HL Deb 28 June 1881 vol 262 cc1470-80

in rising to call attention to paragraph 48 of the revised Memorandum on Army Organization, so far as it relates to what is known as the "five years non-employment rule," as applied to general officers; and to ask, Whether the Secretary of State for War will give orders to omit from the warrant which comes into force on the 1st of July 1881, the words "general officers after five years subsequent promotion to major-general," in order to afford time for the said words to be further considered? said, that he was sorry to trouble their Lordships with another military matter; but he would do it very briefly. He should not have done it at all had it not been that the Warrant would come in force for the re-organization of the Army on the 1st of July, and he hoped he should convince his noble Friend that it would bear very hard upon young general officers in the Army, and that he should not be too late to induce him to promise on the part of the Government that some modification should be made in the Warrant before it was issued. He was not going to argue the question on the basis of injury to the junior general officers alone; but it was a very great grievance generally, and a number of general officers felt that it fatally concerned their military prospects and the professional future of their relatives entering the Army. This was not wholly a pecuniary question. He freely confessed that the retiring pensions which were about to be established by the new Warrant were very fair and liberal in their character, and if this was a pecuniary question alone he did not know that he should have troubled their Lordships at the last moment. But it was not a pecuniary question, but a grievance affecting the professional status of distinguished officers, and, if they liked to call it so, a sentimental grievance, which could not be measured by an actuary and compensated for by pounds, shillings, and pence. General officers under the new Regulations were to be compulsorily retired either at 62 or 57, according to whether they were major generals, lieutenant generals, or generals. He did not object to that, because he knew how necessary it was to provide for a rapid flow of promotion, and it was necessary that officers of 60 or 65 should be removed from the active service list. He did not complain of that, nor did the officers who were affected by it; but Clause 48 provided that in addition to the compulsory retirement from age, the non-employment of officers for five years should also involve compulsory retirement at earlier ages, and that was very repugnant to the feelings of the general officers to whom he had alluded. The rule was laid down that if there was a continuance of non-employment for five years from their attaining the rank of major general they must retire; and their Lordships would see that in such a case it must lead to the country being deprived of the services of young, efficient, and trustworthy officers at a very early age, and, indeed, there would be many cases of retirement at a comparatively early age. Where an officer, by his talents and bravery, had greatly distinguished himself, and consequently advanced rapidly in his profession, he would become a major general before he was 50, so that such an officer would be retired at an early age—by reason of non-employment for five years subsequently—solely in consequence of his distinguished services. However desirable it might be to retain the services of distinguished officers as long as possible, he did not think that his noble Friend would say that that was insured under the new system. If the Under Secretary of State for War could assure him that in future, in consequence of the reduction of the number of general officers, those who should be retained on the active list would be certain to obtain employment, his objections must fall to the ground. But he did not think his noble Friend would give him any such assurance, as there were not more than 50 or 60 posts which general officers could fill. It was all very well to say that they would have better pensions, but, as he had said, it was not a question of price; but looking at it financially they must remember that when an officer became a major general he sacrificed £4,500 regulation money, and he did it to obtain a fair chance, which he did under the old system, of getting access to the higher ranks of the Army and their increased emoluments, and of obtaining higher employments—higher distinction, together with the honours and rewards paid for distinguished services. In addition to the sacrifice of £4,500 regulation money, they also sacrificed a large sum of over-regulation money, about which he should say nothing; and then, being compulsorily retired after five years' non-employment, they found that they had not fulfilled the promise of their youth, it was no consolation for them to be told that the retired pension was larger than it was before. There were two classes of officers, one composed of those who having passed through with distinction the lower ranks, and even the higher regimental ranks, having become generals, felt that they had done with military service, and married and had children, or, perhaps, succeeded to their patrimony and had nothing to complain of; and there was another class who, being independent from their youth upward, entered the Army as a career, and looked forward to obtaining the highest employments and honours, and to distinguish themselves in the field in the highest ranks of the Army. On that class these regulations would fall very heavily. He did not wish to cite any instances; but he had received a letter from an old brother officer of his own, who, having become major general nearly six years ago, complained that he would have compulsorily to retire in 1882 unless he could obtain some employment, and this general officer, being only 55 years of age, felt that he was as good a soldier as ever he was, and he found that he had sacrificed his £4,500 regulation money for a moderate pension and the reversion to a colonelcy of a regiment, which would be worth, perhaps, £1,000 a-year. He hoped his noble Friend would be able to say that this non-employment clause would be modified, so that young men possessing health and strength and energy would be induced to adopt a military career. He did not know that it was right to refer to individuals; but he might point out that if his noble and gallant Friend behind him (Lord Chelmsford) continued unemployed for three years longer, he would be compelled compulsorily to retire—of course, he would be employed—but he asked whether it was advantageous to the country that they should lose the valuable services of so young a general? A man who retired at the age of from 62 to 67 had nothing to complain of; but an officer who was compelled to retire at 58 was in a very different position, and if the War Office could find no chance to employ him, he had no option but compulsory retirement. That brought him to what was the alternative. There was another clause of the Warrant (74), which had reference to lieutenant generals and major generals being allowed an option under the rules, which required some explanation. The new rules would be better in some respects, because the pensions would be higher; but what would be the use of telling a man that he might remain with a smaller pension and the chance of obtaining a colonelcy if, at the same time, they said he must be employed within five years? The old system permitted generals to remain on the list, no matter how many there were of them. But under the new rules the field of selection would be considerably narrowed, though the cost to the country would be much more. He now came to what he thought ought to be done. He would suggest that the words in the Warrant, "general officers after five years subsequent to promotion to major general," be omitted, or at least that they should not be in the Warrant for some time, so that the authorities might have further opportunities of re-considering the matter. If it should be thought that his suggestion came too late, he would submit this alternative—that, instead of five years, the Warrant should say 10 years, or at least seven years, and that would give the Government time to see how the new rules were likely to work in regard to the 63, or thereabouts, employments which could be held by general officers. He would prefer that the term should be 10 years, as that would be ample time to absorb all those who could hope for employment, and the younger officers would be benefited by this change. If this suggestion should be thought not to be a good solution, he would exempt those who chose to remain under the old scale of pension and allow them to go on in the old way as under Clause 74, until they came to the time for compulsory retirement. Many generals had applied over and over again to the Government and could not obtain employment. The Government could not find it for them within the limit of five years. He should like an explanation of the term "employment." A Staff appointment for two years, or in the discretion of the Secretary for State for a shorter period, constituted "employment." But he wished to know whether an appointment to watch manœuvres in some foreign country on behalf of the Government would be considered as being continuously employed, so that the time should count in his two years? He would also be glad if his noble Friend would explain what was the meaning of the words in reference to the five years and seven years as connected with employment as colonel, and then promotion to major general rank. Would such a man be retired at the end of five or seven years? If his noble Friend could give some assurance that there would be a reasonable probability that all these officers would be employed within the limits of five years before they would be compulsorily retired, he should be satisfied. But he feared his noble Friend could not do that, as there was not a sufficient number of employments. That being so, he sincerely trusted that his noble Friend would not hastily reject the suggestions which he had offered—on the contrary, that he would adopt one of them, and thus remove the grievance which weighed so heavily upon these officers.


