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Civil Departments (Employment Of Soldiers)

Volume 228: debated on Tuesday 2 May 1876

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Motion For A Select Committee

rose to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire—1st. How far it is practicable that Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who have meritoriously served their Country should be employed in such Civil Departments of the public service as they may be found fitted for; 2nd. How far it is practicable, in order to form and retain an efficient Reserve Force, for the State to become the medium of communication between private employers of labour and Soldiers of the Army Reserve and Militia Reserve who desire to obtain employment; and that the Committee be directed to report on the best means of carrying these objects into effect. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, so far as he could form an opinion, the Motion was regarded with favour by both sides of the House. He did not claim originality for his Motion, because it had been brought before the House on former occasions, and his intention was to endeavour to solve a question that had been under consideration at various times. As he understood, the Government did not object to his Motion. He might have sat down if it were not that he wished to remove some misconceptions which prevailed in respect to the extent of the employments which might be thrown open to old soldiers, sailors, and Marines. It had been alleged that there were 120,000 such appointments; but, having gone fully into statistics, he believed that one-tenth of that number would be all that could fairly be placed at the disposal of the Army and the Navy. The matter assumed unusual importance from the difficulties of recruiting for both the Army and Navy. At the beginning of the year our Army was 3,000 below the regular establishment, and since then there had been a steady failure, month after month, in our recruiting. That was the more remarkable, inasmuch as the present was a period of great depression in the coal and iron trades, when it might be expected, as had been previously the case, that there would be a strong flow of men into the Army; and this was irrespective of what they would have to face in the course of the next 12 months, when a large body of men would pass from the Army into the Reserve, so that, unless some remedy like that which he proposed were adopted to induce men to join the ranks, the deficiency would be to the extent of 8,000 or 9,000 men, and that would go on increasing from year to year. As to the Naval Service, he did not propose to enter into details with reference to it, but he hoped to hear that some steps had been taken in connection with that Service. The falling-off in the number of recruits, which had been frequently adverted to, was not, perhaps, so ominous as the decline in their physique. Those who had seen the soldiers on drill who had recently joined the Service would bear him out in saying that nothing could be more marked than the difference between at least one-fourth of the recruits now obtained and the men we used to get 20 years ago. It was clear that no system of compulsory service would be ever tolerated in this country, and they were fast reaching the point beyond which they could not carry the inducements of bounty and pay. The War Office could only offer an indirect inducement to men to join the Army, and this inducement he could only find in the terms of his Motion. It was at one time supposed that an impetus might be given to recruiting by offering an increased number of commissions to men who rose from the ranks, and under the old purchase system men looked to promotion from the ranks; but under the present system it was no longer easy to induce men to accept commissions. Sir Charles Trevelyan, in recommending a similar measure, stated that there were about 100,000 appointments in the Civil Service, for the discharge of which the qualities required were good health, steadiness, exactness, the intelligence to understand orders and the ability to carry them out; and these were the qualities which the military system was peculiarly qualified to call forth. Field-Marshal Sir John Burgoyne stated that there were many qualities peculiar to the soldier and sailor which rendered them more eligible than others to discharge with efficiency situations in civil life, and to protect property intrusted to their charge. The annual Report of the Postmaster General for 1874, giving the result of the experience of the years 1872 and 1873, at a time when he was not in office, stated the result of the experiment made by placing a number of nominations to the places of rural postmen and messengers at the disposal of the War Office. In 103 cases the appointment was declined by the men to whom it was offered; in others they failed to pass the medical examination, the general result being that out of 220 nominations only about 40 were really admitted into the Post Office service. Upon the whole, the Postmaster General reported that the attempt had proved a signal failure. He ventured, however, to differ from this conclusion. The rural postmen and messengers received a very small pittance, and had to walk from 18 to 20 miles a day in all weathers; and a trial should be made in offering them situations in and about the suburbs of towns. The selection had not been made in the best way, and the system of appointing these men to situations in the Post Office ought not to be condemned as impracticable without a further trial. As regarded the second part of his Motion, he had no wish whatever to interfere with the ordinary economic rule of supply and demand, but to afford the men on service in the Reserve the means of keeping up their acquaintance with the habits of labour; for, strange to say, those who were brought up as soldiers were, when they obtained their discharge, helpless to the degree of children in respect to any ordinary occupation. The Secretary of State for War proposed a scheme of deferred pay for the soldiers, and this addition might work in and would combine very well with the proposal now before the House. Whether it should be carried out by a department or sub-department of the War Office, or attached to the brigade depôts, he would not decide; but at some place or other a sort of register should be kept giving the names of such soldiers as desired employment, and its character. He believed from the experience of those who had tried the system he recommended that employers would be glad to have a larger selection than they now had of men who, from their service in the Army, were entitled to receive good characters; and the country would be benefited in this among other ways—that as regarded the men of the Reserve who were so employed, it would be known where they were when they were required. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by submitting his Motion to the House, and hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would consent to the appointment of a Select Committee.

