HC Deb 07 August 1879 vol 249 cc435-42

, who had the fallowing Notice upon the Paper:— To call attention to the hardship experienced by those officers who were obliged by the regulations of the Army to pay certain named sums for the purchase of their Commissions, and are now forced, or are liable to be forced, into retirement, under the Warrant of the 13th of August 1877, who might be granted the right to bequeath in favour of their widow, children, or others, the amount which, in strict accordance with the Queen's Regulations, they have actually so expended; and to move, That it is expedient that the Secretary of State for War should consider whether such amount might be paid by the Treasury, within six months of the officer's decease, to his executors, or, in case of an officer's death intestate, then a similar amount might be paid to his administrators, and which Resolution he was prevented by the Forms of the House from dividing on, said, it was the taxpayer who suffered by the high-handed manner in which the abolition of Purchase was forced on the Army; but the officers suffered now by the almost equally high-handed manner in which the forced-retirement scheme became law. He said that, by hurrying the Warrant of August 13, 1877, through the House during the last few hours of a most wearisome Session, the few hon. Members then remaining in London were led into committing a breach of faith. A British Parliament, he remarked, would never knowingly sanction a breach of faith. But what did they sanction? Why, after subjecting officers to six years of stagnation, from the postponement of a promised promotion Warrant, they then allowed one to be pressed through the House without time for debate, which inflicted on these very Purchase officers who had become old for their rank, by this forced stagnation, a system of compulsory retirement, not adopted for the benefit of the Army, but to procure a flow of promotion, at the professional expense of the officers, which should, in common honesty, be paid for out of the Exchequer. He (General Shute) pointed out that certain officers had been required, by the Orders of the Army, to pay certain regulation sums for certain steps of promotion which they should be entitled to hold so long as they showed themselves to be good and efficient officers. If they could not pay those sums they were liable to be passed over by their juniors. Many a poor man, he observed, had scraped together these sums, at the risk of leaving his widow and children penniless, rather than forfeit promotion; but by adopting this system of compulsory retirement this contract with these Purchase officers had been ruthlessly broken. He (General Shute) therefore asked that, from the date that this breach of faith came into force, the slight and not costly compensation suggested in his Resolution should also have effect. He (General Shute) said that he thus asked for no money compensation to be paid during the lives of officers thus unfairly treated. He said nothing about extra money. He asked for nothing where steps had been obtained without purchase. He asked only that the Regulation money actually paid out of the patrimony might be left to, or be inherited by, the families of Purchase officers, with all of whom, since August 13, 1877, the Government had virtually broken their contract. This been, he said, would be only just as well as generous. It would not be a permanent charge on the Exchequer. It would considerably decrease from year to year. It would not be costly oven from the first, and it would relieve many most distressing cases. His plea, he (General Shute) said, was for the orphan and the widow, and specially deserved the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, he was ready to admit, had behaved very liberally to the Army when they abolished Purchase at a cost of upwards of £22,000,000, and who, he believed, had they remained in power, would have acted up to their promise that the officers should not be in a worse position after than before that abolition, but that the country would be prepared to pay the same amount to secure a flow of promotion that had been hitherto paid by the officers themselves. He said that, though so late in the Session, it had been specially necessary for him to move this Resolution, in consequence of the War Department having refused to return the Purchase money or grant a pension to the widows of sundry officers slaughtered at Isandlana. By these deaths the country now benefited, and not, as formerly, the brother officers and friends of the officers killed; and, in this instance, the country was more responsible for their lives than he should like publicly to explain. He (General Shute) said that, in this remark, he did not mean any reflection on Lord Chelmsford, who, on the contrary, he had always considered to have been very ill-used, and of whose crowning victory he was most proud and most pleased to hear. He said that, though late, nevertheless, it became now his duty to read to the House two or three of the many cases of widowed sufferers that had been brought to his notice. He then, first, read the War Office Correspondence with the widow of the late Captain Degacher, 24th Foot, killed at Isandlana, which, he said, showed that she was not thought entitled to have either her late husband's Purchase money or pension of £80 a-year for self and £16 for her child, because, having £480 a-year, she came under the head of "Wealthy circumstances." Next, he read the Correspondence regarding the case of the late Captain Younghusband, 24th Regiment, also considered in "Wealthy circumstances." And, finally, he read the case of the mother of Lieutenant Porteus, 24th Regiment, also killed at Isandlana, which, he said, showed that this poor widowed mother had five children, three of them entirely dependent on her, and that her small income had been reduced to only £300 a-year by her having advanced, the Purchase money for her son, trusting to his being ultimately able to repay her; but she was now officially informed that this was to go into the pockets of the public. He (General Shute) added that he would now only thank the House for their attention, and express a hope that the Government would meet his views, which he would again press, if necessary, next Session, when he hoped to be able to divide on the subject.


