HL Deb 19 March 1891 vol 351 cc1377-92

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government if they will consider the expediency of reserving a certain number of places annually in the Civil Service for bestowal, without public competition, on eligible and deserving warrant and non-commissioned officers of the Army at the expiration of their period of service with the colours, said: My Lords, before going over the reasons which make it desirable, in my opinion, that Her Majesty's Government should favourably consider the question which I have placed on the Notice Paper, I will, with your Lordships' permission, make a few observations on the Return which last July, at my instance, your Lordships agreed should be furnished. This Return was to give the average age and service of non-commissioned officers of each rank doing duty with the colours. I regret that I asked for the average age and service and that I did not have the Return made out in categories of rank as corporals and sergeants, as the form of the Return has, I fear, to some extent obscured the real point. What I should have asked for was the proportion of sergeants and corporals in various categories of age and service under 24 years of age and 22 years of age respectively. This would have been clearer than the Return I obtained, and would have been more useful in opening the eyes of the public. As showing the short service of the sergeants in many regiments, I hold in my hand a Return of the age of the sergeants of the 92nd Highlanders—now the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Higlanders—a regiment taken quite at random. Of the 24 duty sergeants, no less than 10 were under five years service on January 1, 1890, the average, however, being brought up by a few old non-commissioned officers, who, it must be remembered, are now fast dying out of the Service. I will give another instance: Staff-sergeant M'Donald, of the 2nd Life Guards, was included in the return of average age and service of his rank. There were 17 other non-commissioned officers in the same rank with him; but M'Donald's service was 48¾ years, so that he had enough service to give himself and 16 other non-commissioned officers nearly three years' service apiece. These are instances of how an average in some cases works out and makes the Return, I regret to say, to this extent a misleading picture of the state of matters. In support of my views as to the danger of extreme youth in the non-commissioned officers' ranks I will quote some few short extracts from the proceedings of the Committee on Army Organisation, presided over by Lord Airlie, which began its sittings in June, 1879, and took much evidence as to the youth of the non-commissioned officers and men of many of the regiments which had then lately been on active service in South Africa. Sir Evelyn Wood, who then commanded the troops in South Africa, in answer to the question, What is the result of your observation as to the steadiness in the performance of their duties of the young soldiers who came out with the reinforcements? said— I think they were wanting in steadiness. Asked then, Do you attribute that in any way to the want of old non-commissioned officers among them? he said, Yes, certainly to the want of good noncommissioned officers, and to their not knowing their officers. Sir Evelyn Wood proceeded— I go further and say that I think that the young soldier is like a boy who has never had a fall out hunting until he gets a shake. I think that they would fight very well going forward, but it is when you want them to come back steadily or after they have had a shake that the difficulty arises. I should not mind taking the youngest boys into fight, but when they have received a momentary check and the men begin to tumble down around them, it is then when you find the difficulty with young soldiers. It is when you want them to turn tail on and come back steadily that you want old soldiers, and especially old non-commissioned officers. Sir Evelyn Wood made these criticisms on the force in South Africa, as it was, in the year 1878. Now, it is necessary, and will, I think, be very interesting, to compare the ages of the Army in 1878 with the ages of the Army in 1890 in order to see whether the elements of success in war in accordance with Sir Evelyn Wood's criticism exist in the Army now to a greater or lesser extent than in 1878. I find by the Army Returns that in 1878, during the war in South Africa, there were serving with the colours 528 non-commissioned officers and men above 25 years of age in every 1,000, whereas in 1890 there were serving with the colours only 351 noncommissioned officers and men above 25 years of age, thus showing a great decrease in the class of men of 25 years and upwards from which the non-commissioned officers and steady old soldiers must necessarily be drawn. There was a meeting last January of officers at the Royal United Service Institution to hear a lecture on the recruiting question, and there was a unanimity of opinion