HL Deb 15 July 1878 vol 241 cc1449-62

, who had given Notice of the following Questions to the Secretary of State for India:— 1. The number of British officers attached to each regiment of native infantry, and their duties; 2. Whether such officers are home at the same time on the strength of the Indian Staff Corps, with the advantage of progressive promotion in that corps; 3. The general duties and distribution of officers of the Indian Staff Corps not being attached to regiments of native infantry; 4. Whether promotion in the Indian Staff Corps is progressive in a fixed ratio? said, that in consequence of the recent changes in our military system, and of the new position which our Indian Army had assumed with respect to the European Forces of Her Majesty, it seemed to him expedient, and, in fact, absolutely necessary, that he should ask the Questions of which he had given Notice. They related to matters of administrative detail, as to which, while there had been an immense amount of honest labour and searching inquiry devoted to them, there nevertheless still remained a difference of opinion very unusual among professional men. The new employment of Native Indian troops gave increased importance to the subject to which he now desired to address himself. By a foresight which was beyond all praise, a magnificent position had been selected in the Mediterranean for the occupation of those troops, which might be very advantageously employed. Were the object in view the occupation of other positions, or an expedition to the mainland, which was to terminate in a campaign or a limited period of operations, it might then, perhaps, have been well to remit the further consideration of these questions to the authorities. Looking, however, at the character of all the circumstances under which Europe lived now, it was highly improbable that this position would be abandoned for any such purposes as he had adverted to. As he had observed, of all the Islands of the, Levant, so far as reputation went and actual experience had proved, the Island of Cyprus was peculiarly well adapted to the objects for which it had been selected. It lay across the great road by which Ibrahim Pasha advanced towards Constantinople; it lay also against the great Syrian road; and was full in front of any advance upon that Southern frontier which, as they were told in authentic documents, it was the object of Her Majesty's Government to protect. It would seem these operations, as they learnt, again from official documents, were a portion of a scheme yet to be established, by which we should show to other Powers our determination to protect our national interests in the East. He hoped, however, that the circumstances that had rendered this step necessary had now come to a termination, and that all further labours of the kind might be very remote. They found that a considerable portion of the Force that was to hold this vantage ground was brought from Her Majesty's Possessions in India. The subject to which he now called attention, and which, for greater convenience of reference, he had divided into two portions, was one that had occupied successive Governors General of India, and the distinguished officers who commanded the Armies of the Presidencies. With regard to the first point—the numbers of British officers attached to each regiment of Native Infantry, and their duties—it was one on which he desired to seek some explanation with regard to the present state of the regulations in that respect; for it had been stated in speeches, if not in official documents, that a considerable amount of relaxation had been introduced into the administrative and tactical duties of British officers attached to the Native Infantry; and a distinguished officer, who had served twice in India—once in a campaign and once in the discharge of duties as Major General—distinctly stated that the position of the European officer was not in any way analogous to that which he had held in Her Majesty's British Army. He said, for instance, that the tactical arrangement and management of the Native Infantry, in his view, was left entirely to Native officers, while the duty of the European officers was reduced to that of mere supervision. He also mentioned a particular instance of the working of this change. He (Lord Waveney) did not propose to go into the Cavalry question, which was separate from the present one, and open to various interpretations; but it seemed to him, from a remarkable Paper that was laid upon the Table of the House last year, that the Cavalry system was in that respect very much assimilated to the Infantry system—that was, that the duty of European officers was limited to supervision. Whether that was advisable or not, was a question, undoubtedly, open for consideration. It might have been necessary for purposes of instruction, by making the Native officer perform his duties by the side of the European. He wished to guard himself most jealously against even hinting at any imputation on the loyalty or the friendly disposition of the Infantry Native officers; but, as he understood, the Infantry Native officer had risen from the ranks, and arrived at last at his command, and that that command was one from which European officers were practically removed. There had been many differences of opinion with regard to the number of European officers that should be placed in that position of supervision. According to some authorities, seven were quite sufficient for each regiment; but a distinguished officer, a friend of his, considered that there should not be fewer than 16. Well, it was necessary that Government should know something of this subject, and that it should be settled at once, and for all; because, in the development of the policy of which he spoke, Her Majesty's troops, and their Indian comrades, would be brought in line with one or two of the warlike races of Asia. That brought him, now, to the other Questions, of which he had given Notice, and which he believed to be difficult of explanation. They related to India again. As he understood the subject, when the unhappy Mutiny broke out, the officers on the Indian Army List were taken into the General Service, and, to a certain extent, detailed for duty in the Infantry regiments of which he spoke. He did not wish to go into the financial puzzle of the Indian Staff Corps, which was a much larger question than he felt himself able to go into then. But, however that matter might be, it came to this—that we had now, as a portion of our European Army —though we maintained with regard to them a geographical distinction—troops raised, governed, and administered on a system different from that which had prevailed throughout the Service hitherto. They had, then, to unify and bring together, on one principle of administration, the troops raised from one recruiting field and those raised from another. That the matter was capable of adjustment, there could be no doubt; but at present there was a deficiency in the unity that was desirable in such circumstances, which might be of no great consequence in ordinary times; but which, in the event of the system being subjected to a great and sudden strain, or of its being necessary to despatch an Expeditionary Force, would show itself with a clearness and a distinctness that would leave no doubt as to the necessity for that unity which he desired. Those were the points on which he desired information from the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India. It was necessary that some conclusion should be arrived at. It had not been arrived at at present, as was clear from the Reports submitted to the Government of India last year and the year before; and he begged, therefore, to put to the noble Viscount the Questions of which he had given Notice.


