HC Deb 27 February 1862 vol 165 cc841-3

Sir, I rise to move for leave to bring in a Bill of which I have given notice. This Bill is purely of a technical nature, but it is right that I should explain to the House the precise effect which I wish it to have. The House may not be aware of the exact form now adopted with respect to the commissions of military officers. In every case—whether it be that of a first commission or that of the promotion of an officer—a "submission" is made by the Commander-in-Chief to the Queen. He states the name of the officer, together with the rank in the army which it is proposed the officer should hold. If the Queen approves it, Her Majesty signs her name at the top of the submission paper, and also signs a direction at the bottom of the paper to the Secretary of State to prepare a commission according to the name and the degree stated in the body of the document, and the latter is then returned to the Commander-in-Chief. It is sent by him to the War Office, and then it becomes the duty of the Secretary of State to prepare a commission according to the directions contained in the paper. This commission runs in the name of the Queen—that the Queen grants certain rank in the army, and certain powers to the officer named in the document. When made out, the commission is sent by the Secretary of State to Her Majesty. Her Majesty writes her name at the top of the document. It is countersigned by the Secretary of State, and then it is complete. The House will see, therefore, that in order to enable an officer to obtain a commission in the army it is necessary that Her Majesty should sign her name three times. By the present custom the sign manual is repeated three times for that purpose. That rule applies to all the land forces. With regard to the marines, the practice of the Admiralty is to send the commission of every officer of marines, to the Queen, and Her Majesty signs it in the same way as those of the officers in the army are signed. It is also necessary that the commissions of Quartermasters General and Adjutants in the militia should be signed by the Queen; and they are sent from the War Office in a similar manner. I may also observe to the House that all officers in the store department of the War Office are to receive commissions, and these commissions they will receive from the Queen. Again, the change made in respect of the Indian army brings the whole of that army on the Home establishment; and, according to the present practice, all the commissions in the Indian army will require the signature of Her Majesty. I am told that the number of these commissions will be 6,000; and the commissions of officers in the storekeeper's department of the War Office—which will be very numerous—will also require the sign manual. I think the House will see that this repetition of the sign manual gives no particular security; that by the attachment of the Royal signature to the "submission" paper the officer himself has a complete assurance that this commission from the Queen has been directed by Her Majesty. There is no advantage to the officer himself from having the sign manual placed on his commission; and, it appearing that no advantage arises from what, under present circumstances, may be termed pressing on the Queen this mechanical labour, the object of the measure which I am about to propose is to give power to Her Majesty in Council to determine what class of commissions should be attested by the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of State for War without the sign manual being attached to the body of those commissions. I shall therefore conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to enable Her Majesty to issue commissions to the officers of her Majesty's land forces and Royal Marines, and to Adjutants and Quartermasters of Her Militia and Volunteer Forces, without affixing her Royal sign manual thereto.


said, that the Bill was of a very unusual character, involving what appeared to be an invasion of the Royal prerogative. He had no inclination to oppose the introduction of the measure, with the understanding that he was not thereby committed to its approval.


asked, how it happened that the power of attaching the Royal sign manual did not already exist? He believed that the House was trenching on the royal prerogative in proposing to pass a Bill to give certain powers to the Queen in Council; and he believed that the Queen had full powers at present to delegate her sign manual.


said, that the Royal prerogative of the sign manual was exercised "as had been the custom." If that custom were departed from, questions might arise as to the legality of the sign manual. It was therefore prudent and constitutional to make the alteration by an Act of Parliament.


said, that when the Indian army was under the Court of Directors only the highest officers in it held commissions under the Royal sign manual.

Leave given. Bill to enable Her Majesty to issue Commissions to the Officers of Her Majesty's Land Forces and Royal Marines, and to Adjutants and Quartermasters of Her Militia and Volunteer Forces, without affixing Her Royal Sign Manual thereto, ordered to be brought in by Sir GEORGE LEWIS and Viscount PALMERSTON.

Bill presented, and read 1o; to be read 2o on Monday next, and to be printed.