HL Deb 06 July 1883 vol 281 cc590-6

, in rising to move— That the Select Committee on the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments and Office of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod he directed to inquire into the department of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, with the view of ascertaining whether the appointments in that department, or some of them, may not in future be conferred upon persons who have served with distinction in the army or navy or some department of the public service, said, he could not bring forward the Motion without expressing his deep regret, in which he was sure their Lordships shared, that they would never again see Sir William Knollys take his place in that House. The late Sir William Knollys led a long career in the service of his country and in the service of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and when he was appointed to the Office of Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, the general feeling was that he well deserved the tribute that had been paid to his services. Sir William Knollys was the personal friend of most of their Lordships, and, therefore, it was not necessary for him to say anything further; but he was sure that his name would never be mentioned in that House with any other feeling but that of the deepest esteem and regret. This was not the first time that the propriety of making this Motion had occurred to him; but for obvious reasons he had postponed it until it could be discussed on some such occasion as that, when nothing of a personal character could be supposed to be attached to it. The offices attached to their Lordships' House were valuable offices. There were two principal door-keepers who received a salary of £300 a-year; one who received £250, and 18 who received salaries from £70 to £170 a-year. These appointments were formally made by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. He himself was not in the primary sense an officer of the House; he was senior Gentleman Usher of the Queen, and was deputed as such to attend upon this House. In point of fact, he was the representative of Her Majesty in that House. Formerly, he was paid by fees, which were commuted into a salary. Originally, when there was only one door, he was the only officer admitted into the House during the debates, until the increase in the number of doors had involved an increase in the number of door-keepers. The appointments were made under the authority of the House, which at no time relaxed its control over them, and they were in no sense attached to the office of Black Rod. They were made by him simply because the House had permitted him to make them. In early times the offices were disposed of by sale, and a Committee reported with satisfaction that the practice had ceased, intimating that it ought not to be revived. The duties attached to the offices were not laborious. With regard to that portion of his Motion which alluded to the Army and Navy, he thought it would be admitted that there was a growing desire in the country to do what was possible to elevate those two great public Services in public estimation by reserving for those who distinguished themselves in those Services appointments of the character of those under consideration. The civil employment of soldiers and sailors had occupied the attention of both Houses of Parliament; a Committee of the House of Commons had reported strongly in favour of it; the Commander-in-Chief had advocated it; some of the Public Departments had recognized the claims of soldiers and sailors; and preference was given to them at the Admiralty and at the War Office respectively. Their claims had been urged on a Committee of the House of Commons, which had not yet reported. If it was urged that the appointments in that House must be filled by responsible persons, what better guarantee of responsibility could there be than the training of the Services and the recommendation of the commanding officers? It seemed to him that there was every reason in favour of this Motion. There were many of their Lordships, and he was one of them, who owed their seats in that House to the services rendered to the country either by themselves or their Predecessors in the Army and Navy. Therefore, he thought it was only right that they should seize every opportunity of recognizing the debt they owed. Large numbers of commissioned officers would, he believed, be keen candidates for such places. For his own part, he would far rather be a principal door-keeper of that House with £300 a-year than the Governor of a gaol. Yet whenever the Governorship of a gaol became vacant there was sure to be a large number of candidates for the post, including many officers in the Army and Navy. He was certain that both Services would consider the acceptance of this Motion by their Lordships as a very great compliment. He had proposed the Motion simply for the reasons he had stated, and without any reference to any of the present officers of the House. If there were anything in the terms that might seem to be too stringent he should be perfectly willing to accept a change in the words. He might mention that he did not wish to limit these appointments necessarily to persons who had served in the Army or Navy. All he desired was that candidates from the Army and Navy should have a preference given to them. In conclusion, he begged to move the Motion of which he had given Notice. Moved, "That the Select Committee on the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments and Office of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod he directed to inquire into the department of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, with the view of ascertaining whether the appointments in that department, or some of them, may not in future he conferred upon persons who have served with distinction in the army or navy or some department of the public service."—[The Earl of Camperdown.)


said, he entirely agreed with every word the noble Lord had said. He had no wish to find fault with anything that was going on now; but he was of opinion that if this Motion were accepted an opening would be given to the valuable men who were now serving their country in the Army and Navy, and there would be an immense inducement to men to enter and continue in those Services. It would, he thought, be a great pity if they did not attempt to introduce a system of giving such appointments as these to naval and military officers. At the same time, he should be sorry if it were made an exclusive system; but the noble Lord distinctly guarded himself against that. He hoped the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty would, on behalf of the Navy, support the Motion. For his own part, he cordially approved it.


