HL Deb 16 July 1868 vol 193 cc1233-47

asked the Under Secretary of State for War, Whether the Arrangements for the Establishment of the new Department of Control in the War Office and for the closer Union of the Civil Departments of the Army are completed; and, if so, whether he will state the general Nature of those Arrangements? Their Lordships were no doubt aware that the evidence taken by Lord Strathnairn's Committee afforded convincing proof that the existing arrangements in regard to the administration of the civil branch of the army were highly unsatisfactory. Those who took an interest in the subject had watched carefully what had gone on, and he believed everyone who took any interest in the army heard with satisfaction in November last of the appointment to the office of Controller of Sir Henry Storks. He (Earl de Grey) fully approved the step, and he believed that Sir Henry was the very fittest man that could have been selected. Sir Henry Storks entered on his duties on the 1st of January; and the question now was what was to be the practical result of that appointment, and what steps were to be taken to promote the union of the separate Departments, as recommended by Lord Strathnairn's Committee. It was not until the month of June, however, that any information was given or any discussion took place as to the results of Sir Henry's appointment. At that time there was laid before the other House of Parliament the Correspondence which had passed between the Treasury and the War Department. When the Correspondence first appeared he (Earl de Grey) turned to it with much interest, in the hope that it would afford a clear explanation of the position which Sir Henry Storks was to occupy in the War Department as Controller-in-Chief, likewise of the duties which he was to discharge, and of the steps taken with the view of carrying out the amalgamation during the six months which had elapsed since his appointment. He regretted to say, however, that after a careful perusal of the Correspondence he could not find in it that full and clear information which he trusted would have been afforded, and consequently he had felt it his duty before this Session closes to ask the noble Earl opposite, the Under Secretary of State, to supplement the information contained in the Correspondence, and to clear up some points which were obscure. Now, in order that he might make clear to the noble Earl and to their Lordships his object in asking the Question of which he had given Notice he must in the first place remark that he was strongly convinced that one of the most important reforms in connection with our military Departments was that closer union of the various civil Departments of the army—the Commissariat, Purveyors, Transport, and Barrack Departments—which formed the basis of the recommendations of Lord Strathnairn's Committee. He believed, indeed, that the present state of these Departments was so unsatisfactory that if we were to engage in a European war we should at the outset of such an undertaking find ourselves involved in serious difficulties. Therefore, as he understood the matter, the first and principal duty of the Controller-in-Chief was to effect a complete amalgamation of those Departments, giving, of course, due consideration to existing interests. It was, however, a great mistake to suppose that such a duty could be effectually performed in a short time. The task was, in fact, a most arduous one, and, he believed it would test all the administrative ability even of so experienced a man as Sir Henry Storks. At any rate he felt confident it was an undertaking which could not be carried to a satisfactory issue if the officer charged with it in the first instance were merely empowered to lay down general regulations for the guidance of the Departments and to frame the rules which were afterwards to be followed. It was also necessary that he should see those rules carried into effect, and that he should not relinquish his post until the new Department was in a position to run alone—if he might use the expression. Such being his opinion he not unnaturally referred to the Papers in order to ascertain what was the precise position in which the Controller-in-Chief had been placed, but he confessed there was much obscurity on that point. He was unable to make out, for instance, whether Sir Henry Storks had been appointed Controller-in-Chief with the intention that he should hold the office as long as his doing so might be for the benefit of the public service, and as long as it might be necessary for him to hold it in order thoroughly to carry out the work on which he was, engaged; or whether it were merely intended that he should hold it only a short time for the purpose of laying down general regulations under which the contemplated reforms were to be accomplished. Sir Henry Storks had been appointed Controller-in-Chief, with a salary of £2,000 a year, and with a position equal in all respects to that of a permanent Under Secretary of State. This was clear from the commencement of the Correspondence; and yet Sir Henry's position was described in the last letter from the Treasury as a provisional arrangement entered into with a view to his framing regulations, carrying out the impending changes in the War Office, and bringing the establishments into working order. For his own part, he should not have contemplated that the Controller-in-Chief would, as a rule, be in the position of an Under Secretary of State, nor was it as a rule necessary that he should be so. But when he saw Sir Henry Storks placed in that