§ EARL GRANVILLE
Your Lordships are aware, at least by common report, that Notice has been given of a Question to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons as to the course which Her Majesty's Government intend to take respecting the question of purchase. The Question has, I believe, been already put; and although no Question has been addressed to me in this House, I think it more respectful to your Lordships that I should ask your permission to make a short statement on a subject of such great importance, and in which your Lordships take so great an interest. 3 Your Lordships will remember that my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for the War Department, in the remarkable speech in which he asked you to give a second reading to the Army Regulation Bill, gave a very clear account of the history of this question. He showed you what had been the Report of two Commissions, one in 1857, and the other in 1870, the latter having been appointed for the express purpose of giving Parliament, the country, and the Government official knowledge of the illegal practice which was generally known to exist. He pointed out what the recommendations of those Commissioners were, and he particularly alluded to that portion of the Report in which the Commission of 1870 showed the impossibility of preventing the illegal practice of over-regulation prices as long as regulation prices were sanctioned. My Lords, he quoted the opinion of a right hon. Gentleman whose personal character and whose official position as Chairman of the last Commission gave it singular authority—Sir George Grey—whe pointed out that it was the bounden duty of the Government to declare that they would not continue to sanction that which was known to be illegal, and that it was their duty to take every means in their power to put an end to the practice. That statement, one invested with so much authority, was not even questioned in the House of Commons, and it was only very indirectly alluded to, though frequently quoted, by one or two noble Lords who spoke upon the question in this House. My noble Friend also stated that the main object of the Bill we had introduced was to enable us to extend a just and liberal treatment to the officers if purchase were abolished. It was not necessary to come to Parliament to put an end to the practice; but it was desirable to have the sanction of Parliament to an Indemnity Bill for the officers, and also to take Parliamentary authority for the pecuniary indemnity which might be given to them. I followed in the footsteps of my noble Friend, of the Lord Privy Seal, and, I think, of at least one other Member of the Government, in stating with the utmost clearness and distinctness—avoiding, as I was naturally bound to do, any phrase which might be misconstrued into threat or menace—that Her Majesty's Government would not connive 4 any longer at the illegality, denounced as it had been by two Commissions and by the House of Commons—an illegality, too, which after their Report could not be asserted to be not officially known. To that declaration I added that it was the determination of Her Majesty's Government to do everything in their power to ensure a just and liberal treatment to the officers who might be affected by the change to be made. Your Lordships adopted the Resolution of the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) with which we are all so well acquainted; and Her Majesty's Government had to consider both their bounden duty—for they agreed in every word Sir George Grey had said—and also the enormous inconvenience which would occur to the Army itself, and to all the arrangements connected with it, from any delay or uncertainty in this matter. The result of that consideration has been to advise Her Majesty—not to make any use of her Royal Prerogative, because there is no question of that in this matter—but in the exercise of that discretion which is conferred upon the Crown by statutory enactment to take the only means which is possible to put an end to the illegal practice which has thus been denounced; and I may add that Her Majesty has graciously consented to sign a Warrant this day which cancels the regulation that sanctions prices being paid for the sale, purchase, and exchange of commissions. My Lords, as I have stated, on Monday night I made two declarations. My second declaration was that we wish to do everything in our power that we believe to be just towards the officers of Her Majesty's service, and that we looked to your Lordships' public spirit and sense of justice to co-operate with us in so doing. Your Lordships must have been struck by the wording of the Resolution passed and proposed by the noble Duke. In certain respects it was somewhat vague—and I rather think it was intentionally vague—inasmuch as it did not declare that the House was bound to do any positive thing, but that it was unwilling to pass the Bill except in certain contingencies which were named. In discussing that Resolution it was frequently stated on the opposite side that the question did not turn on the maintenance or abolition of purchase; but I think no one will deny that the objection which 5 many of your Lordships entertained to the abolition of purchase greatly influenced both the tone of the debate and the vote to which you ultimately came. I can now only express an earnest hope that in the