HC Deb 11 June 1886 vol 306 cc1528-55

(3.) That a sum, not exceeding £5,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charge for the following Army Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1887, viz:—

1. Pay of the General Staff, Regimental Pay and Allowances, and other Charges £
2. Divine Service 30,000
3. Administration of Military Law 20,000
4. Medical Establishments and Services 160,000
5. Militia Pay and Allowances 270,000
6. Yeomanry Cavalry Pay and Allowances 40,000
7. Volunteer Corps Pay and Allowances 320,000
8. Army Reserve Force Pay and Allowances (including Enrolled Pensioners) 200,000
9. Commissariat, Transport, and Ordnance Store Establishments, Wages, &c. 260,000
10. Provisions, Forage, Fuel, Transport, and other Services
11. Clothing Establishments, Services, and Supplies 440,000
12. Supply, Manufacture, and Repair of Warlike and other Stores 1,200,000
13. Superintending Establishment of, and Expenditure for, Works, Buildings, and Repairs, at Home and Abroad 460,000
14. Establishments for Military Education 60,000
15. Miscellaneous Effective Services 20,000
16. Salaries and Miscellaneous Charges of the War Office 120,000
Total Effective Services £3,600,000
SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)

As I see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War in his place, I should like to ask what has been done in regard to the new rifle? I believe that a new rifle has been adopted by the Government; but I am informed that very few of these rifles have been made. The Martini-Henri rifles that were in store have been served out to the Volunteers, leaving a stock of arms in store of the smallest and most meagre description. I would like to ask the Surveyor General of the Ordnance what is the amount of arms now in store? A great country like this ought never to allow its stock of arms to get into a low condition. I see from the Estimates that the Government are still adding to the buildings at Enfield, although the establishment at Enfield has been declared to be objectionable. In my opinion, it would be much more convenient to manufacture rifles at Birmingham than at Enfield. The Government have recently bought a large property at Birmingham; and I think it is a serious question, looking at the position and state of Enfield, whether the manufacture of rifles ought to be continued there. At Enfield every man you bring has to be put into a house that you must build for him, and when he is turned off it is impossible for him to find any other occupation in the neighbourhood. It is altogether the reverse at Birmingham. If a man is turned off there are other occupations in which he can find employment, and which he can procure at a moment's notice. The country would also have the advantage at Birmingham of having an arsenal in the centre of the country. These are questions of great importance; and although this may not be a fit opportunity for entering into them, there is one question which I think it would be well for the right hon. Gentleman to consider, and that is whether we ought not to have a Committee to inquire carefully into the question of what quantities of rifles and also of guns are necessary to be kept in store both for the Army and Navy. The same Committee might also consider what ought to be done in regard to our coaling stations, and lay before the House some Report as to the expenditure that may be necessary to afford the country some protection. There is one other point—namely, that we never know what stores we have in hand. I have always been anxious, and the Public Accounts Committee have constantly recommended, that the amount of stores should be known, so that anyone may be able to point to them and say whether they are up to the mark or not. Everybody ought to know what is required for the best interests of the country; but at present the public are kept in a state of complete ignorance. One Government, for its own convenience, reduces the stores, and then another Government has to spend large sums of money in order to place them in a proper condition; while, at the same time, the public receive no notice and have no idea of what has been done. I think this is a matter which deserves the serious attention of the Government.


The hon. and gallant Member has asked a number of questions; but he has admitted that this is hardly the occasion on which we can enter at length into these matters. With regard to the new rifle which was sanctioned by the last Government, I am happy to say that its manufacture is proceeding satisfactorily, though prudently. Some thousands have been completed and experimented upon. In the meantime it has been found necessary not only to extend the factory at Enfield, but also to supersede a great deal of the old machinery by new. In regard to the quantity of Martini-Henri rifles in stock, it is quite true that the number is not so large as under ordinary circumstances would have been considered expedient; but still it is considered sufficiently large to meet all the possible requirements of the Service, especially having regard to the fact that in recent times the Volunteers have been armed with this weapon, and that the old Sniders have been called in. The factory which had been acquired at Birmingham is being adapted instead of the smaller establishment at Bagot Street for general testing and repairs, and also for the manufacture of pistols and carbines. The hon. and gallant Baronet may rest assured that satisfactory progress is being made in perfecting the defences of our coaling stations.

SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (, &c.) Kirkcaldy

I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government whether any steps have been taken for the withdrawal of our troops from Egypt? As the Turkish Envoy was accompanied by his cocks and hens and harem, it may be inferred that he contemplates a pretty long stay; but I think it is very desirable that the Government should not go to the country with the sin of Egypt upon their heads, without giving any idea of the progress of the preparations for the withdrawal of our Army from the country. I am certainly disappointed at the failure of every attempt to obtain information from the Government, and it seems to me that the withdrawal is gradually becoming relegated to the dim and distant future. Some time ago, in a sort of apologetic strain, we were told that there was a hope of being able to withdraw in the next six months; but as time goes on that vista seems to be receding into distance. It is, therefore, most desirable that before the Parliament is dissolved we should know what is the result of the Conferences between Sir H. Drummond Wolff and Mukhtar Pasha. It certainly appears to me that these two distinguished individuals are spinning out their time without any result whatever. Sir H. Drummond Wolff has already intimated that he is not in a position to come to Portsmouth and contest the representation of that borough at the present moment, because his duties in Egypt will detain him for some time longer. Possibly he may be looking out for some other employment. Nor is Mukhtar Pasha in a hurry to depart from Egypt; and although a great many months have passed, and a great many Conferences have been held, nothing whatever appears to have come out of them. It appears to me that these two distinguished individuals have had ample opportunities for coming to an understanding if they desired to do so. The hon. and gallant Member for the Holborn Division of Finsbury (Colonel Duncan) has told the House that the Egyptians make good soldiers if properly handled, and the only question is whether the officers of the troops who are to relieve ours are to be Egyptians, or British, or Turks. Upon that simple question there does not appear to be the least approximation towards a decision. If that question were solved we might make greater progress towards a solution of the question. I am glad to learn that our troops are to be removed from that most detestable and useless place, Suakin; but I am sorry that the Native troops who are to be retained there are to be paid, not by the Egyptian Government, but by the British taxpayer. As far as we have yet heard from Her Majesty's Government, we are still to maintain some 9,000 troops in Egypt; but I am glad to find that none of them will be kept at Suakin, which is, I think, without exception, the very worst place in the world. Perhaps the Soudan is not quite so bad; at any rate, our troops have not suffered so much there from sickness, although it would appear, from private sources, recently corroborated by public despatches, that Assouan and Upper Egypt have been fatal to a good many of our troops. Of course, it is impossible to go into details upon all of these subjects under present circumstances; but I have considered it right to afford Her Majesty's Government some opportunity of saying whether anything is being done to secure the withdrawal of the troops from Assouan and other unhealthy places in which they are now retained in Egypt, and if steps are being taken to facilitate their entire withdrawal from that country.

COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)

I am anxious to urge upon the Government that, although it is not desirable that our occupation of Egypt should be longer than is necessary, it would be a mistake to withdraw until the Khedive has a reliable force to maintain order and to keep the frontier of Egypt safe from the Arabs. Last year, when Dongola was evacuated, it is well known that the Egyptian troops were not reliable for the protection of the country. The hon. and gallant Member for the Holborn Division of Finsbury (Colonel Duncan) entertains a very high appreciation of the Egyptian troops. He appreciates them, and they appreciate him; but, nevertheless, the Egyptian troops are not generally supposed to be in the highest degree either reliable or efficient. At the same time, it would be a great error to withdraw altogether from the occupation of the country until Egypt herself can have a force there that is reliable. If we were to withdraw prematurely, we might have to return, because all the conditions which took us so very reluctantly to Egypt are still in force. Our General Officer in Egypt may be able to advise Her Majesty's Government as to the reliability of the Egyptian Army; but it is an undoubted fact that last year they were not regarded as reliable. In a former debate it was stated, with perfect truth, that it will be impossible for this country ever to return to the Cape route to India; because, after all, the Suez route is much the shortest, and we should not, therefore, like to see any other powerful country take our place in Egypt if we decided to leave it. I have no wish to see our occupation of Egypt made continuous; but it ought to be continued until the Khedive has a sufficient force at his command to maintain order in Egypt and to prevent any excuse for interference on the part of any other great country. To leave the country prematurely is just the one mistake which remains to be made by us. With regard to the question of the jamming of the cartridges in the Martini-Henry rifles of the Camel Corps, it is notorious that the jamming took place most extensively. As a matter of fact, about one cartridge in three jammed during the Egyptian Expedition. I should like to know what has been done in the matter, and whether any experiments are being made in regard to the magazine rifles; because it is quite plain that when any great Power adopts a magazine rifle the other great Powers will be compelled to follow suit. There is another point to which I desire to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War—namely, the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting as to the desirability of all officers and men who enter the Army being vaccinated. At present the Army suffers in consequence of bad characters enlisting; and it is said that to mark them with the letters "B.C." is branding them in a way to which the public object. Then what I would suggest is that the system of vaccination in the Army should be a special one, so that any bad characters, who have been discharged, should be discovered if they attempt to re-enlist. There was at one time a system of cross-cutting in the Army, by which it could always be told that men so marked had been in the Army. I believe we should save many thousands a-year to the country if this plan were brought into practice. Another question which I am anxious to bring under the notice of the Secretary of State is the fact that officers on retired pay are ineligible to hold Civil appointments without losing their retired pay, which bears hardly on some of the officers of the Purchase Army who have now retired. These officers paid high prices for their commissions, and have only received the average price of the commissions they held. I am anxious that the disability, as far as such officers are concerned, should be removed. It would affect the Estimates very slightly if at all, but would be a great boon to the officers themselves. The only other point I wish to bring before the Committee has reference to recruiting. Great improvements have been made in recent years in the Regulations for recruiting, and the only suggestion I would make is that the provisions in regard to re-entering the Service should be made even more elastic than they are. When a man has left the Service it very often happens that he is anxious to re-engage or re-enter. That is contrary to the Regulations; but the only objection is that they would become entitled to a pension. I would urge upon the Secretary of State that such men should be permitted to enter the Army again if they are fit in every other respect, and that they should be placed under an enforced system of stoppages to provide a fund when they leave which would replace the pensions to them. There are many such men idling about who are anxious to return to the Army, but who find themselves unable to do so. I think it is quite possible to make an arrangement by which the difficulty in regard to pensions would be met and by which the services of these men would be secured to the country. I am satisfied that it would be a great advantage to the Army if they were permitted to re-enter the ranks.


