HC Deb 08 July 1880 vol 253 cc1914-6

I wish to appeal to the Chair and to the hon. and gallant Member for Clare (Captain O'Shea) on a matter which strictly has reference to the order and regularity of our proceedings. What happened was this—The hon. and gallant Member for Clare some days since put on the Paper a Notice of a Question to me, which was subsequently postponed till to-day. That Question involves a serious reflection on the action of one of the principal officers of the War Office, His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief. The hon. and gallant Member does not now propose to put that Question at all, and he has asked you not to call upon him to put it. The point I wish to put to you, Sir, and to the hon. and gallant Member is this—Whether, after a Question of that kind has been placed on the Paper for so many days, after it has become the subject of discussion, I believe, in every newspaper of the country, having reference to a matter of so much interest, and involving the action of an officer of so much responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief, an opportunity should not be given for answering the Question?

Captain O'SHEA

did not rise to put the Question.


If the House wishes it I will answer the Question.


then rose and read the following Question which stood upon the Paper— To ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether there is in force an Article in the Royal Warrant of 1878 which lays down that a Lieutenant General who has been, for the convenience of the Service, appointed a General for the purposes of a Campaign, may, upon the special recommendation of the Commander in Chief, he confirmed in the rank he has so held if he has conducted himself to Her Majesty's satisfaction in the Field; whether any cases have recently occurred in which the above-mentioned recommendation has been withheld; and, if so, whether any minutes or statements have been made by the Commander in Chief of his reasons for withholding such recommendation; whether any inquiries have been made by him as to the grounds on which it has been withheld; and, whether he will state in what respect the officers unrecommended, if any, have been found to have acquitted themselves unsatisfactorily of their duties in the Field?


I am glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman has put the Question, although I doubt whether it is expedient to put it at all, as it relates essentially to a matter concerning the discipline of the Army and promotion in the Army, as to which it is not customary to address the House of Commons. Under the Royal Warrant of 1854, a colonel, major general, or lieutenant general, who has been allowed the temporary rank of major general, lieutenant general, or general, as the case may be, for the purpose of a command, and who has held that command and conducted himself to Her Majesty's satisfaction for five years in time of peace, or for any shorter period in war, may, under the recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief, have his temporary rank made permanent. This provision was founded upon a recommendation of Lord Hardinge's Royal Commission, who advised that colonels only who had held the temporary rank of major general should be "entitled" to have it confirmed after the qualifying service. Lord Herbert, however, in framing the Warrant, struck out the word "entitled," and extended the provisions to major generals and lieutenant generals. This provision has been continued in subsequent Warrants. When the Warrant of 1877 was under discussion it was proposed to omit this provision altogether, for a reason which I am about to explain; but my Predecessor, Lord Cranbrook, allowed it to remain, only requiring that the recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief should be "special;" and that word was accordingly introduced. The proposal to omit the provision altogether is intelligible when I inform the House that it has never been acted upon: for although officers holding temporary rank have sometimes been promoted to permanent rank, it has never been done under this clause. I find that since the provision first appeared in the Warrant of 1854 no less than 44 cases have occurred of officers of the ranks I have named having been allowed temporary rank for the convenience of the Service and for the purpose of a command. These cases include the names of Sir Hope Grant, who commanded in the last China War of 1860, Sir Duncan Cameron, and many others; but, as I have said, in no instance has the officer been promoted under this clause, al- though, in some cases, he was promoted afterwards, under Clause 49, for distinguished service in the field. In several cases distinguished officers have applied for the Commander-in-Chief's special recommendation to confirm the temporary rank; but it has been uniformly refused. Under these circumstances, the hon. and gallant Member will, I think, not require me to describe the grounds on which these recommendations have not been made during the last 26 years. I may, however, add that it has been suggested that the word "may" in the Warrant ought to have the meaning of "shall," and that the Warrant must be interpreted as if the word "entitled," deliberately struck out by Lord Herbert in 1854, were to be found there. This serious claim, reversing the decisions of my Predecessors during the last 26 years, is now under consideration; and I have thought it necessary to take careful legal advice on the subject before acting on my authority as interpreter of Royal Warrants.