TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE RESTORATION OF PITRCHASE.
THE Government has at last decided on a step which will, we believe, arouse the Liberal party to vigorous and united action. Mr. Hardy will on Monday ask leave to bring in a Bill which will reintroduce most, if not all, of the worst evils of Army Purchase, and which it is hard to believe has not been prepared consciously with that end. Under cover of a desire to facilitate Exchanges, and more especially exchanges between India and this country, the War Office proposes to pass an Act authorising Her Majesty to issue any regulations she pleases for the arrangement of Exchanges—a matter already within the competence of the prerogative—and to repeal the ancient Acts prohibiting "brokerage" in military commissions. The object of this measure is obvious, and indeed almost cynical in its clearness, but it will be defended as a mere convenience to the great body of British Officers. Many among them, it will be argued, from reasons of health, of family, or of property, dislike to serve in India ; while many more are attracted to that country by the desire for active ser- vice, by family ties, or by the larger allowances which officers can obtain. Why should not the Crown, it will be asked, allow officers so situated to accommodate each other,—the officer who desires the large allowances paying for his right to draw them, while the officer who loathes India is enabled, by the premium he may be offered, to return and serve at home ? Surely that must benefit the Army, by increasing the content of its officers, and enabling poor men to secure, when they like, a share in the larger allowances naturally paid for service in the tropics. How can such an arrangement be regarded except as an advantage, a distinct addition to that power of self-adjustment which so greatly facilitates all arrangements affecting the personnel of an army ? The boon to the officers who win commissions by competition will be carefully paraded, and the House will be asked to believe that the change is made in the interest of the hardest workers.
It will not do, and we trust that, short as the time is, the boroughs which have returned Tory Members will make them understand that the country, having at vast expense bought the control of the Army from its Officers, is not prepared to resell it to them without receiving even in money the very smallest return. Payment for exchanges to India is a plausible proposal, so plausible that for a moment it took us in ; but Mr. Hardy's Bill goes far beyond that, and even if limited to that, will, we are convinced upon reflection, produce irreme- diable mischief. In the first place, the innovation will greatly injure the Army in India, by destroying its content. The heavy allowances usual in that Service, allowances which may be roughly described as more than double English pay, are granted because service there is disagreeable, because the climate is hot and luxuries are necessities and occupations dreary, because marriage is universal, and families, owing to the necessity of sending them to England, excessively expensive. They are, in fact, compensations for tropical exile which long experience has proved to be indispensable, and by this measure they are to be indefinitely reduced. The moment the Act is passed it will be- come the custom to buy Indian service, and etiquette to buy it as dear as possible ; and the out-going officer will find on arrival that he is no better paid than at home, having sunk nearly as much capital in his exchange as his extra allow- ances are worth. He will, in fact, have parted with solid money, which, as an Indian, he is sure to need, in order to buy a mere chance of allowances, which illness, or death, or an order to return may at any moment interrupt. Indeed, we are not sure, when this risk is considered, that payment for Ex- changes will not ultimately take the form of a per-tentage on his allowances to be paid by the out-going officer to his re- turning comrade, so that India will be taxed to grant allow- ances a third of which are to go to officers at home for doing in a pleasant climate nothing on her behalf. At all events, the officer who buys his right to serve in India will be an utterly disappointed and discontented man, will contrast his position daily with that of Indians who have paid nothing, and the transaction being legalised by Government, will look to Government to see that he does not pay his cash for nothing. In other words, he will regard any regulation by the Government of India reducing his allowances as a robbery, and an early order from the Home Government to return to Europe as a gross injustice. Suppose, for instance, that the War Office sees unexpectedly reasons for recalling ten thousand men from India, and that half the officers in the regiments selected have bought their Indian careers. Either the order will amount to a fine upon those regiments of some half-a-million sterling at least, or the Horse Guards must allow a disorganisation of the regiments through a sudden flight of the officers into regiments expecting to remain. Any order to serve in Egypt or the Mediterranean will involve a "confiscation," and within no long period Parlia- ment will be asked to compensate regiments for the injustice of unexpectedly asking them to do their duty. The country, in fact, will lose its control over the Army employed in India, just as it formerly lost its control over the forces employed in England. The grand advantage of abolishing Purchase, the independence of the Crown of its own officers, will cease to exist, and the eight millions so recently expended to emancipate it, will, as re- gards a most important section of the Army, have been thrown away. The Government, in settling the force necessary for India, will have to consider first of all the very last thing that ought to be considered,—namely, the private interests of its own officers.
