HC Deb 12 June 1871 vol 206 cc1906-28

I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War a Question of which I have given him private Notice, which is this—Whether, having regard to the period of the Session at which we have now arrived, and the unusually long time which has been occupied by the Committee on the Army Regulation Bill, and also the very long list of Amendments which are still on the Paper with respect to that Bill, the Government have decided upon the course which they may think it right to pursue with regard to the remaining clauses of that Bill—whether, in fact, a statement which has appeared in the public journals is true, that it is their intention to propose to divide the Bill into two parts, and postpone the consideration of the latter clauses of the Bill to a future period?


The abolition of purchase must, in the judgment of Her Majesty's Government, be carried into effect without delay. We acknowledge it to be incumbent upon us as a duty to prevent the continued violation of the law, which was stated in the debate of Thursday night by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth with so much authority as Chairman of the Royal Commission. We have now the power to prevent that violation in future, and to put an end to purchase; but we do not see how the full compensation and the security for it which we have sought to obtain for the officers of the Army can be obtained without an alteration of the law. Under these circumstances, we are determined that no share of the inconvenience which any delay in the passing of the Bill must occasion shall be attributable to us. Organization is the work of the Executive Government. The object of a Bill is not to lay down the details of a system of organization, but to remove obstructions and to confer powers. The transfer of power from the Lords Lieutenant of counties, to which no substantial opposition has been offered, we deem to be essential; but the other powers proposed to be conferred by the Bill, though useful, are not absolutely necessary, and we shall not insist upon any of them whenever we may find reason to believe that by doing so we should occasion delay in the progress of the Bill.


In consequence of the declaration just made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, I beg to move the adjournment of the House. Notwithstanding the rumours which have been prevalent, I have listened to that declaration with surprise, and, so far as I am concerned personally, with some embarrassment. It was the representation that I made to my hon. Friends that induced them to accede to the second reading of the Army Organization Bill, because it was a Bill brought forward in deference to the decided wish of the country for the re-organization and improvement of our forces; and because it was, as I stated to them, and afterwards to the House, that I believed the Bill to be the first bonâ fide attempt on the part of Her Majesty's Government to establish an efficient Army founded on an adequate Reserve. I must, therefore, protest against the course which Her Majesty's Government are taking. They are not complying with their engagements with the House and with the country to establish an efficient Army founded on an adequate Reserve; they are, in fact, blinking and avoiding the fulfilment of that great duty to which they were bound by every engagement that could influence public men. I considered myself, and I expressed my opinion, that the question of purchase, though an important, was by no means a paramount, or even essential, part of their Bill, and I believe that that interpretation was accepted by the Government. In the discussion, I said that that was a question on which, no doubt, there was much variety of opinion; that the ultimate decision of the House with respect to it this Session would, in my opinion, be greatly influenced by the state of our finances; and I thought it might be a question that might be dealt with in Committee. I did not for a moment recognize the abolition of purchase as the principle of the Bill for the re-organization of the Army; the institution of an efficient Army founded on the establishment of an adequate Reserve. We never, and I believe no hon. Gentleman in the House, accepted the question of a reorganization of the Army in that limited and restricted light. The discussions on the subject of purchase have opened very serious objections to the proposition of the Government with respect to that limited question. It has been felt by the House, and I believe it has been felt by the country, that the abolition of purchase in the manner proposed by Her Majesty's Government is liable to these two great objections—first, that it would involve this country in vast and indefinite expenditure; and, secondly, that it seeks to abolish an existing system without proposing any substitute in its place. In the face of those great objections, I do not think that Her Majesty's Government are entitled to press forward the abolition of purchase and, at the same time, avoid the fulfilment of the object which the country proposed to itself, and which, I think, Her Majesty's Government are bound to accomplish. If it is their opinion that they have not time, during the present Session, adequately and completely to deal with it; if they think that they cannot pass a measure which will fulfil the expectations of the country and the necessities of the State, it is open to them to withdraw their measure, and introduce one next Session which will deal with the whole question in all its bearings; and I cannot but believe that that course would be far more satisfactory to the country. The country never can be satisfied by a mode of dealing with so great a question as the military organization of the country in a manner so imperfect and now apparently so hurried, and so little calculated to meet the expectations entertained throughout the country when Parliament assembled. Under these circumstances, I must enter my protest against the conduct of the Government. I do not see how, if they withdraw those important provisions for welding together the Regulars, the Militia, and the Volunteers, and proceed only with the provision for the abolition of purchase, they can ask the House to read such a measure a third time. This is not the Bill to which we gave our assent on the second reading. Her Majesty's Government are not treating the House in a straightforward manner in pursuing that course. There is a want of candour and ingenuousness in their conduct which I should be sorry to see distinguish the conduct of any public men; and, so far as I am personally concerned, I feel some humiliation in having been induced to advise my Friends to agree to the second reading of a Bill which I now find withdrawn as to all the important provisions which induced me to give that advice to my Friends. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Disraeli.)


said, it appeared to him that Her Majesty's Government had obtained the Supplies upon false pretences. It was not only that this Bill had been read a second time, but also that the House of Commons had voted for the purposes of the Bill large sums which were now in possession of Her Majesty's Government, and were under their control; and therefore the House ought to object to the proceeding now announced by Her Majesty's Government as a violation of their duties inadequately securing the appropriation of taxes and guarding the public purse.


