HC Deb 22 March 1866 vol 182 cc797-808

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £212,800, Administration of the Army.


said, that when the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) brought forward the Estimates last year he informed the Committee that a Committee had been appointed and had sat during the previous summer, and by repeated adjournments during the greater part of the winter, and that they had recommended several changes in the Department, and he said that these recommendations had relation both to its organization and to economy. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote) in the remark he made last year that as a general rule this House ought not to interfere with the organization of a Department of which the head of that Department was responsible for its working: and he was more inclined to follow that principle on the present occasion, because the noble Marquess had not been sufficiently long at the head of the Department over which he now presides to make him responsible for its working; and because he entirely relied on the noble Lord for the removal of those causes of dissatisfaction which, as he must know, now reigned throughout the whole of this Department. He did not intend to offer any opinion whether that dissatisfaction was based on just and reasonable grounds or not—all he knew was that it existed, and that it was admitted last year by the noble Lord when he brought forward the Estimates; neither would be offer any opinion on the memorial which had been presented by the clerks to the late Secretary of War expressing their dissatisfaction at the changes proposed by the Committee to which he had referred: but this he would say, that when the whole of a Department was dissatisfied it was impossible that it could work well. He hoped, however, that the noble Lord would endeavour to introduce zeal into the Depart- ment, and be able to substitute interest for the indifference which at present existed there. It was not, however, to that point that he rose to call the attention of the Committee, but to the result of the proposals which had been made for securing economy in the Department. The Committee had recommended certain changes with a view to economy, and the noble Lord told them on a former occasion that a great reduction would be made in consequence. So far, however, from this Vote having decreased, it had been gradually increasing, whilst the work of the Department had been decreasing. In 1859 the charge for the Department amounted to £185,000, and in 1864–5, when the Committee was appointed, it had reached the sum of £223,384. The Vote for the following year showed an apparent decrease of £10,584, and the noble Lord took credit for it; but he (General Peel) would show that, so far from its being a decrease, the expenses of the Department have, in reality, increased. The noble Lord said that there would be a decrease of £7,000 for this year, and within two years, with the existing establishment, it would be £15,000, and that if the number of clerks in the various branches were reduced as he anticipated, a considerable saving would be effected in a few years. But what was the fact? The Committee proposed to transfer the clerks for the Clothing Establishment, the Barrack Establishment, and the Engineer Branch, from this Vote to another. Now, these were very large blanches—that for Clothing being £454,400, that for Barracks, £603,300, and for the Engineer Department, £842,200; and it was on the transfer of these clerks that the noble Lord last year calculated on a saving of £3,500 on this Vote; although he (General Peel) made it a much larger sum, notwithstanding that it was very difficult indeed to ascertain what was the amount charged for clerks in these various branches. He found that the Clothing Branch was increased by £2,000, and the Barrack Branch at head-quarters, which he took to be at the War Department, £1,300; but what the Engineering Branch was it was impossible to make out from this Vote. Taking, however, the total amount on the three Votes, as calculated by the noble Lord, at £3,500, it must be added to the present Vote of £212,800. But that was not all. The noble Lord stated also that one of the chief means of reduction would be the employment of clerks less highly paid than those at present employed; but how had that been effected? There had been, as they would find by reference to Vote 26, a sum of upwards of £10,000 transferred to another portion of the Estimates on account of the superannuation of War Office clerks. There were nine first-class clerks who received £4,692; eighteen second-class clerks who received £4,575; and six third-class clerks who received £1,400. In addition to this, there was an item for temporary clerks discharged. Many of these were very hard cases, for they had no retiring premiums, and they retired with gratuities. If, therefore, he took the £10,311 and the £3,500 and added it to the present Vote it would be seen that the charge was considerably higher than that of 1864–5, which amounted to £223,384. They had certainly got rid of many of the highly-paid clerks by putting them on superannuated allowances, but they had made no reduction in the cost of the Department. It was impossible to tell the number of clerks in the War Office. Last year the amount paid to the whole number of clerks was charged in a lump sum of £110,000, but neither the number of clerks was given nor was there any attempt at classification. It was then said in a note that a re-organization was going on in the Department; but this year we have the same thing. The amount of this year's Vote was, in fact, exactly the same as last year's, although superannuation allowances amounting to £10,000 were added to the Vote, and we had as yet no account of the number of clerks at the War Office. He did not complain of the amount given in individual cases, because the list included some of the best clerks in the Department; but how their places were to be supplied was more than he could find. He hoped, if it was the noble Marquess's fate to bring forward the Estimates next year, and he was sure the noble Marquess would do it better than anybody else on that side of the House, that he would be able to give a more satisfactory account than he (General Peel) had been able to gather from the Vote.