I wish before this Vote is granted to protest against the system of reconstructing huts now going on at the so-called camps of Aldershot, the Curragh, and Shorncliffe. Without objecting to the Vote in the present year I wish to point out that these camps, being, as they are, mere barracks, and on the barrack establishment, are perfectly useless as regards the private soldier. He learns nothing of camp life in them—not the least in the world; and they are expensive to the nation, because they are built of wood. All officers will, I am sure, admit the great value of bringing together large bodies of troops during the summer for drill and manœuvre; but as regards the private soldiers and the junior officers, the assembling of large bodies of men is practically useless. The junior officer does nothing except receive the word of command from the senior officer, and the private soldier learns nothing beyond what he would learn equally well from ordinary drill. General and field officers may learn much; but the person who learns more than anybody else from these camps is the Commander-in-Chief, because he is soon able to find out the capacity of a general and field officer to handle troops. I do not say that a capacity to handle troops at Aldershot is a necessary guide to the capacity of an officer for handling them in actual war; but if an officer has not the capacity of handling troops at Aldershot or the Curragh, it is perfetly certain that he will be unable to handle them in the field. But in order to practise general officers it is not necessary to put the troops up in huts, or to keep them throughout the year in camp. No doubt, the bringing together of large bodies of troops for exercise for four or five months in the summer is useful, both as regards manœuvres and drill; but I deny that it is of any advantage in the winter, when there are no manœuvres and no drill. In the winter they would be much better and happier in barracks in their county towns, and there would be this further advantage, that recruiting would be facilitated. Instead of reconstructing wooden huts, I would suggest, and I should like to see, canvas camps in the summer months. In this country there might be two canvas camps; one at Aldershot in the South and the other at York in the North. There two lots of troops should undergo six weeks drill each, and then be comfortably housed in barracks. I cannot see that anything is gained by keeping the troops at Aldershot in the winter. I speak from experience, having been in command of a brigade at Aldershot for some years; but I honestly say that, in my opinion, the troops would have learned quite as much during winter as well as if they had been in their county barracks. In regard to general officers, I believe that six weeks would be an ample amount of practice, and would be time enough to enable the Commander-in-Chief to discover whether a man has capacity for handling troops in the field or not. The generals, no doubt, need practice; but six weeks' practice is quite enough. The same course should be followed in regard to the Curragh and Ireland generally. Then, as regards the soldier, when he is on the barrack establishment at Aldershot he learns nothing of camp life—nothing whatever. When he leaves Aldershot he knows nothing more of camp life than if he had been in barracks; whereas, if he had been in canvas touts, it would have been possible to reproduce active service and regular military life. I would endeavour to make these canvas camps of practical use for the instruction of the soldier, so that when he goes on foreign service he may not be asked to perform duties which he has never been called on to perform before. At Aldershot there is no practice in real camp life, no camp fires, and no oxen to be slaughtered, or flour to be baked in camp ovens. If regimental transport is granted I would place the Commissariat store 10 miles off, so that the men should become acquainted with transport duties, the driving of cattle, and many other useful services of which they are now ignorant. There is much knack acquired in camp life which is only learnt by actual practice. I will not, however, weary the Committee with details. I will only say that the old campaigner grows fat while the young soldier sickens and starves. In my opinion camps should be real camps, and in such camps should be practiced not only the art of manœuvring for generals, but all the duties of camp life, as they occur in actual war. As I have already said, I do not object to this Vote; but I would ask the Government not to go on, in succeeding years, aggravating the mistakes they have already made by reconstructing huts. I look upon the permanent barracks at Alder-shot as an evil, and I think it was a great mistake to build them. I would strongly press upon the Secretary of State for War the great advantage and economy and the increased efficiency which would result from making use of canvas tents, instead of huts, at Aldershot, for practice of camp life in summer.


