HC Deb 20 March 1855 vol 137 cc892-903

said, he would now beg to move that the House should resolve itself into a Committee to consider of an humble Address to Her Majesty with reference to the future management of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst—1st. That ten orphans, sons of officers of our army, navy, and marines, shall receive their education, board, and clothing free from expense to their friends. 2nd. That the number of cadets at Sandhurst, who are now admissible into the first class, be increased to fifty. 3rd. That depart- ments in the civil branches of the public service shall be open to those cadets who may entitle themselves to them by their good conduct, and by having passed those examinations which may be required of them; those cadets who prefer the military service to receive commissions as at present upon passing the necessary examinations; and to assure her Majesty that this House will make good the expense of the same. If he had not considered his proposition to deeply affect the interest of the orphans of officers, he should not again have brought forward a Motion which had previously fallen to the ground, owing to an informality in the mode of proceeding. The establishment of the college was due to the zeal, talent, and untiring perseverance of the late General Le Marchant, who fell at the head of the heavy cavalry brigade at Salamanca in the year 1812; and its scheme had been approved by the late Duke of York. The first warrant establishing the college was dated the 27th May, 1808, and divided those who were to share in its benefits into three classes:—First, the sons of subaltern officers; secondly, the sons of officers; and thirdly, the sons of noblemen and gentleman, who were admitted as a matter of favour. But the intentions of its founders had been perverted, and the change which had taken place in the regulations practically shut the door against the entrance of any orphans of officers who had not held high rank in the army. Youths were now called on to pay 40l. a year; and as the means of the widows of such officers were unequal to such an outlay and accompanying expenses, the benefits of the college were denied to deserving persons. His object, then, was to restore the conditions and regulations of the college to their original form and scope, namely, that a certain number of young men should be educated thereat at the expense of the country.


I have much satisfaction in seconding the Motion now before the House; I consider it one founded on the strictest principles of justice and national gratitude and such as at this time is specially demanded. According to the present constitution of the sister services, only the more fortunate, the few who have resources of their own, can look to have their families independent of want. In the army especially, an officer in the purchase of a commission buys a poor annuity on his capital, he receives the interest on the money thus invested, his services to his country are in fact gratuitous. After his death the Government virtually confiscates his income, it appropriates his commission but does not reimburse his survivors. In the navy, promotion is seldom the reward of merit and actual service; too often it is the consequence of family connexion, influence and patronage. At this moment the College at Sandhurst is self-supporting; the country, to some extent, greatly to its discredit, suffers the maintenance of a national establishment at the expense of the widow and orphan. It may be said that the children of officers who have died in adverse circumstances are received at a small cost—what is that sum? 40l.—Let me remind hon. Members that pensions to widows of captains and subalterns are slightly beyond that sum, and to field officers under 90l. When the Duke of York presided over the foundation of Sandhurst, such boys were received free in board, clothes and education. Now the House is asked to sanction the admission of only ten orphans, the sons of officers in the army, navy and marines, gratuitously. With the recollection of the services rendered of late and acknowledged by this House, I cannot believe such an application will be refused, rather I should hope, will be deemed too insignificant, too unworthy. How would you animate the officer if you would assure him that a grateful country will be a parent to his child if he falls in her cause! The private soldier, the seaman and marine, knows that his boy shall be received at Greenwich or Chelsea and enabled to earn his livelihood; the poor subaltern, sinking down to die on the couch or battle-field, knows that now the agony of bereavement will be enhanced by lessened means in his humble home; that after all his sacrifices, his anxious thought by day and night, bereaved of their protector, he leaves his widow and children to the mercy of a hard world. Reverse this conviction, and show by your vote that England through you accepts his legacy, and whilst the Sovereign gives medals and honours to the survivors, the House never forgets those who have perilled and lost life in their country's cause.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House will, upon Thursday next, resolve itself into a Committee to consider of an humble Address to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions, 1. That ten Orphans, Sons of Officers of our Army, Navy, and Marines, shall receive their education, board, and clothing free from expense to their friends; 2. That the number of Cadets at Sandhurst, who are now admissible into the first class, be increased to fifty; 3. That Departments in the Civil Branches of the Public Service shall be open to those Cadets who may entitle themselves to them by their good conduct, and by having passed those examinations which may be required of them; those Cadets who prefer the Military Service to receive Commissions as at present upon passing the necessary examinations; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the same.


