HC Deb 03 March 1879 vol 244 cc16-25

, in rising to call attention to the Regulations in force whereby officers are precluded from counting towards voluntary retirement service performed while under twenty years of age, and any period during which they may have been on half-pay in consequence of wounds or ill-health contracted on Service, and are required upon retirement from the Army while serving abroad to defray the cost of their own and their successors' passages, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the paragraphs numbered 86, 87, and 88 of Clause 124 of the Army Circular of 1st September 1877, and Clause 92 of the Army Circular of 1st May 1878, should be modified; said, as he was aware that many Members wished to get rid of these unofficial Motions before Supply, he would not intervene long. His story was a very simple one, and the case which he had the honour of submitting to the House had, he honestly believed, only one side to it. He might lay it down as an axiom that it was desirable that the officers of the Army should be a contented body, or if that was going too far, that it was desirable to remove causes of discontent from among them. He assumed, also, that it was impolitic and bad economy for the State to take away with one hand boons and privileges which it had given, or professed to have given, with the other. These Regulations— and especially the first of them—were a fair example of taking away with one hand what had been given with the other. Subsequently to the abolition of Purchase a Royal Commission was appointed to report on the best means of providing an adequate flow of promotion in the Army. He believed the terms of Reference spoke of a flow of promotion equal to that which existed during the operation of the Purchase system. The Royal Commission reported accordingly; and, among other recommendations, it advised the establishment of a dual system of retirement—that was, a voluntary and a compulsory system. The compulsory system of retirement was not liked, but it was accepted as a necessary evil. The voluntary system, and the terms on which it was proposed, were regarded as liberal, and no doubt it was viewed as a boon. A great many officers, as soon as the Warrant came out, endeavoured to take advantage of it. Many whom he knew, and many others of whom he had only heard, sent in their resignations, and applied for and obtained leave pending the acceptance of their resignations; they gave up their houses, parted with their effects, and one in particular took his passage to join a brother in Australia. That officer and many others were electrified by being recalled, because two or throe years of their service had been prior to their attaining the age of 20. He admitted that in regard to officers who joined the Army in time of peace the objections to the Regulation were not so strong; but even in their case it was open to the very grave objection that it offered a premium to idleness and stupidity, because those who, from either of these causes, joined Sandhurst or Woolwich at the latest possible date, and remained there as long as they possibly could, would have the advantage of being able to retire with less service than their more talented or more industrious fellow-students. He would point out the advantages which the Regulation gave to those who entered the Service by what might be termed the "side doors" to the Army—namely, the Universities and the Militia. A boy might go at the age of 17 to Oxford or Cambridge, and obtain his B.A. degree before he was 20. If then he joined the Army, he would possess the advantage of having received a University education, besides the further advantage of knowing that the whole of his service would count; whereas a youth who had been to a Military College would have to serve two or three years longer. Again, he believed a great many Militia officers obtained Army commissions from the Militia who had failed to obtain them in the ordinary course. But to those who joined the Army in time of war, or even when war was threatened, the Regulation was a still more serious matter. Only last year a large number of cadets were commissioned after a few weeks at Sandhurst, so there must have been many who joined soon after attaining 17 years of age. In order really to appreciate its operation, they must consider its effect on those who joined the Army 24 or 25 years ago. In 1854 and 1855 the Crimean War was being waged, and soon after it there came the Persian War, the Indian Mutiny, and one of the wars with China. Many officers, consequently, served in two or three wars or campaigns before they were 20 years old; yet, although they gave their services to their country when those services were most urgently needed, and when, owing to their youth and unformed constitutions, the hardships were fraught with the greater danger, they were now informed that they were children then; that their war services could not count towards their retirement; and that they must serve two or three years longer than officers who had joined the Service after the period of danger was over. If it had been intended that the same rule should apply to voluntary retirement as was applicable to compulsory retirement, why was this not stated in the Warrant? It seemed to him that it would have been absurd thus to place the two kinds of retirement on the same footing. This was, however, done by a side wind. He further objected to the Regulation, because it rather savoured of ex post facto legislation. He had never yet heard a valid argument urged in favour of the Regulation. He had, indeed, heard an assertion, which he could not dignify with the name of argument, made use of by official Members of the House, to the effect that if officers were to be allowed to count their services before 20 towards voluntary retirement, such services must count also in the case of compulsory retirement. For his own part, he failed to see any logic or force in the assertion. It seemed to him that it would be best described as a device of the pettiest officialism, wholly unworthy of his right hon. and gallant Friend. If there were anything in the contention, of course, it involved a principle, and that principle must be applied to all relations between the State and the officers who served it. Yet this very same Circular, founded on the Warrant of 1877, laid it down that no half-pay service should count towards voluntary retirement, and yet that all half-pay service should count against the officer as towards compulsory retirement — a distinct violation of the principle laid down as sound in dealing with service under 20. Now, it would be most unreasonable for him to dream of suggesting that officers should be permitted to count half-pay service under ordinary conditions. All he did say was that arrangements ought to be made so that those who were compelled to go on half-pay, in consequence of their wounds or ill-health contracted on active service, should be allowed a limited time—say two years—as full-pay service towards voluntary or any other kind of retirement. The Warrant which dealt with the subject ought to be made a little more elastic, so as to meet some other special cases, such as those who were compulsorily placed on half-pay without promotion or any other compensating advantage. He never asked anything unreasonable, nor spoke about what he did not understand, and he did not see what answer, except a favourable one, could be made to the demand he was now making. Passing now to the third point, the Regulation was that officers who left the Service, unless they were compulsorily retired, should pay their own passages home and those of their successors out to the place where they had been serving. That was the old rule, and he gratefully acknowledged that his right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) last year made a concession to him when he urged that it was unfair to treat officers who had no further possibility of promotion as if they were not compulsorily retired. It was not wise that the officers of an Army, the greater part of which was serving abroad, should be penalized for going abroad. It might be all very well while the Purchase system existed; but now that all sorts of pains and penalties were imposed on officers it was not dignified for the State to lay down such a rule. Another objection to it was that it could not be put universally into operation. When the Purchase officers were dead and buried the only class of officers against whom the rule could be enforced were those who had served long enough to qualify themselves for a pension. Those who had not served long enough would be able to snap their fingers in the face of the authorities. He would appeal to officers on both sides of the House, and to Gentlemen who took an interest in Army matters, to use their influence on his right hon. and gallant Friend to induce him to make this concession. He would appeal to his right hon. and gallant Friend to save one of the most steady supporters of the Government from the pain of dividing the House against him. He knew his right hon. and gallant Friend was anxious to economize, but there was no economy in this practice. Something much more effectual might be done by reducing the amount of correspondence which was now carried on. It was said that the Government had come into Office to redress grievances. He did not like to speak of grievances with reference to the Army, and therefore he would call them hardships. He did not wish that his right hon. and gallant Friend should leave it to the other side to redress a hardship created by themselves, and more or less accidentally. If his right hon. and gallant Friend would make this very moderate concession — which people out-of-doors and in the House thought he could very fairly make — he would give the most complete satisfaction to the officers of the Army, whether affected by these Regulations or not, and he would add very materially to his already high reputation for wisdom and justice and common sense. He begged to move his Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he had been requested by various officers, friends of his, to take part in this discussion. He could not help thinking that the case made out was so exceedingly clear that there must be something more behind, and that the Secretary of State for War was going to tell them something they had not heard before. This Regulation might have come into force through an idea that there was some analogy between the case of an officer and that of a private soldier. The proper age for a soldier to enter the Army was 18; but many enlisted long before, and it was very difficult for medical men to ascertain their real age. But officers were accepted in the Army as being of a certain age. He entered the Army at 17 years of age, under an idea that he should receive all the benefits that would arise from his service from that period. That was the bargain he made with the State—that he would be able to count his service from the day he obtained his commission until the day he was either obliged to retire or did retire, with all rights and privileges. But now it appeared that, by a new Regulation consequent on the new arrangements made for the retirement of officers joining the Army at any period whatsoever, they were to be docked of their service up to the time they were 20 years of age. So far as the retrospective operation of these Regulations went, they were a gross hardship on many officers who entered the Army with very different expectations. There was extreme injustice in this retrospective action.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the paragraphs numbered 86, 87, and 88 of Clause 124 of the Army Circular of 1st September 1877, and Clause 92 of the Army Circular of 1st May 1878, should be modified,"— (Colonel Arbuthnot,) —instead thereof.

