HC Deb 16 May 1881 vol 261 cc544-5

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been directed to the following facts disclosed by the Return of March 24th relative to First Commissions in the Army—namely, that during the years 1879 and 1880, 1,630 young men qualified for First Commissions in the Army before the Civil Service Commissioners at the open Competitive Examinations; that only 448 of these successful Candidates at the open Competitive Examinations obtained First Commissions in the Army during 1879 and 1880; whilst 423 First Commissions in the Army were given to Militia Officers during the same period; whether he can state the number of young men who, having been unsuccessful in open Competitive Examinations, received First Commissions in the Army as Militia Officers, or otherwise, during the years 1879 and 1880; and, whether he is prepared to take any steps to prevent the continuance of the state of things which appears in the above-mentioned Return to have existed during the years 1879 and 1880?


Sir, I have paid especial attention for some time past to the subject of the Return to which my hon. Friend refers. It is most important and instructive; but, whether from the language of the Return or not, he has been led into some misconception of the facts. The 1,630 young men who qualified for first commissions in the Army in 1879 and 1880 were not all successful candidates at the open competitions. All the successful candidates have obtained, or are in course of being given, commissions, and they are the 448 for the year 1879–80 to which my hon. Friend refers in his Question. All the Militia officers who obtained commissions are included among the 1,630 who qualified in 1879 and 1880, or among those who qualified in previous years, or have qualified by passing an equivalent examination before the Civil Service Commissioners as University candidates. What is unsatisfactory to my mind is the very large number of commissions granted to Militia officers. But for this in 1879–80 there were two reasons—the first, that in previous years the number assigned to the Militia (120), under the system of nomination by colonels, had not been made up; and the second, that the vacancies in the Army were made abnormally large in those two years by the Afghan and Cape Wars. On the other hand, Sandhurst can only turn out a limited number of qualified cadets every year, so that the balance had to be made good from the Militia, and the substitution of competition among the whole of the subalterns of the Militia justified a larger number of appointments from this source. For the future, under the Army Re-organization arrangements which I have explained to the House, a smaller number of commissions by 50 will be granted annually, and even this reduced number will not be appointed after 1882, until gradually the Establishment has been brought down. The proportion given to Sandhurst—that is to say, to virtually open competition—will be much larger than in 1879–80.