hoped the appeal of the hon. and gallant Member would be generously responded to by the Secretary of State for War. The Purchase officers were placed by the Warrant he referred to in a worse position than before the abolition of Purchase. The subject was one which deserved the careful attention of the Government. It was one, too, on which as many as 2,000 officers in 1873 petitioned the late Government.


I am equally anxious with any right hon. or hon. Gentleman to proceed with the Business on the Paper; but, as a Pur- chase officer, I think it due to the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (General Shute) that I should not sit silent; and I desire to express to him my acknowledgments for his having once again brought before Parliament the "grievances of Purchase officers." Whatever the result of this discussion maybe, we, at all events, can have nothing to complain of as to the manner in which the hon. and gallant General has stated our case. If the result be favourable, we may congratulate ourselves and him on the success of his advocacy; if otherwise, no fault can attach to him as the advocate. I do not, however, wish to detain the House on the general question, which has been treated so fully by my hon. and gallant Friend; but I will address myself more particularly to a point alluded to in the Amendment, which does not concern my own individual case, but which is, to my mind, the great hardship of the new system—I mean the "compulsory retirement" of officers who have purchased their commissions. I know that this term is not literally correct, because the Warrant simply states that the officers in question shall not be promoted after so many years' service. But it will at once be seen that this is practically the same thing, because it is not likely that officers of such standing will remain in the Service without the prospect of promotion, allowing others to go over their heads. Perhaps I can best explain how matters are by giving one or two instances where the Warrant will press with undue severity. And for this purpose I need not go further than my own regiment. As I have said, the obnoxious provision cannot apply to me; but the officer who stands next to me in the Army List, and who purchased his troop before 1871, must, unless unforeseen contingencies occur, be precluded from promotion, because the 25 years' rule reaches him, and he will have exceeded that period by two years when his turn for promotion comes. Then, another officer, further down in the list of captains, will also be shut out from promotion, the 20 years' rule taking effect with him, he having purchased up to the rank of captain, which he attained after 1871. To take another phase of the subject; by way of example, there are at this moment two Cavalry regiments, whose lieutenant colonels are not interfered with, by the Warrant, and cannot be compelled to retire, on completion of five years in command. I do not complain of this, because I am one of those who are of opinion that if a regiment has a good commanding officer the longer he stays the better. But the mere fact of these colonels remaining keeps the subordinate officers down and debars several of them, under this Warrant, from expecting promotion. Let me remind the House what purchase really meant with regard to promotion. It meant that, when a vacancy occurred in any rank otherwise than by death, the senior of the next rank was appointed to it, subject to two provisions—(1) that he was fit, and (2) that be paid for it. What says this Warrant? It says that an officer, whether fit for promotion or not, is to be passed over, because he has served a certain number of years. Now, I would ask bon. Members, is this fair play, or can it be shown to be in any way conducive to the efficiency of the Service? The officer was compelled, as the hon. and gallant General has well put it, to pay a certain price for his commission, in the full assurance that he would be promoted in his turn, subject to his being reported fit. Hence the new Regulation is nothing short of a breach of faith. The only really fair remedy for this state of things is to refund at once to Purchase officers the money they have lent to the State, and then all officers are placed on equal terms; but the proposal of the hon. and gallant General is a compromise which would be acceptable to the officers, and cause no outlay to the country. My hon. and gallant Friend has already alluded to the pecuniary benefit derived by the State from the deaths of officers. I will not go into that, but, in passing, remark it might be interesting to have a Return, showing to what extent the debt for the Zulu War has been lessened by the death of Purchase officers. Of course, the reply is always ready—the reply first started by Lord Cardwell—that there was no desire to place us Purchase officers in a worse position than before. Certainly, be and his successors have taken care that we shall not be in a better one. But I maintain we are in a worse position, through the almost total stoppage of promotion, there being in these days little inducement for the Purchase or non-Purchase officer to leave the Service till he is, as it is colloquially termed, "kicked out." In the old days, a captain, e.g., who foresaw a wait of several years before he could obtain a step, and knew that then he must, in all probability, pay heavily for it, was often induced to go, especially if be were a married man. Now, there is every inducement to stay till the last moment, steps being obtained free, and pensions given on retirement, after certain periods. What can be the consequence, but an absolute block to promotion? I regret that, owing to the Forms of the House, no expression of opinion can be taken on the Amendment under discussion; but I do trust that my right hon. and gallant Friend, or whoever speaks from the Front Bench, will, when he rises, give us some hope that measures will be taken to give effect to the very fair and moderate proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton.