in seconding the Motion, said, he endorsed every remark made by his hon. and gallant Friend. The measure which he had advocated was not a new idea. Twelve years ago it was first originated by Captain Edward Walter, who might be truly called the old soldier's friend, when he established the Corps of Commissionaires. The subject had afterwards been brought before the House by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell) and again by his noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire, and discussed at a meeting held at the United Service Institution, over which Lord Derby presided. The objection that had been urged on one occasion by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) was that to establish the system would be to establish a monopoly. But it could hardly be said to be a monopoly, considering that the Army and Navy were open to every man in the Kingdom. Since the adoption of short service it had become a great object to recruit for the Army men of not less than 20 or 21 years of age, instead of mere boys; but by the time that age was reached Englishmen had adopted a trade or calling of some kind, and, however anxious they might be to join the Army, they would not do so without some further inducement than was at present held out. If the system of making service and good conduct in the Army a stepping-stone to minor employment in the Civil Service were more general, that inducement would be afforded, and desertion would be far less prevalent in our regiments. He was surprised to learn that when messengers employed in the War Office and Horse Guards were superannuated their pensions were deducted from their superannuation allowances, which he considered to be most unjust to men who had served their country in the Army. He should like to see a Return showing how many men were employed, say, at the Horse Guards in minor capacities who had been servants of influential persons and were never old soldiers at all. The hon. and gallant Member quoted the opinions of Sir Charles Trevelyan and other persons of authority in favour of conferring civil employments on deserving and intelligent soldiers. He regretted, however, to say that there was a great jealousy in the civil departments as to the employment of soldiers—not on the part of the Heads of the Departments, but of the minor officials; and he believed that, except under the pressure of a strong Report from a Committee of the House, the understrappers in those offices would never give any employment when they could possibly avoid it to military men. The question was an important one, not alone for the sake of the soldier, but also for the sake of the Service, and he hoped, therefore, that all hon. Members who took an interest in the Army would support the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire,—
"1st. How far it is practicable that Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who have meritoriously served their Country should be employed in such Civil Departments of the public service as they may be found fitted for;
"2nd. How far it is practicable, in order to form and retain an efficient Reserve Force, for the State to become the medium of communication between private employers of labour and Soldiers of the Army Reserve and Militia Reserve who desire to obtain employment:
"And that the Committee be directed to report on the best means of carrying these objects into effect."—(Sir Henry Havelock.)

said, that in bringing forward the Army Estimates this year the subject before the House naturally attracted his attention. It was one which for many years had been before the country, and he thought the time had come when an impartial inquiry into it would be very beneficial alike to the Army and to the country. The fact was there was a great deal of misconception on both sides. There was misconception on the part of the country, probably, as to the demands of the Army; and there was certainly great misconception, in his opinion, as to the amount of places which could be put at the disposal of the Army. These were subjects, however, which it would be very wise to inquire into. He would not go into the experiment to which the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland (Sir Henry Havelock) had referred, because probably at the time it was made there existed some exceptional circumstances—he alluded to the Post Office, where the experiment as to the employment of soldiers was not altogether successful. It was clear that the posts of letter carriers in the rural districts were not of the most desirable kind; but it was a mistake to suppose that the work of letter carriers in the metropolis was either the most easy or pleasant to be obtained. Some experiments had been tried in order to provide employment for discharged soldiers as temporary writers in the Civil Service; but these experiments had not been attended with the success that could have been desired. As the result of inquiries he had made, he had found that while only one in six of the ex-soldier applicants for these posts was qualified for the duties attached to them, there was really no pressure of qualified applicants. It seemed that the appointments to which soldiers would look forward, and very naturally so, were messenger ships, for which they might be singularly qualified by their habits of obedience, punctuality, and discipline. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland in thinking that all possible inducements should be offered to men to become soldiers, and also to conduct themselves properly while in the Army. Some such inducements existed at present; but he did not think they were thoroughly understood or appreciated in the country. He should be glad if something could be done to give greater prominence to the matter, in order that the deficiency at present existing as regarded recruiting might be made good. With regard to the second part of the Notice, he would remind the House that it only appeared on the Paper that morning, that it referred to a subject which had not been, much before the country, and that it dealt with a very broad question. The question of employing discharged soldiers in the different Departments of the Government was one thing; but it was an entirely different matter for the State to interfere in order to supply private employers with workmen. The two questions had, in his opinion, to be kept entirely apart, and he would therefore suggest to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had brought the Motion forward that he should confine himself to so much of his Motionas involved the employment of discharged soldiers in different branches of the Civil Service. If this were done he would give a ready assent to the appointment of the Committee that was asked for. At the present moment the establishment of brigade depôts was not sufficiently advanced for any useful inquiry to be made as to the possibilities they would afford of employing men who had been in the Army. When the Reserve Force had attained a number of 80,000 or 90,000 men it would be putting an impossible tax upon the different Departments of the Civil Service to find employment for all the men who, having left the Army, wished to find opportunities of utilizing their time in civil life. But if such men wished to take service with private employers, such employers had ample facilities for ascertaining the characters of the men who might apply to them, and, on the whole, he thought discharged soldiers would never fail to find good employment if physically fitted for it. The first part of the proposed inquiry would be ample for the present Session; and a Motion which involved the character of the supply of labour throughout the country should not be adopted without much longer notice than that upon which this had been brought forward, so that the country might have sufficient time to consider it.

