§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
My Lords, it will be in the recollection of your Lordships that on a former occasion, when the case of certain gentlemen, ensigns and lieutenants in the Guards, was brought under the consideration of this House, the noble Marquess opposite, the President of the Council, was unable to clear up some of the points on which information was asked of Her Majesty's Government. That arose, no doubt, from the fact that the noble Marquess has no connection with the War Department; but, my Lords, the subject having at the time appeared to me to be one of considerable importance, I gave Notice that I would take another opportunity of bringing it again under the notice of your Lordships, with the view of our obtaining fuller information. Since then I have very carefully reconsidered the subject, and I must still express my opinion that very great injustice will be done to the officers in question if the intention of the Secretary for War is carried out in their case. In order to make the Questions of which I have given Notice perfectly clear to the noble Marquess and the House, I think it well to revert to the circumstances under which those officers obtained their commissions. Either in September or the first week of October last a certain num- 947 ber of young gentlemen, whose names had been down for commissions in the Brigade of Guards, received a letter from his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, offering them, on certain conditions, commissions in the regiments of Guards for which respectively their names had been set down. This letter was so much commented on when the case was under consideration before, that it will not be necessary for me to dwell very much upon it to-night, though I shall have to make some further allusion to it. There can, I think, be no doubt that the commission then offered to these young gentlemen was that given to all gentlemen who entered the Guards—namely, the commission of ensign and lieutenant. That was what the Commander-in-Chief offered them—that was what they accepted—and that was the commission to which they were gazetted. As I think the words of the commission have an important bearing on the question, I shall quote them to your Lordships. After reciting that it is the will and pleasure of Her Majesty to grant the commission, the document itself goes on to state—You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge your duty as such in the rank of ensign and lieutenant, or in such higher rank as we may at any time hereinafter promote you to," and so on.Now, my Lords, as the alternative words in the commission are "or in such higher rank," I ask, whether it does not by implication assure the recipient of the commission that he will not be degraded to any lower rank than that of ensign and lieutenant? My Lords, it must also be in your recollection that those gentlemen were gazetted, some on the 28th, some on the 29th, and some on the 31st of October. I think this is important, because it follows from these dates, that on the 31st of October these gentlemen were ensigns and lieutenants according to law. On the 1st of November Her Majesty issued a Royal Warrant regulating "first appointments, regimental promotion, exchanges, &c." After a reference to articles of a former Warrant, dated December 27, 1870, there comes this exercise of the Royal Prerogative—Our will and pleasure is, that this Warrant be established and obeyed from the 1st day of November in this present year, in respect of all matters herein contained, and that it be construed, administered, and interpreted with our said Warrant of the 27th of November, 1870.948 Your Lordships will observe that this Warrant is to have effect from the day after that on which the last of the commissions to those officers was gazetted as ensigns and lieutenants; and you will further bear in mind that the only alternative rank mentioned in the commission itself is a "higher rank" than that of ensign and lieutenant. It is perfectly true that, subsequently to the issue of the Royal Warrant itself, the Secretary for War issued what is called an Explanatory Memorandum; but it appears to me that, when the Sovereign declares a certain thing to be Her Royal "will and pleasure," it is scarcely competent to the Secretary of State to say—"It is my will and pleasure that there shall be certain exceptions to the Royal Warrant—it is to be subject to the interpretation which I shall give it." If that be the line which the noble Marquess intends to take, I, for one, enter my protest against it. On the 22nd of February in the present year the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War made a long speech in "another place," which almost entirely referred to the changes which were to be introduced in the Army. I have read that speech more than once, and I venture to say that when he speaks of those changes he invariably speaks in the future tense. Speaking of certain appointments, he says they will not come into operation for two years, owing to the glut of officers, and throughout the whole of his speech he deals with the future. I cannot but think that, if on the 22nd of February Mr. Cardwell had resolved on the change which has since been announced in the case of those officers, he would, in some part of that long speech, have announced that the position of officers who had obtained commissions in the Guards had been entirely altered. As he did not do so, I think we are entitled to assume that so recently as the 22nd of last February, those young gentlemen were still ensigns and lieutenants in the Guards. If the change subsequently announced should be carried out, just see the injustice that will be done to those young gentlemen. At this moment they are senior to upwards of 800 lieutenants in the Army. If Mr. Cardwell's scheme be carried out, when they leave Sandhurst—say in November, 1873—having passed the necessary examination, they will not only be placed below the 800 to whom they are now 949 senior, but, in addition they will have over them every lieutenant who may be appointed between the present time and that date. I must now just touch on the Letter upon which such stress was laid the other night. It was then said that the officers who responded in the affirmative to that Letter are out of Court—that they have no right to say anything in defence of the position which is now taken up on their behalf. The words so much relied on are these—I am also directed to explain that, in the event of your accepting