HC Deb 20 March 1871 vol 205 cc274-88

, in rising to move the following Resolution:— That, in order to check the creation of vested interests which would have to be considered in arranging a sound and equitable system of retirement, no appointment should in future be made to honorary colonelcies, said, that during the last six months no question had so deeply interested the country as a comparison of our own military arrangements with those of Prussia. It was constantly asked how she was able to produce results so great at so small a cost. In endeavouring to supply an answer to that question he would point out that Prussia had only 150 generals for an Army of 300,000 men. Of these 150 generals every one was on active service, having a definite duty always to perform, and continuing an active general only so long as he performed that duty. There were 13 generals of districts, 28 generals of division, 4 generals inspectors of cavalry, 52 generals of infantry brigade, 27 generals of cavalry brigade, 13 generals of artillery brigade; the total number, as he had stated, being 150, whose pay and allowances amounted to £100,000 a-year for an Army of 300,000. When any of those generals retired he went on the pension list, and there were 473 generals on that list, at a cost of £120,000, or in other words, there were altogether 623 generals in the Prussian service, the charge for whom was £220,000. Now, what was the state of the case in the English Army. We had on full-pay and receiving pay as colonels of regiments 199 generals, on retired full-pay 177, on unattached or half-pay 204, or a total of 580. It was very difficult, so delusive were the Estimates, to ascertain the exact cost of this staff of generals; but, as nearly as he could ascertain it, he found it to be as follows:—For those employed on Staff pay £25,000; for honorary colonelcies, £162,500; salaries, including those paid at the Horse Guards and under other heads, £15,000; full-pay of general officers, £72,800; distinguished services, £9,000; generals of Royal Ar- tillery and Engineers, £36,000; and the unattached half-pay paid to officers of the rank of general, £51,000; making a total annual cost of £371,000. The result was that, while the Prussian Army on a peace establishment consisted of 300,000 men, with 150 generals, or 1 to every 2,000, our peace establishment consisted of 133,000 men, with 43 generals employed on active service, or 1 to every 3,300. Our expenditure, as compared to the Prussian expenditure, was as 5 to 3, and the service obtained from the generals was as 5 to 19. Each general employed cost the Prussians £1,467, while in the English service each general employed cost £9,275, the active and retired being calculated in both cases. The real cause of the great expenditure upon this head in the British service was that there was no fixed establishment of generals in proportion to the real wants of the service. In our immense list it was difficult to say of a single officer whether he was an active or a retired servant of the public. Two great principles appeared to have been lost sight of, the one being that rank should always mean service, and that a man when promoted to the rank of general should, at the same time, be appointed to discharge a certain share of the duties distributed over a certain number of general officers. The next principle lost sight of was that everybody should be paid either in the shape of salary for what he was doing, or in the shape of a pension for what he had done. When unable to perform the functions of a general the officer holding that rank should be retired on a pension, which ought never to be increased or diminished. At present there were 839 colonels and lieutenant-colonels on our lists. It was said that the purchase system quickened promotion; but the youngest of those colonels would have from 20 to 25 years to wait before he could become a major general. Then there was a practice in operation of promoting to unattached rank on half-pay, so that some officers not only got a salary for doing nothing, but they actually received promotion while they were doing nothing. The Commander-in-Chief was not to blame in the matter, for he had no choice; the Duke of Cambridge had himself stated that the immense unattached list had been greatly swelled in order to compensate poor officers who could not purchase promotion, while as to the richer officers who could afford to purchase, the Duke of Wellington had distinctly defended the system, observing that as a man who reached the rank of colonel could not sell out, his money was sunk in the service, and would be lost to himself and his family for ever. The Government had brought in a Bill to abolish purchase in the Army; but declined to name the amount of the retirement. He did not question the wisdom of this course; but maintained that, before proceeding further with that Purchase Bill the Government were bound to state whether they intended to utilize the present means of retirement. About £500,000 a-year went in retirement already, and one of the largest of the items which made up the sum was caused by these honorary colonelcies. The institution of these honorary colonelcies dated from the time when noblemen, attached to the Hanoverian dynasty, kept up regiments in the character of territorial magnates. The colonels of those regiments contracted to pay their men, and to supply them with clothing and equipment, on consideration of receiving a certain lump sum from the public Exchequer. Any person who had read Horace Walpole's letters would be aware that some of those regiments were very nice jobs. In 1707 the Army regulations, in rather clumsy language, stated— The sole responsibility of the colonel for the pay and equipment of his regiment is the principle of military finance, who is held responsible in his fortune and his character for the discharge of his duty in providing the supplies of his regiment. Now, he believed that the public opinion at present was tending towards the view that the military officer in command should be responsible for the finance and commissariat of his command; but he should have no pecuniary interest in the matter. His responsibility should be that of an administrator, not of a contractor. The colonel who received the lump sum from the Exchequer found it necessary to have an Army agent in London, and the men who were the present Army agents were simply the successors of those first agents who were the confidential men of the territorial magnates. The matter had been inquired into several times, and in 1854 Lord Herbert gave the colonels a fixed sum, but continued their responsibility for the cloth- ing; but in the next year that was taken away by Lord Palmerston, who left the colonelcies pure, unadulterated, and unmitigated sinecures. In the bad early days there used to exist a system of rewarding public servants with pensions on the Civil List, and by sinecure appointments; but there was now a regulated system of pensions in proportion to the length of service and amount of salary. This equitable and impartial system had not penetrated to the Army. There