HC Deb 30 April 1867 vol 186 cc1787-825

Sir, in rising to bring before the notice of the House the question of purchase in the army, I cannot but be conscious that those Gentlemen who were Members of the last Parliament must draw in their own minds a very unfavourable comparison between myself and that most distinguished and popular officer to whom this question used as of right to belong. Sir De Lacy Evans was then approaching the close of an exceptionally brilliant and prolonged military service, while his unworthy successor is at the commencement of a sufficiently obscure civil career. But, Sir, the most necessary qualification for any one who aspires to enlist in this crusade against purchase is that he should be young, because the service partakes of the nature of a forlorn hope which promises to last many years. Any one who has passed middle life must be a very sanguine man if he looks forward to seeing the promotion in the English Army administered on a mixed system of selection and seniority. It is true, indeed, that the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) in the Session of 1862 closed a most able protest against the purchase system with these words— I venture to say that in less than a quarter of a century not one rag of the system of appointments by purchase will remain in the English Army. I can only hope, in my case for my own sake, in his for the sake of his country, that both myself and the noble Lord will live to see that wished-for result. Army purchase has already survived many of its earliest, ablest, and most zealous opponents. It has seen out Lord Clyde, who was one of its most uncompromising enemies. It has seen out, I fear, the public life of Sir De Lacy Evans.

Sir, there is no subject which at present occupies the public imagination more strongly than the question of national defence. Few Gentlemen, on whichever side of the House they may sit, will deny that in the present alarming condition of the Continent, we, like others, should be prepared for the worst; and that we should aim at providing ourselves with such a fighting equipment, both by land and sea, as will discourage attack, and give a sense of security and independence. Hon. Gentlemen opposite hold that opinion in obedience to what I may describe, in no carping spirit, as the traditional instinct of their party. We, on this side, have been taught by experience that in military organization efficiency is only another name for the truest economy.

Now, Sir, in our defensive arrangements, the main point is the efficiency of our re- gular army. Whatever our reserves may be, the regular army must be, in technical parlance, our first line of battle. On whatever plan our army of reserve may be constituted, its training school and source of supply, both for officers and men, must be the standing army. But that army is constituted on a principle upon which no army was ever before constituted. The primary and indispensable qualification is not professional knowledge, or long and good service, or superior ability, but money. This principle is admitted, even by the warmest advocates of the present system, to be indefensible in theory. They all agree that if the army had to be constituted for the first time, they should not think of resting it upon such a foundation. My object will be to show that the system is also indefensible in practice—so indefensible as to make it essential to our safety that the army should now be reconstituted on a different principle.

For, in the first place, Sir, the army cannot be in any real sense of the word a profession while the purchase system exists. The meaning of a profession is that a man should be able to live by the occupation which he professes; and should look forward to prosper by devoting his best exertions to it. But officers have to pay for the privilege of belonging to the army; and, except under very extraordinary circumstances, they can hope for promotion only by making further payments. As a rule, the interest and life insurance on the sums invested equals, and sometimes greatly exceeds, the officers' pay. As a necessary consequence, the class of young men who depend for success upon their education and exertions, and who are the life and soul of every other profession, are to a great degree excluded from the army. Without a large supply of such men it is idle to talk of army reform. If, on the other hand, we succeeded in obtaining them in sufficient quantity, the army would very soon reform itself.

Again, Sir, if we look to the young men whom we get, we shall find that the most is not made of them under the present system. Parents cannot be expected both to give their sons an expensive education and at the same time to pay large sums of money for their commissions. The purchase system ought to have been abolished at the period when officers were required to pass professional examinations. As it is, the professional principle carries on an unequal and discouraging struggle against the money principle. Young men are taken from school before they have half finished their education, and are placed under a crammer to enable them to pass the superficial examination which precedes the first commission. How unfit and uninstructed they are, and how necessary it is for the public interests that a portion of the sums paid for commissions should be expended in completing the general and professional education of the young men intended for the army may be seen from the evidence of the distinguished officers examined before the Purchase Commission of 1857. I should beg to refer the House especially to the evidence of Major-General Lord West and Major-General Sir Thomas Franks. Lord West says— When I was commanding a regiment before Sebastopol, from sickness and casualties, the number of duty officers became very small, and I then urgently requested that some young officers who were kicking their heels at the depôt might be sent out to head quarters forthwith. I received ten of these young officers in a batch, who did not know their right hand from their left, and had never been drilled. I was obliged to send them to the trenches in command of parties of thirty or forty men, much as I objected to have such parties under the command of such very young subalterns. All that I could do with those officers was this: I sent the adjutant on parade, and told him to show them how to march their men off the ground. All that I could say to them was, 'If the enemy comes on, hold your ground, and drive them back if you can?' In such case much was left to the steadiness of the non-commissioned officers and old soldiers. Lord West was asked— In point of fact, those young officers had no more knowledge of professional duties than if they had been so many civilians? And he answered, "Not a bit more."

But, Sir, if young officers enter the army raw and untrained, when they are there the purchase system does not provide them with a sufficient inducement to study their profession. For, in the first place, it is not in human nature that men who have bought appointments should be, as a class, equally zealous public servants with men who have received those appointments upon grounds of merit, or even private interest. The chances are that a young clergyman whose father has purchased him the reversion of a living is not so earnest and industrious as one whom his Bishop has noticed and promoted. And to take an instance nearer home, I am told that before the Reform Bill of 1832 there existed a custom of buying a seat in Parliament; and that a Member who had paid for his borough at the rate of £1,000 a year, or £4,000 between two dissolutions, was not so regular an attendant at the House as one who was the chosen servant of a large popular constituency. In the same way a young officer cannot but feel that when he has paid to some quarter or another, it matters little what, a sum for which his pay, after stoppages have been deducted, is barely the legitimate interest, he has not so much obtained a situation as made an investment, and in many cases an uncommonly bad one. He has bought his commission. It is his. May he not do what he likes with his own? This idea is so deeply rooted in the army that I have actually heard ensigns defend the system on the ground that the pay was good interest for their capital. It never seemed to have crossed their minds that their services deserved any remuneration.

I appeal, Sir, to the personal experience of hon. Members. What are the objects to which the attention of young officers is chiefly directed after they have obtained their first commissions? Is it, as in other professions, to qualify themselves for early promotion by study, and careful attention to their duties? When they talk of promotion, has it the slightest reference to such old-fashioned conditions as these? Does not their conversation rather turn upon the opportunities for purchase which their own and other regiments afford; upon exchange; upon giving or receiving the difference between full and half-pay; upon the objectionable qualities of the officer who stops promotion by refusing to give more than the regulation price, and upon the amount which the officer who is ready to retire would be willing to take? All this haggling and huxtering, though dignified by the name of treaties and negotiations, is perfectly scandalous when the article chaffered for is the command of men with all the power for good or evil which military rule confers. Demoralizing in its very nature, this system of barter is doubly demoralizing when we reflect that it is illicit and clandestine. "We have it," says Sir De Lacy Evans, On the candid and honourable evidence of one of the partners of a most eminent army agency firm that, in several corps, but especially in the cavalry, double the legal prices, and often more than double, were usually given; and it appeared in the evidence of the Commander-in-Chief that officers who asked permission to make those purchases invariably concealed from the authorities their intention of violating the law. Now, Sir, on this point the evidence of the Commander-in-Chief is frank enough. He says— We never know anything about the excess on the regulation price. It is done unknown to us. I am afraid it is done. I admit that I have reason to know that it is done; but quite unofficially. I positively know nothing about it; but, of course, I have been long enough in the service to know that such things are done, and I am sorry that they are done. Now, Sir, what a school is this in which our young men are to learn the high notions of honour which become an English officer and gentleman. In this respect, if in no other, our military education seems to be founded on the Spartan model; and our youth are to be, in accordance with the laws of Lycurgus, permitted to carry on a questionable traffic if only they can contrive to escape detection. If the purchase system is not to be abolished, at any rate, in the interests of public morality, it is high time that it should be legalized.