position he concluded that that step had been taken because the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the War Department felt it was only right that so dis- tinguished an officer should, while he held the post of Controller, have the official rank and status of an Under Secretary. He should deeply regret if, for the sake of saving £500 a year by reducing the salary from £2,000 to £1,500, any risk should be run of losing the advantage of Sir Henry Storks' services as the head of the Control Department, even for a single day, before he had completed the work which he had undertaken to perform. He trusted the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) would give a distinct explanation as to the real position which Sir Henry Storks now occupied. This letter from the Treasury went on to state what were the relative positions of the Department of Control and the other Departments of the War Office, particularly the Finance Department. The Treasury appeared to apprehend that there would be a collision between those two Departments; but he confessed he did not share in that apprehension. It seemed to be intended that the Account or Finance Department should freely lay before the Secretary of State their comments on the proposals of all the other Departments, as far as expenditure or financial affairs were concerned. He quite concurred in the propriety of such an intention, and he should even hesitate to place and narrow interpretation on the phrase "financial affairs." Whenever an increase of expenditure, either actual or perspective, was involved, it ought to be the duty of the Finance Department to state their views on the subject to the Secretary of State for his consideration. On that point, therefore, he had no issue to raise. He should, however, like to know the precise interpretation which the noble Earl placed upon that sentence in the letter which related to the compilation of the Estimates. It was laid down that it should be the duty of the Financial Department to compile the Estimates for all army expenditure. Now, the Estimates went through various stages in the course of their preparation. In the first instance, they were prepared by the branches intrusted with the administration of the various Departments, and then sent to the Finance Department, where they were brought together and checked one with another, and also considered in their general financial bearings. He hoped it was not now intended to take the first preparation of the Estimates from the various administrative branches; and further he hoped the noble Earl would be able to show that the re- sponsibility for the Estimates and for every one of their details would still rest on the Secretary of State alone. The Account or Finance branch was a Department of the War Office precisely like the other branches. It was responsible to the Secretary of State, and to him alone; it took its orders from him, and from him alone. He did not wish to under-rate the importance of the duties of the Account or Finance Department; he believed they were of the utmost importance. He only desired to make it clear that its duties were entirely conducted under the authority of the Secretary of State, and under a responsibility to him and to him alone. So far was he from being disposed to undervalue the importance of that Department, that it had more than once crossed his mind whether advantage would not be derived from placing the chief superintendence of financial business in the War Office—of course under the Secretary of State—in the hands of a Parliamentary officer somewhat analogous to a Civil Lord of the Admiralty. He did not give that as a positive opinion, but wished merely to show that in holding that that Department was not outside of the War Office, but was one under the Secretary of State, his remarks did not proceed from any desire to depreciate that Department, but from a desire that all those Departments should be kept in due subordination, so that the authority and the responsibility of the Secretary of State should not be weakened or over-shadowed. He looked upon it that the real and important duty which Sir Henry Storks, or whoever might be the Controller-in-Chief, had to perform was to re-organize upon a thoroughly efficient basis the civil Departments of the army outside the War Office. They should, as far as possible, assimilate their arrangement so that their army should be managed at home in the same manner as it was managed abroad, and and also, that as far as practicable—of course, with the necessary differences—it should be administered in time of peace in the same manner as in time of war. It was obvious that that was the only means by which they could really get the administrative branches of the army into a proper state for the outbreak of hostilities; and that the more closely they could assimilate their Departments in time of peace to the system requisite for a time of war the more they would be prepared for war. And it was because he knew the unsatisfactory condition of those Depart- ments at present, and because he felt that a grave and serious responsibility would rest on any Government that delayed the re-organization of those Departments on such a basis, that he trusted he should hear that evening that the Secretary of State was fully alive to the importance of the subject, and also that Sir Henry Storks was now about to set himself to work in carrying on outside the War Office that re-organization of the civil Departments of the army which he believed to be one of the most important reforms of our military system.


