HL Deb 04 August 1871 vol 208 cc834-9

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord Northbrook.)


said, though it would be useless for him to attempt to stop the further progress of that Bill, he could not help expressing the apprehensions he entertained of the ill-consequences which the measure would have in the future upon that Army with which he had been from early youth connected, and in which he had served 40 years. He felt that that Army was now about to lose its monarchical and national character, and to become the instrument of the Minister of the day for good or for evil. Under a system of selection the Army would be lowered to the standard of a Parliamentary and political force.


said, he could not allow the third reading to pass without protesting against the measure. The Bill came up late to their Lordships' House, and he regretted that their Lordships did not stand by their first decision not to read the Bill a second time until the Government laid all their plans for organizing the Army before Parliament. With regard to the Militia, he suggested to the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War that there should be more sergeants to the companies, and that the adjutants, when they had served a long time, should have decent retiring allowances. He also hoped the noble Lord would take into consideration the keeping of sergeants in such a position for at least a fortnight after disbanding a regiment, as would prevent the men "paying out," as they called it, sergeants who had done their duty.


said, he wished to explain why he had taken the course he had done in regard to that Bill. He knew something about the principle of selection, and that led him to think that it was very desirable that they should have clearly denned what they were going to put in the place of purchase. Twenty years ago he was placed at the head of the records of this country. He had under him 37 officers in five different departments, and whenever a vacancy occurred it was his duty to appoint a person to the post. Some time after this duty had devolved on him, on an occasion when a vacancy arose, he requested the gentlemen to submit to a voluntary examination, which would, of course, be anonymous. They all consented with one exception. When it was found he took this course he received a severe rebuke from the Treasury. Since then he had made two selections not according to seniority. The first was not followed by the Treasury. In the second case he received a long letter from the Treasury, requesting him to explain why he had not appointed the senior. He wrote a long letter, pointing out the evil of this system, as it allowed in every case the dissatisfied officer to report to the Treasury, and he explained his reason for the selection he had made; in that case those reasons appeared satisfactory. Now, in the course of the discussion on that Bill, he heard some remarks which, with that experience, led him to believe that selection could not be practically followed, and that the Bill would resolve itself into appointments by seniority, which he thought a very objectionable course. The English Army had been a most distinguished Army, and he thought a good deal of care should be given to whatever was put in the place of that which supplied us with such good officers. Election might do, but not selection. Early in life he knew some French soldiers who had been through the Russian campaign, and they said that after the French the English troops were the best in the world, but that the English officers were better than any officers, better even than the French; which they accounted for by the fact that this country, they said, had a system by which rich men were allowed to pay so much money for the privilege of serving the country as an officer. He admitted his ignorance of the subject, but he did as it was his duty to do—pay the best attention he could, to the subject when before Parliament; and he was brought to the conclusion that that was a measure for the benefit of the rich, in which the poor man who rose from the ranks was wholly neglected, and that the effect of the Bill was to throw on the public a burden now cheerfully borne by the rich. These considerations led him to take the course he had done on this subject.


said, he would ask the noble and learned Lord (Lord Romilly) whether he would introduce purchase into the Rolls Office, for that was the inference to be deduced from his train of reasoning. Their Lordships were told that selection had its evils, and that was perfectly true, because it was possible for the person selecting to make a bad selection; but it did not, therefore, follow that the evils of another system, such as purchase, were not greater; for although he knew little or nothing of the Army, he was acquainted with the Civil Service, and could state that it was the practice of the Government to select persons for very important occupations, and upon the whole those selections were not badly made. As for the supposition that purchase was the cause of the British officer being what he was, nothing could be more derogatory to the character of Englishmen than to say that before they could become good officers, they must pay large sums of money for their commissions. The advantage, and the only one, of purchase was, that it enabled officers to obtain higher rank at an earlier period than they could do so under a system of seniority; but the contention that purchase ensured the merits of the British officer refuted itself.


