HL Deb 27 June 1872 vol 212 cc267-74

reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address of this House, of the 18th instant, as follows:— I have received your Address praying that a Commission may be issued to inquire into the alleged injustice towards the Captains of the late Purchase Corps, occasioned by their supposed supersession by the first captains of the Scientific Corps, and further to inquire whether the intended advancement of the first captains of the Royal Artillery and Engineers to the rank of field officers would have the effect of removing the slowness of promotion in those corps, and as to the best means of remedying the same, and that in the meantime, until the Report of the Commission, the publication of the Royal Warrant may be delayed. I have been advised that the establishment in the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers of the rank of major, already existing in the other branches of the service, having been decided upon, after full consideration, and provision having been made for carrying the arrangement into effect, the revocation or delay of that arrangement would be inexpedient.


said, he thought this reply so unsatisfactory that he begged to move the adjournment of the House in order to give their Lordships an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the subject.


thought the noble Earl was hardly in order in taking so unusual a course on the occasion of an Answer by Her Majesty to an Address.


was of opinion that his noble Friend was quite in Order, and that there was no rule of the House to prevent such a course.


submitted that he was quite in Order in making the Motion for adjournment. A Motion for inquiry had been carried as to the complaints of a certain class of officers with respect to promotion. They asserted that their interests had been seriously prejudiced by recent arrangements. It was clear that the case required further consideration. A Committee had recommended an inquiry, and Her Majesty's Government had advised the Queen not to grant a Commission. He should, therefore, persist in his Motion that the House do now adjourn.

Moved, "That the House do now adjourn."—(The Earl of Longford.)


said, nothing was further from his purpose than to express an opinion on the abstract question as to the circumstances under which it was or was not the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to give effect to an Address of their Lordships' House; but he did say that if ever there was an occasion when a Government was justified in advising Her Majesty not to give effect to such an Address, it was in the present instance. The whole question of the position of the Scientific Corps had been debated for several years, and had been fully and fairly considered by the public and Parliament—so that there could be no allegation of surprise, or that what had been done had been done without consideration. For six years the subject had been under the consideration of successive Governments, and at the commencement of the present Session Notice of the intention of the Government with respect to it was given by the Secretary of State in his speech in moving the Army Estimates on the 22nd of February, in no ambiguous language; and on the 11th of March, when the Vote of the number of men was passed, the attention of the House of Commons was drawn to the matter, and the Secretary of State repeated again in language as unmistakable his intention to adhere to his plan. All this had given rise to expectations which, he thought, it would be extremely unwise to disappoint at the last moment. On the 31st of May the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Abinger), for the first time, called attention to the subject in their Lordships' House; and then, at the eleventh hour, when the Government was prepared to give effect to the intention of the War Department, the noble and gallant Lord brought it forward a second time. This was on the 18th of June, and on that occasion, after a discussion, a division was taken in a House of 83, and the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord for an Address to the Crown was carried by a majority of 3. He should have hesitated to call attention to the composition of that majority—indeed, he did not think he would have done so—but for a statement of a noble and gallant Lord to the effect that the Scientific Corps was too well represented in the War Department.


begged to interrupt the noble Marquess. He hoped the noble Earl who led that House would confine the noble Marquess to the question of adjournment.


could not but think he was in Order and perfectly justified in alluding to the composition of the majority after the reference that had been made to the supposed influence of the Scientific Corps at the War Department. If the Scientific Corps were too well represented at the War Office, how were they represented in their Lordships' House? It was not too much to say that they were almost unrepresented, while of the majority by which the Address had been carried in their Lordships' House, he found that 19 had been officers in the Guards or in the Line, 7 had brothers in the Guards, 5 had brothers in the Line, and 2 had near relations in the Guards—so that out of the whole number of 42, only 9 were unconnected with the Guards or the Line. Under these circumstances, and considering that the other House of Parliament had expressed its opinion on the subject in the most deliberate manner, and had made provision for enabling the Government to carry the plan of the Secretary for War into effect, he submitted that Her Majesty's Ministers had had no other course open to them than that of advising Her Majesty not to give effect to the Address of their Lordships' House.