I believe it is not usual to move Amendments, or to raise discussions, on Votes on Account; but as we are rapidly approaching the last days of the present Parliament, and as I shall not have another opportunity of calling attention to a matter which well deserves the attention of the Committee, I cannot help saying a few words upon it at the present time, because I feel that the attention of the public must be drawn to it sooner or later, and that it must be taken up with vigour. I refer to the great and growing expense of the Pension List of the Army. Hon. Members often declare that it is impossible, in Committee of Supply, to do anything in the direction of reducing the Army Estimates; but, if the occasion were fitting, I could show how it is quite possible to effect a very great reduction in the Army Estimates in this particular direction. The Government constantly tell us that attempts are being made to introduce real reforms into the Army, both in regard to the expenditure and to the general efficiency of the Service. This year I have procured a Return, which has not yet been printed, but a copy of which I hold in my hand. It illustrates the growth of the dead weight in a most striking manner. The Return shows that the increase in the number of officers of the higher ranks of the Establishment has been altogether out of proportion to the number of men borne upon the Establishment. I will ask the Committee to listen to one or two of these figures. I do not propose to enter into the subject at any great length; but I think these facts ought to be known, and I hope the new Parliament will take the matter up in earnest, and institute a searching inquiry. I propose to give the figures for the years 1870, 1880, and 1885, respectively. In 1870, the number of general officers on the Effective and Retired Lists was 332; in 1880, it had increased to 456; and it was 440 in 1885. In the same three years, the numbers of field officers on the Establishment were 1,698, 1,917, and 2,443, respectively. But the effective strength of the Army in those three periods did not greatly change, having been, in round numbers, 184,000 of all ranks in 1870; 191,000 in 1880; and 188,000 in 1885. Therefore, although the number of field officers increased from 1,698 in 1870 to 2,443 in 1885, the effective strength of the Army in the same period showed a very small increase indeed. It is evident that this crowding of the higher ranks and compulsory retirement after a short period of service has had an effect perfectly appalling upon the number of men borne upon the Pension List. I will now trouble the Committee with the figures which show the growth of the Pension List. In 1855, the total charge for pensions and gratuities on retirement was £504,000; in 1860, it was £544,000; in 1870, £567,000; in 1880, £1,011,000; and in 1885, £1,354,000. I would ask the Committee what we are likely to come to if this increase is to continue? The Army will be eaten up by dead weight. An hon. Baronet behind me procured a Return, in 1883, of the estimated cost of the sums paid to officers on retirement by the Army Purchase Commission, and I see that whereas in 1883 the total was £758,000, it was estimated that it would grow gradually up to the year 1902, when it would amount to £1,000,000. Well, it has grown with a vengeance, and it has already reached a far higher figure than what it was estimated to reach by the commencement of next century. Now, Sir, all Armies should have efficient officers, and not officers who are past their work; but what Army in the world could afford to pension off its officers at this rate? The German Army and the French Army are obliged to put up with what they have, and what they can afford to pay; and it is well known that in the great Continental Armies there is nothing like the system of pensions which prevails here. The enormous number of officers borne on the strength of the British Army, as compared with the Armies of other countries, seems to me to call for the attention of Parliament. A German battalion has one officer commanding to every company of 120 men, which is its war strength; a French battalion has one major commanding, eight captains, an adjutant captain and lieutenant; whereas a British battalion has two lieutenant colonels, four majors, four captains, and a full staff of lieutenants. Our system of promotion is perfectly absurd. Our field officers have little or nothing to do, and the second lieutenant colonel with the battalion at home has really nothing to do. In India, it is quite true that you ought to have four field officers to a battalion, but there is no necessity for six; and in the case of a battalion at home, there is much less. You promote them to a rank in which they have no duties to perform, and then you pension them, with the result of providing the country with a Pension List which is crowded to a fearful extent. In the end you have officers who are extremely disgusted with their services having been dispensed with at a time when they are at their very best. I do not know that I can add anything to the force of what I have already said. There are several ways in which the evil I have pointed out may be cured, but it is not for me to find a remedy. I think, however, that the Committee ought to ask Her Majesty's Government to provide a remedy, and in future to carry out regulations more in accordance with true economy, and with the efficiency and requirements of the Army.


I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War some questions relative to the items contained in Vote 13, as I observe that some large sums are inserted for new works. In the first place, there is a sum of £26,000 for Wynberg, at the Cape of Good Hope. Wynberg is doubtless a very pleasant place, but it is situated between St. Simon's Bay and Cape Town, and I should have thought that the former place, which I hope will be strongly fortified for a coaling station, would have been the proper place in which to build new barracks. I should also like to have some explanation as to the acquisition of land and the conversion of buildings at Hong Kong. No doubt, more accommodation is required for the troops; but I doubt very much, from my own experience, whether the buildings now existing in the Island could be so altered as to adapt them for the accommodation of European troops. With reference to the repair of the hospital ship Melville, I would ask my right hon. Friend what has been done with the sanitarium which it has been proposed to build on a site in the centre of the Island—a site which I myself certainly do not deem to be suitable for the purpose? I would also ask whether the new hospital at Malta will be placed on a site where it will not be exposed to fire in case of siege, as I think that ought to be taken into consideration as well as sanitary requirements? I should further like to have some information as to the proposed railway between the forts of Treganthe and Scraesdon, at Plymouth, because if it is only intended for communication between the two forts it cannot be wanted, seeing that the men could walk the distance—a mile and a-half—in almost the same time it would take to convey them by train. I regret that no provision has been made for the Royal Artillery at Portsmouth. The present barracks are a disgrace to the country. They are simply old storehouses which have been converted into barracks, and they are now tumbling down about the men's heads. I believe that putting men into such a place on first joining has had an injurious effect on recruiting. The state of these barracks has been reported over and over again. The Government have plenty of ground at Portsmouth on which new barracks could be built, and I trust that the matter will not be overlooked. It is very satisfactory to find that something is being done to provide submarine mines for not only the military ports, but the commercial ports and the coaling stations abroad; but I hope that means will also be taken for protecting the mines when laid down, as I am of opinion that submarine mines are of little use except they are protected by guns from a counter-mining attack. The necessary arrangements need not be of an expensive character, because machine guns under cover of existing forts, well covered from the seaward, would answer the purpose. I am glad to see that measures are being taken to put the coaling stations in a proper state of defence; but I think that the total sum mentioned for this purpose is much smaller than that originally estimated. I think that a great saving might be effected in Part 3 in Vote 13, if we were to establish companies of old soldiers of the Engineers on the same principle as the Coast Brigade of the Royal Artillery and the Coast companies of submarine Mining Engineers. These men could do all repairs and maintenance, and thus save the expense of contracts with tradesmen, and, in addition, openings would be afforded for commissions to be given to a most deserving and intelligent class of men—namely, the military foremen of works.

