HC Deb 17 March 1902 vol 105 cc185-287


(4.32.) SIR II. CAMPBELL-BANNER-MAN (Stirling Burghs)

rose to move, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into all contracts and purchases made by or on behalf of the Government for His Majesty's forces in South Africa in respect of remounts, meat, forage, freights, and transport." He said,—Sir, I feel myself rather impressed with the conviction that the Motion which I am about to submit to the House does not really require a case to be made out for it, because the case has already been made by the facts which have been disclosed to the public by previous debates here and elsewhere. But, at all events, in moving for this Committee I have the conviction that I am only fulfilling a reasonable and natural desire which is deeply and widely felt throughout the country. In my opinion. His Majesty's Government would do well to assent to the proposal. In truth, I have not heard any good reason alleged why they do not accept it; and it will be their refusal, rather than my claim, that will give any partisan colour to the discussion of the matters with which we have to deal. I think that it is generally recognised that an independent inquiry into these matters has become, necessary in the interests of the taxpayers, in the interests of our troops, in the interests of the departmental officers concerned, in the interests of this House, which is spending money in the dark, and which is only able in a more or less intermittent and more or less random way to offer criticisms and suggestions. It is not difficult to discover ground for the belief that the machinery, quickly improvised when a military picnic was found to be expanding into a great campaign, has proved inadequate for its purpose; and that there is a lack of business ways and business knowledge which has cost the country dear, and, notwithstanding the assurances of His Majesty's Government, will continue to cost the country a great deal. Whoever may have suffered, it is clear that the contractor has done well out of the war. He has not only done well out of the war, but he is doing well out of the war; and judging by the syndicates and combinations, which—reach from the River Plate to the meat factories of Queensland,—embracing the great mining corporation of De Beers, great firms of shipowners, who also turn out to be horse-dealers and meat producers, embracing, also, English,—for the most part naturalised English,—meat contractors and Johannesburg financiers whose names for good or for evil ring throughout the world—judging by these indications the contractor means to go on making a good thing out of the war. In my opinion, one of the most serious factors in the whole business is the high pitch of organisation attained by the Government purveyors. It means that we are not simply concerned with loose and improvident bargains—bargains that may have been necessarily loose because of the haste in which they had to be made, bargains with scattered individuals; it means that large vested interests have apparently quartered themselves upon the war. And one of the main points to which inquiry will have to be directed if it is instituted, is whether these interests, backed by powerful financiers, are subjected to the test of fair and open competition, whether they are controlling what is considered to be the biggest catering and equipment business in the world, or whether they are controlled effectively by the officers throughout the world who represent the public interest.

I have spoken of this as the biggest equipment and catering business in the world. Let me quote a few figures to show the House how large it is. I have here the detailed expenditure on contracts up to the end of the next financial year. A part of it is, of course, an estimate, and part actual disbursement. Since 1899 to 1903 inclusive the total for transport by land and sea is £43,876,000; for remounts, £16,985,000; for provisions, including forage, £56,000,000; and for "clothing, £13,700,000—total, £130,561,000. We must take off something from that on account of the war in China, and something also for boots in store and manufactured by the War Office. Suppose we take £10,000,000 away from that. This leaves £120,000,000, which will have passed through the hands of contractors and middlemen; and this is altogether apart from the whole expenditure upon warlike equipment and ammunition. This is surely a large matter, not unworthy of the attention of the House of Commons and of the closest and most searching inquiry. But what has been offered to us is a retrospective inquiry. Spill your milk, and then cry over it as much as you please. Wait until the war is really over—really, not only officially, over—and then when the purveyors of the cold storage have gone back to the more hum-drum but less profitable business of extracting gold from the bowels of the earth, they will be ready to oblige you with a history of these contracts, which will extend to any number of Blue-books. But we do not want to fill a museum, or perhaps I should say a mausoleum, with dead facts. What we want to do is to protect the taxpayers' interest, which is our prime duty; and that protection can only be given by inquiring now while the matter is red-hot—now, before those who have acted as agents, either for the Government who use or the contractor who supplies, have dispersed and passed out of sight. We want to know how the taxpayer has been treated and how he is going to be treated in the future. L am sure that neither this House nor any Committee of it, nor the country at large, will grudge high prices if they obtain good value for them: but high prices for the wrong thing, high prices to line the pockets of middlemen and syndicate promoters and hungry contractors are evidences of inefficiency and demoralisation.

Now I come naturally, in the first place, taking these subjects to which I wish inquiry to be directed one by one, to the question of horses. It is very discouraging to read the most recent of the telegraphic despatches which have been laid before us on this subject. After an expenditure of eleven or twelve millions on remounts, what is it that we hear? The Secretary of State on December 24th last telegraphs to Lord Kitchener— We hope to land in South Africa during December, January, and February over 40,000 horses. Will this meet your requirements? Desirable to reduce numbers as soon as practicable. The answer comes from Lord Kitchener, dated January 15th— Your telegram 24th December. Numbers satisfactory and will meet my requirements. Hope great care will be taken in selection. Small, compact, strong, well-bred horses are what we require. Some arriving are not well selected. Also hope great care will be taken on voyage, as some arrive in bad state. Yesterday I inspected Bays, who have hitherto done no work; their horses are wrong stamp to last in this country, and fear we shall lose many of them when they begin work. Then, the Secretary of State reports on January 20th— Your telegram of 15th January. Can you specify from what country horses described as not well selected principally come? And the answer of Lord Kitchener on January 22nd is— Your telegram of 20th January. Considerable percentage of all horses landed lack the compact formation necessary to withstand hardships of campaigning. Australian horses are specially badly selected, and English horses too large and heavy. I am asking Lord Downe to specially report on unsuitable horses landed. I say that is rather discouraging and unsatisfactory, after 416,000 horses and mules have been supplied to the Army in South Africa. But what does Colonel Birkbeck say? He is evidently a most capable officer, and he has had the confidence and approval of both the authorities at home and the general officer on the spot. He says of the Hungarian horses— Showy little horses, full of quality, but have done very badly, and are universally condemned as 'flat catchers.' And of the Hungarian cobs he says that they have— Like the horses, been disappointing. They are very docile and look the very tiling, but last no time. Of the Argentine cobs he says— By himself the Argentine is a clumsy, pig-headed brute, very slow, and has proved faint-hearted and lamentably lacking in stamina. Curiously enough, every officer at the base who saw him land admired him, but no one who has seen him at the front has a good word to say for him, except the 10th Hussars. His report on the Canadians lends itself to amusement rather than to melancholy— Many were regular barouche horses, high on the leg, slack, corn-made beasts, though with some quality. I remember being quite at a loss how to class many from a big Canadian shipload at Port Elizabeth. They were too slack to carry a man, and yet too light for general draught. My great regret was that we could not afford to keep them to sell in Johannesburg to Rand magnates as carriage horses. Well, I do not think this summary judgment should quite be taken an pide de la lettre I can imagine an over-worked, harassed officer like General Birkbeck disposed to damn the whole lot—I mean expressing that sentiment just as I can imagine a jaded schoolmaster summarily condemning a whole class of boys, though there may be good boys among them. Still, it is most unsatisfactory, to say the least, when we know the huge sums that were paid and the terrible necessity there has always been to have the proper kind of horses in sufficient numbers in the field—it is unsatisfactory to find such statements made.

But now I come to particulars. The case we know most of is the Hungarian case; and what we know of the facts in regard to the Hungarian horses is almost, if not quite, sufficient to justify my Motion. The summary of the facts is this: 3,800 horses were purchased for £111,000, and those persons who assisted in effecting the purchases divided among them £45,000. Well, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will plead that this particular case is sub judice, that an inquiry is being made; but there is this peculiarity about it, that justice has already pronounced sentence. There never was a more extraordinary course of proceeding than that which has taken place in reference to General Truman. The Irish removable magistrates and County Court judges are capable of a good deal, but I do not think that even they come up to the up-to-date lines of justice as exhibited in the course pursued towards General Truman. What has the course of the Government been in this matter? The question of these Hungarian horses was brought before the House by the hon. Member for Dulwich, and, of course, he was dismissed as a mere retailer of gossip and of unpatriotic gossip, for it was a most unpatriotic thing to imply that there was anything wrong in the preparations and administration of His Majesty's Government. But notwithstanding that the right hon. Gentleman saw—and I am not surprised—that it was a case for inquiry, and he appointed a nice little domestic Committee, including my hon. friend behind me, who, I think, was the only outside member of the Committee to look into the matter. They reported in August last, so that the right hon. Gentleman had all the facts before him in August last; and yet things were allowed to go on, and part of the business was allowed to proceed in the hands of those whose conduct was condemned by the report. [Mr. BRODRICK dissented.] I will withdraw that if it is not so. Then at last the fatal moment came when a Supplementary Estimate for a large sum of money for remounts had to come before the House. Then this report was made public, and the result was that public opinion was greatly startled and a very thorough and, in some parts of it, an exciting discussion took place in the House. Well, what resulted from that? The right hon. Gentleman hurried away to tell General Truman that the House of Commons was so set against him that he must resign his appointment.


I must altogether demur to that statement. The right hon. Gentleman is speaking without the book in saying I made any such statement to General Truman.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say that General Truman was never called upon to resign?


If the right hon. Gentleman desires that I should go into the question—a most difficult thing to do with an inquiry going on—I will say whatever I can without embarrassing the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry.


I have understood, and I thought it had been publicly stated, and I do not know that it has been explicitly contradicted, that General Truman was called upon to resign—or, at all events, that he was severely rebuked and informed of the strong feeling in the House of Commons against him. I venture to say that the strong feeling in the House of Commons was not against any individual; the strong feeling was against the whole system under which these matters occurred. But then, after that had been said to this officer, for him to be induced to ask, as he did ask in self-defence, for a Court of Inquiry—which Court will report to the very authority which has already condemned him—was, I think, a rather strange course to adopt. However, I am not concerned with whether General Truman is worthy of blame or not; what we would like to know, and what I think the inquiry ought to bring out, is this: Was the Remount Department adequately supported and strengthened to meet the tremendous strain put upon it during the last two or three years of the war? Year by year, in ordinary times, the number of remounts required is comparatively small, but here suddenly is a tremendous burst of necessity in circumstances with which obviously the ordinary staff of the Department could not adequately deal. Was it strengthened and supported? The only way in which it was supposed to be relieved, so far as we know, was by the setting up of the Yeomanry Committees, a Committee of officers of Yeomanry, retired cavalry officers, masters of foxhounds, and gentlemen with great knowledge, no doubt, of horses, but still not quite men of business to whom should be entrusted the purchase of horses on a large scale. That Committee is set up, and it goes stumbling along, with the highest motives of public duty no doubt, and acting to the best of their ability, but in open competition with the Remount Department itself both in Hungary and at home. We know that at home they were actually brought into active competition with the Remount Department. The right hon. Gentleman—and I give him all credit for it—is an apostle of decentralisation; he says we have too much centralisation; but here, surely, in this form it is decentralisation run mad because this Committee had no real responsibility whatever, and as a matter of fact I believe a great deal of waste arose from its action. As to the purchases of horses at home, I have heard many strange incidents; but I take a prudent course, and say there are rumours that certainly give ample reason for inquiry. In America we have been told of patriotic exiles—young men who have sought free life and lucrative careers on ranches in the Western States have made large sums by purchase and re-sale to the Government. In Austria we know no advantage was taken of the assistance that could have been obtained from the military attaché; we know from the military attaché that he endeavoured to; make himself of use, but the Government set him aside. However that may be, I believe it can be proved that large sums of money have been wasted. In Argentina, from all we hear, the same thing has occurred. And these are cases that, if not inquired into now, will pass into obscurity, and information will not be reached.

One other question there is—I do not wish to detain the House too long—that I wish to refer to, and that is the working of the system of registration of horses. We have had an answer to a question on this subject today, to which it appears that 14,550 horses were on the register and only 6,350 were taken. That accords with private information that large firms employing large numbers of horses have been receiving fees for horses on the register which the Government had power to take in case of necessity, and these horses for which fees were paid were rejected as unfit. That is a matter to be inquired into unless it can be explained.

But, not to detain the House longer on the question of horses, I now turn to the contracts for meat supplies. The Government contract in South Africa is in the hands of the Cold Storage Company, and they have been paid by the Government between April 1, 1899, and December 81 last, £4,773,000. The most startling and I have no doubt, most exaggerated rumours have been afloat as to huge profits, enormous and preposterous profits, made by this company: but profits may be enormous and yet not preposterous. I have here a copy of the balance-sheet of the company to June last, and the net result is that dividends and bonuses have been paid in two years equal to a return of 30s. on each share of £1, and a million sterling placed to the reserve. A million sterling placed to the reserve and a return of 30s. on every £1 share, and the capital was £450,000! That is a statement sufficiently alarming that induces the thought that a judicious and economical bargain was not made for this company. But the right hon. Gentleman told us the other day that a new contract had now been made; and he took great credit for the fact that it was an economical contract, and that a large saving had been effected. The meat contract," he said, "which was formerly held in South Africa by the Cold Storage Company, has been put out afresh from March 31st, and we have had a competition which has resulted in bringing down the price by 1£d. per lb.; and we anticipate a saving during the next year of between £600,000 and £700,000. The right hon. Gentleman said, "We have had a competition" What is the nature of this competition of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks? Thirty tenders were originally received, but they were fined down to three. There was the Cold Storage Company, Mr. Weil, and Mr. Bergl. Mr. Bergl was acting for a syndicate, and he succeeded in obtaining the contract; and then it appears that among his supporters are Messrs. Houlder, the shipowners, Mr. Timms, representing the De Beers Company, who were not hitherto, according to my knowledge, in the butchery business, and several well-known Johannesburg names, such as Lewis and Joel, and, finally. Mr Weil, the ostensible competitor, is himself a supporter of Mr. Bergl. I do not know whether this is the same Mr. Weil who had a contract for wagons and bullocks I [Cries of "Yes"], and who is reported to have made enormous profits. I shall have something to say of that later. But this is a remarkable combination. Of course it may be a strictly legitimate mobilisation of cosmopolitan commercial forces against the call to arms by extortion; or it may be that they regarded the contract as a plum worthy of some enterprise and organisation; and that organisation there was is perfectly clear from the collusion between two competitors, and by the appearance in the arena of these great financial names.

An important feature of the business to which I may, in passing, allude—which may be susceptible of explanation, but which certainly seems to call for inquiry—is the recurrence of the name of Messrs. Houlder in these transactions—a manifold firm, carrying on a multifarious business. In the spring of 1900 there was a Select Committee on War Office contracts, and they ascertained that the great bulk of the transport of remounts was carried on by this firm, both in its own ships and also, and to a larger extent even, in other vessels chartered by them as intermediary. If fact, this firm enjoyed a practical monopoly. Later on it came out they have done business on their Own account, in buying horses in Australia and shipping them to South Africa for the Government. It also appears that a contract for the purchase of horses in Argentina has been made by the same firm; and more recently still we have learnt that they are in partnership with Mr. Bergl in the meat business in Australia. Apart altogether from the question of prices, putting all that on one side, we have here a state of things which suggests to the simple-minded onlooker such as myself rather a pre-arranged transaction, with a potent organisation behind the scenes pulling the-wires, rat her than a contract obtained in the open field. That conception of our contractors and of what they really are, does not lead us to be hopeful in the matter of prices; but when we come to prices we are pulled up by this reduction of £600,000 or £700,000. According to the version of the Government, this reduction is due to one factor—the greater facility of transmission. While the war was in its earlier stages, and while the railway communication was interrupted, while there was danger of disturbance everywhere, naturally there was greater difficulty in carrying about the meat. The Secretary of State for War said here— The old contract was made when the country was in a very unsettled condition, and the communications being most difficult, it was impossible to get a contract made on the same terms as since the communications have been made safe. The Under Secretary for War, in another place, said— The prices charged were in proportion to-the difficulties. Lord Lansdowne said— The expenses of distribution must have been very much greater at the beginning of the war. Well, Sir, but what does this come to? It comes to this—that the Cold Storage Company's profits are to be regarded as strictly legitimate profits, and that the Bergl and Weil combination is to work substantially on the same scale of profits. The only thing that has disappeared is the expense of transmission from one part of South Africa to another. There is no other reduction. The profits which I have quoted as having been made by the previous company are still open to this new company, and the taxpayer must find what comfort he may in the thought that, if the Cold Storage Company have absorbed in dividends and payments to reserve a huge sum of money, Messrs. Bergl and Weil will sheer him to the same extent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who at this time of the year I is probably excogitating new taxes, will, I have no doubt, have his eye on some particular tax which will help to defray these contractors' profits, as his colleagues seem unable to do it. That is the ground of my suspicion of this contract, upon which I ask the House whether there is not ample reason here for close and immediate inquiry. I have hoard also that the contract itself is on unusually easy and favourable terms for the contractor; that there are certain things which are usually excluded which are admitted; and that the word "refrigerated "is used instead of the word "frozen," for example. I dislike both words very much, but the difference is serious.

Turning to the item of transports, there are strong criticisms being made here again. There is a monopoly in a certain class of business to the firm of Houlder, and a monopoly in other cases to other persons. More generally, there is this complaint—that the shipping contracts have been given to persons who had no ships of their own or who had no ships unemployed, and who had, therefore, to go into the market and charter ships from others. That is obviously an uneconomical arrangement, and it would therefore be well to have it disclosed—if not by this Committee of inquiry, then by a Return—what proportion of the shipping taken up was in the hands of the owners with whom the contract was made, and what proportion was taken up through middlemen.

