HC Deb 29 July 1867 vol 189 cc333-8

said, that he had to bring under the consideration of the House the cases of Lieutenant Frederick Nind Woodall and Lieutenant and Adjutant Henry Currie, of the 74th Highlanders, and Lieutenant and Adjutant Romaine F. Stirke, 69th Regiment. The case of these officers was that of those who had arrived at the top of their several ranks. Their regiments being under orders for foreign service—the 74th being increased by two companies, and the 69th by two companies—these officers considered that after their long and faithful services a grievous injustice was done them, by being passed over with respect to promotion. The senior lieutenant of the 74th Highlanders was an officer of fourteen years service, and had been for six years musketry instructor of his regiment, and at the School of Musketry, Hythe. Lieutenant and Adjutant Currie, was an officer of sixteen years service, and had been ten years adjutant of his regiment. Lieutenant and Adjutant Stirke had been nine years adjutant and between three and four years senior subaltern, but they had both been purchased over on several occasions. In 1866 an agreement was entered into between the Secretary of State for War and the Treasury, by which sixty commissions were given away, thirty majors being mad lieutenant-colonels, and thirty captains being made majors. In his opinion twenty cut of the sixty commissions thus give away should have been awarded to the subalterns. This agreement was not brought under the consideration of the House of Commons; if it had, he (Colonel North) should certainly have objected to it on the ground that it set aside the interests of the old subalterns, who were in no way considered. He, however, did not now mean to find fault with either the present Secretary for War (Sir John Pakington) or the noble Lord opposite, the head of that department under the late Government (the Marquess of Hartington), believing that they were both influenced by their sense of justice in the matter. What he did find fault with was, that officers of such merit and length of service as those in question should be passed over for any money consideration. Since 1861 the Treasury had taken out of the reserve fund no less a sum than £342,000 for the purpose of buying up half-pay commissions. He protested against this course on the part of the Treasury, because both the infantry and cavalry had contributed largely to that fund. If it were considered an advantage to buy up the half-pay of those officers, and save the amount to the country, the money to do so should have come out of the Consolidated Fund, or be made the subject of a special Vote. He found that this year only 143 commissions, including those of quartermasters, had been given away, while 400 had been sold. This was a great hardship upon the cadets at Sandhurst, who had been given to understand that those of them who obtained 1,950 marks would obtain commissions without purchase, whereas, in fact, out of forty cadets who were lately examined and divided into two classes, only seven out of the first and five out of the second received commissions. It was very unjust to have sold one of these 400 commissions while the forty cadets who had obtained the requisite number of marks were unprovided for. He bagged to make the Motion of which he had given notice.


said, he seconded the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member, which he regarded as being of the utmost importance to the interests of many of the most deserving officers of the army. The question was one of money only, and though the present cases were strong ones, he knew of many cases of equal hardship with those which had been adverted to by the hon. and gallant Member. He regarded the system of purchase as most anomalous and disgraceful, and as long as it continued he did not well see how any effective remedy could be applied to the present state of things. It was worth noting, perhaps, that the practice had become worse since it had been mooted in that House, and it was carried so far that adjutancies in the militia and Volunteers were sold in the most barefaced manner. Nothing could be more disheartening to a soldier than to know that after he had spent many years in the service and had well earned promotion, he was to be passed over by the system of purchase. He trusted that the evils so justly complained of would be speedily put an end to, especially as this might easily be done by a slight expenditure on the part of the very country.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no money considerations should delay the promotion of Lieutenant Frederick Nind Woodall and Lieutenant and Adjutant Henry Currie of the 74th Highlanders, and Lieutenant and Adjutant Romaine F. Stirke, 69th Regiment,"—(Colonel North,) —instead thereof.


said, that his hon. and gallant Friend had forgotten to state that these lieutenants had actually seen more service than one of the majors of the regiment. Would his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) say that these officers, who had already been passed over, should for a second or third time be treated in a similar manner? The question was, he thought one of justice and not of money, and he had such confidence in his right hon. Friend as to believe that he had only to have the case brought before him to have justice done. He felt certain that the Treasury would listen to any recommendation on the subject made by the Secretary of State for War.