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


supported the Motion, remarking that it was hard that while officers who were cashiered had their passage home paid, officers in the Service had not.


said, that the Royal Commission did not recommend that service under 20 years of age should be ignored in regard to voluntary retirement. The question of the new Warrant had been discussed at a late period of the Session last year—so late that the noble Marquess at the head of the Opposition protested; and the Government produced a statement showing the provisions of the Warrant, which the House accepted. It appeared from it that the age of 20 years was the earliest age from which service should count for compulsory retirement; but there was nothing said about the age for voluntary retirement.


said, he thought the hon. and gallant Colonel (Colonel Arbuthnot) had made out a case of substantial grievance which it would be an injustice to the Profession not to remedy. He knew one gentleman to whom this Regulation would make a difference of something like £300 or £400, to his great disappointment, as it was wholly unexpected, he supposing that his service would count from the time he entered the Army; but the few months disallowed made all the change in the rate of allowance for his commission.


would remind his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State that during last Session he spoke to him on this very question of service counting before the age of 20. The colonel commanding a cavalry regiment in which he took particular interest not only served three years before 20, but actually in the field before the enemy. On that occasion his right hon. and gallant Friend agreed with him that, under the circumstances, these years should be allowed to count. He sincerely hoped that his right hon. and gallant Friend would now concede something in that direction.


