HC Deb 26 February 1861 vol 161 cc938-46

said, he rose to move that the House should resolve itself into Committee to address Her Majesty, praying that She would be graciously pleased to give directions that the stoppage from the pay of the cavalry and artillery officers for forage should be discontinued. They professed to pay and clothe the army, and to give them forage for their horses; hut the fact was, that they made a deduction of 8½d. a day from each cavalry officer, which he had to pay back to the paymaster of his regiment on account of forage. He believed that the public at large was not aware of this practice; though it had, in one form or another, gone on since the earliest period at which we had a standing army. The country willingly spent £15,000,000 a year on the army; and, certainly, it would not sanction a system of meanness in respect of forage, altogether unworthy of a great nation, by which only £18,000 a year was saved, and which naturally gave rise to much dissatisfaction in the service itself. He had read the correspondence on this subject; but was unable to find out who was responsible for the deduction. It was defended in the name of "the Lords of the Treasury," and "My Lords." The First Lord of the Treasury was one of "My Lords;" but he (Mr. Darby Griffith) could not think that the matter had ever come under his cognizance, or under that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Such a system would not be pursued by the Members of the Government, or any hon. Gentleman in private life in the case of his own groom or coachman; and he did not believe that the most rigid economist in that House would call it good economy as applied to the finny. The Treasury argued that to relieve the officers from this expense would only induce men to give a higher price for their commissions, but young men did not join the army for commercial purposes. Their great ambition was to get fame, to "seek the bubble reputation in the cannon's mouth," and not to obtain any pecuniary benefit. The noble Lord the Secretary for War was opposed to the present system, as was evident from a letter of his in the correspondence which he held in his hand. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) was also unfavourable to the system. In fact, the late and the present Secretaries of State for War had completely exhausted the arguments on the subject, and all he (Mr. D. Griffith) could pretend to was to be the mouthpiece to bring them before the attention of the House, and before those opinions the whole of the arguments on the commercial grounds, as he contended, entirely broke down. He would, therefore, move— That this House should to-morrow resolve itself into a Committee to consider of an humble Address to be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She would be graciously pleased to give directions that the stoppage from the pay of cavalry officers for forage be discontinued.


said, he rose to second the Motion. The question was one of pounds, shillings, and pence. The fact was, that on the one hand the Treasury would not consent to give up the amount; and, on the other hand, they had high military authority that the deduction complained of was highly injurious to the military service. The higher officers, according to their several ranks, were compelled to keep a fixed number of chargers, and they only obtained remuneration for the loss of their horses if they were killed in action, or unless they died from glanders, or were ordered to be shot. The House would have to give their moral support to the War Office against the Treasury, who resisted concession to the just demands of men whose pay was not much more than double the amount of these stoppages.


said, that he must confess that he stood in a somewhat peculiar position in regard to this question, because the main portion of the argument used by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Darby Griffith) was to be found in the letters of the noble Lord the Secretary for War. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman had not put the matter exactly in the shape in which it really stood. The last communication from the Treasury to the War Office on the subject did not give a decided negative to the proposal, but merely suggested delay, in order that the effect of some other measures which had been taken to improve the position of officers in the cavalry might be considered. The Treasury was not liable to the attack made on it by the hon. Gentleman, that they were careless with respect to the interest of the service. On the contrary, the correspondence showed that they had gone carefully into all the calculations on this subject, and that they were ready to adopt such measures as might be thought most desirable. Passing on to the main point, the House were now asked in effect to go into a Committee to address Her Majesty to increase the pay of cavalry officers. ["No, no!"] He used the words designedly, as such would be the result, for the abolition of the deduction for forage would amount to an increase of pay. The payment imposed no hardship on those officers, for it was perfectly well known to them when they entered the service. It was contained in the Royal warrant, and, therefore, could not but be perfectly known to them. The aggregate sum had been rather understated by the hon. Member, for it amounted to £20,000, and the House, before it gave such an increase to the pay of cavalry officers—should be perfectly satisfied that it would be right to do so. His noble Friend the Secretary for War had gone at considerable length into the question of the condition of cavalry regiments last Session. He showed the difficulty of getting young men to enter cavalry regiments—a difficulty springing from various causes, and for which it was almost impossible to say what remedy should be provided. The difficulty arose—first, from the expensive character of the cavalry regiments owing to the expensive habits of the officers; second, from the examination which the officers had to sustain; and third, from the regulation price paid for commis- sions. His noble Friend had endeavoured to meet the difficulty in obtaining cavalry officers by diminishing the expenses incurred in the purchase of chargers, and he had also made a considerable diminution in the regulation price of cavalry commissions. As the claim to the abolition of these stoppages mainly rested on the difficulty of providing officers for the cavalry, all the Treasury asked was that the House should wait and see whether the measures taken would not meet the difficulty. At the beginning of last year the number of vacancies in the cornetcies of cavalry regiments other than the Life Guards or Blues was fifty-nine, while at present it was only sixteen. This was a ground for not recommending an increase of pay to cavalry officers until it were seen whether the measures already taken would not be sufficient. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman that the system of stoppages was cumbrous and bad in principle, and if they were establishing a new system it would not be desirable to introduce it. But there were stoppages from the pay of infantry soldiers and others which would also have a claim to he considered if this stoppage were granted, and he was not, therefore, in a condition to say that in every case stoppages should be abandoned. For these reasons, while he sympathized with those whom the hon. Member represented, he trusted that the House would not commit itself to the present Vote without further consideration.