amongst those present that something should be done for the non-commissioned officers in the way of improving their position and prospects. One colonel, commanding a cavalry regiment, said— I have got some 324 recruits of under a year's service at this moment. I remember the days of the old, tried non-commissioned officers—reliable, experienced, trustworthy men. I am not in a position any more than you to draw upon the quartermaster's stores for an old head to screw to young shoulders, and I look forward with a certain degree of apprehension to the future. Now, I would ask, do not these criticisms and the large further increase of young soldiers justify an appeal to Her Majesty's Government to improve the position of the non-commissioned officers? Officers are easily obtainable. Recruits for that rank came in shoals to compete at the examinations which were held by the Civil Service Commissioners for commissions in Her Majesty's Army. But that is not the case with noncommissioned officers. Where the candidates for commissions as officers number tens for one place vacant, there is a dearth in many regiments of good men who are either willing to accept or who are in any way fitted for the position of a non-commissioned officer. Why is this so? It is because the position of non-commissioned officers is not sufficiently attractive. It entails far harder work than used to be the case in the days of long service, on account of the number of men passing through the ranks who require almost unremitting drill and attention, and also, it must be remembered, on account of the increase in the duties which an Army now has to perform. In order to be efficient in modern warfare far more is required of non-commissioned officers than formerly. Now, I will refer your Lordships to what is done by other countries. We have adopted their short service system, by which the men soon retire from the ranks. Continental Armies have recognised that it is necessary to offer special attraction to induce this deserving body of men to continue on in the Service; but this country, though having adopted the short service system of Continental countries, stands alone in offering few or no attractions to the non-commissioned officer by making service in that rank a means of obtaining civil employment, as is done in France and Germany. Though I am strongly of opinion that the best plan in this country, and the cheapest way in the long run, would be to offer increased pensions to the non-commissioned officers to induce them to stay on in the Service and devote themselves to it, to act not only as an incentive to those who are doing their best in the Service but, by a possible forfeiture of their pensions, as a deterrent to those who might otherwise get into trouble with light heart—though I think that a liberal pension is the best means in this country to reward non-commissioned officers, still I cannot conceive that any large measure of increase in pension, even to a body so necessary as this middle-class is to the welfare of the Army, can be proposed without receiving the most strenuous opposition from many short-sighted persons. This being the case, I have confined my question to the point of asking Her Majesty's Government if they will grant a certain number of nominations to the lower division of the Civil Service, to be distributed annually to deserving non-commissioned officers in the Army who have shown themselves reliable and qualified for the duties to which they might be appointed. I can not think that the taking away of a limited number of appointments from those which are competed for yearly would be opposed by the patriotic youth of the country when they know that it is only by inducements such as these that our Army can be made as efficient as it ought to be by procuring a sufficient number of experienced non-commissioned officers. In this manner the public would be persuaded to consider the profession of the soldier as being an advantageous as well as an honourable one. Persons may say—Why should not non-commissioned officers compete with civilians at the examinations that are held? The answer to this is that as a matter of fact they cannot compete with young men who have made the few subjects in which the examinations take place the object of unremitting study from their earliest boyhood. Men who have been about the world, serving their country in various climates, though practically able to undertake the duties of an office, are mostly unable to compete at an examination with boys fresh from grammar schools or crammers. If a certain number of nominations to the Civil Service were granted to the Army at large, without public competition, there is no reason why they should not be given through colonels of regiments, who are best able to select the best man for a post. As colonels commanding regiments are entrusted with large powers of punishment, they should also, when possible, be given large powers of reward. On this point let me draw your Lordships' attention to the evidence of Colonel