HC Deb 26 June 1874 vol 220 cc539-45

, in rising to call attention to the present rate of pay and the general position of Sergeants in the Army, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the position of the Sergeants in the Army is unsatisfactory, and demands the immediate attention of the Government, with a view to its improvement, said, the question was one of great importance to sergeants in the Army, and he wished it had fallen into abler hands to bring it under the consideration of the House. He thought it deserved that consideration, for they could not combine to bring forward their grievances, neither could they strike with a view to their relief. It was unnecessary for him to dwell upon the importance of their duties. The whole work of turning a recruit into a soldier devolved upon them, and owing to the close connection that existed between the sergeants and the Army, it was a matter of great importance that the tone set the Army by the sergeants should be kept as high as possible. The good example of the sergeants was, perhaps, of even more consequence than that of the commissioned officers, as the men, generally, felt these latter to be beyond the reach of their imitation, while every private soldier could hope to become, himself, one day a sergeant. The questions of the position and pay of the sergeant and of the rank and file of the Army were almost inextricably mixed up together, and with regard to the present system of enlistment, it was a question whether the supply met the demand. He maintained that it did not. On the score of "political economy," reasoning by analogy in reference to the enlistment of the soldier and the employment of the working man, the master got the workman as cheaply as he could, but he had to give the wages current in the labour market. This necessity the military authorities strove to elude by binding the soldier to long engagements, and by anticipating the age at which soldiers were physically fit for their profession. The supply of recruits was not equal to the demand, hence, in the first place, the soldier was compelled to enter into a long engagement, and hence the State did not, and could not, get a good market article for the money they paid. In time of war they would find that it was false economy to enlist boys of 17 because they were to be had at a cheap rate, for in the case of a campaign, a large number would be found to fill the lists of the hospitals. On the other hand, what were the advantages of promotion in the Army which were supposed to induce young men to enlist? The abolition of purchase had had a very good effects as related to officers, but with respect to young men who enlisted, its advantages did not yet appear. They might, if well-behaved and moderately educated, be promoted to the rank of sergeant, or even of colour-sergeant, or sergeant-major; but, however, few commissions were obtained by men from the ranks. The case of riding masters and quartermaster commissions must be excluded, as these fell rather to men who were in special grooves of the military profession than to the general soldier, but except that about two-thirds of the cavalry adjutants had been in the ranks, it might be said that the commissions of combatant officers were practically unattainable by the private soldier. This fact was proved by the Report of Commissioners for the abolition of purchase. He did not mean to say, in reference to the non-commissioned officers, that there was any great jealousy at there not being a facility to their becoming commissioned officers. This, however, he might say, that it had been a feeling in the mind of the man after entering the Army, and he had often been heard to express it—"I have not been born to become an officer." They also knew that formerly there was a golden bar between them and a commission; but now that the abolition of purchase had removed the bar, they would feel aggrieved if they were not promoted, and would attribute the circumstance to the social position they occupied. Jealousies of that kind might be removed in two ways—either they might make sergeants hope to become commissioned officers, or they might make them much more comfortable in their existing position, by raising their pay and pensions. The hon. Member entered into statistics in comparative reference to the scale of pay of sergeants, and wages of artizans, and private soldiers, and labouring men. He commenced his investigation of the subject as far back as 1285, when the pay was 4d. a day, being the same as the wages of carpenters and master masons, and more than double those of the agricultural labourer, who received only 1½d. per day. In 1600 the pay of a sergeant was 1s. a day. In 1793 and 1795—a succession of bad years—the pay of the sergeant and private soldier was increased. In 1806 the pay of the sergeant was raised to 1s. 6d. a day, and that of the private soldier to 1s. a day. In 1848 "good conduct" pay was introduced, and a well-conducted private might get as much as 3d. a day increase; but that was an advantage that did not now reach the sergeant. Their pensions were, however, reduced within the last 15 or 16 years; and contrasting the wages of the agricultural labourers in some counties in England with the sergeants' pensions, the labourers were better off. The sergeant's pay was now 16s. 6d. a week, which was lower than that of the agricultural labourers in the North of England. In 1867 a table was drawn up to show how much better off the sergeants and privates were than before, and in the same year a comparison was made between the pay of sergeants and the wages of agricultural labourers in the North of England, showing that the wages of the labourers were 22s. a week, which was a large increase over that of the sergeants. The pay of a sergeant was now what it was in 1867. By an alteration which Lord Cardwell made about six months ago, a private soldier obtained a clear addition to his allowance of at least 1d. a day, and the pay of a sergeant was increased nominally, but not in fact, ½d. a day. On the whole, he thought the pay of a sergeant was now only 1s. or 2s. a year more than it was in the year 1867. But in the interval between 1867 and the present year, there had been a considerable advance in the wages paid to agricultural labourers; and in some parts of this country the weekly pay of an agricultural labourer exceeded the weekly pay of a sergeant. He would also remind the House that the movements of soldiers from place to place involved considerable expense over and above what they received, and that sergeants, in addition, had to keep themselves better dressed than most persons in their class of life. Again, the soldier was obliged to live in garrison towns, where he had to meet greater expenses than the labourer incurred in the rural districts. The agricultural labourer, too, had many opportunities of obtaining employment for his family, while no such chance was open to the sergeant residing in barracks. That being so—and the wages of agricultural labourers in Ireland having risen 00 or 40 per per cent. in England 50 per cent. and the pay of the private soldier 23 per cent. although that of the sergeant had only increased 18 per cent—he thought the House would be of opinion that he had made out a good case on his behalf, and that the House would be of opinion that the position of a most deserving body of non-commissioned officers in the Army was not satisfactory, and ought to be improved.


