HL Deb 11 March 1881 vol 259 cc785-7

asked the Under Secretary of State for War, Whether it is intended, under the proposed regulations for increasing the number of field officers in each regiment of the Line, that such regulations should have a retrospective effect with regard to those officers who have been compulsory retired under the existing system; and to what extent? The Secretary of State for War had announced his intention of altering the battalion organization of the Army. The present establishment of a double battalion was 2 lieutenant-colonels, 4 majors, 20 captains, and 34 subalterns. The proposed establishment was 4 lieutenant-colonels, 8 majors, 12 captains, and 30 subalterns. He did not wish to open up the question of battalion organization; but would only remark that Lord Airey's Committee, the Adjutant General, and Sir Garnet Wolseley, had all expressed themselves in favour of the existing organization; whilst Sir Lintorn Simmons and others advocated a change to the 4-company organization. No doubt, one of the advantages of the Secretary of State's plan was that it would check compulsory retirements—a system which drove out of the Army officers in the very prime of life. But such questions as battalion organization should be settled on the advice of the most competent military authorities, and not according to considerations of pay and promotion. No doubt in the end it might work well, as of 1,000 officers 516 instead of 216 would attain the rank of major. But for the present, as two captains would have to be absorbed in every regiment, the promotion of the subalterns would come to a dead-lock. As these captains, if 40 years of age, were in three years to be brought back to their regiments, voluntary retirement could not be relied upon, and the openings in the Staff would be few and far between. He wished to know whether any calculation had been made as to whether the flow of promotion would be the same as Lord Cardwell had undertaken it should be after the abolition of purchase?


, in reply, said, that the noble Viscount complained that the inducements now offered to officers were not sufficient to induce them to retire voluntarily. Under the purchase system the inducements were that an officer could receive back again the money paid for his commission. At the present time he paid nothing; but after 12 years' service he could, if he chose to go, receive £1,200; after 15 years' service, £1,600; and after 18 years' service, £2,000. He thought these inducements quite as great as those which existed under the purchase system in the rank of captain or lieutenant. According to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War in "another place," 581 out of 1,000 officers would be retired before they could reach the rank of major. This calculation was based on the slowest rate of promotion, the death rate only being taken into consideration. He saw no reason why voluntary retirement should not be as frequent under the present as under the purchase system, with this exception—that the prospects of an officer might in certain respects be better now than then; and it is obvious that the number of officers who would be compulsorily retired must be diminished by those who retired voluntarily. During the past seven years they had been passing through a transition state, and it was difficult to place figures before the House of a trustworthy character. The effect of the changes proposed by the War Secretary would be so far retrospective that any non-purchase captain who has been, or may be, retired compulsorily before the 1st of July would be allowed, subject to the approval of the Commander-in-Chief, to join the list of unattached majors on half-pay. The officers placed on that list would have the chance, though not the assurance, of employment, either regimental or on the Staff, but not necessarily in the regiment they had left. This privilege would not belong to officers who had sold their commissions, or who had commuted their pensions. Under the new rules promotion among subalterns would be somewhat retarded; but they would ultimately have a better chance of continued career to the highest rank in the Army. He had that day laid on the Table of the House a Memorandum, showing the effect of all the changes which they proposed to make with regard to this and other questions connected with Army Organization.