said, if the only question involved in the Resolutions of the hon. and gallant Member was whether or not such an appropriation might be made of the income of the Military College at Sandhurst as would secure for the orphan children of the officers of the army the means of receiving a gratuitous education there, he did not think there would be any difference of opinion on either side of the House with regard to the Motion. The present arrangements of the college did enable the sons of officers in the army to receive an education at Sandhurst at a very reduced cost, and he was sure it would be satisfactory if the advantages of this college could be extended and the objects of the hon. and gallant Gentleman accomplished. It appeared to him, however, that before the House agreed to Resolutions which would involve a grant of money, it should be clearly ascertained whether or no the object could not be attained by some other means. They ought, for example, to inquire whether the income of the college might not be so appropriated as to secure the object of the hon, and gallant Member without calling upon the public for any assistance of this sort. At present the college was self-supporting. The first class of students there comprised twenty-five cadets, who each paid 40l. a year, in return for which they were provided with an excellent education, boarded, and clothed; and, such was the anxiety to obtain admission into this class that, although the number of vacancies was not more than seven or eight annually, there were at this moment at least fifty applications for admission. The boys admitted into that class were children of captains and subalterns in the army. Then there was a second class, containing fifty cadets, who paid sums varying from 50l. to 80l, a year, the young men who were admitted into that class being the sons of field and general officers; and next came a third class, comprising 105 students, the sons of private gentlemen, who each paid 125l. a year. The income derived by the college from the contributions paid by the sons of private gentlemen was sufficient to enable it to educate the cadets in the first and second classes, the cost of whose education was not covered by their own contributions. The proposal of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was to increase the number of the first class, paying 40l. a year, from twenty-five to fifty, and that there should be a class of orphan children who were to receive an entirely gratuitous education. This it was proposed to accomplish by calling upon Parliament to make good whatever deficiency might arise. But he wished to know, in the first instance, whether the income of the college could not be applied to the same purpose. Now, the income of the college averaged about 18,000l. or 19,000l. a year, and, with the exception of some 70l. derived from the rent of land, this sum was entirely drawn from the contributions of the different students. Some years ago the income of the college did not more than cover its expenditure, because, at that time, it was called upon to undertake the expense of repairing the buildings. Latterly, however, that charge bad been thrown upon the Board of Works, and there was now an average surplus of income over expenditure to the amount of about 1,200l. a year, which was at present paid into the public Exchequer, and was carried to the credit of the country. Now, it would be a fair proposal to consider what scheme could be adopted by means of which this sum should be applied to the gratuitous education of officers' sons, or to the reception of a larger number of that class of students who paid a reduced contribution. When the Vote with respect to this college was before the Committee, objections had been taken to the expensive establishment maintained at Sandhurst. It certainly appeared that those expenses were considerable; and, although it would be impossible to touch the interests of existing incumbents, it would be a very fair engagement on the part of the Government to promise, when any vacancies occurred, that the propriety or not of filling up those vacancies for the future should be considered. But supposing they were to adopt the plan of these Resolutions, he doubted whether any collegiate institution ought to be made dependent on the liberality of Parliament, unless there was some assurance that Parliament would be likely to vote year by year the money which would be required to maintain it, because without some such assurance the useful- ness of such an institution might be increased by a grant of public money this year, and next year the vote might be withdrawn. He would remind the House that not many years ago this college was supported by a Parliamentary grant. Twenty-five years since the House of Commons used annually to vote for its maintenance a sum of between 8,000l. and 10,000l., which was systematically opposed by the late Mr. Hume, and was at last withdrawn and the college thrown upon its own resources, the consequence being that it was necessary to discontinue gratuitous education there. Seeing, therefore, that Parliament had taken this course, he could feel no confidence that at some future time they would not do the same if a public grant were now allowed. He would also express a doubt, looking at the terms of the hon. and gallant Gentlemen's Motion, whether the public could fairly be called upon to provide free instruction for the sons of officers. The hoe. and gallant Member did not confine his proposed gratuitous education to the orphans of officers killed in action; it was made applicable to the sons of officers generally. Now, in his opinion the sons of civil servants had as great a claim to be educated at the public expense. He thought that the object of the hon. and gallant Gentleman could be effected by means of the surplus which the Government then had, and he hoped that he would leave the matter in the hands of the Government, and not press his Motion to a division.


said, he was opposed to any such grant as was asked for by the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel North). He quite concurred in the view taken by the hon. Under Secretary for War, believing that Sandhurst was able to maintain thrice the students now educated there. The grossest extravagance prevailed in that institution. No less than seventy-three officers, including professors, masters, servants, clerks, and others, were employed to take care of about 180 boys, at an expense of upwards of 13,000l. The boys paid for clothing, washing, &c. about 4,000l., making in all near 18,000l. The governor had 1,000l. a year and forage for four horses; this alone would maintain double the number of cadets proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire. What need was there of such a governor? As he was a general of dragoons, he had his salary of 1,200 a year, independent of the college. Many such officers would only be too glad to go and live at Sandhurst, and enjoy the advantages of that situation, without any salary whatever. A great reduction might also be made in the other salaries.