said, that when two years since he brought under the attention of the House what he considered the extravagant charge of this Department, and he was told that economy should be introduced into the Vote, he felt a little exultation at the thought that he had done Borne slight good to the country by drawing attention to it; but he confessed that after two years' experience he honestly believed that it would have been better and more economical if no one had called attention to it. The only practical result was an apparent reduction of £10,000, with an actual increase of at least £5,000. In 1864–5 the Vote was in round numbers £168,000, in 1865–6 there was a diminution of £10,500, but in 1866–7 the total for the War Office was about the same sum. Taking, therefore, the retiring allowances at £10,154, and the average ages of those who received them at forty-eight years, there was a prospective reduction of that amount at the end of ten or fifteen years. Such postponed economy he looked upon as very doubtful, for in all human probability the Vote would by that time have grown to its usual dimensions. In 1865–6 the amount of allowances to clerks amounted to £835; but this year, in consequence of the economy practised, it amounted to £2,240, and he confessed his utter ignorance to understand it, and asked for an explanation. The item of allowance to estimate clerks was set down at £300, and next to that £350 for compiling regulations; and on turning to the Superannuation Vote he found that Mr. W. O. Marshall, one of the first clerks, and who occupied the post nominally of précis writer and librarian, and who was returned as forty-eight years of age, and who was mentioned by the Committee referred to as a useful and distinguished clerk in the prime of life—that Mr. Marshall had retired on a superannuation allowance of £666 per annum. Compiling the regulations was part of Mr. Marshall's work; and he (Mr. O'Reilly) found that two clerks were now employed in performing part of his work, and who received altogether £730, and Mr. Marshall £666 retiring allowance. Under the head of accountant clerks and writers, a sum of £770, an entirely new item, appeared, and this was simply an allowance to new clerks for doing what ought to have been done by clerks who had been superannuated. The noble Marquess took credit for the War Office for economy in the Barrack Department, and that this would be carried out by diminishing the number of barrack clerks and supplying their places by barrack sergeants and a lower class of clerks. The whole of the item was an absolute increase as far as the items of "head-quarters" for the War Office were concerned. The economy in the administration of the army had also been supplemented in the Engineer's department. The head-quarters of the En- gineers had been increased by several first and second-class clerks, the sum for whom was to be reckoned altogether at about £1,100. True, the total of that Vote did not show an increase; but the reason for that was that there were a number of temporary clerks employed at the out-stations in really doing the work of the administration of the army in London, which was formerly done by the superannuated first class clerks. The number of the temporary clerks was raised from 106 in 1865–6 to 138 for the years 1866–7. Again, if they turned to the Estimates for 1865–6, they would find that for the first time in that year a Vote was taken of £2,000 for the Barrack Establishment in the War Office to meet that new economy. It was difficult for a mere outsider to track through the Engineers' Vote and the Barrack Vote those items of increase which more than balanced the diminution in the War Office; and he only hoped that the noble Marquess would direct bin attention to them.