My Lords, this is one more illustration of the manner in which any claim for justice on the part of the Army is likely to be met by Her Majesty's present Ministers. I do not think that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) has succeeded in making out any case to justify the conclusion at which the Ministers have arrived. I venture to repeat what I said on a former occasion—that the arguments used in support of the Address to the Crown proposed by my noble and gallant Friend were left wholly unanswered, and I am surprised, astonished, and grieved to hear the noble Marquess assert that the wishes of the majority of your Lordships ought not to have any weight given to them in a matter of this great importance. The noble Marquess has taken the trouble to analyze the division on that Motion, and has attributed motives to the noble Lords who composed the majority on that oc- casion. Now, if there be the smallest foundation in fact for the insinuation conveyed by the noble Marquess, I say that not one of those noble Lords to whom the noble Marquess so pointedly referred is worthy of a seat in this House. I assert that the noble Lords who had been officers in the Guards or in the Line were the most competent to deal with this subject. The noble Marquess, however, imputed to them having voted in a particular way through having either served in the Guards or the Line themselves, and through having relatives who have so served. My Lords, I am proud to think that I have relations in both those corps, and I deny that that fact should furnish any reason against the expression of my opinions upon this question when it arises. If the noble Marquess meant anything by his references to the connections of noble Lords, he must have meant that the noble Lords alluded to were actuated by interested motives in voting with the majority in favour of the Address to the Crown. If the noble Marquess did not mean to convey such an imputation he should not have mentioned the matter at all.


said, he saw no occasion for the introduction of any acrimonious tone into this debate, and should be careful himself to add nothing to it. He would venture to remind their Lordships of the advice given by the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief on a former occasion—that nothing should be said or done which might be calculated to array the Guards and the Line on one side and the Scientific Corps on the other, in a question relating to the welfare of the Army. He was happy to acknowledge that during the greater portion of the debate on the Motion for the Address, the tone of moderation in which that Motion had been introduced by the noble and gallant Lord opposite (Lord Abinger) had been maintained by their Lordships; but he must say he thought it was a bold assumption on the part of the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond) to say that the arguments were all on one side, that being the side which the noble Duke himself advocated. Now those who took the other side held exactly the same thing with respect to their views. He did not mean to say who was right; but he thought the attack made on his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War was a most unfair one. A noble and gallant Lord (the Earl of Longford) had stated that the Scientific Corps were very strongly represented at the War Office—the object of that assertion evidently being to lead their Lordships to the conclusion that in arriving at a conclusion on this question the War Department had been swayed by the Scientific Corps. In reply to such an argument, it was quite legitimate for his noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne) to refer to the composition of the majority who voted in favour of the Address. He had not heard a single word from his noble Friend imputing unworthy motives to the other side; but when the noble Duke said it was monstrous to suppose that the views of noble Lords could be influenced in the slightest degree by their connection with the Army, or by their having relatives in the Guards and the Line, he must observe that, after all, human nature was human nature, and that esprit de corps not only existed but was very strong in the Army; and when a question like the one now before their Lordships was made the subject of discussion it was impossible that there should not be some bias imported into it. He was quite sure, however, that on reflection the noble Duke would be the last to suppose that the noble Marquess would charge any of their Lordships with being actuated by unworthy motives.


said, he would not enter into any question as to the composition of the majority—he proposed to go into the character of the Motion itself, and to ask what was the question involved in the Motion. That question was twofold. The first question put to their Lordships was, not whether it was desirable to do away with the measure of the Secretary of State for War, but whether it was desirable to have an inquiry into the grievance which it was alleged would be suffered by between 500 and 600 officers. The second question proposed to their Lordships was, whether the objects which had been suggested by the Committees of 1867 and 1869 would be carried out by the plan of the Secretary for War. On both these points the greatest doubts had been expressed, and from Returns which had been referred to in their Lordships' House in proof of those grievances—so far as a superficial examination of them enabled him to judge, he was of opinion that they had been established. Seeing, then, that there was this difference of opinion, were they to be told by the noble Marquess the Under Secretary for War that they were actuated by interested motives in voting so moderate a demand—because he must accept the interpretation put on the remarks of the noble Marquess by the noble Duke opposite? If the noble Marquess had no intention of attributing motives to certain noble Lords when he said they had served or had relatives in the Guards or the Line—then he was at a loss to know the meaning of his words. Again, their Lordships had been told that this plan had been debated for six years. If any debate such as that referred to by the noble Marquess had been held, it must have been held behind the official curtain. The question of promotion—especially in reference to the Royal Engineers, was one demanding the most serious consideration, and Committees had sat and reported upon it; but he was not aware that the particular measure which now formed the subject of debate had been recommended by a Committee or had been put before their Lordships in a practical shape. So far as he knew, the other side of the question was never really stated until the other night. He had often heard the matter mentioned in private conversation, but he never recollected that the question as to whether or not this particular means of promotion in respect to the Ordnance Corps had ever been brought distinctly forward—certainly, he had never heard of the scheme till last February, and he was not now aware that this measure had ever been debated in public before that period. It had long been admitted that promotion in the Ordnance Corps should be guaranteed—that it should not be of a temporary or provisional character; but he did not think it had been intended that the promotion of the officers of the Artillery and the Engineers should interfere with that general flow of military promotion which had been the object of inquiry and consideration by the Committees.