very altered circumstances of things, when no responsibility any longer weighs upon your Lordships as to that which has been done with regard to the abolition of purchase, your Lordships will co-operate with us in doing that for which every Member of the House who spoke expressed the strongest anxiety—namely, to insure justice to the officers, and that you will do so by considering temperately and calmly the Bill which is still before your Lordships. My noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War will fix an early day for the second reading, in the hope that you will accede to that course. I trust that your Lordships will take that course, and I may point out that the clauses in the Bill are of a different character. The 3rd clause, providing for the pecuniary compensation to officers, is one which you cannot touch except for the purpose of having the Bill rejected; but the 2nd clause is one which does not in the slightest degree touch the privileges of the House of Commons. It touches upon the abolition of purchase, and it also provides a legal indemnity for the officers who have been guilty of that which we know now to be illegal. It is not a course which I should prefer or should recommend; but if it would be more agreeable to your Lordships to avoid as far as possible sharing the responsibility of an act which now rests with the House of Commons, with the advisers of Her Majesty, and to make any alteration in that clause as far as it admits acquiescence on that point, it is one to which Her Majesty's Government will make no serious opposition. My Lords, I hope I have said nothing to induce your Lordships to take anything but a most calm and conciliatory view of the very important question—which really is at this time so important that we ought not to be led away by mere feelings or impulses, but should act on the calmest dictates of reason. This question has always been one of the greatest difficulty. If I remember right, Louis XIV. and his powerful Minister Louvois, in the full swing of despotic power, attempted to abolish purchase, but failed, and were only able to put some restraint upon it; and the system was only finally 6 swept away by that great French Revolution which broke out towards the end of the last century. Both the opponents and promoters of this Bill have confessed the difficulty of dealing with the question. The illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge), whom I see on the cross-benches, said, only a very short time ago, he could not have conceived that the House of Commons would consent to such a scheme of compensation, which he declared to be so perfectly just and liberal towards the British Army. My Lords, I think it will speak well for our constitutional institutions if, without more friction than is almost unavoidable in discussing subjects on which great and sincere differences of opinion exist we are able, in harmony with the other House of Parliament, at once to put an end to a question which, if it continues—and it can now only continue in a sense unfavourable to the officers—must be of the greatest possible disadvantage both to the Army and the country.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
My Lords, not having the smallest idea of the nature of the Statement which the noble Earl was about to make, I must be excused if I decline now to express any opinion upon it; but I confess that the manner of dealing with the question suggested by the noble Earl has filled me with surprise. As I understand it, the Bill—the discussion of the second reading of which was terminated on Monday evening—was generally supposed and admitted to be a Bill which practically abolished purchase. The second reading was not agreed to, and the Resolution which I had the honour to move was adopted. I understood the noble Earl to state that Her Majesty in the exercise of her Prerogative—
§ EARL GRANVILLE
Nothing of the kind. I distinctly stated that it was not done by Her Majesty in the exercise of her Royal Prerogative, but by power conferred on the Crown by statutory enactment.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
Her Majesty, I understand, has this day signed a Royal Warrant by which the purchase and sale of commissions is abolished. By a Royal Warrant, therefore, that has now been effected which we were asked to do by means of the Bill submitted to us. I do not, therefore, quite understand the proposition that we should revive the Bill, for your Lordships 7 affirmed the Resolution I had the honour to propose, that it was not expedient to proceed further with it until a wider and more comprehensive scheme, dealing with the whole subject, is brought before us; and, as I understand, the only difference in the position which has arisen is that whereas on Monday night the purchase and sale of commissions, with the exception of the over-regulation prices, were legal, that has been put an end to by Royal Warrant. I do not understand that anything further has been done in the matter; and therefore all, or at least a great number, of the objections which weighed with us on Monday night would still prevail, none of the detailed plans which we suggested having been placed before us. As I stated at the outset, I am taken by surprise at the Statement of the noble Earl, and reserve to myself full liberty of action as to whatever course I may think it right to take.