said, that this was a subject which had on various previous occasions occupied the attention of Parliament. In 1859 or 1860 the House of Commons appointed the Committee on Army Organization; and in. 1861 the late Lord Herbert of Lea took up the question and proposed to the Treasury a reform somewhat of the nature of that now under consideration. The course of events in the five following years was not favourable to the consideration of the proposed changes, and nothing was done until 1865, when the project was revived. The year 1866 and a great part of 1867 was occupied by the most valuable Inquiry of Lord Strathnairn's Committee, whose valuable Report was presented in the summer of 1867. At the end of the same year Sir John Pakington proposed to the Treasury the appointment of Sir Henry Storks as Chief Controller, for the purpose of carrying into effect the contemplated reforms. The appointment was concurred in by the Treasury, and Sir Henry Storks at once assumed his office to prepare for the execution of the scheme of re-organization of which he was to have the direction. In the following March his proposals were submitted to the Treasury, who in April asked for further information, which was immediately afforded them. Then followed some correspondence respecting the Royal Warrant for the constitution of the new Department, and on the 28th April the Royal Warrant was issued. On the 29th of June the Treasury wrote expressing their views as to the arrangements then contemplated, and suggesting various modifications in those arrangements; and a day or two later Sir John Pakington substantially accepted the modified terms proposed by the Treasury; and now there remained several points to be considered. That was the position in which the matter at present stood; and he hoped that in a very few days they would commence to bring the new arrangements into gradual operation. It was true that the discussions between the various Departments of the army hitherto had been rather complicated; that their harmonious action had been somewhat overlooked in their original constitutions; and that they were not so designed as to work together well on the occasion of a great strain. That, however, would now be remedied, and the Chief Controller would be the sole authority at the War Office to govern Departments and Staffs which had hitherto been under four or five different heads. The illustrious Duke (the Commander-in-Chief), on a former occasion when that subject was mentioned, appeared to fear that the Chief Controller would have too much power, and that it would be difficult to control that officer himself; but he (the Earl of Longford) trusted the illustrious Duke would find that any objection on that ground had been obviated. One of the causes which had tended rather more than another to delay the preparation of the scheme was a little over-anxiety on the part of the Treasury to secure to themselves sufficient financial control against the presumed tendency of the Secretary of State towards extravagance. But on that point the Treasury and the Secretary of State had, he thought, now come to an understanding, and he trusted that there was now no risk of collision between the two Departments. The scheme was now so far organized that its gradual adoption would be immediately proceeded with. Rather an exaggerated importance out-of-doors had been given to that reform, which was a re-distribution that would, he trusted, effect certain improvements in the Departments; but the new Controller would not not be a magician, who by a wave of his wand could prevent the possibility of future delay or disappointments. He hoped the public service would gain greatly by the adoption of the scheme; but the measure should be taken for what it was—an important interior re-arrangement, and not a panacea against all future shortcomings. There would still be some red-tape and a considerable amount of correspondence connected with the Administration, and there would also still be prejudiced persons ready to circulate and to listen to any story against the War Office. Nevertheless, he hoped the scheme would result in great advantage to the country.


The subject of the noble Earl's (Earl De Grey's) Question is one of such vast importance to the service that I feel bound to express my great satisfaction that it has been brought before your Lordships' House; because certainly since this Treasury Minute has been published and circulated there has been such a variety of opinion as to the meaning of that Minute that it is extremely difficult for an outsider to understand what its effect is. I trust we shall get that information tonight—although I do not think we have yet obtained all we could wish. It is one of the most singular documents I ever read. Its intention appears to tide over any difficulties and make everything smooth and easy; but I cannot help thinking that it puts the War Office in an undesirable position. I do not see how two bodies can be placed on an equal footing and yet both hare the opportunity of referring to the Secretary of State, without there being continual collision between them, and without the Secretary of State being kept in a state of perpetual hot water between the two. I understand that this is not the intention, but that what has hitherto been the practice shall continue to be followed. I most sincerely hope that this will be so; for one of the most essential points in our military organization is to bring matters into some sort of ship-shape in the War Office. We are perpetually told that our military organization is so defective that it will break down on the first emergency. No doubt a great deal is wanted, and I cannot help feeling that on all sides, and without reference to one side of the House or the other, that the modifications required for the War Office are so important that they cannot be delayed a single day longer. I understood that my gallant Friend Sir Henry Storks was wisely, prudently, and judiciously selected by the Secretary of State for War to be Controller-in-Chief, and I presume that it was on account of the high position which he would fill that it was thought inconvenient and improper to offer him this post without at the same time giving him the rank and position of an Under Secretary of State. It might have been expected that after Sir Henry Storks had been selected for this post he would have been placed