Sir, it will hardly be denied that the first condition of professional efficiency is adequate professional remuneration. Now the professional remuneration of an ensign is nominally 5s. 3d. a day; and out of this he is liable to an annual charge of twelve days' pay for band subscription, besides a contribution of twenty days' pay on first appointment, and twenty days' difference of pay on each promotion. What remains of his pittance barely suffices for his mess expenses even in the most moderate regiments. Now, the rate of pay ought to be such as to enable a young man from his very first entrance into our army to live frugally according to the habits of the day. Any rate short of this forms an almost insuperable bar to the best class of candidates. But when the well-wishers of the English officer propose to augment his miserably insufficient stipend, they are met by the Treasury with the answer that such augmentation would only increase the price of commissions, and would therefore fail to improve the condition of men whose pecuniary embarrassment results from the fact that they have already sunk in their commissions large sums, the interest on which is a heavy burden on their slender purses. These facts tell in the infantry; but they tell with double force in the cavalry. In the year 1859 the competition of rich men had run up the price of commissions in that branch of the service to such an extravagant height, and the luxurious habits im- ported by these men had so increased the expenses of living, that the system broke down of a sudden. There was a financial crash in the English army. Incredible as it may appear, our officers had over-speculated and over-traded in commissions to such an extent that a panic took place, and no one could be found to buy. Sixty-five cornetcies were going a begging for purchasers. To quote the words of Lord Herbert "the vacancies equalled in number the cornetcies of eight regiments." It is to be hoped for the national credit that we contrived to conceal from the military men of foreign nations the fact that we could not get enough millionaries to officer our cavalry. So that we found ourselves in this absurd position: that, on the one hand, we could not get together enough poor men to recruit the ranks of our soldiers, and, on the other, we could not get enough rich men to recruit the ranks of our officers. The system broke down at both ends. In order to correct this evil the Commander-in-Chief proposed to reduce the stoppage for forage. This did not appear, in the eyes of Lord Herbert, fully to meet the difficulty. I quote his words once more— No man would consider that the reduction of 1s. 5d. per day would bring within his reach a mode of life which requires an outlay in hard money of sums rising from £840 to £7,000 or £10,000 (sometimes even more), with horses, uniform and accoutrements of an expensive character; and, above all, a style of living requiring a high allowance from his family, with the prospect of a good deal of debt at the end of it. The difficulty was met in a much more effectual manner, a manner which in itself is a sufficient condemnation of the purchase system. Sir, the Secretary of State himself entered the commission market, and undertook a system of brokerage on a grand scale through the medium of the army reserve fund, which was justly described by Sir De Lacy Evans as a fund for the extension of the purchase system. Owing to the large number of commissions given and promotions made without purchase during the Crimean War, an unusually large proportion of commissions were held by officers who had not purchased them. When any of these officers wished to retire the Secretary of State authorized him to sell, and to receive out of the amount realized at the rate of £100 for every year's service, the remainder being paid to the reserve fund. The officers who purchased these commissions were of course at liberty to sell them in the usual way, and therefore every one of these commis- sions was subtracted from the rewards of long and good service, and added to the already too large domain of the purchase system. The sums obtained from the Infantry officers by this machinery were expended in extinguishing purchase in the yeomanry of the guard, in assisting the promotion of cavalry officers, and in other laudable objects. But laudable though those objects were, they ought not to have been promoted at the cost of the hardest worked and most under-paid portion of the army. These strange practices excited the honest indignation of the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel), who entered an able protest against them in the form of a Question. Sir, I appeal to that right hon. and gallant Member, and I hope he will not consider that appeal impertinent, to show why these practices which he so justly disapproves are not the certain and inevitable result of the purchase system; a system which is fast eating away all the prizes which remain to excite the honourable ambition and emulation of our military men.

Sir, it is worthy of being remarked that the system of buying and selling appointments has not always been confined to the army. In almost every other department of the public service that system has been tried and found wanting. It still exists to a certain extent in the Church; which in this respect appears anxious, by a sinister similarity to the army, to keep up its character as Church militant. In old days there was always a bargain between the incoming and outgoing tenant of a public situation. In 1660 Samuel Pepys obtained the appointment of Clerk of the Acts, and immediately received for the office a bid of £500. So legitimate did this transaction appear to him that he, with his customary piety, "prayed to God to direct me in what I do herein." Presently a former holder of the office turns up in the person of Mr. Barlow— An old consumptive man, and fair conditioned. After much talk I did grant him what he asked—namely, £50 per annum if my salary be not increased; and £100 per annum in case it be £350. A fortnight after he gets an offer of £1,000, "which made my mouth water." This practice prevailed in all the Departments of State throughout the bad times of the Restoration. With the Revolution a healthier state of public morality began to prevail. But this deleterious system, banished from the Ad- miralty, the Law Courts, and the great Civil Departments of the State, found a borne and a stronghold in the army. And now, Sir, I ask—Why is this so?

We are told—and here I come to one of the favourite arguments adduced by the advocates of purchase—that it is necessary that the army should be officered by English gentlemen, and that the best test of the qualities of a gentleman is the possession of wealth. Sir, why should not the army under any circumstances get its full share of English gentlemen? The navy does not complain that it cannot attract gentlemen in sufficient numbers; nor the Church; nor India; nor the permanent Civil Service. In what is the army inferior to any of these. Is it a discreditable profession? It is of all professions the most honourable. Is it an unpopular profession? So far from that, military distinction is the surest title to the love and admiration of the English people. We must not imagine that if purchase were abolished it would be difficult to induce high-spirited young Englishmen to wear a red coat. I do not think so meanly of my own friends and contemporaries as to believe that they are tempted to enter the army by the privilege of living with rich men and buying their steps. These are not the charms of a military career. The attractions which bring the youth of our upper classes into the army is the cheerful, out-of-door, adventurous life; the pleasant brotherhood of the mess; the hope of early fame; the desire to serve their country in a strait. Sir, there are plenty of these men within our own walls. One county alone has the honour of sending hither two "V.C.'s." I make bold to say that, even if there had not been commissions to be bought or sold, those honourable Members would have been bound wherever "V.C.'s" were to be earned.

And it is worth the while of those who hold it to be of importance that men of substance should form the bulk of our officers, to turn to the evidence which Lord Clyde gave before the Purchase Commission of 1857. That distinguished officer was of opinion that the best and least invidious test of sufficiency of wealth was a high standard of education. He says— I presume that the parents and relatives, who would take care to fit a youth to pass the standard which I conceive would be necessary, would have imposed on them the necessity of keeping him at school at least till the ago of seventeen or eighteen. But that implies, in my idea, the possession of property. The very fact of the relations of a boy being able to maintain him at college till eighteen would ally him with property; and I think if you established a high standard of examination you would then improve the officers of the army. And these are not the remarks of a bookworm, or of a doctrinaire, one of that class of men of whom we used to be so much afraid during the cattle plague debates, and whom it was then the custom to stigmatise by the name of "philosopher." These are the sentiments of a General whose capacity for the management of an army in the field was often tried, and never found wanting.