said, that his right hon. and gallant Friend General Peel, and the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken (Mr. O'Reilly), had commented on the fallacies which they thought they had detected in connection with these apparent reductions; but still there remained one fallacy that had not been noticed. It was to be found in Vote 18 itself. The apparent foundation of the claim for reduction was to be found in the reduction of the salaries for clerks; but they were not informed as to the number and grade of the clerks who were employed. They were only told that the sum to he taken for clerks of various classes was £109,000; but it ought to be stated what was the number of first-class clerks, what was the number of second-class clerks, and so forth. Under the system of promotion followed in a public office, when a gentle man was promoted from one class to another he entered the higher class at the minimum salary of that class. One of these clerks of the higher class received from £670 to £800 a year; and if they pensioned off one who received £800, and engaged another at the £670 scale, they; thereby for the time saved £130. By pensioning off a large number of the higher paid—the first-class clerks—they might in that way effect a considerable temporary and apparent saving; but, of course, that reduction would disappear again by that process of gradual increase which they always found would go on. It would be more satisfactory if they were enabled to get at the real economical value of these changes. They ought to be told what the permanent as well as what the temporary effect of their system of promotion was upon the salaries of the different classes of officers and upon the cost of their establishments. They always rejoiced at what looked like a saving, but some kinds of economy were penny wise and pound foolish, It was a very grave question whether it was desirable to reduce the staff of clerks at the head-quarters of that establishment for the purpose of employing in their place a body of lower paid men who were engaged in the Executive work of the barrack, store, and other departments. These men could not be expected to be as zealous for economy as officers at the bead-quarters would be.


said, he wanted to save the Secretary of State for War a very great amount of trouble. He wished the noble Marquess to confess what he himself, as well as many gentlemen both inside and outside of that House perfectly well knew—namely, that the whole of that great War Department was in a state of utter confusion If the noble Marquess would re-organize the whole of the administrative department of the army be would be relieved from these long discussions. Complaints were made sometimes that the clerks were too few, and sometimes that they were too numerous. He complained of the want of system in the War Department, and the extraordinary manner in which the work was performed. He held in his hands a sample of War Office correspondence, which supplied a very good illustration of the present state of the military administration, and led him to consider what would be the result in a great emergency—such, for instance, as the commencement of a war with any country. With the permission of the House he would read the minute he had made from the correspondence to which he referred. It was correspondence of a most important character, relative to the supply of a pair of bellows to the camp at the Curragh of Kildare. After a lengthy correspondence, the local Commissariat officer at the Curragh camp on the 12th February obtained authority from the War Department to indent on the Royal Engineer Department for a pair of bellows, urgently required in the camp, and applied for them to the district Engineer officer; on the 16th the district Engineer officer applied to the Military Store officer at Dublin; on the 19th the Military Store officer at Dublin informed the Royal Engineer officer at Dublin that he could only supply the required bellows on requisition. On the 20th, the Royal Engineer officer at Dublin forwarded this information to the Royal Engineer officer at the Curragh; and on the 21st the local Engineer officer at the Curragh replied that he had no form of requisition. On the 22nd the local Engineer officer at the Curragh asked the local Commissariat officer if the proposed bellows would do. On the 23rd the local Commissariat officer replied; "Yes." On the 24th the local Engineer officer informed the local Commissariat officer that he must apply to the Royal Engineer officer, Dublin; and accordingly the local Commissariat officer applied to Dublin. The military stores officer at Dublin answered that he would supply the bellows on an order from the War Office. The local Commissariat officer then produced an authority from the War Office, and read it to the local Engineer officer. On the 1st of March the district Royal Engineer officer declined to have anything to do with a service which was not brought to his notice through the proper authorities, and local Commissariat officer referred the question to the Commissariat officer in Dublin. On March 2nd the Commissariat officer in Dublin referred the question to the Deputy Quartermaster General, Dublin; and the next day the Deputy Quartermaster General at Dublin referred the requisition to the Quartermaster General, Horse Guards. On the 5th, the Horse Guards referred to the War Office, and the War Office referred to the Commissary-General-in-Chief, London. On the 18th the Commissary-General-in-Chief asked the Director of Stores to give authority, which two days after was produced. The Director of Stores then stated that the Commissariat officer should include the bellows in the annual estimate; and on the 17th the Commissary - General - in - Chief wrote to the Horse Guards, and the Commissariat officer, Dublin. After all this correspondence, on the 20th of March the Commissariat officer at the Curragh was still bellowing for his bellows. If such a large amount of correspondence was necessary in procuring a pair of bellows, he asked again what would be the issues in a case of emergency? He hoped that his noble Friend would inaugurate his new position by saying frankly, "I have gone into a chaos of confusion—I am going to take these great administrative departments into consideration with a view of putting them into something like a system." He was sure if the noble Marquess would do so he would meet with the greatest possible indulgence from that House.


