HC Deb 29 June 1868 vol 193 cc314-23

in rising to move, That it is expedient to employ in Government situations non-commissioned officers and privates discharged from the Army with good character, said, he laid claim to no originality in making such a proposal. He found that a Royal Commission which had sat in 1861, and had been presided over by the noble Lord the the Member for the East Riding (Lord Hotham) had reported as follows:— It might also be a great encouragement to recruiting and to good conduct while serving, if a preference were given to pensioners discharged with good characters, in filling up such situations as porters and messengers in public offices, and any of the subordinate appointments in the Excise, Customs, Post Office, and other civil Departments, for which they might be qualified. Again, a circular had been issued from the War Department in 1858, which set forth the opinion of the Secretary of State for War as to the advantages of employing such men in the War Department, and laid down rules and regulations under which they might be so employed. He wished the present Secretary of State for War would furnish the House with the results of his experience as to the working of that system, which he believed had been very successful, both in point of efficiency and economy, It was only fair, he might add, that he should refer to two societies of an independent character which had conferred great benefits on persons discharged from the army. The one was the Army and Navy Pensioners' Employment Society, who gave the following account of their operations:— In the year 1855, in consequence of the war with Russia, men of all ages, in large numbers, were daily discharged from the service, disabled by wounds, or from broken health and other causes unfitted for military duty. Those men experienced the greatest difficulty, almost amounting to impossibility, in obtaining any employment to enable them to support themselves and families. The arrangements of the public service did not permit them to receive pensions in any degree adequate to their support, nor was it desirable on sound social principles that they should be placed beyond the general necessity of industrial occupation. In cases of limited service the pensions awarded were generally from 6d. to 8d. per diem, and seldom rose to 1s. The discharged soldier became, in consequence, idle and half destitute, and rapidly lost his military instincts and habits of discipline and order. The Council considered that in peace, as in war, such a society would be a means of raising the character of the services, by showing to the soldier and sailor that in the decadence of his powers, whether from wounds, climate, accident, or long service, he was still cared for, and could come with his good character in his hand and claim the aid of the institution. From the re-constitution of the society in 1859, to the present date, nearly 4,700 pensioners of good character have been registered, and 2,981 provided with employment. The situations vary in value from £30 to £100 or more per annum; the men are recommended only for such places as their antecedents qualify them for, and it is gratifying to the Council to be able to state that, from the favourable reports received both from employers and the pensioners themselves, the operations of the society continue to give general satisfaction. The Council is now most anxious to extend to pensioners in other large cities the same advantages afforded by the three offices now established in London, Dublin, and Edinburgh. Though a large amount of good is at present being done, great disappointment is caused to many pensioners, who, aware of the existence of the society, or recommended by officers to apply to it, still come in large numbers to London, seeking its aid, which, under the circumstances stated, all cannot obtain. The Council feel sure that officers in Her Majesty's service cannot be aware of the difficulties which 'pensioners' meet with on re-entering into civil life; and in how many instances some of the best men are, with their families, in a short period after their discharge, reduced to a state bordering on destitution. In 1859 the Corps of Commissionaires was formed by Captain Walter, who deserved the cordial thanks of every person feeling an interest in the army for the pains he had bestowed in the formation of that corps, upon which object he had expended much money and time. Captain Walter, imagining that it would be well to hand over the corps to those who from their peculiar position might be better qualified to carry out the objects for which it was organized transferred its administration to an executive committee, composed of Colonel C. R. Egerton, Colonel J, N. Sargent, Rear Admiral J. W. Tarleton, Colonel Sir E. Wetherall, and Major General H. D. White. This was done with the view of representing the War Department, the Horse Guards, and the Admiralty. It appeared that 1,448 men had passed through the corps. The total strength at present was 360, and the amount deposited by the men in the savings bank of the corps was £2,349. The number of the men belonging to the corps employed in Government Departments was 35, and the average wages of first-class men were 22s. 6d. a week. The wages paid by Government to Commissionaires were from 18s, to 20s. per week. The wages in the country were about 14s. a week. Every Commissionaire employed by Government was required by the corps to put 1s. per week into the savings' bank, and was thus able to provide for his family or against old age, and, as he had his pension besides, Government was not called upon to make him any further provision or retain him when really beyond work. The yearly average number of men discharged from the army for three years ending on the 31st of December, 1867, was 13,735. Of these 6,381 were discharged with pensions, and 7,354 without pension; and these men laboured under great difficulty in obtaining situations. A letter written by an old soldier, a corporal in the Engineers, who had been discharged after twenty-one years' service, expressed the disappointment he had ex- perienced from inability to obtain employment. There were a vast number of situations in the Post Office, Customs, Excise, and other Government Departments which might be well filled by discharged soldiers. The Postmaster General had 30,000 persons employed under him, and some of the other Departments were equally extensive. Ample opportunity was thus afforded for carrying out the plan he proposed, and the adoption of such a system would be a great blessing to men discharged from the army. They had provided first-rate schools and reading rooms for soldiers; but the troops did not fully avail themselves of these advantages, because they did not see of what use it would be to them to do so. If, however, they knew that they would have a chance at the end of their service of obtaining a Government appointment they would fit themselves for such a position. He sincerely trusted that some effort would be made to hold out an inducement to soldiers to fit themselves to hold such situations. At present one of the greatest checks to any such employment was the ago which the Civil Service Commissioners had fixed as the limit for applicants entering the service, and when men applied they were told that they were just beyond the age at which they could enter the service. If this rule was modified, and a portion of the minor appointments, as messengers, porters, and third class clerks given to discharged soldiers, a great boon would be conferred upon that class, and he believed that great benefit would also accrue to the State.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is expedient to employ in Government situations non-commissioned officers and privates discharged from the Army with good character,"—(Sir Charles Russell,) —instead thereof.