rejoiced that the right hon. Gentleman had consented to the appointment of the Committee. In so doing he had adopted a wise course, and one likely to redound to the advantage alike of the Army and of the public service. There were many men of the Army and Navy who were admirably qualified for employment in the Departments of the Service; though he feared that there would be great objection to admitting them into the Civil Service, however well qualified they might be. There were also many situations in the Army and Navy which might, with great advantage, be opened out for soldiers to fill. The duties of the Ordnance, and of the Commissariat might be carried on by employing soldiers in the rank of warrant officers. In India these openings had been given not only with advantage to the public service, but were beneficial to the soldier. It was owing to these great openings that recruiting for service in India was so successful. When other branches of the Army failed to obtain recruits, India could always procure men. There were many men in the Army and Navy peculiarly well fitted for the duties connected with Stores. The Navy could also supply from their existing grades of Warrant officers excellent men for the care and management of the Naval Stores. These and other duties he considered would require a large number of Warrant officers. He hoped that the Government would allow the Order of Reference to be as extensive as possible, and that the result might be that greater inducements would be held out to men to enter the Army and the Navy.

said, there was nothing truer than that one man reaped where another sowed. This question of the civil employment of soldiers had been first brought forward in Parliament by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell.) Subsequently he (Lord Elcho) had done so at the request of a meeting upon the subject held at the United Service Institution over which Lord Derby had presided. Last year the gallant General the Member for Brighton took charge of the question; and now the hon. and gallant Member had come forward, with that gallantry and readiness to seize an opportunity which had gained him so much distinction in the Field, put in his sickle, and reaped the crop which was now ripe. He was glad that his right hon. Friend had assented to the Motion, as it was likely to produce the settlement of a question that had been agitated in Parliament for many years. At the present moment there was an absolute necessity for something being done in order to supply a grave existing deficiency in the matter of recruiting. This year his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War had been compelled to ask the House to grant deferred pay and other inducements to men to enter the Army; and if inducement could be afforded in the form of prospective employment in the Civil Service, he thought it would offer a more economical and equally efficient means of supplying the want. His own idea was that young and not old soldiers should be employed in this particular way. This could be readily effected by allowing comparatively young men to leave the Army for the Civil Service on passing such examinations as might be framed for the purpose. The system of employing soldiers who had served their time in civil departments had prevailed extensively in France during the reign of the late Emperor, and in this country it might be adopted very largely with advantage. It might be advisable that only soldiers who had served their time should be employed in the Metropolitan Police, for which service they were eminently qualified, both by their habits of discipline and their moral qualities. With regard to the employment of soldiers by private persons, Sir Joseph Whitworth had calculated that the value of the services of disciplined men, trained to obedience and to combined action, were on the average worth 3s. a week more than those of ordinary persons. Under these circumstances, he thought that another year the question of the employment of soldiers by private persons might well be worth the attention of the Government. The advantage to employers would be very great, inasmuch, as he had grounds for believing that the number of able-bodied men required for the service of the railways alone amounted to more than 200,000. He should be glad to see non-commissioned officers, and even officers, employed in the higher administrative departments, both civil and military; and in support of his view begged to refer to a paper he held in his hand, which had been very carefully drawn up, and by which it appeared that there was employment in the administrative departments of the Army alone for 140 officers and 1,080 non-commissioned officers, and that their employment would result in an annual saving to the country of £154,000. A similar course might, with equal advantage, be adopted with regard to the Navy. If the views of the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Sunderland were adopted, great inducements would be held out to the population to pass through the Army.