As far as regards the financial perplexity of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Newdegate) it appears to me a matter of no great difficulty to remedy that perplexity. The hon. Gentleman has said that Her Majesty's Government have obtained Supplies for the purposes of the Bill upon false pretences, the hon. Gentleman, in the innocence and simplicity of his mind, being wholly unaware that the House has not voted up to the present time a single farthing for the purposes of the Bill. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: I spoke of Supply.] No portion of Supply depends upon the provisions of the present Bill, except what is entirely insignificant. For the purposes of the present Bill, the House has not voted the money which it was intended to ask. The right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), however, has undergone much more serious mental trouble, for he has experienced a painful emotion of surprise; he has observed what must be still more grevious to him—a want of candour and ingenuousness on the part of the Government; and, thirdly, he has undergone a sentiment of humiliation. Well, to a certain extent, I can understand that there has been in recent proceedings occasions for surprise, and, perhaps, occasions for humiliation; but not that any portion of that surprise or of that humiliation is due to the proceedings of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that he conferred a very great service upon the Government by recommending his Friends not to divide upon the Bill which has been before the House and which forms the subject of the present discussion. But I may observe that his recommendation was not given until the end of a five nights' debate—a debate which had occupied two weeks and a-half of Government time—that is to say, time with respect to which the House places itself under the guidance of the Government; and I really am not aware that the opponents of the Bill, having thus debated it for five nights, or two-and-a-half weeks of Government time, have any reason to complain that they lost much in consequence of the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman himself states that he regarded the abolition of purchase as a very secondary portion of this Bill, for he considered it to be a Bill for the organization of the Army. But the question is, how was it represented to the House. Did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, in introducing this measure, represent it as a Bill of which the abolition of purchase was a secondary part; or did he not, on the contrary, represent it as a Bill of which the abolition of purchase was the leading and essential feature? If the right hon. Gentleman regarded the Bill as one of which the subject of purchase was a secondary feature, who else upon that side took the same view? About what did the five nights' debate arise? Was it about the clauses of the Bill which relate to Army organization? On the contrary those five nights' debate grew wholly out of the consideration of the subject of purchase. It has been as a Bill for the abolition of purchase that this measure was presented by my right hon. Friend on the night when he introduced it. It is needless to quote from his speech particular passages, because the whole speech was instinct with that opinion and feeling. It was presented as a Bill for the abolition of purchase, and with that subject my right hon. Friend presented other matters of comparatively subordinate importance. If there was any other part combined with it which my right hon. Friend treated as of great importance, it was that to which he referred in the answer he gave to-night with respect to the transfer of the power of the Lords Lieutenant of counties to the Executive Government, and that transfer of power it is still his intention to ask the House to sanction. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman has had much mental experience in connection with the history of this subject. We have not forgotten his declaration on the second reading in favour of the abolition of purchase, nor have we forgotten the satisfaction with which we heard it. Neither has it escaped our minds—the retractation of that declaration which he felt himself obliged to make on a subsequent occasion. He now has found reasons why the abolition of purchase proposed by the Government is bad; but are these reasons which have emerged in the course of the discussion? Has my right hon. Friend, in the course of this debate, changed his plan to the prejudice of the parties affected by the abolition? On the contrary, the only change of plan was a change regarded with approval by hon. Gentlemen on the other side as a very material one, and wholly in favour of the officers of the Army—I mean the removal of the limitation upon our power of purchase from year to year. The right hon. Gentleman has now found reasons why it is hardly to be expected that the House should accede to the Bill. But every one of those reasons was as patent and as palpable as it is now at the moment when he expressed the segacious opinion from which he unfortunately has since receded, that the time has come when the system of purchase should be abolished. [Mr. DISRAELI: I never said so.] Well, then, I will alter the form of my declaration, and call it the time when the pleasing, genial, and satisfactory impression was produced all over this side of the House, and I believe in the public out-of-doors, from the belief that the right hon. Gentleman had, however erroneously, yet in terms sufficiently explicit, declared his acceptance of the principle of the abolition of purchase. There is no want of candour or ingenuousness on the part of the Government with respect to this proceeding. We have adhered to the entire Bill until we have reached a period of the Session and a state of affairs which made it our duty seriously to consider the situation. We have spent eight days in Committee upon two clauses and a-half of this Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman who says that purchase is but one secondary portion of the Bill must shut his eyes to that fact during those eight days, and, I think, more than eight days, before we go into Committee, purchase, and purchase almost alone, has been the subject of debate in this House. We have seen discussions conducted in a manner to which I will apply no epithet whatever, but of which I will say that which must be palpable and obvious to anyone—namely, that if the legislative proposals made in this House were usually met in a similar mode, this House might as well shut its doors and abdicate entirely the functions of a Legislative Body. We have seen the Chairman of Ways and Means rise time after time to give his judgment against the method in which, upon every detail and every expression of the Bill, the whole principle of the plan was debated and re-debated, and we have seen that judgment of the Chairman of Committees advisedly passed by and trampled upon, and this method of opposition pursued until we have reached a point at which we have two questions to answer—first of all, whether this Bill is to pass, and, secondly, whether it is to be made the means of obstructing and preventing all the other legislative business of the Session. Sir, this is a grave state of facts, and the Government would not be justified in the position which it holds, and with the responsibility which it has to bear for the conduct of Business in this House, if, under these circumstances, it had not reviewed the various portions of this Bill in order to see in what manner we could, with the greatest convenience and advantage to the public, facilitate the obtaining of powers which we deem it important to obtain. And why do we deem it important to obtain those powers with regard to the abolition of purchase? It has been explained by an hon. and learned Gentleman. It is for no purpose of our own convenience; it is not because purchase rests upon statute—it rests partly upon regulation and partly upon defiance and contempt of statute; but the reason why we have deemed it important to obtain these powers is because we have come to the conclusion that a method of dealing should be adopted which appeared to us the most liberal and generous, and, if open to objection at all, only open to objection in the sense of those who condemned it as too burdensome to the public. And then we have found ourselves met by an opposition which aims not at debate, discussion, or illustration of facts, but at making legislation a physical impossibility. Under these circumstances, my right hon. Friend has explained the motive which has led us to impose upon the majority of this House the burden that it has had to bear in connection with this Bill. It is not because an Act of Parliament is necessary with the view to the abolition of purchase; it is because an Act of Parliament is necessary, in order to abolish purchase in that method which we think requisite, so as to do full and liberal justice to the officers of the Army that we felt it necessary to alter our plan; and it is on account of that desire on our part, and of our having modelled our plan according to that desire, that we have been met with the opposition we have encountered, and that this burden, which I have described, has been imposed on the House. Under these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman kindly informs us that it is in our power to withdraw the Bill. We are, I am sure, much obliged to him for that information. I may, however, tell him that we have not formed the intention to withdraw the Bill, but we have formed the intention to lighten it, so far as depends upon us, of matters which are not essential to its great and main object, asking for those powers and provisions which we deem to be necessary, and postponing what does not come under that category. My right hon. Friend near me has announced that our great object in announcing this intention is that we may not be responsible for any delay in the passing of this measure. Whether it is or is not in the power of a majority of this House to give effect to its deliberate judgment is a question the solution of which was never, I believe, until this year regarded as doubtful. If it has been brought into doubt this Session, it has been by no act of ours. We cannot say which view the majority will take of the matter, or up to what point it may persevere in the exercise of its undoubted rights. But we, the Government of the Queen, have a responsibility which is separate even from that of the majority of this House, and having proposed to Parliament a plan so grave in its character, which undoubtedly modifies and alters the position of officers of the Army, whom we look upon as the heart and soul of the Army, we do not intend to reduce our estimate of that responsibility, and my right hon. Friend has stated, and justly stated, in the name of his Colleagues as well as his own, that in the judgment of the Government it is requisite the abolition of purchase should be carried into effect without delay. Of that responsibility we shall endeavour to acquit ourselves. But we have struggled, and are still struggling, to acquit ourselves of it in a manner by which alone, as we think, principles which we deem to be fair, and liberal, and generous, shall he most unequivocally affirmed and asserted on behalf of the officers of the Army. The decision which we have taken is justified by the position at which we have arrived—a position which we have not created for ourselves. Those who have created it have no doubt satisfied their own minds and hearts of the sufficiency of the motives by which their conduct has been governed. That, however, is a matter which it is not for me to scrutinize; but it is for the Government to consider what are their obligations; and those obligations, we mean so far as the abolition of purchase is concerned, by every legitimate means in our power to redeem.