stated, that the item for travelling expenses was very large, and that he would like to know the cause of the increased expenditure under this head.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) has said that this Vote has not shown the whole of the expenditure of the administration of the army, and, with one or two exceptions, that statement is correct. The right hon. Gentlemen has also stated that the apparent saving in this Vote is more than counterbalanced by the extra sums in other Votes. I think, however, that I can show that an actual saving has been effected through the re-organization which we have commenced but not yet completed. Up to the last year the expenditure of the War Office has been an increasing expenditure. Now, the War Office is comparatively a new office; and the system adopted with reference to the remuneration of the clerks is, that they receive progressive salaries till they receive the maximum amount paid to them in their several classes. Consequently, the expenditure in respect of the clerks would go on increasing until a certain number of them obtained their maximum salaries. I find that if no changes whatever had been made in the War Office that the charge on account of the clerical establishments would have amounted to £129,500; but this year the charge for the clerical establishment, as given in Vote 18, amounts to only £112,140. It is true that we have to add to that sum, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman, £2,240 on account of the barrack department, and £4,028 for the directors.


Can you state the number of clerks employed?


I shall come to that point presently. The comparison I have just drawn shows that a saving has been made with regard to the effective establishment amounting to £10,583. The right hon. Gentleman says that an increase has been made in the Vote for the effective service of £10,000; and I am quite willing to admit it, but at the same time it is necessary to state that the whole of the increase is not owing to the re-organization. The sum of £3,600 would have been added to the Superan- nuation Vote irrespective of the re-organization; and, therefore, the total increase of that Vote is only £6,400. On this calculation, therefore, there is a net saving on what the office would have cost under the former arrangement, of £4,100. I am not sure that when this statement was prepared that the increase in the item for allowance was taken into account or not. If it were not taken into account it would reduce the saving by £1,200. I now come to the number of clerks, and the statement in respect of them is more satisfactory than some other statements of a pecuniary character. The reason why we have not stated in the Estimates of this year, as was formerly done, the number of clerks in the establishment, is the same that I gave for its omission last year. The re-organization is not yet complete, and the clerks are distributed in different branches of the establishment. In the Estimates for 1864–5 the number of clerks was 479, but at this moment the number is 427; showing a reduction of fifty-two clerks. These numbers do not include temporary clerks. It is quite impossible that any reduction in the number of clerks can be made without entailing an increase of the Superannuation Vote; and were we to wait till we obtained vacancies without the assistance of the Superannuation Vote, we should have to wait a considerable time. It is, of course, quite obvious that the charge entailed on the Superannuation Vote will decrease year by year, while the decrease in the Effective Vote will, I hope, be permanent. The hon. and gallant Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) referred to the number of clerks under Vote 14, but there is a statement connected with this Vote which, I think, requires correction. The number of 425 is not the actual number employed at present. That is the full establishment which some time ago was estimated for the Engineers' Department, but the third class of clerks of barracks was never filled up. I am far from saying that, although we have made some improvements in the arrangements of the War Office, those improvements are all that it would be desirable to introduce. As I before stated, there have been some delay and considerable difficulty in carrying out the system of re-organization so far as we have gone. Several of the alterations which have been made have, however, worked most satisfactorily—as, for instance, the division of the department of Accountant General into the departments of the Accountant General and Chief Auditor. The Chief Auditor is of opinion that the work of his office may he performed to a very great extent by soldier clerks. He has employed a large number of men in that way, and he has found them to be of great service. He has some arrears to make up, and he hopes that when they are completed, and when he is able to employ a still larger number of soldier clerks, he will be in a position to make still further reductions. In reply to the speech of the hon. and gallant; Member for Truro (Captain Vivian), I may state that I do not expect any considerable I reduction can be effected by merely seeking to bring about changes in the War Office itself. I concur with him in the opinion that the most important reductions in connection with the administration of the army are the made by the adoption of some system which would diminish the mass of correspondence which now takes place. That is the only way, too, in which improvements can be introduced likely to establish efficiency in our military administration. Both my predecessors and myself have made many efforts in that direction; but, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon will bear me out when I say that it is a much easier matter to set about, than to accomplish these reforms. When it is suggested that upon a particular subject there has been a greater amount of correspondence than necessary, it was by no means difficult for the official concerned to point out that there would be great risk of loss to the public if any of the usual communications—generally termed cheeks—were omitted. I am, however, by no means prepared to deny that in some instances—as, for example, in the case of the bellows which had been brought under our notice to-night—the correspondence connected with army administration is carried to an absurd length. The present establishment at the War Office is, I feel, not much in excess of that which is necessary, and if we are to make a reduction in the future, it must, I think, he effected in the direction which my hon. and gallant Friend has indicated.