Then I come to the forage contracts. I pass rapidly over these questions, because other Members more familiar than I am with the details will enlarge on them and develop the facts; but in regard to forage I believe—and I have some reason to know from actual contracts which I have seen—that there are unsatisfactory reports of the business being confined again to very few firms. There are complaints of inferior quality, and that the Government have gone gleaning America and elsewhere when there was plenty of English, Scotch, and Irish supplies to be had practically at its own door. Another chapter which deserves to be opened is that of land transport in South Africa itself—the hire of wagons and bullocks at fabulous prices, leading to fabulous profits, and a contract made with a firm which did not possess a single wagon, and which had to hire wagons and bullocks from the farmers and others, of course at lower prices. It would have been open for the Government themselves to hire these wagons, and thus to save a great deal of expenditure. There are stories of a new I industry in South Africa—that of a systematic resuscitation of the derelict ox, who is passed back to the base and sold and re-sold. While the animal keeps on his legs, the contractor draws his hire; but if the animal becomes exhausted or disabled, the owner is compensated to the extent of its value. When an ox falls out it is taken in hand by the contractors' ambulance surgeon; it is doctored, fed, and well treated, and in due course hired again; it again becomes disabled and is again restored, and so forth. A moderately clever animal might be trained to this performance. Obviously a service organised on this footing might be as lucrative even as the Cold Storage Company's business or that of the Hungarian horse dealer.

Sir, I have said quite enough to show that inquiry is desirable—nay, is imperatively demanded. And the Government, I believe, do not dispute that inquiry is necessary; but they say. "Postpone it to the end of the war." Let us look at this excuse. What reason is there for postponement? First of all, they plead the immensity of the field—the tens of thousands of contracts and purchases which would have to be investigated. But I confine the reference of this Committee to certain definite subjects. But even those I know would cover a large field. But if the fact that thousands and millions have gone into the contractors' hands is to debar us from inquiry, why should the House discuss war expenditure at all I A well-directed Committee could investigate samples of these contracts taken from the bulk, as it were, and form a judgment upon them. Then we are told that the military officers of the Army, even of high standing, will have to be brought back from South Africa. We had a terrible picture drawn of Lord Kitchener being taken away from his blockhouses and his enveloping movements and so forth, and brought home in a ship and sitting in a chair in a Committee-room and being examined by a Committee of the House. Nothing could be more ridiculous. ["Hear, hear."] Yes, but the ridiculous thing is in conceiving that anyone would contemplate such a proceeding as being necessary. It is perfect nonsense. There is plenty of work to be done at home in these matters. All the buying and chartering in England presents no difficulty whatever, and by the time that the Committee had done with that perhaps circumstances might relieve Lord Kitchener, or there might surely be invented some means of supplementing evidence by that of officers on the spot. But there is a commercial objection. There is the sacred secrecy of contracts and prices to be maintained. Light, we are told, would be fatal. The representative of the War Office on the Committee which sat on contracts in 1900 was very strong indeed against any prices being-disclosed, especially in the matter of transport, and it is rather curious to read his views. His principal argument was this: he was so delicate about it. He not only did not wish it to get out to the public, but he was not even willing to confide it to the members of the Committee because," he said, "some of you may be shipowners or shipbuilders. Consider that we have all these troops going to be brought home, and we should be prejudiced in making our bargain for bringing them home if these prices were known. But that was two years ago, and he might have risked it. Two reasons are given for this secrecy which I do not find easy to reconcile. The noble Lord, the Financial Secretary, lays down the canon that if you disclose prices the maximum will become the minimum; prices will be forced up. Yes; but what did Lord Lansdowne say, quoting documents to substantiate what he said? The noble Marquess said— If you disclose prices, unhealthy competition will be encouraged; low prices and inferior articles will be produced; they will do what in trade is called 'cutting' to a large extent, and the thrifty and economical instinct of the Department will jump at the low prices and accept the lower standard of the commodity. Either of these may be a good reason, but it cannot be both ways. Prices cannot go both up and down. Offer me one reason, if you like, but please do not offer me both. After all, we could face a little competition with equanimity. I suspect these are the first arguments that, having determined to resist inquiry, came into the ingenious head of the noble Lord and of those who adopted the other alternative.

Lastly, we are told that there are high reasons of State, that the inquiry will disorganise the public service and paralyse military operations. We cannot, at this time of day, screw our credulity up to this pitch. Besides, there is a little practical consideration I would urge. Why were none of these terrible forebodings urged in 1900 when a Committee was appointed on this very subject? I do not quote the other inquiries—the inquiries into the hospitals, the camps, and the remounts: but here is actually a Committee of the House of Commons appointed in 1900 to inquire into contracts. That was much more serious, because now, for the last eighteen months, we have been dealing only with a few scattered banditti, but then our forces were occupied in taking military possession of the whole country. Yet a Committee was granted on full terms and with a free hand. The First Lord of the Treasury said— The Government has no desire to put any limit whatever on the Committee as regards what has occurred within the twelve months. I cannot conceive that what was so easy and safe in 1900 can be full of danger in 1902, or that, what was white then should be black now. The inquiry which my Motion demands is an inevitable inquiry. Enough has been disclosed in these matters to make it necessary that all should be disclosed: and the Government will do best for themselves, best for the public service, best for all connected with it if, instead of using dilatory arguments, they court the earliest and fullest investigation and publicity. I make no doubt that there are many incidents in these transactions for which a strong plea can be urged, even if there should be some error of administration proved—the plea of urgency, the plea of imperious pressure of time. That I can well believe can be used in extenuation and excuse. But there is no fear that such a plea would be disregarded by a Committee of the House of Commons. We may be sure that a Committee of this House would make the most generous allowance in such a case? In much that has happened, however, no such plea exists, or can exist. But, however it may be, the mainspring of good administration is rosponsibility—the responsibility of the public servants to the Minister, the responsibility of the Minister to Parliament, the responsibility of Parliament to the country; and it is in order that we at least may riot fail in our duty by neglecting to use the great power we possess that I move the Resolution which stands in my name.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into all contracts and purchases made by or on behalf of the Government for His Majesty's forces in South Africa in respect of remounts, meat, forage, freights, and transport."—(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)

(5.23.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has broadly and ably stated the reasons why he asks for a Committee. On constitutional grounds that Committee ought to be granted by the Government for the sole reason that he asks for it. This was laid down when, during the Crimean War, a demand was made for an inquiry of a somewhat similar nature. Lord Russell then issued a minute to his colleagues, in which he said it was the constitutional duty of the Government to grant the Committee when the Opposition asked for it. But putting aside the constitutional plea. I really am surprised to hear that the Government intend to refuse this Committee. Take any municipality in the country; take, for instance, the London County Council. On that body there are Moderates and Progressives. If the Progressives had, as I believe they have, the Executive of the Council in their hands, and the Leader of the Moderates, with the approval of all his colleagues, made such charges against the Executive and demanded an inquiry, would the demand be refused? Undoubtedly it would not be, and if it were there would be a protest from almost every man in London. The same would be the case in any town in the country.

I have risen, however, because I think it is desirable to lay before the House certain facts in regard to some of the contracts which I will take as samples. The House must remember, in dealing with this question of horses, that the first essential for bringing the war to an end is a supply of good horses. It must also be remembered that when we speak of the shipping contracts made by the Government, we in no way complain of the transport contracts made by the Admiralty. The fact that the Admiralty made contracts which were fair to the taxpayer and that the War Office did not, is primâ facie evidence against the War Office. In respect of the particular meat contract to which my right hon. friend has referred, we must also renumber that, whereas this Company, which already existed, did somehow—legitimately if you like, but owing to the loose way in which the contract was entered into—make about £1,500,000, yet Mr. Bergl, who is a very experienced man in contracts, says that if he had had that contract he would have made twice as much out of it.

I will deal with the meat contract first, because it is the last contract entered into by the Government. I am bound to say that the Government have not learnt anything from experience; they have fallen into the same or even worse traps than before. The contract with the Cold Storage Company lasted only until March. The business is admitted to have been done fairly well; the complaint is that the profit was so very large. But in making the new contract, the Government were bound to see that fair competition obtained, and that all precautions were taken to ensure the contract being properly carried out. I should have said that, under the circumstances, it would have been desirable, instead of going to the middleman, as they have done so often before, to go to respectable firms directly concerned in the meat business. Let us see how they went to work. They put forward two different forms of tender—one for meat to be delivered at the port, and the other for meat to be distributed over the country occupied by our troops. There was not the remotest intention on the part of the Government to accept a tender of the first description. I think I may say that. The Government had not the means to undertake the distribution themselves, and they knew that perfectly well when they put out the forms of tender. The whole thing was simply a blind, to throw dust into the eyes of the meat contractors. There were, I believe, twenty-seven tenders, but of course, not one of them was accepted. The fact that the Government had not the means themselves to distribute is very remarkable. I believe that in most previous wars there has been a Commissary General, who has had the distribution of meat or other articles in his own hands. I should have thought that difficulty would have been got over. I think, moreover, I shall show that not only had it been decided not to accept any of these contracts delivered in part, but that it had been decided, before going into the consideration of the contracts, that the Cold Storage Company should not have the contract, and that a certain syndicate which got it should have it. The Cold Storage Company was very much in the hands of the Dutch population, which had made very large profits, and the cosmopolitan loyalists in that part of the country thought they ought to have a share, and that the next contract ought to be given to them. Those gentlemen were so strong that he was perfectly aware that the Government could not really resist them. The Cold Storage Company had fairly done its business, and it had stores and refrigerators all over the country. It is impossible for any company to go into the country and build at once these stores and refrigerators. If any person had put in a tender and not had these refrigerators, he would have found it impossible to complete his contract unless he was perfectly certain that the Government would be good enough to get refrigerators or storage places for the particular company that was tendering.

In December last Colonel Morgan came over to England. He was a gentleman on the staff in Pretoria, whose business it had been to look after the contracts there. I should like very much to know on what mission Colonel Morgan came over, what were the communications he made, and what were the discussions which took place between him and the gentlemen in the War Office. Three tenders were put in—one was from the Cold Storage Company, the other Mr. Bergl's tender, and the other the Weil tender. Bergl was a man of straw, acting for this syndicate of De Beers and others. The Leader of the Opposition asked if Mr. Weil was the same person who made a good deal of money—perhaps honestly, perhaps the reverse—out of the land transport in South Africa, and I may inform the right hon. Gentleman that he is the same person. Bergl got the contract. I think I am right in saying that Bergl tendered a halfpenny less than the Cold Storage Company for live meat and one-fiftieth of a penny less for dead meat. Of course the dead meat is where you make the profit, and I am inclined to think that if he did not pick up the profit at the War Office he picked it up from Mr. Weil. Mr. Weil was in the Cold Storage Company, and it is very-evident that his tender was an absolute sham. It was in excess of the Cold Storage tender and that of Mr. Bergl, and no sooner was the tender accepted than Mr. Weil came forward as one of the persons in Mr. Bergl's syndicate. I do not know whether the House remembers the answers given by the Secretary of State for War and the noble Lord the Financial Secretary to the War Office. We were at first informed that Bergl had got the contract, and he was put forward as a very eminent man. We were then told he was largely connected with the meat business in Australia and New Zealand. I shall show that he was not connected in any large way with the meat business in Australia; and, with regard to New Zealand, I believe he has some small store, but is not regarded as one of the leading men connected with the meat business in New Zealand. It was, I think, under pressure that we got the contract published and that the, names of these gentlemen were given. The noble Lord read out a list of names, and that was the first time they heard of them. On Tuesday last week the noble Lord said— I am not aware whether the persons who originally undertook to form the company, as shown on the papers presented to Parliament, were incorporators, but the persons whose names I mentioned in the House are carrying through the company. On Thursday the noble Lord said— The promotion of the company was carried out by the War Office with Carl Meyer. Bergl had disappeared altogether. The understanding to promote the company was signed by Carl Meyer, Solomon B. Joel and Julius Weil. They submitted a list of names of gentlemen to act on a Committee to represent the company in London. That has a thoroughly patriotic ring! Incorporators (De Beers) only promised to be directors. I think I shall be able to show that the whole thing was a knock-out from beginning to end. Bergl was an admitted dummy, and Joel, Meyer, and Weil were treating for a syndicate with these three other gentlemen. I asked the noble Lord the other day whether Lord Kitchener had been commandeering these places, and he replied that he had "acquired" them. So much were the Cold Storage Company frightened that their best stores and refrigerators would be commandeered, that they amalgamated with a number of leading Australian houses. The Government dare not treat the Colonies in that way. The Australian firms who went in with the Cold Storage Company were the leading meat merchants of Australia, and they very much doubted whether there was the slightest probability of getting in what meat they supplied, for the simple reason that they knew the meat from the River Plate Company was cheaper than Australian or New Zealand meat. There was a curious engagement made in the contract. The Government wished to stand well with New Zealand and Australia, for these countries had complained that they did not get a fail-share of the contracts. I do not believe that because we are at war we should give more for our meat in Australia than we could get it elsewhere, but that was not the view of the Government and Mr. Seddon and other eminent Australians. In the contract it was put down that "if possible" these gentlemen should get the meat from Australia or New Zealand and "give a preference," I think it was called. I asked the noble Lord whether this "if possible" meant at the same price as any other which they could possibly get. Looking at the list I do not think they are the sort of gentlemen who would sacrifice much for the love or affection of the Colonies.

Let me ask, what has become of Bergl? He has been entirely dismissed from the discussions, and I should think it is very probable that he has been given a matter of £20,000, £30,000, or £40,000 for coming forward as a dummy, and he has now disappeared altogether. The intelligent Bergl having got the contract in his own name, immediately trotted off to the Cold Storage Company to make an arrangement with them, leaving his friends in the lurch, and he suggested to the Cold Storage Company: "If you find £300,000 abroad, 'I can find £200,000. and I shall be happy to do so." I ask the House if that is the way a Government contract ought to be made. The whole thing reads like the proceedings of a company in bankruptcy. Here you have this man Bergl coming forward, who is an absolute man of straw, and then the Government treat with three other gentlemen absolutely unconnected with I the meat business. I protest against: this sort of thing, and I say that no Government ought to act in this fashion. They did not require in this matter to employ middlemen. There were respectable people in the trade, and it appears to me that if they had really done as other armies had done, and had a Commissary General to look after the distribution, they could have got meat themselves on fair terms. In any case the very fact of Bergl being put forward to the House as the person who got the contracts, and that we have discovered at this present moment that Bergl is a mere dummy, is a sufficient reason for an inquiry into the whole matter. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition says that there is a good deal that is curious and ambiguous in the matter itself. There is a great deal. I cannot find any guarantee that we are not to be done in this matter as undoubtedly we were done with the Cold Storage Company. When an animal was captured, the only persons who could buy were the Cold Storage Company. That company took the animal and handed it back to us as meat at contract prices. But whenever the cattle of the Cold Storage Company was seized by the Boers, we had to pay full value for the meat as under the contract. There was no definite thing that he could see in the contract as to the amount that was to be taken in dead meat or in live meat. It was almost left for amicable arrangement between the company and the officers engaged. The whole question of profit turns on that. The dead meat is where you get the profit. You cannot make a large profit on the whole unless these captured animals are sold as dead meat. With regard to the question of convoys we hear about their going by the railroad. The whole thing turns on the convoys. The convoys look after the meat, and if we have to pay for the convoys the company will pay for very little for their own employees. The noble Lord the Financial Secretary to the War Office did his very, best in this matter, but he reminds me of the ingenuous son of the Vicar of Wakefield when he went out to do a little business and came back with a gross of green spectacles. I should not have so high an opinion of him had he not been so thoroughly done by those sharks.

Now as to the remounts from Argentina. General Truman was before the Committee. I am going to state certain facts concerning him. I can guarantee that they are facts, and I shall leave the House to draw its own conclusions. In 1897 General Truman, Captain Peters, and Mr. Wood went out to Argentina to buy horses. In 1899, Major Aspinall and Mr. Kennedy went out. When General Truman was there he made the acquaintance of one of the Houlders. Whether Houlder was in the horse contract or not I do not absolutely know. It is stated that he was, and judging from the energetic action of the firm, I have very little doubt myself that he was. As a matter of fact, if the right hon. Gentleman will consult any respectable firm connected with Argentina he will learn that in the matter of the purchase of horses we have been thoroughly done. What was the outcome of these 26,672 horses sent from Argentina, and for which the average transport price was £14 5s. 3d.? Who got the contracts? In the main Houlder. At first he got £20 per head. I do not know whether I am correct, but I am told on good authority that the figures given in contracts were not quite correct, because it was the habit to put down the contract price at £14, and to give an extra amount of £2 or £3 for every horse landed alive from Argentina. I should like to know whether that was correct or not. What was the real price of the animals? I wanted to see what the price of horses shipped from Argentina to London would be, and I asked a friend of mine to obtain tenders from divers persons, and I found that the price at which I could get a horse was £6 10s., although we have paid £14 5s. 3d. on the average, and sometimes as high as £20. I have to point out that the journey would be very different to the Cape, because it is much shorter. It is little more than half the distance from Argentina to South Africa as compared with the distance to London. The noble Lord the Financial Secretary to the War Office said to me, in reply to a Question, that I should think of the cost of forage, and also the expense for the fittings of the ships. The cost of these ship fittings for horse" is £1 per head, but when they are for the Government—the Government may perhaps be a little more exacting in their demands—I am told that the cost may be £1 10s. per head, but we will say £2. Forage is not at all an expensive thing. The horses during the voyage are not given oats. They were perhaps given oats on the last day, to allow them to land in good condition, but as a rule these unfortunate animals are fed on maize and hay, which can be bought at exceedingly low prices. I find that General Truman is, in his own name, the possessor of five shares in Houlders' Company, but he has also, with Mr. Matthew Truman, twenty preference and forty ordinary shares. Major Peters is the possessor of 200 shares, having a value of £1,000; and the nephew of General Truman, very soon after the acquaintanceship to which I have referred, was appointed a clerk in Houlder's office, where he occupied a good position. I believe he is at present in a responsible position in one of Houlder's Companies in Australia. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition has told us what these Argentina horses were. It is not the least surprising, considering how we bought them. If you are ready to buy good horses and pay good prices, but allow the middleman to step in and take half the amount, you cannot get a good reasonable article. That was the case in regard to Argentina horses, according to the testimony both of Lord Kitchener and Mr. Bergl. The noble Lord opposite cannot tell us what price we have paid. He says that would have a bad effect on the prices we are paying now. I entirely deny that. If a man had a large number of horses to sell he must hold them hack for a little, but whenever he ascertained the ordinary price at which the Government could get horses, you may be perfectly certain that they would get the horses. But when you go through the middleman you know perfectly well that this country is being done as regards price, and that we are getting an uncommonly bad article.

