HC Deb 31 May 1860 vol 158 cc1816-26

in rising to draw the attention of the House to the recent appointment of General the Hon. Sir Charles Grey to the Colonelcy of a Regiment, observed:— A Notice stands in my name respecting the recent appointment of General the Hon. Sir Charles Grey to the sinecure Colonelcy of a Regiment. That Notice has been caused somewhat accidentally. In the Committee on Military Organization I took the liberty, a few days since, of asking the Secretary for War, in the course of his evidence, a question, which is reported in the following words: — In the highest appointments (for which you are responsible) you include, do you not, nominations to colonelcies of regiments?—Yes. There has been an appointment (to a colonelcy) which attracted a good deal of public attention; did that appointment come under your notice?—Certainly; I am responsible for it. I do not wish to press the question, but it might, perhaps, be agreeable to you to state the reason for that appointment?—I would sooner you put that question to me in the House of Commons. Now, I consider this invitation as leaving me no option but that of submitting the question, which I now do, on the present Motion. And, considering the very serious principle involved in this recent appointment, I am very glad that it has thus devolved to me to bring it to issue; for, if it be to be regarded as a precedent, it is but right that the fact should be made known to the army and to the public. In 1833, a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the grounds of similar sinecure nominations. In the evidence of the late Lord Raglan (then Lord FitzRoy Somerset) before that Committee, the following questions and answers are recorded:— Do you not consider it essential to the good of the service that the Commander-in-Chief should have the power to select the most meritorious officers for those which are appointments of reward, and not exactly appointments to which duties are attached?—Yes; I consider that the just reward of individuals in all ranks, but particularly in the higher ranks, is a very important duty for the Commander-in-Chief to discharge, not only as it affects the officers of the King's service, but the credit of the country and the honour of His Majesty himself. Supposing (his Lordship was asked) that there was a general officer who had had short service, but who had had an opportunity of distinguishing himself in the field, and that there was another officer of a longer service, but who had performed that service in the Colonies and had not had the same good fortune in distinguishing himself,— which of those two classes would, as the general principle, the Commander-in-Chief prefer in recommending for Governments?—I should say that the general officer whose service has been shorter, but who had the greater opportunity of distinguishing himself in the field, has been repeatedly exposed to danger, and has been wounded,—one, in fact, who has been in a situation of higher responsibility,—would be the first class of officers to be considered. His Lordship went on to say, that— The next officer to be considered would be one who had accompanied his regiment to the Colonies and had acquitted himself well in command of it. Then the general officers, he added, who had performed very respectable service, chiefly at home, would certainly come in the Inst of the three classes. Again, in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1854, of which the present Secretary of State for War was Chairman, there is the following recommendation to Her Majesty, namely: — That the command of battalions In the Ordnance corps be given without reference to seniority, in the same manner as the colonelcies of regiments, to the officers whose services appear the best to entitle them to such a distinction. In mentioning the name of General Sir Charles Grey I have not the remotest intention or wish to undervalue the services of that officer. On the contrary, I have no doubt that the gallant officer has rendered very important services as Private Secretary to his Royal Highness the Prince Consort; but the impression on my mind is that they are not important military services. I have heard that General Sir Charles Grey has commanded with great propriety a regiment on home service, and far be it from me to diminish the gallant officer's claim on that account; but to that description of claim Lord FitzRoy Somerset has given the last place. Upon looking over the Army List it appears that there are fourteen general officers senior to Sir Charles Grey who have seen a great deal of service in the field and in the Colonies, some having been wounded; and again, there are several Generals who have commanded brigades, or even divisions, during the Indian mutiny or in the Crimea, who are without regiments. Then there are a great number of other officers less fortunate in arriving at the rank of General, but who have served longer than Sir Charles Grey, and have performed distinguished services; yet the General officer selected for the recent appointment has never, if I am rightly informed, served out of the United Kingdom. I do not com- plain of the appointment of such a young general as Sir John Inglis to a regiment, for he rendered distinguished service at Lucknow but when generals of longstanding in the service, who have served in all parts of the world, find their claims totally overlooked and their services set aside in favour of an officer who has never been out of the United Kingdom, I must say I think it very extraordinary. I have no doubt that General Grey commanded a regiment perfectly well on home service. Perhaps he may also have gone to the Colonies. If so, the Secretary for War will not fail to state it. But according to Hart's Army List, General Grey virtually quitted the army eighteen years ago to take a high and confidential appointment in the Palace, I am far from wishing to undervalue or depreciate the important services which he may have rendered, and no doubt has rendered, in that capacity; but again I say they were not military services. I believe only two or three officers have been promoted above him; but on this question of seniority I wish to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Report of a Commission which sat in 1854, and of which he himself was the Chairman. This Commission recommended "that the command of battalions in the Ordnance corps be given without reference to seniority, in the same manner as the colonelcies of regiments, to the officers whose services appear the best to entitle