and he says that the army is perishing, that it is, indeed, already all but annihilated, and that nobody is doing his duty." The hon. Member for Aylesbury says that he was in the East in October or November, and that Captain Christie was guilty of mismanagement. But the other night the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. G. Dundas), who left the Crimea in December, in a most manly 1840 manner, the very moment that he heard of the intentions of the Government, got up in his place, and, speaking as an eye-witness, bore testimony to the great exertions and great merits of Captain Christie, and said it was with the utmost grief that he heard the allegations against him which he knew to be wholly undeserved. You may learn from the conflict and contradictions of such testimony as this that to ascertain the truth of contested facts which occur 3,000 miles off is no very easy task, and that the evidence upon such subjects had better be taken by those who are responsible and who have the power, as the case may demand, both to inquire upon the spot and to act when they inquire.
Sir, I object to this Committee on constitutional grounds. I suppose indeed that to talk of constitutional grounds will be considered both visionary and pedantic. Sir, I hope that I am no pedant or purist with respect to the constitution; I hope that my opinions are not of an extreme character—they are certainly not of an extreme character in the Conservative sense, and I speak in the presence of many Gentlemen who find their glory in that very title; but I confess that my opinions, such as they are, and my Conservative feelings, be they what they may, revolt from taking the functions of the Executive, with respect to an army in the field, out of the hands of the Government, and putting them into the hands of a Select Committee of this House. It might be enough for me to say that there is no precedent that I can remember for the adoption of this course. If I should be asked "where the constitution of England is to be found—is it in Blackstone? is it in Delolme? is it in the pages of Hallam? in which of our writers or in which of our laws is it to be found?"—I confess I think that no small part of the living spirit of that constitution is to be found in the usages and precedents of the House of Commons. Those powers which this House undeniably possesses are powers that, if used without stint or guard, would enable it to throw the whole country into confusion; but it is the wise and prudent limitation which the House has itself put upon its own powers that enables it to exist and to wield its enormous force without crushing to atoms the other bodies which exercise power or are charged with power in this country. But, Sir, I have heard people say, that although this may be very sound as general argument, yet there is one reason why we should, for 1841 once, set aside these ideas, and that is on account of the extreme emergency of the occasion and the greatness of the calamity. It is declared to be an exceptional case. Well, Sir, I tell my right hon. Friend that all bad rules and practices grow out of cases that were in the first instance exceptional. Well, suppose it is an exceptional case, and that in order to meet an extraordinary calamity and difficulty a new instrument must be called into exercise; surely, at least, you should show that that instrument is more powerful than any other of a more usual and safer kind that may be put into competition with it. If this House had a power of action in the Crimea on which it could fall back, I could understand the excuse taken by those who are in favour of inquiry by a Committee. But why you should use this argument of an extraordinary emergency to justify your putting forward an instrument which is unusually weak and futile, and which is not armed with the powers you require, I cannot understand. Your whole argument cuts the ground from under your feet. The necessity of the case calls for strong measures, and you are about to adopt what, in addition to all its other faults, and all its serious dangers, is a weak one.
Sir, it is not a simply constitutional argument, it is not a theory, it is not a mere logical question, but a matter of solemn consideration as to the result of this inquiry upon the state and discipline of the army, and upon your relations with the French Government that you have now to decide. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) thinks he can distinguish between the policy of the expedition and the circumstances under which it took place. [Laughter.] Well, Sir, that task is a difficult one; but, suppose he can, and that, under such circumstances, the lateness of the season at the time of sailing from Varna, or the want of information with respect to the Russian force in the Crimea, and to the strength of Sebastopol, can be inquired into, without touching upon the policy of the expedition—but did the lateness of the season or the want of information apply to the English army alone? Did the French army go sooner than the English? I might ask, perhaps, if the right hon. Gentleman is aware when the besieging train of the French army left Toulon? There is one other subject to which, for a moment, I may advert. Is the Committee to inquire why no road was made from 1842 Balaklava to the camp? I think I may say that if there is not to be an inquiry into that subject, your inquiry, as far as regards the state of the army and the causes of that state, will be little less, as respects the people of this country, than a fraud and an imposture. Well, suppose there is inquiry, and evidence is taken upon the question why no road was made, I presume the answer will be found in the want of labour. Well, why had you no labour? Because the men were in the trenches. And why were so many men in the trenches? Because the trenches and the field works were of such extent. And why were your trenches of so great an extent? Because the labour of the trenches was divided between the English and French army, and what the French army did not take the English took. I hope it will not be supposed that I am desirous to insinuate a doubt as to the gallant spirit of the French army, or as to the disposition of our allies to lend every aid in their power to the English generals. But the French will fairly lay claim to perfect independence in their judgment, and this they will certainly expect, as we should ourselves, in a like case, expect that no Select Committee of this House shall presume to inquire into their proceedings. I tell you, then, that your inquiry is a mockery if it does not extend to these topics, and that if you inquire, then the defence of those whose conduct is attacked will turn upon the distribution of labour; and the whole of that defence and every matter connected with the employment of the troops will run right up into the most intimate relations of the French and English armies. Sir, the patience of the British army is great and its discipline admirable, but I would not answer for the conduct of any army under the projected application of machinery such as that which is contemplated, when you appoint a Committee, that if it really explores the field marked out for it by the order of reference under which it is to act, cannot but interfere with the authorities at the camp. It is impossible for me to pursue these subjects further. The nature of the ground is so tender and delicate I would rather not have gone so far. My desire is to avert greater danger and greater embarrassment, and I have already proceeded to a greater length, perhaps, than under other circumstances I should have thought prudent.