Now L come to Australian horses. Australia is a very good instance of the way in which horses are bought and what we give for transport. In 1896 Mr. Lindley and our friend Mr. Bergl were partners in Australia. They had a little meat business in Bowen which, in 1897, became Bergl, Australia, Limited, with a capital of £60,000, two-fifths of which went to Bergl. In 1899 Lindley was bought out. Houlder made this agreement with Bergl. He had agreed to find the working capital. He found it either on mortgage or mortgage debentures, so that practically to all intents and purposes Bergl was about as much a dummy as he has been in the Cold Storage Company. The whole thing was simply Houlders underanother name. We wanted horses in Australia and Queensland, and we sent out an agent to the district of which Bowen is the centre. Immediately afterwards Mr. Houlder arrived. They are very clever people, the Messrs. Houlder. In the district of which Bowen is the centre there is a large number of breeders living on the ranches. They have very good horses, as all breeders have, but they have also second and third-class horses. Their speciality is cavalry horses for India at from £10 to £12 per head. When those breeders heard that we wanted horses they were anxious to know the price, but it was guarded with so much secrecy that they could not get it. I am told that these breeders never could get out of the English Government what price they were willing to pay for horses. If they could only have learned the price the breeders would have sent any number of good horses at £10, £11, or £12 Advertisements appeared in newspapers from "Bergl, Australia," to buy horses and Bergl was really the go-between. Bergl, Australia, was themain provider of horses. They got horses, and if you get a lot of "crocks" and somebody offered you a certain sum of money for them, of course they are sold. I am told on good authority that the actual price paid by the Government for these horses was £14. Bergl, Australia, Limited, however, advertised in the Australian papers for horses, and their people went about to the breeders with an offer of from £4 to £6, and they got horses at that price, but they were not chargers. I am given to understand that the price paid by the Government was £14 to Bergl, Australia, and other middlemen. These middlemen paid rubbish prices and got rubbishy articles. All the carriage of these horses was wasted, for they were absolutely worthless. I think that shows a very good profit.

The Secretary of State for War says that he told Lord Kitchener that he must not overwork his horses. The right hon. Gentleman says that he told him that the horses were sent up from the coast too soon, and that no two people ever agreed upon a horse. In this case every person who has seen the horses provided by the War Office considers them to be wretched creatures, and there is no disagreement in regard to that. Houlders got a contract for shipping from Brisbane in 1900 at from £16 to £18, and in 1901 at £18. At that time the Government were buying 5,000 horses for Baden-Powell's Police, and the contract was made with a Mr. Bertram, who made a sub-contract with a Mr. Sleigh at £8. While £16 to £18 was being paid to Houlders, a contract was being made on their account at £8, and Mr. Sleigh said that he made a very good contract at £6 10s. What was the loss? Horses might have been had for £7, or, with transport £8 and incidentals £2, at £17 per horse. What was paid? Fourteen pounds for the horse and £18 for transport, or £,'32. For good chargers the price would have been £12, or, with transport £8 and incidentals £2, £22 for a good, useful horse, instead of these miserable horses which were condemned as soon as they got there. I believe there were contracts for horses delivered at the Cape at £40 per head. Therefore. I think I have shown pretty clearly that something needs to be inquired into with regard to these facts.

I must now come back to our old friend Hungary, because although we have been somewhat surprised in regard to the transactions in Hungary, I think the House will be still more surprised at a few more facts. The House will remember that the Yeomanry Committee was left to buy these horses, and Lewison got a contract for 1,000 horses at.£35 per horse, a man named Ranucci got a contract for 1,000 at £35, and another man, Vickers, a contract for 1,000 at £49 per head delivered at the Cape. Lewison bought out Ranucci for £8,000 and offered to buy out Vickers for £7,000. He also agreed to pay Hartigan 2⅓ per cent. on what he received, amounting to something between £2,000 and £3,000. This is to say that he spent on these two contracts £15,000 to acquire them. He got later on a telegram—" Come back; complications "—from the Yeomanry Committee. He returned, and they told him that all these contracts were to be cancelled—the contracts with himself, Ranucci, and with Vickers; but in consideration of this, a new contract was given to Lewison to deliver 1,500 at £33 16s. 8d. per horse, and there was an engagement that all these horses should be bought through Lewison, and a further contract was made with him for 2,300 horses at, £26. Subsequently the War Office took the purchase of horses for the Yeomanry into their own hands, and made a contract with Hauser at £23. Hauser was paying £8, so that even then the Government were paying more than the amount they ought to have paid. It is not surprising to hear that these horses were looked upon as worthless for cavalry horses, because the Austrian Government themselves give £30 for remounts, and how do you suppose you can get cavalry remounts there for £8 or £9 when the Austrian Government are prepared to give £30? As to transport, Vickers made an agreement with a Mr. Van Laun to carry the horses to South Africa at £16 per head. When Vickers was put aside, Mr. Lewison was applied to as to the transport, and he at once said, "I know a man, Mr. Van Laun," having taken good care to secure a commission from Mr. Van Laun (who was paid by the Yeomanry Committee) for the transport of the first 1,400 horses—£26 13s. 4d. per head, and beyond that number £28. Vickers said that he had informed Colonel St. Quintin of his arrangement with Van Laun. Why, then, should the Committee pay £26 and £28 to the man who had previously agreed to carry horses for £16 per head? If the House will look at the evidence given before the Departmental Committee on Hungarian horses they will see these figures. I asked the noble Lord whether he could give me any information in regard to Hartigan's evidence, and his reply was— I have no information concerning the South African Company and the officer referred to. At any rate, the War Office information was very defective, but I have the information, and the House of Commons will very soon have it also. Prior to this, an agreement of a most extraordinary character had been made between the War Office and the Chartered Company. This agreement was that the Chartered Company should provide an army; they were to find the men, the horses, the equipment, and we were to pay the bill. Naturally, the Company wanted to buy horses, and, amongst other places, they determined to send to Hungary.


To what date does the hon. Member refer?


I think it was 1900 that this agreement was entered into between the War Office—or perhaps it was the Colonial Office; at any rate, between the Government and the Chartered Company.


For Carrington's Horse.


Whether it was for Carrington's Horse or not, it was for a large number of men. But the point is that they were to provide the horses and equipment, and we were to pay for them. Why, I say the War Office knew of the existence of Major Arm strong. I am not in the least complaining that I was given an evasive answer, because probably the right hon. Gentleman himself did not know, as he was not at the War Office at the time, but, as a matter of fact, the Chartered Company were in the habit of sending in the names of the men they were going to use in passing the horses and of the veterinary surgeons they were employing, and one of those sent in was Major Armstrong and the "vet." who accompanied him to South Africa was named Wells. Major Armstrong, when he obtained this appointment, was living at Biarritz.; The yard was the yard of the Chartered Company; Major Armstrong was, I suppose, at the head of it, and his name was one which the Chartered Company had already submitted to the Government. That is why I say the Government did know, or ought to have known, when I asked who this Major Armstrong was. What happened in this yard? We know that Lewison's and Hauser's horses were not of the first grade; but there were some even worse than the Lewison's horses which we accepted—those that we rejected. Those horses, however, were immediately drawn into the Chartered Company's yard, passed, sent over to South Africa, and we had to pay for the very horses we had rejected. Here were two sets of gentlemen, the Yeomanry Committee and the Chartered Company's representatives, sent to buy horses in competition with each other in the same town, and Colonel Maclean, our representative, had not the remotest idea that we were buying those horses under the name of the Chartered Company, or that Major Armstrong was being paid for them by us. Is not that the very climax of absurdity, and does it not demonstrate the absence of the most elementary ideas of simple business? Of course, I need not say there was a Houlder here. Houlder arrived on the scene with—I do not know how he got it—a letter of recommendation to Major Armstrong. He got the contract for carrying these horses to South Africa. When they arrived, there was no sort of inspection; we took them blindly; we accepted them because the Chartered Company said they were good ones. What has become of them? How much did we pay for them? How much did we pay the worthy Houlder for transporting them? The Chartered Company also bought horses in Argentina, and at New Orleans, What became of those horses? What did we pay for them? There again, Houlder was the person who carried the horses over. How much did we pay the worthy Houlder? In The United States, the Chartered Company seemed to have made a contract for horses and mules with a Mr. Anson. I should like to know what that contract was. There was one contract for horses in the name of Mr. Anson, connected with the War Office, which Mr. Anson sold to Mr. Leiter for a very large sum of money. I ask myself—because I do not know—whether that was this particular contract with the Chartered Company, or whether Mr. Anson had two contracts. If ever an inquiry was needed, I think one is needed in regard to these matters. The Financial Secretary the other day, in answer to a Question, said there had been certain frauds discovered in reference to equipments, saddlery, bandoliers, etc., into which an investigation was being made. We know a large number of shoddy saddles and bandoliers were rejected here. I should like to know whether those were the saddles and bandoliers in regard to which there has been fraud; also whether the investigation is in connection with this bargain with the Chartered Company, or whether it is between the War Office and their employees in South Africa and the persons who committed the frauds.

But I have not got to the end of this remarkable bargain. The Chartered Company were to get men. They sent a Mr. Goode to America for that purpose. He passed though the United States, and arrived in Canada, where he had interviews with Lord Minto and Sir Wilfred Laurier. After that, there was a correspondence between the Colonial Office and Sir Wilfred Laurier or Lord Minto, with the result that Mr. Goode was withdrawn. I suppose Mr. Goode was withdrawn because he was told that the Canadians were not going to stand this sort of nonsense; they were prepared to send soldiers for the British Army, but they were not prepared to allow their country to be used as a recruiting or crimping ground for the mythical soldiers of the Chartered Company. The arrangement with the Yeomanry Committee was startling enough; but this grandiose arrangement with the Chartered Company, under which we have to pay without having an opportunity of verifying whether a proper price was paid, or whether the article was worth anything at all, is even more startling. What became of the whole army? What have we paid altogether? Have any steps been taken to to check the prices? Has any sort of investigation been made to see if the articles were of any value whatever, or absolute rubbish? This is a case in which a Committee is positively necessary. There are a great many other contracts—forage contracts, equipment contracts, land transport contracts in South Africa—and there are the contracts which have been entered into in England and Ireland in respect of the purchase of horses at home.

I said at the beginning of my speech that I would merely produce a few samples. I have been able to state only the broad facts in regard to those samples; if I entered into details I should require hours. But I put it to any business man opposite: Have I not made out a fair case for an inquiry? I think I have. I know perfectly well the Government will resist it. Does the Government say they will have the inquiry at the end of the war? They want to put it off till Doomsday. Even the Hungarian Remounts Committee made such revelations that the country was perfectly astounded; and the Government newspapers, which up to now have told us that if we dared to say a word against the Government we were traitors to our country, complained of the action of the Government, and said they supported the Government because if they did not they would go from bad to worse, and might possibly fall into the hands of the Gentlemen on this side of the House. But the Government have a majority, and by that majority they can burke inquiry. It would, however, be most unfair if they did so. This is a case which concerns the Government themselves; they are the magistrates; to all intents and purposes they sit on the bench and decide whether or not there is a case for inquiry; they know that they are responsible, directly or indirectly, for all that has occurred, and in refusing an inquiry they are acting as magistrates in their own case. If they take that course, the country must be left to form its own conclusion. I do not think there is much doubt about that conclusion. The country may have been fogged in regard to the origin of the war, but in this matter of business they are not absolute fools, and they will come to the opinion that things must be bad, and probably that they are worse than really is the case, for the Government to refuse to grant such an inquiry as has been granted on former occasions, particularly during the Crimean War. I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are perfectly honest, well-meaning, and painstaking; but taking them as business men, charged with important concerns, I really believe if you look at the first twelve men in the street you would find men who could not be worse, and who in all probability would be better.

(6.30.) Mr. BRODRICK

Judging from the condition of the Opposition Benches, it would be difficult to realise that we are discussing a Motion of want of confidence in the Government brought forward by the Leader of the Opposition, and for which two days are demanded. Nor do we find further evidence in the degree of enthusiasm excited by the speeches which have occupied the last two hours, or the tone of the speech with which the Motion was introduced. In that speech and the whole tone of it there was an absence of that element which I will venture to say would have commended itself to the attention of Members on both sides of the House, and that is if the right hon. Gentleman had pleaded, as he might have done if he had had a case, that refusal of his Motion would, in some way or other, militate against the effective conduct of the war. Not a word was there in that speech from first to last about the effectual conduct of the war. The essence of the speech was a Party attack upon the Government, without any allegation that Lord Kitchener, and the troops under his command, are suffering owing to mistakes said to have been made. ["Oh, oh."] Certainly not. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman. If there are, let him tell me in what particular in regard to these contracts the Army in the field are being ill-supplied, or show that we have failed in any source of supply to meet the wants of the troops, except in some instances in the kind of horses, which in every instance have been supplied more largely than they were asked for.

The right hon. Gentleman's conduct from before the commencement of the war has been of a piece all along. Before the war, he urged in this House that this country had nothing to justify war, nothing to justify preparation for war; and within six months the right hon. Gentleman patrolled his Party into the lobby for a vote of censure on the Government for want of foresight in preparing for war; and now he comes forward, and I thought possibly he might make a speech which would have the advantage of a death-bed repentance, and that he would in a patriotic spirit urge us to take up subjects we had neglected. But, instead of that, his speech resolves itself into the mere consideration, not whether we can improve the supplies, but whether the Government should be forced at a moment of the greatest pressure to handicap the Department on which the life of the war depends, by drawing away the attention of officials to make inquiry into the past, rather than to make the first object provision for the present. The feeling of unreality that pervades that speech from first to last could not be better accentuated than by an expression used in regard to the contracts. The right hon. Gentleman said grave danger would accrue to the country from the high pitch of organisation attained by Government purveyors, is it the right hon. Gentleman's ideal that, in providing for our troops in enormous numbers and under severe conditions, we should rely on purveyors without organisation I Does he lend the weight of his high authority to the absurd fallacy cast about with jokes that, when we have contracts to give involving expenditure of from four to five millions a year, we should not try to find capitalists on whom we can depend and who can be depended upon to carry out their contracts? What docs he mean when he says that a high pitch of organisation among contractors is a danger to the country? From my point of view, and feeling very acutely on the whole of this subject, so far as the debate has gone it has not seemed to me to carry us much further in the direction I most desire to go, in elucidation of the real facts of the case.

Let the House clearly understand what is the real point of difference between us and the right hon. Gentleman. We recognise, as every Member of the House must recognise, that a business carried on and expanded to ten or twenty times its usual size within a very short time must be carried on with some faults and some mistakes and loss of money. There is no man in the House can desire so earnestly as I do that these matters, having been raised, should be inquired into and reported upon. There is no position so intolerable for a Minister of this House as that of having to maintain responsibility and to be attacked day by day, not only in the House but by innuendoes outside the House; to hear continual charges made of incapacity and corruption against a Department while being unable to bring at the earliest possible moment these allegations to the test and vindicate, as we can vindicate, the character of those who have made these contracts. Because we refused to have a full inquiry into the war while the war is going on, we incurred grave censure from that side of the House; but the first moment we did publish—before I was responsible, though I take the responsibility for that also—the first moment that we published despatches which reflected on the conduct of certain officers, we incurred a double censure from the Opposition for doing, in response to a definite inquiry and on the smallest scale, that which we are called upon in the most vehement language to do in regard to the widest operations. We have no fear of nquiry. We have nothing to fear; and when the inquiry takes place it will reveal nothing of which the Government will have cause to be ashamed. I have nothing to fear or deprecate in inquiry. I press for it. I demand it as the right of my Department. The sole question between us and the right hon. Gentleman is not a question of principle, it is a question of time.

I will—if the House will allow me—show as briefly as I can to the House why no Minister responsible for the conduct of a war on this scale can possibly contemplate with equanimity an inquiry of the magnitude suggested by the right hon. Gentleman while the war is proceeding. Now, I take first the case of the remounts. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down into the number of cases he has brought out and which, I confess, I thought he brought out at great length with very little authority behind them. He told us a long story founded on gossip as to the relations of certain persons who had taken contracts with certain other persons, failing to touch the main question whether the contracts were made on proper terms. He said he was about to astonish the House on the subject of remounts purchased in Hungary, and he brought forward a story uncorroborated, unsupported, and without anything to commend it to our notice, that horses rejected by His Majesty's Government were subsequently bought by an official of the Chartered Company. Well, he may be right or wrong.


My authority was Mr. Lewison.


Well, be introduces one witness who was refused a contract or the renewal of a contract, and that is what is implicitly believed by hon. Members on the other side. He let us have an end to these absurd views of this matter. For every man who gets a contract from the Government, there are probably fifteen or twenty who are disappointed because they do not get contracts. I spend much of my time in deciding against some of these men who have no status, no power to carry out a contract, who come with strong recommendations, sometimes from Members of Parliament; and I have had such who said, if I did not give him the contract, a Member would call me to account in the House.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

Did you kick him out of the office?