MR. W. H. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)

I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Sir William Crossman) in the details into which he has entered of a particular Vote, because, I think, it has been generally understood that the discussion of the details of these Estimates is to be reserved until they come up for consideration in connection with the regular Votes. But I think it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of one or two of the questions which have been referred to, especially the necessity of establishing and making adequate provision for the protection of coaling stations. I think there can be nothing more important than to provide for the defence of such stations, and that the works should be proceeded with as rapidly as possible, consistent with due economy and thorough efficiency. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Manchester (Sir James Fergusson) has done good service in calling attention to the compulsory retirements of officers at an early ago. The figures which my right hon. Friend referred to are, in themselves, very startling and serious. The system has been an expensive one, and has not fulfilled the expectations which were formed from the actuarial calculations. No greater service can be done to the Army than to institute a thorough and authorative inquiry into this portion of the administration of the Army. The attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has already been called to the subject, and I had hoped that it would have been possible for him to have placed before the House some proposal which would have dealt with the question, which is undoubtedly of very considerable im- portance to the taxpayers of the country, and also of serious importance to the Army itself. I believe there is no body of men more anxious that the question should be considered from an economical point of view than the officers of the Army. If my right hon. Friend is not able to frame for himself any scheme, or to make any proposal that will deal adequately with the matter. I trust that he will see his way to the appointment of some Committee or Commission to inquire thoroughly into the question, and completely review the conditions under which the present regulations take effect. I believe the time has come when an inquiry of that kind, conducted by a perfectly impartial tribunal, would be welcomed by all parties. It is felt that, in the present system, the burden of dead weight is excessive and vastly more than the actuarial calculations led the authorities originally to expect. I refrain from going into the details of any of these Votes. I believe a more fit time for doing so will be when we can discuss them in proper order; but I do not think it right when so important a question has been raised as that which has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Manchester, that it should be passed over altogether in silence.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I wish to call attention on this Vote to the immense number of men on deferred pay, and to ask whether this arrangement is necessary? If I may be allowed to say so, I think we have here also an opportunity of dealing with a matter which has been before the House of Commons quite recently. The sense of the House was taken on the subject of the Volunteer Forces, and I think I am right in saying that it was in the direction that, if possible, an increase should be made in the capitation grant. I suggest for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, whether he cannot now make the grant of £100,000 for the increase of capitation for the Volunteer Service.


I believe the Committee are entirely agreed that there is need for some reduction in the expenditure on the Army. I have not long been a Member of this House, but have sat here long enough to see that there is always going on a constant increase in the expenditure of the national funds. Therefore, I say that those who stand up for an economical use of the public purse should endeavour to prevent the continuance of this increase in the future. I hope the time is coming when some stop will be put to the extravagant expenditure in connection, with the Forces of the country. The people whom I and those who think with me represent do not think that they get anything like "value received" for the money spent on the Army and Navy. In view of the depression which exists in the country, and of which we hear so much from hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think that the present especially is no time for extravagance; and I hope that Her Majesty's Government, taking the circumstances into full consideration, and looking at the constantly increasing expenditure, will do all they can to check the extravagance which is certainly going on. The Pension List is one of the most unsatisfactory features of expenditure, and, sooner or later, it will have to be reduced. I may say that the sooner that is done the greater will be the satisfaction felt in the country.

COLONEL DUNCAN (Finsbury, Holborn)

I am glad that the question of the compulsory retirement of officers is occupying the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for War, and the right hon. Member for North-East Manchester (Sir James Fergusson). It is indeed a question the importance of which cannot be exaggerated. By making a change in the present system under which officers are forced out of the Army in the prime of life we shall consult the interests of the Service, and, at the same time save the money of the taxpayers; and I therefore strongly hope that we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that some measures are to be taken in this matter, and that a thorough and exhaustive inquiry will be made into this system with a view to its alteration, so that it shall in future exercise a less exhausting influence upon the national purse. With regard to the Egyptian occupation of Suakin and the withdrawal to Assouan, I rejoice that both these measures have been adopted; and I have observed that there has been no uncertainty or insecurity in Suakin since the garrison consisted only of Egyptian troops, but, on the other hand, a desire for friendly commerce has sprung up, and to-day we see, by the newspapers, that two markets have been opened. At Wady Halfa we see also that there is a great desire to re-open that commerce which was formerly the chief source of their means of living; and I remember when I was out there how much pain and loss the cessation of that commerce caused to the people of the district. Then, with regard to barracks, I heard at Portsmouth a complaint made as to the barrack accommodation, and found that there was an officer laid up with typhoid fever in consequence of the barrack arrangements. As the importance of having proper arrangements cannot be overrated, I sincerely hope that the defects will be remedied. And then, Sir, there is an inquiry I have to make to the right hon. Gentleman as to whether anything has been done with regard to the position of the quartermasters in the Army? The right hon. Gentleman has, I believe, met my wishes up to a certain point, and has mentioned that certain delays are necessary. I am impatient of the delays of permanent officials in this matter. The quartermasters are the men in the Army who have least power of defending themselves; they have risen from the ranks, and it is our duty specially to look after them; they cannot plead for themselves, and they are absolutely dumb here, while their conduct is only known to men like myself who have served long enough to know how deserving their conduct is. Sir, possessing that knowledge I renew my appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to allow the case of these most deserving officers to be the subject of further delay.