Before I conclude, let me very briefly 1843 enter upon the personal argument. Are we to be told that we had better have remained in office and assented to this Committee, because if this Government went out some other Government would come in, and do what was as bad, or even worse than the measure now proposed? Now, with great and sincere respect for hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches, I hope I may be permitted to say, with not the slightest tinge of acrimony, that I have great difficulty in understanding the course they have deemed it their duty to pursue with respect to this Committee; for I have had a strong suspicion, or rather I should say a very lively hope, that if Lord Derby had come into office about three weeks ago—and possibly if he were to come in even now—we should be supporting him and giving him the best assistance in our power to get rid of this Committee, with its weak and mischievous machinery, and to substitute some more fair and more satisfactory mode of effecting the purpose in view. However that may be, that is not our affair; our business is in a solemn question of public duty of the highest order, for each man to try and sound his conscience, and be governed by the verdict which that conscience gives. Still less can I be moved from following the course so pointed out to me, if I am told that I ought to have thought of this three weeks ago, and ought to have known that the House of Commons would not reverse its judgment. It is a much smaller matter that my right hon. Friends and myself should be convicted of levity and inconsiderateness three weeks ago than that we should now commit a gross public delinquency. Let it be granted, if you will, for argument's sake, that we have been chargeable with a great omission; but that would not justify us now in concurring in a policy which we say is false and erroneous. But I do not plead guilty to this charge of inconsiderateness. I never doubted that my noble Friend at the head of the Government would and must still entertain the same opinions with respect to the Committee which he entertained when he first besought the House in earnest language not to grant it, and my noble Friend is aware that, before my acceptance of office under his Government was announced to the world, I had the satisfaction of conversing with him on the subject of this Committee, in which conversation he acquainted me of his continued opinion that the opposition of Government ought to be offered to its 1844 appointment. ["Hear, hear!"] This can be no secret, because the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and indeed, I might say, the whole world, must have observed that this, and this only, was the meaning of a portion of the speech delivered by my noble Friend, when he addressed the House last Friday, after the formation of his Government. I might, if it were needful, advert to other circumstances which would further exhibit the view taken by my noble Friend and his colleagues of the question of the Committee; but after what has already been stated it would be superfluous. So much for the personal part of this question, which I am grateful to the House for allowing me so far to explain. Now, Sir, I have been obliged to speak in a strain of egotism and to express opinions perhaps adverse to those entertained by a large majority of the House; but I hope I have made it clear that the ground on which my right hon. Friends and myself have acted is not one of mere perverseness or of unreasoning objection to inquire into the causes of the calamities in the Crimea, or into the misconduct or mismanagement of our own or any other department of the Government. I yet trust this House will rest content with its own broad field of action, within which it has great and noble and amply sufficient functions to discharge. The hon. Member for the Wick District of Burghs (Mr. Laing) has promised a Motion in respect to the great question of army improvement. Why does he not give us the opportunity of closing with him on that subject, and of prosecuting such improvement in every wise and salutary form with the greatest vigour possible? You will, it may be, have to consider the whole system of training, and admission, and promotion in the army. My hon. Friend said that merit ought to be the ground of admission and promotion in the army. To that sentiment, applying it in all cases where merit can be adopted as a practical test, I most heartily respond, but I am bound to say that, when any substantive measure comes to be urged in this House, the doctrine that merit, wherever it is capable of being ascertained by fixed tests, ought to be the basis of admission into the public service, ever will find, if I am to judge from what I have witnessed, the greatest of all the obstacles to be overcome within the four walls of this House itself. However that may be, I trust the House will be content with those great questions respecting the 1845 arrangements of our army, and the nature of its relations to the Indian army, which have been opened more or less distinctly by hon. Members, and which this House will have to examine, and will, I hope, conduct, or see conducted, to a satisfactory issue. I admit, Sir, that we are now debating at a moment of much popular feeling, Times of military disaster are always times of popular excitement; at other periods that excitement has led to lamentable results, and even to the shedding of blood under the idea of justice, and with the full belief that it was the due atonement for the mismanagement of the public service. There are cases of this kind which I will not recite, in respect to which we look back on the deeds of our forefathers, done under the impulse of heated feelings, with horror and with shame: but we feelings, now in milder times. The fault of our constitution now, if it be a fault, is this, that public servants are, perhaps, not called to account with sufficient strictness; and responsibility, though far from being only a name, is made operative chiefly through the medium of honourable feeling. No such acts of cruel precipitancy as heretofore occurred are now to be feared. The feelings of the people may, indeed, be heated by dreadful recitals constantly repeated. From day to day, I may venture to say, we have had served up before our eyes the supper of Thyestes. All that we read in such particularity of detail, without the power of learning whether the facts are coloured by feeling beyond strict and precise truth, or whether they are modified by other facts not put forward, or how far these lamentable sufferings and privations are the necessary incidents of a state of war, cannot fail to produce in us first strong commiseration, and then an indignant eagerness to detect and punish. But all these feelings, so powerfully aroused, find vent in what I gladly own seems, at first sight, no more than a Parliamentary irregularity. That irregularity might demand our forbearance if we had only the trial of a technical rule before us. But we see in the first place that this proceeding can only disappoint those who demand it; in the next, that it would involve a cruel injustice; and further, immediately in its rear, we perceive the dark form of public disaster. Therefore, it is our duty, whether we be many or few, whether we be alone or attended by others, to resist and protest against this measure, and this resistance we now make 1846 and offer with great pain and with wounded feelings, and with the utmost respect and deference for the sentiments of the representatives of the people, but with a fixed and immoveable determination, which the public interests and our own consciences alike require.