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Volume 203: debated on Friday 22 July 1870

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said, he rose to call attention to the circumstances under which two tradesmen of Evesham had been refused commissions in the Rifle Corps on account of their social position. About two years ago the Evesham Rifle company was, through unwillingness to serve, left entirely without officers. After a great deal of persuasion, the Mayor consented to be the captain, and Messrs. Cox and Phelps, two of the most respected and respectable tradesmen of the town, were afterwards induced to allow themselves to be proposed as lieutenant and ensign. The commandant of the corps to which the Evesham company belonged, Colonel Scobell, wrote to the Mayor that their names had been placed before the Lord Lieutenant, but that his Lordship did not consider their position such as to justify their appointment to the rank of officers. The Under Secretary of State for War, with whom he (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had communicated on the subject, had informed him that that statement in Colonel Scobell's letter was not strictly accurate, no formal application having been made to the Lord Lieutenant; and Lord Lyttelton was certainly one of the last men whom he should have expected to act in such a manner. As far as he himself (Mr. P. A. Taylor) was concerned, he could only say that he was entirely disconnected with the part of the country in which the gentlemen in question resided. Their political opinions were, he believed, entirely opposed to his own, nor did he know until after he had given Notice on the subject that the Lord Lieutenant who was concerned in the matter was Lord Lyttelton. These gentlemen were absolutely unexceptionable. They were members of the Town Coun- cil, and had been members of the corps ever since its formation in 1860, and their appointment was essential to the well-being of the corps; and nevertheless the commissions were refused simply on account of their social position. At a meeting of the Rifle Corps, resolutions approving of their nomination were passed unanimously, and those resolutions were concurred in by the previous captains of the company. He had, he might add, brought the matter under the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, who had received him, as he did on all occasions, with a courtesy which was not remarkable in him, but which contrasted very favourably with the receptions of other right hon. Gentlemen who sat on the same Bench. As to the reason why the commissions had not been given there could be no doubt. He was informed by a gentleman resident at Worcester, that all persons resident in that city who were in a similar walk of life with those proposed for commissions were highly indignant at the affront put upon them; and the local Press had emphatically protested. He had heard that the real obstacle in the way of granting the commissions was the objection raised by certain officers of a neighbouring company, which constituted part of the same corps, the 2nd Worcestershire battalion. It seemed to him well-nigh impossible, however, that such a spirit of snobbery should prevail among gentlemen who only met for battalion drill during a few days in the year. Rank and station were regarded less and less every day in the Army and Navy and the Civil Service, and à fortiori they ought not to be taken into account in the appointment of officers to a popular body like the Volunteers. He might mention, also, that the system of exclusiveness, of which he complained, was not in operation in other parts of the country. His Worcester correspondent remarked, however, that "cathedral cities are always, more or less, aristocratic places, and we are no exception to the general ride in this respect." Capacity for usefulness, and not social position, was the proper test of fitness in such cases. In conclusion, he begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

, in rising to second the Motion, said, he would lay before the House the actual circumstance connected with this unfortunate affair. It was doubly unfortunate, because it happened at a juncture when we knew not what a day might bring forth, and it might tend to prevent a large number of those who took an interest in the Volunteer movement from joining it at the present time. In the first place, however, he might state that the Lord Lieutenant of the county had been somewhat unfairly treated, for, as far as he could learn, he was by no means to blame in regard to this transaction. He might remind the House that although all appointments of Volunteer officers were vested in the Lord Lieutenant, they in reality emanated from the colonels-commandant of the various regiments. Had the names of these gentlemen been properly placed before the Lord Lieutenant, he felt convinced there would have been no objection on his part to sign the commissions. The facts of the case were as follows:—Originally the Evesham corps consisted of about 100 members; but from one cause or another the officers gradually seceded from it. Two of them had held commissions in the Army, one having been a field officer. They found, however, that they could not give the time required for the discharge of their duties as Volunteer officers, and eventually it was found that the corps was dwindling down almost to nothing. Accordingly, a public meeting was called, at which there were present the major, the two late commanding officers, and the adjutant. The names of several persons were suggested for commissions, but they declined the proffered honour, and at last Mr. Phelps and Mr. Cox were induced by the meeting to allow their names to be submitted to the Lord Lieutenant for approval. Both of them, he might remark, were members of the Town Council, and highly-respectable tradesmen. Moreover, they had both served in the Volunteers since the commencement of the movement; both were sergeants, and one of them had acted as secretary of the corps; so that as far as drill was concerned they were highly efficient. It was with great reluctance that they allowed their names to be submitted to the Lord Lieutenant, and they only did so in deference to the wishes of their fellow-townsmen. Consequently, they had, in his opinion, been very hardly dealt with. Having himself been a commanding officer of Volunteers, he might state that these two gentlemen would have conferred credit on any corps, and if they had offered themselves to his regiment he should have been exceedingly pleased. He trusted that on a reconsideration of the facts the Lord Lieutenant would be pleased to reverse the decision he had come to, and would now no longer hesitate to sign their commissions.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "to make the appointment of Commissioned Officers in the Volunteer force dependant upon social position would, in the opinion of this House, be at variance with the principles on which that force has been established, and on the maintenance of which the hope of its permanence mainly depends,"—(Mr. Taylor,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

