HC Deb 08 June 1888 vol 326 cc1643-52

said, as he was precluded by the Rules of Debate from actually making the Motion of which he had given Notice, he would content himself with very briefly putting before the House a statement of the case of those officers on the General List of the Indian Army whose cause he wished to plead. He trusted the House would not be withheld from the consideration of this question by its undoubted technical character, and still less by the fact that it was for a comparatively small number of persons he asked consideration. It should be remembered that the number of men would have been very much larger if the body of General List officers had not been engaged for well nigh 30 years past in serving their Queen and country in a fiery climate, under a burning sun, and thereby considerably lessened their numbers. If he had to apologize to the House for the technical character of the subject he had the honour to submit to the House, he would beg leave to remind hon. Members that it was not the officers on the General List who had made the subject technical, nor was it the Indian Government, but it was the India Office who had sheltered themselves behind a technical objection to the claims that had been urged upon them. There were two points in the case which made it unique among cases of Indian grievances. The first point was one which, he was sure, the House would regard as one of very great importance—indeed, a point to which he very earnestly asked the atten- tion of the House, and that was, that the Government of India, the Commander-in-Chief in India, and all the Indian Military Departments, strongly urged the redress of this monstrous injustice. It was only—and he was sure his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India (Sir John Gorst) would not contradict this statement—only the Secretary of State and his Council who refused that justice for which he was pleading. The India Office just now had in the House of Commons a Representative who was undoubtedly unrivalled for his abilities; and, therefore, it was to be feared that the Office had of late been tempted to brazen out injustices which otherwise they would not dare to defend. He would appeal to his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India to treat this question as if he were the Representative directly of the Government of India and the Commanderin-Chief in India, and not of the Secretary of State and the Indian Council in London; and he would appeal to the House not to allow any lack of skill on his part, in laying the case before them, to prejudice the cause of those for whom he was pleading. The second point he would submit to the consideration of the House as important in this connection was, that this grievance was the last of a long series of grievances that ensued on the amalgamation of the Indian with the British Army after the Mutiny. Many Members would remember the burning dissatisfaction that arose throughout India by reason of the measures taken at the time of that amalgamation. Every one of the objections then taken in India to those measures, every grievance that had been alleged, had been in turn examined and redressed by the Secretary of State, with the exception of this one. This was the last, and he did hope that the Secretary of State and the India Office would now at last be pleased to give way to the wishes of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, and would consent to the redress of this grievance. No doubt, there was some Members of the House who would be in some doubt as to who precisely are the officers on the General List of the Indian Army. A very high authority at the India Office—of course, a layman—told him not long ago that, in his opinion, officers on the General List must mean "general officers" of the Indian Army. Well, they were not; they were officers of a much lower rank. They were officers who were presented to cadetships by the Directors of the old East India Company, just as all the old local officers of the Indian Army were presented; but in the case of those for whom he was now speaking, there was this peculiarity, that between the time of their nomination and the time when they would have been gazetted to their regiments in India, the rule of the East India Company had come to an end. In many cases the regiments to which they would have been appointed a year or two previously had meantime mutinied, and the result was there were no regiments to appoint them to when they arrived in India. From February, 1859, to December, 1861, these officers were allowed by the Secretary of State a certain option to which he would presently refer, and, with the special permission of the Secretary of State, they elected to remain local officers. At the present moment, they were only 162 in number. Their contention was that, being allowed to remain local officers, so also ought they to be allowed to retain the privileges that then attached and still belong to local officers. Of these local officers, he claimed that these General List officers were the last survivors. The privileges they asked for properly belonged to the old Local Service, and were large and valuable, so far as pensions were concerned, and they had always been looked forward to by these officers for a series of years, until they discovered that they had been living in a "fool's paradise." They expected to get these terms until, in 1882, they found themselves placed in a different category and in a different position to their colleagues, who had preceded them only by a year in the Local Service. They were not even allowed the advantages which were granted to members of their own body who, in 1861, had elected to join the Staff Corps. Nor was it any consolation to them that junior members of the Staff Corps, who joined after 1861, were cut down to the same level as themselves, for it was felt that the level was both for juniors and General List officers a very hard and inadequate measure. This hard measure was meted out to officers of the General List in defiance of the most solemn and specific pledge made in 1864. In the Royal Warrant of June 16, 1864, occurred these words— The general promotion of Indian officers will be accelerated, and to every officer, including cadets who entered as late as December, 1861, his promotion to every grade, with the pay thereto belonging, as if the whole Native Army of India had been kept up, is assured, and his right to an Indian pension is maintained. These were Her Majesty's words in the Royal Warrant to those whose cause he was pleading on the present occasion; and he asked that the Secretary of State and Council would consent to allow the Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief to do what they wished to do, and maintain intact the promises of Her Most Gracious Majesty. Of course, at the time of which he was speaking—1864—the question of pensions had not arisen; but by the statement he had read from the terms of the Royal Warrant, it was perfectly clear that it was understood by those who framed the Warrant that officers were guaranteed in all the privileges of all local officers, including, of course, that of pensions. It was not until 1867 that the first blow was struck at the privileges of these officers. In that year, their promotion had grown somewhat rapidly, because a considerable number of their body had left for the Staff Corps, and the Government at once seized on this fact—promotion, they said, was growing too rapidly—and they issued a General Order, on September 6, 1867, summarily stopping all promotion above the rank of captain to be gazetted in future by the fixed rate of service as in the Staff Corps. But it was in 1882 that the final crushing blow was delivered against the rights of these officers—the particular blow against which he was inveighing, and that was the grievance for which he sought redress. This new Order gave officers on the General List, in some cases—in many cases—not much more than half the pensions they would have been entitled to if they had been allowed to retain the old privileges of the Local Service to which they belonged. From the ranks of that Local Service they were only separated by the mere accident of the transfer of the government from the East India Company to the Crown just at the moment of their appointment, and he trusted the House would consider this accident was not sufficient ground for depriving a large and meritorious body of officers of their just rights. This, on the face of it, seemed to be a direct breach of faith. What had the Government to say in reply? He trusted the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State would not condescend to use the only argument that it seemed to him had ever yet been put forward on behalf of the Secretary of State's ruling—an argument that, it must be confessed, had some strictly legal force, though in somewhat of that Shylock spirit of which the House had heard. At all events it had a force that these officers could not resist. The Secretary of State took his stand upon the declaration of these officers made when boys entering the Service, by writing "Yes" upon the document, declaring they would submit to any changes the Government might choose to impose on their conditions of service. In honour, these gentlemen were bound by this declaration of their boyhood, and they would manfully abide by it; but they said it was hard to be held to this declaration to such an extent as that to which the Government drove them, by depriving them of nearly half their pensions. If it be held that a Secretary of State was bound on sound principles to demand his "pound of flesh" in this matter, then he would say most distinctly the declaration of these boys when they entered the Service was most distinctly barred by the ruling of the Secretary of State in the General Order 966 of October, 1861, in which the option to elect which Service they would choose, and which was taken from them, was directly restored to them. The Secretary of State ruled that "option may be given them"—that was the General List officers—"in common with other young officers, to volunteer for the General or Local Service or for the Staff Corps. They were permitted, by special order of the Secretary of State—for this was a correction in answer to a question addressed to the India Office, a correction which was in the handwriting of the Secretary of State literally under his hand—allowing the option. If this was permitted, they should also have the privileges of that Service they chose to elect for, and as if to explain and confirm this order, the Warrant he quoted earlier, issued in 1864, declared that their rights would be maintained just as if the whole Native Army had been kept up, and especially that their rights to an Indian pension would be maintained. He ventured to ask the Government to allow the Government of India to carry out this promise. These men had been serving their country all these years in India, some of them had attained to the highest distinctions, some had been engaged in most perilous and creditable enterprizes in Central Asia; and, in various ways, all had deserved well of their country, for which they had toiled in a dangerous climate. He trusted their claims would be deemed worthy of consideration, and the Secretary of State for India would do, not a generous, but a just thing, if he entertained those claims favourably.