said, he would like to ask the Government whether it was desirable that they should deprive themselves of the power of selecting men for service who were still in the vigour of age? The most disadvantageous results would have followed in times past if such rules had then prevailed as were now to be made. In that case, the services, for instance, of Lord Hill and of Lord Hardinge would to a large extent have been lost to the country. Neither of them could have filled the office of Commander-in-Chief. Would not this, in each case, have been a great national loss? Besides, it would be a great misfortune if officers of a certain age should not be able to be in the House of Commons. This was not a question of expense to the country. If non-employment was to be a reason for paying higher pensions, then he thought that the suggestion of putting 10 years instead of five years in the Warrant as the limit would be much more reasonable—at all events, it would be a much safer thing to do, and it would be easy to make a further alteration after experience had been gained by the Government.


said, that the apprehensions of the noble Earl (the Earl of Powis) that the House of Commons would be deprived of the services of those who were officers in the Army had already been realized, for it was in consequence of the proposed Memorandum that Parliament had lost the services of the late Member for Sunderland (Sir Henry Havelock-Allan). He had to resign his seat in order that he might accept employment. He (Lord Waveney) would suggest that the Secretary of State for War should reserve to himself the power of exempting certain officers from the operation of the new rules.


said, he fully understood the object of his noble Friend in bringing this matter forward; but he could not assent to his noble Friend's proposal. He thought he should be able to show to their Lordships sufficient reasons why the suggestions put forward could not be accepted, which, perhaps, his noble Friend would admit, even if he did not think that the Government were justified in the course which they had taken. He would answer first the questions which his noble Friend put at the end of his speech as to employment. He wished to point out that it was a Memorandum that was on the Table of their Lordship's House, and not a Warrant. It showed the principles on which the Warrant would be based; but it was not so precise in language as the Warrant would be. He believed the Warrant was now in the printer's hands, and he hoped that by Thursday next it would be issued to to the public.


asked when the Warrant would come into operation?