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


cordially endorsed all that the hon. and gallant Baronet had said on this matter. Encouragement to the soldiers in this way was the principal mode in which they could hope to induce a better class of men to enlist in the army. Men in the army were now offered only the inducement of promotion to the noncommissioned ranks, with the addition, after a great many years' good service, of a pension which barely kept body and soul together, and a good conduct medal. In some few cases a commission was also offered. But in the present constitution of the army a commission given to a noncommissioned officer was a. very questionable advantage, and he should be very sorry to see the constitution of the army materially altered. That being the case, he looked to the employment of discharged soldiers in the various grades of the public service for which they were qualified as one of the greatest inducements that could be held out. In some of the public Departments he was aware there was a great objection to the employment of soldiers as clerks. He had received several letters from persons employed in those Departments urging objections; but he could not concur in them, because he knew that many of the discharged soldiers were excellent penmen and accountants, very methodical, and, he believed, quite as capable of discharging the duties in civil Departments as the ordinary third class clerks. He hoped that the system of employing them which had been commenced in the War Office would be elaborated in other Departments; for there was no doubt that if it became known that such posts would be filled up by military men, it would be a great inducement not only to good behaviour in the army, but to a superior class of men entering the service.


said, he would beg to remind the House that when the subject of the purchase of commissions in the army was before the House, he had read a letter from a sergeant in his own regiment, pointing out that the greatest boon to the soldier would be to offer him employment in the Civil Service after his term of military service had expired. He was far from implying that the duties performed by civil clerks were not admirably performed, but he was perfectly certain, from the training which men received in the army, and from what he had seen of military clerks at Wimbledon and Hythe, that they would perform the duties equally well, and their employment in that capacity would not only be most economical to the State, but would add to the efficiency of the army by attracting to it the best men in the country. He saw no reason why the superior clerkships should not be open to retired officers, As regarded the men, giving commissions was no inducement; but it would be a great inducement to offer situations in the public service from £50 to £150 a year. In France and Prussia the duties of the War Department were performed entirely by military men, and he did not see why the example of those countries could not be followed in this. He hoped, therefore, that with either party in power, the Government would turn their attention to this question, as he believed that not only efficiency in the army but economy in the public service would result from elaborating the scheme of the hon. and gallant Baronet.


