HC Deb 12 March 1855 vol 137 cc438-58

(1) 2,351,199l., Commissariat.


said, that in moving the estimate for the Commissariat Service for the year 1855–56 it would not be necessary for him to detain the Committee for more than a few moments, but some explanation would be expected from him with regard to these Estimates, because the total amount of this Vote, although inconsiderable as compared with the large sums which had recently been under the consideration of the Committee, showed a large increase upon the sum voted the preceding year. The amount voted for Commissariat service last year was 600,000l.; the Committee would now be asked to vote four times that amount, 2,400,000l. The fact was that the sum of 600,000l. represented merely the Commissariat charge for that portion of our army which was in the Colonies, and that item was very much the same as last year. There had been a slight reduction in the establishment of officers in the colonies, but this was more than counter-balanced by the increased price of provisions for the supply of the troops there. In some colonies, as New Zealand, this increased cost had led to the necessity of discontinuing the stoppages in aid, made from the pay of the troops. A similar sum of 600,000l. was required for the Commissariat service of our army at home. At this time last year those troops were fed in a different manner to that in which they were now supplied. The soldiers in the United Kingdom formerly paid for their own provisions, provided these provisions did not exceed 6d. the ration a-day; but where a ration cost the soldier more than 4½d., it left him an amount of pay insufficient to enable him to buy his breakfast and evening meal, and an arrangement was consequently made, by which the Government fixed the stoppage to be taken from the pay of the soldier at 4½d. So long as the soldier was liable to pay 6d. for his ration, the Government had no particular interest to enter into contracts for him; but, as soon as the stoppage from his pay was fixed at 4½d., it became the duty of the Government to attend to the supply, and to see that fair market prices were charged for the meat; and as the Commissariat Department superintended that business for the Colonies, it was thought proper that the same department should be intrusted with this duty at home. The duty of feeding the troops in the United Kingdom, therefore, now devolved upon the Commissariat. The number of the regular army in this country was 40,000, and of the Militia 65,000, and the cost of provisions for them was about 500,000l. The remainder of the Vote, 1,200,000l., represented the cost for the army in the Crimea. The whole sum of 2,400,000l. was divided into several parts, the first of which was the cost of the Commissariat division of the War Department, and the pay of the officers and clerks of the Commissariat, as well as of the persons employed under them in the different colonies, and, in short, wherever we had troops to be fed. The officers of the Commissariat branch of the War Department were few in number, and, considering that it had had an accession to its business by having charge of the feeding of the troops in the United Kingdom, and also by having had heavy duties thrown upon it connected with the army in the East, this division of the office was by no means in excess. With regard to the Commissariat officers and clerks abroad, the items in Votes 1 and 2, described as arising at the seat of war, alone required notice. The total increase in the two Votes for pay of Commissariat officers, clerks, and persons under them, was 109,000l., of which 91,000l. was due for the expenses of those officers employed at the seat of war. There were 101 Commissariat officers in the Crimea, with 225 storekeepers and other subordinates connected with them, making a total of 326 persons employed out there by the Commissariat branch. No class of public functionaries were better paid than the Commissariat officers; but they were required to be very trustworthy persons, a large discretion being unavoidably reposed in them connected with the disbursement of the public money. Vote 4 was for the transport service. The transport service to be performed by the Commissariat in the colonies would be the same for the coming year as it was for the last; but a very large sum—238,250l.—was taken in the present Estimates for the transport service at the seat of war. This service having broken down last winter while in the hands of the Commissariat, a corps had recently been organised for the express purpose of undertaking the duty. Colonel M'Murdo, the head of the corps, had left England, and every effort was being made to purchase draught animals for his service in different parts of the Mediterranean, as well as to send out as quickly as possible the persons who were hired in this country to be formed into this transport corps. A large sum was, nevertheless, taken in addition for the transport service to be performed by the Commissariat, the reason being that the item was introduced prior to the decision being arrived at for forming a special corps to discharge this duty. No doubt a considerable portion of the sum would be saved; but it could not be omitted from the Estimates altogether, because the Commissariat would still have business to transact connected with the inland transport at Constantinople, Smyrna, and different ports of the Black Sea. Moreover, the persons employed in constructing the railway from Balaklava to the camp would be paid out of this Vote. The establishment at work upon the railroad, at the rates of pay now allowed to the men, would cost about 50,000l. for the whole year; and, although the special duty for which they left this country might be completed in much less time than he had named, it was still possible that the ser- vices of the engineers and labourers might afterwards be found useful in other quarters. The head of the Commissariat in the Crimea wished a waggon-train to be raised from Ireland before he was aware of the intention to form a special transport corps, and a considerable number of persons had left this country who, until they were handed over to Colonel M'Murdo to act under his orders, would also have their pay defrayed from this Vote. Vote 5, included 23,000l. for losses by negotiation of bills in connection with the Commissariat Department, 20,000i. representing the loss on Commissariat transactions at Hong Kong. This large loss was occasioned chiefly by the difference in exchangeable value between the dollar and the rupee, but gains were constantly accruing from the same cause, which were regularly paid into the Exchequer. The only coin current at Hong Kong, for instance, was the dollar, and when bills were drawn there they were cashed in rupees, the value of which when paid to the soldier was only 1s. 10d. each, whereas the charge to the Government under arrangement with the East Inda Company was 2s., causing a loss of 2d. per rupee. This was entirely a profit and loss transaction, and the present vote was taken for the losses incurred during a period of several years. Vote 6 included the cost of provisioning the troops in the United Kingdom and at the seat of war. The Government had estimated the cost of provisioning about 40,000 regular soldiers at home, and 65,000 militia, and had stated the sum requisite for that purpose in the different columns of the Estimates. With regard to the troops at the seat of war, a great addition had been made in the rations issued to them. The regulated ration had only been 1lb. of meat and 1lb. of biscuit per day, but the present daily ration issued to the soldier, and issued, he believed, with great regularity—the great defect having existed in the conveyance between the store and the camp—was 1lb. of salt meat, or 1¼lb. of fresh meat, 1⅓lb. of biscuits, 1oz. of coffee, 1¾oz. of sugar, 2oz. of rice, and 1–32nd part of a gallon of rum. The next Vote amounted to 20,000l. The collection of large bodies of the militia in particular localities, where they would have to be provisioned, would enhance the prices of articles of consumption in the surrounding neighbourhoods; and but for this Vote, which was intended to compensate the contractors for the loss they might thus sustain, the contracts for supplying the men with food could not be fulfilled. The remaing Votes were for the non-effective service—34,000l.—and included half-pay of Commissariat officers, pensions to their widows, and compassionate allowances.