said, this was a grievance which hardly anybody understood, and which it was very difficult for anybody to qualify himself to make a speech upon; and he was afraid it would be quite impossible for him, in the short time before the House suspended its proceedings, to do full justice to the importance of the subject. It was one of those cases of which there were many which lay at the India Office for the recreation of successive Under Secretaries of State. They all had been considered; they had been decided over and over again; but so sure as a fresh Government came into Office and a fresh Secretary of State took up his position in Downing Street, these cases cropped up again, and then there had to be another inquiry, and yet another decision. He believed the last formal decision was pronounced by Lord Kimberley, and probably his hon. Friend opposite (Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth) would be prepared to support the ruling of his former Chief. If the House would allow him, in a summary way, to describe this case, he would say that these officers on the General List were an extremely fortunate body of men. They were men who, under special circumstances, had been promised commissions in the Indian Army, but, before they were gazetted, that Army had ceased to exist. He was invited by the hon. Member for North Kensington (Sir Roper Lethbridge) to "brazen it out," and he could only brazen it out by giving the House the benefit of the advice he had received from his technical advisers, for he could not presume to enter into a contest with hon. and gallant Gentlemen on military matters, or venture to rely on his own opinion in support of the conclusion at which he had arrived. These officers on the General List were promised appointments in the Indian Army, which, however, had ceased to exist before they were gazetted. In these circumstances it was decided to place them upon what was called the General List of the Indian Army. The present question did not permanently affect all the officers on the General List, but only some of them. Some of its officers volunteered for general service, went into the Queen's regiments, were scattered over the face of the globe, and ceased to be Indian officers; others went into the Indian Staff Corps, and it was only the residuum remaining on the General List that this grievance affected. These officers on the General List did duty in the local Service along with the previously existing local officers of the Indian Army; but they were never gazetted with them; they were kept on the General List, and it was especially stated that they were liable to such alterations in the conditions of their service as might thereafter be decided on. Of course, they expected to be treated fairly and liberally, and fairly and liberally he was informed they had been treated. They had all the privileges and rights of promotion and prospects of succession to what were called colonel's allowances as they had when they first went to India. But it happened that in 1866 it was discovered that the old officers of the local Indian Army had been subjected, by the formation of the Staff Corps, to an infringement of the Parliamentary Guarantee, which had been given them under the "Henley" Clause, before any officer of the General List had been gazetted to the Army. The officers of the old Indian Army had had reserved to them at the time when the Act for the Government of India—the original Act of 1858—was passed, very special privileges by a clause in that Act that went by the name of the "Henley" Clause. That clause, in general terms, guaranteed to the officers of the Indian Army, at the time when the Government of India was changed, all the rights, privileges, promotion, and so on, they at that time possessed—it was a sort of guarantee of the vested interests of officers of the old Indian Army. But it was found in 1866 that the terms of this clause had been broken; and thereupon, on the Report of a Royal Commission, there was given to the officers of the local Army, but not to those on the General List—who, as explained before, did not fall under the same category—a certain number of privileges and advantages which he would not now trouble the House by enumerating in consideration of the breach of the "Henley" Clause. But these were given to officers of the local Indian Army, and not to officers on the General List, because only the first-mentioned were entitled to them. The General List officers were not entitled to the operation of the "Henley" Clause, because they joined the Army after the Government of India Act containing that Act had been passed. Shortly stated, the grievance of these officers was that they did not in 1866 share in the special privileges given to Indian local officers, for a special reason—namely, that they were entitled to the protection of the "Henley" Clause, and to a re-adjustment of their position in accordance with the views of the Royal Commission. But, as regards the officers on the General List, he was informed there was no grievance whatsoever arising out of what was done in 1866 for a quite distinct body of officers, and there was no reason why the present Secretary of State should take the position of a Court of Appeal against his Predecessors, and reverse the decision which had invariably been arrived at whenever this question came up for consideration.


