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Crimean texts


The Times 30.3.1855 p 8


Parliament

House of Commons - Summary


Mr H BERKELEY moved an address to HER MAJESTY, praying that she will be pleased to order an inquiry by court-martial on Lieutenant-General the Earl of Lucan for ordering a charge of the Light Cavalry at Balaklava. The object of the motion, he said, was to ascertain the cause of the destruction of 300 as gallant men as ever drew sword or put foot in stirrup, who appeared to have been wantonly sacrificed; he asked not for a committee of that House, but for a proper tribunal for such an inquiry - namely, a court-martial. He had no animosity or personal feeling in this matter; he had no charge to make against the honour or courage of Lord LUCAN; he would admit both to be undoubted; but he believed inquiry to be called for, and this was the only course he could take to obtain it. He then proceeded to detail the particulars of the battle of Balaklava and the order issued by Lord RAGLAN, observing that the more that order was analyzed, the clearer did Lord RAGLAN'S intentions become. In the first place, no order was given to charge by Lord RAGLAN, but to follow and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns. The mode of doing this was left entirely to Lord LUCAN. The order could not apply to a stationary force, and the permission to send for a troop of artillery showed further the real intention of Lord RAGLAN. The fact was, Mr BERKELEY said, that Lord LUCAN was ordered to do one thing, the necessity for which had passed away, and, on his own responsibility, he did another, and that the worst thing he could have done. He then related the transmission of the order to Lord CARDIGAN (upon whose military character he pronounced a very high eulogium); the demur of Lord CARDIGAN upon the receipt of the order, who pointed out the desperate nature of the attack; and the fatal issue of the charge. In conclusion, he submitted to the House that he had made out a case for inquiry, which Lord LUCAN himself gallantly desired, and, if he could justify himself, a court-martial was the proper place.

Lord ELCHO seconded the motion, observing that Lord LUCAN courted inquiry into his conduct, and he (Lord ELCHO) was never more firmly convinced of anything than that Lord LUCAN was a grossly wronged and injured man. Referring to the words of the order, he had heard, he said, what it did not mean, but he had never heard what it did mean, and he asked in what position Lord LUCAN would be now had he disobeyed the order. He adverted to the conduct of Lord LUCAN prior to the battle of Balaklava, and to the circumstances connected with his recall, and then examined the grounds upon which a court-martial had been refused. In considering the objection founded upon precedent, he referred to the parallel case of Lord GEORGE SACKVILLE, who commanded the British cavalry at the battle of Minden, and, on the other hand, he justified this motion by appealing to a variety of precedents.

Mr C VILLIERS said he took issue with the mover and seconder upon the question as to Lord LUCAN'S right to inquiry in this matter. This did not come under the character of an original motion, but under that of an appeal from a decision given by the CROWN, by the advice of the competent authorities. The question might have been raised in another form, but it had been raised upon the precise point decided by the authorities, with a perfect knowledge that it had been already decided, and of what were the reasons assigned for the refusal of a court-martial. He briefly stated the case which had been submitted to the legal authorities, and the reasons for refusing inquiry. No officer, he observed, had a right to insist upon a court-martial; an officer might be dismissed without reason assigned. In Lord LUCAN'S case no military offence had been proved or alleged, and, if he had offended, he had been continued to be employed after the offence; and where an offence has been overlooked, it is a good legal bar to any proceeding against the party, who could not be subjected to a court-martial for the offence so overlooked. Independently of this legal objection, the inquiry would be inexpedient. It could not be instituted at home, and it was obvious that it must be deferred until the war was over. The whole question was whether Lord RAGLAN had exercised his discretion wisely. Lord RAGLAN did not complain of Lord LUCAN; all he said was that in the particular charge in question he had misconceived his order. Commanders-in-Chief must be invested with very large discretion, and if Lord RAGLAN had exercised his discretion unworthily Lord LUCAN was not without his remedy.

Mr FRENCH spoke in defence of Lord LUCAN, contending that the order in question was positive, and left him no discretion whatever.

Mr J PHILLIMORE opposed the motion, arguing that this was not a case in which the House of Commons, with a proper regard to its own dignity and the prerogative of the CROWN, could interfere.

Captain BELLEW likewise should vote against the motion, because the House had no right to interfere with the prerogative of the CROWN. He thought that Lord LUCAN, as a soldier, had been very hardly treated.

After a few remarks by Colonel DUNNE and Colonel SIBTHORPE,

Mr DISRAELI hoped the motion would not be pressed to a division. Although he sympathized with the feelings of Lord LUCAN, whose qualities entitled him to public respect, the House, in regard to this motion, must, he said, look to its nature. If there had been a denial of justice, it would be the duty of the House to consider the case; but he could not conceive that this was a case in which it ought to interfere with the prerogative of the CROWN. There was one point upon which, he thought, the House of Commons had a right to complain - namely, that when the thanks of the House were voted to this gallant officer the MINISTER of WAR was in possession of facts which, in his opinion, justified him in recalling him in disgrace. Either this was not acting fairly to the House of Commons, or it was acting unjustly towards Lord LUCAN. He did not think the motion was one which the House ought to sanction.

Lord PALMERSTON observed that nothing had passed in the debate which could be considered as casting any imputation upon the military character of Lord LUCAN. The House ought not to forget that the command of the army was by the Constitution vested in the CROWN, and if it fell into the habit of interfering with the discipline of the army, great injury would ensue. The present was a case in which it was impossible for the CROWN to grant a court-martial upon general and particular considerations. The vote of thanks to Lord LUCAN placed his character as high as his best friends could desire, and the ground of his recall was simply a personal difference between him and his commanding officer, which rendered it impossible that they could usefully act together.

After some remarks by Mr E DENISON in defence of Lord RAGLAN,

Mr BERKELEY withdrew his motion.


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