These are the men who go to newspapers—to some newspaper—with stories about horses thirty-five years old having been purchased by the Government, or some equally absurd cock-and-bull stories, which are copied into minor newspapers throughout the country, who ask us to prove such a thing when we are buying 15,000 a month; and it is assumed by some people that His Majesty's Government have been fools enough to allow themselves to be duped. But all this gossip I dismiss. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman made the observations he did in regard to General Truman. He must know that my hands are absolutely tied at this moment in regard to General Truman. General Truman's name was mentioned very strongly in debate in the House, and the right hon. Gentleman, without citing his authority for the statement, says that I, next day, because of what occurred in the House, called on General Truman to resign. But the right hon. Gentleman entirely ignored, or did not remember, the explanation I gave in this House. I said I could not go beyond that statement, because the matter would go before a Court of Inquiry; but that I had had occasion to bring before the Commander-in-Chief certain points in regard to General Truman some months before, and that I felt he was not sufficiently strong for the position he occupied. There were certain points in his evidence given before the Committee upon which I told General Truman I could not defend him in the House of Commons. I also told General Truman that I had in contemplation a scheme for there-organisation of his Department, and that his position would have to be considered. When the question arose as to the action of this officer, General Truman asked for a Court of Inquiry, and this was granted. I gave him a Court of Inquiry on the suggestion of the Commander-in-Chief, and that I submit was a proper military position to take up. If I am to be denied the right of bringing before a Court of Inquiry the officer about whose conduct—not as affecting his honour, but in relation to his capacity—doubts have arisen, whether expressed in this House or not, then I say that the whole system of calling Ministers to account in this House is a farce. If they are not to be allowed to inquire in their own Department as to the truth of any allegation, it is a farce.

I will tell the House frankly how we stand in regard to remounts. It is quite true that attacks have been made upon the price paid for the horses sent from Hungary in the first instance. I will not labour the point that those horses were ordered by the Yeomanry Committee, and that no one connected with the War Office was in any way responsible for the passing of them. The work was delegated by my predecessor, and in my opinion rightly delegated, at a time when the War Office was conducting a business ten or twenty times larger than any it had undertaken before. But with regard to the utility of those horses, and whether they were well chosen or not, we have no evidence as yet, except that of prejudiced persons. It is perfectly true that it has transpired in South Africa that neither the Hungarian nor Argentine horses, nor, in some cases, the horses from North America, were satisfactory unless they were corn-fed, and most of them are not. It has been established that, though they may be good-looking and sound and pass every test, they do not stand the immense work of trekking in South Africa. But that is an impeachment, not against our veterinary surgeons and purchase officers, but against the horse supply of the world. At this moment we have the greatest difficulty in procuring horses. We have made demands for horses of a particular stamp on the horse market world which are unprecedented in the history of the world. We have taken an enormous number of horses away from Australia, and it is difficult for us to get the precise horse described by the right hon. Gentleman, the small compact horse suitable for the purpose. We have the same difficulty in North America. We are in some cases, so great are our exertions, bringing horses a fifteen and twenty days journey in trucks to the ports where they are to be shipped. We have secured the best officers we can, and if the service is not good at this moment, it is due not to want of attention on the part of those who conduct it. I realised soon after I took office that the service, especially in regard to the remount depots in South Africa, required most careful attention. After repeated communication with Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts decided to send out Lord Downe and Colonel Hotham to South Africa. We have not yet received their report; but I am glad to say that they report in general, as far as they have gone, that the organisation of the remount depots in South Africa—I will not say is perfect, for nothing is perfect—but has now at all events reached a high pitch of efficiency. They are thoroughly satisfied that the best is being done for the horses. The same difficulties have occurred in Australia, and we have asked them to go to Australia, and they are due to arrive there in a few days. We have sent for inspection work to Hungary two officers (one an artillery officer). We have sent to the United States also, to inspect and report on the system there, General Stewart and another artillery officer. We have sent a commission to Palestine; and we have a transaction, which I hope will be effective, with those who more directly provide horses for the Hungarian cavalry, with the object of opening some part of the Hungarian market again to us for a higher stamp of horse. There is also a special cargo from the Argentine. And there is absolutely no attempt which can be made to improve the supply of horses which has not been made, or which is not being made by the Government at this moment.

I put these facts before the House for this reason. To ask us at this moment to submit all these operations to a Committee of the House will be not to advance our efforts, but to paralyse the Department altogether. If an inquiry is to be of any use, it must relate to the earlier periods of the war. In Australia, at the earlier stages, there were four officers purchasing for us; one is now in South Africa, and one is in Egypt. You must recall them both if you wish to know what was the value of the contracts which have been called in question by the hon. Member for Northampton. We have had five officers in Argentina. Two are now in South Africa and one is in North America. We had two officers in Italy purchasing mules; one is now in South Africa. We had five in Spain; one is now in Canada and one in North America. The veterinary surgeons, whose evidence you must have, are scattered all over the world, either purchasing in other places or travelling in the ships which are landing horses at the rate of 400 a day in South Africa. Either you must make your inquiry partial or stop all these operations. Let me say this. I reject altogether the proposal made by the late Prime Minister that the inquiry should begin, and that the officers who are attacked should be left to make good their case afterwards. How can you expect men on active service, or doing severe remount work in South Africa, or purchasing for you in New Orleans or Melbourne, to keep up their feeling of self-respect and honour when innuendoes of this sort are to be made against them on this side of the water, and when they are told that some six months or a year hence they may come over and give a different story? This is not a picture which has been overdrawn. You had, in a solemn debate in the House of Lords, the late Prime Minister impeaching the honour of British officers and taking away the character of a man who has commanded the Royal Dragoons on the evidence of an hotel waiter, who accused a man who has never smoked in his life of living on the cigars of a contractor; and who went bail for the inefficiency of 600 horses without, perhaps, knowing any more about horses than a gentleman who has never ridden one. When you get that sort of evidence at the expense of an officer, who has felt it acutely, what will be the sort of feeling among the men pulled up by the hon. Member for Northampton to give evidence before a Committee whose doings are solemnly recorded before the whole public? These men are to have their characters taken away, and are told that in a year's time they may come over and vindicate themselves.

Sir, the right hon Gentleman gives his own case away in this respect. He wants to begin this inquiry, and he makes light of these difficulties. But the main counts on which he arraigns us are in regard to the contracts made in South Africa or abroad. The meat contract, which was made a year and two months ago, was made by Lord Kitchener himself in South Africa. There have been a lot of stories about land transport in South Africa, and bullocks taught to lie down and resuscitate themselves from time to time. There is no man in this House or at the War Office who can answer these questions. You must call back the supply officers responsible for distributing supplies to 220,000 men at this moment. The remounts I have already dealt with. On what pretence is all this to be done? I will not deny the right of the House to inquiry and to the fullest information which can be given; but the right hon. Gentleman, and still more the hon. Member for Northampton, when they came to discuss the meat contract, first put at the highest the enormous profits made by the Cold Storage Company, and then proceeded to denounce all the means by which we had broken down that monopoly and obtained a cheaper contract. They say we were wrong in having a competition in which there were only three contractors at the finish. Can we make contractors? We have tried various means. We have tried to divide contracts, and to enable those who could not distribute to land the supply at Cape ports. But there remained three contractors in at the finish, and the right hon. Gentleman discovers collusion between the three. The Cold Storage Company, who lost the whole business, are supposed to have been in collusion with a totally different set of men, who have taken it from them. Mr. Weil puts it at a higher figure and is defeated. When he finds that a syndicate is being got up to work the contract—and we are accused of not being business men because we give the contract to a syndicate who have half a million or a million capital instead of to a man who could not be expected to have so much capital—when Mr. Weil finds that a syndicate is formed and joins that syndicate, then there is collusion between him and the men who got the contract at a lower figure and cut him out of taking the whole profit.

The whole tone in which this particular contract has been discussed illustrates, I venture to say, the flimsy nature of the arguments by which the Motion is supported. I quite admit that the first contract was given at too-high a price; but it was a very speculative contract for those who took it. High interest means bad security. The Cold Storage Company made too large a sum; but if we are to investigate that contract, then, indeed, that operation which the right hon. Gentleman thought to be so ridiculous, must take place, and Lord Kitchener, amongst other officers, must be recalled in order to explain what should be self-evident to the House—that that contract was given at a time when the first object of any contract was to feed the troops at all hazards, and when we should have incurred the censure of every Member if any soldier had gone hungry because we had refused to give more than eightpence for a thing which the contractor offered to provide for ninepence. The best proof that that contract was justified in that respect is in the remarks made by Lord Roberts long before any question with regard to it came up, when he said— My wishes were always forestalled with regard to supplies. It is true that the men did not always receive full rations; but that was caused by the length of the lines of communications and by the difficulties of distribution. Never a day since the beginning of the war, certainly last year, has any man gone short in the matter of supply because it was not sent from here in proper condition when landed at Cape Town. These have been the difficulties of calling witnesses.

Now let me ask the House to consider the condition of the Department into which you seek to inquire. The two Departments of the War Office more particularly concerned are the Quartermaster-General's Department and the Contracts Department. Many hard things have been said of the Contracts Department; but after all a Committee of the House appointed two years ago made a report which shows that matters in that Department were far better than most hon. Members believe them to be. I will give the House some figures which will show the pressure on that Department. The ordinary equipment of that Department in 1898–99 was thirty-two officials; now it is extended to sixty-nine officials. The number of papers dealt with last year before the war was 48,000; the numbers received in 1900–01 were 124,000. The tenders issued in 1898–99 were 45,000; last year they were 114,000. The number of contracts placed, into the majority of which the right hon. Gentleman desires that the House should inquire, were 10,000 last year. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of forage—and of forage alone separate contracts placed in London were 1,300, the amount covered by them being over 500,000 tons of hay and 600,000 tons of oats. Then there were innumerable contracts placed in South Africa. These demands have not been met without the most self-sacrificing energy on the part of the members of that Department. I have had the average taken out of the papers for 1899. Their proper working day is seven hours. In 1899 they were working close on nine hours a day; in 1900 they were working all the year round between eleven and twelve hours a day. In 1901, by various help in the way of staff, they were working nine and ten hours a day; but at present the average is nine and a half hours a day. I ask the House how is it proposed that these men under the heads of Departments, on whom these responsible tenders are pressing at the rate of 10,000 a year, and contracts at the rate of 300 a week, should divert their minds from their proper business while the pressure lasts and come before a Committee to answer questions on every paper?

I was at the War Office after the war of 1882–83–84. That was a small war, only 30,000 men being engaged in it. But there were ten times as many scandals connected with that war than there have been with this war, in which you have had ten times as many men engaged. Inquiries were in full swing when I came to the War Office. I say as a matter of experience that it is absolutely impossible to get good work out of the heads of Departments while attending Committees. They had to attend twice a week, and on every occasion they were asked for returns, papers, and particular cases; and quite right, too. I myself, if I had anything to say, should present certain cases which must be brought in. But when a man has to answer questions he must make himself master of these cases, and when his reputation is at stake he knows that a man may lose the reputation of thirty years in an examination of as many minutes. It is not in reason to ask men who are engaged in this manner to quit all their ordinary duties in order that an examination of this character may be held a few months earlier. That is my case. We have heard a great deal of what I may call "sniping" in another place; and I am glad that this inquiry is put in a concrete form in the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition. What is the value of these discussions in another place, in which one noble Lord urges that the remounts must be inquired into, while another noble Lord says that in South Africa every column he saw was admirably mounted? Another noble Lord said that the wine contracts should be inquired into, because the wine was bad, while another noble Lord, who said that he had been in hospital for weeks, never heard a word of complaint about the wine. If there were burning scandals going on which impaired the efficiency of our troops, I would say cast everything to the winds and inquire; but I would ask hon. Members whether there has been any war in which there has been less complaint by the troops than the present war. I noticed the other night the Crimean War. My right hon. friend the Member for North East Manchester was there. Let him tell the House what was the condition of our 20,000 to 30,000 troops as compared with the 200,000 men we have in South Africa. Or take the Soudan campaign, for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible.

The right hon. Gentleman was at the War Office in 1880–82. I do not want to pursue his history there, or to put anything on him which he cannot properly bear. But I must say that, if the right hon. Gentleman comes here to vindicate War Office efficiency, the circumstances in which he left the War Office in 1895, the position in which he left the country, not merely in regard to small-arm ammunition, which did come out, but to the efficiency of the artillery, which did not come out—it was too serious at the time to bring out—were such that if complication had ensued in South Africa—[" Hear, hear," from Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNBRMAN.] The right hon. Gentleman cheers ironically, but twice the amount of ammunition he left was soon running short in South Africa; and the whole of the artillery he left was such that, if we had depended on his supply, we must have cleared out of South Africa after the first three months. In the 1882 war there were scandals with regard to warlike stores which have not occurred in South Africa. There were complaints of scandals with regard to camels, with regard to almost every store and appliance which the then Government had provided. I ask any officer who may have served in both campaigns, an officer like the hon. Member for the Biggleswade Division of Bedfordshire. Let my hon. friend say in which campaign, although these enormous demands have been made in South Africa, the troops were best supplied. I will not trouble the House with regard to any foreign war, a war like the Russo-Turkish war. But we have had one war lately in which a great nation undertook a task three or four times as large as they ever expected to undertake, not far from our own condition, though much smaller in degree than the American war. I think there are Members of the House who saw something of that campaign. Let any of them tell the House who come best out of it. Did we, or the American Government? If you make a comparison, the inference would be that there has not only been a marked improvement, but an immense improvement, in all our organisation; and, this being so, I think we should not be in too great a hurry to allege that the Government are trying to shield themselves in that work for a few months and to put off the inquiry.

Sir, my appeal to the House is based not on any consideration for the Department, but solely and simply on the efficiency of the public service. I do not want to be shielded myself. I am ready to come forward in respect of the main trouble, and I am anxious that all the facts should be made public, but I appeal to the House to let this case be fought out on the ground of efficiency. I would appeal to Members on the opposite side of the House on the ground of the efficient conduct of the war. I make no appeal to those who have hung on our backs throughout, and who have, by speech and action in the House, encouraged our enemies. Their utterances, and those of the Leader of the Opposition, are written indelibly in the hearts of all our soldiers in South Africa. Nor do I make any appeal to those who just a week ago cheered so loudly the discomfiture of Lord Methuen. But I do appeal to all Members of the House who desire the campaign to be satisfactorily carried through to support the Government, not in burking any inquiry at the present moment for their own advantage, but in postponing it to a season when it can be properly carried through, being confident in the interval that everything which devotion to the public service can do will be done to provide our Army in the field with those things which will make it efficient with the least possible cost to the public.

*(7.15.) MR. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)

said that after the speech made be the Leader of the Opposition they had a right to expect a common-sense reply from the Secretary of State for War, not an harangue full of Party feeling. It was very much to be regretted that the Secretary of State for War had failed to keep free from Party feeling in the speech he had just delivered. This was a debate of a business nature alone, and there had been brought into it by the right hon. Gentleman all kinds of feeling with reference to past wars and past Ministers. In fact, they had every kind of argument that need not have been applied, and they had none of the arguments that ought to have been applied. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he would not give an inquiry now. He did not state that an inquiry ought not to be given. He brought forward the argument that it would be inconvenient for the Department to be disturbed in its present work. There was some weight in the former portions of his speech, and had the right hon. Gentleman not proceeded to arouse Party feeling, he should have respected him more. Allegations had been openly made in the Press, and in this House, against officers employed in the Remount Department in connection with the purchase of horses in the past, but the right hon. Gentleman declined to bring those persons home at present. He should think that if any employer of labour heard a serious charge brought against one of his agents, with sufficient primâ facie evidence to back it up, that employer would not object to have an inquiry because it would distract him in the carrying on of his business. He would at all costs withdraw that agent and employ some one else, and before employing that agent further, he would satisfy himself as to the charge which had been brought. But the argument brought forward was that those officers who were charged with misconduct were not to have the charges investigated.


asked what misconduct the hon. Gentleman alluded to.


said he used the term rather loosely, perhaps, but he meant in the sense of incapacity for the work of buying horses. To say that officers who were charged on sufficient primâ facie evidence with incapacity for the work of horse buying should not have the charges investigated, appeared to him to be the height of ineptitude. The right hon. Gentleman assumed that the Motion was to inquire into the 10,000 contracts a year which were dealt with, but that was a misconception on his part, if not an attempt to mislead the House as to the meaning of the Motion. No one supposed that the whole thing could be gone into. There had been certain charges of incapacity or misconduct in regard to particular officers brought before the House, and he said it was the duty of the Government immediately to investigate these charges. To delay the inquiry would be to encourage inefficiency. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that nothing was brought forward to show that any of the alleged defects with regard to the War Office contracts had interfered with the efficient conduct of the war. He justified the first meat contract upon the ground of the punctuality of the delivery of the material. That might have been so but there were serious allegations of treason in connection with that punctuality. It was said that the nature of conditions in carrying out the contract enabled many persons who were not in sympathy with this country and its warlike operations to know about the movements of the troops, and to be in a position to give information to the enemy.

The right hon. Gentleman had challenged them to point out what had happened in regard to the efficient-carrying on of the war on account of the contracts. That was a matter which was not before the House at present. What they wished to bring before the House was that officers who had been buying horses in the past were still at work buying horses for the present and the future. It was very clear that many of the stampedes and the boltings of horses had been due to the breakdown of the Remount Department. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to suggest that the proposed inquiry into the efficiency of the Remount Department with the view of improving it in future had nothing to do with the efficient conduct of the war? The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the preparations for this war as compared with those for the Crimean war almost half a century ago. He should have thought that improvements had inevitably been made in our system since then. He regretted that it was impossible for him to move the Amendment of which he bad given notice, but he would give the House the facts which be desired to state. The House had been told that three years prior to the outbreak of the war officers of the Remount Department went to the River Plate. There they made the acquaintance of a prominent member of the firm which had shipped so many horses, and which bad become prominently connected with the second meat contract. It was a fact that Messrs. Truman and Peters got on terms of friendly acquaintance with a member of the firm of Houlder Brothers. He believed that so close was that acquaintance that at the end of the visit, and when coming away, a presentation by the officers to a member of the firm took place. He brought no charge against the firm of Houlder Brothers from a business point of view. According to the canons of business he supposed it was justifiable for Houlder Brothers, or any other firm, to obtain business by every lawful operation. He meant by every lawful operation, one which did not come within the reach of the law. He asked the Secretary of State for War if he had inquired, as he had promised, into the case of Major Peters. The allegation against Major Peters was that at the time he was a remount officer and in friendly relations with this particular firm, he invested two sums of £500 each in the proprietary of two ships built specially for the convoy of horses from the River Plate to South Africa, which ships afterwards passed into the Houlder Line. This was done at the time when Major Peters was an officer of the Department which had the giving out of contracts for the conveyance of horses. If this was the case, as it was alleged to be, he submitted that the connection between the officer and the firm was so near as to demand injury by the War office into the bona fides of Major Peters.