said, he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had assented to the appointment of the Committee. He doubted if the country would like all the Departments to be filled by military men; but a great advantage would result to the men in their being able to get into private employment on the ground that they were of good character and were capable men. He hoped the Order of Reference would not be narrowed too much, and that the Committee might be able to inquire into the question of the employment of soldiers in the railway service. The manager of one of the largest railways in the country had recently informed him that he would be glad to have a number of the reserved men in the service of the company.

in reply to a suggestion that had been made in the course of this discussion, that there was a feeling of jealousy against the employment of soldiers in the public departments, stated that last year, when he held the office of Judge Advocate, the situation of messenger became vacant, and as there had been frequent expressions of opinion in the House and elsewhere in favour of appointing soldiers to such situations, he thought, as the department was to some extent a military department, that this was a good opportunity for trying the experiment. He had accordingly asked Captain Walter to recommend some military pensioner for the post, and the person sent to him by that gallant gentleman satisfied the requirements of the Civil Service Commissioners in every respect. He was a pensioned non-commissioned officer of the Artillery. It, however, unfortunately turned out that he was two or three months too old to be appointed, according to the existing regulations of the service. He (Mr. Cave) did not like to give up the point, as the applicant was active and energetic, and a younger man for his years than most of the old servants usually appointed to these places. So far from any jealousy against the employment of soldiers being entertained, the Civil Service Commissioners and the Treasury entirely shared his views on the subject, and after a short correspondence had passed, an alteration was made in the rules, and this gave men who had been in the military or naval service of the country an advantage of two or four years—he was not sure which—in point of age over civilians in relation to appointments. After that alteration was made the man was appointed. He (Mr. Cave) had made inquiry, and believed he gave great satisfaction. He might say that he had himself employed a pensioner from the Sappers to overlook a large village on his own estate in the country, who managed the organization of the village, and superintended the repairs of cottages and matters of that kind in the most efficient manner. He said this, as allusion had been made to private employment. But his object in rising was to show that so far from any obstruction being offered to soldiers obtaining employment in the Civil Service, a soldier had great advantage over a civilian in applying for such appointments.

also expressed his satisfaction at the appointment of the Committee. He had no wish to detract from the merits of the police; but he had been given to understand that since the preservation of order in Kensington Gardens had been taken from old soldiers and placed in the hands of the police, great complaints were made by the inhabitants of Kensington and Bays water of the Gardens being inundated by day and night with tramps and beggars, and of the scenes that took place there. It was highly desirable that the gates should be again placed in the custody of old soldiers, who, from knowing the faces of the people who frequented them, and with the aid of a rattan, were able to keep them clear of the company he had referred to. He considered the non-commissioned officers of the Army one of the most valuable classes of men in the country.

said, it was highly undesirable that old soldiers with the aid of a rattan should be employed to keep the Parks clear of persons with whose faces they were familiar, but that it should be done consistently with good order and good behaviour.

was willing, in deference to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to withdraw the second part of his Motion; but he trusted that the Committee to be appointed would make inquiries from certain employers of labour with reference to this subject.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire how far it is practicable that Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who have meritoriously served their Country should be employed in such Civil Departments of the public service as they may be found fitted for."—(Sir Henry Havelock.)
And, on May 15, Committee nominated as follows:—Viscount HINCHINGBROOK, Lord EUSTACE CECIL, General SHUTE, Mr. GERARD NOEL, Mr. JAMES CORRY, LORD ELCHO, Captain PRICE, Mr. JOHN TALBOT, Sir CHARLES RUSSELL, Sir HENRT HOLLAND, Mr. CHILDERS, Mr. CAMP- BELL-BANNERMAN, Mr. ERRINGTON, Mr. HANBYRY-TRACY, Colonel MURE, Mr. JOHN HOLMS, Sir GEORGE BALFOUR, Mr. LAING, and Sir HENRY HAVELLOCK:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.
And, on May 16, Sir JOHN Hay, Major O'GORMAN added.