said, they were rather wandering from the question in talking about the purchase of commissions and the vacancies in cavalry regiments. The question simply was whether they were to go on inflicting an injustice on a very deserving body of men. He denied that the difficulty in obtaining cavalry officers arose from the expensive habits that prevailed in some regiments. Many of these officers were expensive, not because they were in certain regiments, as they would act in the same way whether they were in or out of the regiments. He could not agree with his hon. Friend in calling this a miserable deduction. To the State it might be a miserable saving, but to the officer it was a most important deduction. The pay of a cornet was £120 per annum. He was obliged to keep two horses, for which £26 was deducted. Then came £6 for batmen. £8 to regimental fund of band and mess, amounting to £40. To this must be added £5 for income tax—making altogether £45, which was a very serious reduction from the pay of an officer. It was said that under a recent regulation officers might purchase chargers at £50 a piece. No doubt that change had been made with the best intentions, but it was a pity that those who understood the feelings and requirements of the service had not first been consulted. He spoke in the presence of many hon. Gentlemen who were acquainted with the present price of horses, and he unhesitatingly said that no officer could provide himself with a suitable charger, which his colonel would pass, for £50. The privilege of buying a charger at that sum was, therefore, no advantage at all to officers. He trusted that his hon. Friend would divide the House, and endeavour to remove this gross injustice.


said, he had never before heard a Secretary at War defend the injustice of such charges as these deductions. The question had always been met by referring to the Treasury objections. The great misfortune of the service was that its interests were dealt with by men who did not understand them, and so long as the army was governed by civilians it would be subjected to anomalies and injustice. When an officer entered the army his friends probably imagined he was to receive as cornet £120 a year; he, as probably, did not himself inquire into the matter. Officers seldom entered the army on account of the pay, and many had not, and perhaps would not, be prevented from entering the profession of arms, merely because when told their pay was to be £120 a year, they found £45 a year to be deducted from it. Formerly the young men who entered our cavalry regiments bad means which enabled them to care little for these stoppages; but by competitive examination, and lowering the price of commissions, Government was introducing a poor class of men into that service, and we must look on their remuneration in a more mercantile spirit than when we got officers who served the country without any, for such was really the fact. But whether for officers or men all stoppages were laid on officers, and hence they should know exactly what their pay was and receive it entirely. This system of stoppages was not only deceptive and inconvenient, but caused a confusion and extension of accounts which ensured an increase of clerks at an expense, perhaps, exceeding the amount of these stoppages. The ground on which this Motion had hitherto been opposed when brought for- ward by General Sir James Chatterton, himself (Colonel Dunne), and others, was not its justice, but, the more legitimate reason, of the cost to which it would put the country. However, when the Army Estimates were brought before the House he would undertake to show to the hon. Secretary at War and the House that four times £18,000 could be saved to the Treasury by the exercise of a proper control. He trusted the House would do justice to a few unfortunate officers.


