§ COLONEL ANSON
asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether there is any truth in the report that the intended military operations in Berkshire next September have been abandoned in consequence of the expense and great difficulty experienced in providing transports and supplies for so large a body of men in the field for such a length of time; and, if so, whether the responsibility attaches to the Horse Guards or 544 the War Office, to the Officers of the Army, or the Control Department?
§ CAPTAIN F. STANLEY
said, before the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War gave his answer, he wished to put the Question which stood in his name—Whether it is true that the transport required for the Troops to be engaged in the September manœuvres has been contracted for with a private firm; and, if so, whether such arrangement has occurred from insufficiency either of the materiel or personnel of the Military Train?
§ MR. CARDWELL
It is doubtless well known to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Colonel Anson) that the harvest is unusually late, and it has been reported to me that it is not likely that the troops could be encamped upon the arable lands at the time fixed, or that the farmers will be able to spare their horses for local transport. Under those circumstances, it has been determined that the encampment shall be laid down and the manœuvres executed upon the open country between Woolmer Forest, on the south, and Finchamstead and Easthampstead, on the north. It is suggested in the Question that some one must be much in fault for that decision, and I propose to lay the Reports of the Quartermaster General, the Inspector General of Fortifications, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General of the Ordnance on the Table, so as to enable hon. Members to form a just opinion on the subject.
§ COLONEL ANSON
said, he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War intended to convey to the House the impression that if the harvest had not been unusually late the Control Department would have been able to carry out the proposed arrangements?
§ SIR HENRY STORKS
In answer to the Question of the hon. and gallant Member for Bewdley (Colonel Anson), as it concerns my department alone, I have to state that if the harvest had been gathered in proper time, so as to allow of the assistance being furnished which we had hoped to receive from local transport, I have every reason to think the Control Department would have performed the service required of it. In reply to the Question of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Captain F. Stanley), 545 I have to state that the Military Train no longer exists. The Control transport is organized at home on a peace footing, and in case of war would have to be expanded by transport supplied in the country where operations were carried on. To meet a portion of the additional transport required for the September manœuvres, we have availed ourselves of the offer of a private firm to the extent of 100 waggons, with horses for supply purposes.
COLONEL LOYD LINDSAY
said, he must crave the indulgence of the House while he said a few words. ["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he must remind the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay) that that was the time appointed for asking Questions, not for raising a discussion.
COLONEL LOYD LINDSAY
said, that he would, in order to put himself right with the House, move its adjournment. He would trespass on the House as shortly as possible, and on an emergency which had arisen; and he believed the Rules of the House were made elastic for the very purpose of bringing forward, on emergency, matters which might be considered as important. Now, he had to bring before the House a matter of the greatest importance, involving the existence—he used the word advisedly—the very existence of the Army. He hoped hon. Members would allow him to explain what he meant. The proposed camp for manœuvres had been in contemplation, and preparations made for it during the whole of the last four months. Committees had been appointed and arrangements made accordingly. The commanding officer at Aldershot and his two immediate subordinates had visited the neighbourhood of the district in Berkshire where the camps were to be formed. They reported favourably with regard to water supply, open spaces, and roads. Those Reports were sent to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, and subsequently 546 to the Control and Engineer departments, to make other Reports. Being Member for the county, he (Colonel Loyd Lindsay) got together a committee representing 36 parishes and villages, where the camps were to be placed. Farmers, occupiers, and owners of land were represented on that committee. They held various meetings, and carried resolutions which found their way to Aldershot, and into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman himself. They were uniformly favourable to the approaching visit of the troops. He was bound to say reports were made to them from Aldershot that they were deluding themselves if they imagined that the troops were coming. The best advised, and those who knew most of the state of affairs at Aldershot, distinctly told them half-a-dozen times that the camp would never be pitched. These reports were disbelieved. He knew his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell) was in earnest; he was quite certain his right hon. Friend wished to carry out the manœuvres; he did not believe the reports from Aldershot, although the purport of them was that they might be able to move 5,000 men, but certainly not more; and, in spite of the repeated warnings, the committee and himself persevered in endeavouring to forward the desired object so as to be most convenient to all concerned. But it was all in vain. The manœuvres had practically been abandoned, if they were to be carried out at a place only eight miles from Aldershot; and, when he heard of the rumoured abandonment, he went to the chairman of the local committee and asked him whether he and the farmers had received any communication on the subject from the Government asking them about the harvest, and whether the harvest was in such a condition as to interfere with the movements of troops. Not one word had been heard by the very men who were able to give the best advice; the question of the condition of the harvest