in a position to deal with the duties of the office. But what has been done? I Immediately Sir Henry Storks wished to take his place and perform the functions of his office, difficulties arose. It was discovered that the office of Controller was of so important a character that he ought to he controlled. Objections were raised from a variety of quarters, which produced this extraordinary Treasury Letter, and which for the future considerably modifies the position of Sir Henry Storks. I hope that whatever may be hereafter the decision with regard to Sir Henry Storks one thing will be clearly understood, and I shall be glad of some assurance from my noble Friend after I have sat down that he will be left in the position for which he has been selected until he has not only been able to carry out the reforms recommended by himself, but until he has seen that the whole system works efficiently and well. It is not enough that he should always be there to indicate what ought to be done, but he ought to be continued in that position, irrespective of whatever other arrangements may be made, until he has seen the working of the new system and satisfied himself that it would produce good results. He ought also to satisfy the Secretary of State that matters were in such a state that his successor would follow in his footsteps and carry out the duties of the office so that they would work smoothly and well. If that is to be the effect of the Letter, and if my noble Friend will give me an assurance that this is the feeling of the War Office, the effect which this Treasury Minute has produced upon me will be greatly relieved. There is another observation I wish to make on this remarkable document, and on which I feel very strongly. It contains a most singular paragraph, in which, among other recommendations, it is stated that there should be an additional Under Secretary appointed to assist the Secretary of State on military matters, who shall generally, if not always, be a military man. I apprehend that the meaning of that is that this official shall give military advice to the Secretary of State on points connected with the working of the office. If that is the intention my mind is greatly relieved, for I regard this as a wise and prudent arrangement. But it appears to me that the effect of the Minute is to make this officer supersede all other military advisers, including the Commander-in-Chief, who has hitherto been considered the military adviser of the Secretary of State, whatever political party he might be connected with. Providing that this arrangement does not place the Commander-in-Chief in an inferior position to that of the Under Secretary—who need not be a military man at all—and provided also that military advice is to be given by the Commander-in-Chief, and that the advice given by the Under Secretary shall be confined to points connected with the office, I shall be quite satisfied; but I should like to have some assurance on that subject from my noble Friend. I am delighted to hear from the noble Earl (Earl De Grey) that the responsible financial officer of the War Office is the Secretary of State for War. There can be no other authority. He may take any officer of his Department to advise him on special or confidential matters, to whom he may refer those matters which are essential for the proper working of the office; but I contend that what is called the compilation of the Estimates, though made by the various Departments, should be made under the direct authority of the Secretary of State, who should be controlled exclusively by the Treasury. I am delighted to hear that there is not to be a smaller Treasury in the War Office. The Treasurer of the War Office is the Secretary of State for War, and the only controlling power of the Secretary of State is the Treasury itself. Another point of importance is the preparation of the Estimates in the various Departments. The Estimates to be of any value in a large office like the War Office can only be prepared by the heads of the several Departments. They should then be corrected and adopted by the Secretary of State. But if the Secretary of State in his individual capacity, or the Government as a body, should, after the preparation of the Estimates make a considerable reduction in them, I contend that it is the province of the various heads to propose their own reductions in those Departments, and that it should not be left in the hands of a financial officer who may know nothing of the individuality of the Departments, and who has only to deal with the results. It is true that after the question has been considered by the Departments the whole question must go back to the financial officer, who will report to the Secretary of State; but that is a very different thing from having a financial officer to decide upon his own ipse dixit, and to say what ought to be the reduction in the various items. Upon that point there seems to be a want of clearness in what fell from the noble Earl who spoke last (the Earl of Longford), and I hope that he will be able to give us some further explanation on this point. I hope there will be no delay in going on with such reforms as are contemplated, for your Lordships may rest assured that the uncertainty that hangs over offices when changes are intended to be made is extremely inconvenient and mischievous both inside and outside the office. It is essential it should be clearly understood that when ever changes are thought desirable and are determined upon they should be at once commenced; although they should be carried out no doubt with the greatest forbearance and consideration for those concerned, but yet with as little delay in carrying out a great measure of reform as possible. There is no point of military interest on which the country has expressed an opinion more strongly than the desirability of some regular system which should avoid confusion and tend to confirm the wise and prudent arrangements which have been made from time to time by the various military Departments. I hope that the result of to-night's conversation will be to satisfy Sir Henry Storks that no intention is implied in this Minute of removing him from the important post for which he is so well fitted, and the duties of which I feel sure he will discharge to the satisfaction of the country, and to the great simplification of the general arrangements of the War Office.