There have been one or two points raised in the course of this discussion on which I wish only very briefly to touch. The Prime Minister has spoken of the genial glow of satisfaction which pervaded the hearts of hon. Gentlemen opposite at a declaration made by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), on the occasion of the second reading of the Army Bill, but that right hon. Gentleman now denies that any words calculated to cause such a glow ever fell from his lips. I would also observe when the Prime Minister talks of the opposition to the Bill having been carried for eight days in Committee, that it proceeded, not simply from this, but from the other side of the House also. I may incidently remark that a greater number of Amendments were, on the whole, moved by hon. Gentlemen opposite than by us sitting on these benches. The right hon. Gentleman objects to hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House when in Committee doing what? Why, adhering to the question which was really under discussion—the question of purchase. I should like to know whether, if instead of doing that, they had gone from one part to another of the Bill, and had debated Part II. or Part III. of the measure which the Government now, it appears, are about to drop, they would not have been called to Order by the Chairman, and whether the Prime Minister himself would not have endeavoured to stop hon. Gentlemen, by appealing to the Chairman, when he thought they exceeded the limits of debate? But these are incidental points in a grave question. What is the course taken by the Government with reference to this Bill? The Prime Minister has sought to lead the House to believe that the subject of purchase is the real question at issue. He says—"We have lightened the Bill of matters not essential to its great and main object." He tells us that the Secretary for War stated, in moving the second reading, that the abolition of purchase was the main object of his proposal—that it really was the soul and body of the measure. Now, I do not on the present occasion desire to enter at any length into this point, but I wish to put a question with respect to the opposition which was offered to the second reading. I, for one, did not oppose it on the ground of purchase. I took much wider ground, and I contended that the Bill was wholly unsatisfactory for the attainment of the object which its authors professed to have in view. I tested that by a gauge. How did I get at that gauge? I took it from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War himself. The gauge was this—that this measure of Army regulation or Army reform, call it what you will, was introduced for what purpose? To abolish purchase—to enable the Government to exercise the power of selection which they will not tell us how they are to exercise? No. According to the Secretary for War this Bill was brought in to render panic, or the apprehension of panic, for the future for ever unknown. These were the ipsissima verba of the right hon. Gentleman, on which I endeavoured to ring the changes on the occasion of the second reading. He used similar expressions, too, in Oxford, I am told, when addressing the Druids. But, be that as it may, we heard them in this House, and I apply the gauge which I applied on the second reading now again to this Bill. If you lighten your measure, as you say you mean to do, by casting overboard matters not essential to its great object, which you tell us is purchase, I wish to know, if the Bill passes in its mutilated shape, whether it will answer that gauge—whether, in the words of the Secretary for War, it will render panic, or the apprehension of panic, for the future altogether unknown? Tried by that standard your Bill seems to me to be a miserable failure. I, for one, shall not regret whether you withdraw any part or the whole of it, for I believe the whole scheme to be a great sham. But you have laid great stress on your Bill, and now you are going to mutilate it and leave in it nothing but the clauses relating to purchase; but instead of bettering your position by that course you will, to use a word which I have heard from the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, only "worsen" it, for you will be calling on the House of Commons to vote some £10,000,000, while there will be nothing to show for the expenditure of any sort or kind, except that a power will be conferred upon the Minister which he cannot, or will not, or dare not tell you how he proposes to exercise. It is really too great a farce to call this a measure of Army reform, or national defence; but there is another and a much graver one to be considered. The Prime Minister expresses his astonishment that surprise and humiliation should not be generally felt on both sides of the House owing to the course which has been pursued by the opponents of the Bill. Now, I, for one, am perfectly prepared to justify the course which I have thought it my duty to take with respect to it. It was necessary that the measure should be fairly discussed, and we have only done our duty in discussing it. But if the course which we who are opposed to its provisions have taken be unusual, which I deny—for a similar course has on more than one occasion been adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite—who are responsible for what has occurred? Is it the House of Commons, or we who sit upon these benches? I say not, but the Government, who bring in a Bill of this kind, which has been supported by majorities dwindling down from 120 to 16. It is the course which has been taken by the Government which is extraordinary, and not that of the opponents of the Bill; for never was so important a measure proposed about which so great a reticence has been observed by a Government, for in this instance we have been absolutely refused by the Government all information on matters of the greatest importance. When, therefore, the Prime Minister tells us that the House of Commons ought to shut its doors as a deliberative Assembly when a Bill is opposed as this measure has been, I would remind him that a House of Commons has never before been treated by a Government as we have been with respect to this Bill. The question which is thus raised is one far graver than any question of Army purchase or reform, for it involves the question whether the House of Commons has not been unworthily treated by the Executive.