said, he thought that, as the present was the first occasion on which these Estimates had been framed under the new arrangement, that was the best opportunity for making any observations on the transfer of the Commissariat business to the department of the Secretary of State for War. The business hitherto carried on by the Commissariat and the Treasury was of two kinds—one really military and the other purely banking and financial. No doubt every item of expenditure which was strictly military ought to be under the superintendence of the Minister of War, but he was afraid that the effect of the minute by which the Commissariat had been transferred from the Treasury to the War Department, would be to place the banking and strictly financial business of the Commissariat in the hands of the Secretary for War. It would be a great misfortune at the present moment to give that Minister any single thing to do which could be done equally well by somebody else, and which there was no inherent necessity for him to do; and, moreover, there was no particular reason why that functionary should be a good judge of such matters as banking and finance. In the Colonies, too, the Commissariat had much business to transact—such, for instance, as conducting the expenditure necessary for the convict establishments—which had no reference whatever to military matters, but which, under the new arrangement, would have to pass through the hands of the War Minister instead of being referred directly to the Treasury. He was afraid, therefore, that if this minute was carried into operation as it at present stood, the effect would be to introduce great confusion into the public accounts. It must be remembered that since the war great alterations had been made in the mode of keeping the Commissariat accounts in the Paymaster General's Office and also in the Audit Office, and he very much doubted whether the arrangements for checking the public accounts in time of peace would be sufficient for the large expenditure required in a time of war. Great difficulties and confusion would arise, and Parliament would cease to have that control over the expenditure which it at present possessed. He would suggest, therefore, that a Commission should be appointed to consider whether some arrangement could not be devised by which, while the whole of the military expenditure was transferred to the War Department, the Treasury might still retain a superintendence over the civil part of the Commissariat accounts. The thing was done very well at the Admiralty, and might be done at the War Department with proper care.