said, that no one could have held office, as he had done, in the War Department without feeling the necessity of extensive but judicious changes. The explanation of the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) must have greatly increased the apprehensions of his noble Friend (Earl de Grey); for though the noble Earl deprecated the importance attributed to the matter, and represented the re-organization of the Department as a very ordinary proceeding, the correspondence on the subject was of a very extraordinary character. In December, 1867, the War Office applied to the Treasury for the appointment of a Controller-in-Chief, with a position equivalent to that of Under Secretary of State, and with a salary of £2,000 a year; but in the following June the Treasury proposed the appointment of a Controller without the rank of Under Secretary, and at a salary of £1,500, and likewise of a principal Financial Officer with a salary of £1,500, and with a deputy, The latter appointment had not been asked for; but the very next day the War Office accepted the proposal of the Treasury with the exception of some details. Discussions must evidently have occurred between December and June, but no light had been thrown on them—though the remarks of the noble Earl seemed to imply that the Treasury objected to the original scheme because they wished to secure efficient financial control. The Treasury, indeed, had of late years shown a disposition, as well in the case of the Admiralty as of the War Office, to set up little Treasuries in the various Departments, so as to hold communications with subordinate officers in them without the intervention of the heads. The question was whether the principal Financial Officer and his deputy were to be the officers of the Treasury or of the War Office—for this was the gist of the whole question. If the intention was that every proposal connected with expenditure should go from the Controller-in-Chief to the new Financial Officer, how was the business of the former to be carried on? It must not be supposed that this would be a mere form, for the fault of the War Department was that it was given to endless correspondence and delay, and he could conceive no proposal more calculated to increase the evils already existing. Moreover, to take off the responsibility from the shoulders of the officer of practical knowledge and transfer it to an officer not having such knowledge was likely to encourage the former to be reckless in his recommendations as to expenditure, since, whether they were accepted or rejected, the responsibility would not rest with him. As to the preparation of the Estimates, the Secretary of State, as the illustrious Duke had remarked, was the person responsible, and unless he was brought in contact with the officer of practical knowledge there was little chance of efficiency or economy. The noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) had not given a full explanation on this point. As a civilian he must protest against that portion of the scheme which implied that no military man was fit to be the Financial Officer, for he had found military men quite as anxious for economy as civilians, and men, moreover, who from their professional knowledge were much more fitted than civilians to offer excellent suggestions with a view to economy. Indeed, at the time the Treasury put forward their scheme the office of permanent Under Secretary was held by a civilian. When, too, the gigantic expenditure attendant upon the Indian mutiny was brought down to something like a peace expenditure, it was military men who did it, General Balfour being one of the most distinguished. He hoped, therefore, that so unwise a rule would not be laid down. He should like some further explanation as to the position of Sir Henry Storks—whether he was to remain Controller-in-Chief with the salary and position originally proposed, or with the less responsible position suggested by the Treasury. In conclusion, he begged to say that this matter was one of very great national importance, and if Her Majesty's Government had been induced to give way to the Treasury, he hoped they would retire as quickly as possible by a change of position from the place which they now occupied, and he had no doubt the country would support them.