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friends have this evening explained to the House the grounds on which they have separated themselves from Her Majesty's Government. I shall not venture a single word of criticism on the course which they have thought it their duty to pursue—being convinced as I am that they have acted from a sincere conviction that their duty points to the path which they have pursued, and that by so doing they have not only in the best manner given effect to their own opinions, but have performed what they think to be their duty to their country. I feel the greatest regret at having lost the assistance of my right hon. Friends, with whom it has been my good fortune to act during the last two years, and of whom I can say with perfect truth, that which they themselves have said of those whom they have left, that there prevailed among us the most cordial confidence, and upon the great questions which are now pending, in action or in decision, that there was among us no difference of opinion upon any great principle of policy which Government considered it their duty to pursue. Sir, on the other hand, I must say that at the time when it was Her Majesty's pleasure to command me to endeavour to form a Government, it was impossible that either I or those with whom I was about to act could shut their eyes to the fact that there was this Committee, which the House had determined should sit, and the appointments to which we must be prepared to meet. I had stated upon a former occasion the objections which I entertained to the course which the House by a large majority had determined nevertheless to pursue. Those objections to a certain degree still prevail; but when I had to consider what was the real nature of the course which this House had followed, it was impossible not to see that when this question was originally proposed, the great majority which supported this Motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield supported it on two separate and distinct grounds. A large portion of the hon. Members who affirmed the Resolution did so because they thought inquiry 1847 ought to take place; but there was unquestionably another portion, who, as has been stated by my right hon. Friends, supported the Motion because they considered it was a vote of want of confidence in the Government which then existed. Well, Sir, the Motion was carried. We resigned our offices. Her Majesty then commissioned Lord Derby to form another Government. The noble Lord was unable to do it, and I have already explained the reasons why. I stated to him the reasons why I thought that under the present circumstances of the country my junction would not have enabled him to form that strong Government which it was admitted on all hands the country required. That attempt failed. My noble Friend the Member for the City of London then endeavoured to form a Government. He was also unsuccessful. Well, then, Sir, I felt, being called upon, that it was my duty to endeavour to the utmost of my abilities to form that Government which the country so urgently required and so urgently demanded. If we had not formed a Government and presented ourselves to the country, the result must have been, I presume, that that noble Lord, who felt that he could not with credit to himself or with advantage to the country present that Government which alone he could have formed, would have been obliged again to make the attempt, and to present a Government which he had himself shrunk from offering to the Sovereign and to the country. Now, Sir, I do not deny that there are great objections to this Committee. But the country took it up, and took it up in a different sense from that in which many persons voted for it in this House. Many hon. Members voted for it here as an indication that they had no confidence in the Government as it then existed; but I apprehend the country did not go into that question. The nation having had its attention deeply fixed upon the events which had taken place in the Crimea—having had its feelings deeply moved by the recitals which from day to day it was reading of the sufferings of the brave army engaged in those operations, and seeing that there had been undoubted mismanagement in various departments connected with the war—the country honestly and sincerely required inquiry into these matters. It did not stop at the first question—what Government was to conduct the affairs of the country—but it said, "Here something has gone grievously wrong, and 1848 we insist upon it that there shall be an immediate inquiry, that we may know the causes of the mischances which have taken place." Well, then, that opinion of the country reacted upon this House. When we met this House as a Government reconstituted, after the attempts which had failed to make an Administration, we found ourselves in this position, that, although we might have wished that the Committee should either not be appointed at all, or that its appointment should be postponed, we had no right any of us to deceive ourselves by the expectation that it was possible to resist the Committee altogether, or to persuade the House to rescind the vote to which it had so deliberately come. I did undoubtedly think, that when we should have stated to this House the various changes, improvements, and administrative reforms which we were prepared to make—when we should have stated to the House the inquiries which we were ourselves making into the causes of these mischances—the House might be disposed, for a time at least, to forego the appointment of this Committee, to wait to see the result of our changes, and to learn the result of our inquiries. But, Sir, I never would have undertaken the task, nor would my noble and right hon. Friends have joined me in undertaking the task of forming a Government, if we had intended to stake the continuance of our exertions upon the question as to whether this House should or should not confirm the vote to which it had come. We should have been trifling with the country and the Sovereign if we had determined in our own minds to shrink from our posts if the House should not be prepared to rescind the vote which it had deliberately passed. Sir, no doubt there may be inconveniences and evils attending the inquiry; but I think it would be a greater evil if this country should present to the world the lamentable spectacle that, in consequence of personal differences, and in consequence of the fragmentary divisions of parties, we should for one month or six weeks be unable to find any set of public men who could present themselves to the country as a Government, and undertake to conduct the public affairs of the nation. And at what period would this spectacle have been presented? Why, at a period when we are simultaneously carrying on a great and arduous war, and at a period when we are engaging in a most important negotiation—when, on the 1849 one hand, energy and vigour in conducting the war are eminently required, and when, on the other hand, a just spirit of conciliation and moderation may be required in conducting the negotiations for peace. Sir, I think, therefore, that the course we have followed is the course which it was our duty to pursue; and I think that if we had abandoned our posts upon this occasion—if we had set our own opinions up against the deliberate judgment of the nation—if we had undertaken the vain task of resisting the unanimous sentiment, I may say, of the whole people of this country by attempting to refuse the inquiry—I think we should have undertaken a useless labour, and should not have performed the duty winch we had undertaken to perform. Now, Sir, I come to another question. It has been asked by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) whether we are disposed to abide by those propositions for peace which had been settled by the Cabinet which existed when the House came to the vote on this Committee, and concurred in by the Cabinet as re-formed after I had the honour to receive Her Majesty's commission to form an Administration? Sir, most undoubtedly we do abide by it. Most unquestionably the instructions under which my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) is now proceeding to Vienna, are founded upon those resolutions to which my right hon. Friends who have just left the Government were