them to such a distinction." It will be seen from this that the right hon. Gentleman totally disclaims the principle of seniority, unless in addition to seniority there is distinguished service. In the public prints, eight or ten names of really distinguished officers have been mentioned who have been set aside on this occasion, some of them having held high commands. In short, I can hardly help believing that the whole of the matters connected with this case have not been brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman as they ought to have been, because I am satisfied, with his high sense of justice and his strong desire for the good of the service, that he would have hesitated before giving his assent to or accepting the responsibility of this appointment. The right hon. Gentleman on the occasion to which I have referred volunteered the statement that he was expressly responsible for this appointment. Probably there is some little omission here, for the Commander-in-Chief must surely have recom- mended the appointment to him, and he would not make it without such a recommendation. On speaking of this matter to some persons they said that the readiness of the right hon. Gentleman to meet the question in the House of Commons probably arose from his being aware of the fact that General Grey had offered to serve in the Crimea. Well, I believe that all the general officers in the army offered to serve there. But with regard to offers of service in the Crimean or other wars let me draw attention to a passage in the letters of the Duke of Wellington, just now published, which is very decisive on this point. He was Secretary for Ireland in 1809. It was reported that an expedition would sail to the Peninsular. His appointment produced large emoluments—I believe some £6,000 or £7,000 a year; but he wrote directly to Lord Castlereagh, somewhat to this effect: —"I hear it reported that an expedition to the Peninsula is being prepared. I am determined not to abandon my profession. I hold a very lucrative post. Whether you have the opportunity of appointing me to this expedition I cannot say, but this I have to say—you must be so good as to provide a substitute for me in the office of Secretary for Ireland, for I will not stay in that office, whether I go to the Peninsula or not. I should risk my character with the army if they could say that I had preferred a lucrative position at home to serving in the field." And on another occasion he said:—"There shall be no mistake about it. I won't continue to hold this office, whether yon give me a military command or not. Provide another Irish Secretary, for I won't stay here." The result was that he was appointed to command the expedition; but his language showed how strong was the feeling which he entertained in reference to the position of an officer who continued to hold an emolumentary office during time of war. I think, therefore, that the mere offer of service in the Crimea, unless it was followed up with the vigour which Sir Arthur Wellesley evinced on that occasion, hardly furnishes an adequate ground for the present appointment. These preferments are 135 in number, and really, unless it is found that that they are distributed on some satisfactory principle as rewards for military services, I doubt whether the country will acquiesce in the continuance of this definite number of them. I have never seen this House unwilling to reward active and approved services, and I cannot help sharing in the opinion which many entertain that several of the officers who have recently distinguished themselves in India are entitled not only to this kind of preferment, but to a great deal more; while I believe, on the other hand, that some officers have succeeded to such appointments without having seen any service which could give a right to them. I said before there were not less than fourteen general officers senior to General Grey, whose claims were not considered upon this occasion. Several of them went through almost the whole of the Peninsular War. Then, again, there is a list of other officers, not, indeed, senior to General Grey, but far superior to him as soldiers, who performed signal services in the Crimea and India, but who were also passed over. A few days since an old general officer called upon me while this notice was on the paper. He is one of the officers named in a recently-established military publication, The Army and Navy Gazette — General George Bell. I knew that he was a very old officer, and had served most honestly and gallantly, and I asked him how his services had been rewarded, and whether he had received the command of a regiment. He replied, that his services had not received the slightest word of encouragement, and that he despaired of any requital for them. "Have you any objection to my referring to them in the House?" I asked. "Not the slightest," he said. He is a gallant old officer, and does not care one straw for anything which may be said, seeing that he speaks nothing but the truth. He has served for about fifty years, which is much longer than General Grey's military career. Of these fifty years, forty were passed upon active service in the Peninsula (where he was present at a great number of battles), in the East and West Indies, the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, Nova Scotia, the Canadian rebellion, the Burmese war, and in the Crimea. General Bell says, that, undoubtedly, there were others who, perhaps, served longer than he did in the Peninsula, but who afterwards retired; but he has served up to the present time, and asks to serve again. During eleven years he commanded his regiment (the Royals), and he was wounded more than once at the head of it. He was wounded also while commanding the troops (3,000 men) in the trenches before Sebastopol, and he also commanded a brigade in the Crimea. Surely such an officer as this, who has seen forty years of active service, is unfairly neglected when a general officer, twelve years younger in the army than he is, receives the command of a regiment, while he gets no encouragement even to expect such an appointment, I presume that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make out a good case. He appeared to have not the slightest doubt of doing so. I remember that when the question of the purchase system was brought under the consideration of the House some time ago, the great obstacle set forth in the way of removing that dishonour and disgrace to the British army was said to be the difficulty of making a selection. It was