HL Deb 20 June 1873 vol 216 cc1217-20

asked, What steps are taken to ascertain the character of gentlemen who apply to be examined for direct commissions in the Army; and whether any, and, if so, what means are taken to prevent those who have been expelled from public institutions from entering into competition? He feared that the system of examination would exclude many excellent men from the Army; but while it did exist he thought it was for the Government to give a pledge that at least it should be so carried out as to insure the best men being obtained. He understood that in a recent examination there were 600 candidates for 80 commissions. Some of the persons who presented themselves were, he was told, very "rough diamonds," who, no doubt, might be knocked into shape in the service. Two of them, he was told, had been dismissed from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He hoped that this last statement was incorrect, for it would be strange that gentlemen dismissed—probably for drunkenness or grave insubordination—from that institution, and consequently excluded from the Artillery, should be allowed to serve in the Line. For Line service, men of high moral character, energy, and determination were required; but he feared that such were not the men who were coming in for examination under the existing arrangement. The best thing, he be- lieved, would be to revert to the Commander-in-Chief's List, and to let the responsibility fall on him. He feared that if anybody were allowed to compete, the Army would eventually become unfit for any gentleman to enter.


said, in reply to the noble and gallant Lord's first Question, that paragraph 13 of the regulations for first appointments required a certificate of good moral character from the clergyman of the parish in which the candidate had recently resided, or from the head of the College or school where he had been educated during the two preceding years, or some other satisfactory proof of good moral character. As to the second Question, the phrase "public institutions" was ambiguous—he presumed it referred to public military institutions. With respect to them, it had always been the practice to report every case of expulsion from Woolwich to the Commander-in-Chief—in fact, the expulsion could not take place without his authority. Cases of removal, which had always been distinct from expulsion, being the result of some minor irregularity or possibly of inability to comply with the educational requirements of the place, should be similarly reported, and were also dealt with by the Commander-in-Chief. In the two cases referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, the Office papers did not show that any such notification was made at the time—an omission which would not occur again. As to public institutions of a non-military character, His Royal Highness's opportunities of obtaining information were not equally good; but it was in contemplation to insert a rule requiring a candidate to mention the school or place of instruction which he had attended since the age of 12; so that should His Royal Highness think further inquiries into the antecedents of any candidate necessary, he might have full opportunities of doing so. His Royal Highness was now—as he had always been—the arbiter of the fitness of any gentleman for a commission in the Queen's forces, and his facilities for determining it had not been diminished by the changes recently made.


asked, Whether His Royal Highness had the option of refusing permission to go up to be examined?


replied, that if His Royal Highness deemed any candidate unfit to serve the Queen, no one could question his right to withdraw him from the competition.


believed the two gentlemen referred to had passed the examination among the first candidates. Would they get their commissions, or could His Royal Highness refuse them as unfit?


said, both cases, neither of which were cases of expulsion, were now under the consideration of His Royal Highness.


asked, Whether the Commander-in-Chief could object to a man who had passed the examination as one of the first 80?


apprehended His Royal Highness had such a right.


said, that since the responsibility of selecting candidates had ceased to rest directly with the Commander-in-Chief, there was reason to fear that lees care than formerly had been exercised. He deprecated the lowering of the high character hitherto borne by British officers, and hoped that in any revision of the Rules it would be distinctly laid down that no man had a right to go up for these competitive examinations who could not satisfy the Commander-in-Chief that he was in all respects an eligible person for admission into the British Army. A written certificate was often of small value, being written very often by a man with little knowledge of the candidates.


said, it was a duty of the military authorities to ascertain beforehand, as far as possible, the moral character and general acquirements of a candidate; and he had the power, which he exercised with every discretion, of rejecting any unfit man. It was, however, an extremely difficult and delicate matter to find out the exact character of young gentlemen; and in the two cases referred to by his noble and gallant Friend (Lord Vivian), anything more perfect than they were represented to be could not be conceived. This showed the necessity of great care; and if by accident a candidate's unfitness occasionally escaped discovery, it would be no fault of the authorities, if they could help it, but would be one of the accidents attending competitive examina- tions. Removal and expulsion were frequently confounded—but, in fact, they were very different things, for the former might be necessary in the interests of discipline for a very trivial offence, and it would be hard to exclude a man whose subsequent behaviour was good from the public service. In other cases removal almost amounted to expulsion and ought to be a disqualification. He regretted the occurrence of these cases, and trusted that in any future case of removal a repetition of this unfortunate error would be avoided.