said, he objected to the governor receiving such large pay when the duties he had to perform were so slight. He could not understand why an allowance should be made to him for forage for his horses. He was astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the War Department speak of the moderate cost of education at Sandhurst when the annual expense of each pupil was 98l. 15s. He hoped that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would press his motion to a division, for in his opinion there was in the management at Sandhurst a vast amount of jobbing and abuse.


said, that although the question before the House was a very small one, it nevertheless involved a principle which he hoped would meet with its support, and that was, whether they were to go on according to the same jog-trot fashion as of old, or whether they would alter that plan to the very limited degree now proposed? The request made to them was, what were they prepared to do for the orphans of officers who fell in the service of their country? And let them remember that request was urged at a moment when those orphans were daily increasing. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary at War had called upon the hon. and gallant Member not to divide the House. He (Captain Scobell) hoped the House would divide, if it was only to prove whether or not they had regard for those who fell in the service of the country. They were told, indeed, that there was already a class to admit students at 40l. a year. He was ashamed, however, to hear such an argument urged; and it could only proceed from persons who had their thousands a year. Why, how could the poor widow pay 40l. a year, who perhaps had only a pension of 60l. a year to maintain a whole family. Let them, then, look at the question as practical men. He had not been long in Parliament; but this he would say, that he had never seen a grant withdrawn which was for a deserving object; and he could not help feeling that if Mr. Hume was still amongst them he would not at such a moment grudge the expense of giving a gratuitous education to the orphans of officers. He offered his most cordial thanks to the hon. and gallant Member for having brought the Motion forward.


said, he only rose to say that he entirely concurred in the feeling of shame at hearing the argument used by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Peel). Instead of raising the character of the army, the speech of the Under Secretary at War tended to its degradation, and he trusted that the House, by its vote, would tend to show that it joined in that opinion. The college at Sandhurst, forsooth, had been styled a public establishment, while in truth and reality it was a mere private one, and it was so because the institution had to bear the expense of supplying rewards for long services to gallant officers, whom the niggardliness of their country either could not or would not otherwise provide for. It was a perfect disgrace that the college should be administered as it was, while there need be no concealment of the fact that the army was not in the slightest degree indebted to the country fur the fact of its maintenance.


said, he must confess that he had never heard a more narrow view taken of a question than that urged by the hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. Peel). The practical effect of the present system of management at Sandhurst was to deter altogether the sons of the gentry who enjoyed but small fortunes—and who invariably made the best officers in the army—from entrance to that institution. Its advantages, therefore, were exclusively confined to the children of the richer classes, and those of officers. For no one would pretend that the small gentry of the country could afford to pay 125 guineas annually for the education of their children. He would certainly vote for the Motion, and he hoped that there would be a complete investigation into the whole system pursued at Sandhurst.


said, the present discussion was in reality an instance of a remark made in reference to the House of Commons—namely, that it was apt to he exceedingly liberal at one moment, and very niggardly at another. For the establishment at Sandhurst was founded originally upon a much larger scale than that on which it now existed; and there was an annual vote of a considerable amount towards its maintenance. Well, his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Scobell) had said that if Mr. Hume was still with them he would now, at a time of war, not hesitate to support a vote of the public money for the gratuitous education of the sons of officers. [Captain SCOBELL said, he meant that Mr. Hume never grudged a proper payment for a proper object.] But he could say he remembered fighting many battles with Mr. Hume during a time of peace in reference to this establishment, when his lamented Friend was accustomed to urge upon Parliament, year after year, first, the reduction of the grant, and then its withdrawal altogether. It was contended then that the college ought to be self-supporting. Well, the House of Commons agreed with Mr. Hume, and all assistance from the public revenue was withdrawn from it, and the college was made self-supporting. Now, there was a certain degree of reason in this, because certain privileges were attached to education at Sandhurst; for young men who had gone through their course of studies there were entitled to commissions without purchase, and it was a very fair equivalent for this that they should contribute towards the expenses of the establishment during the period in which they pursued their studies at it. To the assertion, then, that it was not fair to compel young men to contribute towards the expenses of that establishment, his (Lord Palmerston's) answer was, that a great portion of the young men educated at the college, if they distinguished themselves in their examinations, received their commissions without any payment whatever. Now that he considered was a good reason why they should be called upon to contribute towards the expenses of the establishment in which they were instructed for the military service. His hon. Friend (Mr. Peel) stated that those contributions exceeded, in point of fact, the whole expenses of the institution; and it might be reasonable for the Government to consider whether, out of the surplus of the revenue, there might not be found some means of accomplishing the object which the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire had in view by his Motion. Surely, nothing could be fairer than to ask the House to suspend its decision upon the Resolution before it, while it was possible that the object of it might be accomplished without any contribution whatever from the public revenue. Now, with regard to the Resolutions before the House, one portion of them referred to the qualifications of young men educated in the college for the army, while another part goes to say that those young men were entitled to appointments in the civil service. Now that proposition seemed to him to be an extraordinary one. He could very well understand how young men who upon examination proved themselves well qualified should obtain commissions in the army gratuitously; but he should like to know by what arrangements the hon, and gallant Gentleman proposed to carry out his plan by which those young men should be appointed to situations in the civil service? What part of the civil service was thus to be disposed of? What qualifications were to be required for the civil service, different from those that were tested by the usual examinations in the college? A young man might be most competent for a commission in the army or navy, but not for employment in the civil service; at all events, that portion of the Resolution was one to which he thought the House would, under no circumstances, be disposed to agree. He put these facts to the House—namely, the institution originally was maintained upon a much larger scale than it at present was. It was subsequently reduced by the votes of that House; and it was now self-supporting and more. There were now funds belonging to the college which might be applied towards effecting a large amount of gratuitous instruction. Under all these circumstances Her Majesty's Government were not disposed to agree to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member.