said, he had no complaint to make as regarded the temper with which this question had been introduced, but an omission had been made in the statement of facts. There was no doubt that the Evesham corps had been languishing for a considerable time, owing to the deficiency in the number of its officers, and that, at a certain meeting, these two most respectable tradesmen were pressed to take commissions, and that eventually they consented to do so. The proposal that they should be appointed was, of course, discussed at the time, and Colonel Scobell, commanding the battalion, on hearing a statement of the facts from the adjutant, made a communication to his noble Relative, the Lord Lieutenant, informing him, without making any reflection on their respectability, that the appointment of these men would not be received with satisfaction by the battalion, and that, in fact, their appointment would be unpopular. The Lord Lieutenant, knowing that Colonel Scobell was a competent judge of the feeling in the corps, advised him not to send in their names formally to him, and their names were not sent in. The anticipations of the colonel were justified, as was proved by the fact that when it was known that such appointments were contemplated, dissatisfaction was expressed by the officers. The Lord Lieutenant having received no formal recommendation was technically free from any part of the responsibility in the case; but he had no wish to escape from any responsibility which might be thought to attach to him. It had been the invariable custom for Lords Lieutenant not to send up to the War Office any names for commissions which had not been expressly recommended by the commanding officer of the battalion — and probably the House would not be inclined to disturb that rule—and fearing dissatisfaction would arise not only among the officers, but among the men, if these appointments were made, Lord Lyttelton, for the sake of securing the harmony and efficiency of the corps, did not wish to have the names in question recommended to him. He (Mr. Lyttelton) did not complain of the hon. Member for Leicester for having imputed a feeling of exclusiveness as to the motive which had actuated Lord Lyttelton—

said, those who knew the noble Lord would not suspect him of any aristocratic or exclusive basis in a matter of this kind. The Lord Lieutenant found the battalion had existed for 10 years in a high state of efficiency, and had never been officered from a class below a certain position, and he did not think it his duty to disturb that satisfactory state of things. He acted from no personal motive; and if the Resolution was adopted, as the feeling of the House seemed to be in its favour, the Lord Lieutenant would readily act in accordance with it, immediately the decision come to was convoyed to him through the War Office. For himself, he (Mr. Lyttelton) would add that, in his opinion, the principle of the Motion was in no way objectionable. He would be the last person to prescribe that want of high social position should disqualify a man from a commission in the Volunteer force. The state of affairs on the Continent impressed this upon him no less than the lamentable inadequacy of officers among Volunteers generally. [Colonel LINDSAY: No!] This was at least the case in his district. For these reasons he would be sorry to say "No" to the Motion; but, at the same time, he would deprecate its adoption as far as it might be construed into a censure upon the Lord Lieutenant. He there- fore appealed to the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion, in the assurance that Lord Lyttelton would be the last man to allow want of social position to stand in the way of the real interests of the force, for whose harmony and efficiency he was mainly responsible.

said, as the first Volunteer sworn in in Worcestershire, and the first colonel of the first battalion raised there, he wished to explain that the course adopted in most of the towns of Worcestershire had been to appoint for officers the natural leaders of the men—namely, the merchants, manufacturers, and professional men. All that Lord Lyttelton had to do in the matter was to appoint such officers as the commanding officer of the corps recommended. It was contrary to the principle that regulated Volunteer corps that persons who stood behind the counter should be appointed officers. As far as aristocrats were concerned there was only one in his corps, and that was the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House, who was his second major, and an excellent officer he was too. It was absolutely necessary that the officers of the Volunteer corps should be gentlemen who left their offices when the working men who formed the rank and file of the corps left their work, and to whom they were well known.