were 10 colonels at £2,200 a-year, 2 at £2,000 a-year each; 4 at £1,800 each; 28 at £1,350; and the remainder at £1,000 each; the total cost—leaving aside the payments to colonels-commandant of the Artillery and Engineers—being upwards of £160,000 a-year, and in many cases these colonelcies were far from being pensions in the right sense of the word. At least £25,000 or £26,000 a-year of the money was given in payment to officers who were now receiving salaries from the Crown. The Commander-in-Chief—and in all the cases he mentioned he wished to be understood as speaking without the slightest personal motive—received £4,000 a-year and a colonelcy of £2,200; the Adjutant General had £2,000 a-year with a colonelcy of £1,000; and the Military Secretary, whose office was a great abuse, would receive under the new arrangements £1,500 a-year in place of £2,000, and a colonelcy of £1,000. Either the salaries of those officials were sufficient for the duties imposed upon them, or they were not. If they were sufficient there was no need for the colonelcies in addition, and if the salaries were insufficient they ought to be increased by being raised in amount, and not by the addition of colonelcies. The late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Childers) had established a system of pensions in the Navy which had worked very well. That right hon. Gentleman had fixed the pensions of admirals at £850 per annum, of vice admirals at £725, and of rear admirals at £600; and these pensions had been sufficient to tempt 8 admirals out of 20, 8 vice admirals out of 24, and 20 rear admirals out of 48 to accept retirement, reducing the list of admirals from 92 to 58. Pensions on this scale, therefore, were fairly sufficient for men in that rank of life and that standard of expense. In the Ordnance Corps the colonel-commandant received £994; the pay of a general officer was £600. The prizes for Marines were something over £700 a-year, and the ordinary prizes for other corps were £600 a-year; 700 was, therefore, a fair average pension for a general officer. That was at the rate of twice or three times the sum consumed every year by one man. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) said the other evening— I desire to disclaim on my own part any defence of the system of honorary colonelcies, for I think, the system is not a good one, and might very easily be improved."—[3Hansard, cciv. 1888.] That from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman, when translated into language used by Gentlemen below the Gangway, was that its history and origin proved it be an ancient and indefensible abuse of the first order. He might be allowed to state how he thought the establishment of generals should be constituted. At the very outside we should have 60 generals in active service. We did not want 40. In such an Army as ours even 60 generals could not be empoyed. We should have no supplementary generals; but when new duties arose an officer should be promoted for them, for, in administrative matters, one man appointed on promotion was worth two taken off the redundant list. Sixty generals at £1,000 a-year, consolidated pay and allowances, would, be more than adequate for the whole service. Suppose there were 180 retired generals—and no one should be allowed to retire until he had had gone through the duties of a general—at the rate of £700 a-year, that would amount to £186,000 a-year, instead of £371,000. So that on the generals alone three-fourths of the money required for abolishing purchase would be saved. Now, in organization, if any good was to be done the matter should be taken in hand at once. He hoped, therefore, the Government would ascertain forthwith how many generals were really wanted, and then select those who by age and abilities ought to be on the active list, rigorously and in the most determined manner insisting that all the others should be considered retired. Nothing would give greater confidence to the country than that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) should come down to the House and say he found so many generals could be saved, and that he would not employ one single man more. The House must be aware that a large number of general officers had sacrificed their regulation prices for a great many years to put themselves in a position eventually to succeed to these honorary colonelcies, and the course which ought to be taken with them was plain. There should be adopted, as at the Admiralty, a substantial system of pensions equal to the expectation each might have to an honorary colonelcy. Each should succeed to a pension as an honorary colonelcy fell vacant, and they should be allowed to commute their hopes for money down. These reforms would require determination, and even audacity, but the occasion was no common one. It was necessary that Parliament and the Government should rise to it. Let them take the opportunity of abolishing purchase to arrange the active and retired list on a rational and economical basis. He hoped the Government would declare that the morbid growth which had accumulated around purchase for two centuries should cease, and the country would see them through it. He entreated the right hon. Gentleman to pause before he committed himself to the principle that it was better in the interests of the Exchequer and the public to tempt men into a service by distant, large, uncertain prizes, rather than by ascertained, well-regulated, and moderate pensions. If that were the opinion of the Cabinet they had better at once reverse the policy of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and establish 80 or 100 post captaincies of £2,000 or £1,500 a-year each, giving all the best of them to the Lords of the Admiralty. He hoped, to obviate the necessity for a Division, the right hon. Gentleman would assure the House that he would fix a working establishment of generals, and arrange a sound and equitable system of retirement, as an earnest to the country that he was going to deal in a searching and courageous spirit with our unmanageable and unintelligible Army expenditure. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he would not follow his hon. Friend in the history he had given of these honorary colonelcies, which, no doubt, was both correct and concise. It was a great mistake to suppose, as he had himself at one time imagined, that honorary colonelcies were given as the reward of distinguished services. In fact, in two instances honorary colonelcies were held by officers who had not even war medals. The proper system was that rewards for distinguished service should come before the House in the shape of Votes in the Estimates, and not of appointment by the Horse Guards, over which the House had no control.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in order to check the creation of vested interests which would have to be considered in arranging a sound and equitable system of retirement, no appointment should in future be made to the paid colonelcy of a regiment which did not involve the active command of the regiment,"—(Mr. Trevelyan,) —instead thereof.