We cannot believe that the House of Commons will accept such a proposal, even if its effects are to be felt in India alone ; but the Bill does not limit the prerogative to Indian Exchanges, and if it did, the effects of the innovation would speedily be felt here. The entire system of Purchase would be at once revived. Any wealthy officer who desired to mount rapidly in his regiment would pay the officers above him to exchange, and as an officer exchanging comes in at the bottom of his grade, for every such payment the payer would obtain a• step. It is true the operation, if frequently repeated, would cost a good deal, but we all know what heavy sums were paid under the old system, and how rapidly the idea sprang up that the money, or most of it, would ultimately be paid back, as indeed it was. Men who had bought their promotion in this style would consider it a property, and the Horse Guards,. even if it did not at heart approve the system, would dread the action of a Parliament full of officers' relatives and friends.. It would be impossible in practice to overlook the new set of claims which would arise, or to issue an order affecting an officer's position in his regiment, without considering whether it did or did not involve his property; that is, without considering questions with which the interest of the State has nothing what- ever to do. The War Office will doubtless argue that any practice of the kind will be illegal, but so were the over-regulation payments illegal, so is the purchase of livings for immediate occupation illegal ; yet the former practice could not be pre- vented, and was at last acknowledged to entitle the law-breaker to compensation, while the latter goes on unpunished every day. The moment positions, either in the Army or the State, can be purchased, they will be purchased, in despite alike of laws and regulations. The moral sense of the profes- sion will not endorse all these fine distinctions. If Captain Heavypurse may legally pay Captain Lightpurse for his position in India, why should he not pay Captain Smith to go to India, and so to surrender his position in England ? The distinction between the two transactions is too artificial to be maintained, and we may be sure that it will in a very few years be almost openly abandoned, and every officer will know that the entrance of a rich man into the Army makes his com- mission more valuable than before. The rich man may be willing to buy for him a right to go to India on double allow- ances. The old distinction between rich officers and poor officers will be revived, and the great principle that position in the State Services must be earned, and not bought, will be once more given up. The Bill is distinctly a reactionary Bill, and as such should be resisted not only by all Liberals, but by all who have the welfare of the Army at heart, and all who are unwilling to see the claim of wealth to privilege within the State consecrated by law. The Liberals will, we doubt not, do their duty, but the matter is one which concerns also all those Tories who do not wish to see the Army released from its duty of implicit obedience to orders, or to create once more a privileged caste whose privilege depends upon their purses.
There is another and more strictly military point of view in which the new proposal of the War Office will probably work mischief. It is very doubtful, indeed, whether Exchanges ought to be facilitated at all. Anything approaching very frequent change of officers in a regiment is greatly to be depre- cated. It takes time for them to know their men and for their men to know them, and without this knowledge much of the spirit of a regiment is apt to disappear, while its family life, as we may call it, is shattered to little pieces. This is especially the case in India, where, owing to the circumstances of the country, changes are always frequent, and where the best officer without experience is apt to find himself as helplese
as if he were thrown into a new planet. At present, ex- changes are heavily weighted, the officer who exchanges being compelled to go to the bottom of his grade, and if he exchanges from India losing his large allowances ; but under the new system exchange may be made a profitable occupation. If the system is general, an officer may easily get paid for his loss of rank, while it may suit an Indian Captain to come home for five years, taking his money for ;:so doing, and then repurchase as a Major his way to India again. The exchanges, which even now are frequent, will then become incessant, and the Indian Army will be made a sort of house of call, a situation almost fatal to its discipline, and quite fatal to its possession of officers of experience. Command- ing officers will hesitate to tell officers who want " to get their money back " that they had better not exchange, and the Horse Guards will find the men they want perpetually on the wing. It would be better, if the system were introduced, to revive the separate Army of India, but then that experi- ment, like all others, is forbidden by the proposal itself. The Government cannot authorise the officers commanding 60,000 men to buy their Indian commissions and allowances, and then resolve, for reasons of State, that they had better all come home. If they did, they would very soon be forced to apply to Parliament for compensation to be given to officers who had invested their capital upon the faith of Mr. Hardy's Act. The old embarrassment will, in fact, be revived, and the evil, to remove which so many sacrifices have been made, will be as rampant as ever. The -House of Commons, having spent eight millions in abolishing Purchase, is asked to re- establish it, under the name of paying for Exchange.