said, that this Estimate would bring the amount of the Votes for military purposes during the ensuing year up to very nearly 40,000,000l. He was very sorry he had not urged the propriety of referring the Estimates to a Select Committee, though of course it was now too late to make such a Motion. As the case stood, they were voting immense sums for the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates, entirely in the dark, without any means of judging whether these demands were really necessary or not. He did not altogether differ from some of the conclusions of the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken, but he must say he thought it would be much better to consolidate military offices of different kinds under one guidance than to keep them apart, for then there would be no means of combining operations or of checking expenditure. Of course the Secretary for War would have a financial department under him; but he would be the sole person responsible to Parliament, and that was what they wanted. He was surprised to see 280,000l. for transport service in the present Estimate, after having voted between 5,000,000l. and 6,000,000l.> before for that purpose. Facts of the most astounding character had come to light in the evidence already given before the Sebastopol Committee. From the statements of the witnesses, it appeared that Captain Christie, the captain of the port, had kept one of the largest steamers employed in the transport service in port for four months, merely to act as a lodging for himself.


said, he must object to reference being made in debate to the proceedings of a Select Committee whilst still sitting.


said, the hon. Member for Lambeth was not in order.


said, he would bow to the decision of the Chair, but he wished to know why the price of rations had been reduced from 6d. to 4½d. per diem? He presumed it must be to benefit the soldier. He did not think that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the War Department had satisfactorily explained why so large a sum of money was taken for transports when they had already voted so large an amount for the establishment of the land transport corps. In conclusion, he must complain of the want of such information as would enable the Committee to form a satisfactory judgment with respect to the propriety of the various items included in the Estimates. No efficient check would ever be placed upon our expenditure until the various Estimates were submitted to Select Committees. He believed that much unnecessary expenditure had been incurred for want of such a check.


said, the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Baring) had referred to the transfer of the Commissariat from the Treasury to the War Department. The right hon. Baronet must be well aware that the duties of the Commissariat officers were of a very varied character and connected with all departments of the Government; they had to perform duties for the military, the naval, and the civil departments. Their duties were both financial and administrative, and they combined the functions of bankers and merchants. Their accounts came home to the Audit Office; they were there adjusted, and the various items placed to the charge of the different departments. There was a large independent fund, under the control of the Commissariat, called the Commissariat Chest Fund, amounting to 1,200,000l., by means of which all their operations were carried on. An annual account of the fund was laid before Parliament, and it was the duty of the Treasury to see that it suffered no increase or diminution. The management of that fund would still be kept in the hands of the Treasury, but each department would be responsible for the expenditure of the sums voted for their several purposes; that was the only arrangement that could be made.


said, that the object of the Government should be to consolidate under one head all the departments which were military ones; but not to load the purely military departments with matters which did not properly belong to them. That, he apprehended, was his right hon. Friend's (Sir F. Baring's) view of the subject. Now, he did not think that this object had been satisfactorily attained by the arrangement which had been adopted by the Government. He feared that the Treasury would not, under the present system, retain the proper control which they should have over the large fund referred to by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Treasury, while, on the other hand, embarrassing duties would be thrown upon the War Department. If any confusion should arise from these arrangements, he must protest against that House being in any degree made liable for it. The Treasury had taken six months to effect the separation of the various departments, and he (Lord Seymour) must confess that their proceedings in this particular case were not very satisfactory. The arrangement which had been effected tended rather to increase than diminish any difficulty which had formerly existed. Complaints had been made upon every side of the working of the Commissariat Department; and yet, notwithstanding those complaints, that was the department which hon. Members were desirous of seeing copied in the administration of the army. There was no promotion by purchase or by seniority in the Commissariat; but a man entered the service after undergoing an examination, and then underwent one or two years' probationary service. Promotion was given, not by seniority, but by merit, and therefore the Commissariat met in every respect the requirements of hon. Members; but, notwithstanding all these advantages, the Commissariat Department had failed more than any other. He observed in the Vote a sum of 282,000l. for the land and inland water transport service; and it appeared that in that Estimate was included the sum required for the railway at Balaklava. He regretted that the expenditure connected with the railway had been given in a separate item. Another point to which he wished to call the attention of the Government was, as to the necessity for securing to the troops a more frequent and constant supply of fresh meat, or, at all events, giving them vegetables when it was unavoidable that they should have salt meat. This was a very important matter in connection with the health of the troops.