In addressing the House the other evening I stated that when the question of retirement came to be considered, there was a sum of more than £500,000 already paid in the form of retirement, which would have to enter into the consideration that would have to be given to the subject, and that of that sum a considerable amount was paid in honorary colonelcies. In many of the remarks of my hon. Friend I entirely agree; and I am not at all disposed, any more than the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) who preceded me in the office I have the honour to hold, to enter upon a defence of the system of honorary colonelcies. I quite agree in the doctrine that has been laid down that any payment of a sum of money which is received for the service of the State should have the form of either pay or pension; and it is as a pension that the payment to an honorary colonel should in general be regarded. It is the change of the ordinary pay of a general officer from a sum of not quite £500, to a sum, except in certain cases of larger amount, of £1,000. My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion said these honorary colonelcies were not given for distinguished service; but that is certainly not according to my experience, for I do not think that during the time I have had the honour to be in office a single appointment of this kind has been made in which the recipient has not been a very distinguished officer. There is, of course, something to be said for not having a uniform scale of pensions and retirement, and for having the power of selection, so that distinguished and gallant service in the field may have its special reward. That, however, need not be accomplished by the particular mode which is now adopted; and it is a very fair subject for consideration, whether that mode ought to be adopted, or whether there are not other and better modes which can be adopted for accomplishing the same ends. I think it is also most desirable to consider whether the present scale of establishment of general officers is the scale which ought to be established, whether it is established on right principles, or whether, on the contrary, it would not be better to adopt the plan by which service as a general should be made the mode of arriving at the rank of general. The system of retirement is a subject of the greatest possible difficulty. It has been a great subject of consideration in the Navy; and when the purchase system is abolished it will be a subject of the greatest care and interest with regard to the Army. In times of peace, of the officers who constitute the officers of the Army a very large proportion—about one-sixth—will usually be over 60 years of age. It therefore follows, as a matter of course, that in some mode or other you have to make a provision for those who have given you their youth, their strength, and the best portion of their life, and who have arrived at a period when they are no longer capable of active exertions, and when it is no longer suitable that they should be employed in the junior ranks of the service, and, of course, you have not, in the higher ranks of the service, anything like a sufficient number of offices to find occupation for them. Therefore, either by pension or retirement, or in some other way, you have to make provision for a large proportion of men in the service who are most advanced in life. The present establishment of general officers was fixed after an inquiry by two Royal Commissions, the last of which reported about 12 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs wished that I should accomplish what is necessary in about two months; but I wish to do it well, upon sound principles, and in such a way as will give satisfaction to the House and to the service. In the first place, I think we had better dispose of the ques- tion of purchase, because this matter is very much connected with the question. The truth is that when an officer arrives at a certain period of service—namely, when he holds the highest regimental commission—he is obliged to make his choice between one of two things. If he desires to realize the large sum of money which the regulation and the over-regulation prices produce, he must retire from the service by the sale of his commission; if, on the other hand, he seeks to obtain the prizes of the profession, which are given to general officers, then he forfeits his money; and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay) told us the other evening, it is the best officers very often who forfeit their money. In dealing, then, with this whole question of rewards to general officers, it is absolutely necessary to consider the vested interests, not only of those who are now regimental officers, but the vested interests of those who, being general officers, have forfeited their money by avoiding the sale of their commissions, in the hope of obtaining a share in the rewards that are at present assigned to general officers. Now, when you are dealing liberally with the vested interests of those who are retiring by the sale of their commissions, it would be a misfortune and a mistake if you were to fail to do liberal justice also to those who have not availed themselves of the opportunity of selling their commissions, who have not retired, but who have gone on as general officers in the expectation of receiving the customary rewards of the service. Having, therefore, the same object in view as my hon. Friend, it appears to me that it would be premature for the House to come to the proposed conclusion on the subject. The whole question is so large, and requires to be dealt with with so much care and circumspection, that I think it would be prudent in the House to keep its own hands free, and to leave the hands of the Government free for a thorough investigation of the subject. I assure the hon. Member if I oppose his Motion it is not that I have the smallest desire to avoid going into the matter in the completest manner possible; it is, on the contrary, because I desire that what is to be done shall be done with complete knowledge, and with the most complete regard for the interest of the public and of the gallant officers concerned. On these grounds I recommend my hon. Friend not to press his Motion to a Division, and not to ask the House to commit itself on the subject. Bearing in mind that we are abolishing purchase, and that we are making the most liberal contribution for the purpose of dealing equitably with the interests of those who sell, we should be extremely careful not by any hasty measure to anticipate the conclusion at which we should arrive, or, in the smallest degree, to prejudice the interests of those who have not sold their commissions, but have waited in order to obtain the highest rank in their profession.