now Sir Edmund Du Cane, given as head of Her Majesty's prisons. His evidence was given before the Select Committee on the Civil employment of soldiers, sailors, and marines, which sat in 1876. He said he was desirous of obtaining the services of two good ex-non-commissioned officers. He knew them both, and that they were excellent men, but when they went up to be examined they failed before the Civil Service Commissioners. One of them was ex-Sergeant-Major Brodie, of the Royal Engineers, whose qualifications for employment in the Clerks' Department I will enumerate to your Lordships. Sergeant-Major Brodie, R.E., after the examination required by the War Office, was appointed a third-class military staff-clerk in the office of the Deputy Adjutant-General of the Royal Engineers. He was then promoted, and went to Melbourne with Colonel Waugh, where he was employed in the Mint, and in the Accounts Department. He was entrusted with a duplicate key of the cash box, and was employed to countersign and pay cheques, performing his responsible duties with the greatest satisfaction to his superior officer, who sent to Colonel Du Cane the highest testimonials as to his conduct and capabilities. But Sergeant-Major Brodie, with his practical experience, and with such testimony from his official superior as to his capacity for undertaking the duties of the office which he was desirous of filling, was prevented continuing his service to the State because he was not fit to compete with youths fresh from the crammers. If the Government favourably consider this proposal I trust that the nominations will, as I have said, be placed at the disposal of officers commanding regiments, who are best qualified to make the selections. With regard to this, Mr. Ramsey, in his evidence before Lord Randolph Churchill's Committee, in 1888, stated that he wished to obtain the services of 10 good ex-non-commissioned officers. He sent round to 10 officers commanding regiments, and got 10 most excellent men; but he goes on to state that the system was changed, that a roster was kept of these men that he required, and that from the roster he did not get such good men as he got when the personal responsibility of the officers commanding the regiments was brought into play. Now, if Her Majesty's Government wish a precedent for dealing in any special manner with any particular class, I would refer them to the privileges enjoyed by the Indian cadets, Queen's cadets, and University candidates at Army examinations, and I would ask them to extend some such similar privileges to the non-commissioned officers of the Army. I will conclude by reading to your Lordships an extract from the Report of the Select Committee on Army Organisation, a Report which was joined in by two late distinguished Members of your Lordships' House—Lord Napier of Magdala and Lord Airlie. In this Report there is the following short but weighty passage:— We have taken a great deal of evidence from staff and regimental officers, in all of which there is a general consensus of opinion that under the present system there is great difficulty in obtaining non-commissioned officers of the same type as those which have been created under the old long-service system and who are rapidly dying out of the Army. There has been a necessity for promoting very young soldiers who have not sufficient knowledge and experience to command the respect of those under them, and there is a general apprehension, which we fully share, that unless effective measures are taken without delay to remedy this evil, the discipline and efficiency of the Army will be most seriously affected, not only as regards the performance of its duties in peace, but also with regard to its steadiness in action. The evidence of officers who have served in the late campaigns, especially those who have observed the con-duct of the young regiments sent out to South Africa last year, is conclusive on this point. We consider, therefore, experience has proved that evidence, that even with the increase of pay and advantages lately given to non-commissioned officers, enough has not yet been done to secure an ample supply of such men as are essential to the efficiency of the Army. I feel, my Lords, that anything I can say will not strengthen those words. I trust Her Majesty's Government will view this question on its merits, bearing in mind those precedents I have mentioned for allowing privileges to certain classes of men in the State in limitation of the rights of the public to open competition. The privileges possessed by University candidates, Indian cadets, and Queen's cadets, are all in favour of certain bodies, and against open competition, and I see no reason why such a deserving body of men as non-commissioned officers, who are so essential to the State, should not be treated in a similar manner. I will only remark, in conclusion, that the evidence which I have quoted, given before the Committee on Army Organisation, is as true now as on the day when it was given before that Committee.