said, he agreed that this was a question difficult to understand; and even the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India—who could usually put a case clearly—had failed to do so in this instance. He (Mr. Whitbread) had that day had the duty of presenting a Petition from a constituent who was one of the officers whose claims had been urged. He joined directly after the Mutiny, and he was made to sign a paper to say that he submitted to all the alterations that might be made in the Service. He was compelled to sign the document; he could not have got his commission with- out it; but that paper was understood at the time by this officer, and it was to be presumed by every officer who signed, to refer to any Regulations the Government might make on taking over the Indian Army, and amalgamating it with the British Army; but it could hardly be thought by the officer to whom he referred, or any of those who joined with him, that long years after a Minute would be issued that so materially altered those Regulations. This was the case of his friend. He joined, he signed the paper, and was prepared to accept any conditions laid down at the time. When the Warrant was issued in 1864, their Magna Charta, as it was called, declaring that all rights and privileges should remain as if the Indian Army had been maintained in its strength—this was the substance, though not the exact words—then these officers felt themselves in a secure position; and it was not until long after they found out that promotion was to be regulated by the speed of promotion in the Staff Corps, while they were not to share in any advantages the Staff Corps had. That was one of their grievances, and the main one. He was aware that this question had been discussed before, and he did not expect the House would re-open the question, which had been decided by previous Secretaries of State; but, undoubtedly, there was good ground of complaint that the Order issued by the India Office was not clear, and officers were buoyed up through long service in India by hopes that, in the end, they found were not to be realized. It was much to be regretted that public servants, who spent the best part of their lives in India, should at the end of their term leave the Service with this sore rankling in their minds. The Order referred to, read by any ordinary man, would lead to the belief that these officers had a real and substantial grievance. He was not complaining of the amount of pension ultimately awarded to them; but he thought they had a right to complain of being misled by the Order issued.


said, from his Indian experience, as head of the military finance, and as a Member of the Commission engaged in the drawing-up of the amalgamation scheme, he had no hesitation in saying that the misunderstand- ing as to the position of the Officers on the General List arose entirely from the vague and indefinite Orders emanating from the Directors and Secretary of State and subsequent action of the India Office. When the Bengal Mutiny led to that Army being deprived of Regiments, a large number of young officers went out to India, and they were required to sign the declaration referred to, because it was felt that the Governor General should be free to make such arrangements for the posting as the work of the Commission might render necessary for carrying out the amalgamation. But in the Orders of 1861 forming the Staff Corps, the India Office failed to define the rights of these young officers. He had no hesitation in saying that, whatever conditions were attached to General List officers, they ought to have equal advantages to those retained on the Staff Corps. Any fault, any grievance there was, arose from the action of the India Office.

Main Question, by leave, withdrawn.

WAYS AND MEANS—Committee upon Monday next.