said, he observed that 600,000l. and odd was taken for the Commissariat expenses last year, while for the present year 2,393,000l. was demanded, and he wished to know whether the sum of 600,000l. and odd paid the whole expense last year, or whether there was then an excess of expenditure, for defraying which money was to be applied from the Vote of the present year? When the present Votes were passed the House would have voted about 39,000,000l. for war purposes, and some explanation ought to be given of the mode in which it was proposed to provide for the proper distribution of such vast sums. He also thought, that the Under Secretary for War should explain the way in which the vast masses of provisions had gone, or were intended to go to their destination. There was a conviction on the public mind that a number of conflicting authorities were engaged when a ship was to be sent off with Commissariat stores. Was it true that under the old system the ammunition was put on board by the Ordnance Department, the drugs by the Medical Department, and the eatables and drinkables by the Treasury? Could the Under Secretary for War make it clear to the Committee that a shipload of provisions would arrive at its destination in proper order? The Government had sent out 21,000 tons of provisions and no end of fuel, and yet the soldiers had been forced to eat their rations raw—the fact being that those vast stores had never been properly distributed. The hon. Gentleman ought at least to show that something had been done to prevent a recurrence of those terrific blunders. When the goods were put on board the transports, some one ought to be put with them to be responsible for their safe delivery. As it was it appeared to him to be a mere chance if the stores ever reached their destination. All those circumstances to which he had adverted seemed to point to a want of arrangement in detail.


said, that the difficulties which had arisen in connection with the transport of provisions and stores to the East were not so much in the part of the journey by sea as in that from Balaklava to the camp. The transport by sea was under the superintendence of the Admiralty, who had just established a Transport Board for the management of this service, and for facilitating its satisfactory conduct. He thought that a great deal of the confusion complained of in the loading, despatch, and unloading of the sea transports had arisen from their cargoes being contributed by various branches of the Government. Matters would be very much simplified by the loading of each ship being exclusively under one department, and that, too, the one which furnished its whole cargo.


said, that, with reference to the observations of the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby), the expenses of the Commissariat for the year 1854–5 would not be completely defrayed by the Vote of 650,000l. taken last year. The extra expenditure would come out of the vote of credit of 3,000,000l. voted by the House last year; an account of which would, in due time, be laid before the House. The experience which had been obtained by the Government in the course of the last campaign had enabled the Government to frame an Estimate which they expected would cover the whole Commissariat expenditure for the present year. The Treasury would still retain the same check which they possessed before over the Commissariat expenditure.


said, he objected to the unsatisfactory form of the accounts; some sort of detail should be given. He found one vote of over 1,500,000l. for provisions, forage, fuel, and light. The number of men to be provisioned for that, in each locality, should be stated. If such a statement was given every year they would be able to compare the cost per man at any station with the corresponding localities, and with the cost at the same place in previous years. They would thus have the best possible check on the expenditure. The cost of the principal items in each locality, as beef, bread, &c., ought also to be stated. He wished likewise to call the attention of the Government to the important question of provisioning the troops by contract; in all cases where large numbers of men were collected together in private enterprises, it was found most advisable to contract for the supply of their provisions. All large shipowners now contracted for the supplying of their crews, and the same system was adopted in emigrant ships. Several most respectable firms were engaged in the trade, and if the Government had placed the supply of the troops in their hands, he would venture to assert there would have been no deficiency of fresh meat in the Crimea. One of the firms he referred to had a large establishment at Galatz, for the purpose of purchasing cattle in the Danubian Principalities, and could easily have supplied the army. He thought this matter deserved the most careful consideration, and he would suggest that after the Estimates were passed, it should be referred to a Committee of business men upstairs to determine how far the contract system could be adopted. He had no doubt it would be found to work well and economically. With regard to the rations, he thought that too much salt meat was issued; if a remedy was not applied the most fatal consequences would result in the hot weather. He would suggest that tea should be served out instead of coffee; the latter, being a stimulant, was not suited for localities where diarrhœa and dysentery prevailed. He would also suggest that as large a quantity of vegetables as possible should be sent out. A mode had lately been adopted of compressing them, which rendered their transport very easy. The neighbouring countries could also furnish a large supply of oranges and other fruits, which would be very useful for the troops.