Sir, there maybe some hon. Members present to whom this question is not familiar, and who, knowing that a Commission has sat upon the purchase system, may be inclined to take their opinion from the Report of that Commission. Now, Sir, the recommendation of that Commission, and the fate which that recommendation met with, form an instructive chapter in our history of military administration. For the Commission found that the post of lieutenant-colonel is of the greatest importance for the efficiency of the regiment, and is attainable by purchase. And they recommended that— The Lieutenant Colonelcy should no longer be purchasable, but should be an appointment made by the selection of the Commander-in-Chief from all the Majors in that branch of the service. It is hard to find a reason for dissenting from this recommendation. All who know the British army, Sir, could probably mention, even within the narrow circle of their own experience, officers who have purchased this great charge who never could have attained to it under any system of promotion into which the principle of selection entered even to the most modified extent. It has happened before now that the existence of a regiment or the prestige of the nation has been in the hands of men whom none of their acquaintance would trust with the arrangements of a picnic or shooting party. Within the last six months, especially, the instance has occurred of a man who was admitted by all who knew him to be well meaning, and even to have been actively benevolent in the private sphere which alone was suited to him. His ill luck brought him to the front at a great crisis. His head was turned, and he performed actions, wrote despatches so foolish and ill-judged, that his brother officers hastened to clear the credit of the service by assuring their friends that the writer was known throughout the army to be a man of weak and inferior ability; and yet this fact, though long notorious, had not prevented him from being promoted to the command of his battalion. Now, Sir, as there was great delay in giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission, Sir De Lacy Evans moved in March, 1860, a Resolution in this House to the effect— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to order the gradual abolition, as soon as practicable, of the Sale and Purchase of Commissions in the Army (having due regard to existing rights)—with the view of substituting for the Purchase System, promotion, partly by seniority and partly by selection, grounded on War services of merit, length of Colonial and Home services, and attested professional fitness—under such regulations as Her Majesty shall be pleased to direct."—[3 Hansard, clvii. 20.] A warm debate ensued, in the course of which Lord Herbert, then Secretary of State for War, stated that he was prepared to carry out the recommendation of the Commission. To quote his precise words— For my own part, I think that purchase ought to be limited to the ranks of the service below that of a lieutenant-colonel, in which position I think that due care ought to be taken that an incompetent man, to whose charge the lives of 1,000 men are to be committed, should not be placed. Without pledging myself to details, because many points will require very careful consideration, I may state that the principle laid down by the Commission is the principle the Government acknowledges in dealing with this question. It will be my duty to prepare a scheme, founded on that principle, with the greatest care, thought, and caution, and lay it before the military authorities for consideration. Still there seemed to be difficulties in giving effect to this promise, though in the following year the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) stirred up the Government by asking a question which was answered by the present Lord Northbrook, then Under Secretary for War, and on the 30th of May, 1862, Sir De Lacy Evans appears to have been unable to contain his impatience and moved— That, in the opinion of this House, no further postponement ought to take place in giving effect to the promises of Government, that the Command of Regiments should no longer be purchasable, and that the promotions to that rank should henceforth be regulated by selection upon the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief."—[3 Hansard, clxvii. 199.] But, Sir, by this time the great statesman who had made those promises had gone to his rest, and the country had suffered an irreparable loss. The matter was in other hands. Sir George Lewis and Lord Palmerston replied by making a general defence of army purchase, and announcing that instead of performing the promise which had been made by Lord Palmerston's own Government, the consideration of the question would be postponed to some indefinite period, when the experiment of the absence of purchase might be considered to have been fully tried in the nine regiments which had been transferred to the Crown from the East India Company. It was on this occasion that the noble Lord made his prophecy about the twenty-five years. I must remind the noble Lord that his prediction has only twenty years still to run.

Perhaps, Sir, some light may be thrown upon the secret and effectual cause of the neglect with which the recommendation of the Commission was treated, if we examine the evidence of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief. He is asked— Do you think that the principle of selection which is applicable to colonels of regiments is applicable also to lieutenant-colonels?—I think not; but it is perfectly applicable to colonels. Will you explain to the Commission why that which is applicable to colonels could not be observed with regard to lieutenant-colonels?—Because the colonel does not command the regiment. He his merely the nominal head, and he is selected for services performed in former days, and it is a reward for services, therefore that is a much easier thing than selecting a man to be actively employed at the head of a regiment. That is to say that in the case of the colonelcy, which is a sinecure, a place of prestige and emolument, it is proper to apply the principle of selection; but in the case of the lieutenant-colonelcy, which is only a place of responsibility, only a case in which the welfare and the lives of 800 or 1,000 men are at stake, it is impossible to undertake time burden of selecting a man who is fitted for the post. The office which is honorary is to go by merit; the office which demands high intellectual and moral qualities is to go by a complicated system of chance. Sir, the Admiralty are not unwilling to assume the responsibility of providing commanders for twice as many vessels as there are regiments, of which the Horse Guards cannot assume the responsibility of nominating the colonels. Sir, the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) taught us that the decrees of the Horse Guards are not to be questioned in this House, and we have learned our lesson. But if the right hon. Baronet will allow me, I will bring forward the opinion of another Royal personage, who was likewise a famous soldier. When King William came to England with a military experience matured by many years of Continental warfare, he applied his earliest period of leisure to the task of putting down purchase among his new subjects. I think that very practical monarch must have stared the first time his Adjutant General told him that there were not enough rich men in the country to officer his cavalry. There may be danger lest people inclined to cavil should make the remark that the Admiralty dare not allow incompetent men to have charge of vessels, because vessels are made of wood and iron, which are tangible materials of very serious cost; and that if a vessel is wrecked by the fault of the commander, the public at once appreciates the pecuniary loss which it has suffered. But a regiment is made of flesh and blood, and may be rendered inefficient by disease, and only those who are conversant with sanitary statistics can assert that such a misfortune was owing to human folly and not to a dispensation of Providence.

Sir, we have often been told in the course of the last year that the cause of the supreme excellence of English administration is that our reforms are never radical reforms; that we never take a stride in the path of progress, but go forward foot by foot; above all, that we never change our old garments for new, but that we patch them up wherever we find a hole. And therefore we are told our institutions are stable; and the most stable of all our institutions is the army. Now, Sir, I do not deny that our military system, under favourable circumstances, has plenty of stability; that is a quality in time of peace, to which you may always attain by simply leaving things alone; but we are told likewise that, anomalous and antiquated as it may be, it works well. Sir, that is precisely what all the soldiers of the old school throughout Europe said of the Prussian military system in the year 1806. The French, with their new-fangled tactics and their mushroom generals, might beat Austrians and Sardinians, but they would never stand against battalion's disciplined and manœuvred after the instructions of the great Frederick. But the battles of Jena and Auerstadt opened the eyes of the soldiers of the old school. A single fortnight placed Prussia at the feet of Napoleon. Then the Prussians took counsel of necessity. They left the old groove. They re-modelled their army from the crown to the foot, and the results were the campaigns of 1813–14–15. And so it is with us. We may talk as much as we like about being a practical people; but how will it all end. Prussia never scruples to alter her organization on a year's notice, and yet nobody denies that their organization works well. Does the Prussian army show in the field any signs of being led by unpractical doctrinaires? We boast of possessing an organization founded on experience and not on theory. Everybody knows that our soldiers are brave, and well drilled; everybody knows that our officers are loyal and courageous; but does anybody believe that in the hour of stress and peril that organization would bear the strain? Not once during the last few weeks, but over and over again, men who have deeply studied the question have said to me, we shall never get rid of purchase till we have a war and a breakdown. If this is the impression among those who are best informed, it is idle to talk of the expense of abolishing purchase. A breakdown would cost us in a fortnight a sum which would buy up all the commissions in the army. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) could tell us how much the breakdown in the Crimea stood the nation in cash; and we can all of us tell what it cost us in reputation.

I will not now enter into a computation of the expense of abolishing purchase, but there are two or three items of saving which I recommend to the attention of the economists in the House. We shall be able largely to diminish that inflated and gigantic non-effective system, which has been raised to its present dimensions in order to compensate officers who have suffered from the effects of the purchase system. On this point I quote the highest authority. In a memorandum laid by the Duke of Wellington before the Select Committee on Army Appointments in 1833, his Grace, speaking of 120 general officers, receiving £456 5s. a year, says— They receive from the public an annuity, for which they have sacrificed a capital larger than any that could be required from them, either by the public or any annuity office for the same annuity. And of 138 general officers who are titular regimental colonels, he says— Being colonels of regiments they cannot be allowed to sell out. Their money is sunk in the service, and is lost to them and their families for ever. In consequence of these representations the Committee recommended a large increase of the non-effective expenditure, which was eventually carried into effect. Secondly, we must remember that officers shout only be indemnified for any loss they may suffer in consequence of the abolition of purchase. In other words, they should receive back from the Government the full current value of their commissions only to the extent to which they would have recovered it if purchase had not bee abolished. Everything beyond this would be a gratuitous boon.