expressed himself in favour of the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton. Although an advocate of the abolition of Purchase, he thought it was unworthy of the great country which had swallowed the camel of £22,000,000 in the abolition of the Purchase system to strain at the small gnat which the proposition of the hon. and gallant Gentleman represented. The system introduced by Lord Cardwell had not been productive of results, and if the House had known as much about the operation of the present system as the figures that would hereafter be laid before them would show they would have been reluctant to pass the Act for the abolition of Purchase. Instead of the country having derived any benefit at all from the abolition of the past system and the substitution of the present one, the operation of the present system had been worse for the country, worse for the individual, and productive of no benefit whatever. The proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton was a very small one, and he trusted it would receive favourable consideration from the Government. If it were not, it would be brought forward again one day in a very forcible form. One effect of the present system had been to cause languor and want of zeal on the part of some of those officers who had been 17, 18, or 20 years in the Service, and who had the prospect of being compelled, under the operation of the present system, to leave the Service at a time when they were thoroughly attached to it, and which it was more than possible they would adorn. He thought it was scarcely worthy of this country to deal with its officers in such a manner, and he trusted the Government would give the subject their most serious consideration.


thought his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (General Shute), in his temperate speech, had not much difficulty in establishing the fact that there was a considerable amount of hardship caused by the Regulations to which he had called the attention of the House. There were, however, some facts which he had mentioned which did not come quite within the scope of his Resolution. As to pensions, there was an old Regulation which provided that, when officer died and left a widow she should have a pension; but that if, fortunately, she happened to be in affluent circumstances, she should not receive the pension to which she would otherwise be entitled. Now, that had been always the rule of the Service, and he did not see how it was to be set aside. But to come to the point to which his hon. and gallant Friend particularly referred, he would observe that when purchase was abolished the Secretary of State laid down the rule that an officer should, in consequence, be no worse off, but that neither should he be better off; and in all the discussions on the question in that House Lord Cardwell had never departed from that proposition, which had been inherited by the present Government from their Predecessors in Office. A bargain having been made, there was, he thought, considerable reason in the argument that a bargain should be adhered to. There was one point which he trusted would be borne in mind, and that was, that when they spoke of Purchase being abolished they did not state all the facts of the case. Officers, on leaving the Service, were still enabled to retire by the sale of their commissions, and where there was a seller there must be a purchaser. The difference was that where it used to be a junior officer who bought the commission it was now the State. As to the fact that officers of a certain age were compelled to retire from the Service, he need scarcely point out that the recommendation to that effect had been made by a Commission composed of officers of the highest standing, because they found it to be absolutely necessary for the good of the Service that a flow of promotion should go on. But it should not be forgotten that when an officer was compelled to retire he received a retiring allowance better than that which he would have derived from the sale of his commission. It would be impossible to hold out hopes that a change in the system could be made, and he was authorized by the Secretary of State for War to oppose the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton.


said, the bargain spoken of was between the two sides of the House, and the officers were the sufferers. Great injustice was done to them through the working of the system being unequal. He hoped the complaints made would receive the attention of the Secretary of State for War.