I also rise to support the claims of the quartermasters, whose treatment by the Government I regard as simply disgraceful. I have been informed that they require quartermasters to retire one year before the regular time. There is one case in particular with which I am acquainted—that of Quartermaster Ramsden, which I think particularly deserves the attention of the Committee. That officer was in the country's service for 35 years; he obtained the good opinion of the officers under whom he served, and he has done valuable service to the country in the matter of recruiting. Well, Sir, the Regulation was passed, and he was compelled to retire a year before the time, the country being thereby deprived of the services of that valuable officer in the prime of life. He had served long enough to be entitled to two pensions, but he lost one of them; and what I ask is that he may be placed in the position in which he was before he was compelled to retire. The whole of the circumstances have been brought under the notice of the Secretary of State for War, who expressed his interest in the case, and promised to give it consideration. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will relieve the minds of the quartermasters, who have been compelled to retire, of the sense of the serious wrong which has been done them, and that we shall be informed, as soon as possible, as to the position in which, these officers will be placed as the result of the inquiry which I understand has been instituted.


I condemn the enormous cost of pensions, and I equally condemn the grievance which compels the officers of the Army to retire. Now, Sir, I believe that both these grievances might be avoided. At present, an officer is compelled to retire at 40, unless he is a combatant field officer. I would abolish compulsory retirement, and allow an officer to remain in the Army as long as he liked, and fix the maximum pension to be earned at the age of 45; and I believe that if you did not give an increased pension, officers would leave of their own accord, and the grievance they have now would cease to exist, and you would, moreover, get rid of those officers whom you do not wish to retain. The men who loved their profession and had a good prospect of advancement would stay with the Army; but the idlers, married men, and others who do not care about the Service, would see that they had nothing to gain by remaining, and would voluntarily leave. I believe you would also save a large amount of money by adopting this course, and give satisfaction to the Service.