then given out by some very high authorities— by Lord Panmure and the Commander-in-Chief amongst them—that to make selections would be most invidious. But the present is one of the most complete cases of selection that can be imagined, and I believe that it has caused more dissatisfaction among the officers of the army than can well be conceived. Many other subjects have been adverted to this evening, and a very important statement has been made by the late Secretary for War (General Peel). In some of his opinions I concur, but from others I certainly must dissent. He seemed to think that there could be no further economy in the present military establishment. If he means that no economy can be effected as regards the numerical strength of our forces, I agree with him. But if he means that there is no possibility of effecting any saving in the administration of the army, I can assent to no such proposition. I believe that the military Estimates which are presented to us from year to year are in a state of great confusion. They do not satisfactorily ex plain the state of the administration. The object of them must he to make clear what is the expense of each officer in the service and in every department; but I will venture to say that few men, whether civilians or military men, are able to discover that distinctly. Almost every staff officer has three or four different items of pay, and unless they are traced out with great care in different parts of the Estimates it is impossible to find out what is the amount each officer is really receiving. I must do my hon. Friend (Mr. Laing) and also the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Stafford North-cote), the justice to say that the Treasury has several times remonstrated with the War Department upon the confusion of the accounts, and the expediency of simplifying them. I will just state one instance of the delusive character of these accounts. Take the first item in these accounts. The salary of the Commander-in-Chief is stated broadly at £3,300 a year; but if we look through the Estimates we shall find that there are three or four other items, which increase his emoluments to upwards of £6,000 a year. I do not mention this in any invidious spirit, but simply because it is the first item which presents itself. Then, again, in my opinion, the Staff ought to be paid in accordance with the importance of the duties which the officers have to perform, and toe payment should appear clearly in the Estimates. I believe if this matter were looked into, we should find that a very considerable percentage of saving could he effected. I know that there are parties who would be prepared to offer opposition to such a change. The right hon. Gentleman has a large body of clerks who, having been brought up on the old system, would be very disinclined to adopt a new one. I will not dwell further upon that point, but I must say that some improvement must he made in the present practice if the army is ever to be administered in an economical and efficient manner. I think there is some extravagance in the cost of our Staff. I do not wish to select individuals, but in order to do any good one must refer to particular cases. Until lately there was no such thing as a General officer on the Staff in the Guards, that duty being generally undertaken by some officer at the Horse Guards. Then, again, there are some corps which have more officers than they require. There are also certain items in the payment of Staff officers which I think it would be for the comfort of those officers themselves should be inquired into. There are also other appointments of considerable emolument which it would be well to inquire into. I find there are some General officers who receive from £5,000 to £10,000 or £11,000 a year. Now, I think that as £5,000 or £6,000 a year is a very handsome allowance for a Bishop, it is enough for a General officer. I know it may be considered invidious to make these remarks, but unless some one does it we shall do no good. An hon. and gallant Gentleman (General Peel) has stated that we have 150,000 effective men upon the establishment, exclusive of India. I wish we had 150,000 available men in the United Kingdom—but unfortunately that figure includes the troops in the Colonies, which amount to 30,000 or 40,000 men. We must of course keep garrisons in certain fortresses, but the question of keeping troops in the Colonies has been treated of in an able Report recently laid before Parliament, drawn up by three civilians, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Elliott, and Mr. Godley. Among the contents of that Report—which contains some very just observations—a maxim is laid down, that the real defence of the Colonies is in the people themselves, and not in paltry detachments of troops disseminated through the colonies. That is no new thought, however, for I recollect when I was much younger I lamented the erroneous system which prevailed of having garrisons in almost all the places in our possession. That was at a time when the French had no large fleet; but whether she has a fleet or not, I hope the Government will always bear in mind that the real defence of the country is best cared for by having a great mass of troops concentrated near the heart of the empire and taking the chance of some little island being attacked; our best plan is not to garrison all posts, but to mass our troops upon a central point. Even at the commencement of the tremendous mutiny in India, we had nearly 12,000 men, nearly 10,000 of the Line, at the Cape of Good Hope. The Governor of the Colony bad such great regard for good troops, that although he received orders from the Colonial Office to detach troops, he did not do so he was first instructed to send troops to the Crimea, but he declined to comply; and subsequently he received more than one order, as has been proved before a Committee of the House of Commons, from the Colonial Department, to send troops to India, but he held back. The fact was we were spending nearly a million a year for the advantage of the small population of the Cape of Good Hope. That is one instance of the effects of the old system. Except in the fortresses which must be held by garrisons, and with the great exception of India, I do not see that there need be any considerable number of troops in any other posts. A very important communication was made to the different Colonies by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Minister in Lord Derby's Administration (Sir John Pakington), pointing out to them that