said, the thanks of the army were due to the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Sir Charles Russell) for bringing this subject forward, because there was an acknowledged difficulty on the part of soldiers, even when discharged with the best character, in obtaining employment of any kind. In the course of last week a soldier formerly in his own regiment, who possessed admirable business qualifications, and had been discharged with a first class character, had come to him in a state of absolute starvation and had implored him to procure him some employment. If the proposition of the hon. and gallant Member were assented to, it would prove one of the greatest boons that could be conferred upon the non-commissioned officers and the privates of the army, who at the present time formed a very superior class of men.


said, he presumed it was not the intention of the hon. and gallant Baronet to press his Motion upon the House for present acceptance, as it would be a great mistake to endeavour to bind the judgment of the House or of the Government with regard to the contents of such a Motion. If that was the intention, he could not concur in the Motion now being put; but, subject to that reservation, he could not help saying how much justice he thought there was in the general desire that had been expressed by the hon. and gallant Baronet. It was, however, a very large subject. He confessed he thought it desirable that a larger scope should be given to the consideration of this subject, which was by no means free from difficulty, The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the barrier of age. Now, that barrier was one which had not been fixed precipitately but really did represent in a great degree the result of the experience of the authorities in the Civil Service Departments themselves. Now, he was by no means disposed to say that no modifications should take place with reference to this barrier. With respect to the civilians generally we might suppose that it had been judiciously arranged, and how far it could be modified in the case of persons who had served in the army was a very nice question. It was not only a question as to the discharged soldiers, but also a question as to what would be fair to civilian candidates. So far as prepossession was concerned, there was no proposal he should look upon with greater favour than that of the hon. and gallant Baronet. He thought it would be well worth the while of the Government to take measures for a careful review of most of the lower branches of the Civil Service to see how far it would be possible to make them the means of affording an honourable and useful career for discharged soldiers and non-commissioned officers. As regarded the effect of such appointments on the composition of the army, and the inducements they would offer to enlist, that was a very large question, which went even to the extent of the term of service in the army. It was possible, if the House should see fit to carry out the view supported by men of great weight, of introducing a shorter term of service in the army, that it might greatly facilitate the views of the hon. and gallant Baronet. He only touched the surface of a question which he thought well worthy of examination to its very root and foundation. It would not be difficult to suggest the means at any rate of a preliminary examination. A commission would not be desirable, but if the Government were disposed to appoint a mixed official committee of practical men, including military men and an intelligent officer of the Treasury, to make an investigation, the result though not necessarily final would be useful; because it was not to be expected or desired that rapid progress should be made. He suggested this as a means of breaking ground in a direction that was of great importance, and he joined in acknowledging the services of those hon. Gentlemen who had brought the matter before the House.


said, he was not sanguine about such a scheme inducing a different class of men to enlist; but he believed it would be valuable in inducing men in the army to behave themselves, and to educate themselves so as to be qualified for appointments in the Civil Service on their discharge. Where soldiers were employed in some of the Departments at the Horse Guards he believed that the duties were performed most satisfactorily, and with a great saving of expense to the country. Within his own knowledge, there were two clerks in a public office receiving salaries between them of £500 a year to do the duties which any ordinary clerk could discharge efficiently for £120, and which he knew a discharged soldier, of excellent character and abilities, would be delighted to perform equally well at 5s. a day.


said, he should support the Motion. He considered that the Government did not look after discharged soldiers as they ought to do. He deemed it desirable that Government should endeavour to employ to the end of their lives men who had served out their time in the army.