I am not often in disagreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Finsbury (Colonel Duncan); but, in the course of his observations, he has made one or two remarks with which I am unable to agree. In the first place, he said that the quartermasters of the Army were a class of men who were, so to speak, dumb, inasmuch as they could never make themselves heard in this House. Well, Sir, I have had a seat in this House for 18 years, and during 16 of those years I have been either connected with the Army Department, or watching closely Army debates, and I think I may say, without exaggeration, that there has hardly been a year in which the grievances of the quartermasters have not been fully and amply ventilated here. Then the hon. and gallant Member made the remark that he was impatient of the delays caused by the permanent officials of the War Department. Now, when any question affecting the relative position of the officers in the Service is brought up, it is absolutely necessary that it should be most carefully and seriously considered; and I have known many cases, similar to this of the quartermasters, where a settlement was supposed to be arrived at, and then, on further consideration, which caused, no doubt, distressing delay, it was discovered that the settlement would be most injurious to the interest of the Service itself. We hear of the rights of the officers in the Army; but there is always to be considered the interest of the taxpayers and of the country generally, and I greatly deprecate the tendency to agitate the House of Commons in the interest of any particular class of officers. As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, there are one or two points in which the quartermasters have a plausible case. Their position was readjusted only two or three years ago, and since that time it has been shown that one or two things might be done for them which were not done at the time when the readjustment took place. I have gone into these matters, and I can promise my hon. and gallant Friend that no time has been unnecessarily lost in the matter, although to him it may seem otherwise. With regard to the great question of promotion and retirement brought forward by the right hon. Baronet the Member for North-East Manchester (Sir James Fergusson), I am not one who would underrate the gravity of that question, and I observe, with regret, that the increase from year to year of the non-effective expenditure is something undoubtedly alarming. But let us go a little way into the history of the subject. As far as the men are concerned, the present great cost of pensions was foreseen at the time when short service was introduced; and, undoubtedly, we are now, and have been for a considerable period, in this unpleasant position—that we have a still growing charge for the original long service pensions, and at the game time the cost of the short service system. The two systems have overlapped, and we have to bear the cost of both of them; and until all the men have passed out of the Army who have claim for pensions for long service we must bear the expense. But as regards the officers, the increased expenditure arises, undoubtedly, in great part from the abolition of purchase. When purchase in the Army was abolished, an undertaking was given that the average standard of promotion then existing should be maintained. A Royal Commission was appointed to ascertain what steps should be taken in order to bring about the result; it was, I believe, presided over by Lord Penzance; it sat in 1873 or 1874, and it was that Commission which recommended the compulsory retirement of officers that has filled the clubs and the country with comparatively young officers, who are forced into idleness. I am not expressing any opinion whether or not this was a right step; but the opinion of the Commission was adopted by Lord Cranbrook, then Secretary of State for War. No material change was made in the Regulations until 1881, when my right hon. Friend, now Secretary of State for the Home Department, and then Secretary of State for War (Mr. Childers), introduced a Warrant which altered the conditions of service and promotion; but it went almost entirely in the direction of modifying the rigidity of the previous system. Now, the result appears to have been that for one reason or other promoiton has been quicker than the standard rate, especially in the lower ranks. That may have been due to special circumstances; yet, having been so long acquainted with these matters, and knowing how delicate a machine the Army is, I am loth to come to any conclusion on that point. But there are one or two points on which there can be hardly two opinions, and if they can be modified in some way, I believe it would be to the advantage both of the Service and the country. One or two clauses in the existing Warrant appear to me to be capable of modification. I have been considering the subject, and although I am not at present able to announce any decision arrived at, I think I am justified in saying that I see my way to take certain steps which will have a material influence in reducing the dead weight which is felt, and, at the same time, be acceptable to the Army generally. The points I speak of are small; but I need hardly say that from small changes large results very often proceed. But we can only proceed upon such data as we know to be sound, and in order to treat the matter in that careful way, some time is required. I am, however, glad to be able to say to my hon. and gallant Friend who brings the subject forward that, at all events, it is not being neglected, and that if, by some fortunate course of circumstances, I find myself continuing in the Office which I now hold, I hope I may be able to do something in the direction indicated. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for War suggests an impartial and comprehensive inquiry into this matter. I am always afraid of Royal Commissions and large inquiries, because, although they are influenced by the best and most patriotic intentions, they are almost sure to land us in additional expense; and I have no hesitation in stating my opinion that a large inquiry in the present instance would have that effect. I think that there are those advising the Secretary of State for War who, by their long and intimate acquaintance with these questions, know what objects to aim at and what to avoid, and with their assistance I have no doubt that some modification of what is now complained of will be arrived at. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir William Crossman) called my attention to two items in Vote 19. I point out that this is only a Vote on Account, and, that being, so I am hardly in a position to go into details; but the hon. and gallant Gentleman shall have such explanation as I can give. He asked about the barracks at the Cape of Good Hope. With regard to the new barracks at Wynberg, I may say that the barracks at Cape Town were disgracefully old, and required a heavy outlay of money which would simply be wasted. It is intended to provide additional accommodation at Wynberg, which will admit of the Cape Town Barracks being vacated. Then, with regard to Hong Kong, the account I have to give is that, in order to concentrate the garrison, it is proposed to give up the buildings in use, and provide accommodation for the troops now there as well as additional accommodation for 100 men; and for this purpose it is proposed to purchase land at a cost of £40,000, and re-appropriate it to barracks at a cost of £15,000. With regard to the Artillery Barracks at Portsmouth, these are known to be in an unsanitary state, and to place them in a proper condition is one of the first things to be taken up when there are funds available. With regard to the coaling stations generally, I do not think I can add anything to the somewhat full statement made by my hon. Friend the Surveyor General and myself when the Estimates were introduced. On that occasion, we gave a clear account of the money to be expended during the year, and of the purposes for which it would be expended. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Sir Frederick Fitz-Wygram) spoke of the camp at Aldershot, and with a good deal of what he said I entirely agree. I believe a large question with regard to accommodation in barracks would have to be entered into, if the present arrangements were disturbed. Undoubtedly, the huts at Aldershot and elsewhere have been for a long time in an unsatisfactory condition; but the whole question involves serious expense and serious consideration, and it therefore stands over for the present. Now I come to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), who initiated this discussion with a question on Egypt, and who complained of not being able to get any information. I can only say, if that is so, that he has departed from his usual habit of asking questions. I would point out also that he has gone away this evening without waiting for any reply. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will not be very well satisfied when he receives the answer. When he was speaking there were two Ministers in the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who are well acquainted with the subject, and would have replied better than I can. We have done a great deal in the direction of getting away from Egypt; and we have been able with perfect safety, notwithstanding the opinions expressed, to withdraw the British troops as far as Assouan. I regret to say that Assouan is not in a satisfactory state of health. Of course, in a matter of this kind we rest ourselves upon the advice of the General Officer commanding on the spot. At all events, the process of withdrawing our troops from unhealthy positions, and reducing the number of British troops altogether, by substituting Egyptian troops, has been carried further than most people, I think, thought we should find possible. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Blundell) made some remarks on the question of recruiting, and suggested some means of marking recruits, in order to avoid fraudulent enlistment. That is a question we are very familar with, and I know there is a great deal to be said in favour of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman recommends; but I am a little suspicious and doubtful whether the public and the House of Commons are ready to accept any step of that kind. The question of re-entering men who have left the Army is one which I will consider from the point of view which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has urged. Of course, at present no man is entitled to a pension whose service has not been continuous; but if any means can be adopted, without detriment to the Service, of using the services of men who have retired from the Army, but who are anxious to serve again, we shall be glad to adopt them. I think I have noticed all the points which have been raised, and I have now only to express my regret if any hon. Member has been disappointed or put to inconvenience in consequence of these Votes having been put upon the Paper to-night. After all, we only take a Vote on Account. That appeared to us to be the most proper course in the circumstances, and I am sure the Committee will believe that there has been no intention to mislead any hon. Member.


I think it right to say that the Army have implicit confidence in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. They are fully persuaded that he will do everything that he believes to be fair, and just, and right towards both officers and men, and that he will not allow any remarks to be made which will prejudice his view in any way. In regard to the question of the retirement of officers, the question is indeed, as he has stated, a very great one; it is a very expensive one, and it is one which deserves most serious and careful consideration. I am certainly of opinion that if the Secretary of State for War will take the question at ones into his own consideration and carefully look at it in all its details, he may perhaps be better able to find out some way of dealing with it satisfactorily than the Committee would suggest. In all probability a Committee would recommend something on hard-and-fast lines which would not tend to economy or to the contentment of the officers of the Army. I have only one other remark to make, and that is in regard to what was stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Manchester (Sir James Fergusson). That right hon. Gentleman said we had too many officers in the Army. Now, I venture to say that, looking at the work of the officers of our Army, and looking at what our Army has to do all over the world and at the calls upon the officers, there are not even enough officers to do the work of the regiments. It must be borne in mind, too, that it takes very much longer time to train officers than to train the rank and file. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) will consider this matter as fairly as he can, and will do nothing in a hurry, he will be able to produce a scheme which will be both beneficial to the Army and to the country.