the commission now offered, you must clearly understand that you will enter the Army subject to any changes or alterations which may hereafter be made in the regulations of the service with respect to pay or otherwise, &c.I ask, whether the two words, "pay" and "otherwise" must not be taken as ejusdem generis? I have no doubt that if the noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls were called upon in a Chancery case—as I dare say he has before now been frequently called upon—to give an interpretation to such a word as the "otherwise" in that letter, he would rule that it must be construed as ejusdem generis with the word which stood in relation to it, as "pay" does to "otherwise" in that Letter. Could it have entered the head of any young gentleman called upon to subscribe to the terms of that Letter, that within the expressions included a probable or possible de- "in respect to pay or otherwise" was gradation in rank? If the previous words, "the regulations of the service" be relied on, I reply that those words refer to the regulations of the whole service—all its branches included—and cannot be taken to refer to regulations made by the Secretary of State to deprive 24 young officers of the rank to which they had been gazetted. I know that theoretically Her Majesty may dispense with the services of any officer in the Army at any time she pleases, without giving any reason whatever for so doing; and no doubt this might be done without the officer having the right to claim a trial by court-martial. But we know that this power of the Sovereign is never exercised, and that an officer may always claim a court-martial as a matter of grace, though not of right; and the practice of the service has always been, that any officer complaining of unjustice is heard, in order that he may show 950 cause why he should not be deprived of the rank he holds. Now, if this is the course in the case of an officer charged with an offence, a fortiori, you cannot deprive those 24 young officers of the rank they have held without bringing them to a trial of some kind. There is no "regulation of the service" to enable the Secretary for War to do what he proposes to do. We have heard a great deal about this Army organization scheme; we have heard much about the way in which the present Secretary for War deals with the Army; we have heard it asserted that he is the only man of the present day who could put the Army in a proper state; but, my Lords, I take the liberty of saying that if all this is to be effected by such means as those to which I have been referring, it will be brought about by acts of the grossest injustice ever perpetrated by a Secretary of State against British officers. I beg to ask the noble Marquess, Whether the officers of the Brigade of Guards who were gazetted as ensigns and lieutenants on the 31st of October, 1871, and who are now senior to all the cornets and ensigns who were promoted to the rank of lieutenant on the 1st of November, 1871, are to be sent to Sandhurst for a year, and, if so, what will be the date of their commissions as lieutenants in the Army on their rejoining their regiments as qualified lieutenants; and whether it is in accordance with the regulations of the service that an officer can be reduced in rank or deprived of his commission without being tried by a court-martial?
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, I think it is impossible to regard the speech of the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) as merely an attack on the arrangement to which he has more particularly referred—it is impossible to treat his objections otherwise than as objections to all the arrangements respecting these officers. In the latter part of his speech he appealed to the terms of the Letter written to those young gentlemen at the time they were offered their commissions. Now, it cannot be supposed that the Letter in question would have been written by order of the illustrious Duke without it was intended that some special meaning was to be attached to it. No one can suppose that those gentlemen were asked to consent to certain conditions in the acceptance of 951 their commission, unless changes were contemplated in the minds of those who asked their consent to those conditions. My noble Friend says that "otherwise" must be interpreted as ejusdem generis with "pay." I suppose, then, my noble Friend would confine its meaning to "allowances," and so make the words read "pay or allowances." I do not know that any change in pay or allowances was contemplated; but it was notorious to everyone that changes of a different kind were in contemplation. The words must have been intended to apply to changes which were actually in contemplation, and which had been for some time sketched out to the public. The noble Duke must permit me to say that some meaning must be attached to this Letter, and it would be impossible to attach to it the narrow meaning that he would give it. Those who admit, as he has admitted, that those young gentlemen did accept their commissions subject to changes must go further, and admit that they accepted them subject to the changes then in contemplation. I believe, as a matter of fact, that no commissions have as yet been actually issued to those gentlemen; but I do not want to fall back upon a technical objection of that kind, because I admit that the fact of an officer having been gazetted has always been accepted as equivalent to the issue of his commission; but my answer is this—that those officers accepted the commissions, after having agreed to the terms on which those commissions were granted—and also with this great advantage, that they received them on the system of non-purchase, and have had nothing to pay for them. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War says is, that those young gentlemen have accepted their commissions subject to any alterations which may hereafter may be made in the regulations of the service; and to allow them to remain under the old system would be inconsistent with regulations made in the case of the service generally. He says—"You will be treated in exactly the same manner as every other officer entering the Army since the introduction of the new system is to be treated." It is considered desirable that all officers should go to Sandhurst for a certain period; and in the judgment of my right hon. Friend, it is as essential that these young gentlemen should re- 952 ceive the military education given at Sandhurst as that any other officers should have the advantage of the instruction given there. It is also intended that their final commission should depend upon the examination which will follow the course of instruction there, as will be the case with all other officers. But the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) speaks of the "degrading" of these officers from the rank of ensign and lieutenant. When the question as to the rank of these officers was asked on a former occasion, I was not able to give an answer as to what was the intention of my right hon. Friend on that point. I am now, however, in a position to do so. My right hon. Friend, having carefully considered the matter, has determined to allow the commissions of those gentlemen as ensigns and lieutenants to stand, until the date at which they receive in lieu of them final commissions as lieutenants, which latter commissions will be issued to them when they have passed their examination; so that there will be no period of their military career at which they will not be in possession of the substantive rank of lieutenant. It will not be suspended in the interim—their position will remain as it now is, till they receive their commission as lieutenant; but that commission will be issued to them on the same footing with that of other officers. The effect of this will be that any one of those officers who passes a satisfactory examination at Sandhurst—who turns out in the first division, as it is called—will receive a final commission in two years from the time of his first admission to the Army; but this commission will date from a year after his admission to the Army. They will go through such training at Sandhurst as is provided for all officers before they receive final commissions; but the commissions they now hold will not be touched until after their examination, and, therefore, they will retain throughout the substantive rank of lieutenant.
§ LORD ABINGER
said, he did not quite understand the position these 24 young gentlemen would hold in relation to the 800 other lieutenants who were now their juniors. As a matter of principle their exact position should be distinctly stated. In his (Lord Abinger's) opinion the commissions in question were substantive ones—at any rate, so far as 953 an act of grace could make them so. But he could not understand what was the ground the Government took up upon the subject. They were placing these young gentlemen in a position of great hardship, and, as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, he could vouch for the fact that officers were wanted for the regiments of Guards when those young gentlemen were gazetted. The illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) bore testimony to that fact on a former occasion, when this question was under discussion. Those young officers had been doing their duty regularly, and learning the practical work which officers were called upon to perform; but if they were sent to Sandhurst their regiments would lose them for a year. How was their place to be supplied? If other young gentlemen received commissions, they would have to learn their drill and other duties before they could do what was now done by those ensigns and lieutenants. There were always a number of officers of the Guards absent from their regiments, because they were serving on the Staff of the Army, and the scarcity of officers made it very hard work for those who remained with the regiments. It was said there was a considerable amount of leave in the Guards; but if the officers of these regiments were obliged to remain with their regiments throughout the whole of the 12 months, men of the position of the gentlemen now in the Guards would not be got to accept commissions. A system of allowing gentlemen to join the Guards as volunteers, and after they had served with the regiment for a year sending them to Sandhurst for a year, would have his warm support; but he trusted that in the case of those young gentlemen who had been gazetted as ensigns and lieutenants, and who had been serving for so many months with their regiments, the Secretary for War would see his way to a more satisfactory decision.
LORD COLVILLE OF CULROSS
said, that when these officers went to Sandhurst they would have to remain there a year, and when they left they would find themselves juniors to more than 800 to whom they now were senior. The fact was, that these officers by the 1st of next November would have completed one year's service, during which they would have performed every duty required of 954 them; nevertheless, he understood that that year's service was to count for nothing. He wanted to know why the Secretary for War should deal with officers in a way he would not dare to deal with private soldiers? When these unfortunate young officers signed the letter to abide by whatever alterations might be made in the regulations and pay, they little thought it would have led to such an avalanche of degradation.
THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
said, it appeared to him that these letters were stereotyped, and were common both to the Admiralty and the Horse Guards. He had seen innumerable such letters. They merely, in giving appointments, stated that the officers should be subject to such and such rules and regulations; but such letters had never been interpreted to interfere with the officers' commissions in any way, or to alter their standing in the services.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
explained that officers who received probationary commissions after the present date could not be senior to the officers whose case was under consideration. The former would have to go through the same course as the latter.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, that those young gentlemen would not like to see themselves on their return from Sandhurst lower down on The Army List than the 800 lieutenants to whom they were at present senior. The second paragraph of his Question had been over-passed entirely; and as to the third paragraph, he regarded the answer of the noble Marquess as so unsatisfactory that he must take another opportunity of bringing the subject under the consideration of the House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
, in reference to the latter part of the noble Duke's Question wished to say that his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War had taken legal opinion, and was advised that the course he proposed to adopt was perfectly legal.
§ House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.