HC Deb 07 June 1872 vol 211 cc1416-20

, in rising to bring under the consideration of the House the claims for compensation of the officers of the five Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery suddenly ordered home from India early in 1871, with a view of reducing the force of Royal Artillery on the Indian establishment, by which they suffered pecuniary loss, said he had to complain of the short notice given in this case—in no case less than a fortnight—the usual notice being a twelvemonth, and the usual notice of moves of regiments had been issued for a considerable time and they were not included in it, and according to a scheme which had been drawn up applicable only to the Artillery they would not have been relieved for above a year. They were, however, telegraphed for to return to this country, and the only reason for that urgency was, that the Indian Exchequer might be saved the expense of those 700 men. In this country it would be a great expense and inconvenience to be removed suddenly; but there was much more when a removal was ordered from India to England, more especially when it was remembered that they were stationed in the Upper Provinces of India and were not relieved by other batteries who would have taken over their horses and stores at a valuation; and he therefore submitted that the officers were entitled to some remuneration for the loss they had sustained by the sale of their horses and furniture, and on account of the stores, a supply of which they were obliged to keep up. In two similar cases compensation bad been granted, and he hoped that in this instance an assurance would be given to the House that some remuneration would be given to the officers who had so materially suffered.


said, he should be unwilling to cast unnecessary expense upon the Indian Government, but that was a case in which very sudden notice was given, and the officers had been losers by that sudden notice, and their property had to be realized suddenly, and at whatever price they could obtain. It was an unfair system, especially when they considered it had been the custom heretofore to give several months' notice of removal, to order a regiment home on such unforeseen notice.


said, he must admit that the case cited—that of the two Hussar regiments summoned home in 1870, was, although not on all fours with the one which the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel North) had just brought forward, sufficiently like it to be reasonably cited. The Hussars had, however, to leave at even shorter notice, and the Secretary of State in Council determined, as was mentioned some weeks ago, in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Charles Wingfield)—first, that in their very exceptional case some indulgence might be granted; and, secondly, that that indulgence should not be allowed to make a precedent. Of the five batteries none had less, some had more than a fortnight's notice, whereas one Hussar regiment had only 10 days' and the other had only about 48 hours' notice. The Motion, therefore, went far to prove that in making the concession the Government did make to the Hussars they acted with doubtful wisdom. "Hard cases made bad law," and the moment a rule was relaxed in one case, others were brought forward, which came so near it that it was very difficult to show how they differed; for if a notice of 48 hours deserved consideration, then a notice of 10 days was pressed as deserving consideration; if that was admitted, then a fortnight's notice was put forward; then one of three weeks, and so it went on, till the rule disappeared altogether. After the Secretary of State in Council had, in compliance with the earnest recommendation of certain of the military authorities in this country, given compensation to the Hussar regiments, the Government of India pointed out very strongly the objection to what had been done as forming a dangerous precedent, and experience has proved that it was right. That being so, he trusted the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not press the Indian authorities to go further, as he must see how incompatible was the course suggested with all military usage in this country, and, indeed, with all received principles of military administration. Moreover, the officers concerned were quite aware that the exigencies of the public service might at any moment compel them to make a considerable pecuniary sacrifice, if they were suddenly ordered to leave the place where they were stationed, and the unusually high pay of India must surely, in part, be set against the risk of such sacrifice. A well-known French author had written a book called Servitude et Grandeur Militaires. The liability to be sent now here, now there, with scant regard to personal convenience, was part of the darker side of a soldier's life—part of the servitude militaire. The soldier received much honour from and owed much consideration to the State, even to the Exchequer of the State. He must however say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had made the most of the case, for if the batteries had not come home when they did, they must have come in the hot weather, unless kept in India nearly a year; and would that have been a smaller inconvenience? Then, as to the horses, even if they had been brought home—a thing which had never been allowed—they would have fetched but small prices here, and nothing was commoner than for officers leaving India in a hurry, to leave their horses to be sold afterwards. No one, he maintained, would think of pressing such claims as those upon the War Office, nor would the House support such a claim on our own Treasury; and we should not ask from India what we should despair of getting from the guardians of the public purse at home. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know very well that questions of this kind were not decided directly by the Executive Government. They were decided by the Secretary of State and the Council of India—a body created by Parliament for the express purpose of defending the finances of India. That body was never so exactly fulfilling the functions for which Parliament called it into execution as when it was protecting the Indian Exchequer against pressure from powerful interests in this country, and it had surely a right to ask the House to support it on such an occasion as this.


said, that the question before the House formed a military grievance, and he thought that some military authority representing the Government ought to offer some explanation upon it. The argument of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India was a quibbling argument, which would not satisfy officers in the Army. There ought to be some explanation as to why the habitual notice in time of peace was not given in this case.


said, he could not help expressing his regret at the decision which the Under Secretary of State for India had announced as having been arrived at in the matter. Considering the small amount of compensation asked, it would, he believed, be only dignified and just to accede to the claim made.


said, he should be glad to learn what absolute necessity there was for giving such short notice to these five batteries in India. He was of opinion, that, if these batteries had received short notice simply to suit the convenience of the Government, and not because of absolute necessity, the Government was bound to compensate them.


said, that changes oftentimes, and, indeed, generally, involved a certain amount of inconvenience; but it would be a very dangerous precedent to set up, that on such occasions claims should be sent in for compensation. The regiments of cavalry differed in their circumstances from the batteries of artillery in this— that while the regiments were stationed close together, so that it was found extremely difficult to dispose of their horses and effects, the batteries of artillery were quartered at stations widely apart where there was no such difficulty. The notice given in the case of the batteries, too, was much longer than that given to the cavalry. The matter had received the attention of the Secretary of State for India in Council, and the decision complained of had not been arrived at without due consideration.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.