I very much agree with what has just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, for I think it would be premature, in the position in which we now stand, and considering the extensive plans that have been submitted to us and the country, to commit the House to any decision on the subject raised by the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan). I cannot help hoping that the hon. Gentleman himself will be of opinion that there is sound reason in what has been urged by my right hon. Friend opposite. With regard to what has been said by the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, as to what ought to be our future establishment of general officers, I am not disposed to say that the establishment does not require revision and reconsideration. But, on the other hand, I do not approve of independent Members of the House, by their own motion and their own will, presuming to prescribe what ought to be that establishment. That is exactly one of the duties which devolve upon the Executive, which ought to propose to the House what is the establishment which the interests of the country require; and then it is for the House to exercise its judgment, and decide whether it concurs in the views of the Government. I am not inclined to follow the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, or the right hon. Gentleman, into the question of retirement. It is the largest and most difficult of the questions which must be considered by the House, in consequence of the plans which the Government have brought forward; and there can be no doubt that when we come to consider the proposal of Her Majesty's Government with regard to this retirement question, we shall have to consider the imposition upon the country of a very large addition to the present cost of the British Army. I did not follow the statements of the hon. Gentleman quite accurately with regard to what his ideas were as to the cost of retirement which would be involved in the plans of the Government; and particularly I did not quite understand either his view, or the view of my right hon. Friend opposite, as to the large amount—I think they said £500,000—which would be available hereafter towards the expense of retirement. I apprehend the ton. Gentleman to have referred in that statement to the present cost of honorary colonelcies. [Mr. TREVELYAN: Yes.] But the cost of these honorary colonelcies is not the payment made to general officers. However, that and every other form of service must be considered; and I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that which I think the House cannot call in question for a moment, that good faith must be observed with these gentlemen.