Sir, it will doubtless be objected during the debate that the present system provides more rapid promotion for non-purchasing officers than would be afforded by a system of selection based upon seniority. The House is far too indulgent for me to trespass on their time. But if I did I could show that promotion might be greatly quickened by a judicious scheme of retirement. Besides, whatever form the army of reserve and militia may take they must be officered to a great extent from the line, which will provide a large amount of employment of a kind particularly suited to married officers and officers whose health is not equal to foreign service. Sir, in the debate of 1860 a great deal was said about the miserable fate the French officer. You were told how all who had been abroad must have seen lounging about estaminets men whose upright carriage, close-cropped grizzled hair, an heavy moustaches showed what they had been, and whose haggard faces and threadbare clothes showed painfully what they were, and you were asked whether to that condition you would reduce English officers Sir, I had lately in my hand a letter from a distinguished officer written from Paris, who said he saw all around him, his juniors taking rank as generals, while he was only a colonel, and could not hope to be promoted for several years. We must never forget that the military Members of your own House, though unselfish enough to be by no means unanimous in support of purchase, all belong to the class which most profits by the present system. There must be a great many Reform Bills before poor officers will sit on these Benches. But since my Motion has been on the Notice Paper, I have received letter's which amply show that in many a country village and third-rate watering-place there are poor broken-down men of worth and tried valour who have no unbounded admiration of the purchase system. They do not recognise the hackneyed Horse Guard's dictum that the British service is an advantage to the men who cannot pay as well as to the wealthy man. What is all this talk about men with grizzled hair, hanging about cafés, compared with the fact that no officer, or next to none, unable to purchase, rises to the command of a regiment in time of peace? That in time of war he does so rise, because in time of war this boasted purchase system breaks to pieces in the face of stern facts. Sir, in whatever direction military reformer's turn their eyes, whatever work of public utility they endeavour to promote, their efforts are always defeated by the existence of this vast anomaly. In our laudable desire to strengthen and elevate our national army we may pour millions after millions through the hands of the War Secretary; but till purchase is abolished we shall get little or nothing for our money. England has a small army, but she has mighty interests at stake. In that small force every officer should be zealous, intelligent, and skilful in his profession; and this result will never be produced until our officers owe their promotion, not to pounds, shillings, and pence, but to zeal and intelligence, and professional experience and skill. The hon. Member concluded by moving Iris Resolution.


in seconding the Motion, said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) in bringing forward the subject had apologized for so doing on the score of youth; but the manner which he had acquitted himself certainly showed any such apology to be unnecessary. As one having the experience of half a century, it might be well that he should corroborate the views of his youthful Friend, and thus furnish a fresh proof that extremes meet. He bad always looked upon it as one of the most disastrous results of the system of purchase, that when a man had been eighteen or twenty years in the army, had acquired the experience fitting him to command a regiment, he was forced out of the service by the consideration that if he died the money which he had invested in the previous steps would be lost for ever to his family. So that under the present system the country lost the service of officers at the moment when it was most important that they should be retained. An important question in the constitution of the army was involved in the Motion now before the House. The system of purchase had the effect of excluding from the army some most valuable elements. At present they could not obtain a supply of recruits from the lower middle class of life. There was nothing to induce—on the contrary, there was everything to deter—the sons of tradesmen from entering the army, because they had not the means to purchase and there was no adequate prospect before them. The army of the East Indian Company, on the contrary, was recruited without the slightest difficulty, and from a different class of persons to those who entered the Royal army. In the Indian service there was always something for the young adventurer to look forward to. There were a multitude of appointments—artillery and commissariat conductorships, clerks of works, clerkships in the military departments, &c.—open to men of some little education and station; and many men were induced to go to India upon the chances of success thus held out to them, who could never entertain any hope of advancement in the Royal army. His own personal experience furnished him with many instances in which poor young men of education and accomplishments had entered the Indian army as privates. In a native regiment which he commanded in India his serjeant-major was the son of a Scotch clergyman. That gentleman—Mr. M'Leod—had received a good education under the admirable system of parochial instruction in Scotland. When he (Colonel Sykes) came home in 1820 he recommended him for an appointment to a department where his talents and education would be appreciated. The result was that Mr. M'Leod progressed and became a deputy collector of Scinde, with a salary of £1,200 a year. This was but one example of numerous instances of promotion of a similar character. When he organized the statistical reporter's office for the Bombay Government in 1824, he needed an artist who drew tolerably well and an expert in figures, and he readily found both in the detachment of European artillery at Poona; the artist having been a landscape painter in England and the expert in figures had been educated at the Polytechnic in Paris, and both of them behaved themselves well. The consequence was that the Company's service was generally filled with persons of a higher station than those who entered the ranks of the Royal army. The officers of the English army were, as a body, the first gentlemen in Europe—there was no doubt about that—but he considered it mischievous, imprudent, and impolitic that such a definite line should be drawn between the officers and the men they commanded in the British army. With regard to purchase, it was said that a man was always sure of getting his money back again. He (Colonel Sykes) was not so sure about that. He knew a case that was at present before the War Office. It was that of a captain whose commission was worth £1,800. Having been put a few years ago on half-pay he applied to the late Sir George Lewis, when he was War Minister, to be allowed to sell his commission. Sir George remarked to him that he was getting on in life, and asked whether he would take £1,500 for his commission? The poor man said that the money would be acceptable, and consented to take it; but up to the present moment he had not received a farthing of this £1,500. He (Colonel Sykes) looked for better things from the present head of the War Office. The question was how this evil of purchase was to be remedied. There were £7,000,000 invested in the purchase a commissions, and that, no doubt, made it a serious matter to grapple with the subject. But why not make a beginning? As officers wanted to sell commissions, let a certain number be bought annually by the Government, and in process of time the present evil would be extinguished. They could then give these commissions to persons to be promoted by seniority or for merit. In that way the expenditure which the State would have to incur in doing away with the purchase system might be spread over twenty or thirty years.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the system of purchasing Commissions in the Army tends greatly to diminish the efficiency of our Military Force."—(Mr. Trevelyan.)