said, he was an ensign at the age of 16, and there was a strong feeling in the Army that at the present time there was a great injustice in connection with this subject, and when there was an injustice it ought to be remedied. Why fix upon the age of 20 at all? If so, why not 18 or 17? He had never heard anything like a sufficient reason for this extraordinary Regulation; and he hoped they would now hear from the Secretary of State for War that he recognized the grievance, and was prepared at once and decidedly to deal with it.


said, he quite recognized the importance of the question which had been brought forward; and although his answer might not be regarded as altogether satisfactory by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hereford (Colonel Arbuthnot), yet he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend would understand that he entirely appreciated his motives, and was anxious, in the fullest degree, to respond in the same good spirit as that in which the question had been mooted. There was no doubt the point was difficult to discuss in argument, inasmuch as it was one of the cases where there were officers who considered they were aggrieved by the action of an arbitrary line that was drawn at the age of 20—as was, indeed, the case of his hon. and gallant Friend, who brought the subject forward, although treating it in no degree as a personal question; and there might be other officers in the House to whom the same rule would apply. In his own instance he should be mulcted of three years' service; but that was neither here nor there. The point they had to consider was whether any substantial injustice was done, or whether the circumstances were such as to render a recasting of the Royal Warrant for Promotion and Retirement advisable at the present moment. It should be borne in mind that the Royal Warrant was the subject of a very prolonged discussion before a Royal Commission, and afterwards between the various Departments; and the Royal Warrant which was presented to the House was the outcome of the deliberations between these various Departments. The new Warrant did not intend to alter in any way the status of officers under the former Warrant. So far as compulsory retirement was concerned, it certainly, did take a new departure. The Warrant with regard to voluntary retirement was supplementary. The provision was intended to modify the harshness of compulsory retirement, and to give officers inducements to leave the Service at such an age as to keep up the flow of promotion throughout. At the present time, officers, as a rule, joined the Service much later than they did 10 or 12 years ago; therefore, the number of officers who would be affected by this provision would, in point of fact, be extremely small. He had no right to say that when he took office subsequently under Lord Cranbrook, and carried out the Royal Warrant, he was not answerable for the views to which his name might be attached; but though he signed the paper referred to in the execution of his duty as Financial Secretary, he could not say—and he should mislead the House if he were to imply—that there was the smallest point of divergence between the noble Lord and himself; on the contrary, he believed that all these questions were carefully discussed, and, so far as the War Office were concerned, were settled with almost complete unanimity. It was but fair to expect some difficulty in carrying out so complicated a matter as a Royal Warrant in relation to promotions and retirements; and he believed it was expressly stated at the time it was brought forward that though it was believed the details had been adjusted in a manner which would give satisfaction, his noble Friend did not on all points pledge himself to every minute detail. In point of fact, there had been several cases which it had been impossible to foresee, in which hardship would have been produced by these Regulations; and, under the power of interpretation given to the Secretary of State, it was possible, while interpreting the Warrant consistently with itself, to give in some cases the relief which was reasonably demanded. He had recently stated, in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Leitrim (Major O'Beirne), that it had been laid down that half-pay in certain circumstances did not count towards compulsory retirement; but he recognized the fact that there was a substantial feeling of grievance in the Service with regard to this matter. The Office with which he was concerned was not in these matters able to act entirely alone; but, for himself, he would admit that a strong case had been made out for inquiry; and, although he was unwilling to give any pledge which he might not be able to redeem, he was quite willing to say that he would inquire into it. As to the passages of officers, they were, under the Warrant, placed precisely in the same position as they were under the former Purchase regulations. If an officer retired abroad under compulsion, actual or imminent, it was not deemed fair to put him to expense, and that was the interpretation now acted upon; but if an officer retired voluntarily abroad, it would, perhaps, be going beyond the original purpose of the Warrant to place him in a better position than he would have been in under the Purchase regulations. There might be room for divergencies of opinion; but he did not think that on this point there was that amount of injustice that called for immediate remedy. It was difficult to give an abstract opinion on a particular case; but he did not see how a difference of such an amount could have occurred under this clause of the Warrant, as was stated by the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse). He had endeavoured to state the exact position of matters; and he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend would be satisfied with the recognition of the fact that inquiry was desirable, and would not press the matter further.


hoped that the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Arbuthnot) would not press his Motion after the satisfactory explanation which had just been given by the Secretary of State for War. At the same time, there could be no doubt that the Order, limiting the counting of years of actual service of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had justly complained, was a stupid Order, which in time must be remedied, now that the Secretary of State had expressed an opinion in favour thereof. All those who had any knowledge of the Army must fail to understand why young officers should be allowed to enter the Service before the age of 20, and yet be refused those privileges which pertained to their Profession of counting the years so served. A more stupid arrangement was never made; it could only have been passed by a civilian in the Treasury, quite ignorant of the military conditions of Service.


said, that after the frank statement of his right hon. and gallant Friend, he was perfectly willing to withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.