said, he wished to say a few words in explanation of the votes he had given on that subject, because he might appear to have been inconsistent in first opposing the second reading of the Bill, and afterwards dividing against the Resolution proposed by the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond). His intention in voting against the second reading was to stop the Bill; and he was perfectly prepared, if it were possible, to vote against the Bill again, because he believed it would do a great injury to the British Army, and that the people of this country would be of opinion before many years were over that the nation had been subjected to unnecessary taxation. But when Her Majesty's Ministers, by using the weapon in their hands, had made that change, the Resolution of the noble Duke was brought forward. Its object, however, was not to oppose their action, nor did it seek to turn them out; though he for one—while on other grounds he did not wish to displace the Government from office — would have gone that length, if by so doing he could have stopped the Bill. Considering that the Resolution was a barren censure upon men who had done what they believed to be their duty, he did not support it, inasmuch as it would have had no beneficial effect.


said, that the noble Marquess who had just spoken (the Marquess of Clanricarde), and his noble Friend behind him (the Marquess of Exeter) had put a construction on the Bill, which he should be sorry to allow it to bear; and in the absence of the noble Duke who had led the opposition to it (the Duke of Richmond), he wished to make a remark on the real character of the Bill. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) spoke of the Bill as though it was a measure for the abolition of purchase; but it was nothing of the kind. If it did abolish purchase, those who thought sufficient preparation had not been made for such a change would be bound to vote against it. The Bill, however, had, except some minor alterations, been reduced to this point: it compensated the officers and indemnified them from prosecution. He agreed that it was a matter of some doubt whether it would not have been better to have thrown out the Bill, and left the Government to introduce a new Bill for the compensation of the officers; but it was felt by many friends of the officers that probably the result of such a course would be to hang up the whole subject for a year, to the injury of the pecuniary interests of the officers. He did not think they had been at all incon- sistent in allowing the Bill to go forward in its present form.


said, he thought the position taken up by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) was a perfectly correct and sensible one; and it agreed very much with the view of the Government.

On Question? Resolved in the Affirmative.

Bill read 3a accordingly, with the Amendments.

On Motion, That the Bill do pass,


said, he must oppose Clause 6, which transferred the powers of the Lords Lieutenant of counties, with regard to the auxiliary forces, to the Secretary of State; and would move in page 4, line 32, to leave out ("her Secretary of State") and insert ("the Commander-in-Chief.") He would ask their Lordships to continue to the Lords Lieutenant those powers which they had hitherto usefully employed; he also desired that they should be authorized to grant first commissions, and that all recommendations, whether for promotion or exchange, should pass through their hands, the Lords Lieutenant having power to endorse those recommendations.


said, if the Government, as he had been given to understand, intended to send regiments to different districts, and make Militia regiments a sort of reserve for the Line, and appoint the officers of the Line to command the Militia, it would be advisable to give the Commander-in-Chief the power of appointing those officers, because he would obviously be far more competent to judge of an officer's capabilities than the Secretary for War. For that reason it appeared to him evidently necessary that the Amendment of the noble Lord should at once be adopted, and he had great pleasure in seconding it.


said, he trusted the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn) would not press the Amendment, for it was contrary to the whole principle of the Bill. An Order in Council had already been laid on the Table appointing the Commander-in-Chief the officer who would select officers; and the appointments would be made by him subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. He took this opportunity of thanking the noble and gallant Lord for the suggestions he had made, and assured him that they would receive careful consideration.


said, that if the Amendment were adopted the whole clause would require re-construction, which would be then impossible, as the Bill had been read a third time.


said, he thought that the Government ought to take steps to prevent local Parliamentary influence being brought to bear in respect to the appointments of Militia officers.


said, he was quite sure that if the whole of these powers in question were transferred without control of any kind to the Commander-in-Chief, it would produce unmitigated confusion.


said, he thought that the military authorities would be obliged to resort to an objectionable mode of raising the men that would be required.


, understanding that the selection would be in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief, said he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.

Amendment moved, in page 5, line 9, after ("issued") to insert— ("Commissions or first appointments to the rank of cornet, ensign, or lieutenant in any regiment or corps of militia, yeomanry, or volunteers shall be given to persons recommended by the lieutenants of the county to which such regiment or corps belongs, if a person approved by Her Majesty is recommended for any such commission or appointment within thirty days after notice of a vacancy for such commission or appointment has been given to such lieutenant by the said Secretary of State, by letter addressed to him by post.")—(The Duke of Buckingham.)

Amendment agreed to.

Other Amendments agreed to.

Motion agreed to; Bill passed.