said, he wished to know whether any explanation had been given to the House why the army had for so long a time been rationed almost exclusively on salt meat? Any amount of fresh provisions might have readily, with the means of transport which we possessed, been obtained from Sinope, Asia Minor, and other ports.


said, that ample arrangements were made for a supply of fresh provisions from the coast of Asia Minor, and why it should have failed so much of late he was unable to state; but he saw from accounts in the public papers that the difficulty of transport was very great, and the difficulty of feeding cattle far greater. It also appeared that great numbers of the cattle had died. With regard to the contract system there could be but one opinion, that in every possible shape and form in which that system could be brought to bear it should be adopted. Competition by open contracts was supported by all their experience, whether the end to be attained was economy or efficiency. He admitted the principle most fully, and as far as it could be carried out it had been carried out. At the Commissariat stations throughout the world, nothing was purchased by private contract or bargain, but everything by public contract; and so rigid were the rules of the service, that when the accounts were sent in to the Audit Board they had to be accompanied by the advertisements in the newspapers to show that the transactions were made public, and also the tenders themselves, to prove that the lowest tender had been accepted. How the principle could be extended further by rationing the army at so much per head he was not prepared to say; that was a most important point, and it was one well worthy the consideration of the Government.


said, he wished to know what was the precise position of the Treasury clerks who had been attached to the Commissariat Department in the East, and whether they were to form a permanent portion of the latter branch of the public service? There was another point to which he was anxious to advert for a moment. They had been told that the troops were to be supplied with fresh meat only once or twice a week. Now, he was sure that the country would receive that intelligence with regret. He had been informed that fresh preserved meat could be supplied to any amount at a cost of not more than from 2d. to 3d. per lb. beyond that of salt meat, and he had no doubt but that the public would readily submit to that increased charge. With respect to the remarks which had been made regarding coffee, he believed every medical man was of opinion that the very best species of food that could be given to men threatened with scurvy was cocoa.


said, that in consequence of the pressure of business, it had been found necessary to employ a number of Treasury clerks temporarily in the Commissariat Department, but it was intended that the Commissariat service should be entirely distinct from the Treasury. One gentleman connected with the Treasury, Mr. Blackwood, who had been selected to proceed to the Crimea in the Commissariat Department, had discharged his duties in a manner which had elicited high encomiums from those who were acquainted with his arrangements.


said, he believed the army would gain a great deal by the transfer of the Commissariat from the Treasury to the Minister of War. Last year when the expedition to the East had been undertaken he had been led to apprehend that the business of the Commissariat would be greatly mismanaged, from the fact that it was to be intrusted to the same gentleman, Sir Charles Trevelyan, to whom had been committed the duty of presiding over the supply of provisions in Ireland during the recent famine in that country, and that apprehension had since been completely realised. He found that the same reckless waste of money, the same outrageous audacity, which had mark- ed the administration of the funds appropriated to the relief of Irish distress, and the same wretched confusion, had prevailed in the two cases, and the consequence had been the destruction in Ireland of 2,000,000 of the population, and in the East the destruction of our army. There was no soldier who would not congratulate himself on his escape from that baneful influence. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War had spoken of the space between Balaklava and Sebastopol as if it had been the source of all the failure of our Commissariat system in the East; but it should be remembered that at Varna, where there had been no such obstacle to be overcome, great deficiencies in the provisioning of the army had likewise been experienced. He had heard an anecdote which would afford a curious illustration of the mode in which the business of the expedition was managed. In the Jason, on its departure from Balaklava, there had been a number of sick on board, but there had been no medicine for them and no dietary; and yet a friend of his in the ship at the time had observed that the doctor appeared to keep as regular accounts as he would have done in the best supplied hospital on shore. On his questioning that gentleman as to the real nature of the unnecessary labour which he thus seemed to assume, he had been told by him that "he prescribed every day the articles which he would give if he had been supplied with them, and he also prescribed the dietary he should order if it could be obtained." The articles, however, had no actual existence, and yet the entries of the doctor would, perhaps, be produced on some future occasion in proof of the ample amount of medicine and comforts with which his patients had been supplied. Among the Estimates he found a sum of 238,000l. for the inland transport service, and he wished to know what was the nature of the charge which that sum was to defray? It could not be the cost merely of constructing the railway, for he took it for granted that that cost could not amount to more than 100,000l., if it should even reach so high a sum. There was another Vote of 743,000l. for the rations of the troops, from which there was to be a deduction of 209,000l., which he supposed would be charged to the soldiers. He was anxious to know how much of that deduction was to fall on the troops in the Crimea, and whether any portion of it would be imposed for the unroasted and unground coffee with which they had been supplied. He should also be glad to know whether the soldiers would have to pay the cost of the transport of the articles which had been forwarded to them from different parts of the country; and he was further desirous of being informed whether the hospital stoppages would be made in the case of men suffering from disease in the same way as in the case of men suffering from wounds. The Government were at present establishing a land transport corps; he rejoiced at that circumstance, and he believed that that step should have been taken when they had first entered on the expedition. They had an example which ought to have guided them in that matter. In the year 1826, when the expedition to Portugal had been undertaken by Mr. Canning, a transport service had been organised for its use by the Duke of Wellington, and between 5,000 and 6,000 men had been employed in that service. That valuable precedent, however, had, unhappily, been disregarded last year.


