HC Deb 08 June 1854 vol 133 cc1268-76

On the Motion for going into Committee of Supply,


said: Sir, in moving that you leave the Chair, I will give an answer to the question which the hon. Member for Montrose addressed to me before the recess with respect to the arrangements to be made relative to the administration of the affairs of the Army. I imagine that there are two questions upon this sub- ject which engage the attention of the House—the one is the question of giving more immediate vigour and efficiency to the War Department, and the other relates to the arrangements to be made respecting the administration of all the various departments connected with military affairs. Now, Sir, with regard to the first point, namely, the more efficient administration of military affairs in time of war—it is, I think, to be collected from the general feeling, and it is the opinion of her Majesty's Government, that a Minister having the charge of the Colonial Department—bearing in mind the manner in which the business of that department has increased since the last war—is both physically and morally unable to give to the affairs of the War Department that great amount of attention, time, and labour which those affairs in time of war absolutely require. It is, therefore, the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that the affairs of the War Department, instead of being united to the administration of the Colonies, as they at present are, should be separated from it. The next question regards the administration of the various departments which are connected with military affairs. The House is aware that these departments are several in number, and it is aware, likewise, that one of the principal Secretaries of State as Secretary of State for the War Department, takes the Queen's pleasure with respect to the amount of forces to be kept up for the year—takes the Queen's pleasure, also, with regard to any considerable augmentation to be made, and generally takes from Her Majesty those directions by which the military affairs of this country are regulated. The Secretary at War administers the financial affairs of the Army; the Board of Ordnance has, in the first place, the management of the artillery and the engineers, but it has likewise various other duties to perform which from time to time have been added to it. The Commissariat is a department by itself, and its duties are well known; and there are various other departments which are more or less concerned in, and connected with, the military affairs of the country. Now, Sir, in the year 1831–32 there was a Committee of the Government appointed, of which the Duke of Richmond was the head, and of which I had the honour of being a Member, and that Committee was of opinion that there should be a General Board, which should have the civil affairs of the Army under its control, but divided into different departments—one to lodge the Army, another to clothe the Army, a third to feed the Army, a fourth to furnish arms, and so on. Somewhat later a Commission was appointed, of which Earl Grey, who was then Secretary of War, was the head, and of which, also, I had the honour of being a Member, and that Commission was of opinion—at least, Earl Grey suggested, and the Members of the Commission concurred in the recommendation—that there should be greater concentration of departments, and that the Secretary at War should exercise many of the functions which are now discharged by the Secretary of State. The plan which I have first mentioned did not meet with the approbation, if I recollect right, of Earl Grey, who was then at the head of the Government; at all events it certainly was not persevered in any further. The second plan was laid before the Duke of Wellington, who stated to Lord Melbourne —who was then the First Minister of the Crown—such grave and, I think, such reasonable objections to the placing in the hands of the Secretary at War a control which properly belonged to one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, that that plan likewise was not proceeded with. Sir, under these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that the best thing to be done for the present would be to confine ourselves to the change of making a separate Secretary of State for the War Department, confiding to him a superintendence over all those matters which fall under the administration of military affairs in time of war. Having been a Member of both Commissions, I have no hesitation in saying that I was not at all satisfied, after hearing the objections of Earl Grey and the Duke of Wellington, that either of the proposed plans would have ensured the efficient and complete working of all the various departments connected with military affairs in this country. But a Secretary of State would have these departments under his immediate superintendence. He would have the control of the whole of them, and could say from time to time what improvements ought to be introduced, and could either introduce these improvements singly, or prepare some plan to be afterwards submitted to the consideration of the Government as a more general reform of the various military departments. This, I think, is all that it would be advisable at the present moment to attempt. To introduce greater changes — to derange and put into a state of confusion all those various departments at a time when we have but lately entered into a war—would, in my opinion, be a very rash and dangerous undertaking. I have been told, with respect to the most beneficial change which was made by my right hon. Friend the present First Lord of the Admiralty, when he abolished the Navy Board more than twenty years ago, that it took upwards of two years before that change was completely carried into effect so as to ensure the harmonious working of the new system. If that be so, it is obvious you cannot adopt in the first instance an entire plan, without the risk of producing, probably, a great deal more confusion than at the present time, more particularly, is to be wished for, and you would fail to ensure that harmony and unity which are so much desired. There are certain principles which I think should guide us with respect to this subject. It is easy to say, "Unite the various departments." But while there is the greatest benefit in having one head which can control departments and branches of the same kind of service, there very often will be very great disadvantage in uniting in one department what ought to be divided amongst several. The progress which has been made in society in general has been a progress made, not by uniting, but by separating different mechanical arts and manufactures which in early times were united together. is it not the same with regard to the immediate subject under our notice? If we were to desire the infantry to do the work of the cavalry, and the cavalry to be as complete as the artillery, that, evidently, instead of improvement, would rather produce disorganisation, and prevent the efficient working of those different branches. At the same time, everybody sees that it is unfit that the commander of the cavalry should have a separate command, or that the commander of the artillery should have his own mode of conducting operations, and that it is desirable all should be under one head and one commander. With respect to certain things, unity is desirable. With respect to others, separation is the best way of attaining that end. It appears, therefore, to the Government better to allow the Secretary of State, who is to be placed at the head of this department, to consider from time to time what is the best arrangement, and how improvements can be best carried out. It certainly appears that there are defects, which have been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, and by others, in the other House of Parliament, as well as in this House, and no doubt very considerable improvements can be made. There is one change, however, which I must say I do not think we can consider in the light of an improvement. I mean the proposal that the patronage which is now vested in the Commander in Chief, and which is administered by him without reference to political considerations, should be taken from him and given to a political officer. I do not think such a change would be likely to give satisfaction to the public. It seems to me far better that patronage should continue to be exercised, as for a long series of years it has been and is now exercised, having regard to the benefit of the Army, totally apart from any considerations of which party is in power or in opposition. These are the only remarks which I have to make on this subject. It will not be necessary to have recourse to Parliament for any Bill to separate the Departments of War and the Colonies. That can be effected nearly in the same manner as the Home Department was separated from that of War and the Colonies. There will be, of course, some increased expenses; but the establishment now found to lie sufficient for both departments will be nearly sufficient for them when separated. An Estimate will be proposed for defraying the charges of the Secretary of State for the War Department; and the Secretary of State for the War Department, having his undivided attention given to the affairs of that department—never more important than at the present moment, or requiring more vigour and decision—will be able to serve his country in the manner it deserves.