parties. And most undoubtedly, when I am asked whether we are prepared to negotiate in good faith, I say that we are prepared to negotiate in good faith, and if we were not so prepared, we should be unworthy not only of holding the offices which we do, but of being Members of this great assembly. Sir, we are as anxious as any body of men could be, to be able, upon terms consistent with the future safety of Europe, consistent with the attainment of those objects for which the war was begun—to put an end to the contest by an honourable treaty of peace. But I think that if, by an over desire for peace, we were to conclude that which would be more properly called a hollow and insecure truce—if we were to consent to terms which would leave the same source of danger by which we have been brought into the arduous struggle we are now carrving on—if we were to agree to terms which would leave that danger in all its former amplitude—instead of deserving the thanks of the country, I think 1850 we should then deserve its censure; we should have betrayed the trust which has been imposed upon us, and for the purpose of gaining a temporary relief we should have laid the foundation of great future calamities and dangers. That, then, Sir, is the line which Her Majesty's Government are prepared to pursue. We have felt it our duty in a moment of great emergency, when other persons who had the opportunity of forming a Government were unable to do so—when the question put to us was, whether the country should be left longer in a state, I may say, of anarchy, or whether we should undertake the task of conducting its affairs—we have felt it our duty, I say, to undertake that task, and we intend to perform it honestly and conscientiously. If peace is to be obtained upon terms consistent with the security and tranquillity of Europe, it will not be our fault if peace is not so obtained. If, on the other hand, it should unfortunately happen that the abilities of my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), and the sincere desire of the Government to put an end to the war upon proper conditions, should unhappily fail, then it will be our duty to prosecute the war with that vigour which may be necessary for bringing it to a successful termination, and in that case I am persuaded that we shall not appeal in vain to the generous support of Parliament. Sir, I am convinced that, whatever differences may exist between parties who sit on different sides of the House, those differences will for the moment at least be laid aside, and that we shall all feel that this is a national and not a party question—that we shall all feel that we are here representing this great empire in the face of Europe, and that we shall not exhibit a spectacle which would he humiliating and disgraceful to the country—the spectacle, namely, of party divisions, or personal jealousies, or differences upon particular questions, disabling the Parliament of this country from giving to whatever Government may exist for the time those means by which alone it could properly conduct the affairs of the country, and bring an arduous struggle to a successful and honourable termination. Sir, these are the grounds upon which we have undertaken the duty which has been imposed upon us. If, on the other hand, this House and the country should think that we do not properly perform those duties which are expected from us, and if any other Government can present itself 1851 which would be more acceptable to Parliament and the country, then, Sir, no feeling of personal ambition, no paltry love of power, will induce us to cling to the posts which we occupy longer than we think we can do so with advantage to the country and credit to ourselves. But, until we shall find that we have lost the confidence of Parliament and the country—until we shall find that the nation is disappointed with us and condemns us, instead of being disposed to support us—so long as we have the support of public opinion with us, and the good will of Parliament and the country—the House may depend upon it that we shall exert ourselves to the utmost, and shall not quit the post to which the confidence of the Sovereign has called us.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I am quite sure that the noble Lord is correct in the anticipation that any existing Government at the present emergency will receive a liberal and candid support from this House. But it would have been satisfactory to the House, this being the conclusion of the week, if the noble Lord could have found it convenient to assure the House and the country that a Government was really in existence. The noble Lord has omitted in his speech to answer the arguments of the right hon. Baronet the late First Lord of the Admiralty, and the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, against granting this Committee; but the noble Lord has also made an omission almost as singular, for the noble Lord Lord appears to have forgot that which we thought we were all collected together today specially to hear from the noble Lord—namely, that he, at least, had been successful in forming an Administration. If that be the case, as all the House had hoped, I think there is some want of courtesy in the leader of the House of Commons permitting us to adjourn this evening without having that gratifying information made known to us and the country. But instead of this the noble Lord says—" So long as we possess the confidence of the House and the country, we intend to do our duty to Her Majesty, and to retain our places." But what we want to know is, who are "we"? The moment, no doubt, is one of great national peril. The emergency is granted by all. We are ready to extend to a Government, with a less reference to party feeling than at any other time, a just and generous support. But it does not appear to me to be a severe 1852 condition to be made by Members of Parliament that they should at least be acquainted with the names of Her Majesty's Ministers—that they should have the satisfaction of knowing who are those patriots whom they are asked to support in the fulfilment of these onerous duties under circumstances so grave and so trying. I am bound to say that, in listening to the remarks of the noble Lord with regard to his conduct respecting the nomination of this important Committee, I find them not satisfactory. I must even say that I find them incoherent. I did expect from the noble Lord at least an answer to the argumentative speeches of his late right hon. Colleagues. But the noble Lord did not do so. I did expect the noble Lord would to-night at least vindicate the policy which now seems to be the cardinal point of his Administration. The noble Lord opposed this Committee when it was first proposed, and when it was supported by many hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House, and by the great bulk of those in opposition—he opposed it in language most strenuous, and in a spirit the most uncompromising. The Government of which the noble Lord was a member, in consequence of the decision of the House of Commons, ceased to exist. It is unnecessary for me to refer to the circumstances which intervened in the period between that vote and the day when the noble Lord received the commission of Her Majesty to form an Administration, and I make only one remark upon them, because the noble Lord has fallen into a great inaccuracy in his reference to particulars with which he ought certainly to have been well acquainted—I allude to Lord Derby's attempts to form a Government. Lord Derby never declined, as the noble Lord has stated, the exalted duty which was offered to him because he could not form an Administration, but he declined it solely because he could not form a strong Administration; and, Sir, I cannot admit that the noble Lord, especially in the position in which he now finds himself—after ten days' experience of his more felicitous enterprise—has any right to pride himself on his superiority over Lord Derby in this respect.