said, that if he had made any mistake in computing the number of clerks connected with the clothing department, he must ascribe it to the difficulty which, not only all outsiders, but insiders also, experienced in arriving at an accurate comprehension of the Estimates. He found the charges for those clerks had risen from £1,900, which it was in the year 1864–5, to very nearly £3,900 in the present year, thus showing an increase of £2,000.


said, he thought the principle which should be adopted with the view to effecting a reduction in the expenses connected with army administration was to allow a certain freedom of action to men holding important situations as to the small details which came under their consideration, making them strictly responsible for the result of the exercise of their own discretion in those matters. Everybody was cognizant of the fact that although our soldiers were dying for want of beds in the Crimea they could not be obtained because a requisition for them had not been sent in in due form, until Miss Nightingale ordered a grenadier to knock in the door of the room in which they were. He also believed that it was on record that during the war in Africa, in the time of the Napiers, the General commanding the troops was obliged to pay for the great coats, which he took upon himself the responsibility of directing to be served out to them, because, the regulation being that great coats were to last for five years, he could not in the ordinary course procure them until that time had expired, although those which had previously been distributed were worn out owing to the extra services; and he recollected when he himself was in the army eleven signatures were required before the commuted allowance for coals and candles, which was 1s. 1d. or 1s. 11d. per week, could be obtained. He hoped under those circumstances the Committee would strengthen the hands of the noble Marquess in introducing and carrying out the principle to which he had at the outset of his remarks referred.


said, he hoped the noble Marquess would he able to redeem the pledges to which he seemed committed. The correspondence with respect to the bellows to which the attention of the Committee had just been called was enough to make one imagine that he saw the late Mr. Hume coming among them from wherever he was, and reading the correspondence to which he used to treat the House about muskets. The noble Lord the Secretary for War had, he might add, made a statement that evening with respect to the efficiency of the administration of the army, which involved considerable responsibility, and on which he would find it necessary to act. But they must not forget that the great question before them was not economy but the efficiency of the Army Departments. When the War Office was placed on its present footing the hope was held that all the circumbendibus correspondence which before used to take place would either be got rid of altogether or very much lessened, and that a great saving of expense would be effected.; but that expectation had not been realized. As the noble Marquess had admitted that excessive amount of correspondence rendered the public service inefficient there would rest upon him great responsibility if he did not take steps to remedy it, and the evils of the Crimean campaign were suffered again upon some future occasion.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) £135,900, Superannuation Allowances, agreed to.


inquired when the Vote for Fortifications would be taken.


said, that he would state to-morrow.