said, that having been several years in the army, and feeling a very deep interest in the welfare of the service, he trusted he should be pardoner if he ventured to trespass upon the attention of the House by offering a few observations on the Motion of his hon. Friend. It seemed to him that the question before them was of a twofold character. They had to look, on the one hand, to the objections attributed to the present system of promotion, and upon the other to the ad- vantages which might be reasonably expected to arise from a change. It was not his intention that evening to go over the ground traversed by his hon. Friend who made the Motion; but there were one or two points upon which it was well to have a fuller discussion than they had as yet received. One of the principal objections which he thought must suggest itself to the present system was that from the very first moment of entering the service an officer was assuming the gravest responsibility that could be thrown upon any man. He said it without fear of contradiction that a young officer entering the service, and fearing the responsibility of having so many human lives placed under his charge, without being required to qualify himself properly for the discharge of the duties he was about to undertake, found himself placed in a most difficult and unenviable position. The point, however, to which he particularly wished to address himself was that of the advantages which he trusted would ensue from a change of system—which, whilst doing away with purchase, would enable the authorities to promote a larger number of men from the ranks than was at present done. It had been said that if they were to raise a certain proportion of officers from the ranks they would inevitably effect a great change in the army, and run the risk of lowering that high standard of gentlemanlike feeling which it was universally admitted the British army possessed above the armies of all other nations. But in dealing with a question like this, he submitted that we should look beyond the immediate effects. We should consider whether, by holding out the hopes of a better career, we should not induce a better class of men to enter the ranks of the service. At present a young man might enter the army with the best intentions and a determination to work hard and to learn his work; but he would soon discover that the life of a soldier was composed of a multitude of small details. Now, it was precisely the knowledge or ignorance of those details on the part of the officer which constituted the difference between the comfort or discomfort of the men placed under him. It was, of course, a considerable disadvantage to the service that officers should enter it without having obtained any knowledge of the duties which they would be called upon to fulfil on their first entrance into the army. He thought if the present system were so far changed as to allow of a greater number of promo- tions from the ranks we should then have at once a large number of officers who would be fully conversant with the wants and habits of the men under them, and who would be able in many cases to decide upon matters which might be brought before them as regards the comfort of the men with far greater precision and confidence than officers who, however apt and able they might be, had never become practically acquainted with the duties of those below them in station. It was true that under the present system when an officer passed from one rank to another he had to undergo a sort of examination; but this was very different from the examination which would he instituted if the proposed change were to be carried out. The object of the present examination was merely to ascertain whether an officer was positively too ignorant to be promoted to a higher grade. The object was, not to select a good officer, but to keep back a man who was totally unfit, and the subsequent advancement of an officer was in no way dependent upon that examination. One who passed it in an inferior manner stood exactly the same chance of being promoted as one who had passed it well; and, of course, such an examination offered no inducement to officers to exert themselves in the intermediate ranks of their profession. He contended that if a certain number of officers were introduced from the ranks of the army, and were placed for each subsequent grade of promotion in competition with other officers in the service—whether they had entered from a Military College or from elsewhere—the result would be that a higher standard of military knowledge would be, as it were, forced into the profession. The question of officers being selected for command had been so fully discussed in that House that it was unnecessary for him to enter into the subject; but be might, perhaps, venture to add his firm opinion that not only should officers intended for the rank of actual commanders of battalions be taken by selection from the army, but that their subordinate officers, such as majors of regiments, who, in the absence of their superior officers, were likely to be called upon at any moment to take the command, should also be selected on account of their military acquirements. To make his meaning on the subject of examinations more clear he might state that in his opinion they should be confined to military matters, for he could not conceive that, as regarded the regimental work of the army, it was necessary that the officers should be highly qualified in scientific acquirements. Indeed, the probability was that if an officer devoted himself very much to scientific pursuits he would be wasting time which might otherwise be devoted to subjects more practically useful. If the system of promotion by purchase were abolished and a system of promotion partly by seniority and partly by selection substituted for it, he could not understand how the staff appointments could be taken from the army in the same way as at present. By separating the staff of the army from the regimental commissions a great injustice would be prevented, which might otherwise occur from following out strictly the plan of seniority. If the plan of seniority were strictly carried out, and the staff of the army were chosen as at present, it would be perfectly possible for an officer to obtain his promotion, to leave his regiment, and become an entire stranger to his men, and then to rejoin his regiment in time to gain his next step. Such a state of things was obviously most undesirable. Feelings of apprehension had been entertained, even by officers well acquainted with the army, that the present standard of honour and gentlemanly feeling in the service might in some degree be lowered by promoting men from the ranks. Now he (Mr. Stanley) confessed he was one of those who did not entertain that apprehension, for it must be remembered that, as a rule, the men who rose and who had taken the trouble to qualify themselves to rise from the ranks, must be men with a certain amount of application and energy, and there could be no doubt that when placed in the society of their brother officers they would endeavour to conform, as far as possible, to the manners of those among whom they found themselves. If, however, he was to look exclusively to social position he admitted that that must to a certain extent be altered; but the army ought not be regarded as a mere social gathering. He was not aware whether his hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trevelyan) intended to press his Motion to a division; but he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, even if he were not prepared at once to accede to the Motion, would be induced to take the subject at no very distant day into his serious consideration. He could not impress too deeply upon the House the feeling which he entertained that this great change could best be carried out at a time when the matter could be carefully considered, and not when we were embarrassed in the midst of a war by the break down of the present system. While he hoped that the system of purchase would be abolished, and that a larger number of officers would be promoted from the ranks, he admitted that we ought not to look for a supply of officers from that source alone. Although there might be some difficulty in carrying out the idea, he still maintained that all officers should be made acquainted with the duties they would be afterwards called upon to discharge. In this respect an excellent example was set by the Austrian army, for all officers on joining it were attached to regiments as cadets, associating with the officers, but learning practically and thoroughly the duties of those whom they were afterwards called on to command. He thought it must be very disadvantageous to draw so broad a line of distinction between the two classes of the army as was done at present, and he concurred with the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes) that it discouraged many young men from entering the army who would otherwise willingly serve in the ranks for a certain number of years if there was a prospect of their eventually obtaining a commission. In conclusion, he admitted that there were great difficulties in the way of carrying out this great change; but he could not but express a hope that before long the existing system would be abolished, and that the army would cease to be the only service in which responsible positions could be purchased for a sum of money.


said, he could not understand how such a system as that proposed by the hon. Gentleman could be carried out; but there might be no great difficulty in carrying out the system if the country was only prepared with the £ s. d. During the Peninsula War volunteers were attached to regiments, but when the peace was concluded they did not know what to do with them, and the system was discontinued. He was not at all surprised at the Motion made by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trevelyan), who, in addressing his constituents, had said that in the English army power was gained by purchase and maintained by the lash. The hon. Member might, however, have done English officers the justice to say that, however they obtained the power, they wielded it with justice, kindness, and consideration. As to the army being held together by the lash, he left the House to judge how far the statement was justified by a Return showing that, on an average of ten years, in an army of over 200,000 men, scattered in all part of the world, the number of men flogged was only 2 and a fraction per 1,000. When this question was discussed in 1856, it was brought forward by General Sir De Lacy Evans, who could not personally complain that merit was not rewarded, for on the 12th of January, 1815, he found himself a captain in His Majesty's service, and on the 18th of June following he was a lieutenant-colonel. No one could find fault with that, for every advance was gained by gallantry in the field. He had seen service in India and it the Peninsula War, and he did not bring the matter forward because he had any grievance. The Motion was seconded by the present Earl de Grey, than whom no one had the interest of the army more at heart. Earl de Grey—then Lord Goderich—proposed that one-third of the vacancies in the army should be filled up by merit, and two-thirds by seniority; and Mr. Ellice thought that there was a necessity for inquiry, if only to satisfy the demands of public opinion. The recommendation of the Commission of 1854, of which he was a member, that in the non-purchase corps, the Royal Artillery, and the Royal Engineers, Her Majesty should more frequently exercise her prerogative and take officers out of the regular rotation of promotion and promote them to higher ranks on account of merit, encountered great opposition from the corps, and even a modified recommendation was met by a protest. They declared they would infinitely prefer the introduction of purchase into their corps. As to the heartburnings that were alleged to be caused by officers being passed over uncle the purchase system, were not the same heartburnings as likely or more likely to occur under the system of promotion by selection? There were now three modes of promotion—purchase, seniority, and selection. Staff appointments were filled up by selection, and could not be purchased. No complaints were made against the regimental system to which purchase is confined; but during the Crimean War it was said that the staff officers were not up to the work. If that were so, it was not the fault of the officers but that of the country. No opportunities were given by collecting bodies of troops to instruct staff officers; and if the country was so penurious as not to afford officers proper opportunities of learning their duties, let the country bear the blame of their inefficiency. If the purchase system were abolished, the expenditure of some £8,000,000 would be necessary, besides an enormous increase annually in the full-pay and half-pay retirement; and lie did not believe that any Minister would be likely to propose such an outlay. The hon. Gentleman had stated that he had received a large number of letters from officers complaining of the present system; no doubt they came from officers who had recently been passed over. But, on the other hand, it must not be supposed that all officers were averse to the present system, for many had said to him, "Whatever you do, vote for the continuance of the purchase system in the interests of the poor man." If his hon. Friend divided the House on this Question, he should certainly oppose him.


said, there was a point that had been altogether lost sight of during this discussion—the question of the sufficiency of pay to our officers; and the House would have to consider before they sanctioned any change in the present system—whether an officer promoted from the ranks would be able to live on the present rate of pay. As to promotion from the ranks, soldiers had a greater respect for officers who were of a superior class than for those who were promoted from among themselves, and they gave a more willing obedience to them than they did to those who had been their comrades. It had been urged as a reason in favour of promotion from the ranks that the men had more energy than their officers; but he defied any one to point out an instance where the duties could have been better performed by men from the ranks than they had been under the purchase system. If the present officers could not discharge their duties efficiently he was certain the men could not. The proposed change, if adopted, would change the whole tone of the army. By the new system, they would have in the same regiment men of a different class to their officers, about whom very little would be known; whereas, by the present system, more or less was known of the status of every officer who joined a regiment; and in most cases they were the sons of men who had served their country in the field. To promote men from the plough or from a village draper's shop, because he happened to be rather smaarter than his comrades, and because he could read and write pretty well, would destroy, as he had said, the whole tone of a regiment. In the artillery, where there was no purchase, promotion was very slow, because an officer had no object in leaving the corps, not being able to better himself; but in the army vacancies were frequently arising, because men could sell out and obtain their money. Our army had ever been well led, and he doubted if they would improve it by the adoption of promotion by the abandonment of the purchase system. These constant discussions about the army, such as the everlasting question of flogging in the army, and promotion without purchase, had the effect of putting things into the men's heads that would never else have got there and probably made them discontented.