said, the noble Lord seemed to forget that the balance was paid into the Treasury. If the Government would bear the expenses of these ten orphans, and extend the first class by twenty-five, it was perfectly immaterial to him from what source the money was obtained. As to his proposition that these young men should be employed in the civil service, he could not see any objection to it. [Mr. F. PEEL: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War apparently objected to that part of the scheme, and perhaps thought the orphans of officers required no consideration. He thought otherwise, and as long as he had the power he was determined to fight their cause in that House. When pressing questions arose, on which votes in that house were required, situations in the civil service were obtained without difficulty, and why were the orphans of officers to be debarred from that service? The instruction at Sandhurst fitted a man for anything, no matter what it might be. If a young man showed proficiency in lan- guages let him be employed in the War Office, and if another possessed other qualifications, let him enter those departments where his acquirements would be of service. The Government seemed to feel no sympathy for the families of officers who fell in the field, or under the influence of unhealthy climates to which they were exposed. But he would take the liberty of reading a beautiful expression of sympathy on the part of Her Majesty. After the battle of Inkerman Her Majesty wrote thus:— Proud of the victory won by Her brave army—grateful to those who wear the laurels of this great conflict—the Queen is painfully affected by the heavy loss which has been incurred, and deeply sensible of what is owing to the dead. Those illustrious men cannot, indeed, receive the thanks of their Sovereigns, which have so often cheered the soldier in his severest trials, but their blood has not been shed in vain. Laid low in their grave of victory, their names will be cherished Mr ever by a grateful country, and posterity will look upon the list of officers who have fallen as a proof of the ardent courage and zeal with which they pointed out the path of honour to no less willing followers. He would certainly divide the House, and let the army see who did and who did not appreciate their gallant deeds.


said, he would suggest that it would be most desirable that an inquiry upon the subject should take place before a Select Committee, and if the noble Lord at the head of the Government would not consent to such inquiry, he (Mr. Watson) would certainly vote with the hon. and gallant Member opposite. He was an old cadet; his father died in the service of his country, and he was left an orphan in the establishment at Sandhurst. His education was good, and he there learned the principles of honour under the gallant old soldier who had gained his victorious laurels upon the fields of Salamanca. He, however, considered that it was a disgrace to the country that they had not a proper establishment for the orphans of officers. Those who had spent their lives in the service of their country had a right to expect that their families would be received and protected in an adequate asylum. We had brave and noble officers, but the education of the staff officers was lamentably deficient. Because he had a respect for the establishment in question, and a warm heart towards the army, he felt indignant at the scandalous system by which nepotism and patronage monopolised those places which merit alone should possess. He hoped that the noble Lord would assent to the appointment of a Committee.


I have not the slightest objection to such a proposition—so far from it, I think it both reasonable and advantageous that the whole arrangements of the institution should be inquired into; and I myself shall have no objection to make that Motion.


said, be must express a hope that, under such circumstances, his hon. and gallant Friend would withdraw his Motion. He would request of his hon. and gallant Friend to accept the offer of the noble Lord.


said, he would accept the offer of the noble Lord for a Committee of inquiry, and would not divide the House upon his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.