He was loth to mention the name of Major General Truman, whose ease was sub judice, but he alleged that General Truman was himself a shareholder, both personally and with a companion, in Houlder Brothers, and that his nephew was employed by that firm. It had been alleged to him by a person competent to make the allegation that General Truman's nephew was after a short period employed at a higher salary on the ground that his uncle was giving contracts from the War Office. That nephew was still in the employment of the firm of Houlder Brothers. These were things which suggested the commencement of that long and growing connection between the War Office and the particular firm which gave so much reason for suspicion. It was all very well for a Minister to stand up for his Department, it was perfectly proper for a Department to stand up for its officers, and he supposed it was also proper for other ministers to stand up for a colleague charged with a particular Department, but he submitted that it was very important indeed to decide, as soon as possible, by investigation, whether the allegations of this kind brought by men who knew, men who were in a position to know, and whom he could, so to speak, put into the box before a Select Committee, were or were not true. It seemed very like corruption, if it were not corruption itself; and it was unfair to the officers concerned, and it was unwise on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, when allegations of that kind were made, that an inquiry into them should be refused. He would ask the noble Lord as representing the War Office whether an inquiry would be granted into the particular case of the relations of certain officers of the War Department with the firm of Houlder Brothers. It would be seen from replies to questions in the House of Commons that that particular firm did in some way or other obtain something like a monopoly of the transport of horses from the Plate and Australia to the Cape, and, later on, from other places. It was acknowledged by the noble Lord that that particular firm not only had a monopoly of that business, but had obtained the contract at rates fabulously high as compared with the rates then current in the trade. He was prepared to put men into the box who would prove that whenever remount officers were sent to purchase horses, there were members or representatives of the firm of Houlder Brothers nursing them, so to speak, all along. The right hon. Gentleman had, he thought, forgotten the evidence given by the hon. Baronet opposite against certain remount officers in Hungary, and if it were possible to bring before the Select Committee evidence to show that at hotel after hotel and in town after town the agents of the War Office were the personal friends and guests of the members of the firm of Houlder Brothers, with whom a contract was made indirectly for the sale of horses, and directly for the transport of horses, would the noble Lord deny that it was important to have an inquiry into the facts? He had sifted the evidence laid before him. It came from men in a position to know. Only on one point did it seem to break down, and that was in connection with the answer given on behalf of the War Office as to the purchase of horses in Queensland, which were too small and too light for service in South Africa. It was stated on behalf of the War Office that no horses had ever been bought at Bowen, in Queensland, from the firm of Houlder Brothers in another name. Evidence, however, came out in the Paper recently issued by the War Office that-Lord Kitchener himself referred to the horses to which he (Mr. Yoxall) had alluded as thoroughly unfit, having been bonght in Queensland.


said that the hon. Member now distinctly stated that his answer was inaccurate.


said he would not quibble about names. The firm of Houlder Brothers had over half-a-dozen different aliases, and he maintained that horses were bought at Bowen and that they were unlit for service in South Africa. He could produce persons who saw them bought, and who knew they were bought. He did not want the noble Lord to run off on a quibble about the exact title of the firm which sold the horses. He had tried to show the connection between the officers who gave out the contracts and the firm of Houlder Brothers in connection with horses. As regarded the meat contract, the same firm had an advantage in every respect. He maintained that Houlder Brothers were associated with Bergl with reference to the meat contract, and if that were denied let an inquiry be granted. Dry rot began as a speck, and ought not to be allowed to spread. He did not suggest it had reached the Treasury Bench or any Member of it, but many misleading answers had been supplied to the noble Lord by men at the War Office, and if an inquiry were not granted, he submitted that neither the House nor the country would be satisfied with the plea that the whole matter should be suspended while the war was in progress. He wished to recognise as fully as he could the inevitableness of the effect of the element of human error. It was impossible, in the necessity for rapid action, even with the best system in the world, to avoid making mistakes through human error. But when those mistakes were systematic and arose from the connection which existed between members of the service and War Office contractors, then he thought the element of human error could not be held responsible, though the element of human cupidity might be. He would suggest to the noble Lord that although an inquiry into the whole matter might be refused, it would go far to reassure hon. Members who were acquainted with the facts, and also many people in the country who had reason to fear that the high character of certain officers was in doubt, if an inquiry into that particular matter were granted.

(7.42.) MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)

I have listened with great interest to the whole of this debate, and I must candidly confess that I had not heard in the speeches which have been delivered by hon. Members opposite many remarks addressed to the particular point at issue, namely, whether an inquiry should be held at the present moment. The hon. Member who had just addressed the House made various allegations which seemed to me to be absolutely unsupported by the name of even one single witness. The hon. Member asked my noble friend to give him a special inquiry into one particular case. I listened to the remarks of the hon. Member while he was elaborating that point, and it seemed to me that if he was sincere in demanding an inquiry immediately, he would only have to repeat the statements he made in the House outside the House, and I have no doubt that in a court of law he would be given a full inquiry. I must candidly admit that at one time I did have a feeling, when these statements were brought forward, that the sooner an inquiry was held the better. But the more I have looked into this matter, the more I have seen how absolutely impossible it would be to give an inquiry at the present moment. We have had more than one inquiry already. We had had an inquiry into the re-mounts question, and an inquiry into the hospitals, and no doubt the result was exceedingly I beneficial. We have almost another inquiry today in this House, because some hon. Members appear to have got up a great deal of evidence, such as would be laid before a Select Committee. I think that the question of the remounts, as well as the meat, forage, and transport contracts, undoubtedly deserve to be inquired into. One would think my right hon. friend was anxious to burke that inquiry. I for one would be the first to raise up my voice against that, but any hon. Member listening to the words used by my right hon. friend must be persuaded of the genuineness of his desire to have an inquiry. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying my right hon. friend is perfectly sincere when he states that when the right moment comes he will demand and press for an inquiry. There was a debate the other day in another place, where Lord Lansdowne, who was responsible for the work in the early stages of the war, said, as a responsible Cabinet Minister— It is not whether there shall he an inquiry, but whether that inquiry shall he now or at a later time. I do not know that anyone would object to hon. Members asking for reasonable inquiry. I think it is the duty and privilege of hon. Members of this House to ask for reasonable and proper inquiry into the general action of the Executive, and into the action of the agents employed by it. It is our duty to try to secure reform, if they are guilty of carelessness, negligence, or worse, and to place the responsibility for faults on the shoulders on which it should rest. In voting against this Motion, I do not consider that I am, in any way, postponing inquiry.

What really lies behind this request for an inquiry? After all, it is a very simple thing. If this inquiry were granted, the right hon. Gentleman and Members would come over to this side, and His Majesty's Opposition would have thrown upon their hands, not only the conduct of the inquiry, but also the conduct of the war. They might be able to carry on one of these things—that is the inquiry; but I think very few on this side of the House will disagree with me when I say that they are absolutely unfitted as a party to carry on this war to a successful conclusion. In these circumstances I question whether there should be an immediate inquiry. I have no hesitation in saying that I put the fullest confidence in my right hon. friend, and that I have no confidence in the right hon. Gentleman opposite. My right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War stated that one great drawback to the granting of an inquiry would be the added labours which would be thrown on his Department. That, I think, is a very real argument indeed. He tells us that it would be the last straw to break the camel's back. Well, the War Office Departmental camel may be, in the view of some of us, rather an ugly beast. We may not like his contract hump, his slow method of progressing, or his general malformation of structure; but we must remember that this camel has got to bear the burden until this war is over, and therefore we have to do our best with this camel until the Secretary of State for War is in a position to make better arrangements for years to come. There were reasons for an immediate inquiry urged in the other House which have not so far been urged here. Lord Rosebery in his speech on this question said— At the real end of the war we shall all be in a great state of jubilation and triumph, and I myself shall be so pleased that I shall hardly wish to look back on the past at all, and I confess I shall be much more languid about inquiry into remounts then than now. That does not seem to me to be a judicial spirit in which to approach an important question of this kind. When there is a certain amount of excitement on is the time that the noble Earl wishes inquiry. It is not that he wants to ascertain what have been the misdeeds of the Department and its past failings and shortcomings, but that he hopes to be able to give a dig to my right hon. friend. I think the view that a few months delay will extinguish the flame is not one deserving of great consideration, and if no better argument than that can be adduced by the noble Earl, I think we should pay a great deal of attention to the argument brought forward by my right hon. friend.

Precedents have already been cited in this debate why a Committee should be appointed. Reference was made in another place to the Committee which was appointed to inquire into the scandals in connection with the Crimean War. I would remind the House, and especially hon. Members on the other side, of the names of the Ministers who separated themselves from their Government rather than support the appointment of that Committee. I think their names were such as to carry more weight than any others I could mention. They were Sir James Graham, Mr. Sidney Herbert, Mr. Cardwell, and last, but not least, Mr. Gladstone. They resigned from the Ministry because they would not consent to the appointment of the Crimean Committee proposed by Mr. Roebuck. I think the arguments used by Mr. Gladstone on that occasion are so very opposite to what is proposed now that I may venture to quote one or two points. The first thing he said was— It is a disguised vote of censure on the Government. He said further— The inquiry into the Walcheren Expedition was an inquiry after the fact, and, therefore, within the legitimate scope of the House of Commons. … How is it possible to conduct the inquiry with respect to what you may call the past, without, not damaging, but absolutely ruining the present and the future?… It is a Motion that the House of Commons cannot pass without violating the laws which fix its place in the constitution, because, if the Motion means anything, it means taking the conduct of the Expedition out of the hands of the Government.… For his part he will ever rejoice if this Motion is carried, that his own last words as a Member of the Cabinet of the Earl of Aberdeen, had been words of solemn and earnest protest against a proceeding which has no foundation either in the Constitution or in the practice of preceding Parliaments, which is useless and mischievous for the purpose which it appears to contemplate, and which, in his judgment, is full of danger to the power, dignity, and usefulness of the Commons of England. These, I think, were very striking arguments used by Mr. Gladstone and his Party on the appointment of the Committee on the Crimean War. I should like to draw attention to the enormous amount of labour which the appointment of a Committee would really throw on the Department. The Report of the inquiry by the Crimean War Committee extends to several volumes, and there were no less than 21,400 questions asked. When you consider the very great difference in the number of men employed in the Crimea and the number in South Africa you can form some opinion as to the number of questions likely to be asked if a Committee were appointed now. I venture to say that there is no parallel between the evils which existed then and those which have depicted been during the present campaign. The conditions in the Crimea, as disclosed in the evidence of that Committee, show one of the greatest frauds in the history of the country., With a harbour only nine miles off from the place of operations, our soldiers were practically starved for want of food. Our soldiers there were fed on salt meat, and they died from scurvy while there was a large quantity of lime-juice waiting at the harbour. Fuel was not given to them, because of the red-tape answer that fuel could only be supplied to soldiers in barracks. There were 25,000 rings purchased, but not issued, because they were not the kind which the commanding officers wanted. The rings which were not issued would have done equally well. There was an ample supply of greatcoats for the soldiers, but they were not issued because one of the regulations was that the soldiers should only have a greatcoat once in three years. I think no parallel can be drawn between the present case and any of these horrors. I venture to say it is a great revelation to every Member who is called to serve in a Government office. When I first went to the War Office I was under the impression that the work could be done by the ten-to-four arrangement, but I was very soon disabused. When sudden pressure was put upon the Department I saw the zeal with which the chiefs threw themselves into the work until they broke down. It is, in my opinion, the bounden duty of the Secretary of State not to spend the whole of his time on minor questions, but to prosecute with all his vigour and all the vigour of his Department the war in which we are engaged. (8.4.)

*(8.35.) MR. SOARES (Devonshire, Barnstaple)

I rise to support the demand for an inquiry into these contracts which has been moved for by my right hon. friend. I think we have heard tonight sufficient to prove the necessity for such an inquiry. We have heard of the extortionate prices paid for horses, we have heard of the scandals with regard to the meat contracts, and we have heard pretty strong hints made with regard to these large sums paid for transport by sea. Therefore, I think the demand which is made is pre-eminently a reasonable one, and the result of such an inquiry cannot fail to be beneficial, and it surely cannot be harmful. It seems to me that it is only stating a truism to say that the War Office is overworked at the present time. We all recognise this, and we know that it must necessarily be so. We are in the throes of a great war, and the Department responsible for the carrying on of that war must necessarily have its capacity strained to its fullest extent. But I do not think this inquiry would throw very much extra work upon the heads of that Department. I presume that contracts in the War Office are conducted much in the same way as they would be conducted by large business firms. I do not mean, of course, with regard to the substance of the contract, for, if that were so, many of our large business firms would soon be in a state of liquidation, but I mean in regard to their method and manner of working out those contracts. In business the head of the firm negotiates carefully the proposed terms, and he calculates whether the contract is good or bad in regard to its financial effects upon the prosperity of the firm. But when once the contract has been signed, and when the negociations have come to an end, then the whole matter is handed over to the subordinates. I do not see that this inquiry would involve the heads of the Department in very much extra work. If we took that view, then of course a few extra hands would supply all that would be needed by this Committee of Inquiry. All that would be wanted from the War Office would be copies of the various contracts, the names of the people with whom the War Office had negotiated, and other details of that sort; and if they took on a few extra hands for a short time the War Office could easily do what the Committee of Inquiry would demand, and therefore, this plea that the War Office is an overworked Department cannot possibly be substantiated in regard to this proposal. I do not think much of the difficulty which has been raised with regard to witnesses. I am convinced that a Committee of the kind required would be a reasonable Committee, and it would not want those men who are now at work in South Africa to come back here in order to give evidence. There are plenty of men in this country and in other places involved in these contracts who are in a position to give evidence, and I can see no reason why their evidence should not be taken before a Committee of Inquiry. Their evidence might be taken, and when necessary the evidence of those in South Africa could stand over until they returned.

We have been told that we must wait for the full inquiry which we have been promised will take place with regard to the whole of the war. Some of us on this side of the House have our doubts as to whether that inquiry will ever take place. We know that the Secretary of State for War refused to prophesy the other day as to when the termination of the war might be expected, although he implied tonight that it might take place within a few months. None of us know how long we may have to wait before such an inquiry is held. We should have to wait until all the evidence was taken before we could get the report of the inquiry, and probably by that time another general election might be over, and the Secretary of State for War might be sitting on this side of the House and we might be on the other side. Therefore, it would then be like flogging a dead horse, for the Secretary of State for War would in such circumstances neither get blamed for his misdeeds nor praised for his good deeds. If the Colonial Secretary intervenes in this debate, he is almost sure to tell us that if we insist upon this inquiry we shall annoy Lord Roberts and encourage the Boers. It must be, however, remembered that Lord Roberts has had his consolation, and he must now be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. With regard to the Boers, the man in the street no longer believes that the Boer is a man who sits reading his Daily News while smoking his post-prandial pipe behind a rock, for he knows very well that the Boer is engaged cleaning his rifle, snapping up convoys, and doing other less intellectual but more profitable work than reading newspapers. I consider that if this inquiry were granted the result could not possibly fail to be beneficial both to this country and to the Government. The country would then know how its money was being spent, and would recognise that the House of Commons is really the guardian of the public purse, and the Government would be in a better position by knowing who were their faithful servants and who were not. They could then get rid of their Captain Hartigans and put fuller confidence in those servants who bad served them so faithfully. It seems to me that this is a very important point, because the war may last a long time yet, and the Government may have to enter into a good many more contracts. Therefore, it is important that they should know the character of the men by whom they have been served in the past and then they would know who to trust in the future. The seriousness of this question of the contracts cannot and ought not to be under-estimated. It is undoubtedly of very great importance to the taxpayer. Many a poor householder feels keenly that sugar would have been a halfpenny per pound cheaper if the last Budget had not been passed, and there is many a struggling shopkeeper and professional man who feels the burden of 1s. 2d. in the £ on the income tax. Surely these men ought to know how their money has been spent, and what have been the results of the sacrifices which they have been called upon to make. Parliament is only doing its duty when it insists upon having the inquiry asked for by my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition.

I think. Sir, we have heard enough to show that the profits made by horse dealers, not only in Hungary but in this country and in other parts of the world, are simply scandalous. Can it be alleged that we do not want further information with regard to the meat contracts? I fancy that we are simply just at the beginning of our knowledge with regard to the huge hauls which have been made by shipowners. The case of the "Hyson" is, I think, typical. This steamship was detained at Port Elizabeth from the 11th of April to the 15th of August, 1900, at a cost of £11,320, and the principal reason given by the War Office of this tremendous waste of money was that she carried stores of which a very large reserve were already on shore. What we want to know is not only why these contracts were entered into but also why they were carried out in this unbusinesslike manner. Clearly it was a case of sending coals to Newcastle with a vengeance. We know that soldiers were very often short of the actual necessaries of life, and yet here we have a ship carrying large quantities of stores sent out before they were wanted, and at a useless expenditure to the taxpayer of £611,320. It is important, too, that we should know how the British South African Company has expended the large sum of nearly £2,000,000 handed over to them by the War Office. We know how that Company has behaved to the War Office in the past. We know they have charged the War Office £3 3s. id. for grindstones which could be purchased for £1 6s; that they have charged £8 15s. for portable stoves priced at £4 13s. 3d., and 18s. 6d. for braces with bits priced at 9s. Surely this question ought to be gone into, and I venture to think that if the British taxpayer finds he has been charged double the ordinary prices by the millionaires at the Cape, there will be trouble brewing for someone. Then, too, it has not even been proved that the War Office has expended the money voted to it. We read in the Comptroller General's report that the War Office has mislaid or lost important receipts, and having regard to the, documents which have been previously lost and afterwards found by the War Office, I cannot help thinking that we have a right to much more information than is in our hands at the present moment.