said, he considered the observations of the Secretary to the Treasury required explanation. He understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the contract system was to be universally applied, even to the army in the East. The system might do very well in this country, with its large mercantile population, but would fail if they attempted to make contracts at Varna, at Constantinople, or in Asia Minor. The Armenian or Jew who took the contract might disappear, and there would be no possibility of enforcing the penalty. He thought a good deal of the misfortunes which had occurred during the last six months might be traced to the contract system, and he wished to know whether in the purchases made in the East, the Commissariat had been required by the Treasury up to December last to proceed upon that system?


said, he doubted very much whether the system of contract, as the Secretary to the Treasury termed it, or the system of tender, as he termed it, was the best, even in this country. Large companies usually added a very important proviso to their advertisements —that the lowest tender would not be accepted. That was not the custom in the case of the Government, and they had seen many contracts, such as the contracts for the clothing of the army and for the provisions of the navy, carried out in the worst possible manner. He believed the most respectable houses would not tender for contracts with the Government, because they would not compete with men who were willing to name the very lowest price, with the intention of furnishing a very inferior article. The hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) suggested sending out tea to the troops, and he thought the worst thing the Government could do, if they adopted that suggestion, would be to ask for tenders, which would have the effect of immediately running up the price. They had much better go to such a house as Travers's, and say they wanted so many thousand pounds of tea at a certain price. He believed a firm of that standing would undertake to furnish what was wanted to those who wanted it, and they might be sure to have the very best article. If the Government had made a contract with a respectable house they would not have had the soles of the boots coming off in the trenches in the manner which had been so often described. Another advantage was, that if the Government dealt with proper parties there would be no necessity for examination of the goods furnished, or for another contract to convey them to the place where they were wanted. He hoped the Treasury would not be misled by the traditions of times when great peculations prevailed, not only among contractors, but among high officials. That could not possibly happen now, and therefore it was worth while to consider whether they could not adopt a better system than that of tender.


said, his observations had no reference to the army in the East, and hon. Members would at once see the great difference between an army in the field and forty or fifty commissariat stations all over the world, where the number of troops was stated and stationary, and the contractors were amenable to the laws of the colony. His observations referred only to those establishments, and he did not mean to imply that the army in the East was to be fed by contract, because it required little consideration to perceive that such a mode would be most inefficient and unsatisfactory. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) differed from the noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour) because the noble Lord approved the contract system in highly civilised communities; and as the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) justly observed, they had practical experience of it in the conduct of railway companies, who not only performed their works, but received a large portion of their supplies, by contract. It was very easy to point out blots in any course they might pursue. Every system was in some respects defective; but what would the country think if all these naval and commissariat purchases were managed by public officers dealing with private individuals without the check of publicity? There would be innumerable complaints and suspicions, and, perhaps, sometimes well-grounded suspicions. If there was nothing wrong, it would be impossible to satisfy the public; and, though he admitted the contract system should be conducted with great care, to see that the goods delivered were not of inferior quality, he did not understand how a system of private bargain would prevent improper practices.