said, that as a commanding officer of a Volunteer corps, he selected his officers not on account of their social position, but because they were the best fitted to perform the duties to be discharged. When men were serving their country as Volunteers they all stood upon an equal footing, whether they were the sons of Dukes or served behind a counter. The commanding officer in appointing officers must look to the efficiency of the regiment, and not to the social position of the candidates, and were he to appoint a man who had rendered himself unpopular among his comrades, he would be defeating that object. He apprehended that no Lord Lieutenant would refuse to appoint men recommended for commissions by the commanding officer of the corps, unless he had some very good and sufficient reasons for so doing. While fully concurring in the sentiment of the Motion, he trusted that the hon. Member for Leicester would be satisfied with the feeling he had elicited from the House, and would withdraw it; otherwise he should feel bound to vote against it.

said, he cheerfully admitted the temperate tone in which this question had been brought forward, and he thought that after the admirable speech of the hon. Member behind him, the son of the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. Lyttelton), and after the general unanimity of opinion which had been expressed by the House, the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) would not be inclined to press his Motion. He (Mr. Cardwell) was convinced that nothing could be more fatal to the efficiency and value of the Volunteer Force than the notion that commissions in it were to be given away not with the view to promote the efficiency of the service, but on the ground of social position and other accidental circumstances. Among the many advantages that the Volunteer movement had conferred upon the country was the signal one of having tended to obliterate social distinctions, and to remove mischievous and ridiculous feelings of caste among men mutually engaged in the pursuit of an object which conduced to their own recreations and conferred great benefit upon the country. The hon. Member behind him had stated the facts of this particular case, and had shown that his noble father had not, in the slightest degree, been actuated by the ridiculous notions to which he (Mr. Cardwell) had alluded. Indeed, Lord Lyttelton held too distinguished a place in the republic of letters to be encumbered with any such cobwebs of prejudice. He (Mr. Cardwell) was therefore certain that his noble Friend (Lord Lyttelton) had acted in the manner he believed would, on the whole, best conduce to the efficiency of the corps. The Regulations of the Volunteer Force had placed the power of recommending individuals for commissions in the hands of the Lords Lieutenant, whose practice it was to consult the commanding officer of the corps with reference to the character and the fitness of the applicants for the position they sought to obtain. He was sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, however much he might have disapproved the circumstances of the present case, would not desire to take this power of recommending persons for commissions from the Lords Lieutenant, who, by means of the commanding officers, ascertained the local feeling of the dis- trict with respect to the fitness of the applicants much more accurately than the Secretary of State would be able to do. The hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Lyttelton) had said that Lord Lyttelton did not dispute the general bearing of this Resolution, but thought that if it were agreed to its effect might be misapprehended. The House was not under the necessity of expressing any formal opinion upon the Resolution, because the first Motion before them was that they should go into Committee of Supply. He was satisfied that the hon. Member had no desire that any slight should be shown to Lord Lyttelton; and as it was quite clear that Lord Lyttelton was perfectly free from any of those nonsensical notions which might be supposed to be entertained by persons inclined to oppose the Motion, he trusted that the hon. Member would withdraw it.

said, it was impossible for anyone who enjoyed the friendship of Lord Lyttelton to hear that anything like censure was about to be passed upon him without the greatest anxiety. As the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lyttelton) was the son of the noble Lord, it was possible that some persons might think that the remarks he had made might be open to some suspicion, and therefore he (Sir John Pakington) felt bound to express an opinion upon the matter. He earnestly hoped that the explanation which had been given would be considered satisfactory by the hon. Member for Leicester. He could assure the hon. Member that no gentleman in Worcestershire would be found to join in a censure on Lord Lyttelton.

said, he had stated distinctly that he had not the slightest intention of casting any reflection on Lord Lyttelton. When he gave Notice of his Motion, he did not know that noble Lord was Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire; but the moment he heard that Lord Lyttelton was the Lord Lieutenant, he said he did not believe the mischief could be traced to him (Lord Lyttelton), as he was the last man in the country who would adopt an unworthy course. After the statement of the Secretary of State for War, he should ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.