, in reply to the noble Lord, said, he was glad to have an opportunity of answering the Questions he had put to him, in the presence of the illustrious Duke who had so recently seen those Indian troops, and who knew the state of efficiency to which they had been brought by Native officers; and he could not but think that the present was an unfortunate time—though the noble Lord had said he would not even hint at any depreciation of the qualities of the Native officers—for calling attention to the numerical inferiority of European officers in the Native Infantry regiments, and leading their Lordships to the supposition that each regiment needed 16 European officers. For that view, the noble Lord had cited the authority of a military friend, whose name he had not mentioned.


Sir Frederick W. Haines.


His noble Friend, however, had not given any attention to the Report of last year, or he would have seen that that Report gave a satisfactory answer to almost every Question he had put. In all these matters concerning the Indian Army, no changes ought to be thought of until they had come to the conclusion that in making changes they were proceeding upon safe bases. At present, all was surmise, and conjecture, and doubt, on the part of those who found fault with the present system. The ground on which our Indian Army at present rested was fixed in 1864; and since that time these Indian troops had served in the Abyssinian campaign, in several great actions on the Frontier, and also in the Perak Expedition, and now they had seen these same troops volunteering with alacrity for service at Malta. He wanted to know, therefore, what deficiency it was in the conduct of Native Infantry officers that required them to make the changes shadowed out in the speech of the noble Lord? In reply to his first Question, he had to state that to each Native Infantry regiment were attached seven British combatant officers. It was true that in the regiments at Malta there were nine; but the extra number was provided because it was deemed desirable to have a supply of officers in reserve to meet any contingencies that might arise. Of these seven officers, one was the commandant, and two were wing-commanders, or majors, and four army officers, of whom two were the adjutant and the quartermaster. The duties of the commandant, adjutant, and quartermaster were those ordinarily attaching to those posts, and it was unnecessary for him to detail them. The wing-commanders were, as their name implied, responsible to the commandant for the discipline and efficiency of their respective half-battalions acting through the company commissioned officers—namely, the Native captain and lieutenant. They were also the paymasters of the wings, and were responsible for equipments being maintained in a good state. They were also responsible for the musketry instruction of the officers and companies under them. On parade they took the place of the majors of British regiments, and commanded their respective half-battalions when detached. The two wing officers were the subalterns of the wing-commanders, though available for any duty, detached or otherwise, for which the commandant might appoint them. They assisted the adjutant in drill, or they acted as adjutant to a detached wing. They were, in short, the subalterns and the reserve of the British Regimental Staff. The noble Lord asked him further, whether those officers were at the same time borne on the strength of the Indian Staff? He must answer that Question in the affirmative. Formerly, young English officers who went out for training were attached to those regiments; but that had now been changed. All the officers must now know the language of the troops, and must be thoroughly instructed before they took their place there. The consequence of this change had been that regiments were in a higher state of efficiency than they had reached at any previous period; while, with respect to their loyalty, nobody could throw a doubt upon it at the present time. He had been very much struck that morning with an article which Lieutenant General Vaughan sent him, on the Indian Expeditionary Force. He said— Here I take leave to record my very decided and deliberate opinion, that in fixing the establishment of English officers at the above scale, the Indian Government has done wisely, and that efficiency has been in no way sacrificed to economy. I am well aware that some, whose opinion is entitled to respect, think otherwise, and contend that, to make a Native regiment efficient for a campaign, there should at least be an English officer at the head of each company. This is, of course, to deny the ability of the Asiatic to lead a company of men into action; and I should like to know the ground upon which such a denial is based? Many of us in the course of our Indian Service have, of course, seen the Native officer in a great variety of circumstances, both in battle and in quarters, and we smile to be told that such veterans as we can call to mind ought to be put on one side, to make way for the raw—even though gallant and promising—English lads, with whom we should, of necessity, replace them. I think many of us would say, and that without undue partiality, that for bravery, for coolness, and resource in dangers and for disregard of wounds and death, the well-chosen Native Indian officer will come off well in comparison with any but