had never been gone into with them; they had not been asked whether it was forward or backward; and the fact was the Control department had collapsed. According to the best information he had been able to obtain, it was in the power of the Control department to move 5,000 men, and at a great stretch, by reducing horses, and with half-appointed arrangements, 547 it could go so far as to move 8,000 or 10,000 men. He would read a resolution passed at a meeting of the representatives of the owners and occupiers of land in Berkshire, which resolution was handed to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, who was pleased to receive it. The resolution ran—That this meeting, entertaining no doubt that the determination of the Government to form a camp of exercise on a large scale is a wise measure, which will really prove of national advantage, readily acquiesces in the propriety of selecting any part of Berkshire which is a suitable locality, and gladly expresses on the part of the farmers of the vicinity a wish to co-operate in carrying out the proposed arrangements.Would it not have been natural that those who had to report upon the conditions of the crops of Berkshire should have asked the opinion of the committee by whom that resolution was passed? On the contrary, not one word on the subject had been addressed to them, and he was bound to say his constituents felt deeply grieved. When that resolution was carried, he felt very proud of the farmers; for the passing of the resolution evinced great self-denial on their part, seeing that so long ago as April they placed their lands and crops at the disposal of the Government, and said nothing about compensation, believing that the manœuvres were for the benefit of the Army. And now they heard that the manœuvres were to be abandoned. Surely, they might be expected to know as much about the crops as the Inspector General of Fortifications? He had said that the existence of the Army was at stake, and he would stand by those words. No one would deny that the feeding and transport of the Army were all important: as the Duke of Wellington said, the only one who could follow him would be one who could feed his Army. Look at what the condition of things was in the Crimea, where men were starving within seven miles of the base of their operations, because there was neither food nor transport. Again, the French Army had collapsed from similar causes. Those lessons had been taught them one after another, and it was sufficient he thought to make the mildest-tempered Member rise in his place and say that if the Government did not act upon them, the House must. It was a matter virtually affecting the existence of the Army, for 548 if it were not able to move 30 miles from its base of operations, it was useless. Hon. Members opposite, who were guardians of the public purse and advocates of economy, ought to see that if they spent £15,000,000 they got the worth of it. What would a man say who year after year spent large sums on an estate, and then found it all in disorder and all the farm buildings tumbling down? Yet such a description would apply to their Army so far as the Control department was concerned. Lessons had been taught them, and if the House did not apply them it would be their fault. What was the use of spending £15,000,000 a-year, if they had an Army that could not march 30 miles? That was the point they must look at. With four months of preparations; with every advantage of home; with contractors at their backs; in a country pre-eminent for its horses, and where they could be bought, as the French were buying them, in all directions, they could not move their Army 30 miles from its base of operations, but were obliged to restrict their operations to a place at a distance of eight miles. That was no test whatever; it would only be a little march of eight or ten miles, during which it would be simply futile to expect them to be able in any degree to test the efficiency of what it was indispensable they should test—the Control department; and they might have the most perfect regimental system and the best-instructed officers, and yet if the Control department broke down, their Army was worthless. Hon. Members on both sides of the House had told him they looked forward to that camp of instruction as a bright spot in the right hon. Gentleman's Army administration; distinguished persons were coming from the Continent and from America to see the operations; and yet at the last moment they were told they were not to come off. In a ridiculous manner they had collapsed, and said they could not do that which they proposed to do. It was their duty at once to see that the Control department was put in a state of efficiency; and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General could do it if he had the money. Let the money be forthcoming then, and let the department be tested, for shortcomings were sure to be found out; and even at that last moment, let them see what could be done as to feeding and 549 transporting 30,000 men. Why, it was said at the last review that from one regiment alone the medical officer struck off 90 men when it only numbered 500 upon parade, and that upon the plea that the men were entirely unable to march what was only a short distance from Aldershot. At present Ministers rose in their places and made statements as to which they themselves were deceived, just as much as Napoleon III. was deceived when he imagined his Army was in first-rate order, and at last found that it was absolutely rotten. If the right hon. Gentleman did not take warning, he would be made the scapegoat if any catastrophe occurred. It was a mischievous, a bad, and rotten system that they had adopted of placing at the head of the Army civilians who knew nothing about it; and the right hon. Gentleman, without knowing it, stated in that House what was not true. In that way they were led to imagine that all was right when all was not right. There was nothing now to be done but for the House to inquire into the collapse of the Control department; and an order ought to be issued for the troops to move, as had been contemplated, in order that they might see what the department could do. His apology for intruding at this time was that that was a matter of emergency, and, as he had said before, to put himself in Order, he would move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Colonel Loyd Lindsay.)
