HL Deb 06 August 1874 vol 221 cc1389-95

said, he rose to move an Address for a Paper, and to ask the following Question:—Whether a commission can now be withhold from a candidate who, having applied to the Horse Guards for a commission early in 1870, has qualified under the regulations then in force as a university candidate for a commission? Although the Question was of personal character, it was likewise one of public importance, and the reason why he brought it under their Lordships' notice was that in the year 1870 he applied for a nomination for a commission for his son. His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief referred him to Major General Forster, the Military Secretary, for the regulations, and that gallant officer put in his hand a Memorandum, dated the 1st of June, 1867, which laid down that within certain limits of age, young gentlemen who had obtained a nomination and had obtained a University degree would receive their commission. His son obtained the nomination, and, having spent the necessary time and passed the required examinations, obtained his degree at Cambridge. When he presented himself for his commission in 1872, he was informed that, by a Warrant issued in 1871, the conditions were changed, and thus he could not obtain his commission. He complained that such a Warrant should have a retrospective effect. If his son had not proceeded on the faith of the conditions shown to him by Major General Forster when the nomination was obtained, be need not have gone to Cambridge, and might have secured his commission by passing the ordinary examination required of candidates for commissions who had not a university degree.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copy of the Royal Warrant or Regulations issued before the 1st November, 1871, respecting the appointment of candidates from the Universities for first commissions in the Army."—(The Earl Fitzwilliam.)


said, he was glad the noble Earl had brought the matter forward, because much vexation and disappointment had been caused to candidates for commissions and their friends by the want of a timely notice of the change made by the Warrant of 1871 and of other similar Warrants. When changes of that kind were made it should be done in such a manner that the public could not be retrospectively affected by them. He would admit that in making them, there was no desire on the part of the Department to inflict injustice on anyone; but he had heard complaints from several friends in the country of the serious loss and injustice which had been done by unexpected changes in the conditions for examinations, and for appointments to commissions, and he suggested that in future the regulations should be made with such notice as to be intelligible to all persons. The young gentleman in this case had followed the instructions given to him by the autho- rities, had qualified himself for a commission exactly as he was told to qualify himself, and then he was informed after a considerable time that the regulations had been altered. There could not be many persons affected by the particular change now under notice, and he thought that in this case the whole loss should not fall upon one individual, but be shared by the public Department which had issued the new regulations. The Department might do the gracious act of conferring a commission upon a gentleman who might fairly suppose that he had earned it.


said, he did not for a moment wish to deny that the candidate whoso case had been brought under the notice of their Lordships had suffered some disadvantage; but, on the other hand, he could not admit that a nomination gave the candidate for the Army a vested interest in the conditions of admission existing at the time he obtained the nomination. Every case of this kind must be decided on grounds of expediency and common sense. Major General Forster showed the noble Earl the regulations existing at the time; but he did not say that by the time the noble Earl's son was qualified, he would come in under those regulations. He would come in under the regulations in force at the time he presented himself, and applying to candidates in his position. In 1871, the Warrant was issued which limited the list of the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief and limited the candidates. That Warrant was published in The Times.


Was it published officially?


The Times was not in the habit of publishing matters for its own amusement. It was published in The Gazette and copied into The Times, and therefore, without intending that there should be any offensive comparison, he could not help saying that pleading ignorance of the Warrant was very much as if a garotter on being sentenced to be whipped pleaded ignorance of the law which authorized that species of punishment in his case. After the Warrant of 1871, candidates for commissions who had gone through a University course were required to stand a competitive examination, but competitive only so far as a competition with other University candidates. When the Warrant came in force, all qualified candidates had to get commissions, and it took two years to get rid of those qualified candidates. It would have been impossible, as the number of the total admissions had been reduced by a reduction in the number of subalterns, to admit in addition those who were not qualified. It could not be denied that the noble Earl's son had been placed at a disadvantage by the change, but it was a disadvantage which had been shared in by many other young men who were on the Commander-in-Chief's list.


said, that ample notice ought to be given of any alteration of such a Warrant, in order that no one might be prejudiced by the change. There were many young men whose time and outlay in preparing themselves for examination might be found to have been entirely thrown away in consequence of the new regulation. That was a hardship bordering on an injustice, and sufficient time should be given to all persons coming under its provisions to enable them to prepare for the changes it effected.


said, he had no hesitation in condemning the course pursued. Warrants ought not to be altered until after a certain period had elapsed, and due notice had been given; and if that were not done, the want of confidence resulting was likely to act injuriously to the public service. These sudden and sensational changes, however, were not altogether confined to the Army; but he hoped in future, Government would not fail to give adequate notice of all alterations it intended to effect.