the very pick of the young officers of European Armies. With reference to the rather depreciatory estimate given by the noble Lord of the tactical arrangements existing in India, he would observe that the authorities upon whom he relied had not so recent an experience as General Vaughan, and others, who were in favour of the present system. The noble Lord seemed to refer to a condition of things somewhat remote, and he desired to remind him that within the last 14 years there had been a very distinct improvement in the condition of the Native troops. The noble Lord asked whether British officers attached to Native Infantry were borne at the same time on the strength of the Indian Staff Corps with the advantage of progressive promotion in that corps? The answer was "Yes." They belonged to the Indian Staff Corps, which was normally the whole body of British officers of the Indian Service. The Indian Staff Corps had no fixed establishment, except for general officers; and the Army promotion, therefore, was regulated not by succession to vacancies, but by periods of service. According to the latest Returns, the Staff officers were thus employed:—Army Staff, 173; regimental duty, 1,150; civil or political, 341; police, 93; public works, 46; miscellaneous, 190; furlough, 433. Promotion was progressive in a fixed ratio. Thus—Promotion to captain was attained after 12 years; to major, after 20; to lieutenant colonel, after 26; and after five years in the rank of lieutenant colonel, an officer got the brevet rank of colonel. As he had explained, the Indian Staff Corps could be increased to any extent, except with regard to generals. Of these there was a fixed establishment, to which promotion was made by succession to vacancies. In conclusion, he expressed the hope that no attempt would be made to disturb the present military organization of India, except upon very good grounds, and without some definite scheme to take its place.


The House, I am sure, does not desire that I should go into the question of the organization of the British Army in India, with which I am not personally and locally acquainted. And, indeed, if I did, I should have very great hesitation in approaching the question, when I look around me and find myself in the presence of distinguished Lords, who, by reason of their familiarity with Indian affairs, through long service in that part of our Dominions, are entitled to offer opinions to which much greater weight must attach than to mine. I should not venture to offer any personal opinion on the matter, were it not for the fact that I have recently had an opportunity, for the first time, of seeing a portion—small, no doubt, but a portion—of our Native Army in India, which represented the Army in every branch. I need only say that I returned home, after inspecting those troops at Malta, highly delighted with what I saw. I could not say too much in praise of those corps, and I was the more impressed with their bearing because I was perfectly aware that they were not selected. They were corps sent on this duty, not because they had special advantages beyond others or were more distinguished than others; but because they happened, as it occurred, to be the nearest at hand and the most available for this particular service. Consequently, I believe that I have had an opportunity of really seeing the working of an ordinary corps of the Native Army of India. In the opinion which I have given of them, I refer equally to Cavalry, Engineers, and Infantry. From what I saw, I am certainly under the strong impression that all the branches of the Native Army of India are in a high state of order and efficiency. Their discipline is excellent, and their spirit is most loyal and admirably affected towards the Empire to which they belong. In every respect the Native Army is well qualified to take the position to which it is entitled in the defence of Her Majesty's Possessions in distant parts. As regards the question of the officers, I do not think it is necessary that I should go into it. Whether there are too many or too few officers in a regiment is, I contend, a matter of ordinary routine and consideration, to be regulated in reference to the duties that are to be performed. Many of the details that present themselves when this question is broached are simply of the kind which must be left to the discretion of the commanding officer—such as whether officers should be called upon to dismount in passing over a rough country. Perhaps I am not justified in giving an opinion in the presence of many who know India and her requirements so thoroughly; but I must say I think no officer should go mounted to the front with a large body of skirmishers. In that case there would be no chance for the horse and very little for himself. But that is a matter of arrangement and routine, and one which I do not think ought to be taken into consideration here. I do not feel called upon now to give a judgment upon the question whether there ought to be a larger number of European officers with the Native corps, and if the question were to be re-considered, I should prefer leaving it to those who are more fitted to come to a decided conclusion. Dismissing these matters, I beg to repeat that, both as regards efficiency and spirit, I am firmly convinced that the Native Army of India is in an admirable condition and well worthy to serve this Empire.