said, he had heard with surprise and indignation the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), that hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House did not believe that the abolition of purchase was the primary object of the Bill. The Opposition dared not divide upon the second reading of the Bill, they therefore tacitly adopted the principle of the Bill, which was the abolition of purchase, and every subsequent division had been upon mere points of detail depending upon the principle. The Secretary of State for War had said it was impossible to proceed with the re-organization of the Army so long as purchase prevailed, and hon. Members on his side of the House had acted and voted under the same impression.


said, he would remind the House that a few years ago the Government of the day proposed to deal with the extension of the suffrage and the re-distribution of seats by a Bill in two parts; but the House of Commons refused even to discuss a Bill so presented to them, saying—"We will not be entrapped into lowering the franchise till we know what is to be done in the re-distribution of seats." It was now proposed to divide the Bill for the re-organization of the forces of the Crown into two parts. The Government had used the leverage of the popularity of that portion of the Bill referring to purchase for the purpose of recommending their proposals for re-organizing the Army; but they were now going to cast overboard the re-organization clauses, and endeavour to retain a vantage ground gained by them under false pretences. He hoped the House and the country would refuse to accept a Bill in two parts, one part of which had been carried under, at any rate, a misapprehension on the part of the House, because they were led to believe it would be an integral portion, though only a portion, of a comprehensive measure for the re-organization of the Army.


Since this Bill has been introduced I have always deprecated any attempt to make so important a question as the reform of the British Army degenerate into a party question. For that reason, though viewing the Bill with some suspicion, and more dislike, I have taken no part in the opposition to the various clauses, because I thought it was wrong to mix up that opposition with any ingredient of party spirit. From the beginning I always foresaw that if the Government once brought in a Bill for the abolition of purchase, purchase was doomed and could not be preserved by any opposition in this House. I have therefore assented to the judgment passed by the House of Commons by large majorities upon that question. Nor am I about to reproach the Government for what they call "lightening" the Bill, however unfortunate I may think the term; on the contrary, this is the only reproach I will make—Early in the Session both my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Anson) and I called upon the Government to divide the Bill into two parts, feeling that purchase was assuredly a question quite important enough to be dealt with by itself. What was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman? He said it was impossible to take the course we recommended, and that one part of the Bill was so closely connected with the other that the thing could not be done. Now, I do not mention this so much by way of reproach, as because I think the Government have repented, and I am grateful that they have repented, because the second part of this measure was such a miserable piece of legislation that, instead of attacking the Government for withdrawing it, we ought to present them with a Vote of Thanks for so doing. My noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) seems to regard the Government very much as the old poet regarded the female sex. He says of them— Men have many faults; women have but two— There's nothing ever right they say; there's nothing right they do Well, I think they have done something right, and I hope there is the dawn of a better state of things. The great mistake of the Government all through the Session has been that they have brought forward a mass of ill-digested measures; and when the Opposition is reproached for the course they have taken, they have at least this excuse—that the Government have imposed more work upon the House of Commons and upon themselves than it was possible for any set of men to get through. If I possess any influence with hon. and gallant Officers opposite, I would ask them to remember one thing. The efforts of a great many gallant Colonels in opposing this Bill, originally an unpopular one, have contrived to give the Bill a shade of popularity. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Lord Elcho) shakes his head. [Lord ELCHO: He is not "gallant."] Well, in all his attacks he leads a forlorn hope, and displays a gallantry which I think is worthy of a better cause. I say that if the Government determine to carry this Purchase Bill through, it is vain for us to oppose it. For my part, I repeat, I am glad, the Government have withdrawn the second part of the Bill. It was impossible to carry that part, and the wisest thing the House of Commons can do is to make the purchase provisions as perfect as they can.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) in thinking that the Government had obtained money from the House under false pretences. One of two things was clear: either the expense consequent upon the Bill had been provided for in the Budget, or there was some afterclap in store, of which the House had heard nothing. At the beginning of the Session a strong apprehension was felt throughout the country—a wise apprehension, he thought, rather than panic—that the national defences were not in a satisfactory condition. The Government tried to remove that apprehension by means of the present Bill. What would be the feeling of the country when they were told that the attempt to re-organize the Army had been abandoned, and that purchase alone was to be abolished? Would such a decision re-assure and sa- tisfy the country? He believed that the country were willing to contribute largely towards the national defences; and, moreover, the Government had pledged themselves to strengthen those defences. Now, however, they had forfeited their pledge, and were merely attempting to remove a sentimental grievance without any practical reason shown for its removal. No attempt had been made by the Government during the present Session to increase the military defences of the country. He had on a former occasion stated that the cost of the Government plan would be something more than £40,000,000, and he asked how could any hon. Member in that House justify his conduct to his constituents in voting that immense sum without having anything to show for it. Upon economical grounds he was determined, as far as the forms of the House would allow, to offer every possible opposition to the measure.