said, the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion spoke disparagingly of the Treasury in connection with this matter. If, however, this question were looked at from an impartial point of view, one would be obliged to acknowledge that the Treasury would not be justified in transferring to the public this charge of £20,000 a year now borne by officers of cavalry, unless it were shown that a strong practical necessity for the change existed. The hon. and gallant Officer had said that the question had nothing whatever to do with the difficulty in filling vacancies in cavalry regiments in consequence of the insufficient number of candidates; but when the proposal was first made by the War Office to the Treasury it was urged that it would furnish the means of filling those vacancies, inasmuch as men were deterred from applying for them by the great expense attending a commission in the cavalry. That difficulty, however, had since been solved by the reduction of the price of the cavalry commissions. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution stated that the pay of the cavalry officer was insufficient; but to that observation his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State properly answered that if there was no difficulty in finding officers to accept the service on the existing terms, there could be no reason or justification for the Government increasing the pay or emoluments of the service. It might be that the pay of the cavalry officer was insufficient to defray his expenses; but what were the expenses? They were of two kinds—the necessary expenses, and what might be called the superfluous and unnecessary expenses. No doubt it was in the power of the Government to reduce the necessary expenses by transferring to the public a portion now defrayed by the officers, but any concession of that kind would be thrown away as long as the unnecessary expenses remained as at present, and any change of that sort should be the complement, and not the foundation of any change in the expensive habits of the cavalry officers. The hon. Gentleman, though sneering at what he called the commercial argument of the Treasury for rejecting this proposition, had, nevertheless, failed to show that there was incorrectness in the argument that inasmuch as the illegitimate price of cavalry commissions exceeded the regulation price, these who entered the army subsequently to such a concession as that now asked for being made would pay for any additional advantage and emoluments of the service in the increased price of commissions. Therefore, the proposition, if carried into execution, would not be of permanent advantage to the army, but only of benefit to the existing holders of commissions. The present Motion opened a wider question than the hon. Member supposed. What was there to be said in favour of the public assuming this charge which might not with equal justice be said in favour of the public making good the stoppages from the pay of infantry officers on account, for example, of military music amounting, he believed, to £50.000 a year? On the whole, he thought that the Treasury had exercised a wise discretion in objecting to impose the burden on the public in the absence of any proof of the necessity for such a transfer.


said, he was not surprised to see the right hon. Gentleman standing up to defend this charge upon the cavalry officers, associated as he was with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Every military man who had heard the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, however, must see that he could not possibly have had the requisite experience to enable him to form a proper judgment of this matter. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the stoppage from the pay of the infantry officers for band music he ought to have recollected there was no parallel in the two cases, inasmuch as military music was not a positive necessity to the infantry, while a horse was absolutely necessary to the cavalry officer. This had been a grievance with the cavalry officers time out of mind. It was a trumpery thing, and the Treasury had no business to have anything to say on the question. The Government had no right to call on an officer to mount himself, and then to say that he must pay for his own forage. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State said that the new sys- tem adopted by the noble Lord at the head of the War Department had answered thoroughly, but lie did not tell the House how that result had been brought about. There were secrets connected with the matter. He (Colonel Knox) supposed that the hon. Gentleman knew all about them. If the hon. Gentleman did not, all military men did. He would rather that the pay of those officers were reduced than that this petty grievance should be always hanging over them.


said he would advise the House to be cautious before assenting to the Motion. It was essentially a military movement on the part of three colonels of cavalry and one of infantry. They asked for justice to the cavalry officer, but the House had a duty superior to perform, namely, to do justice to the British tax-payer. The proposal amounted to nothing more nor less than this—that the cavalry officers on the other side of the House were of opinion that £20,000 a year should be taken from the cavalry officers and placed on the British tax-payer. That was the whole rationale of the matter. ("Oh, oh!") His hon. and gallant Friend opposite said, "Oh, oh! and he was justified in making that exclamation, as he said the Treasury had nothing whatever to do with the subject, and that civilians ought not to be permitted to argue it. But seeing the enormous amount of taxation daily put upon the country, he (Mr. B. Osborne) did not think the House would be doing its duty to the public if it placed this £20,000 a year upon the Consolidated Fund. With regard to the difficulty of getting chargers, he could only say that he had seen horses at two or three years old obtained for a comparatively small sum, and made good chargers at a total expense of £50—he did not say that they would carry a sixteen stone man like his hon. and gallant Friend opposite, but certainly men of the average weight. He called upon the Government and independent Members to resist the Motion.


said, he wished to know whether the Government believed that chargers could be obtained for cavalry officers for £50 each?


briefly replied to the arguments urged against his Motion.

Motion made, and Question put, That this House will, To-morrow resolve itself into a Committee, to consider of an humble Ad- dress to be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will he graciously pleased to give directions that the stoppage from the pay of Cavalry and Artillery Officers for forage be discontinued.

The House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 213: Majority 157.