, in explanation, said that there was no intention of interfering with the functions of the illustrious Duke or the Horse Guards as they were at present exercised. It was the most earnest wish of the Department that Sir Henry Storks should continue to hold the position of Controller-in-Chief. The illustrious Duke had spoken of the Estimates. It had been his intention to explain that the Estimates would be framed very much as at present, and would be submitted to the Secretary of State for War. The Financial Secretary of the Treasury would be consulted, but not exclusively. The illustrious Duke was also anxious that no time should be lost in proceeding with the arrangements, which were entirely in accordance with the wish of the War Office. But the delay had been very much occasioned by another matter, to which the illustrious Duke had referred—namely, the necessity of consulting the vested interests of the numerous officers employed in the different Departments. He quite concurred with what had fallen from the noble Lord (Lord Northbrook), that it was not impossible that military men might be found quite competent to conduct, as financiers, the military finances of the accounts of the War Office.


said, that the real question now before the House was, he ventured to think, whether the recommendations of the Committee over which he had presided should be carried out or not. In order to carry those recommenda- tions into effect the Secretary of State for War had adopted two very important measures—he had selected an officer of acknowledged ability and tried experience to preside over the organization of the new system, and he had given that officer the high appointment of Under Secretary of State with a proportionate salary. Unfortunately, however, the Letter of the Treasury bearing date the 29th of June—the last, he believed, of the Correspondence which had been laid before the House—had nullified the advantages of that appointment of Sir Henry Storks as Under-Secretary, and was opposed to the tenour and spirit of the most important recommendations of the Committee over which he had presided. It was evident that an officer in Sir Henry Storks' position required all the assistance he could get in carrying out a difficult task. It was equally evident that the announcement in the Treasury Letter of the date which he mentioned must have very materially interfered with that influence which was so necessary for Sir Henry Storks' success. There was another point in the Treasury Letter to which he wished to refer, and that was, the association of an Officer of Finance with the Controller-in-Chief on equal terms. In other words, the Treasury proposed to associate two officers with wholly different objects, and, he must say from past experience, he feared antagonistic views. Speaking briefly, the Chief Controller might be said to represent expenditure, while the Financial Officer represented economy. There would therefore be a perpetual jarring between the two Departments. That association of incoherent elements was entirely opposed to the most essential recommendations of the Committee, which were that the administrative or civil Departments of the army, now disconnected, should be brought into unity of action with the regimental Departments, under one authority, one head; the Controller-in-Chief representing the authority and duties of the Secretary for War and those of the Commander-in-Chief. He thought the House was largely indebted to his noble Friend on the opposite Benches (Earl De Grey) for the zeal and ability with which he had a second time brought this question before the House. He entirely agreed with the illustrious Duke as to the vital importance of this matter. Their Lordships might be surprised to hear that one of the great difficulties which Sir Robert Napier had lately to encounter was a total disorganization of the transport for the Abyssinian campaign. That disorganization of the transport system at Bombay had been the cause of the delay of the operations for one month. It was really no easy matter to describe all the difficulties that had occurred. Hundreds—he might say almost thousands—of mules were landed on the seashore, and there was no one to take care of them. They ate up fifteen fathoms of rope to which they were attached, they were badly tethered, and the whole arrangements were so bad that the officer in command was obliged to name an officer from the 3rd Dragoon Guards in order to have the commonest attention paid to the animals in the general pursuit of them along the coast. He could only join, therefore, in the wish expressed by the illustrious Duke that no time might be lost in giving full effect to the recommendations of the Committee. In associating the Controller-in-Chief with the principal Financial Officer the Treasury had lost sight of a condition to which the Committee attached the greatest importance, and which they constantly and earnestly advocated as a guarantee of the success of the organization—that was, that the Secretary of State for War should undertake no army measure without the concurrence, if possible, or at any rate the knowledge and advice, of the Commander-in-Chief. Now he would be very sorry that it should be supposed that he was a partizan. So little was he affected by partizanship that when Her Majesty's Government established the office of Secretary of State for War—under the influence, certainly, of a loudly expressed public opinion—he (Lord Strathnairn) at once stated that every military authority in this country—even the Commander-in-Chief himself—must be under the influence of the superior authority vested in the new Secretary of State for War. But, while he said that, he must also say that there was no view which presented itself so frequently and in such different forms to his mind as this—that the greatest harm would be done to the military service by the non-recognition of this great principle—that the Secretary of State for War, while the supreme military authority, should undertake no military measure without the knowledge and advice, and, if possible, the concurrence of the Commander-in-Chief.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Eleven o'clock.