said, that the regiment in which the temporary irregularity took place that gave rise to the remarks of the noble Lord was one of the very best regiments in the Indian Army. It distinguished itself by its gallant conduct against the mountaineers in the Umbeyla Campaign on the Punjab Frontier, and wherever it had been employed had shown itself to be excellent in courage and discipline. As His Royal Highness had pointed out, the officers should have dismounted when they came to ground over which they could not ride. There was a general order for mounted officers to dismount, when under fire within 600 yards, audit was the duty of the general officer to cause that order to be obeyed. As regarded the number of Native officers, there was a difference of opinion, because the Indian Army was one derived from an enormous extent of country. In India there were really three Armies, composed of various races, and employed in different parts of the country, hundreds, nay, thousands of miles apart. Therefore, it might be expected that differences of view would arise among officers, according to the exigencies of the particular service in which they were employed, and the characteristics of the different races which they commanded. But then their experience was too often drawn from a field too limited to entitle them to speak for the whole of the Native Army. After a deliberate review of all the information which could be obtained from officers of every branch and department of the Army, the Government of India had decided upon the present organization of the Indian Army; and he thought it would be a very great misfortune, after the question had been unsettled so long, now when it appeared to be finally settled, to re-open it, and again disturb the minds of the officers regarding their prospects. Some authorities considered that seven officers were not sufficient for a Native regiment; but they did not sufficiently consider that they were supplemented by 16 Native officers, selected from the whole body of the regiment. According to the system which prevailed in the old Native Army, promotions were made solely by seniority, and advancement only came when the men were too old to be fit for it. That was now changed, men were promoted for merit. efficient men were often promoted, from the very bottom of a grade, when their seniors were unfit. Doubtless, some of the defects which marked the old system might linger in the present one; but they would gradually disappear. Great pains had been taken to select Native officers and promote them according to merit, irrespective of seniority; and the result, he thought, might fairly be referred to as justifying what had been done—a result which they had just heard set forth in the opinion of the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief. If the Indian Army consisted merely of European officers and Native soldiers, there would be a clear line of demarcation between the governors and the governed, and any person carrying on the administration of such an Army would find himself with little power. It was the merit of the present system that it interposed, between the administrators and the people ruled, the very best of the Native elements. Between the European officers and the men they found the very pick of the regiments acting as Native officers; and, by their religion, their race, and their position, these officers possessed the confidence and attachment of their men. On the other hand, these Native officers, having been drawn near to authority, and treated with respect and improved in position, considered themselves as part of the body of officers serving under the Government whose loyal servants they were. The former Native Army, no doubt, did very good service; but it did not possess this advantage in the degree in which it now existed, so that, when the day of temptation came, and the Mutiny broke out, there was no influence to keep the men to their colours. From the moment when the new organization was intro- duced—beginning, as it did, with a single regiment in the Punjaub—there had been an unbroken succession of gallant and loyal men in the ranks of the Native officers, and he hoped there would not now be any interference with it.


ventured to express, with due deference to better authorities, the impression that, so far as Southern India was concerned, the present organization could not, in case of an emergency, be largely carried out, unless, indeed, the Native officers were selected upon a different principle to that now in force. It might be possible, even in Southern India, to provide company officers capable of leading their troops; but there was no system in existence by which to obtain them. He unhesitatingly affirmed, on the basis of opinions submitted to him by officers connected with the Army of Southern India, that the present method by which the Native officers were selected was insufficient and unwise. The country did not afford men who had military traditions to fall back upon, and there was no system of education for those whom they chose. The Native company officer was simply a well-conducted old soldier of such an age, in many cases, as to be incapable of much physical exertion. There were many portions of Northern India to which the same criticism might apply. If the present system of promotion by mere seniority was to be maintained in the Army of Southern India, then he should adhere to the opinion of General Haynes that the Army of Southern India could not fairly and properly be presented on the field of battle unless there were European officers in connection with every company.