said, that during his connection with the Civil Service Commission it had fallen to his lot to see the excellent characters and the creditable examinations passed by the pensioners both of the Army and Navy. These very deserving non-commissioned officers came before the Civil Service Commissioners for the very small number of appointments which they were now able to receive. Such appointments were very few, both at the Admiralty and the War Office. He felt certain that if some scheme, such as his noble Friend had sketched forth, could be entertained by those in authority, it would constitute one of the greatest inducements possible to recruit even a better class of men than we had at present in the Army and the Navy. The excellent testimonials of soldiers and sailors produced in Cannon Row had come under his notice, and it was a subject of regret to the Civil Service Commission, of which he had the honour to be the head, that there were so few of these appointments that could be given to them. If the scheme proposed by the noble Earl could be entertained, it would be viewed by the Civil Service Commissioners with the most hearty approbation.


said, there was one point on which he could confirm everything the noble Earl had said. The noble Earl had remarked that he would far prefer to be a doorkeeper of that House than the Governor of a gaol. It had been his evil fortune more than once during the last few years to act on a Committee appointed for the purpose of choosing the Governor of a gaol. On one occasion there were upwards of 300 candidates, and he was astonished to find that among them there were not only subordinate officers of the Army and Navy, but officers of high rank—General Officers and Admirals of the Fleet—who were most anxious to obtain the appointment. On one occasion he was so astonished that he spoke to one of the candidates—an Admiral who had since held a high command. He at first thought it was impossible that he could be aware of what could be the duties of the office; but to his surprise the Admiral told him that he was prepared to go through them all, that he could get nothing to do, and that he was in the greatest possible distress. If this Resolution were carried, he believed it would be found that a large number of applications would be received, not only from non-commissioned officers and men, but also from commissioned officers of Her Majesty's Army and Navy.


said, the evidence adduced before the Select Committee of 1876 was strong and conclusive as to the important effect on recruiting that would be produced by giving civil appointments to non-commissioned officers. It was recommended that more of these places should be placed by the Government at the disposal of deserving non commissioned officers. At the War Office the number of military clerks was very small as compared with the number of civil clerks. He thought that the War Office should be entirely manned by soldiers; and that even the higher appointments in that Department of the State should be filled by officers. Many officers would gladly compete for such appointments, especially if they found promotion in the Army slow. In Germany and France the War Departments were wholly manned by soldiers.


said, that the late holder of the Office was an officer in the Army, and his Predecessor was an Admiral, and there had been no impediment to their appointment because they were in the Army and the Navy; but it might be carrying the matter a little too far to say that the Office should not be conferred upon any others than officers in the Army and Navy. It was surely fair that domestic servants throughout the country should have opportunities of getting these places. The evidence was clear that these appointments rested with Black Rod, and down to the present time there had been no dissatisfaction as to the manner in which they had been filled up. He did not resist the Motion, though he was a little sorry that new restrictions should be placed upon a public officer at the time of his appointment.


said, it was impossible not to sympathize with those who had advocated the cause of the Army and Navy on the present occasion. He thought, however, that other officers in the Public Service besides those in the Army and Navy were entitled to consideration. He was glad the noble Earl (the Earl of Redesdale) had given them some advice upon the matter. No doubt, the habits of discipline acquired by officers in the Army and Navy rendered them peculiarly fitted for certain situations; but he understood that the noble Earl (the Earl of Camperdown) who made the Motion only wished for an inquiry into this matter. He thought, however, that one subject of inquiry should be not only the rewards given, but what would be most for the convenience of the House. Some noble Lords had pushed their arguments to an extreme length. Some of the officers of the House had to perform duties of a menial character; and he should himself be very unwilling to order a retired Admiral or officer in the Army to perform duties of that class. It was, he thought, necessary to appoint men who could deal with distinguished foreigners and ladies when they visited the House; and that, no doubt, required a certain amount of training, which was not necessarily, but might be, possessed by a gallant soldier or sailor. Though he adopted the Motion, it would be quite understood that it should be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire, not only into the character of the rewards, but also as to what was most for the convenience of their Lordships' House.


said, he disclaimed any intention of interfering with the convenience of the House, and expressed his gratitude at the manner in which his Motion had been accepted; also his willingness that the Motion should be adopted in the sense placed upon it by the noble Earl.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.