HC Deb 12 August 1889 vol 339 cc1116-20

(1.) "That a sum, not exceeding £79,300, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charges for Half Pay, &c, of Field Marshals, and of General, Regimental, and Departmental Officers, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1890."

(2.) "That a sum, not exceeding £1,186,600, be granted to Her Majesty to defray the charge for Retired Pay, Retired Full Pay, and Gratuities for Reduced and Retired Officers, including Payments awarded by the Army Purchase Commissioners, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 3lst day of March 1890."

Question proposed, "That the House do agree with the Committee in the said Resolutions."

* THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE,) Lincolnshire, Horncastle

According to a promise made when these Votes were discussed in Committee, I ask leave to make a statement as to the mode in which we intend to deal with the general officers' list. It may be in the recollection of the House that a good deal of evidence on this subject was given before the Select Committee on Army Estimates last year, and that in the Report of the Committee the question of reducing the number of general officers according to proposals which had been made was pressed upon the special attention of the Government. We have, therefore, given to the subject a very careful consideration, and the scheme which we have adopted will, as we believe, accomplish all the objects that are desired, and, at the same time, deal justly and tenderly with the important interests involved. The present list of general officers, independent of the Staff Corps, consists of 10 generals, 35 lieutenant generals, and 95 major generals, or a total of 140, which is far in excess of the number of appointments. Promotion to the rank of major general is at present regulated partly by selection and partly by seniority. The result is that a certain proportion of the major generals' list is composed of officers who have never been, and never will, be employed as general officers. The principle of the new scheme is that when it comes into full operation no one will be promoted to the rank of major general except to fill an appointment allotted to that rank. In other words, selection will be introduced in the least invidious form for every promotion. Selection to fill an appointment will apply also to the promotion from the rank of major general to that of lieutenant general, but there will remain a fixed establishment of 10 generals as at present. This is retained as a reward to distinguished general officers. The application of this principle cannot take place all at once. The claims of many existing general officers and of purchase officers generally, are so indisputable that time must be allowed to bring it into effect. The scheme will, therefore, only begin to operate on December 31, 1890, and the reduction in the present numbers will then be gradually effected according to previous precedents in case of reduction of numbers. Moreover, all officers who were on the establishment of general officers in December, 1886, will retain their rights as to promotion. Nor is it possible to limit the number in each grade to the exact number of appointments to be filled, because it must necessarily happen that at the close of a five years' appointment there may be not another vacant appointment available, and therefore what may be called a "backwater" is allowed for in the form of a certain excess in the number of general officers in each grade over and above the number of appointments. Retirement on the ground of non-employment will then be abolished. It is proposed to fix the establishment of full generals at 10, and to abolish the establishment in the other grades, substituting a maximum of 20 lieutenant generals and 70 major generals. This will involve a possible maximum number of 100 general officers, showing a reduction of 40; but according to the report of the actuaries it is probable that the normal number will, under existing conditions, be about 90. The same principles, as I have described, will be applied to the case of the Indian Staff Corps. The vested interests of officers are adequately provided for. The maintenance of the present establishment for general officers of 1886 and earlier and the gradual system by which the reduction in number is to be effected have already been mentioned. But, in addition, it is clear that this reduction will effect also the prospects of colonels It is therefore intended, in order to compensate them for their loss of prospect, and in view of the fact that the rank of colonel is also now restricted to selection to fill an appointment, a power has been reserved to grant to colonels who have been employed as such after December 31, 1890, and retired at the age of 57, retired pay at the rate of £500 instead of the present rate (£450 for Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, and £420 for other arms of the Service, the age being 55.) The pension for colonels' widows is also to be raised from £90 to £100 a year. It will be seen that by this scheme the object will have been accomplished of largely reducing the present numbers, of introducing the principle of selection in its best form, and of creating a list of general officers, all of whom will have been qualified for appointment to that rank, and ought to be the picked men of the Army. The net financial result, after making allowance for the increased retired pay to colonels already mentioned, is estimated to be a saving of £22,000. But I do not put forward these proposals on the ground of economy; I advance them on the grounds of the increased efficiency which will be secured. We are trying to deal justly with every claim which is put forward. I hope that in this short statement I have been able to make clear the general effects of our scheme.


The Secretary for War rather glided over the point as to when the scheme would come into operation, and I should be glad if he would give us some further information on the point. As far as I understand it no step will be taken under the new scheme until 1890, and up to that date progress will be regulated according to precedent. This is extremely ambiguous. It is further stated by the right hon. Gentleman that the claims of all general officers will be considered, especially of purchase officers; but I do not see why the claims of non-purchase officers should not be considered exactly in the same way as those of purchase officers. May I ask whether the Engineers and Artillery are going to be shut out from the benefits of the scheme? I repeat that I think the purchase and non-purchase officers should be treated alike under the scheme.

GENERAL C. C. FRASER (Lambeth, N.)

I beg to earnestly protest against the scheme in the interests of those officers who have spent their lives and fortunes in the hope of becoming general officers. I hope another opportunity will be given on which the House can fully discuss the matter.


I think my hon. and gallant Friend must be mistaken if he fears the Engineer and Artillery officers will not come under the scheme. But I should like to ask the Secretary for War how he proposes to deal with the colonels? I understand that under this scheme some will be left entirely out in the cold and will get no promotion whatever. Is it the case that the scheme will apply only to those who have been actively employed lately? There may be some who have not had the good fortune to be so employed, but who have yet done excellent service, and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend how he proposes to deal with these men who have served with distinction and are still colonels in the Army?


I think the hon. and gallant Member for Galway was quite right in asking me to explain a little more fully what I meant by "gradual reduction." The reduction will take place in the following way:—Every second vacancy in the rank of major general and every third vacancy in the rank of lieutenant general will be ignored. With regard to the Artillery and Engineers, they are entitled to the full benefit of the scheme just as much as their brethren of the Infantry. With regard to the colonels, the Government propose to give a special retiring allowance of £500 instead of £420 in compensation for the loss of promotion which is involved in the scheme.


Is it every second or every third vacancy for major generals will not be "filled up?"


Every second vacancy.

Resolutions agreed to.