But now let us look to the conduct of the noble Lord with respect to this Committee—his former opposition to it, his present support of it. and his dealing with his late colleagues with respect to it. The noble Lord, when a member of the late Govern- 1853 ment, strenuously opposed the Committee to inquire into the causes which have led to the present condition of our army before Sebastopol, and upon principle, too. The noble Lord, since he has been First Minister—since the was successful in forming this strong. Administration, over which, only a week ago last Friday, he delivered so animated and fervent a eulogium—for it was only last Friday that he congratulated the country on possessing a Ministry distinguished alike for administrative ability, political sagacity, and sufficient liberalism—the noble Lord when he was called upon to form this Administration, formed it, if upon any principle, upon the principle of opposing this Committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the condition of the army before Sebastopol. In trying to form his Government there was, indeed, no other subject on which there required to be any communication between himself and his intended colleagues. They had all of them been members of the late Cabinet. The noble Lord has confessed to-night that with regard to his foreign policy, which absorbs all other subjects, not the slightest difference exists between the Cabinet of which he is the chief and that of the late Ministry of Lord Aberdeen. There could, therefore, be only one question on which a frank explanation would naturally take place between the noble Lord and his intended colleagues when he was forming his Administration. The right hon. Baronet the late First Lord of the Admiralty explained, by a cause which we all regret, why there was not that complete conference between him and the noble Lord which is usual under such circumstances, and we have it from the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) and the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr.G ladstone)—and the noble Lord has not in any way disputed their allegations—that the concession of this Committee was the subject on which they required from the noble Lord, for the satisfaction of their minds, a clear and complete understanding, and as I collected from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) the noble Lord was of the same opinion then as he had previously been in the House of Commons, objecting to the Committee upon principle, and expressing his determination to resist it. Well, what did the noble Lord do even last Friday night? He again announces to the House that he will resist this Committee; and on what ground does 1854 he found that resistance? Why, on the ground of its not being constitutional—no paltry ground, no slight ground, but the most powerful and effective objection that could possibly be stated. Now, Sir, this does seem to me to be very strange, that the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown should within the space of one short—"one little week," be prepared to do that which a week ago he deemed unconstitutional. And for what reason, I ask? Simply because he is determined to remain, he says, a Minister of the Crown, as no other person, on his own showing, could form a strong Ministry. I imagine there are many persons who could form a Ministry as strong at least as that of the noble Lord. The noble Lord votes against this Committee—he speaks against it—he absolutely forms his Cabinet on the basis of opposing this Committee—and before a week has passed we find the noble Lord rising in his place, staking the existence of the Government on carrying that Committee, and not urging one single reason in favour of that Committee being appointed, or offering the slightest, argument in support of this sudden and extraordinary change in his policy. After having listened for hours to arguments which I think are answerable—to precedents with which, I think, the noble Lord might have grappled—to a discussion which I supposed the leader of the House of Commons would have condescended to meet at least in fair debate—the noble Lord changes all his opinions—the opinions which, only a week ago he himself described as unconstitutional, he accepts—he not only accepts them, but he makes them the basis of his Government. And this is the man whose firmness and energy arc to save the country! I do the noble Lord injustice. The noble Lord did give a reason for granting this Committee. The noble Lord has found out since last Friday, that there is a strong public opinion in the country upon the subject of appointing this Committee to inquire into the condition of the army before Sebastopol, and into the causes that have produced that condition. He has found out that there is such an almost irresistible feeling in the country that no Ministry would be justified in opposing it. Why, Sir, what fine observer must the noble Lord be of the nation's disposition—what an acute observer must he be of public opinion—how skilfully must he feel the pulse of the public mind, if it is only since last Friday 1855 that he has arrived at that conclusion. The discontent of the country for months, which resulted in the overwhelming majority which destroyed a Government, were instances and circumstances which never induced the noble Lord to suppose that a Committee like this was a great necessity. Called upon to fulfil the most responsible duties which a man can be called upon to perform—called upon to form a Government at a time when one would have thought, if a man could feel deeply or think profoundly, he would have felt and thought deeply and profoundly, the noble Lord is still unconscious that this Committee of Inquiry is still a necessity—the noble Lord is still so ignorant of the public mind, and unmindful of that of which all are so conscious, that he forms his Government, not in oblivion, not in neglect, not in forgetfulness of that necessity, but absolutely in defiance of it. Administrative ability, of which we once heard so much, we know has vanished; but I thought, at least, political sagacity remained. Political sagacity was, I supposed, represented by the First Minister of the Crown; but after the experience of the noble Lord's career, and the speech we have heard to-night, my hopes of his triumphant future are less glowing than I at first hoped it might have been. I have made these observations with reference to the change of opinions of the noble Lord—I cannot say change of argument, for he offered us no reasons. I have not changed my mind upon the necessity of appointing this Committee, although I have listened with the respect which they deserve to the speeches of the late colleagues of the noble Lord, and which I certainly did expect the noble Lord would answer. It has been said, that this is an unconstitutional mode on the part of the House of Commons. I hardly care to enter into that question, because it has been very ably discussed, and I do not know that I should have adverted to it tonight, even after listening to the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, had it not been for the