said, he was glad to find Her Majesty's Government had made a beginning, but he hoped they would lay on the table some more definite statement of what this plan was. He was one who agreed with the noble Lord in thinking that individuals should be placed in a situation to perform separate duties, but united at the same time under one command. He never contemplated altering the powers of the Commander in Chief with respect to patronage, for he believed that the more political considerations were kept out of view in the promotions of the Army the better. What he desired to see was one head—a Member of Her Majesty's Govern- ment—who should have the opportunity of being consulted upon all orders that were given. He wished to see the artillery form part of the Army, and no longer be a strange body, unknown to the Commander in Chief. He wished to see men of experience appointed as aides-de-camp, to perform those most important ditties, instead of young men of two or three years' standing in the Army, who were too often entirely incapable. The arrangements he desired were arrangements which would not weaken but give strength to all operations. Although he considered the Treasury ought to check and control all departments, he thought it anomalous that the Treasury should have the management of that most important of all services in the field—the Commissariat. There should also be some arrangement with regard to stores. He did not wish to blame the Government, but while the manner in which the artillery and troops had been conveyed to the East was highly creditable to the country, it was utterly impossible there could be that efficiency which under a proper system might have been obtained. He was not dissatisfied with what was now proposed. but he wanted a little more to be done, and the sooner it was done the better. They did not know how long the war would continue, and they ought to be prepared at all points, for now that the country had entered upon war, they had a right to expect operations would be conducted with the greatest efficiency. Unless, therefore, the noble Lord laid upon the table a programme of what would be united and what separated, so as to promote efficiency in the different departments, it was impossible that the House would be satisfied or disposed to vote any money. He wished to ask whether it was correct that orders had been given for altering the clothing of the Army, and whether any arrangement had been made for separating the Ordnance Department from the artillery?