I think if the right hon. Baronet had attended to me he would have known that I went into the question, and showed how good faith ought to be observed.


The hon. Gentleman did not go into it in any way to convince me that such a sum would be saved to the country, or available for the retirement which must come upon us. But the point most prominently brought forward by the hon. Member in his Motion and in his speech is, whether or not the system of honorary colonelcies should continue. There I am bound to say I do not agree in the opinion that they should continue. I have always thought that system an anomaly, and a most objectionable mode of paying for the services of officers. A senior officer is receiving what certainly must be regarded, under the circumstances, as very limited compensation for his services and money. He is paid £450 a-year, and yet when a general officer who holds an honorary colonelcy succeeds, he suddenly comes in for £1,000 a-year. That ought to be revised; and it is evident that the matter will not escape the notice of Her Majesty's Government. But it would be premature to commit the House to any decision upon the subject at present, and I trust the hon. Member will not press his Motion.


stated that when a late Government was in office, he moved for Returns in regard to honorary colonelcies, and the Returns were unopposed by General Peel; but when he (Sir John Trelawny) found that they would take three months' labour of one clerk to prepare, he hesitated to cause so much expense. From that hour to this he had regretted his hesitation; because, had such Returns been presented, the House would have been able to see what services had been rendered by the officers who had received those high rewards. Before the Irish Church Bill was passed a Resolution was adopted by the House prohibiting the filling up of certain appointments becoming vacant in the Church. This was an analogous case, for by delaying the filling up of honorary colonelcies they would pave the way for the reform in the Army which the Secretary of State was prepared to carry out. He did not agree in the view of the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington), that Members below the Gangway were presumptuous in bringing Motions of this kind before the House. It could hardly be presumptuous to protect the taxpayer, who, after all, counted for something. When he saw that right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Table were agreed in opposing such a Motion as that of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, he was at once "wide awake," at once suspecting that there was an abuse somewhere. He, therefore, was prepared to support his hon. Friend if he went to a Division.