I have very little to add to what has already been said; but there are some things I wish to refer to, with the view of removing misapprehensions. We have had a great many nights of debate on this subject, and it really is marvellous what can have been the character of the discussion when hon. Gentlemen know so very little, after the whole of these nights, what has really been in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. G. Bentinck) says that we have obtained large sums of money on false pretences—that is to say, that the provision which he approved for the standing Army, the provision which he approved for the Militia, and the provision which he approved for finding guns for the forts which are about to be completed, are worth nothing and are of no use to the country, because they are not contained in the future Bill, entirely ignorant or wholly oblivious that none of these things have ever been in the Bill at all, and have nothing to do with the points of which he speaks. There is a point in the Bill which has been provided for by the Estimates which I hope will not be opposed when the clause comes forward for discussion, and that is, to make the addition to the Militia rather greater than the statutory power enables us now to raise. We have not withdrawn that clause. We hope to meet no opposition to one so reasonable. But if we do, we be- lieve all objections will fall to the ground. Then comes the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho.) He does me the honour to pay great attention to anything that falls from me. He has had leisure to condescend to read that with which some very good friends of mine at Oxford and myself solaced ourselves during the interval of the Recess. I cannot undertake to answer for what I said at the Druids' meeting at Oxford, for I assure the noble Lord I do not carry it in my own mind now. But when I am charged with making such statements in this House, that is a more serious matter, and I would recommend it to the noble Lord, whether he writes letters to the Press, or whether he makes speeches in the House of Commons, that he should acquaint himself with the facts before he writes or speaks. Now, he says that when I made a speech on the second reading of this Bill, I expressed myself to the effect that it was intended to render a panic, or the apprehension of a panic, for the future impossible. Now, the noble Lord must excuse me. I stated that when I was introducing the Army Estimates—[Lord ELCHO: I wish to explain.] Excuse me, I am explaining, and explaining the remarkable misapprehensions and misunderstandings of the noble Lord. Sir, I never meant to trouble the House with a rechauffé of my own observations. But I have here—because I have been obliged to arm myself with some protection against the kind of discussion which has obtained—the actual statements I made, and I find that I drew the broadest distinction between the great questions which underlie all the details of military administration, and which must be settled by Parliament before any Department can undertake in a complete manner the work of detailed organization and the details themselves. I said, referring to some figures I had quoted, that they were A necessary introduction to the first question which I wish to lay before the House—that is the question of voluntary or compulsory service. Well, we have had no occasion to go further on that subject, because the House of Commons and the whole country agree with Her Majesty's Government, and do not agree with the noble Lord, on the subject of voluntary and compulsory service. The two subjects which remain—the question of purchase in the Army and the position of Lords Lieutenant of counties in regard to the auxiliary forces, with reference to the relations which ought to subsist between the Regular and auxiliary forces of the country—I described these as the two great principles which must be settled by the House of Commons before any Department of the State could undertake the detailed work of Army reorganization. And what I said on the 16th of February I say again to-night. On the second reading of the Bill I had occasion to speak of organization. I said— What is the object of a Bill? Organization is not a matter for a Bill. Organization is a matter for the Executive Government. It is carried on by Royal Warrant, by regulations sanctioned by the Sovereign, and by various acts of the Executive Government, approved and sanctioned by Parliament when submitted to it in the Estimates. What, then, is the object of a Bill? It is to confer power and to remove obstruction. I state the same to-night, and I challenge the noble Lord, when again he shall think fit to criticize what I say, whether he does it in writing or in a speech here, to take the trouble to be accurate. Now, we have not withdrawn these clauses. We have done this—We have said the blame of any inconvenience which the delay of this Bill may occasion, either to Parliament, or to the country, or to the Army, shall not lie at our door. We will leave the blame where the blame ought to be left. The noble Lord has told us to-night what he wanted. Towards the close of his speech he told us that purchase was the main principle of the Bill. [Lord ELCHO: No, no!] Yes—for I have here his own words, and therefore it was what in eight nights out of Committee and eight nights in it they have been speaking to. They said they were speaking to the point; but the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means was of a different opinion on that subject. And when the noble Lord refers to our majority thinning and dwindling to 16, I reply that that majority has not dwindled, but has risen. The everlasting speeches of the noble Lord and his coadjutors had wearied out our supporters, and on the night before the holiday's our numbers had dwindled to a majority of 16. The Recess