thought the House would agree that the pay of the Army, whether of a general or of a private soldier, was not excessive, and everybody therefore would be anxious that this important subject should be carefully considered. The sergeants were the backbone of the British army, and consequently if there was any dissatisfaction on their part it would interfere with the discipline of the whole Service. He had listened for a long time in vain to ascertain what the grievance was of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman complained. He did not dispute the figures which he had quoted, running from the time of Edward I. to the present, because he had no means of correcting them, as to the relative pay of sergeants and agricultural labourers, but as the disadvantages under which the former laboured had been dwelt upon, he hoped he might be allowed to refer shortly to the advantages which they enjoyed, and which an agricultural labourer did not enjoy. First of all, the pay of the sergeant had been increased in 1866 and 1867 2d. a day by General Peel. An additional ½d. had also been given him by the late Secretary for War. Now, as a mere matter of pay, he did not mean to argue that these advantages were very great; but then in comparing the position of the agricultural labourer with that of the sergeant, the indirect advantages which the latter received by belonging to a noble profession must not altogether be set aside. The comfort of the sergeant was much better provided for than it was 10 years ago. There was, for instance, a noncommissioned officers' mess, and if he happened to be married, they had, in the case of three out of four, the privilege of quarters. He would say nothing about clothes and hospital attendance, but he might remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that a sergeant's children were educated for next to nothing. Again, there were many opportunities of obtaining employment in civil life open to a well-conducted man when he retired from the service, while a considerable number of Commissions—30 or 35—of one sort or another had been given within the last 10 years. This, however, was a question on which his right hon. Friend could not at the present moment give an absolute answer, and he did not suppose the hon. and gallant Gentleman expected one. All he could say was, that the question with many others connected with Army organization and pay, occupied the attention of his right hon. Friend, who was most willing and anxious to do justice where hardship was proved; but the question could not be decided by any mere comparison with the pay received by mechanics and labourers in the North or elsewhere, without taking into consideration the whole circumstances of the case. This, he would say, that his right hon. Friend fully recognized the fact that the sergeants of the Army were a most important and most meritorious body, and he would add that the question having been brought forward and gone into so exhaustively he would give his very best care and consideration to it; and if anything could be done to improve the condition of the sergeant with advantage and with due justice to the service, he was quite certain his right hon. Friend would give it every attention.


said, he fully concurred in what had been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway in regard to the absolute necessity for improving the condition of the non-commissioned officers of the Army; but at the same time he was sorry that his hon. and gallant Friend had not suggested any mode of doing so. He thought an improvement in our present system would result, and that it would facilitate recruiting, if measures were taken to induce good soldiers to remain in the Army, and thus endeavour to regain for the service those good old non-commissioned officers whom the recent changes had totally removed. The pecuniary position of the non-commissioned officers was unquestionably a bad one; and they had received a great blow when the purchase system was done away with. Formerly it was a most desirable thing for a sergeant to obtain a commission, as the sale of it was at least certain to produce him a moderate competency when he retired; whereas now it would be a misfortune if he were promoted, as he would only incur a certain amount of expense, and at the end of his service would be deprived of the ability to sell his commission. At a meeting of the United Institution, a year ago, at which Lord Derby presided, it was suggested that a number of civil appointments should be given to old non-commissioned officers, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take that suggestion into his consideration.


said, he had listened with satisfaction to the remarks of the noble Lord when he enumerated the advantages which belonged to the position of sergeants in the Army; but he had not heard the noble Lord say anything with regard to the corresponding disadvantages which had fallen upon the sergeants by the late changes. The non-commissioned officers were really the moving springs of the whole machine, and they were the class upon whom the daily labour of the Army mainly fell. He believed there was no way in which a greater stimulus could be given to recruiting than in some degree raising the pay of the sergeants, and he thought a material improvement might be made in their position, if it were recognized that after a certain length of service, with good conduct, there were appointments in the Civil Service to which they should be considered to have a prescriptive right.


merely wished to say, that he certainly considered it was the duty of the Secretary for War to secure that there should be good non-commissioned officers in the Army. The education and training which they received not only qualified them for rising in the service, but also made them coveted by mercantile firms and others, and they were consequently tempted to leave the Army by the higher rate of pay they would receive in civil life. It was very desirable that the services of these meritorious men should be retained for the service of the Army, and he could assure hon. Members that his attention was fully directed to the subject.