remarked, that the question resolved itself into this—Could Indian troops, sufficiently officered for Indian warfare, take their position beside European forces in a European campaign?


spoke highly of the Native Army of India, concurring with the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Napier of Magdala), whom he regarded as the best authority on the subject, that the present organization was a good one, and that the selection of the Native officers was carefully carried out, and was, on the whole, the system best suited for Native troops with English officers. Though not a soldier himself, he had passed the best years of his life amongst military officers in India, and had seen the troops which they commanded on active service; and many of the officers of the highest ability among them usually expressed the same opinion about the efficiency of our Indian Army as at present constituted. The organization and advantages of the Native Army at present was such, that individual officers did not, as a rule, wish to leave their regiments. He pointed out the different state of things which formerly existed. Then the attractions of the Service with Native regiments in India were so few that the English officers were impatient to get away and obtain employment of some other kind. This also, in some measure, arose, no doubt, from the fact that though many of them might have proved good officers amongst their own countrymen, they were not calculated to make really useful officers amongst Native Indian troops. But now, generally speaking, owing to the changes in system in the first selection of English officers for Native regiments, they had been rendered greatly superior to the officers under the old system. He was so convinced of the beneficial effects of the change, that he had no hesitation in asserting that it would be an evil day for the Indian Army and for ourselves if, under any pretext, we were to revert to a system which had weakened and deteriorated European influence on the Native mind.


said, it had been observed by a previous speaker that this question of the organization of the Native Army in India was one that should be considered by those responsible for the government of India; and that the Government of India, before they determined the question, ought to have before them the opinions of the highest practical authorities on the subject. He quite agreed with the noble Lord who made that observation; but their Lordships were probably not aware that the course which his noble Friend had suggested had been actually followed by the Government of India. It was not three years since the organization of the Native Army, in respect to the number of English officers attached to each regiment, was considered by the Government of India, when he had the honour of being the Viceroy; and the Government of India had before them the opinions expressed by his noble Friend behind him (Lord Napier and Ettrick), who was at the time Governor of Madras, and the opinions of many officers of the Madras Army. The Government went very carefully into this and other questions connected with the Native Army. They had the assistance of two officers, than whom there were not two living better qualified to assist the Government. In the first place, they had the assistance of his noble and gallant Friend who had addressed the House that night from the cross-benches (Lord Napier of Magdala), and than whom there was no better authority, from the intimate knowledge he possessed of the Army itself, and from the great interest with which he had devoted himself to the improvement of the condition of the men, and the instruction and education of the officers. In the next place, they had the assistance of Sir H. Norman, who, having for several years been military secretary and member of the Governor General's Council, possessed a knowledge of the subject exceeded by none. Well, the Government of India having taken the opinion of these two and other distinguished officers, and having fully considered the question, came to the deliberate opinion that for service in any part of the world, the present establishment of English officers to each Native regiment—namely, seven officers—was sufficient. These conclusions had been made public. They were contained in documents that were laid before their Lordship's House. They were sent home for consideration by the Secretary of State in Council (the Marquess of Salisbury) and they received the deliberate approval of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, he did not think it possible for any question to receive more deliberate consideration than had this one; and it had given him great pleasure to hear the opinion expressed by the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India, that before any changes were suggested some substantial proposal ought to be put forward as a substitute for the system which it was proposed to alter. He could conceive no course more likely to be detrimental to the Native Army of India than that this question, which had been so recently decided by the highest authorities that could decide upon it, should so shortly afterwards be re-opened. He was glad to hear the opinion of his noble Friend who spoke last, and who, though not a soldier, yet from his career in India, was able to speak with a weight equal, perhaps, to that of any other man. The opinion of his noble Friend was decidedly in favour of the present as compared with the old system of officering the Native Army. The spirit of the Indian Army Lad been shown on a recent memorable occasion; and it was with the greatest satisfaction that he saw in the public Press, and that he heard tonight the testimony of the illustrious Duke to the efficiency of that Army. He was sure that the praise of the illustrious Duke would be received by all ranks of the Indian Army with the greatest satisfaction, and would tend to foster that spirit of loyalty and devotion to the service of Her Majesty which now animated it.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.