My Lords, when I look at the state of the clock, and the condition of your Lordships' Benches, I feel it would be impracticable for me to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes upon this paramount and most important subject, a subject that when England is slumbering at peace, reposing with her money bags under her, may not seem of so much importance but which, if war broke out to-morrow—and war in these days is not a question of months, but of days—would be very quickly brought to her knowledge. I think the noble Earl has rendered a vast service in bringing this question before your Lordships' notice. 'It is a question that, compared with one which arose earlier in the evening, I venture to think, is as a mountain to a mole-hill. It is a question which, in a country where voluntary enlistment takes place, and the opinion of discharged soldiers is spread abroad among their countrymen as they return to their pauper's homes, ought to strengthen the minds of all those noble and gallant Lords that I see around me; it ought to strike those who, having held high office, may not perhaps have thought it worth while to give it very great attention. I myself remember, not only the Battles of Ulundi and Tel-el-Kebir, at which I was almost too old to serve. I remember the Indian catastrophies in which I was not too old. I also remember the disturbance with the only European Power with which we have been brought into contest since the great war. The question of old soldiers against young soldiers has never been half considered. The noble Earl who has just sat down has put it very forcibly—young soldiers will fight-There is not a butcher's boy in London who will not fight; but how long will he stand up to fight? He will stand about as long against an experienced prize fighter as I think a young soldier will stand in the present day against an old soldier of the Crimean War. I had intended to have alluded to an illustrous and gallant Duke who sits on the back Bench, and to call for his testimony as to the way in which the soldiers acted in those days; but I see a noble and gallant Friend of mine, who is distinguished with the Victoria Cross, on the back Benches, who can support me in that opinion. I saw three War Ministers here early in the evening, but they, although not young soldiers, have fled from the field. There is now one gallant officer who holds the post of Under Secretary of War, and who, I think, notwithstanding that official description which it is his duty to preserve, testifies to the feelings which I am giving expression to. But there is one very serious point, and one that has occurred to me for 30 or 40 years, which is, that the English soldier's position is one of pains and penalties without any adequate reward—I will not say even without an adequate reward, but without any reward at all. It is true there is something equivalent to the old Chelsea Pensioners' Retreat which has been done away with. But what happens in foreign countries? We all know how well the messengers in this House discharge their duties. We all know how well other messengers, with medals on their breasts, discharge their duties; but I would ask, why are no such appointments given to old soldiers or sailors? Those of your Lordships who have read this morning's papers must have been struck most forcibly with the gallantry and devotion shown by our British sailors in the catastrophy off Gibraltar. The same thing may be said of the British soldier. I have seen instances, and I could, if I thought it fitting, detain your Lordships perhaps too long on this subject; but why are no places ever given to them as the noble and gallant Earl has asked? No proportion of places under civil patronage are ever given to the soldiers and sailors who have deserved well of their country by long service, or otherwise. I would not attempt to answer that question—I cannot answer it; I feel I may challenge your Lordships to give me an answer in vain. It is Parliamentary patronage that has interfered with this matter, and I think it is a pity we do not see the same thing among ourselves as when you go and knock at an Ambassador's door in this country when the first thing you will see is a soldier whose coat is covered with military medals wearing the livery of his master. The same thing is never seen in this country. I know of but two instances. One of them is employed, I may say, in the National Gallery. It is true, the illustrious Duke at the head of Her Majesty's Army distributes as many places as he can among the soldiers; but I do trust that your Lordships' consideration, and the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, will be given in their own interests, and in the interests of the country, to the consideration of this point.


My Lords, the question which my noble and gallant Friend has raised is a very important one, but I would venture to suggest to the noble Earl that he has forgotten one important branch of Her Majesty's Forces; that is, the Navy. This question has been brought before your Lordships and the other House on several occasions, and your Lordships may remember that in the year 1877 a Committee sat in the other House and went very fully into the whole subject of civil employment. That Committee made a Report, and in that Report they specially refer to the point to which the noble Earl has alluded, namely, the great difficulty which old sailors and old soldiers have in competing for open competition places. In the Report that Committee suggested that the Government should take into their consideration very strongly whether in questions of open competition especial attention ought not to be paid to those matters which old sailors and old soldiers are more especially able to deal with; in fact, that the rigid dicta of the open competition should be amended, and that openings should be given, so that old soldiers and old sailors should have a fair chance. On that Committee I think my noble Friend Lord Wantage served with Lord Wemyss, and a great many Members of the other House. The evidence which they took was extremely important, and I should like to ask my noble Friend, when he answers to this question, to state what has been done towards carrying out the recommendations contained in that Report. I think I am right in saying that in the following year a great effort was made in the matter by the Government that was then in power; but what the result was I am not at all clear. I remember in that Report they specially recommended that the regulations as to age in open competitions ought to be amended as far as old soldiers and sailors were concerned, and also that the question should be taken into consideration whether a man was married or not. I am sure your Lordships will agree that the noble Lord has done very good service in bringing this forward, and I sincerely trust the noble Lord will be able to give us a satisfactory answer.