they were all greatly increasing in population and wealth, and ought to develope their own means of local defence, without expecting any assistance from the mother country except in case of war. That point has also been ably dealt with in the Report to which I have before referred, and I hope the present Government will follow up those suggestions and say to the Colonies that they must place themselves in a position for self-defence. Some have, indeed, done so; Australia has commenced, and Canada has made considerable progress. The two Provinces of Canada, I believe, have a militia amounting to about 200,000 men, a force far greater than our own militia. The hon. and gallant General opposite has referred to a most important point, the Reserves of the army. When Parliament was prorogued at the end of last Session there was one paragraph in the Royal Speech which attracted my attention and gave me much pleasure. Her Majesty congratulated Parliament that measures had been taken to form Reserves both for the army and the navy, and that the national defences were a paramount object in the policy of the Government. I think still that ought to be a paramount consideration; but I am sorry to say the Reserve for the navy has proved most insignificant in numbers, and the Reserve of the army hardly exists at all, or at most only to the extent of a few hundred men. We have, no doubt, a considerable force in the shape of Volunteeer Corps, which we owe entirely to the public spirit and patriotism of the country. The Government are entitled to very little credit in respect of that force, for the truth is, that for a time they seemed to doubt whether they should encourage or discourage the movement. I am sorry to see that an hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) has thought it necessary to give notice of a Motion that the Vote on the Estimates for the Volunteer Force should be reduced. I can only say that I believe the movement has been, on the whole, very satisfactory, and I was happy to see the amount of the force lately stated authoritatively to amount to 120,000 or 130,000. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War will give to that important force all the encouragement it so well deserves. I rather regret, however, that steps have not been taken to enlarge the basis of the force. I am afraid that in some quarters there is a little jealousy felt as to allowing the people at large to join in this movement. I will only remind such persons that one of the great Powers of Europe—Poland— fell and disappeared from the rank of nations through the jealousy of the aristocracy towards the great mass of the people. very much regret that nothing has been done to establish a volunteer force in Ireland. I know very well that an idea exists that the people of Ireland are disaffected, and that those who profess the Roman Catholic religion are not so loyal to the British Crown as they ought to be. It appears to me, however, that the sympathy which many of the Irish people have evinced for the Papal cause ought not to excite the least apprehension. There is no reason to suppose, because sympathy has been manifested towards the Pope, that they are, therefore, disloyal to the British Government. It is a complete mistake to think so, and one that ought to be rectified. We are told that the law does not admit at present of the embodiment of volunteers in Ireland. If such be the law, I say, as I have said before, that it ought to be altered without delay. In the Letters of the Duke of Wellington, just published, and to which I have already alluded, I find that in 1808, when there was infinitely greater cause than now of disaffection towards the British Throne, the Duke writes with much satisfaction to say that he has organized a volunteer force of between 40,000 and 50,000 men; and the population was considerably less at that time than it is now. We have had Irish militia regiments in this country, and I should like to know if any one ever thought of distrusting those troops? There are, too, the Irish constabulary, almost all of whom are Roman Catholics; but I never heard that disloyalty was imputed to that fine body of men. These, in my opinion, are all arguments to prove that we ought to have a strong volunteer force in Ireland as well as in this country. With regard to the feelings of the people of Ireland on this subject, I would refer with much pleasure to an excellent speech lately delivered by the Catholic Bishop of Kerry, in which he answered some statements said to have been made rather too favourable to the French Government. He said such statements arose from a want of consideration; that he did not believe his fellow-countrymen or the priesthood would be so wanting in common sense as to desire to have a species of despotism in Ireland such as existed in France; and he reminded them that they would not have been allowed in France to make such speeches as had been made in reference to this subject. The late Secretary for War (General Peel) has spoken of the exact force now in this country, and has declared it as his opinion that that force is quite inadequate. In that opinion I entirely concur. The nominal force in this country at the present moment is quite inadequate, and I am not satisfied with its composition. Let us economize as far as we can. No one will be readier to do so than myself; but the possession of a numerical force that will enable us to fight in the field is the great object that we ought to aim at. We are told we have 150,000 men, but we have no such number in the United Kingdom. [Mr. WILLIAMS: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Lambeth no doubt knows all about it. We may have 150,000 to pay, but this includes men for the Colonies, and some of them are highly garrisoned. I do not believe we have more than 30,000 troops of the Line at home; there are 20,000 in the depots, and these depots are in a most unsatisfactory state, because they are made up of recruits assembled together without amalgamation. A speech was lately made by a noble and gallant Lord (the Earl of Lucan) in "another place" on this subject, and he recommended that second battalions should be substituted for depôts. This is a matter worthy of serious consideration, and I hope it will receive the attention of the Government. At any rate the present system should be altered, for it was far from producing satisfactory results. I have to apologize to the House for the length of the observations I have ventured to make; but my excuse is the vast importance of the subject.