observation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone). I have not come down to-night, Sir, to enter into a debate on the expediency or inexpediency of granting this Committee. I came down by appointment to-night to hear three statements from three distinguished statesmen, and, if necessary, to listen to the answer, reply, comment, or criticism of the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown 1856 upon those statements. I certainly think the three right hon. Gentlemen have taken a constitutional course in making those statements to the House. I am sure the House would have felt greatly offended if they had not given a frank exposition of their views, and I think it was a great mistake of the noble Lord, when, having, more than a year ago, seceded from the Government of Lord Aberdeen, he came back to office without a frank explanation to the House of Commons, and I believe I express the very general feeling of the House on this subject. None of us have come here to enter into the discussion whether we should have a Committee or not. That is a question settled—settled by an overwhelming majority—and I should like to see the Minister who will directly or indirectly attempt to rescind it. But it is impossible not to notice some of the remarks which have been put forward by the right hon. Gentlemen who have addressed us, one of which is brought to my mind by the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford. The right hon. Gentleman has taunted my right hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) with appealing to precedents. He found that my right hon. Friend was armed with precedents not very easy or convenient to grapple with. He saw that those precedents had made an impression on the House; and then he derides this appeal—this recurrence to the force of precedents, and will not condescend, he says, to argue the question on so low a ground. But let me remind the House that the question of precedent was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) at the commencement of his weighty and matured speech. The right hon. Gentleman said, "You have only one or two precedents in your favour, and those of a bad time." He spoke of them as of no consequence, although he by inference indicated that if there were many precedents, and they were good, they might have considerable effect upon the opinion of the House and of the country. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) quoted many precedents, and good ones, some of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford has admitted to be completely adapted to the question before us.
There are objections made to some Committees of the House of Commons 1857 appointed to consider disastrous circumstances of war because they were in Committees of the whole House. I will mention one precedent which has not been referred to to-night, and which was a Committee of the whole House—in the year 1779, when Lord Cornwallis was examined before a Committee of the whole House—and what was the opinion of Mr. Burke on that subject? Mr. Burke said that the Committee produced no great effect because of the bustle and confusion which pervaded the House during the time of the examination. I think that is not only a precedent in favour of a Select Committee, but shows from great authority how inconvenient Committees of the whole House may be found. But, if you grant a Committee of the whole House you concede all the arguments which you urge against Committees in a constitutional point of view; and with respect to precedents against Committees of the whole House to inquire into circumstances analogous to those in the Crimea, their name is not one or two, but legion. I do not want, however, to place this question on precedents, numerous as they are. They are to be found in the time of Charles II.; for instance, when the conduct of the war by the Duke of York was made the subject of inquiry. They are to be found in the time of William III.—in the time of Queen Anne—in the time of George II.—in the time of George III., and during the Regency. I did not, however, place this question on precedent. I say, had there not been a precedent to meet this instance, it was the duty of the House of Commons to frame a precedent; because the circumstances are grave. A fine army disappears, and the Chief Minister of the Crown in this House, and the right hon. Gentlemen who have seceded from the Government, tell us that, in possession of all the secrets of the Cabinet, the causes of this disaster are to them inexplicable. If there had been no precedent it was the duty of the House of Commons, I maintain, under such circumstances, to have made a precedent; and, notwithstanding all his refined and sustained argumentation, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford may rely upon it that the people of England, not in moments of passion, but in the calmest periods of their existence, will always feel that with such an unparalleled disaster, not explicable by the chief statesman of the day, it was the duty of their represen- 1858 tatives, their first duty, to inquire into the cause of these disasters. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman, "leave it to Government. Why do not you leave it to the Government? I am for inquiry," says the right hon. Gentleman, "but not inquiry in this way, not inquiry by a Committee of the House of Commons." I am perfectly ready to admit that you might, under ordinary circumstances, have modes of inquiry more satisfactory than the one that has been proposed; but what does that come to? I admit that. under ordinary circumstances, a Government might claim the duty and privilege of inquiring into maladministration, of recommending, and even of devising a remedy, but the fact is, that, in the present state of affairs, the country has no confidence in the Government. It is a conviction that no fair relief, no sincere and efficient relief, could be afforded by the Administration, either the last or the present—I make this as a general, not a personal, observation—that the Government could not make an effective inquiry, that has made them feel that it was their own House of Commons from which alone they could obtain redress and satisfaction. Then the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone)—and this was almost the most laboured part of his argument—takes up the list of the Committee. He seems to be very familiar with the opinions of all Gentlemen upon it, and he says, quoting the opinion of a great authority, that nothing can be done effectually unless the individual who is employed is in favour of the task which he is engaged to fulfil. And it was considered by his friends certainly as a very unanswerable argument. But did it not occur to him that it was in effect an argument against the constitution of every Parliamentary Committee that every day, upon every subject, is called into existence. There is not a Committee upon any subject which does not consist, in many of its members, of instruments that are not favourable to the subject-matter of the inquiry, and therefore, if the argument of the right hon. Gentleman means anything, it is good against the whole system of Parliamentary inquiry. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to go so far as that? We have heard many sneers at Parliament. We are told that the constitution is in danger, because the noble Lord at the head of the Administration has, in the course of a week, changed the whole policy of his Cabinet; 1859 but I am certain that, if you wish to deal a blow against Parliamentary authority, you can deal no more effective one than to impress upon the country that the elements of a Parliamentary Committee are not adapted to the effective fulfilment of their purpose. The noble Lord opposite, instead of answering the arguments of his late colleagues respecting this Committee, which a week ago he declared was unconstitutional, and on which to-night he has staked the existence of his Government—the noble Lord has again favoured us with flattering visions of an impending peace. I am quite sure that if the country believes that peace with honour can be achieved by the noble Lord the Ministry may count upon the earnest support of this House. All I can say is, that I hope the instructions which the noble Lord has given to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell) are conceived in a more frank spirit and in more intelligible language than the communications which he had on behalf of Lord Derby with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) and with the understanding which he arrived at with his late colleague as to the basis upon which his Government was to be formed. If the noble Lord has gone to Vienna to be the promoter of peace, with a foregone conclusion in favour of war, that I think is not a satisfactory prospect for the country. I can, therefore, only hope that the instructions which he has received from the First Minister have been couched in a more familiar spirit and expressed in more intelligible terms than the conditions which he (Lord Palmerston) apparently made to be the basis of his Government—a Government that, after ten days, has experienced a disastrous blow at a time when the noble Lord assures us it is of the utmost importance that the country should feel that it was strongly and effectively governed, and when the noble Lord, under circumstances so discouraging to the country, after a week nearly has elapsed since this unfortunate and untoward event has been proclaimed—the noble Lord does not find himself in a condition, at the conclusion of the Parliamentary week, to feel that by all his exertions, and all his combinations, he can assure the country that his Sovereign at this moment possesses a complete body of responsible advisers.
I rise, Sir, to explain one or two points referred to in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman 1860 who has just sat down. One of them relates to the question of precedents; and upon that subject I merely wish to say that what I stated was, that all the precedents which were quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) failed entirely in this essential particular—that they related to operations which had been drawn to a close; whereas the essence of this inquiry is, that it has to do with operations which are still in progress. The other point upon which I wish to offer an explanation is a matter of much more importance. I am afraid I have been unfortunate in expressing myself indistinctly upon it; at any rate, my meaning has been misapprehended by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The right hon. Gentleman has, of course, a perfect right to put whatever construction he pleases upon my statement; but, as far as I recollect, I never stated to the House that my noble Friend at the head of the Government used the expression in conversation with me that he would form his Government upon the basis of resistance to this Committee, or that I asked for any engagement from him upon that subject. I never made it the subject of stipulation at all. I never even mentioned it to my noble Friend until I had written to him to acquaint him that, after the communications we had had respecting his foreign policy, I was ready, at his desire, to accept office under his Administration. But I had the pleasure of seeing my noble Friend before receiving any reply or making any final arrangement; and at the interview at which it was finally arranged that I should take office, I inquired of my noble Friend what his intentions were with reference to this Committee. He then stated that his intentions continued to be the same as they had been, and that it was his intention to oppose the Committee. But I never in the least doubted my noble Friend, and never thought of asking from him any stipulations upon the subject, as they appeared to me wholly unnecessary.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
Sir, the explanation which has just been given by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) has relieved me to a great extent of the indispensable necessity of correcting the repeated statements in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) upon assumptions without any evidence that my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston) formed his Government on the basis of resisting this Committee. Having, as a Member of 1861 Lord Aberdeen's Government, offered my strenuous, but unavailing, opposition to the decision at which the House arrived, and having subsequently acquiesced in the decision of a majority of the Cabinet of my noble Friend, that, under the circumstances of difficulty in which they were placed, it was their duty to withdraw from any further opposition to the nomination of that Committee, I feel bound emphatically to deny, so far as I am concerned, and so far as any information has reached me, that my noble Friend's Government was based on opposition to this Committee. The policy of that Government—the basis of that Government—was the vigorous prosecution of the war by all the means at our disposal, and which the confidence of Parliament may enable us to make use of, with the view to the attainment at the earliest period of a just, a safe, and an honourable peace. When I opposed the appointment of that Committee, I did not deny the right of Parliament to inquire into the state of our army in the Crimea, or the conduct of the different departments of the Government whose duty it was to minister to the wants of that army, nor do I agree with the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) in thinking there was anything unconstitutional in its appointment, but I did so under a deep sense of the risks we might incur, the inconvenience which would arise to any Government administering affairs while such a Committee was sitting, and also of the injustice which might be inflicted on parties absent in the Crimea by evidence being taken in their absence affecting their conduct and character. I felt those grounds were sufficient to justify the opposition to that Motion. My arguments were unavailing, and the House by an overwhelming majority affirmed the appointment of the Committee. It has been truly said, there were different motives which influenced hon. Gentlemen in supporting