said, that suspicions, complaints, and fearful results, had already followed the system of accepting the lowest tender. He particularly alluded to the intrenching tools, which, from the time of the Peninsular war until now, were always singularly bad. The same might be said of the shoes and clothing supplied on that principle. We had been too much swayed by a false economy in these matters, forgetting that everything depended on the quality of the articles supplied. This question of supplies was not to be disposed of by a few phrases about contracts or no contracts. He wished to corroborate what had fallen from the hon. Member for Wick with regard to the importance of vegetables in checking scurvy. When he was at the Poor Law Board, during the failure of the potato crops, it was found that farinaceous food, even with fresh meat, without a supply of vegetables, produced scurvy in some of the workhouses, and that was no question of salt meat. So that even if preserved fresh meats were supplied to the troops, care should be taken to keep up the supply of vegetables.


said, he must congratulate the country on the Commissariat service being transferred to the War Department. He considered that the system of appointing the Commissariat from civilians alone was not the best, and he would recommend the plan pursued in the Indian army—namely, that large numbers of the Commissariat officers should be selected from the army itself. He thought the subject worthy the consideration of the Government.


said, he must maintain that the system of contract and the acceptance of the lowest tenders was the most advisable, and would be found to answer best, provided there was a proper system of inspection. If any other plan than taking the lowest tenders were to be adopted, it would at once lead to an impression that contracts were only to be obtained from the Government by indirect means and influences, and Members of Parliament would be besieged by persons endeavouring to make them use their political or personal influence to obtain contracts; and the effect would be that all confidence in the Executive would be destroyed.


said, the Committee would remember that on a former occasion he asked a question of the Secretary of the Treasury respecting certain cargoes of porter which had been sent from this country, and after having arrived at Constantinople were sent back again in consequence of there being no officer appointed to receive them there. The hon. Gentleman did not at the time answer the question; but on the 26th of last month he took the opportunity of doing so, and stated that in one case a vessel was sent to Malta, but when it arrived the troops had left that place, and that vessel was subsequently sent on to Varna; another vessel had, in the same way, after having been first sent to Constantinople, been sent to Varna, and subsequently to the Crimea; another vessel landed her cargo at Scutari, where it was used; and the fourth of those vessels carried her cargo to Varna, and it was consumed there. The hon. Gentleman also said that there was no foundation for the rumour that any action for nonperformance of contract was pending against the Government, although, of course, the claims made by the contractors for the additional length of voyage were under examination. This was the answer of the hon. Gentleman as reported in the Times of the 27th of February, and which, he believed, was quite correct. Now, what were the facts? With regard to the first vessel the answer of the hon. Gentleman was correct; but the Government had to pay demurrage to the amount of 1,935l. He would pass over the second vessel for the moment. The third vessel was loaded in London in the month of June last, and she was discharged on the 14th of December at Scutari, for which the Government had demurrage to pay. That vessel never went to the Crimea at all. The fourth vessel was discharged at Scutari, for which demurrage was also paid. With regard to the second vessel (the Jane Cockerell), which was of 387 tons, and engaged at 25s. per month per ton, she left England in March last, and at the beginning of December was still at Constantinople with her cargo on board. He had seen the brokers of these four ships, and had ascertained from them the day on which they started, the day on which they broke bulk, and the day on which they returned. It was obvious, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman had misinformed the House when he said that all the four vessels had broken bulk. On a previous occasion he (Colonel Boldero) also stated that there was a claim made for demurrage which was disputed by the Government. The amount claimed was only small, about 120i. or 130l. The contractor had had a correspondence with the Treasury for several months, and they refused to pay him. Then, with regard to the supply of porter, none had been sent out to the Crimea since July last, for it appeared in the evidence before the Sebastopol Committee on Friday that the chaplain, who was then examined, never saw any, even in the hospital; and he saw by the evidence of a distinguished officer that the Guards suffered more than any other regiment, because they could not get their usual beverage—porter; the "navvies" had remonstrated from the same cause, and Government, he believed, were now sending out a supply for them. He thought, if it were considered necessary to send a supply to civilians, our fighting men ought not to be neglected. The East India Company's troops had received the most essential benefit from a good supply of porter; it was a national beverage, and, without pretending to a chemical knowledge of its composition, he believed it to be conducive to health. He should, therefore, like to know why the Government had set their face against sending it out? Two other ships had been sent out by philanthropic persons with porter of which nothing had been heard, and he wished to know how it had been disposed of?


