HC Deb 17 March 1859 vol 153 cc271-6

rose to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the benefits conferred by the Royal Warrant of the 17th of December, 1855, upon Regimental Quartermasters retiring subsequent to the date of the declaration of the war with Russia may be extended to those Regimental Quartermasters who completed the period of service specified in the Warrant, but who had retired previous to that date. To make his case clear, he might state that the Royal Warrant of 1855 allowed quartermasters, who had completed the term of thirty years' service, ten of which were in the office of quartermaster, to retire with the honorary rank of captain upon the half-pay of 10s. a day. That order was retrospective as far back as the date of the commencement of the Russian war, and its main object was to procure the retirement of old and worn-out officers in order to make room for younger and more efficient men; but he trusted that a more extensive application would be given to it than seemed to be contemplated by its framers. The number of quartermasters who had retired previous to the declaration of the late war was only forty-three, and the addition of 2s. a day to their pay would not amount to more than £2,000 per annum. They were very far advanced in years; they were much shattered by long service; and they were not likely therefore to trouble the country long. A large proportion of them had not only performed efficiently the unassuming but important duties of quartermaster, but had displayed remarkable courage and heroism in various battles, sieges, and storms. He might state a few cases. Mr. Copeland, of the 3d Foot Guards, served forty-one years, fourteen as quartermaster; he went through the Peninsular campaigns, was at Waterloo, and obtained two medals and three clasps. Mr. M'Clellan, of the 10th Hussars, served thirty-seven years, twenty-seven as quartermaster; he was five times publicly thanked by generals on the field of battle for gallantry, and he was now sixty-nine years of age. Mr. James Scott, of the 9th Foot, served fifty-four years, thirty-three abroad, forty-four as quartermaster; he served in Holland and the Peninsula, had one medal and seven clasps, and was now seventy-nine years of age. Mr. Samuel Goddard, of the 14th Foot, served forty years, thirty as quartermaster; he led the forlorn hope at the siege of Bhurtpore, was at the battle of Waterloo, and was now sixty-five years of age. The Warrant issued under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wilts (Mr. S. Herbert) in 1854 did not draw any arbitrary line, but included all, and he saw no reason why that of 1855 should not have done the same. It should be remembered that the excluded quartermasters obtained their commissions at a time when it was much more difficult than now for men in their position to raise themselves to a superior rank. They did not belong to the aristocracy, but to the middle class; they had no powerful friends at the Horse Guards; they bad risen from the ranks by their own courage and devotion, and therefore he had peculiar pleasure in urging their claims upon the attention of the Government. Looking to the great age at which some of these gentlemen had arrived, the short time they were likely to enjoy the benefits of the extension, and the great encouragement which the act would give to all classes in the army, he hoped the Government would have no objection to consent to his Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That this House will To-morrow resolve itself into Committee, to consider of an humble Address to be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that the benefits conferred by the Royal Warrant of the 17th day of December, 1855, upon Regimental Quartermasters retiring subsequent to the date of the declaration of the War with Russia, may be extended to those Regimental Quartermasters who completed the period of service specified in the Warrant, but had retired previously to that date.


said, he wished to draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that as the Motion now stood there were two objections to it in point of order. Being an application for public money, it must be made in Committee of the whole House, and it could not be put without a day's notice. If the hon. Baronet would move "that this House will to-morrow resolve itself into a Select Committee to consider of an Address, &c." he would be perfectly in order.


said, he would put the Motion in the amended form suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.


seconded the Motion. He was sure that if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister for War found it consistent with his official position he would have the greatest pleasure in acceding to the Motion, for no man could have a better knowledge of the merits of these officers than he. He thought no class in the army better deserved the consideration of the Secretary at War. The Warrant of 1854 was to the effect that the rate of half-pay upon which quartermasters should retire should be in accordance with the services they had rendered to the public. It was general in its application—there was no line drawn. A clause in a subsequent Warrant, however, limited its application. Now, out of the 43 quartermasters mentioned there were 35 between the ages of 65 and 84. The aggregate services of three of those amounted to 124 years, and they had been excluded by eleven days only from participating in the benefits given by the warrant of 1854. Considering the valuable services these men had rendered it was to be regretted they should have been excluded by a subsequent Warrant from participating in the advantages of the Warrant of 1854.


said, he also should support the Motion. The officers in question had all risen from the ranks through a series of onerous and responsible positions; many of them counted twenty and thirty years' foreign service, and a great proportion of them war service. He hoped, therefore, that the Secretary for War would promise, if it were out of his power this year, to grant an extension of the Warrant next year.