the Motion for this inquiry. There were some who were honestly desirous for the inquiry, for the sake of truth. There were others who, [...]denying the inconvenience of the inquiry, availed themselves of that Motion to strike a blow at the Government of Lord Aberdeen. It was obvious that the vote implied want of confidence in the Government. That Government, in consequence, tendered their resignations to Her Majesty, and their resignations were accepted. In tendering my resignation I had not the remotest conception that it was not final and conclusive; I had not any 1862 expectation that the circumstances which have since occurred would have arisen, and which have made me feel it my duty to resume office under my noble Friend. The Earl of Derby was applied to to form a Government. He undertook that commission, and failed to accomplish it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) says that Lord Derby did not say he could not form a Government, but that lie could not form a strong Government. Any Gentleman may take half a dozen Members, and say he has formed a Government, but he must find men deserving the confidence of the country, and able to discharge the duties of Government. I understand Lord Derby abandoned the task, being unable to form such a Government out of the materials at his command, and not being able to obtain that assistance from the opposite ranks. The attempt of my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) to form a Government also failed, and then my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston), having been intrusted with the task, did me the honour to solicit my assistance. I should most gladly have declined, not from want of confidence in him, or from any difference of policy, but because, under the circumstances of the case, I thought it was deeply to be regretted that a totally new Government was not formed. The times, however, were critical. It was not a moment when the country could be left without any Government; war was in progress, important negotiations were pending, and I felt, if my noble Friend could obtain the co-operation of those Gentlemen whose character, talents, and well-known abilities justly recommended them to the confidence of Parliament and the country, I had no right to withhold that assistance which he did me the honour to ask, although I might think he attached undue importance to it. It would have been offering an insult to the House if the first act of my noble Friend had been an attempt to rescind their decision. Yet I am free to admit I entertained the hope, if not the expectation, that when the Government was reconstructed, and when it was announced what measures we were prepared to take, the House would have acquiesced in the abandonment of that Committee. The House and the country still undoubtedly remained of the opinion that an inquiry should take place, and I am satisfied that no Government formed in such circumstances as the present could have gained any useful object by attempting to stem 1863 the tide of public opinion, or to overrule the decision of a majority of the House of Commons on this subject. We believed, therefore, that we were best discharging our duty by endeavouring to induce the House so to construct the Committee that the inquiry should be conducted by men who would act under a solemn sense of the responsibility committed to them, and whose knowledge and experience of public affairs would lead them to avoid those evils and inconveniences that were the main ground of our objections to the inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) has indulged in his usual vein of sarcasm on the Government as at present constituted. I shall pass by that sarcasm. I deny the proposition of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), so far as my own experience goes, that the determination of the House to nominate this Committee, and to prosecute the inquiry, is a renewal of the vote of want of confidence, or a censure upon the Government, as recently constituted. I believe that is not the object of the House. I have seen no sign of such being its intention, and no opinion has been expressed by this House, indicative of any want of confidence in the Government. The Estimates were willingly and generously voted; means were afforded the Government for carrying on the war with vigour, and I certainly think there is nothing to justify the Government in resigning their trust and abandoning their post. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) has stated that a week has elapsed since this division in the Cabinet, and that my noble Friend is unable to announce the names of those Gentlemen who will fill the places recently vacated. Two days only have elapsed since their resignation was announced, and I do not think my noble Friend is asking too much of the forbearance of the House if he asks for at least two or three days before he announces the names of the Gentlemen who may be approved of by Her Majesty to fill the places recently vacated. They are all important places, and they have been held by men of great eminence. The Earl of Derby has declared that he had not men of sufficient eminence or capacity to construct a Government, and it is a little too much to require that my noble Friend should at once repair the serious loss which the Government has sustained. I earnestly trust that my noble Friend will succeed in obtaining the co-operation 1864 of men with whom his remaining colleagues may act with the same cordiality with which they have acted with those who have recently resigned, and that the Government will, in a short time, be so constituted as to command the confidence of this House and of the country.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, that it was an old saying, that it was better late than never. The noble Lord had shared the fate of all those who tried to please everybody—he had pleased nobody. If in the first instance he had agreed to the Committee, and then, finding a difficulty, had thrown himself on the confidence of the country, he would have been supported. But he did not rise for that. He rose to object to the talk about precedents. Precedents! Why, was there a precedent of such an army having suffered so much in so short a space of time? He voted for a censure on the Government, and also for an inquiry. He wished for inquiry, because he thought it requisite—not an inquiry into what is going on now, but an inquiry into the past. Then there was another question—what would the army itself think if the House of Commons had voted an inquiry into their dreadful condition, and then no inquiry took place? Hon. Members said there were difficulties connected with the inquiry. Were there no difficulties connected with no inquiry? With regard to the Government of the noble Lord, he would say the same he had said of all Governments—that so long as he believed it was promoting the interest and honour of the country he would support it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ ORDERS OF THE DAY.— Other Orders postponed till after the notice of Motion for nominating the Committee on the Army before Sebastopol.