said, the Warrant would come into force on the 1st of July. As to employment, he might state that the time occupied in attending any foreign manœuvres would not count as field service. It was not likely that the Government could make any exception in the rules of that kind. The question of his noble Friend as to the number of employments for general officers must be answered thus—that the number varied from time to time; but he thought he would not be far wrong in saying about 64 or 65. The next question was as to the term of seven years of combined service as colonel and general. He would answer this question by giving an illustration of the working of this rule. Assume an officer retired from employment as colonel at the age of 47 years, and did not get his promotion until he was 50 years; he would then be retired after four years' non-employment as a general officer, or seven years of non-employment in the two ranks of colonel and general combined. His noble Friend admitted that the rates of pay on retirement were fixed upon a liberal scale; but he would not discuss that matter further. He would confine himself to the point of the retirement of general officers. The greater part of his noble Friend's speech was based upon an assumption, which could not be justified, that the young general officers would, as a rule, be retired. But those would be the very officers who would obtain employment; for the fact of the reaching the rank of general at an early age was at any rate a presumption that they had shown ability, or had distinguished themselves in the field. No doubt, there were instances where officers would be compulsorily retired; but the great point which they had to consider was the efficiency of the Service generally. He spoke most positively when he said that these rules had been framed on that ground, and not based on motives of economy at all; for it was clearly cheaper to keep an officer on the active list than to retire him on a pension of £200 a-year more than his general's pay. When his noble Friend referred to the case of younger general officers, in whom he seemed to take so much interest, he must consider what effect his suggestions would have upon the list of colonels, because it was of the greatest possible importance that all officers below the rank of general should have their fair chance of promotion. There were about 400 generals upon the active list, and only a little over 60 employments for them. Now, after the retirements had taken effect under the Warrant, there would remain about 56 or 57 generals supernumerary to the new establishment. Until these were absorbed there could be few chances for colonels to move up, every other vacancy only giving promotion to a colonel. The Government were bound, in dealing with the higher ranks, to consider the question of the colonels. He would not say that five years non-employment made a general unfitted for employment; but there was a certain presumption that after five years of non-employment an officer was less likely to be fit for, or less likely to desire, employment than one who had been recently employed, and if there was a smaller list there would be, of course, the greater chance of employment. His noble Friend had made some suggestions as to the omission from the Warrant of all mention of five years' non-employment at present. For the reasons he (the Earl of Morley) had given, and especially on account of the disastrous effect it would have on the colonels, and because it would seriously interfere with the whole scheme of promotion which would come into force on the 1st of July, it would be impossible to accede to that suggestion. Then his noble Friend suggested an extension of the five years to ten, or, at least, to seven. He could assure their Lordships that the question as between seven and five years had been most carefully considered both by the military authorities and by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers); and he thought the illustrious Duke would confirm him in what he said when he stated that it was generally admitted that the advantage which would be given by an extra two years would not counterbalance the disadvantage which would arise in other directions. It had been said that the period in the Navy was 10 years; but when the time was fixed in the first instance for flag officers it was done experimentally; and, moreover, it was not merely service, as in the Army, but sea service, which was much less liberally interpreted than military service. The distinction between ordinary service and sea service made the whole difference, and vitiated the comparison which had been made between the cases of the Army and the Navy on that point. His noble Friend had suggested another alternative—namely, that all general officers who elected to remain under the existing terms should be exempted from the non-employment clause until their compulsory retirement by age. He ventured, however, to think that that would exactly exclude the class of officers whom the noble Lord was most anxious to save to the Army, because the officers who would be most likely to remain under the existing terms would be those high on the list of generals, who had the best chances of obtaining regiments. Therefore, they would save by that means the older and not the younger officers. The suggestion would not be feasible; neither would it have the effect of saving those efficient young officers who, in common with his noble Friend, he should be sorry to see compulsorily retired from the Service. His noble Friend had asked him for an assurance that under that scheme no officer who was fit for employment or who desired it should be compulsorily retired. It would be quite impossible for him to give such an assurance as that. If he did so, he should be practically stating a proposition which many officers would at once challenge—namely, that all those who were com- pulsorily retired on the 1st of July were unfit for employment, or that they did not desire employment. He should be sorry to say that any general officer was unfit for employment, and he had no means of knowing what their desires as to employment were. Those officers who saw that they had no chance of employment would take the higher rate of pension granted by the Warrant as being of greater advantage to them, and thus the number would be diminished. Those who remained would have greatly improved chances of employment if they were efficient officers; at any rate, there would be a greater chance than now, when there were about 400 on the active list. He did not think he should be justified in detaining their Lordships any longer. The scheme had received the most careful and anxious consideration of the Government, in the great hope that it would tend to the efficiency of the Service generally.


said, it was clear that the five years' non-employment rule had come with surprise upon the Service. The five years should be extended, at least experimentally, and some other and less objectionable means should be adopted for providing for the proper flow of promotion which was promised when purchase was abolished in the Army.


said, with reference to a remark of the noble Lord the Undersecretary of State for War, that sea service had nothing to do with the retirement of flag officers. It had to do with maximum pension; but, according to the system adopted in the Navy, a flag officer was not compulsorily retired until 10 years after hauling down his flag—that was to say, "continuous non-employment." Then, and then only, would a flag officer be retired on his pension. Therefore, by taking away their good-service pension, and by fixing on five years' non-employment, instead of 10 years, as the condition of compulsory retirement, officers of the Army would be placed at a great disadvantage as compared with those of the Navy under the present scheme. He contended that the Memorandum was an infringement of the promise made to officers upon the abolition of purchase, and it would be a great hardship on those who had sunk the sum of £4,500 to gain a general officer's position. They did not object to retire for age, but they did for non-employment, and this Warrant was a breach of the promise made by the Government to those officers who were eligible for employment. He hoped that some other arrangement would be made, as the speech of the noble Earl (the Earl of Morley) would be read with dismay by all those who would be affected by that harsh rule of five years' non-employment, and consequent compulsory retirement.