said, that about ten years ago he brought the question under the attention of the House, and the difficulty with which he had been met was the age before which men were required to enter the Civil Service. But he thought they ought not for a moment to contemplate reducing the term of service in the army for the purpose of carrying out the scheme. In the War Department discharged soldiers were specially qualified for employment in consequence of the peculiar training they had undergone.


said, the scheme was necessary to make service in the army popular. With regard to the question of age, he would point out that as men generally entered the army at eighteen for twenty years' service, when they were discharged they were, as a rule, in good health and quite able to discharge their duties in any Government situation to which they might be appointed. His experience of soldiers taken from the ranks for civil employments in India had given him the very highest opinion of the qualifications of the men who would be eligible for the public service. He trusted, therefore, that, as a matter of economy, policy, and justice, the scheme would be carried out.


said, he thought that the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Berkshire (Sir Charles Russell) had taken a very judicious course in the interest of the soldier in pressing the question on the consideration of the House. He could not doubt that the more extensive adoption of the principle of employing discharged soldiers of good character in the Civil Service, would be a great encouragement to good conduct in the ranks of the army and a legitimate reward to those who left the service with good characters. He had been referred to as a witness, because it was in his Department that the experiment had been most extensively tried. The object of the hon. and gallant Baronet was to elicit from the Government some declaration in favour of a more extensive adaptation of that principle. It was impossible, however, for him to say how far the Government might be disposed to adopt the principle, or how far the heads of the different Departments might be inclined to apply it. The hon. and gallant Baronet had under-rated the number of soldiers employed in the Civil Service in saying there were only thirty-five.


explained that he had said, or, at any rate, meant to say, that only thirty-five of the Corps of Commissionaires had been employed in Government situations. He did not refer to the employment of soldiers in the War Department, beyond appealing to the right hon. Baronet to make a statement on the subject.


said, he was glad to have elicited that explanation, because it would be undesirable that an impression should go forth that only thirty-five soldiers were employed. He held in his hand a statement of the ages at which soldiers were taken into the public service as messengers in the several Departments, employment which he was happy to say was not limited to the army, but had also been extended to the naval service. In the War Department no less than thirty-three old soldiers were employed, and he was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) express a general concurrence in the propriety of such appointments, for they not only conferred a boon upon the well-conducted soldier, but also tended very much to the economy of the public service. There were no doubt many duties discharged by clerks in the public offices for which soldiers upon leaving the army would be unfit, but on the other hand, there were many functions for which they were well suited, and they had performed such functions with entire satisfaction in the Department where he was best able to form a judgment. He therefore saw no reason why the same system should not be introduced in the other Departments.


said, that as the system proposed was one which had been recommended by a Royal Commission over which he presided some nine or ten years ago, it was natural he should take an interest in it. His hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Charles Russell) had every reason to be satisfied with the discussion. Several Members had given an opinion favourable to the object he had in view, and although the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) took, as was natural and proper for him to do, a Treasury view of the subject, yet, at the Same time, the right hon. Gentleman looked at it with the greatest possible fairness, and gave an opinion favourable to the general principle of the proposal. The Secretary of State for War had also stated that the thing worked well in the War Office, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would endeavour to enlist the sympathy of his Colleagues in favour of doing something in the same way in the Departments over which they presided. He was not one of those who expected that they could very materially change the condition of the men who entered the army; but he thought that by holding out inducements of this kind they might make soldiers better conducted, and thus improve the discipline of the army and increase its efficiency.


said, he was glad the question had been brought before the House. It was the abominable practice which prevailed on both sides of the House of placing nil the small situations in the gift of the Secretary of the Treasury at the disposal of Members of the House, for distribution among their constituents that prevented the employment of deserving men of the class referred to. He believed that among the many thousands of persons in the employment of the Post Office not one discharged soldier was to be found, although there were many quite capable of discharging the duties. He trusted the Government would take the matter into their serious consideration.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to