said, he could quite understand that the decision of this question must be a matter which caused considerable trouble. The Artillery and the Engineers were strong and compact bodies, and they did surround the War Office with very great power—there could be no doubt of it—and he thought that they would eventually have to re- cede from the step they had taken. His main object in bringing forward the Motion for the Address was that the officers in the Army should have an opportunity of making their case known. He thought that the remarks which had been made by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) reflected unjustly upon those who were connected with the Army, and who disclaimed any wish to do injustice to the rest of the Army. No doubt the majority of noble Lords upon his side of the House were connected with the Army, many of them being soldiers themselves; but so far from that being a ground for impugning the credit of the majority who voted for the Motion, it simply furnished a reason for supposing that they knew something of the matter they were talking about. If the majority were to be spoken of as they had been, then it might be retorted that the minority was composed mainly of the Members of the Government, or those who were under great personal obligations to them. On the other hand, the majority contained a number of noble Lords who sat on the Ministerial benches—indeed, if the noble Marquess looked into the matter, he would find that the majority had resulted from disaffection in the ranks on the Ministerial side. It was an inconsistent thing that the Government should take away the privileges of the Guards at the same time that they extended the privileges of the Ordnance Corps. The Artillery Corps was as much a privileged Corps as the Guards, and the latter thought it hard that their lieutenant and ensign privilege should be taken away—for it was granted in consequence of the gallantry displayed upon the field of Waterloo. Taking away this privilege would seem to imply that they never had any good title to possess it. Some years ago all the majors of the Artillery were made lieutenant-colonels, and now all the first captains were to be made majors. The Artillery officers would average 16 years' service before they were majors; but the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon) had stated that the average length of service in the Line before a promotion to majority would be 18 years.


begged to interrupt the noble and gallant Lord. He had done nothing more than repeat the declaration of Mr. Cardwell. He had said nothing about the Artillery or the Engineers. What he had said was that it was thought right the promotion in the Line should be maintained at what was called the "standard rate."


said, that of 279 officers who would be superseded by the first captains of Artillery not one had less than 18 years' service. He thought, therefore, that, even in accordance with the pledge of the Government, a preference should be given to those 279 officers before the first captains of Artillery were promoted.


said, that with the permission of their Lordships, having had the honour of serving Her Majesty in both Cavalry and Infantry of the Line, and commanding a regiment of the latter (Infantry of the Line), he was induced to address a few words to their Lordships. It appeared to him (Lord Ellenborough) that Her Majesty's Government had overlooked, if not ignored, the claims of the British regiments lately belonging to the late East India Company, now incorporated in Her Majesty's Army, as regiments of the Line—namely, the 101st, 102nd, 103rd, 104th, 105th, 106th, 107th, 108th, and 109th British regiments, which contained several captains of 27 years' service, and one an infantry regiment of the Line (59th), a subaltern officer of 18 years' service. In conformity with what had fallen from the noble Lord behind him (Lord Abinger), he stated it was some source of heart-burning the rank held by captains and lieutenant-colonels of the Guards; but there was no such feeling in reference to the rank of ensign and lieutenant, as they were not brought much in contact with officers of the Line. With respect to the uncalled-for observations of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) impugning the motives of noble Lords forming the majority who voted the Address, it sufficed to say that two of those noble Lords had commanded an Army—one, a noble and gallant Lord on this side of the House (Lord Strathnairn), and the other, the noble and gallant Lord opposite (Lord Sandhurst), at the present moment in command of the Army in Ireland, to show that there were grounds for inquiry, in respect to the promotion in the Artillery, in common with that of the Army at large.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.