said, it was absolutely necessary for the safety of the country that our military service should be in the most perfect order; for our riches offered the greatest temptation to plunder in the case of war. The British army must necessarily be a small one; and it ought therefore to be organized and administered as efficiently as possible. But he feared that it could not compare with foreign armies in respect of organization and preparedness for war; and that upon any sudden emergency it would be found in a state of un-preparedness which might prove most dangerous. Now, this ought not to be. We had brave men for soldiers—there was no country in the world in which the men were more active or more fond of military pursuits. We possessed every facility for organization; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would devote his attention to the subject, he believed that it would be perfectly easy to change our military system greatly for the better; and, in particular, to recruit our forces without difficulty. He should exceedingly like to have the present system investigated in order to ascertain whether it would not be better to enlist a man for a short period of service—such as three four, or five years—just long enough to make him a soldier—and then send him away under no other obligation than that of serving in the reserve? If they were to do so, and if men were enlisted and taught a trade, families would be desirous of having some of their members in the army, and there would, he believed, be no lack of men to fill the ranks. Let them look at the state of things in Prussia. In the Prussian army, the soldiers were so intelligent and well taught as to require only five officers to 250 men, where we had fourteen or fifteen. And why should we not have in our army carpenters, tailors, builders, and, in fact, men able to do everything that the army wanted? Why should we be dependant on civilians for erecting huts for the men at Aldershot or making their clothes? If a system of this kind were carried out, a great economy would be effected. If the right hon. Gentleman were to turn his attention to the investigation of the whole question of Army Reform, he would confer upon the service the greatest benefit which it had received for many years.


said, that the hon. Gentleman who had brought this subject forward (Mr. Trevelyan) had told the House that they would improve the efficiency of the army if they were to alter the present system. But he should like to know how they would improve it? He should like to know in what country, in what climate, on what field had the British officer not sustained the reputation of his country? Was it in China—in India—in Persia—in the Punjab? Was it in the Peninsula, or the Crimea, or where was it that he had failed? He could perfectly well understand a Member on the Liberal side of the House bringing forward this question of promotion from the ranks; but then let it be brought forward distinctly, and discussed upon its merits. Before they could raise a large body of men from the ranks they must first increase the pay of our officers. He had heard with the greatest surprise the statement that by doing away with the purchase system they would get rid of the half-pay list. Such a statement would not bear examination for a moment. There were non-commissioned officers who had served with him, and he should be glad to see them commissioned officers to-morrow; but if they were to ask these men their opinion on the subject, they would tell them that while non-commissioned officers they could live, but as commissioned officers they could not. And what were they to retire upon? He was acquainted with a most valuable body of men, the Coast Artillery, all the officers of which had risen from the ranks; and what was their pay? Why it averaged from 6s. 4d. to 10s 6d. He knew a non-commissioned officer who had been promoted from the ranks; he had a wife and children to maintain, and had to live on 6s. 4d. a day, which was next to starvation. Now was that what hon. Gentlemen wished to bring about? He had acted in common with the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes), who had seconded this Motion, in endeavouring to get the question of the Indian officers' claims settled. What was it that had led to the difficulty in that matter? The officers suffered because under the system they could get no promotion, and so they agreed to subscribe to a fund for the purpose of buying out the senior officers and enabling them to retire more quickly. The Government having failed to provide proper retiring allowances, got the officers to do that which they themselves ought to have done; and all that was to save the half-pay list. Now, upon this question he was perfectly impartial. He did not belong to a purchase corps, he was getting on in years, and was rather low in rank. Well, then, being thus impartial, he could bear his testimony to this—that it was the present system of purchase which enabled us to officer our corps with junior men, and when a man was too old enabled him to retire. He hoped this discussion would be carried on in a business-like manner. Let it not go to the country that the House was opposed to seeing men raised from the ranks when they had fairly gained their position. But if they were to encourage promotion from the ranks let them place those who were promoted in a position which would at least enable them to live. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Stanley) who had made so excellent a speech, had entirely overlooked this point. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was willing to grant a sum of money to enable them to promote men largely from the ranks, he for one would vote for it. But it was entirely a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence. Let it not go forth to the country that the House was of opinion that a non-commissioned officer, when he received a commission, could live upon his pay, which was something like what a first-class mason could earn, a good deal less than a first-class carpenter, and still less than a clerk in a commercial house or bank would receive. If hon. Gentlemen really meant what they said, let them support a Motion for giving proper pay to the officers of the army, and then they would soon do away with the purchase system.