asked what guarantee there was that the House of Commons in future Sessions would pass the Vote for the compensation of officers? Parliaments were always changing, and one was not of the same mind as the other, and therefore the Bill gave no manner of security to the officers.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, I spoke assuming the probability of your Lordships agreeing to the Bill. The security to the officers will be excellent—it will be the same as the whole of the civil servants have for their pensions and superannuations, or as those have who are entitled to compensation for abolished offices and fees. Every arrangement of the sort is based upon the good faith of an Act of Parliament, and I am unaware of a single instance in which that statutory security has been in the least degree endangered. I rather regret, indeed, that doubt should be expressed in this House as to the likelihood of the House of Commons tampering with a Parliamentary security thus given.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
I understand the noble Earl to say that the compensation now proposed to be given to the officers of the Army will be given in the same way as the compensation to all the civil servants and others who have been compensated for offices abolished. But that is not so in the Bill—the Bill provides that they shall "be 8 defrayed out of moneys to be voted by Parliament," whereas the Civil Service compensation and pension are paid out of the Consolidated Fund.
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
said, he would avail himself of the opportunity to enter his protest against the course indicated by Her Majesty's Government. The Government, after introducing an inadequate measure for the re-organization of the Army, now declared that they would do what they wished to do in the matter of abolishing purchase without any legislation at all, but simply by the issue of a Royal Warrant. They proposed to re-construct nothing, but to enter into a course of destruction by abolishing a system which had on the whole worked well. The question which he now had to ask was, why had they not taken that course before—why had they put Parliament to the unnecessary labour of discussing a measure which was entirely futile? Why was not a Royal Warrant issued in the first instance? In his opinion the proposal now made by Her Majesty's Government was most unprecedented, and most derogatory to the dignity of Parliament. It tended to separate the interests of that House from the interests of the other House; but it should not be forgotten that Parliament was a united Parliament—a co-ordinate authority—and it was trifling with the Constitution, and with the gravest interests of the country, to drag Parliament for weeks and months through an unnecessary discussion, and then for the Ministers of the Crown to come down and say—"all your discussions are useless, for the thing we have in view will be effected by a Royal Warrant." There were constitutional courses open to the Government had they chosen to adopt them; but they had not done so, and he felt that he should not discharge his duty properly if he did not enter his earnest protest against the course which the Government were now taking.
§ THE EARL OF HARROWBY
wished to call the attention of the Government to what he looked upon as a very serious matter. If this great incubus of purchase were to be removed from the British Army, it would be infinitely better that it should be removed by means of a loan rather than by means of an annual 9 Vote of the House of Commons, which would lead to constant haggling and attacks, and would be made a plea for doing nothing for the defence of the country.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I do not think it desirable to discuss the provisions of the Bill now; but I wish to correct a misapprehension under which the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) labours. He does not seem to have understood what I said, in answer to the noble Duke opposite, when I pointed out that Civil Service pensions, superannuations, &c., are now passed annually under a Vote. There is in all those cases an absolute Parliamentary guarantee which, I think, is quite sufficient.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think it would be well if your Lordships were put in possession of a written statement of the proceedings of the Government in the shape of a copy of the Royal Warrant that has just been signed by Her Majesty in the exercise of her Prerogative. It appears that, very much without our knowledge, noble Lords opposite have played a practical joke upon us, and that on this Army Bill we were really discussing something which the Government had already decided. I therefore hope that the next time we come to discuss this matter we shall do so with a full knowledge of what the Government have really committed themselves to.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I cannot imagine any objection to the suggestion of the noble Marquess, and I will produce a copy of the exact terms of the Warrant. The noble Marquess, notwithstanding my repeated explanations, still talks of the Queen's Prerogative; perhaps he thinks it gives a more invidious character to our proceedings so to describe it.
§ The subject then dropped.