HL Deb 15 March 1855 vol 137 cc541-6

Order of the day for the third reading read.

Moved—That the Bill he now read 3a.


I wish to ask my noble Friend the Secretary for War, or the noble Viscount at the head of the army, upon what principle it is that, since the augmentation of the army, commissions in the army have been granted some with and some without purchase? Your Lordships are probably aware that hitherto the granting of commissions without purchase has been quite exceptional. So small a number of them have been at the disposal of the Commander in Chief that, practically, commissions without purchase have been, I believe, granted only either to the sons of officers who have distinguished themselves in service, or to officers who have passed with distinction through the Military College at Sandhurst. The number of commissions which could be granted without purchase has hitherto been hardly sufficient to meet these two classes of cases; but, in consequence of the recent augmentation of the army, rendered necessary by the war, the number of first commissions to be disposed of has been largely increased, and I find that considerable dissatisfaction has been created among various persons under the belief that different people have been differently treated. Thus, one man has been called upon to pay for the first commission which has been granted to his son, while another man who has no closer connection with the army, nor any greater claim than the first, has obtained a commission without purchase. It appears to me most desirable that the country should understand upon what principle these first commissions are to be given with or without purchase. I am not one of those who believe that it would be safe hastily to abolish the system of purchase. Although I should never have recommended its establishment, I think great consideration is necessary before its abolition; and, on the other hand, I am equally certain that a system of that kind cannot be maintained unless there is in the public mind a perfect confidence that its application is fairly and impartially carried out. I therefore wish to ask the noble Lord upon what principle it is that the persons who have come into the army since the commencement of the war have obtained new commissions, some with and some without purchase?


My Lords, my attention having been called the day before yesterday to the question put by my noble Friend, I will give him the best answer that I can to it. I have inquired upon what principle first, commissions are given; and I find that they have been granted without purchase, first of all, to those who have distinguished themselves at the Military College at Sandhurst, and who by passing the highest examination have entitled themselves to the reward to which they aspired. The next class of individuals which has the second claim to commissions without purchase, consists of the sons of those officers of Her Majesty's army or navy who have distinguished themselves in the service of their country, and thereby deserved the indulgence of a first commission without purchase. I am informed that the Commander in Chief recognises, in the next place, the claims of a third class of applicants—namely, the sons of poor and deserving officers generally, of clergymen with large families who have claims upon the public of this country for the manner in which they have discharged their duties, and of individuals whose claims I am sure would be recognised by this House as entitled to such a boon. It is true that these three classes, in consequence of the great demand for officers caused by the war, have been entirely exhausted, and a great many commissions have been given to gentlemen whose names have been long upon the list of applicants, and, in order to meet the demand, the age at which officers may enter the service has even been extended from eighteen to twenty-two years, and officers may now enter the service up to that age. I have endeavoured, but I have certainly failed, to discover that any commission has been granted in a manner which would lead me to suppose that it had been given unfairly or without due consideration, or with any partiality for one class of individuals over another, by my noble and gallant Friend who has the recommendation of persons to these appointments. I am satisfied that, in reference to promotions in the Guards, one half of those promotions has been distributed by my noble and gallant Friend among meritorious officers of the line, and that the other half of the promotions has been so distributed by my noble Friend with a care which will, I am sure, upon examination, reflect great credit upon him. I may mention, in reference to this question, that my noble and gallant Friend delayed making some of the appointments for a considerable time, until he had received reports from the Crimea of those persons who were most worthy of the great step of promotion from the line into the Guards. One of the young gentlemen so promoted, Lieutenant Gordon, of the 38th regiment, had a vacancy kept open for him for a considerable period, as the services which he had rendered in the trenches in resisting a sortie, and retaining his position until he was relieved by a portion of the 50th regiment, were such as, in my noble and gallant Friend's opinion, gave him a claim to the step. I believe my noble Friend incurred some little odium for that appointment, from its being supposed that this officer was a relation of my noble Friend below me (the Earl of Aberdeen), a supposition which I am able, of course, fully to contradict. And I may add, that the gentleman's conduct has fully justified my noble and gallant Friend in giving him the step. This is the statement which I have to make in answer to my noble Friend; and I will only add that I am as alive as he can be to the fact that there ought to be no favour, no partiality, no affection in carrying out the system of promotion, but that one general principle ought to be acted upon; and I am sure that my noble Friend at the head of the army will be guided by that principle.


