HL Deb 20 June 1873 vol 216 cc1223-6

THE DUKE OF RICHMOND rose to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Return of the number of officers of the army who have memorialised His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief with reference to their position and prospects consequent upon the abolition of purchase; and for, Copies of all letters from the generals commanding districts forwarding the said memorials.

He had, he said, on a former occasion called attention to the existence of a feeling of discontent among officers of the Army resulting from the manner in which the abolition of purchase had been carried out. He believed, indeed, that he had rather under-stated than over-stated the extent of that feeling. He believed that a feeling of discontent now pervaded the whole Army, arising from the position in which they were placed by that great change. There was not a mess-room in the entire service in which the position of the officers was not freely criticized, and the conduct of the Government commented upon in no very flattering terms. In such an important body as the officers of the Army, it was a most unsatisfactory state of things that that feeling should exist. When he previously brought the subject under the notice of the House, His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief pointed out how the grievances of the officers were to be brought under his consideration. He believed the number of those who had sent in their claims was very large; and it was in justification of what he had stated on a former occasion that he had put his present Motion on the Paper. He did not ask for what the officers said, nor for their specific complaints; but, in the first instance, for the number of those who deemed themselves aggrieved by the alteration of the law. He must observe that there was not a single Member of the Government connected with the War Department during the passage of that Bill who did not, on more occasions than one, point out that the position of the officers was to be no worse than it was before purchase was abolished. Therefore it was but natural, when purchase was abolished and officers found their position was now really worse, that discontent should prevail in the Army. He did not ask how it was proposed to deal with that question; but of this he was perfectly certain that a departmental inquiry would not satisfy the officers of the Army. He ventured to say that nothing would satisfy the officers or the country unless Her Majesty was gra- ciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission of inquiry into the subject, composed of thoroughly impartial and competent persons in whom both the service and the public would have confidence. If a Royal Commission so constituted were appointed, and their decision was adverse in many cases to the officers, still the officers would feel that they had had a fair inquiry, and that, however much they might dislike the result, they were bound to be satisfied with it. On these grounds he hoped the Government would recommend Her Majesty to issue such a Commission. Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Return of the number of officers of the army who have memorialised His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief with reference to their position and prospects consequent upon the abolition of purchase; and for, Copies of all letters from the generals commanding districts forwarding the said memorials.—(The Duke of Richmond.)


said, that he was anxious not to withhold from the noble Duke the information which could be legitimately given to him that he would not resist his Motion for the Return.


said, he had never in the whole course of his long service seen anything like the feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction which now existed among the officers of the Army. There prevailed a strong distrust of the War Office, not of the Horse Guards, for they respect the Commander-in-Chief and were as well inclined as ever to obey all military authority. When last year Lord Abinger moved in the most temperate manner for an Address to the Crown praying for a Commission to inquire into the case of 600 old captains, who were to be superseded by Artillery and Engineer officers, there was a majority—though he admitted a small one—on that occasion. Nevertheless, the Government ignored that majority entirely, and the warrant came out superseding those 600 old captains. The War Office have now restored 200—or one-third—of those old officers to their proper places exactly in the way the noble and gallant Lord asked to be done—and though it was true that even one-third of a loaf was better than no bread, the officers naturally felt much annoyed and disgusted with the inconsiderate conduct of the Se- cretary of State. Another small incident which lately occurred also showed what was being done, and how the Army was being taken out of the hands of the Horse Guards and placed under civilians. On the 1st of March last the official Army List was expected. What must have been the feelings of the officers when, on opening The Army List, they saw at its head, instead of the venerated name of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, the name of the Right Hon. Edward Cardwell, Secretary of State! He could only say that his blood boiled to see it, and that feeling, he believed, was participated in by a great part of the Army. Colonel Hart, with the true feeling of a soldier, put the name of Her Majesty as commanding Her own Army, and he hoped that example would in future be followed in official Army Lists. He had no feeling against the Secretary for War. On the contrary, he had a great admiration of many of his qualities, knowing the pains he had taken to make himself acquainted with the Army and to grapple with many difficulties; still he could not but think that the right hon. Gentleman was very ignorant and regardless of the feelings of the officers. The Government would, he trusted, very soon grant a Royal Commission, for he was convinced that nothing short of that would be satisfactory to either the officers or the men of the Army.


expressed a hope that the Return would soon be laid on the Table. The Session was passing away, and it was very desirable to ascertain without delay the views and intentions of Her Majesty's Government.


assured the noble Duke that the Returns would soon be in their Lordships' hands, and that a full opportunity would be given them of considering the intentions of the Government.

Motion agreed to.