revived the spirit of those who were drooping, and now we have a different majority. Sir, the truth is this—Organization is a matter for the Executive Government; and as that Executive Government, we cannot begin organization until purchase has been abolished, and until the powers of Lords Lieutenant of counties have been transferred to the Crown. There has been no considerable opposition offered to the latter of these two propositions. My predecessor in office, if I mistake not, expressed his entire approval of it in speaking on this Bill. I anticipate no objection to it, and we propose to go on with it. As I have already stated, and I now repeat it, in the judgment of Her Majesty's Government it is essential that the abolition of purchase should be carried into effect without delay. My hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), whose remarks are always caustic, though sometimes agreeably so, has, notwithstanding, to-night encouraged us in the course we propose to take. We intend to pursue that which I stated to be the main and necessary object of the Bill. The other powers which we seek from the Bill are not, in our judgment, unimportant, but they are not absolutely necessary; but even these we have not actually withdrawn. But with the pages and pages of Amendments, we shall not hold them up for the convenience and amusement of the noble Lord, and by so doing place in peril the cardinal principles of the Bill. Those cardinal principles we are determined, by every effort in our power, to carry into effect.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down the Secretary of State for War has for the first time called our attention to what the Government propose to do in order to obtain the assent of the House to the scheme that is now before us. The right hon. Gentleman now announces that it is the intention of the Government to force the measure through the House by a process of threatening. He threatens us that if we will not pass this Bill the Government will, by some means or another, abolish purchase immediately, and thus visit upon the officers of the Army the vengeance they are unable to visit upon this House. This is a course which, it appears to me, is unworthy both of the Government and of those who profess to have the interests of the Army at heart. The right hon. Gentleman also says that the main and primary object of this Army Regulation Bill is the abolition of purchase. On the subject of the transfer of the power of the Lord Lieutenant to the Crown but little can be said; but I object to the right hon. Gentleman stating that the subject of purchase has been discussed in this House solely on the point whether it is right or wrong per se. It is not so much the question of the necessity for the abolition of purchase that has been discussed, as whether the method proposed by the Government for abolishing it is the right one. Not alone on this side of the House has discussion originated, for the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that many discussions which have arisen upon Amendments which have emanated from his own side of the House have been most useful. [Mr. CARDWELL: One.] It would be very remarkable if only one useful discussion had been held upon this Bill. All that I can say is, that they have had a very remarkable influence outside the House, and that they have occasioned a most extraordinary change in the opinions expressed by the newspapers on this subject. But is this merely a Bill for the abolition of purchase? It is called a Bill for the re-organization of the Army. You have been taking to yourselves the powers of re-organizing the Army, and therefore there ought to be a full opportunity afforded to us of discussing that subject. I say we have a right to know what system you intend to adopt with regard to the Militia and the Volunteers, and also what you intend to substitute for the effective system by which promotion in the Army is at present regulated. I speak from recollection merely; but I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has always told us that by abolishing purchase he is about to do something which will lead to the re-organization of the Army. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to rumours out-of-doors; but we have heard from the best authorities in "another place" that the present system of recruiting is an entire failure, and that it is absolutely necessary that some step should be taken with reference to enlistment, both as regards the Army and the Militia. The part of the Bill which relates to the subject of recruiting is therefore very important, but the right hon. Gentleman does not tell us whether he intends to give it up or not; he merely gives us to understand that the Government will abandon it contingently, and tells us that they do not by any means withdraw it. The sole object that we have in view is to learn from the Government whether their scheme involves a real, permanent, and efficient re-organization of the Army. The right hon. Gentleman, however, instead of giving us any information upon this subject, merely asks us to trust to the Government in the matter. We wish to see a scheme brought forward under which we may hope to have an Army of Reserve; but, unfortunately, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman appears to offer us nothing beyond an Army in reserve. In withdrawing the clauses at the end of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman is practically withdrawing the great question of the re-organization of the Army from our consideration, and is attempting to destroy that system which was efficient in providing that class of officers who have been described as the soul of the Army, without proposing to substitute anything in its place. By adopting this course, he is espousing a policy which may prove to be the death-knell of the Army.