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, he was unwilling, even for a few minutes, to continue a discussion which was irregular in point of time and circumstance; and still more unwilling, because he had just stated that he was about to lay upon the Table, as he hoped to do that night, the Reports of the Quartermaster General, of the Inspector General of Fortifications, and of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General of Ordnance, as to the reasons why the contemplated manœuvres had been partially abandoned. He submitted, with great deference, that he was bound to take the opinion of the Quartermaster General upon a subject of that kind—[Colonel LOYD LINDSAY: The crops?]—which was, whether it was proper that troops should be quartered, under the circumstances 550 of the present year, upon arable land in the middle of Berkshire; and if he were to take the opinion of the farmers of Berkshire upon that subject, he should be transgressing his duty. He had been as anxious as his hon. and gallant Friend opposite the Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay) to promote the operations, the idea of which he (Mr. Cardwell) himself originated, and if the existence of the Army depended upon them, some credit might be due to him; but, without thinking of himself, the question was whether it would be right, under the circumstances of the present year, to encamp their troops on the arable land of Berkshire, or whether they ought rather to encamp them on the open country surrounding Aldershot. Of the expediency of the alteration in the plan pursued, hon. Members could not judge properly until they had the documents which he proposed to lay on the Table that evening. It was said that the Control department had collapsed; but what were the circumstances? The Control department was most wisely established by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he had only been walking in their steps in carrying the system into effect. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General of Ordnance had said he believed if he could have availed himself of the ordinary local transport he could have carried out the operations; and what were the circumstances in war? Were there large transport bodies that were paid for in time of peace? Nothing of the kind. The Control department did not exist at the time of the Crimean War, and therefore it could not have failed then; it was established in 1868 by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir John Pakington), for the purpose, as stated in the Queen's Speech, of introducing economy in military matters; and what economy would there be if they maintained, in time of peace, a large number of transport horses which they would be able to use only in time of war? What they wanted in time of peace was the nucleus of a transport corps, which they could supplement with a local transport corps in the country in which they carried on war. It was designed in the projected operations that such a nucleus only should be employed, and that it should be supplemented by such local transport as Berkshire could afford. They were informed now that 551 they could not rely upon the local transport of Berkshire, and therefore they could not try the proposed experiment. On that point hon. Members would be better able to form an opinion when they saw the Papers. As he was speaking he would here reply to the Question of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) with respect to the men left at Aldershot because they were unequal to the march from their quarters to Wimbledon. He was informed that 77 men of the 1st battalion of the 4th Regiment and 90 of the 2nd battalion of the 15th Regiment were left at Aldershot, being "recruits who have never yet marched with a pack, and are not yet dismissed drill."
§ LORD ELCHO
said, it was desirable that the House and the country should understand clearly the reason why those manœuvres were to be given up. It was very difficult to get at the exact reason. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War said it was owing to the peculiar circumstances of the year; and what were those peculiar circumstances? Was it that it had been wet, or was it that the harvest was late? He had been informed that during the last 12 years the harvest had been off the ground by the 20th of September, and the right hon. Gentleman would not say that that was too late for troops to go under canvas. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General of Ordnance said the reason for abandonment was that it would be impossible to obtain the required amount of local transport; but he presumed there would be no difficulty in getting that by the 20th of September. He understood that the controller of the roads had reported that he could obtain 100 three-horse waggons at 18s. a day, including a driver for each; but the department, instead of looking to the locality, went to Pickford's, who charged so much that the idea of a contract with them was given up. The House ought to know the circumstances, so that they could judge of the matter. If those who were locally interested and who knew the state of things maintained that local transport could be got by the time stipulated—the 20th of September—they ought to have some better reason for giving up the manœuvres than that which had been assigned. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State 552 for War, whether the General in command at Aldershot was of opinion that from the 15th to the 20th of September was too late for a period of these manœuvres, and whether it was with his sanction and approval they had been abandoned?
§ COLONEL NORTH
said, he was glad to hear that the officers refused to allow the recruits of the 1st and 4th battalions of the two regiments to be marched to Wimbledon, having always protested against mere recruits being subjected to heavy marching. Last year he called attention to a moving column from Aldershot to Windsor being accompanied by depôts of recruits, and that was a practice that retarded the drill of the recruits for a month or six weeks.
§ COLONEL ANSON
said, he should move for the production of all the departmental correspondence on the subject of the proposed manœuvres.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.