said, he would urge the greatest caution in making alterations, seeing that the pecuniary loss in many cases might be such as the persons were little able to bear. Such an alteration was very hard in the case of the son of a person not in the position of the noble Earl who introduced the subject, because it might be that a man who was poor sent his son to the University for the purpose of enabling him to obtain a commission, and after he had been at all the expense, he suddenly found that a now Warrant shut the door in his face, and all the money so spent was thrown away.


said, he should like to know why, when the Royal War- rant came out making the alteration, those interested were not made acquainted with the change, and an explanation given to them that it would not affect them? He maintained that there had, in effect, been a promise given that if a certain University course was gone through and a degree obtained, there would be a commission given without examination.


Before going further, I beg to express my dissent from the sentiments expressed by the noble Earl, the Representative of the War Office, that the promises in the Memorandum of the 1st June 1867, were not entitled to be always respected.


I beg to say that I did not say that. What I said was, that there were so many candidates, that it was not possible to give them commissions.


My Lords, I cannot agree that the number of aggrieved Army candidates justifies the breach of promise of which they are victims. On the contrary, it appears to me to increase the amount of right of complaint. And this accumulation of passed candidates is entirely owing to the want of foresight and great mismanagement of the A War Office, whose special duty it was to have regulated the flow of these candidates from the different branches of military test education sources. I regret, my Lords, that regard for the interests of the Army compels me to submit to your Lordship's notice a War Office case which some noble Lords have designated as hard, some as un-just, others as a breach of faith. That regret is increased by the present War Officers having associated themselves with the principal features of the ever-changing, constantly failing policy of their Predecessors—particularly the short service without pension—which were so disapproved by the Leader of the late Opposition; and by their having adopted the question before the House, which is the retractation of a promise contained in the Memorandum, dated Horse Guards, 1st January 1867, to the youth of their country, their parents and relatives, that if a candidate for the Army passed the University test, he could be qualified for, and entitled to, a first commission. My noble Relative's statement makes the facts of the case so clear, that to say anything on that subject would be waste of time. But I should observe that the transmission of the Memorandum of 1867 to Earl Fitzwilliam as a guide or instruction, in June 1870, and the insertion of his son's name in the list of Horse Guards candidates for the Army, both by order of His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief, strengthen, if they do not guarantee the promise in that Memorandum. Under these circumstances, I must think that it was a heartless and unjustifiable use of power, on the part of the War Office, to annul their promises, and to inform Earl Fitzwilliam by a letter from the Military Secretary, of the 7th August 1873—that is, three years afterwards, and without a word of warning, that his son's throe years' study for the qualifying test at Cambridge were thrown away, and that he must now embark in a totally different, far more difficult course of study, less certain of success; and besides, be ready in three or four months for the trying and unpopular competitive examination—the consequence of all of which was that the three best, the really only, years for study for a career, of this young gentleman's life were wasted, irrevocably gone, and he himself left without a profession. I say, my Lords, that conduct such as this towards a candidate for the Army and his Father is directly opposed to the spirit of the Queen's Regulations which enjoin that superior officers are to temper the exorcise of their authority with a scrupulous regard for the feelings and interests of their subordinates; and that conciliation and courtesy are to mark all their relations with persons with whom their duties bring them in relation. The narrative of this case induces the belief that the late head of the War Office could never have penned these Instructions. It would not be worthy of this case to adduce, as a grievance, the pecuniary loss which Earl Fitzwilliam sustained by the three years' fruitless education of his son at the University, and by his having to provide another career for him. But, on the other hand, this would be a grievous loss to a poor parent, an ill-paid curate, a retired officer, who had deprived himself and his family of almost the means of existence to place his son in the Army by means of the University test. And the loss to all parents is equal, whether of high or humble degree, of the most valuable years of their sons' existence, and of the mortification of a blighted career. It is misuse of administrative power, such as has been described in this debate, and disregard of an axiom, which the Duke of Wellington so often declared should never be lost sight of in political or Army affairs, that "any sacrifice is better than that of good faith," which has weakened the influence and respect which it is desirable the War Office should enjoy in this country, especially amongst the recruiting classes.


said, that it was a mistake to suppose that candidates would gain nothing, in respect of their admission to the Army, by the University course they had passed through. If there were six commissions to be given away and 20 candidates, there would have to be a competitive examination among themselves as to the best qualified.

Motion agreed to.