said, he was sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not intentionally wish to misrepresent him. The question he put was, whether any porter had been sent out to Constantinople, and, in consequence of no one being there to receive it, it had been returned; and whether an action had been brought for demurrage in consequence. He (Mr. Wilson) promised to inquire into the matter, and on a subsequent occasion informed the hon. and gallant Gentleman that nothing of the kind had taken place, but at the same time he did say that demurrage bad been claimed for detention of ships, or in some instances for prolongation of voyages. He believed some 110l. had been claimed. He was not aware what had been done in the matter, but would make inquiries. With regard to one of the ships which the hon. and gallant Gentleman said had gone to the Crimea, he (Mr. Wilson) stated that one had gone to the Belbek to supply porter, but had been ordered back to Scutari; probably that was the one which the hon. and gallant Gentleman thought had gone to Constantinople. He did not believe that any cargo of porter was detained at Constantinople, but he would make inquiries. With regard to the supply of porter to the troops in the Crimea, it must be remembered that porter formed no part of the rations, but had only been sent out and placed at the disposal of the Commissariat to sell to the men at the cheapest possible rate. He admitted that the supply of porter to the East India Company's troops had proved an excellent substitute for spirits; and, having been instrumental in making the change, he was glad to hear that the hon. and gallant Gentleman approved it.


said, that the answer of the Secretary of the Treasury was like all other answers received from that bench. Everything was admitted. Some matters were referred to other departments, and inquiries were to be made with regard to others. In this case the hon. Gentleman admitted that no considerable quantity of porter had gone out, and that there had been a charge for demurrage. He did not consider that any reference to the evidence taken before the Committee upstairs was necessary, for, as the inquiry went on, each day showed a more astounding revelation than the preceding, and proved that the departments were totally incompetent to perform the most ordinary transactions. The noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Sey- mour) said he wished the charge for the railway at Sebastopol to be kept a separate charge, but he despaired of seeing anything kept as a separate charge in the Crimea, for the accounts there were in such a state of confusion that the soldiers who came home invalided were unable to receive the pay that was due to them, so that, if they obtained a furlough, they had no money to pay the expenses of their journeys to see their families unless private charity intervened. This was the third time he had called attention to this hardship, and he should be delighted if the Under Secretary of War were able to contradict it. If this statement could not be contradicted, he would ask the War Office to violate routine a little, and let the poor wounded soldier have so much of his own money as would enable him to visit his family. All eulogies of the valour of the soldier would pass for less than nothing so long as the War Office refused him this reasonable request. He found, too, that the food supplied to the troops on their return home was unequal and of the worst kind. He had known invalids ordered home from the Crimea compelled on their voyage to eat salt pork that was rancid and biscuits swarming with maggots. This was a disgraceful part of a disgraceful system, and he would ask the Under Secretary of War to have it remedied, and see that these brave men were not persecuted by the Commissariat up to the moment of their return to this country. It was desirable, also, that some specific statement of the Government arrangements relative to the hospitals of the East, should be laid before the House. On the bringing up of the Report, he should ask the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) to specify the arrangements for the hospitals at Smyrna, Rhodes, and Abydos. Last November, when he was at Smyrna, he wrote to the War Office to say that the French were establishing an auxiliary hospital there, and suggesting that a similar establishment should be formed for English soldiers. Good official reasons, no doubt, were found for rejecting that proposal, but now that Smyrna became unhealthy the Government had commenced an hospital. The Government had neglected the matter during the months from November to February, and now in March, when the hot weather was about to set in, and all the unhealthiness of the climate was about to develope itself, the Government had determined to open an hospital. He trusted the hon. Gentleman would be prepared to show on what grounds this hospital had been opened at this period of the year, and on what authority it was to be proved that the atmosphere would not soon become dangerous to health and life.


said, he had not been over-sanguine as to the results of the appointment of the Committee upstairs, but he had hoped that hon. Members would wait until they made their Report. He heard garbled statements of the evidence made day after day to the House. Now, would it not be far better to wait until the Committee had reported the evidence? The Committee were examining with great care into the subject, and he hoped that the House would have confidence in their Committee.


said, he trusted that no hon. Member would be precluded by the fact that an inquiry was going on before a Committee from stating to the House important and pressing matters which had immediate practical results. The appointment of the Committee would do great harm if it had any such result.

Vote agreed to; as was also—

(2) 42,120l., Half Pay, &c.

House resumed.