Nothing was further from my intention than to impute to my noble and gallant Friend commanding the army, that he had shown any such favour or partiality as that to which the noble Lord has alluded. I did not at all advert to the point of promotion in the army. What I did advert to was the question of first commissions, and I think that the statement just made by the Secretary for War, proves that the evil of which I complain does exist; because, after exhausting the two first classes, it appears that there has been a considerable number of commissions which have been given without purchase to those who have no particular claims, and I want to point out to my noble Friend, that, if at the same moment commissions are given to two persons who have equal claims, and that for one the sum of 450l, is paid and the other given without purchase, it is impossible that dissatisfaction should not arise. I think that the right way to meet this would have been to reduce the prices of all commissions, so that all might have obtained them on equal terms; that is, supposing there were two commissions to be given, for one of which 450l. was to be paid and the other was to be given without purchase, then I think 225l. ought to be paid for each commission, so that persons coming with equal claims might find equal treatment. I have only mentioned this subject because I find that much dissatisfaction existed as to these first commissions, as an idea prevails that some claimants have received different treatment from that experienced by others.


It is true that a certain number of commissions have been granted, to some claimants with and to others without purchase, and there would have been a great inequality in the respective numbers had it not been that there were a great many persons on the list of applicants for the purchase of commissions at the amount stated by the noble Earl—450l. But the noble Earl, having been Secretary at War, is aware that there is another consideration mixed up with this subject; he knows that great care must be taken to reduce the half-pay list as much as possible; therefore an injunction was laid on the Commander in Chief that a certain number of commissions should be sold at the regulation price, and the proceeds given to the Secretary at War, to form a fund out of which he was to reduce the half-pay list. There were many officers not well able to serve, and who were a dead weight on the half-pay list, and in consequence of the direction I have mentioned, the sums received in payment from persons purchasing commissions have been paid to the Secretary at War to be applied in mitigation of the half-pay list. This matter has been so thoroughly looked into that I now believe that there is not a captain or a lieutenant on the half-pay list capable of service; and, in consequence of the arrangements which have been made, the half-pay list has been very much reduced. It would, of course, have been more agreeable to me not to have to call upon gentlemen to pay for their commissions; but those called upon were taken from the list of those who had applied to purchase commissions, and the order having been issued that a certain number should be sold, as a necessary consequence that order was obeyed by the Commander in Chief.


Before this bill passes, I wish to put a question to the noble Earl with reference to the reports that are current as to the withdrawal of troops from India. According to the army estimates, provisions are made for twenty-four regiments of infantry and four of cavalry serving in India. Of these, eighteen regiments of infantry are in India, provision having been made for withdrawing six regiments of infantry, which I believe are now on their way. Of the four cavalry regiments, I see one has been withdrawn and is passing through Egypt; and I understand that the 12th Lancers have received orders to depart from Bangalore for embarcation for the Crimea. I believe the four regiments specified are to be withdrawn, so that the total number of infantry and cavalry in India will not correspond with the number voted by the House of Commons. This is a subject on which I should feel great apprehension if it is intended to reduce the European force both in cavalry and infantry in India. I wish to ascertain whether these reports be correct, for it is stated that not less than 10,000 Europeans are to be withdrawn from India. I must say that I believe the number to be greatly exaggerated; at the same time I think the number to be withdrawn is very large. I see also that it is stated that volunteering is allowed from the regiments that are to serve in India into regiments proceeding to the Crimea. If this he so, not only will the army serving in India be reduced below the ordinary establishment, but likewise those regiments now there will be deprived of the recruits sent out to them every year.


With reference to the troops withdrawn from India, I can only say that orders have been given to withdraw the 10th Light Dragoons and the 12th Lancers from India. The 10th Light Dragoons are now at Cairo, and the Viceroy of Egypt has extended his hospitality to the whole regiment in a manner worthy of an Eastern prince. With regard to the 12th Lancers, they have not yet arrived at their destination, but I hope they will soon be available for service in the Crimea. I can assure the noble Earl that, as to the propositions made for reducing the army in India, great caution has been and will be observed in this respect, and that they will not be withdrawn without the most careful consideration.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly and passed.