said, it would be very unfair to his noble Friend, who had announced this late change, if they were to mingle with their congratulations any observations which might seem to detract from the expediency of the measure just announced. At the same time, lest general assent might hereafter be taken to imply entire approval of that measure, he must say for himself his noble Friend's statement had fallen far short of satisfying him with respect to the arrangements which were about to take place. He wished, however, to correct one statement of his noble Friend. He (Mr. Ellice) was also a Member of the Commission of 1831, and neither he nor Sir James Kemp concurred in the Report which was made to the Government; and he very much doubted whether his noble Friend himself approved of it—at least, that was his impression at the time. There was, properly speaking, no Report; for though the Duke of Richmond produced the sketch of a Report, it was not sent in by the Commission, but what they generally agreed upon was that with respect to our military establishments there should be one head responsible to this House for the expenditure. He quite concurred with his noble Friend in thinking that it was the last thing to be desired that any political influence should be exercised with respect to the patronage of the Army, and he should be very sorry to see the discretion of the Commander in Chief interfered with by political parties; at the same time it had always occurred to him that whatever recommendations were made to the Crown should be in some respect under the advice and control of the Government of the day. There were various questions about patronage and promotions in the Army, which should be entirely controlled by a Minister responsible to this House for the expenditure of the Army. He would not trouble the House with a history of the anomalies on this subject, such as the Secretary at War being made responsible for departments over which he had no control. What lie submitted was, that there should be one superintending authority to control the parties having the management of different details. If it was intended that the new Secretary of State should only be employed in time of war, then, indeed, they would have made very little progress in improving their military administration. If it was intended to be a permanent office, not only to transact all affairs connected with military operations, but to conduct and be responsible for the whole military administration of the country, then he could see no reason why that Secretary of State should not be responsible for the whole administration, whether by the Master of the Ordnance, the Commissary General, the barrack master, or the officer who supplied the clothing. What he wanted was to have all those parties responsible to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State responsible to the House of Commons, so that the control of the House of Commons should be much greater over the military expenditure, for which they had to call upon the people to submit to taxation. The Commissariat was managed, as he thought most improperly, by the Treasury. But in making that statement he would guard himself from being supposed to think that the banking part of the Commissariat, should not remain with the Treasury. It was essential that the Treasury should control the whole expenditure of the country in every department, and in order to enable them to do that, they must not be undertaking the expenditure in detail of any one department. What the House appeared to him to desire, what all the Commissions had agreed upon, what all the Committees had always insisted upon, was, that there should be one authority, not to undertake the administration of the various departments, but one authority to which all those various departments could report and refer, and who, being the head of the military administration of the country, should be responsible to that House. He quite agreed with his noble Friend that they ought not to act hastily, without due caution, or without due preparation. If the Secretary of State now appointed was to have the power by degrees, as he saw expedient for the benefit of the public service, to bring into subjection to his own department such details of the administration as appeared to him might be better managed under such control, then he should be perfectly satisfied; but if, on the other hand, it was intended, for carrying on operations during the war, to appoint only a temporary officer (because he hoped they might look forward some time or other to the re-establishment of peace), then he did not think the country would be satisfied with this change.


said, that the proposal of the noble Lord had met with such general assent, that it would be unnecessary for him to move the Resolution of which he had given notice, declaring that the several departments for the administration of the Army required to be consolidated, economised, and simplified. He knew no possible ground why the Commissariat should be connected with the Treasury, and it was a notorious fact that it was the most expensive and ill-conducted of all the public departments. He rejoiced at the change which the noble Lord had intimated, and which the House had so well received, and he was prepared to give it every support.


said, he considered that much would depend upon who was to be the War Minister. He should wish him to be a military man, but he supposed a Minister of the Crown, who was also a member of the military profession, could not always be found. He did not think the Army had been sent to Turkey so efficiently as the country had a right to expect, and the Commissariat was extremely faulty. He believed at the moment the troops were moving on Varna they had no guns larger than six-pounders, the heavy artillery having only just left Woolwich.


said, he wished to know whether the new Secretary of State would sit in the House of Commons?


was understood to say, that two Secretaries of State would always sit in the House of Commons, and that the Secretary of War would be competent to sit there.

Motion agreed to; House in Committee, Mr. Bouverie in the Chair.

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