But although, of course, the waste of public money is of very great importance indeed, there is a question of infinitely greater importance in connection with this matter, and that is the waste of valuable life. I am afraid it is easy to prove that these improvident and reckless contracts have been the means of prolonging the war. The hon. Member for Dulwich, a supporter of the Government, told us some time ago that the war would have been over long ago if a sufficient number of suitable horses had been sent out, and some of us thought that that statement was the reason he was so violently attacked on the other side. Is it not a fact that during the early period of the war, at any rate, you sent out raw four-year-olds; otherwise what was the reason of the following telegram from the General Officer Commanding at the Cape to the Secretary of State for War on September 9th, 1899— I suggest that horses under five years should not be sent, and that all should be fairly trained. I think that conclusively proves that you did send out four-year-olds, which were not even broken in. Again, is it a fact that you sent out carriage horses as remounts? At any rate, Colonel Birkbeck said of the Canadian horses that they were slack corn-made beasts though with some quality, and that his great regret was that he could not afford to keep them to sell to the magnates at Johannesburg as carriage horses. Yet these were the horses with which you ask the troops to catch De Wet. It is not only with regard to horses you have failed. The Secretary of State for War said tonight that the troops had been equipped perfectly throughout. It seems to me that that statement does not accord with the facts. We already know of some cases in which your stores have been bad, and I venture to think if this inquiry is held we shall know of many others. One case is exposed in the Report of the Comptroller General. You appointed an Imperial Yoemanry Committee as your agents, not only for the purchase of horses in Hungary but also of equipment stores. Some of these stores you subsequently had to take over, and when they were taken over they were submitted to the Woolwich test and failed to pass it, and they had to be thrown away at a loss of £700 to the country. But the worst part of the case is that these stores were a portion of large consignments obtained under identical contracts, and actually issued to and used by the troops in the field. Is it a wonder, then, that the war still lingers on, when you supply the troops with unsuitable horses and stores, which will not pass the ordinary test? Then last, but not least, your remount contracts have been the means of inflicting an unnecessary amount of suffering on horses in South Africa. It is evident that the Secretary of State for War considers that his remount contracts would not have worked out so badly, if the horses had been properly treated after their arrival in South Africa, and I think, in order to arrive at a proper judgment with regard to these contracts, we shall have to take all the circumstances into consideration. On November 21st, 1901, he wires to Lord Kitchener— Reports reach me from many quarters that the remount system is still unsatisfactory, and that unconditioned horses are being issued to columns and sent at once on long treks. And then he goes on to say— Surely it would be better to rest some columns for a time than to waste horses. In another telegram, of the 26th November, 1901, he says— The question of resting horses seems to us of the first importance.… We cannot continue indefinitely to send 10,000 to 12,000 remounts per month to be used up by Column Commanders in a few days. Now I think from those telegrams we can come to the conclusion that cases must have come to the knowledge of the Secretary of State for War in which horses were being misused in this war. Now I do not think that a case like this can be disposed of by the statement that "War is war"; there are certain rules which guide civilised nations—


Order, order! The over-working of horses does not come within the terms of this Resolution; it relates only to the contracts for remounts.


The way I suggest it comes in is that the Secretary of State for War defends his contracts by stating that the horses he purchased under these contracts were treated badly after their arrival in South Africa. But as you rule against me, Sir, all I can say with regard to the treatment of remounts in South Africa is that I hope one of the results of the inquiry which is asked for will be that we shall in future have no further ill-treatment of horses in South Africa.

* MR. HOGG (Sussex, Eastbourne)

Probably there are few Members of this House who, in their endeavour to make their maiden speech, do not experience some slight feeling of nervousness and trepidation whether they will be able to condense in an intelligent form the remarks they desire to make. I tonight, at all events, crave the indulgence which this House always extends I do not wish to enter into this debate in any sense from a Party standpoint, but I cannot help expressing my regret that those who have the public ear do not recognise that a great responsibility may easily degenerate into alarm, and that we should not have postponed this discussion to some more convenient date. There is always a great danger in a public investigation when men's minds are unduly excited by the sensational reports recently published in the papers. I venture to think that an inquiry of this sort, to be of any value, and less likely to be misconstrued by the enemies of our country, would have been much more effectual in obtaining that which we require if it could be held a little later on, when I should have truly welcomed such an inquiry as a meanw of ventilating this important questions, and of arriving at an economical and an affective method of proceeding. I propose tonight to confine my remarks to three heads—past, present, and future; and I for one certainly view with great anxiety the last two. No one can deny that the very strong discussions in this House have attracted considerable notice throughout the country. But the country, and especially the agricultural districts, attach considerably more importance to the neglect that has been shown in not obtaining animals from this country. But we must not forget what the War Office has performed under exceptional circumstances, under conditions of great emergency. Never in the annals of English history has the War Office been called upon to do such a thing as this. Reference has been made to Pitt the elder, but he never had such difficulties to contend with. Thirteen years ago 18,000 horses was the number on the register when registration was adopted, but what men in the agricultural districts now complain of is that they have no knowledge of the present requirements. We should like to know what number of horses was purchased before the war broke out, the average age and the average price; and we should like to know what the War Office anticipate they will require in normal times. We should also like to know who is buying now, and the system under which horses are bought. We think the War Office should be in touch with, the great breeding societies throughout the kingdom. We do not say we ought to adopt the foreign methods, but we should have engrafted on our voluntary efforts something on the lines of the foreign systems. Fifteen years ago we had no Remount Department of any sort or description; the business was managed then by an officer, the various colonels of the regiments buying the horses that were required. The present remount system has only been established ten years, and on the register at the outbreak of the war we had 15,000. How many were utilised? We ought now, under a future system, to have no less than 200,000, and in my opinion the British farmer is the first man who has a claim to supply those horses. I fully recognise what the Colonies have done for us, and the countries like Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New South Wales we can utilise as reserves or nurseries for horses. New South Wales alone, I am told, can supply a million and a half of horses broken and unbroken, but what we have been doing in England for the last ten years is to breed the best horses for a source of supply. I should like to see remounts purchased at a much earlier age than they have been bought. As for Hungarian horses, I have had some experience of them, and I have no hesitation in saying that the animals that have been purchased are what have been described as mere flat catchers, and described in the agricultural papers as "sorry wretches." A Commission from the Hungarian Government investigated the purchase of these horses when we were buying horses over there, and an inquiry was made by the authorities as to what horses were being sold, and the reply went back that "we shall not have any more bad horses, the British Government has bought them all." Everybody knows that in foreign countries they are not allowed to sell their best horses out of the country. As regards General Truman, the fault I find is not with General Truman, but with the system. A system to be efficient and effective should be capable of expansion. A system which was effective some years ago is not an efficient system now. I consider Lord Lansdowne perpetuated a faulty system. The Remount Department when the war broke out consisted of two officers and three clerks; because we must not mix up the Yeomanry Department with the War Office Department. As regards the past there has been, no doubt, incompetency in the opinion of many; there has been unbusinesslike methods, and no doubt, there has been fraud. I do not think we have utilised to the fullest extent the horses on the register for which we have paid for. We have certainly not made use of them. I regret that the money has gone into the hands of the foreigner rather than into the pockets of the British farmer.

Attention was called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and, forty Members being found present—


The presentment of a report by a self-constituted Committee will not, I think, satisfy the country. They will not be content with mere words, they want something more, and there will be an angry feeling of resentment if we are to have a mass of verbiage in the place of introspective ability. A good Committee in matters of this sort is one that has absolute knowledge of the subject, how to apply that knowledge, and powers of organisation. I do not think it is sufficient for any hon. Gentleman serving on this Committee to have been brought up in the atmospheric influence of the equine race, nor is it enough that he is a colonel of a regiment. He should have some experience in dealing with men who, if they were bought and sold in the same way as horses, would be sold not for their virtues but their vices.

As regards the future. The Remount Department should be divided into two parts—the first for times of war, the second for normal times. The former must be an expansion of the latter. What I should like to sec is a Joint Committee of both Houses, and I should like to see the Joint Committee attended not only by the Secretary of State for War but also by the Minister of Agriculture-I think the time has arrived when it is absolutely imperative that that Department and the War Office should be united so far as the Army Remount Department is concerned. Money has been wasted quite long enough and the foreigners have taken it. For years the foreigners have taken all the best mares out of this country because the tenant farmers find they have no market for their produce here. Now, we shall have another difficulty to face in the future of the horse supply. We must not forget that electricity is fast coming into power, and when we re-fleet that the wheel traffic of London requires no less than 300,000 horses, that the omnibuses and trams require 5,000, and that cabs alone require 12,000, this source of reserve will have gone—


Order, order! I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but this Motion hardly opens the whole question of horse-breeding. This is a Motion for an inquiry into the purchases of horses for the South African War.


Might I say that during the last ten years we have exported no less than 361,000, and we have only imported 253,000? I only want to show that we ought to depend on the United Kingdom for the supply of horses rather than on foreigners, to whom we have paid over nine millions in these ten years. In the last four years we have exported 127,000, and if we deduct from that 70,000 worn out animals that have been returned to this country in the form of soup, that leaves us 57,000 good horses to deal with. In the meanwhile, we have bought in four years 179,000 odd, proving that we require about 30,000 more than we breed. If we were engaged in a European war we should not have the chance of getting those horsesover, and the loss to the British farmer is one million a year. If I might say a word as to the great use which the Agricultural Societies might be made for the Army Remount Department. I cannot say that the British farmer has been strengthened by the patriotic co-operation of the Remount Department, or by those who have had such a slur cast on their competency. Our breeding societies have for years past spent large sums of money with the object of improving the quality and increasing the numbers, which the Remount Department has not taken advantage of. I cannot help thinking the Agricultural Societies might be utilised to a very great extent now in many ways. If they had classes for Army Remounts, and the horses were entered at prices not exceeding the maximum price paid by the Government, and the War Office sent down a judge, it would be of advantage both to the farmer and the War Office.

I must apologise for detaining the House so long, but if, Sir, I might venture to offer a word of advice to the War Office, it would be that, having decided what they require, the object they are desirous of promoting, they should consult the best available authorities as to the manner in which that object can be most usefully attained. My advice might be superfluous had not recent experience shown us that large sums of money had been expended without adequate return. The War Office has a golden opportunity to now help the British farmer, and stimulate the horse-breeding industry. The country is prepared to pay, but not to permit the Army Remount Department to waste its money on the foreigner at the expense of the British farmer.

(9.15.) MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)

I congratulate the hon. Member on the able maiden speech he has made, and say that, if his advice is taken, both the British farmer and the Remount Department will derive considerable benefit. Now, let me discuss the speech delivered by the Secretary of State for War. Never has a more extraordinary speech been delivered in this House. He commenced his speech by complaining of the tone of 1113 right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition, in which he introduced this Motion to the House. What, then, do hon. Gentlemen think of the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman concluded his; speech? [A VOICE: "Excellent."] We will test that. The right hon. Gentleman is animated by a desire to get Party capital out of the debate, and I will prove that I have reason for making that statement. The right hon. Gentleman accused my right hon. friend of having been responsible for the scandals that took place in the Soudan Campaign in 1882. My right hon. friend left the War Office in 1882, when the war began. Who was responsible for the War Office during the period of the war? Not my right hon. friend, but the Duke of Devonshire, now the President of the Defence Committee.


The Duke of Devonshire came to the War Office long after the war was in progress.


I think he was far more responsible than my right hon. friend. Never has a War Minister before endeavoured to excuse his own action by attacking his predecessor. Can the right hon. Gentleman say as much for his own foresight when the Government commenced this war with two horses and 202 cobs in South Africa The First Lord of the Treasury told us during the first six mouths of the war that the British nation was never in a better condition as a fighting machine than it was at that time; the right hon. Gentleman tells us now that his Department was tremendously overworked. If that is so it is overworked unnecessarily. I saw a few days ago that the Army corps for the United Kingdom had been worked out to the smallest detail.


That has nothing to do with the Contracts Department.


It has to do with the War Office, and if the War Office was so overworked, why put men to work on this unnecessary work. Why not transfer their services to the Contracts Department. These mighty minds at the War Office have been engaged during the last twelve months on such things as whether the Volunteer officers shall wear their sashes from their shoulders or round their waists. We have been told that if this inquiry took place it would paralyse the conduct of the war. Precisely the same argument was used at the time when the Committee on the conduct of the Crimea was asked for. But did the House of Commons listen to that argument then? No, Sir, they carried the Motion by 305 to 148, and the Government of the day had to resign. The war was then carried on with infinitely greater vigour when Palmerston came into office than before. If the same spirit animated this House as animated it in 1855, we should have an immediate inquiry. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has told us that his supplies were always on the spot, and that the Army never suffered. He said there were plenty of disappointed contractors quite willing to defame him, and that one said he would have attention called to the matter in this House through a Member of Parliament; but he did not give the name of that contractor or the Member who would bring the matter forward. Were a Member to say the Government had not accepted a fair contract he would be laughed out of the House in a moment. Lord Roberts said at the beginning of the war that they could not have too many good horses. On the 21st of May this telegram arrived from Cape Town— Horses generally not good stamp and arriving' in poor condition, average 16 per cent. totally unfit for service within reasonable time after arrival.


Only in that ship.


There were more. The following ships arrived from Australia:—' Amazon,' 'Maplemore,' 'Custodian.' 'Chicago,' 'Kippingham,' 'Grange,' 'Surrey.' The noble Lord said there was only one ship.


I meant only one of the ships mentioned in that telegram. You must not say 16 per cent. of the whole of the horses were unfit.


I will not press the point, but there are six ships mentioned, and 16 per cent. of the horses on those ships were unfit for service. Does not that show gross neglect? On the 15th of October, 1901, six months after, 214 horses are described thus by the General commanding the forces at the Cape— Big, long-legged, rugged-hipped, coarse horses, such as this consignment, cannot maintain or recover condition under adverse circumstances. This is not the evidence of a German waiter, but the General commanding the forces at the Cape, who was in a position to judge of the horses as they arrived. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman has shown that his consignments of horses to South Africa, not having been of the right kind, has prolonged the war. If I were a Boer I should say, "You can speak as you like in your House of Commons if you continue to send out spavined and broken-winded horses for the troops to chase me with." Lord Kitchener, on the 22nd of January last, said— Australian horses are especially badly selected, and English horses too large and heavy. That shows how the horses purchased under these contracts ought to be inquired into. This is the evidence, not of prejudiced witnesses, but of the General commanding the forces at the Cape and of Lord Kitchener himself. I say that in this matter the War Office is to blame. We know the right hon. Gentleman had doubts, previously to July last year, as to the competency of General Truman to manage his Department, but he never took action on General Truman's incompetence until forced to do so by a debate in this House. Yet he knew of the incompetency of this officer nine months before he took action to relieve him of his command. The right hon. Gentleman in that matter pronounces his own condemnation. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but I see nothing in it to smile at. The position is this, that during the war the most important Department is, according to the right hon. Gentleman, in the hands of an incompetent chief. He does not remove that incompetent chief, because, he says, be is going to reorganise the Department. What is the number of horses shipped by this Department under the control of this incompetent chief? From July of last year to January of this no less than 94,616. or something like 440 per day. This is the gigantic task imposed upon a Department the chief of which, according to the right hon. Gentleman himself, was nine months ago incompetent for his position. Does not that prove that with the organisation of the lie-mount Department it may also be necessary to have a re-organisation a little higher up, and possibly, to begin with, some of those who are above General Truman in the War Office? We know perfectly well from the evidence that the War Office, at an enormous cost to the taxpayers, have turned South Africa into a knacker's yard, and have swept the refuse of the horses of the world there—animals which, of course, were no good at all for our troops. How has the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in reorganising the Department? He has been nine months at it since he first discovered that General Truman was incompetent. In December last year, 20,500 were sent out to South Africa, a larger number than had been sent out in any one month before, and those are the very horses that Lord Kitchener complains are specially bad. This is in the right hon. Gentleman's re-organised Department. In this matter the Secretary of State, instead of blaming his other advisers, or possibly taking some little blame himself, has found a scapegoat in General Truman. It is precisely the same with the officers in South Africa. What did the right hon. Gentleman say the other day?— I am bound to protest that some of Lord Kitchener's subordinates have hurried horses up country without regard to the fact that they are just after a long voyage.


Hear, hear.


But let me ask the right hon. Gentleman whether Lord Kitchener's officers or subordinates have ever ordered these horses up to the front quickly without any absolute necessity for doing so. We have had it stated by The Times correspondent and by Mr. Bennet Burleigh in the Daily Telegraph that General Bruce Hamilton's columns would have had their usefulness doubled if they had had an ample supply of remounts. On February 8th The Times correspondent said that even then the supply was lamentably deficient, and he goes on to say, "The dearth of remounts is rapidly assuming alarming proportions."


Lord Kitchener does not say that.


Oh, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman ought to quarrel with The Times correspondent. [" Oh."] If he does, all I can say is, let The Times and the right hon. Gentleman fight it out.


I only say that I prefer Lord Kitchener. I take my inspiration from Lord Kitchener.


Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, then, with Lord Kitchener that a large proportion of his last consignment was especially badly selected? That is what Lord Kitchener says, and that it not far from what The Times correspondent says. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that we must wait until the war is over before we have this inquiry. Can he point to one single ill result from the inquiries which have already taken place? There have been the inquiries with regard to the Medical Department, the hospitals, the camps, and the inquiries made by Miss Hobhouse and the Ladies' Commission. Can the right hon. Gentleman say that the troops have suffered or that the war has been prolonged by either of those? But the Secretary of State has himself knocked the bottom out of his contention, because he has granted a Court of Inquiry into the case of General Truman, and the scope of that inquiry is most wide and comprehensive. If that Court does its duty thoroughly it will have to bring home, or obtain the evidence of, all the officers who have been engaged in the purchase of remounts. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but according to the statement he made in this House the Scope of that inquiry will include all the contracts entered into by the Remount Department since 1889; therefore, if the inquiry is to be thoroughly carried out, officers and witnesses will have to be brought from all parts of the world. One of the matters referred to that Court of Inquiry is the purchase of horses at home and abroad. My hon. friend does not ask for more than that; that would surely be sufficient for our inquiry. That tribunal, however, is absolutely unsatisfactory. 11 is not a Select Committee of this House. It is composed wholly of military men, and the right hon. Gentleman can close their mouths when he likes. ["Oh."] He has absolute control of the military men; they have to obey his orders. ["No."] We know perfectly well what control the right hon. Gentleman has over military men.