My Lords, I trust if Her Majesty's Government consider favourably what I may describe as the very modest request of my noble and gallant Friend, that the scope of the inquiry may be increased, so as to see how it may be possible to increase the inducements of non - commissioned officers to remain with the colours. I am afraid—though, no doubt, if this proposal be acceded to it would be a real inducement to men to remain—it would be hardly right that they should be entitled to receive the advantage of this concession when they retire into the Reserve after merely seven years' service. So long as the deferred pay remains as an inducement to the men to leave the Service after seven years by the bribe of the £21 they are then entitled to, I am afraid we must expect to lose from year to year large numbers of valuable men who under other conditions would be only too glad to remain with the colours. That is the weak point of the present system. There is no doubt about that, and I was very glad to see that the Secretary of State for War, in another place, has promised to enter into that question. The non-commissioned officers of the Army are the backbone of the Service, and it is impossible that the efficiency of the regiments can be maintained unless you have a reliable and efficient body of men as non-commissioned officers of such an age as will carry weight and support them in the difficult task they have to perform of enforcing discipline. If this is done, and such inducements as my noble Friend asked for are accorded to them, I am certain the Army would find itself with a body of non-commissioned officers of much the same character as formerly was the case before the short service system was introduced. Commanding officers are satisfied with the stamp of non - commissioned officers they get; the only complaint is that they are too young, and that just as they are becoming efficient they leave the colours. I trust this may only be a step in advance, and that Her Majesty's Government will favourably consider the question, so that Her Majesty's regiments may obtain what they are now wanting, that is a sufficient complement of old and trusty non-commissioned officers.


My Lords, I need hardly say that I most entirely sympathise with the noble and gallant Earl who has brought this question forward in his anxiety that some suitable employment should be found for retired warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. The question which he has put to Her Majesty's Government is part of a very much larger matter, namely, the whole question of finding employment for reserve and retired soldiers of all ranks; but as his question specially refers to warrant officers and noncommissioned officers I shall endeavour entirely to confine myself to speaking of those ranks only. The noble and gallant Earl is anxious that they should have advantages in competing in Civil Service examinations, or, rather, that certain posts should be thrown open to them without their having to go through the same competitive examinations as men who have not served in the Army or Navy. I have made it my business to find out from the Civil Service Commissioners what are the posts which are open to competition, and, as far as I gather, the posts that are open to competition are second-class clerkships. I will quote a letter that I have received from the Civil Service Commissioners upon this subject? I find that the clerkships are competed for by very young men, from 17 to 20 years of age, and this is what the Commissioners say— The limits of age for open competition appointments are, as a rule, low. Thus, in 1890, only 12 situations were filled to which persons over 20 were admitted; and for all of these technical qualifications were needed. In the same year 130 clerkships of the second division were competed for by youths between 17 and 20. Further on they say— Members of the Military or Naval Services can deduct from their actual age any time they have served for pension. But the number of them who avail themselves of this extension is inconsiderable. I think that answers one of the questions which were put by the noble Lord opposite. While the places generally are such as should be filled by youths, and are in one way or another scarcely suitable for retired soldiers, it does not appear that much could be done in this direction to help the soldier's cause. More might, perhaps, be done with the large numbers of subordinate situations filled by nomination with a simple qualifying examination. Certainly one must admit that in the case of retired warrant officers most of them are men who have reached a certain age; and I must say I feel some doubt myself as to whether there would be any great anxiety on their part to obtain second-class clerkships, and to begin life in an office with very young men about 20 years old, which is the age at which these examinations are held. But this does not so strongly apply to non-commissioned officers, but still, even with regard to non-commissioned officers, I doubt whether there would be any very great scramble for the posts of second-division clerkships. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that there might be some further relaxation of the rules, to enable those who are well qualified for clerkships to have some further opportunity of obtaining them. I think that what we must look to with some hope is to any station where, as the Civil Service Commissioners say, a simple qualifying examination is required. I hold in my hand a letter, and I think it is an encouraging one, from the secretary to the National Gallery, in which that gentleman says— Our present head porter was a quartermaster-sergeant in the Coldstream Guards. Among the assistant porters we have two ex-corporals in the Coldstreams, one ex-private in the Hussars, one in the Army Service Corps, one from the East Surrey Regiment, and one from the Royal Engineers. He then says— Speaking generally, they have turned out well, and the men thus selected are, as a rule, far better disciplined than civilians. There have, however, been one or two exceptions among the short service men. He further says— All male attendants on the Staff of this Department are qualified by certificates from the Civil Service Commission. Those are posts which are not open to competitive examination, but which can be obtained simply by a qualifying examination. This is a small Department which is able to employ, as I may inform your Lordships, an old quartermaster-sergeant and two other non-commissioned officers, besides other old soldiers.