said, he had some difficulty in supporting the proposition for the abolition of purchase, because it was unaccompanied by any statement on the part of the Government as to the system which they intended to substitute for it. When the House was called upon to vote so many millions for the abolition of purchase it ought to know what it was about to do. Returns which he had obtained, embracing the period from the Peace of 1815, up to the present time, showed the curious fact that the longer they remained at peace, the greater became the number of admirals, generals, and officers; whereas, one would naturally have expected an opposite result. In 1815, at the close of a war of 22 years, we had 658 general officers. These were gradually diminished till, in 1850, there were only 326; but in 1870, after 55 years of peace, they had increased to 580. In 1815 we had 319 colonels and lieutenant-colonels; in 1870 the number had increased to 525 on full-pay, while the number on half-pay had increased from 57 in 1815 to 324 in 1870. In the Navy, at the close of the war, 1816, there were 242 admirals; these were reduced by 1846 to 153; but in 1870 the number had risen to 303. He hoped the Secretary of State for War would not press the House to vote for the abolition of purchase until he was prepared with a substitute for that system. He did not see why the changes proposed by the right hon. Gentleman could not be made in two months as well as in two years. When they came to the details of organization he had no doubt it would be found that many officers were inadequately paid. According to his opinion every man should be adequately paid, and he did not think that the present pay of officers would be, under the circumstances of the new arrangements, such as they were entitled to receive. But the number of officers might be very much reduced, for we had nearly double the number in proportion to rank and file that was sufficient for the Prussian armies. Prussia had been held up as a nation that managed her military affairs better than other nations, and of that she had given good evidence in the late war. Why, then, should we have twice as many officers to the rank and file that Prussia had? Under these circumstances, he recommended the Secretary of State to review his determination.


said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) would force his Motion to a Division, because by that the House of Commons would show the hon. Member and the country that they valued the services of distinguished officers. Appointments to honorary colonelcies were not worth £1,000, as the hon. Gentleman represented; for officers of the Line obtaining them had already £450 a-year, and, in some cases, £550, all of which was given up on obtaining the £1,000 a-year, the pay of a colonel of a regiment. The hon. Gentleman, while "stumping" the provinces, had received great ovations, and had not allowed any- body to answer his speeches; and the consequence was that he now came down to the House and dictated to Her Majesty's Government the mode in which they were to carry out this scheme. Instead of merely puting a Motion before the House, the hon. Gentleman told the Government they must act within two months. The hon. Member had fallen into one or two inaccuracies. He had included in his list of generals a number of generals who had retired on full-pay. Most, if not all of them, never were generals at all. They were colonels who had been allowed to retire with the honorary rank of generals, and therefore their appointments had nothing to do with the real list of generals. The hon. Gentleman said the Military Secretary always received his appointment in addition to the colonelcy of a regiment. Now, to his (Colonel Stuart Knox's) own knowledge, the present Military Secretary did not obtain the colonelcy of a regiment until the lapse of some years after he had received his appointment of Military Secretary; and therefore it was evident that both appointments were not necessary. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War for having plainly stated that officers who had decided not to sell their commissions were entitled to the appointments under discussion; and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman whether colonels who in the future did not sell, but went in under the new system to be generals, would not have the same right.


said, he could not accept any representations of his views on this question, unless they were expressed in the words he had himself used.


observed that the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) had distinctly laid down the principle that the vested interests of these officers must receive consideration. He (Mr. Whitwell) thoroughly approved the step taken by the Government to reform the Army. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman had long considered the necessity of reforming the Army, and that the Army Bill was not the product of a panic, but a measure which the right hon. Gentleman thought the interests of the country required. It would, in his opinion, be a great advantage if the list of generals were so mo- dified that it should contain the names only of such as were fit to command an Army; or, in other words, that those only should remain on the active list in whom the country had confidence. He hoped that the Government would come to the conclusion that no more honorary colonelcies should be filled up.


said, the Return which had been presented to the House was calculated to mislead those who did not belong to the profession, and he wondered that neither of his gallant Friends on the Treasury Bench had risen to correct the error into which many hon. Members had naturally fallen. It was only right that when hon. Members took up a Return in good faith, and were misled by it, some of the military Members of the Government should set them right. Many of the 150 general officers who were described in the Return as having retired on full pay he apprehended to be regimental lieutenant-colonels, with the brevet rank of colonel, but who had retired on the full-pay of the lower rank, the step of honorary rank as general officers having been given in order to induce them to retire from the service upon the smaller rate of pay.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 204; Noes 111: Majority 93.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

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