said, in the course of his experience he had known many of these non-commissioned officers who had arrived at the rank of quartermaster, and most of them had been engaged in war. At a dinner he attended at Ceylon special mention was made of Quartermaster Dunn, who, being present at the time, was referred to by his commanding officer in these terms—" If I ever wished a man in my regiment to show the rest how to leap a hedge, or how to clear the vineyard of an enemy, I would call for Quartermaster Dunn." With few exceptions he had found the quartermaster in every regiment the most distinguished soldier and a most worthy man. He trusted, therefore, the right hon. and gallant General would give them, if not now, at a future period, favourable consideration.


said, if he were to follow the bent of his own inclination on the subject he should undoubtedly accede to the Motion of the hon. Baronet, and nothing could be more painful to him than to be obliged to oppose the wishes of those who had addressed the House, and still more of this very deserving body of officers. But it was his duty, occupying the responsible position of Minister for War, to point out the results that would follow from granting this Motion. All Warrants were prospective, and the present was perhaps the only instance of one being retrospective, but a special reason existed for such being the case. An application embodying the terms of the Warrant was made by quartermasters in the Crimea; it was forwarded by Lord Raglan, with a strong recommendation in its favour, and the Warrant was accordingly issued; but as it only came into operation a year after many quartermasters had retired — many of them from ill-health—it was thought advisable to make its operation commence from the beginning of the Crimean war. It was perfectly true that if the Motion were complied with it would involve an expenditure of £2,000 per annum only, and if that expense were the only obstacle it should not remain one. But it would not be a single instance. If Warrants in favour of quartermasters were made retrospective why should not those relating to every other branch of the service be made retrospective also? Increased retiring allowances had been granted in favour of paymasters, medical officers, and others whose predecessors had performed services in comparison to theirs equally entitled to retrospective consideration to those of quartermasters. The medical officers formed a very large body, and in their case it would be throwing a most serious extra expense on the public. The object of all retiring allowances was to benefit the public by inducing men who had served their time to retire and by encouraging a better class of men, if possible, to come into the service. As far as the public were concerned, therefore, the advantages of increased allowances were prospective and not retrospective. If the Motion was compiled with warrants relating to every other branch of the service must in common justice be made retrospective also; this result was clearly fatal to the Motion. Other grounds of objection however existed. An application in the terms of the Motion had been made to him in October last; he found the same application had been made to his predecessors on two previous occasions, and that after due consideration they had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to alter the practice according to which Warrants were made retrospective without inconvenience. Nothing could be more inconvenient than overruling previous decisions on such questions, as such a course would only encourage persons to renew their demands whenever a new man came into office. If it were the wish of the House to grant this money, though no provision was made in the Estimates for it, nothing would give him, individually, greater pleasure; but it was his duty to point out to the House what the effect would be, and to warn hon. Members that what they might think a small matter would lead to consequence which, possibly, they did not foresee. No Chancellor of the Exchequer in future would ever accede to a retiring allowances being increased if such Warrants were to be made retrospective, for there would be no means of ascertaining what would be the result. No Minister could frame his Estimates so as to meet such a requirement. But, to test the question in another way. Those who had retired, retired under the regulations of the service existing at the time, and he begged the House to consider that if it were proposed to reduce any class of retired allowances it would be impossible to apply the reduction to persons who had already retired under other conditions. He again expressed his great regret that it was not in his power to comply with the Motion.


said, that there would be obvious inconvenience in establishing a precedent such as that proposed by the Motion, for if it should be thought right to increase the half-pay of certain officers in the army, and if the consequence were to be that the same increase must be extended to the whole half-pay list, no Government would probably like to propose to Parliament such an immense increase of expenditure. In the same way it might be thought right to increase prospectively the pensions to invalid officers for wounds or disabilities incurred in service; but if that increase were necessarily to be extended to the whole of the existing pensioners it would be impossible for any Government to agree to such an expenditure. Therefore, much as he regretted that these men to whom the hon. Mover had referred should not receive a benefit which had been given to others, though they themselves, indeed, had never been led to think they were entitled to it, still he must say that he concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking it not advisable in this instance to depart from established practice.


said, that in deference to the opinions expressed on both sides of the House, he would withdraw his Motion; but he hoped, as he could not get extra money for those whose cause he advocated, that the right hon. and gallant General would, at any rate, take into consideration the advisability of giving them extra rank, and would deem it expedient to recommend that they should have the honorary rank of captain granted to them.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.