HC Deb 31 May 1860 vol 158 cc1806-10

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the Army Promotion Warrant of October, 1858, in respect to the position of certain General Officers who accepted promotion on half-pay, in accordance with the terms of the General Order of the 25th day of April, 1826, and are now receiving only the half-pay of their former Regimental Commissions. It was necessary to explain how unattached pay arose. Formerly there was no unattached pay to General Officers at all. The system, so far as it regarded officers of that rank was commenced in 1814, and in 1822 was placed upon the basis on which it had remained down to the year 1854. It was then established that there should be, besides colonels, 120 General Officers receiving at the rate of 25s, a-day; the remaining General Officers beyond that number were to receive the full pay of their last regimental commissions. It was provided, however, that they should have served six years in the regimental position of a field-officer. If not, they were not to be entitled either to 25s. a day or to the full pay of their last regimental commission. The next move with regard to unattached pay was made in 1823, when half-pay commissions were introduced into the Ordnance Corps, with the view of promoting young officers. That system worked well in the Ordnance Corps, and in 1825, it was introduced into the Line. It worked well in the Line up to a certain point, but there it stopped. The large class of brevet field-officers serving in inferior regimental ranks became inconvenient to the service, and an order was brought out making an arrangement to relieve the regimental ranks of those officers, many of whom were very old. This was the account Sir Herbert Taylor, then Military Secretary, gave of the matter in his evidence in 1828. He described the inconvenience which the regimental ranks suffered by brevet field-officers serving in the rank of captain, and brevet lieutenant colonels serving as majors, and the necessity of getting rid of these officers by placing them on half-pay. He would now call attention to the General Order of the 25th of April, 1826. It had received the sanction of Lord Liverpool, then First Lord of the Treasury, and Lord Palmerston, then Secretary at War. It declared, with reference to brevet field-officers, that it was most desirable to relieve regiments of them, and spoke of conferring some boon upon them for their service. The boon they received was being placed on half-pay, for nearly 34 years, of 9s. 6d. a day, while they were in the actual receipt of 13s. 7d. a day. These officers, therefore, had received is. 4d. 1d. a day during 34 years less than they were formerly in receipt of, making a sum of £2,400 which they had lost. It might be asked why they did not avail themselves of the provisions of the Order of the 25th of April, 1825. The answer was simple. Being brevet field officers they would, if they had gone out under that Order have been obliged to purchase a field officer's rank; but having get that already there was no object in paying for it. It would not have been worth their while to do so merely for the purpose of availing themselves of the Order of the 25th of April, 1825. The Government, finding that these officers would not go on half-pay by purchase, under the Order of 1825, were at last driven, to bring youth into the ranks, to issue the Order of 1826, and pledged themselves if these officers accepted half pay under the terms of that Order for the good of the service that they would neither forfeit for themselves or families their future claims on the service. With respect to the six years' rule, it lasted only while these officers were in the regimental ranks; it expired when they accepted the terms offered. No less than three of the number who accepted this unattached pay were senior captains of their regiments, and a death vacancy or a movement of the staff would have given them the substantive rank they got on half-pay; others were second and third captains; with one exception they were all high up. When this Motion was formerly introduced by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North), it was attempted to be shown that the only claims these officers did not forfeit were those for their wives and families, but the General Order distinctly stated that they did not forfeit "for themselves" "or families" their future claims on the service. What claims had these general officers ever been able to make for themselves? One of those claims, if it could be called a claim, was, that they had immediately endeavoured to return to full pay by exchange. But the exchange to full pay depended on whether the authorities gave them an opening for that purpose, and also on the state of the list at that time. He held in his hand letters from four of these General Officers, all declaring their extreme disgust at the treatment they had received, and stating that they never would, under any circumstances, have accepted this substantive rank on half-pay if they had had the slightest idea that such would be their treatment. They expected to have been employed, and to return again to full pay, whereby they would have served the six years as field officers; or, if they did not return to full pay, they distinctly understood, from the terms of the Memorandum and General Order of 1826, that their claims would have been recognized. If it was really to be held that the claim for their widows was the leading feature in that General Order, it was a curious fact that no fewer than four of these officers had never been married, and they had informed him that in 1826, when they accepted this half-pay, they had not even the slightest intention of marrying. The benefit of their widows could hardly, therefore, have been any inducement with them in accepting the position that was offered to them for the convenience of the service. He had the authority of the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) for his reading of the General Order—namely, that under its terms these officers were fully entitled to receive the pay of General Officers, and that a distinct pledge was given them that their claims should not be forfeited by going on half-pay. The only claim they had had an opportunity of putting forward was the one which he now assorted on their behalf—namely, that they should be placed in the position of General Officers, receiving General's pay, instead of receiving, as at present, only the half-pay of captains. The manner in which these officers were gazetted, totally differing as it did from the usual form, also showed that the offer of substantive rank made to them by the Government was made for the convenience of the service, and for that only. A binding contract had been entered into with them on the part of the State which had never yet been fulfilled. The correspondence between the Treasury and the War Department on this subject proved that the matter had not been sufficiently explained to the Treasury, whose answer was given without a full knowledge of the circumstances. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sidney Herbert) would now be able to state that these claims would receive a fair consideration at the hands of the Government. Another point to which he wished to call attention related to a warrant issued on the 1st October, 1858, placing surgeons in the army, on completing the age of fifty-five, upon half-pay. This rule, having a retrospective action, had operated with extreme hardship and injustice upon a body of most valuable men. If these officers were really too old for their work, or had been ruined in health by a foreign climate, it would doubtless be the duty of the Secretary of State to supersede them. But he knew that many of them were in the full possession of all their faculties and every way efficient for the service. Yet, having attained the age of fifty-five, they were arbitrarily removed from their positions, and deprived of the rank and pay to which they looked for ward at the close of their career. The Order was the more severe upon them, be- cause, if they had obtained the rank next above that which they occupied they would have been entitled to remain ten years more in the service. A warrant had lately been issued for the navy, under which medical officers, of equal rank to the army surgeons, whose case he advocated, were not obliged to retire till they reached sixty. One of the officers to whom he alluded had been thirty years in the service, twenty-one of which had been passed in the Colonies; he was a man of great vigour and activity, and he had been told that if he had not been serving in a more distant part of the empire he would have been employed in the Crimea, where he would have had a chance of rising to high rank. The only compensation these surgeons had received was simply 1s. 6d. a day —an amount that was no equivalent for the great sacrifice they had been called upon to make. They had, indeed, also obtained honorary promotion to the rank above them; but of what avail was the mere rank of Deputy Inspector of Hospitals without the substantive advantages attached to it? A medical officer, who sat upon the Sanitary Commission over which the right hon. Gentleman opposite presided, had fully acknowledged the hardship inflicted on these officers, and stated that he scarcely suspected they would have suffered so much as it now turned out they had done. The warrant had pressed with great severity on men who had faithfully served their country in distant parts of the globe, and it would have been only a graceful act to grant them some compensation for the loss entailed upon them by the retrospective effect of an Order which they could never have contemplated when they entered the service.