The right hon. Gentleman has not said anything upon the question of the jamming of cartridges.


If the Vote under which such a question might properly have been raised had been put down, I should have refreshed my memory. I may, however, say that it was not found, when the cases came to be examined, that the jamming was so serious and so extensive as it has been represented to be. The matter has been receiving the most careful attention, and steps have been taken to prevent any recurrence of the jamming.


I am sure it must be patent to everybody that the Army suffers very seriously by the Secretary of State for War changing with each Government. There have been many changes in this Office within the past year, and now there is every possibility of another change. The result is that the Army suffers very considerably in respect to organization. No sooner does a Minister learn his work and take the subject of reorganization in hand, than he is transferred to another Department, or the Government goes out of Office, and, as a consequence, the Army fails to be organized as it ought to be. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that the Army is in anything but an efficient condition. We require to have our Army Corps property organized; we want to have the supplies, especially in the case of the 1st Army Corps, with the regiments. When an Army Corps has to be equipped everything has to be done in a hurry-scurry, and, as a general rule, the work is not satisfactorily done. I proposed making more observations on the state of the Army, but it is useless at the present time; but, the bayonets having lately failed, and there having been an inquiry upon the subject, I should like to know from the Secretary of State for War whether he proposes to have the bayonets which are in the possession of the Volunteers tested, so that we may know whether they are efficient or not, it having been found that those in possession of the Regular Army are not efficient.


The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) will recollect that on the 6th of March I asked him a Question with reference to the sums voted for the rewards for distinguished and meritorious services. The Question I then asked was whether the rewards for distinguished and meritorious service under the Royal Warrant of 1884 were reserved for officers above a certain rank, and, if so, on what ground that practice had been established? The right hon. Gentleman answered the Question by stating that officers of all ranks were eligible for the rewards, length of service naturally forming an important element in determining the claims, and that, consequently, rewards very often fell to officers in the higher ranks. If hon. Gentlemen will refer to the Estimates, they will see that the sum that is voted for distinguished services is apportioned amongst nine generals, 15 lieutenant generals of Cavalry and Infantry, five lieutenant generals of Royal Artillery, five lieutenant generals of Royal Engineers, 43 major generals of Cavalry and Infantry, five other major generals, four colonels, one colonel Royal Artillery, several lieutenant colonels and majors, but no officer, however long his service, of a lower grade, except riding masters, seems to have participated in these rewards. It so happens that there are officers who have risen from the ranks, and who have served for a considerable time, although they do not hold high position in the shape of rank. They do not seem to participate in this Vote, however distinguished their service may have been. This is particularly hard. I have a case in point. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the officer's name; but, possibly, it will not be desirable to do so, as I do not wish to make this in any sense a personal matter. In the case to which I refer, application was made to the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief for the distinguished service pension, and the answer was— I am directed by the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, recommending Lieutenant (mentioning the officer's name) of the battalion under your command, for the grant of good service pension, and in reply I have to acquaint you that it is not the practice to confer the rewards in question upon officers of his rank. That was directed from the Horse Guards, and dated 19th January, 1886. Now, this officer had served in every grade that it is possible for an Infantry soldier to serve in. He had been in the Service for upwards of 20 years. For six years and eight months he had been adjutant of his regiment. He had had 20 years' foreign service, served in the New Zealand campaign in 1863–4–5, and in the Afghan campaign of 1878–9. He was in possession of the New Zealand and Afghanistan medals, and the medal for long service and good conduct, and the medal conferred on the most deserving soldier of each regiment serving in India at the time of the assumption of the title of Empress of India by Her Gracious Majesty. He was also specially mentioned in despatches for service in Afghanistan. Owing to ill-health, contracted in the Service, he was invalided home, and he was reluctantly obliged to accept retirement. Had his health permitted him to serve only 34 months longer, he would, in all probability, have been retired with the honorary rank of major. He lost £20 a-year for life through not being able to serve these few months. Now, I cannot conceive a more deserving case than this for the consideration of the Government, a case more entitled to participate in this benefit which Parliament intended for long and distinguished and meritorious service. This unfortunate officer has had to retire on a small income simply through ill-health. He is in very straightened circumstances, and it is quite clear one of these rewards would be of far more real advantage to him than to general officers, who are in receipt of comparatively large incomes, and others who are at the present time in receipt of full pay in connection with high appointments they at present hold. I maintain that in dealing with this fund the full intention of the Royal Warrant, which says nothing whatever about rank, should be carried out, and that the men who have risen from the ranks and obtained commissions should participate fairly in the money which is voted by Parliament for distinguished and meritorious services. Depend upon it, it is not calculated to create a good impression in the Army, if men find that this money voted for distinguished and meritorious services is allotted exclusively to officers above a certain grade. It is, in practice, although it may not be in theory, that officers above a certain grade, who are in receipt of large incomes, receive these rewards. I do not in the slightest degree wish this to be considered as a hostile complaint. I bring the subject forward for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, and I refer to this particular case in the hope that he will inquire into it, so that the unfortunate officer with reference to whom I speak here to-night, and others in a similar position, may participate in the advantages which I believe the country intended for all distinguished officers irrespective of rank.


If the hon. Gentleman will furnish me with the particulars of the case to which he refers, I will inquire into it.

Vote agreed to.