Sir, both sides of the House will admit that the modest terms in which the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trevelyan), in the commencement of his speech, apologized for dealing with a question which had been formerly in the hands of so distinguished a man as Sir De Lacy Evans, were quite unnecessary. In the first place, the mode in which the hon. Gentleman treated the subject was never exceeded for clearness or candour; and, in the next place, it was impossible to forget that the hon. Gentleman is perhaps the fittest man in this House to urge the views he has brought before us, being the son of Sir Charles Trevelyan, who, whatever difference of opinion might prevail as to the merits of this question, has, beyond all doubt, devoted for a long period his great ability and perseverance to its consideration, and has done so in a manner which must have convinced everybody acquainted with what he has written that he could have had no other motive than one the most patriotic and disinterested. I am not at all disparaging what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite when I say that, having read what Sir Charles Trevelyan has written on this question, I am familiar not only with the arguments but even with the extracts which the hon. Gentleman has brought forward with so much ability. I am quite willing to admit, as the result of my own study of this question, that it is impossible to read the Report of the Royal commission, the various correspondence of Sir Charles Trevelyan and the pamphlets which he has published on this subject, without being convinced that there are great and serious anomalies in this system of army purchase. There are many things connected with that system which are fairly open to criticism, and which at least suggest very serious doubts whether, if we were to commence anew, we should found promotion upon the purchase system which now prevails. I need hardly add, therefore, that I am by no means desirous to be understood as committing myself to any approbation in the abstract of our present system; and I feel it the more necessary to say this, because if the hon. Gentleman presses his Motion to a division, I shall feel it my duty to vote against it. I cannot think that the time has arrived when it would be safe for the House to sanction so strong a declaration as that embodied in the Motion which the hon. Gentleman has submitted. While acknowledging the general fairness of his statement, I feel bound to take exception to the expression of which he made use when he urged, as one of his arguments against the present system of purchase and sale of commissions, that it was "illicit and clandestine." I presume the hon. Gentleman meant to refer not to the general system, but to the practice, which is unfortunately not unknown, of purchasing being carrried on to an excess inconsistent with law and regulation, It is very important that there should be no danger of its going forth to the public that the officers of the British army are carrying on anything that can be called illicit or clandestine in the sale and purchase of commissions, for it is under army regulations, and is perfectly legitimate. Every one, however, who takes an interest in the welfare and character of our army must regret the fact mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, that, although there is an Act on the statute book which renders officers subject to be cashiered if they purchase their commissions, and makes the sale of them a misdemeanour at law, the offence of selling commissions for sums far beyond the regulation price is not uncommon. Whatever opinion may he entertained on the abstract question of purchase, we must all agree that it is very desirable that such transactions should be put an end to, and that law and practice should be brought into harmony. While our present system is no doubt in some respects anomalous and objectionable, it is one, as the hon. Gentleman has reminded us, of great antiquity. He amused the House by referring us to the days of Pepys, and to a negotiation carried on by him for the sale of his commission as Clerk of the Acts. Now, the system of sale and purchase of commissions in the army dates back from a period very nearly, if not quite, as remote as that; and with the exception of an interval of only four or five years in the reign of William III., it has prevailed from that time to the present day. That is surely a fact which ought to have some consideration. Then, again, it must be remembered the circumstance was entirely passed over by the hon. Gentleman, but it has been referred to by the hon. and gallant Members for Harwich (Major Jervis) and Westmeath (Mr. Greville-Nugent), that, whatever its merits or demerits, it has been under this system that the British army has acquired its great renown. Under that system it has during centuries achieved a glorious history, and has acquired such laurels as to give it a rank equal to or higher than any other army in the civilized world. These are facts which the hon. Gentleman should not, I think, have passed over when considering whether or not our military system might be improved by the abolition of this system. Upon another and by no means unimportant part of the subject the hon. Gentleman touched indeed, but not so fully as it deserved—namely, the expense which would be involved in the change which he proposes. My hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Colonel North) rather overstated the present value of the commissions held by officers in the army when he put it at £8,000,000, for, as far as the last official statement enables me to judge, the value according to regulation price is but slightly over £7,000,000. The question, then, arises, what proportion of this immense sum would have to be repaid if the change were made. The view of Sir Charles Trevelyan is that a great number of officers would accommodate themselves to the new system, and would be content to persevere in their military service, receiving full pay on retirement; so that only a small proportion of that sum would have to be paid to retiring officers as compensation for the loss of their commissions. Upon that point, however, a difference of opinion exists. The subject has been referred to Committees on several occasions, and was in 1359 referred to a War Office Committee. They carried on a correspondence with Sir Charles Trevelyan, and differed widely from him in many respects. Sir Charles Trevelyan put the sum which it would be necessary to refund at a much lower figure; but the Committee were of opinion that a sum between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 would have to be provided out of the public Exchequer to repay officers for the sale of their commissions. When, therefore, we consider that it was part of Sir Charles Trevelyan's plan that the pay of all officers should be raised, and that in order to avoid stagnation in promotions officers should have full pay on retiring, and when we add to this increased expense a sum of no less than £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 for compensation, it is obvious that only a great concurrence of opinion could induce any Government to recommend Parliament to adopt a change of such magnitude. Now, at present, the opinion both of the military and the public is very much divided. I believe the preponderance of military opinion is, rightly or wrongly, in favour of maintaining the present system—whether the preponderance of public opinion is on the same side I am not prepared to say. But, even assuming it to be desirable that the system should be abolished, it is clearly one of such long-standing, and is so deep-rooted in the practice of the army, that until a much greater concurrence of public and military opinion is arrived at the change cannot be carried out. Another point on which a difference of opinion prevails between those who have originated and those who have investigated the proposal is this—that while Sir Charles Trevelyan put the retirements from the list of captains at 500, the War Office Committee estimated them at no less than 2,000; so that before we can commit ourselves to such a measure it is necessary to understand all its bearings. Another aspect of the question which has been alluded to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harwich (Major Jervis) is the danger of impairing the vigour and efficiency of the army by increasing the difficulty of promotion. Now, we have before us the experience of three different systems of promotion—namely, those which exist in the Navy, in the Royal Marines, and in the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers; and what do we learn from them? Why, that there is a great difficulty in keeping up a flow of promotion, and in at the same time retaining in our service officers in the prime and vigour of life, when promotion is regulated by seniority. The hon. Gentleman referred to the French army; but that, I think, is an instance unfavourable to his views. There the plan has been adopted of compulsory retirement, at a comparatively early age, according to their rank. I believe a lieutenant-general is compelled to retire at sixty-five, a major-general at sixty-two, and so on, some of the officers having to retire at fifty-three. If my memory serves me right, Sir Charles Trevelyan has suggested a plan not very dissimilar. But how does it operate in the French army? Officers are compelled to retire, complaining and dissatisfied, and they are so reluctant to do so, on account of the very inadequate allowances which they receive, that the junior officers do not seek to be advanced, because the higher they get the earlier the age at which they must retire on an inadequate allowance; so that, instead of the junior ranks being filled, as in our army, by men in the prime of life, they are occupied by men who are much older than is compatible with the interests of the service. Here, then, are warnings which should induce the greatest caution in adopting the plan which the hon. Gentleman has suggested, unless we see our way to the avoidance of those evils to which I have adverted. Sir Charles Trevelyan attaches great importance to a proper system of retirement, and it is quite clear that without such a system it would be extremely dangerous to expose our army to the risks of the change which is proposed. I am quite aware that Sir Charles Trevelyan does not admit that the cost is so great as I suppose; but there is a wide difference between us, and many high authorities differ from Sir Charles Trevelyan on this subject, and are of opinion that the changes he recommends would call for a great increase in our expenditure, and would largely augment the burden of the army. The objections to the purchase system may be divided into two classes—first as to the effect upon the individual officer, and secondly as to its effect upon the public interest. The objection in regard to the individual officer turns chiefly upon two points. The first is the hardship to officers of seeing juniors placed over their heads; and the other is the cruel loss which the death of an officer involves, in the sacrifice by his family of the money paid for his commission. There is no denying that in both these respects the operation of the purchase system is very hard upon officers. It is no doubt very mortifying to officers fond of their profession and anxious for promotion to see their juniors pass over their heads. I am not sufficiently conversant with the profession to decide upon such a point; but it is gravely argued by those who know the army well, that under the system of purchase officers who are unable to buy are sometimes enabled to get their promotion quicker than they otherwise would do. If this is a true view of the question, it goes far to answer that portion of the argument. With regard to the cases where, by the death of an officer, the family lose the value of the commission, it must not be forgotten that there is a great mitigation of this hardship by the Royal warrant, under which the price of the commission is restored to the family where the officers have been either killed in action or have died within a certain period of time after receiving their wounds. No doubt there must be cases of hardship; but it must not be forgotten that men enter upon their career in the army with their eyes open to the risks they run. The strongest argument in favour of the views of the hon. Gentleman is the public bearing of this question in connection with the command of regiments. In the Report of the Royal Commission this subject is touched upon in a manner that deserves the most serious consideration, and there is a very strong passage, which I will read. They say— The command of a regiment is an important trust, yet it is admitted by high authority that several officers have attained the position of lieutenant-colonel who were unequal to the command of the regiments which they held. The Royal Commission proceed, in the latter part of their Report, to give their views on the subject. They say— In this respect, therefore, we think that the good the service will be best promoted by an alteration, and we recommend that hereafter the lieutenant-colonelcy of a regiment should no longer be purchasable, but should be an appointment made by the selection of the Commander-in-Chief from all the majors in that branch of the service. The principle of selection may he most advantageously tried in the appointment to the command of a regiment. The Commander-in-Chief has, it is said, the means, through the information collected at head-quarters, of knowing the character for efficiency and intelligence of every field officer in the army. The responsibility of these appointments will rest on the Commander-in-Chief, and the attention of the whole army will be necessarily fixed on his exercise of this power. Here is a distinct recommendation by the Royal Commission that in this respect a material change should be made. I think it is a matter of very grave doubt whether we ought to deal with this question piecemeal, and whether it is not better to leave it until we can grapple with the whole subject. You must recollect that it will be a change of the greatest magnitude, amounting to a revolution in our whole military system, and one that no one would recommend without the greatest care and the greatest deliberation. The Royal Commission says— If the purchase system be abolished, it will become indispensable, for the purpose of maintaining the efficiency of the British army, to adopt a new system of retirement and promotion—namely, to make retirement after a fixed age, or period of service compulsory, and to give promotions by selection. It has been further shown that compulsory retirement will be alone an inadequate substitute for the sale of commissions; but we consider that its partial adoption would facilitate the measure we propose for the selection of lieutenant-colonels, while we do not suggest disturbing the existing system as regards the purchase and sale of commissions, up to the rank of major inclusive. Considering how short a time I have held my present office, it would be presumptuous on my part to commit myself to a distinct pledge on the Motion before the House in the face of this Report of the Royal Commission so recently made. Neither can I forget that I have the high authority of the Duke of Wellington in the Report of the Royal Commission on the same subject in 1840. That Commission, in their Report, said— It is manifested in these returns that by far the larger portion of officers are perfectly qualified for their duties, and it is equally apparent that this efficiency is maintained by the system of purchase. This Report is signed by the Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Richmond, Lords Melville, Howick, and Hill, Sir Charles Adam, Sir Thomas Hardy, and Sir Henry Hardinge, and other officers of the highest consideration. The hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir Harry Verney) has expressed a hope that I will avail myself of this opportunity of considering the whole subject of Army Reform. This is a subject as difficult as it is important. I feel deeply how difficult and how important it is. This question of promotion by purchase cannot be considered to stand alone. Our whole military system at the present moment is in a state of transition. We have lately had presented to us the Report of a Royal Commission on our system of Recruiting for the Army. They name two objects of primary importance—one is, how to make the army more acceptable to the country and facilitate recruiting; the other is how to carry on recruiting without those degrading and demoralizing scenes which now unhappily attend it. Only the other day my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel) submitted a proposal for creating an army of reserve and improving the whole position of the British soldier. It will be my duty within a few days to lay on the table of this House the Report of a Commission, over which Lord Strathnairn presided, and which recommends very considerable changes in the administrative staff of the army. It will shortly be my duty to consider the recommendations of the Commission. These recommendations cannot be carried out without very considerable changes in our military system. I hope the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trevelyan) will see that I have no prejudiced views. Whatever may be the decision of the House to-night, I reserve to myself the right to consider all those recommendations with regard to purchase in the army to the best of my ability. I have listened with attention and respect to the hon. Gentleman opposite. I have read the able publications of his father; and I hope he will be of opinion that I only wish to deal with the question with the desire to arrive at the best decision. I therefore trust the hon. Member will not think it his duty to press this Motion to division.