I have no control whatever over the Court of Inquiry. I do not know when they sit, I cannot bring any evidence before them, and I have no control over them of any sort or kind.


Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that if he ordered a member of the Court of Inquiry to hold his tongue and not to discuss the Court of Inquiry, his commands would not be obeyed? My point is that we shall not have publicity because the right hon. Gentleman is complete master of the situation, and if the evidence is damaging to the War Office he will probably order the members of the Court to be secret. ["Oh, oh!"] Have we not had any examples of hushing up on the other side of the House? I am inclined to think it has been mostly a policy of hush, and it is that policy of hush which prevents the Government accepting the proposal now before the House. The War Office is not the holiest of holies, to be entered only by these high priests. We ought to have a Select Committee of this House to inquire into the whole of these contracts. The War Office have proved themselves to be absolutely ludicrous as military experts, and as business men they would have brought any reasonable business firm to bankruptcy. I shall, therefore, support the Motion of my right hon. friend largely on these grounds. I could go into a large mass of matter which has reached me from South Africa as to ox transport, which is one of the most glaring scandals we have had to contend with. Then there is the question of the meat and forage contracts. But I will not trouble the House further than to say that if the House of Commons is to prove itself the trustee of the taxpayers of the country, it ought most certainly to agree to a definite and drastic inquiry.

*(9.37.) MR. KENNETH BALFOUR (Christchurch)

disagreed entirely with the suggestion that there was any question of "hushing up" in this matter. He wished the House, however, to have a little more light on the subject under discussion, and he would address his remarks particularly to the Hungarian scandals, as they were termed. He would be perfectly frank with the House. For some years he was privileged to serve in the same regiment as Colonel MacLean and Captain Webb, who went to Austria to purchase horses for the Imperial Yeomanry, and he might, therefore, be a little biased in that respect, but, on the other hand, when a noble Lord, lately occupying the highest position in the Liberal Party, made such a statement as this— Of course, if German waiters or anyone else are allowed to goon swearing these imputations on agents of the British Government, they will come to be believed, and that is part, of the argument for an immediate and prompt inquiry, that these officers may have an opportunity of asserting on oath what actually took place, and so clearing away the cloud which may rest even momentarily on them. he desired to say that he had a statement made on oath by the officers which he thought might, once for all, disprove the statements of the German waiters.

Before dealing with that matter, however, there was one other argument to be urged against an immediate inquiry, and that was the Report of the recent Remount Committee. He doubted whether many people were convinced by that Report: he certainly was not, and for this reason: none of the evidence adduced to show corruption, bad purchasing, neglect of duty, or incompetency, was subjected to close cross-examination. Unless evidence was put to that test, it ought not to be considered as conclusive. Then, there was a somewhat misleading statement in that Report. It was stated that the Imperial Yeomanry Committee, when forming their horse-purchasing Committee, consulted the Government Remount Department, but did not obtain much useful information: and the Leader of the Opposition had further stated that there were not many business men on that Committee. He, however, had been told by one who was there that Colonel Lucas, at the first meeting with the Quartermaster General, the Under Secretary of State for War, and the inspector General of Remounts, when asked whether he would like any assistance front the Government remount agent, said, "No; I am a business man, and I am going to conduct this matter on business lines" These gentlemen, whose judgment was called into question, were not beginners in the game. Colonel St. Quintin was originally second in the Government Remount Department in India, and a well-known judge of horses. Colonel Maclean had purchased many horses for his regiment in the days when the colonels commanding always remounted their own regiments. He had commanded his regiment with great credit to himself, and was always well mounted. Moreover, it was well known in the service that Colonel Maclean was well in the running for a very high post in the Remount Department, only just missing it. In addition to this, he was a judge at horse shows all over the country, and was one of the best known and most trusted judges in England. Captain Webb, the veterinary surgeon, served with Colonel Maclean in his regiment for many years, and before that he had served in India. He also was a man of wonderfully good judgment, and, when he left the Army, he set up in Dublin as a horse dealer, and very soon got a big business together. The House was asked to believe that these officers would not be likely to know whether a horse had had its teeth doctored, or was broken-winded, spavined, or blind. On the face of it, it was not conceivable. It was particularly unfortunate that Captain Webb left Hungary to go to South Africa, He, however, was very anxious to see service; he thought he might be of some use, and he believed the last ship-load of horses was being sent from Hungary. It was with great reluctance he was allowed to go. Colonel Maclean was particularly anxious that he should not go but eventually he had to give in.

Then came the unfortunate part of the whole business. There was on the spot Captain Hartigan. He (the hon. Member) knew nothing of this man, but he thought he ought to state what he had heard. Colonel Maclean wrote to say that Captain Hartigan was available, but he had assured him he did not recommend him. The Yeomanry Committee knew this man would have to examine, and did examine, and they knew his relations with Mr. Lewison. But Colonel Maclean said there were only two or three hundred more horses to pass, and it would save money to employ Captain Hartigan on the spot. Captain Hartigan gave every satisfaction; he worked very hard, showed great zeal, and tried to pass the best class of horses. What interest was it to Captain Hartigan to pass bad horses? It did not matter twopence to him, as he was bound to get paid; a certain number of horses were contracted for and he would receive his 2½ per cent. on them. With regard to the 2½per cent. he would submit a fact to the House which might show where Captain Hartigan got his idea of 2½ per cent. from. When he (the hon. Member) joined the Army, the colonel bought the remounts for his own regiment, and for each horse purchased he received a Government allowance of £1. The horses cost £40 apiece, so-that the £1 was exactly 2½ per cent. It was very curious that Captain Hartigan should have chosen that 2½ per cent. However this might be, if a man insured against fire he did not doubt that the agent got a commission: if he asked a yacht-builder to recommend engines for his yacht he knew the man would get a commission from the engineering firm. England now existed on a system of secret commissions. They must look facts in the face. He did not think it was reasonable to say that this was a scandal because this man received a commission. He might have thought that this was a legitimate and proper discount. That was the view he submitted to the House although he had never seen Captain Hartigan.

Then again, what evidence was there as to the defects of these horses? It was totally inconclusive. Colonel Maclean was evidently pleased with them himself. They had the evidence of the noble Lord the Member for Oxford that the horses when seen at Bloemfontein compared well in shape, substance and quality with those from the other countries. Finally, the Imperial Yeomanry report said that the Hungarian horses were well reported on as a rule, and did good service; and Colonel Birkbeck said they were showy little horses and looked very fit, though they did not stand the work. But that was the point; the officers were sent out to buy horses that looked fit. Whether they would stand a campaign was another matter. They must consider also the hurry and extremity when the Yeomanry Committee was formed. If they looked back to that time they would find that both men and horses were badly needed, and they were picking them up everywhere where they could be got. At first no horses and very few ponies could be purchased under £40 each. Of course, everybody knew that if they wanted anything in a hurry they always had to pay an increased price, and the price was always regulated by the urgency of the demand. He regretted that the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich was absent, because he had the pleasure of talking to him on this subject, and he told him that he intended to raise this question, and they had a long talk upon it. He wished to pay a tribute to the hon. Baronet for his courtesy towards him, for he readily showed him the evidence he had got; but at the same time he informed him that he thought it was his duty to bring this matter forward. He regretted that on account of his health the hon. Baronet was unable to be present tonight. In the speech the hon. Baronet made in this House he said that he had to draw attention to a great scandal in connection with the Imperial Yeomanry, and that was the reason why he (the hon. Member) confined himself to this point. In an article which appeared in the Daily Mail the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich asserted that he had proofs that certain officers had put money into their own pockets. He was aware that the hon. Baronet repudiated that idea, for he had stated that he never suggested, or meant to suggest, that any British officer had put money into his own pocket, but what he did mean was that there had been great neglect of duty on the part of certain officers in passing horses. It was a great pity that the hon. Baronet did not contradict this statement in the newspaper at the time, for his assertion had gone forth to the public and had received a long start, and it was very difficult to catch up with it now. The information put forward by the hon. Member for Dulwich was derived from a scource which ought to be looked into. The information was to be seen in the published Report, from which it would be seen that Mr. Waugh played a very leading part indeed. Mr. Waugh enjoyed the great confidence of the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich but not being acquainted with Mr. Waugh, he wished to look into the information furnished by that gentleman. He should like to know how Mr. Waugh came to be connected with so many of those dealers in Hungary. He was aware that Mr. Waugh had got a brother who was a horse trainer in Hungary. He was aware that the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich sent Mr. Waugh to General Truman to see if he could be of any assistance at the hon. Baronet's expense at the beginning of the war. He wanted to call the attention of the House to one particular thing with regard to the price. Mr. Waugh said he would be able to deliver horses at £35 apiece with a commission of £2 to the dealer. And because the Government paid £33 per horse, they now heard a great deal about the price being very excessive, and yet Mr. Waugh was going to pay £35. Mr. Waugh also stated that he could deliver cobs at £17, but he thought there would be extra charges for them after. He said that horse dealers gave him this information. When Mr. Waugh was cross-examined about the horses passed for the Imperial Yeomanry, he said that the class of horses obtained was very inferior indeed. He was then asked if he had seen any of the horses, and He replied, "Only some of the cobs that have been rejected." Afterwards he further stated, "That the horses he had seen rejected were not a bad class. Those horses were submitted by a horse dealer named Sweimer who made a contract at £20 each, and said that he lost £1,500 on the contract, or £6 per horse. That was a kind of horse dealer he had never had the pleasure of dealing with, and he seemed to be one of those horse dealers who was always in the habit of saying that he was giving his horses away.

He would now come to one of the chief pieces of evidence upon which the statements of the hon. Baronet the. Member for Dulwich were based and brought before the House. At the former inquiry a letter was put in from a man named Kuster. This man was not subjected to cross-examination, but he made a declaration which he would read to the House. In regard to this matter he wished to state distinctly that he felt that the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich in bringing forward the charges which he did put forward was actuated by perfectly good faith, and he believed that he was perfectly right and was firmly convinced that the evidence he had got was perfectly trustworthy and would stand cross-examination. Kusters declaration was as follows— I, the undersigned, Friedrich Kuster, trainer, residing in Vienna, Adamsgasse, declare and certify herewith, speaking the truth, the following was employed as second trainer with Mr. Leopold Hauser, and was in 1900 by Mr. Leopold Hauser employed to assist to brand the horses received for delivery to South Africa. After I was no longer in the above mentioned service Messrs. Waugh. Folgár, and Luezenbacher came to me in the year 1901 (I believe in July, 1901) and sent for me to the hotel 'Erzherzog karl' in Vienna, and in Budapest to the Hotel Continental. These gentlemen told me that they were representatives of the English Government, and offered to take me into their service because they would receive the contract for the delivery of horses for England, and that they would open depôts in Hungary. They offered me a salary four times as large per year as I had been receiving with Mr. Leopold Hauser on the condition that I would make statements according to their wishes referring to the delivery of horses by Hauser. I was at that time in needy circumstances, but as the post offered to me in the future time was of no help to me at that moment I told them so openly. Therefore, they gave me to induce me to make the statement required at once the sum of 160 gulden and I have confirmed all, what and how they have asked from me, viz., I have signed and confirmed their document. FRIEDRICH KUSTER. This statement was witnessed by the notary public who identified this man as Friederich Kuster. He gave that document to the House for what it was worth. That declaration, on the face of it, was the witness of a perjured man who had put his name to a document that he admitted was untrue. Therefore, the House must treat this man's evidence which he gave and which was published in the Blue-book accordingly, for it must be discredited. He had another letter stating that this man had been offered money by other people to make a declaration against the purchaser, and when he spoke to the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich on the matter, and asked him what he would say if he made the statement that some of his evidence was "bought" evidence, he gave him the name of the man Kuster, and the hon. Baronet replied, "I think they did pay his expenses of seven or eight pounds. It might have been travelling expenses or anything else they liked, but that man's evidence was discredited. If this sort of thing was done in the case of the man Kuster, it might have been done in other cases, and men may have been persuaded to sign statements equally discreditable to themselves. When they considered the Report generally they would find that out of thirty odd letters no less than twelve were signed by men who admitted themselves to be horse dealers. There might be disappointed men in other cases who had not got what they anticipated, and they might be persuaded to make statements equally discreditable to themselves. With regard to the evidence of Mr. Folgár, he wished to call attention to the fact that this witness stated that if he got the contract he would be obliged to employ another person to mix with the farmers, because he could not himself do that work. He passed to the evidence, which had been referred to before, of a German waiter. He was very much astonished that any one in authority should hesitate between the word of an English officer and a foreigner, who, judging from the statements which appeared about this country in the Continental Press, we might consider it probable would be prejudiced against us. He was glad to say that he had in his possession a very extraordinary document, which he believed to be though he could not be certain, by the same head waiter. An officer of the Austrian Hussars went through the books at the hotel where Colonel Maclean and Captain Webb stayed; got a statement from the landlord and the waiter, and satisfied himself that Colonel Maclean's and Captain Webb's bills were paid by those officers. The translation of the declaration was as follow"— I, the undersigned, do by the present declare that the English Colonel, Allan Maclean, was staying and dining at my hotel Barany, and that on every Sunday he himself paid his debt, and not the firm Hauser. My signature does certify the truth of these facts.

Izabadka on the 1st of March. 1902.




Head Waiter."

That document, signed and sealed, declared that the officers paid their bill at the hotel, and yet it was stated that Hauser paid the bill. They ought to believe that the word of an English officer and a gentleman was above suspicion.

(10.15.) Sir ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)

The hon. Gentleman is much to be commended no doubt for having stood up for the honour of his friends Colonel Maclean and Captain Webb. I have nothing to say against them, and I am not aware that anybody else in the Report or otherwise has said anything against the honour and integrity of those gentlemen. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman in his examination about the German waiter, because I am not quite sure that that German waiter is the same person as was referred to in distinguished quarters some time ago. I think he is another waiter, but I attach no importance to that, having had considerable experience of that kind of document or deposition of the German waiter or of any other waiter to whom no questions were put in the way of testing the evidence, and whose identity, after the speech of the hon. Gentleman, seems to me to be a little in doubt.

In regard to the subject-matter of this Motion, I think I ought to say how much I myself regret, and I think a good many others, the attack, for it was nothing else, which has been made on my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition by the Secretary of State for War. I think my right hon. friend said what he had to say with the greatest good humour and in a very moderate tone, and I think also in a very convincing tone. I do not think it was worth while that the right hon. Gentleman should fish about in order to make reflections upon the past official actions of my right hon. friend. I say so for two reasons. One of them is that my right hon. friend has no opportunity of making any explanation; and if he had attempted an explanation I think it would have been ruled out of order, as it was certainly wholly irrelevant to the debate to refer to these matters. I deny the charge which the right hon. Gentleman was pleased to make that it is the desire of the Opposition to make Party capital out of this Motion. I must say that if that were our desire, which I disclaim most sincerely, Party capital is much better made by the refusal of the Government to-inquire into these matters than by any compliance with the request of my right hon. friend. The surprising thing is that the right hon. Gentleman should believe this to be impossible of men of honour, of lovers of their country, and moderately intelligent, if they do not happen to agree with him and his friends in regard to the painful and distressing questions connected with the origin and conduct of the war-After ail, it is a matter of taste, and I am not sure, upon reconsideration, that what the right hon. Gentleman has stated that it is either just or in good taste constantly to make the kind of observations which he has made.

The need of inquiry into these matters is admitted. The Secretary for War states that it ought to take place at a later stage, which he put off to a few months hence. I sincerely hope the event which is to determine the date of the inquiry may not be more than three or four months off, but it is to-come hereafter. That is the view of the right hon. Gentleman. I ask, in the first place, Is there a pressing case for inquiry? First of all we have to consider the troops in the field. We have-to do what is best for them to enable them to pursue their duties, and also to make them as comfortable as circumstances will permit. After that we have another duty, and that is to the taxpayers, who have made willing sacrifices for the purpose of doing all that they can for our countrymen in the field. But it should not be forgotten that we are the guardians of the public purse, and that we should see that no extortion, extravagance, and, above all, fraud occurs. I say that because one hon. Gentleman, who spoke from the other side of the House, stated that in his deliberate opinion there had been incompetence, unbusinesslike methods, and fraud. So far as incompetence and unbusinesslike methods are concerned, I think everybody is agreed, and, so far as the accusations of fraud were concerned, all I can say is that there are grounds for suspicion. I am not speaking of grounds for suspicion against British officers, I am speaking of what transpired, not only in the Committee relating to the remounts, but also in the Committee that inquired a few years ago, and of which I was a member—a Committee in which we came to a definite finding after hearing a great deal of evidence. I have not the document before me, but I have seen it in the House. We found in substance that a few cases of bribery had been proved, but we found, although our methods of investigation were very difficult for the purpose of ascertaining anything of the kind, that there was strong suspicion that a system of secret commissions of which the hon. Member spoke, and which I regard as one of the disgraces of our commercial system, had crept into the public service. I think the difference of prices which prevail, the devolution of contracts from one person to another, the vast profits made, and the absence of adequate inquiry and inspection, are circumstances which do not reflect credit on our business habits.