said, that having been the first hon. Member who had suggested to the Government the advisability of dividing their Bill, he could not object to their present proposal; but he trusted that the Motion about to be brought forward by the hon. Member for Finsbury would be fully discussed. Whether the withdrawal of the latter part of the Bill would facilitate the passage of its first part would depend upon the conduct of the Government alone. If the Government chose to preserve the reticence they had hitherto shown on the subject of the system of promotion and retirement, he did not think that the opposition to the first part of the measure would be withdrawn. He wished to impress on hon. Members that his great objection to the Bill did not arise out of the amount of money that would be paid to officers for compensation, but to the mode in which this would be done, and he should oppose the Bill in every way, until the method for the abolition of purchase was altered.


said, that the universal opinion of the country was, that this Bill was about one of the worst ever introduced to Parliament. He was speaking to an American the other day, who said to him—"The House of Commons is trying to destroy the Army. We have tried this short service in America, and we know it is a nuisance." That was the general opinion throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman took credit to himself for adding 20,000 men to the Army; but he took away 20,000 good men, and the House spent £2,000,000 to get some equivalent of the 20,000 men back in an inferior form.


said, he wished to read a few sentences from the Queen's Speech at the opening of the present Session. It was stated that— The lessons of military experience afforded by the present war have been numerous and important. The time appears appropriate for turning such lessons to account by efforts more decisive than heretofore at practical improvement. In attempting this you will not fail to bear in mind the special features in the position of this country so favourable to the freedom and security of the people, and if the changes from a less to a more effective and elastic system of defensive military preparation shall be found to involve, at least for a time, an increase of various charges, your prudence and patriotism will not grudge the cost. In the latter part of the Speech Her Majesty said— I trust that the powerful interest at present attaching to affairs abroad, and to military questions, will not greatly abate the energy with which you have heretofore applied yourselves to the work of general improvement in our domestic legislation. There seemed to be in the minds of some hon. Members an idea that the Government were about to retreat from the promises which Her Majesty made to the nation. He did not, and dared not, fear that, being convinced that the Government were aware that the people of this country would not grudge the necessary supplies. He trusted the withdrawal of a part of the Bill would not materially affect their plans. He threw himself upon the faith of the Government.


said, he would ask the Secretary of State for War, whether he would state what clauses after the 5th he proposed to retain in the Bill?


not giving any answer,


said, it was most unfair that the House should be left in the dark on this matter. The explanation made by the Secretary for War could not be allowed to remain in its present position, for he had taken refuge in the statement that what he said about the amalgamation of the various forces was spoken in Committee of Ways and Means, and not on the second reading of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, however, said he made that statement with a view to bringing forward a Bill, and that was accepted by the House. It was not until the Bill was printed and was found to be at variance with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that any opposition was offered to his proposals. The House had discussed the abolition of purchase with a view to the formation of one great defensive force, to be effected by an amalgamation of the Army and the Militia, and they had discussed the question as to how far they could assist in effecting that object; and, now that the Government had withdrawn that portion of their scheme, they were bound to explain, before again going into Committee, what part of the Bill they intended to retain and what portion they would omit.


said, he had been told that he made a certain statement on the second reading of the Bill. He replied that he made that statement not on the second reading, but when bringing forward the Army Estimates for the year, and the statement referred not exclusively to what was in the Bill, but also to what was provided in the Estimates. He had already stated what clauses the Government considered it essential to retain. They were those relating to purchase and the transfer of power from the Lords Lieutenant of counties to the Crown.


said, he must urge that it would be for the convenience of the House if the Secretary for War would say when he would state in detail what clauses the Government proposed to retain in their Bill. Money was voted on the Estimates to enable the Government to set at rest all questions as to future panic, and it was said that their measure would aim at welding together all the various forces at the disposal of the Crown; but the Government by their Bill, which was to blend the Army "into one harmonious whole," had led those forces and also Parliament into a very deep hole.


said, it was desirable to know whether it was the intention of the Government to retain in the Bill those clauses which related to recruiting and short service?


said, those clauses were intended to carry further the powers that were given to the Government by an Act of last year. So much opposition to them had been indicated by the Notices of Amendment that he did not intend to persevere with that portion of the Bill.


Although I think on the whole that the wisest thing the House could do would be to adjourn, I will not press the Motion, because there is other business to occupy our attention. This, however, appears to me to be clearly a case in which the Bill ought to be reprinted. When great alterations are made in a measure of this importance, and especially whenever great ambiguity prevails as to the extent of the omissions, I do not think the Government ought to refuse the desire of many Members that the Bill should be reprinted. We want to have before us some document from which we can understand what is the object of the Government. I am at a loss on that matter, and, after the answer that the Secretary for War has just given to my right hon. Friend, I think it would be the most convenient course, as far as the Members of the House generally are concerned, if the Government did not proceed with the measure to-night, but reprinted the Bill and allowed us to take a general view of their purpose. I am convinced that would be the best mode of proceeding with the business.


The right hon. Gentleman has had more important Bills than I have had to deal with, and those Bills have been very materially altered in the course of their progress through this House. I wish to state that the portion of the Bill to which I adhere is that portion relating to the abolition of purchase and the transfer of power from Lords Lieutenant of counties. I shall be very happy to adhere to any part of the Bill from which hon. Gentlemen may be good enough to withdraw their opposition.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.