May I ask whether those appointments are under the Trustees of the National Gallery or under the Government? I rather think myself they are under the Trustees of the National Gallery.


Those appointments are made by the Treasury on the suggestion of the Trustees. I cannot help thinking that if other larger Departments, perhaps, where there are more posts open, would follow the example of this small Department and ask for old non-commissioned officers and privates of the Army to be appointed, the same happy result would be found. I must point out, as I said before, that the questions put by the noble and gallant Earl are part of a very large question, namely, that of the employment of the Reserve men and retired non-commissioned officers and privates of the army. This question again is most intimately connected with the question of recruiting; that question of recruiting has been lately brought, prominently to the notice of Her Majesty's Government, and a Committee-has been appointed to consider the whole question, of which Committee my noble Friend (Lord Wantage) is the Chairman. The Secretary of State, knowing perfectly well that this question of the employment of old soldiers is intimately mixed up with the question of recruiting, has resolved to extend the Reference to this Committee in order that they may make a full inquiry into the whole question of the employment of soldiers, I think, therefore, we may safely leave this question in the hands of my noble Friend and the Committee over which he is to preside. I can only say that Her Majesty's Government will give every possible consideration to any Report that they may make in the form of practical suggestions for the employment of warrant officers and non-commissioned officers and privates retired from Her Majesty's Army and Reserve men.


My Lords, with your permission I should like to put myself right with regard to the Navy in reference to the remark of my noble Friend as to my having left out that Service. The Report of the Select Committee on the civil employment of soldiers, sailors, and marines, in 1871, specially referred to the Navy, and they stated as sailors entered as boys no inducement was necessary to obtain their services by holding out the prospect of civil employment. As I have brought forward this question partly in the interests of recruiting for the Army, for the obtaining of a better class of non-commissioned officers, and partly in the interests of the non-commissioned officers at present in the Service, I thought it better not to refer to the Navy, though, of course, nothing would please me more than to see every eligible non-commissioned officer of the Navy receiving civil employment. With regard to the statement of the noble Earl the Under Secretary for War about noncommissioned officers, if I understood him rightly, or rather from the letter he quoted, he said that the non-commissioned officers might not be suitable for Lower Division clerkships. I should like to say that Mr. Ramsay, in his evidence before the Select Committee on the Civil Employment of Soldiers and Sailors, in 1888, stated— I took the trouble to write to commanding officers who were friends of mine; I told them exactly the sort of clerk I wanted, and I got first-class men; in fact, out of the men now serving, one came in as a soldier clerk at 5s. a day and is now my store-keeper at £500 a year; and another, who came in at 5s. a day, is now principal clerk at £425. What I want to see is that good non-commissioned officers should not have to take a back seat in Civil Service employment, but should take their position among clerks, and if they are good men they should be advanced. With regard to the assurance of the noble Earl that this matter will be referred to the Committee, over which my noble Friend Lord Wantage will preside as Chairman, I should like to inform your Lordships and the noble Earl what the views of that noble Lord are on this matter. In presiding at the meeting of the Military Society at Aldershot on the employment of soldiers in civil life, held on the 12th of December, 1889, he is reported to have said— I think it is the act of a good statesman to discover the right moment when the habits of people are so shaped, and perhaps changed, that he may safely introduce his legislative measures. Every body is agreed that it would be greatly to the advantage of everyone if soldiers were more employed in civil life. Commissions and Committees have recommended it, and now is the time when these recommendations should bear fruit. I think, therefore, the task of my noble Friend will be a very simple one, because he will be able to refer to the Blue Books, and see exactly what has been done on the subject.


In speaking of the difficulty with regard to old soldiers serving as Lower Division clerks I did not mean to imply that retired non-commissioned officers would make bad clerks. There are now 136 of these clerks serving in the War Office, and very good clerks they are; but what I said was that I doubted whether men of somewhat advanced age would care to enter an office side by side with mere boys who had just passed their examination.