said, that the case now brought under the notice of the House was by no means a singular one. Not long ago, in the 60th Regiment, the two senior majors obtained unattached lieutenant-colonelcies. Two of the captains received the steps to which they were justly entitled, but in order to keep up the reserve fund the two lieutenants who ought to have been promoted were passed over. One of these officers, who had seen a great deal of active service, had been similarly treated fourteen times. It was, moreover, understood that, though there were two fresh companies to be formed, these officers would again be passed over to benefit the reserve fund.


said, he must decline entering into a discussion on the reserve fund until the Report of the Committee had been presented, which had been appointed to consider all the circumstances connected with that fund. The case of the 3d West India Regiment, to which the hon. and gallant Member for the Queen's County had alluded, was entirely different from that of the three lieutenants whose case had been brought forward by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxfordshire, and he would only say, with respect to that case, that he had already dealt with it in the manner in which justice required it should be dealt with. He had not the slightest doubt that these three officers were fully deserving of the high character that they had received from his hon. and gallant Friend, and he did not yield to him in his regret for the painful position in which officers were placed who had been purchased over and over again. That, however, was an evil incidental to the purchase system. With respect to the immediate case of these three officers it turned upon a change of system in the army which was adopted by the late Government about two years ago. They at that time found it necessary to reduce the strength of the army, and they determined to do that by cutting off two companies from every battalion of the thirty-five or forty then quartered at home. Great inconvenience and great hardship to individual officers had arisen from the policy which was then adopted by the late Government of having regiments abroad of one strength and regiments at home of another strength. It was out of this arrangement—the policy of which he greatly doubted, and the results of which he very much regretted—that the immediate case of these officers had arisen. There were no less than 240 officers—captains, lieutenants, and ensigns—of the battalions so reduced, for whom it became necessary in some manner to provide. The arrangement made was this. The Treasury consented to promote sixty captains, without purchase to brevet rank, on the understanding that all the remaining officers were to continue as supernumeraries in their different regiments to be absorbed into those regiments as vacancies occurred. The present case was the result of that arrangement. The 69th regiment, to which Lieutenant Stirke belonged, was under orders to go abroad, and would, consequently be increased by two companies. When that regiment was formerly reduced one of the captains remained with the regiment as supernumerary, and the other was among the sixty officers promoted. The supernumerary captain would, consequently, be appointed to one of the vacant companies, and the other appointment would be filled by one of the officers who on the former occasion did not receive promotion. In the case of the 74th, also, the same course would be pursued. Thus two of the supernumerary officers were to be brought in from half-pay to fill up the vacancies occurring under the arrangement entered into between the War office and the Treasury. He was extremely sorry if any disappointment had been experienced by the officers in question, but he reminded the House that they would not be in any worse position than they would have been had no reduction of the regiment taken place. They would remain exactly in the same position, and their ill-fortune, if any, arose rather from the system of purchase and the unfortunate fact that they could not buy promotion, than from anything like injustice on the part of the army authorities. But, while he sympathized with the officers, he did not see how he could disregard, in their favour, so distinct an arrangement as that under which their case came. In the case of the 4th Hussars he had prevented the occurrence of unpleasantness, but his hon. and gallant Friend knew that circumstances permitted his dealing in a satisfactory manner with that regiment. The event showed how inexpedient it was to have different establishments at home and abroad. The cause of this disappointment was traceable to what he considered the unfortunate arrangement to which he had referred. It would be his duty before Parliament met again to devise some arrangement by which these cases might be put an end to in a legitimate manner by equalizing the strength of the regiment whether stationed at home or abroad.


said, he was disappointed at the answer given by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for War. It was a cruel thing, because officers of long service and of the highest merit and reputation did not happen to have sufficient money with which to buy promotion, that they should therefore be deprived of that advancement in their profession to which they were legitimately entitled. It was the duty of the Government to mitigate the hardships of the present system, which they could do when opportunities like the present arose. He thought the House ought to adopt the motion of his hon. and gallant Friend, and not reject it for some pitiful saving of the reserve fund. No money consideration ought to interfere with the promotion of these officers.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 65; Noes 54: Majority 11.