I cannot agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Westmeath (Mr. Greville-Nugent) that these discussions are calculated to do harm to the army. On the contrary, I think that the country is greatly indebted to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trevelyan) for bringing it forward, and in so able a manner, I believe that discussion in this House and in the country is the way, and the only way, in which this question can be settled; and that when once the subject is understood in all its bearings by the House and the country then, and not till then, the question will be settled, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that this system of purchase is full of anomalies and objections; and I believe that there is no true friend to the army who would not be glad to see the system abolished if we could only devise a system without similar anomalies and objections. But, while I do not hesitate to confess that that is my opinion, I still do most earnestly join with the right hon. Gentleman in asking my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth not to persevere to a division on this question tonight. I think my hon. Friend may be perfectly satisfied with the support he has received and the discussion which has followed his Motion; and I may add that I think he may also be satisfied with the tone of the speech just deliverer by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has assured us that he has no prejudice on this subject, and I think we may understand his speech as a pledge that he will take into his consideration, among the other changes which he contemplates for the organization of the army, the possibility or expediency of likewise introducing some changes in the system of purchase. But, in pressing my hon. Friend not to divide, I must say I think that neither in this House nor out of doors is public opinion ripe for coming to a decision on this great subject. It is surely some proof that the state of the public mind is not one in which this question can now be decided, that during the whole time when I had the honour to be connected with the War Office, or during the three Sessions of Parliament, the subject of purchase in the army was never once mentioned within these walls. If such be the condition of public opinion—and I believe the silence On this subject has lasted more than three years—I appeal to my hon. Friend whether it is not rather premature to ask us to come to a decision, after one evening's debate, on so momentous a matter? Let my hon. Friend remember what it is that is involved in this question. Before the House can arrive at any decision upon it it must know what is the system which it is proposed to substitute for the present one, Purchase in the army, objectionable as it may be in many respects, no doubt affords a tolerably rapid system of promotion in the service; and something must be substituted for it if it is to be abolished. It is easy to say you will substitute a system of mixed selection and seniority; but what is there involved in that substitution? The House and the country must be prepared to do certain things which I do not believe it is at all ready to do. We must be prepared, in the first place, to pay the sum of money that will he necessary to carry into effect the plan proposed to be substituted; and before we can pay it we must know what that sum is. I do not believe that my hon. Friend or any Member of this House is capable of forming an opinion at the present time as to what sum the country will be called upon to pay to get rid of this system. However, you must pay compensation to officers for any pecuniary loss which may be suffered. In the next place, you would probably have to pay, in addition to the regulated price of the commissions, the extra price paid for them. In the third place—and this, I think, is a part of the subject which is rather forgotten—you would have to provide an adequate and liberal system of full-pay retirement, in order to give the same amount of promotion which is provided for under the present system. And, in the fourth place, I believe it is perfectly true, as stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Harwich (Major Jervis), in order to do any good, in order to reap any substantial advantage from the change, it would be necessary to revise your whole scale of pay and allowances to officers. I do not now say whether it may not be right for the House to ask the country to incur such an expenditure; but I ask whether the House is prepared to call upon the country to incur it, and whether the feeling entertained on this subject is sufficiently strong to justify us in pledging the country to pay such a sum of money for such a purpose? I believe it is not; and that the first thing which is required—instead of asking the House to come to a decision on the system of purchase in the army—is to make ourselves much more acquainted than we are with what the real cost of interfering with that system would be. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Report of a Committee which I think he said sat in 1859. I know not if there would be any public inconvenience in laying the Report of that Committee on the table of this House; but if I might venture to give advice to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trevelyan), I would suggest that unless there be any reason against it he should move that a copy of that Report should be laid before us, and then the House would probably be able to form some opinion on what are the nature and amount of the expenditure involved in this proposed change. But there is another thing which the House must be prepared to do before it consents to this Motion—namely, not only to pay the sum of money, whatever it may be, which that change would involve, but to put an amount of trust in the highest military authority of this country, which I do not believe it is at present disposed to do. It is always said that you will substitute for the existing system a mixed system of selection and seniority; but does the House consider what is meant when you speak of a system of selection? What is meant is that the Horse Guards or the Commander-in-Chief, or the Secretary of State for War—I know not who, but the highest military authority, whoever he may be, in this country—is to have a certain power of selecting officers for promotion from the whole of any particular rank. Now, we know perfectly well that this House and the country are both—I will not say too ready, but very ready—to take exception to any act of the Commander-in-Chief; and does not the House think that when in the case of every promotion which is made there is a possibility that several very deserving officers may be passed over, complaints will not be rife, or that the Commander-in-Chief or the War Office will not be in daily and almost hourly dispute with this House? Unless this House is prepared to place greater confidence than it has shown any disposition to place in the military authorities, the system of selection is impossible. There is only one other point to which I shall advert, and that is what my hon. Friend said with regard to the scheme which was at one time adopted by Lord Herbert, but not carried out. I think my hon. Friend could not have been acquainted with all the circumstances of the case when he stated that that scheme was dropped entirely from the opposition of the Commander-in-Chief. The Commander-in-Chief did what was perfectly right in the matter—namely, he stated frankly and openly before the Commission the objections which he had to the proposal; but when the Government overruled his objections, I believe he declared in his place in the House of Lords that, though he still retained those objections, he would not press them, but would do his best to carry out the plan; and from what I know of his Royal Highness I am satisfied he would have done so. But that scheme was dropped, I believe, not from the opposition of the Commander-in-Chief so much as from the want of support in this House. It did not satisfy the advocates of the total abolition of purchase in the army; it was, of course, opposed by those who were in favour of the present system; it had not the good fortune to please any party in this House; and that, I believe, was the principal reason why it was not more vigorously pressed. The scheme would have cost a considerable sum of money; no doubt it would also have entailed some of the difficulties which I have mentioned as incidental to any system of selection; and I think the Government of the day, if they did not find that the scheme was satisfactory to any party, or would be properly supported, were perfectly right in not placing the Commander-in-Chief in a position of such difficulty as he would have occupied if it had, under those circumstances, been persevered with. I do not say that that scheme should not be revived; but, if it be revived, there ought to be some prospect of its being much more warmly supported than it was before.


in reply, said, he wished to give one or two simple reasons why he intended to press his Motion to a division. The Secretary of State for War had made a speech that was very gratifying to him—first because of the very kind things he had said of himself, and next because of the way in which he had spoken of one whose reputation was far dearer to him than his own. But the right hon. Gentleman had not answered any of the principal objections which he had stated to the purchase system. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's one answer was the consideration of expense. But on that side of the House this matter was thought to be so important that it was worth while incurring any necessary expense rather than that the system of purchase should not be got rid of. The noble Lord who had just sat down (the Marquess of Hartington) said that the public mind was not yet ripe on that question, and that, therefore, a division ought not to be taken upon it. He (Mr. Trevelyan) maintained, on the contrary, that that was just the reason why they should have a division upon it, for that was the way to ripen public opinion. The principal vocation of this Parliament was to start questions which a Reformed Parliament may run down. He wished therefore to know how the question stood: and who was for him, and who against him.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 75; Noes 116: Majority 41.