Let me shortly state to the House the grounds there are for pressing for an inquiry. We have a group of men who seem to have quartered themselves on the War Office, no doubt in a time of emergency and difficulty. For example, we have Houlder Brothers. I do not say anything of their integrity. They may be perfectly honest. That is one of the things we want to find out. But in the normal state of things theyareshipowners. Under the pressure of this war they seem to have blossomed out as butchers, horse contractors, and produce merchants and contractors on a very large scale. It is a curious thing that the Department should go to a firm of shipowners for these things. I do not say that it may not have been the best thing to do. There is another thing which was brought before the House on the authority of the hon. Member for Northampton. In connection with the horse-buying in Hungary, when some of the animals were presented for inspection, and rejected by the officers of the Government, they were taken to another establishment and bought for the Chartered Company, and so they were taken out to South Africa. That was a state of things which certainly was not businesslike. I will only say a word about price. Horses which were bought for £8 or £10 seemed to have been, after a little expenditure of £3 or £4, sold for £33 or in some eases £20. That is a perfectly abnormal price. We have instances, not of one but of several contracts being given out by the Department, and as soon as the contracts were made they have been sold for a large sum of money. That is a circumstance that cannot be overlooked, and it points in one direction. We have also a man of straw put forward as nominal contractor.

We have another case, as to which I wish to speak in a somewhat guarded way. My hon. friend the Member for Northampton told us about General Truman and Mr. Peters buying horses in America, the contractors being Houlder Brothers, and they themselves holding shares in Houlder Brothers. Now, I am not going to affirm anything—I should be the last man in the world, I hope, knowing how unjust it is, to make, or even to suggest, a charge without giving a man the opportunity of answering or explaining. I am not going to believe for a moment, without proof, that General Truman or Mr. Peters or anybody else was guilty of anything dishonourable in being parties to this contract; but this is the kind of thing we really ought to inquire into. And pray let the House remember, if we are to inquire into it, and check this kind of thing, we must do it at once, or it will go on. If once it is known that there is a Commission or Committee of this House sitting for the purpose of investigating these things, it will administer a salutary check to this practice. It will at least bring terror to the offenders once they are made aware that we are looking after, and determined to prevent, this mischievous and abominable practice of secret commissions. I make bold to say that it will cost this country millions and millions of money, and instead of being indifferent to it, we ought to follow up the recommendations of the Committee of 1900, to the effect. that the law should be made more stringent, and that there never ought to be any omissions to pursue this kind of thing under the criminal law.

I have indicated some reasons why I think the inquiry is pressing. Beyond those, there is the general argument from precedent. If one goes back to old times, to what I might call the heroic times of this House, which I hope we may see return, one finds in inquiry after inquiry, the House saying—"A general representation, even a strong general representation, is not a case for condemnation—Heaven forbid; but it is a case for inquiry." Who in this House will deny that there is all through the country the gravest and most serious suspicion in regard to the incompetence and mismanagement and, to some extent, the dishonesty of a great deal that has been done in the matter of buying in North America, in the Argentine, in the Cape, and here too? Who is there that does not know that there are a large number of persons who are making themselves wealthy at the expense of the country through these contracts—contracts rendered necessary by this—in any view—most unhappy and deplorable war. ["Oh, Oh!"] Surely nobody can deny that it is a most unhappy and deplorable war; but I will not pursue that. I say, Sir, that there are here all the elements for inquiry that there possibly could be. We want to put an end to this maladministration, if maladministration there be, or to remove these suspicions, if the suspicions prove to be unfounded.

Then why not have this inquiry now? That is the whole question. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that inquiry was desirable, but he argued that the inquiry could not be held at this stage. He said there were officers in South Africa whose testimony would be necessary. Of course that might hinder the inquiry a little, but are there no things to be inquired into except things as to which officers would have to be called from South Africa? We know 120 or 130 millions of money has been spent in buying various things. Is it to be said that we are not to inquire into any contracts except when Lord Kitchener comes back? Could there be a weaker argument, when we are buying horses and cattle and saddlery and forage here and in America, North and South, and elsewhere, than to say that we cannot make any inquiry without having Lord Kitchener back?


I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I said nothing of the kind. I noticed a particular attack made by the hon. Member for Northampton as to the meat contract made last year in South America, and I said that if that was to be gone into Lord Kitchener would have to be recalled.


I should be sorry to do any injustice to the right hon. Gentleman if he limits his observation to that I have nothing further to say upon it. Be it so, then. Lord Kitchener, we will take it, would have to be recalled for any inquiry into the meat contract; but he would not need to be brought home for the purpose of inquiring into other contracts. We had an inquiry into Kynoch's case—I was a member of that Committee—and I think we got to the bottom of that—["Oh Oh!"]—well, at any rate I was satisfied that we got to the bottom of it—without requiring any evidence from South Africa, And similarly we got to the bottom of the hay contract without evidence from South Africa. Our difficulty was to get people to own up to what they had said elsewhere. The fact is, it is not necessary to go into those cases as to which the evidence of officers would be required. If there were ten thousand contracts, we could at any rate select some of them for inquiry. So that I think that argument falls to the ground.

The other argument of the right hon. Gentleman was as to the engaging of War Office officials. I do not think I exaggerate what the right hon. Gentleman said. He gave us to understand that it might have the effect almost of paralysing the War Office Department in the conduct of the war. But what does it come to? The Committee would sit, say, two days a week; it would not call more than two witnesses a day, and the War Office people would not be the only witnesses called. There would probably be a War Office official called first of all, and then the contractor would be called, and then people who had seen the articles in question. That would be the kind of inquiry. It might mean the temporary appointment of a few assistant or additional officials at the War Office, for the purpose of doing the work of those who were detained on the inquiry, and these extra people would probably do four or five times the work of the men they temporarily replaced. When this business was brought before the House of Commons at the time of the Crimean War the same kind of argument was used, and it will always be used by any Department—not because they want to act in bad faith, but they think they know all about their own business, and they resent any interference. This argument, again, has no foundation whatever.

Those were the only arguments the right hon. Gentleman used against having an inquiry now. He said, "Let us wait until the war is over." I do not know when that will be, but when that happens memory will be stale, interest will be exhausted, and the chance of avoiding further mischief will be gone. You will have shut the stable door after the steed has gone, which is exactly what this glorious country always does, unless the House of Commons, in some lucid interval, interferes. I think that it is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman should have refused an inquiry, and refused it with so much passion, and apparently with the firm belief—his fixed idea—that we on this side of the House who support the Motion are mischievous persons, enemies of their country, actuated merely by the desire to annoy him or to damage the country or the Government. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are not quite so bad as all that. Time will show who is right and who is wrong on this as on many other matters. In the matter of this demand for inquiry I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He makes this demand for inquiry a question of confidence, so that you do not get the true sense of the House of Commons; you have the artificial and perverted side of the House—perverted by a sense of loyalty to Party, and an obligation to take into account other things than the real merits of the question before us. I think it is rather hard upon us. It seems to me that we are condemned to have the money of the country squandered and, for all I know, to be pillaged in secret, without even the pitiful satisfaction of knowing who are the delinquents. If that is so, all I can say is that there has seldom been a grosser abuse of power by a majority in this House.

*(10.45.) MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)

I wish to give my reasons for voting against this Motion. It has been put forward ostensibly as merely a demand for an inquiry, but it is, despite the protest of the hon. and learned Member for the Dumfries Burghs, nothing more nor less than a vote of censure on the Government, and we are perfectly justified in treating it as such. Several hon. Members complained of the Party spirit which my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War is supposed to have imparted into this debate. It seems to me these hon. Members are very thin skinned. They seem to think they are perfectly justified in hurling about all sorts of wild charges, and also in going about the country making mischievous speeches which aid and abet the enemy, and yet they come down here to complain and protest when we say what we think of then-action. I am entirely unmoved by their protests. I regard this as a purely Party attack, and I must say that for a vote of censure moved by the Leader of the Opposition, I never heard a more uninspiring onslaught or a more insipid indictment. The hon. Member opposite says I have not heard many. I certainly have not, and I earnestly hope that if I am to hear any more votes of censure moved, the Opposition tactics will be of a more inspiriting nature. It is always interesting to have a trial of strength even against such a disjointed Opposition, which some critic has dignified by the name of "the many-headed hydra." But we must remember that after all that was a formidable beast. Personally I think the simile of a distracted centipede, stinging itself and its foes with feverish impartiality, would be more appropriate. I do not complain of the action of the Opposition. It is the duty of an Opposition to oppose, and to try and embarrass the Government; but I think that function could have been better discharged than by the serving up of irrelevant and petty gossip, and by the raking of garbage heaps, after the manner of the hon. Member for Northampton. We expected something more serious than that. Mistakes have, of course, been made in connection with the purchase of supplies and horses for this war, but until you manage to attain the eternal ideal of the human race that government should only be conducted by the wise and good, I am afraid we shall have to put up with blunders and mishaps in war.

Is the real object which underlies this Motion to punish the Government or its agents who may have been culpable? If so, I contend that this is not the proper time. It is impossible now to ascertain the true facts by appointing a Select Committee of this House, which, I am told on high authority, is the worst possible tribunal to get at the truth on any subject. If such a Committee were appointed at present, the inquiry would not only be inconclusive, but would, despite the protests of hon. Gentlemen opposite, actually hinder the progress of the war. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would be disturbed if it did. I think the Secretary of State for War is amply justified in his contention that it would not be desirable or possible to conduct this inquiry at the present time with any useful result. Is, on the other hand, the object of the Motion to help the Army in South Africa? Is it to ensure a more vigorous and forcible prosecution of the war? I myself would be most strenuous in support of any Motion which would tend to do this and to hasten the conclusion of the war; but I am afraid the motive of the right hot). Gentleman is a very different one. Even among those who have no party axe to grind in this matter, I think there has been a great deal of un-English hysteria about the proceedings which have taken place, and this has been stimulated by a section of the Press, who, of course, batten upon what they describe as "horrible scandals." and magnify into "grave disasters" even the most petty mishaps. These papers throw up their hands in horror and affect the utmost surprise and indignation because there have been occasions when the Government has been "done." Was there ever a war in which "a" Government has not been done? Or was it even conceivable that a Government should not be done in time of war? Was there ever a war without supply scandals? My right hon. friend in the course of his speech referred to defects in previous wars, and he appealed to me to speak of the defects which transpired in the Spanish-American War in 1898. That places me in a somewhat difficult position. I know a great deal of what occurred then, but there are many diplomatic difficulties in connection with discussing the matter, and as our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are apt to be sensitive about such things, I must be careful what I tell, especially as I have to return to America occasionally. I will say, however, that I well remember, as soon as the American public got over their first excitement, how the whole of the country was ringing with a series of so-called scandals, the "embalmed beef" scandal, and others. I feel justified in referring to the beef scandal, because it has been enlarged upon considerably in a book published by the American Secretary for War at that time, and, therefore, I do not think I shall be offending our friends on the other side of the Atlantic if I refer to it. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman urges me not to be too sensitive of the feelings of our friends I


On the contrary, I said, in an observation which I did not intend to reach the ears of the hon. Gentleman, "Do not be too rash."


I will endeavour to avoid the light hon. Gentleman's example in the matter of rash utterances, and I propose to reserve the few hostile comments I have to make for the right hon. Gentleman himself, and not for our friends on the other side of the Atlantic. I think, however, it is important to draw attention to the fact that in other countries charges have been made, with reference to scandals, which have not always been proved. This particular scandal was not proved, although the American Commander-in-Chief committed himself to-the statement before a Commission of Inquiry—which Commission of Inquiry was not held until after the war—that the beef served out to the troops in the West Indies was unfit for human consumption. It was described as "embalmed" beef, because it was said the contract had been secured by a prominent firm of Chicago undertakers. I need hardly say there was not a word of truth in that statement, but it was a good story. It was also charged that one of the most serious causes of sickness and distress among the troops was the badness of this meat, and although medical testimony was produced to that effect, the Commission did not find the charges proved, and, as a matter of fact, I do not think there was sufficient justification for them.

I pass from that, however, and come to a case nearer home, which I think will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He will doubtless recollect that he was himself once in the unfortunate position of my noble friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office, from 1880 to 1882, just previous to the Egyptian campaign. I know he was transferred, about that time, to another sphere of usefulness at the Admiralty, yet he must share a certain amount of responsibility for the lâches of the War Office at the commencement of that campaign. He spoke this evening of a "military picnic." I think he will admit that the campaign in Egpyt was a military picnic as compared with the present war in South Africa, and that if there was an excuse for mistakes in Egypt, there is a much greater excuse for mistakes at the present time. In that campaign there was not any notable horse scandal, but there was a very serious mule scandal.


I do not think this is relevant. The hon. Member is touching on a new topic altogether, which will very much enlarge the scope of discussion.


I bow to your ruling. Sir. I was only endeavouring to show that the right hon. Gentleman had been equally as unfortunate, I will not say as culpable, as the members of the present Government. I have, however, no wish to dwell on blunders which occurred during the Egyptian campaign, or on blunders during the present campaign, but can any unprejudiced person contend that mistakes are not inevitable when the military system of a country has to be suddenly and rapidly extended far beyond the work for which it was designed?

What is the extent of the scandals in this case? What has the Army been short of in South Africa? Has there been any complaint that the troops have been short of food, ammunition, clothing, supplies, or stores? I have not seen the troops in the field myself, but I venture to say never has an Army been so well supplied before. True, there have been certain defects in connection with the horses, and at times there has been a scarcity of them; but I think it is clear that the shortage of horses has been a great deal more due to the excessive wastage caused by hurrying them up the country before they are properly fit. My right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War has himself protested against this practice, and has tried to arrange that the horses should have a proper time, for rest. It all really comes down, then, to this horse question. But, I ask, is there in this House an hon. Member who has not himself been swindled when buying a single horse, when he had all the time he wanted and the benefit of expert advice? In time of war the Government require thousands of horses immediately, and have to compete with the combined ingenuity of the most Machiavellian of all professions. How, then, is it possible for them to avoid being done? In the present case there have of course been some very bad instances; there has been gross neglect on occasions, and these cases I admit must be stringently inquired into when the war is over. My right hon. friend the Secretary of Slate for War has himself insisted that that inquiry shall take place for the vindication of his own Department; but I entirely agree with him that this is not the proper time. The only thing we ought to insist upon now is that every possible step and every precaution shall be taken in order that the best possible horses shall be sent to South Africa. The question of cost, or even of excessive price, is relatively immaterial as long as we get the best horses. We want to get the best horses, and to get them to the troops by the best methods. I believe, as a matter of fact, the Remount Department has already been re-organised and strengthened to a very large extent. As regards the buying of horses in the United States, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, I have recently received a very excellent account of the working of the Remount Commission there, from a thoroughly expert and impartial observer. He admits, of coarse, that there have been scandals in the past; but he states that Colonel de Burgh, who is now in charge of the Remount Commission, has already brought it to a very high state of efficiency and organisation. The original blunder was giving a free hand to the veterinary surgeons without adequate supervision. It is of interest to note, by the way, that while we are paying from£17 to £20 for remounts in America, the United States Government have been paying£27 in the same districts. But of course they get a different stamp of horse. The United States require for their cavalry what we would call an officer's charger, 15.3 hands high and entirely too light for the work in South Africa. Our remounts are Montana ponies of 14.3 hands, infinitely better suited to our work, and of course cheaper. As a matter of fact, every horse now passes through the hands of six officers, and, therefore, there is no possibility of collusion or of a bad horse slipping through. The lesson we have to learn from this is that when war is imminent, a Commission like that which has been sent to the United States should be at once despatched to every possible country of supply, under the command of a senior officer, not necessarily an expert in horses, but whose chief qualification would be a sound business head. Associated with him should be another senior officer with full financial control, and with them should be associated the Military Attaché in the country. The veterinary surgeons should be simply used in order to examine and pass the horses. That system is now carried out successfully in the United States, and if it is carried out in future in all other countries, it will be almost impossible for these mistakes to occur again. Byallmeans let us register our demand—the Secretary of State himself has endorsed it—that there should be a full, complete, and searching inquiry into the whole question of contracts as soon as the war is over, and when it is possible to get full and conclusive evidence without disturbing the course of the military operations.

But let us now set aside all this ignoble pretence of disinterested zeal, and consider what is the real object of this Motion, and what will be the effect of this debate. What will the Army in South Africa say about it? What do they care about our wretched political squabbles, or whether the Secretary of State for War or the Leader of the Opposition comes out the better in what must seem a paltry stage duel to men absorbed in the stern reality of warfare, and face to face with death? They do not know, probably, who is the Leader of the Opposition at the present time. I feel sure that they can scarcely credit that it is the same Gentleman whose name figures so constantly in captured Boer correspondence. [Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNEKMAN dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman objects. It is all very well to object to these things being mentioned in the House, but are hon. Members to be debarred by considerations of "taste" from recalling them and reprobating them? If the Army in South Africa thinks of the right hon. Gentleman at all, I hope they will think of him merely as a humble follower of the hon. Member for Waterford, and not hold a patriotic Liberal Party responsible for his sins. It was a great American who said, in a time of national stress: "My country, right or wrong." In our latter-day politics it is too often "My country, right or wrong," according as it happens to best suit selfish political interests. All the man at the front cares for is how to strike a harder blow for his country, how to hasten the end of the war, and how to get back to his home and his family. We groan here about the weight of taxation and the burdens of this war upon our shoulders—or our pockets. But are they comparable to the intolerable burden on those war-worn men at the front? If it is only a question of horses, let us devote our national energy, and our national wealth to pouring into South Africa horses, and again more horses, until the demands of the troops are fully satisfied. Without that, it is impossible that our columns can obtain that maximum of mobility which can alone make it possible for them to follow-up the enemy, and bring this weary war to a prompt and certain conclusion.

(11.10) MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems, for some unknown reason, to have constituted himself the Mentor as to the line which the Opposition ought to take in connection with this war. Whatever competence the hon. Gentleman may have as regards the other side of the House. I for one, and I think I speak for my hon. friends also, repudiate his canons of taste as to the remarks which ought to be addressed from this side of the House on the question of the war. The hon. Gentleman said that the attack from this side of the House was an insipid attack, but if it were anything but insipid he would at once have accused us of turning this debate into a Party channel. I confess, speaking for myself, that I have been struck by the fact that every hon. Member who has addressed the House on this side has endeavoured to adduce some substantial evidence in support of his arguments. The Secretary of State for War, in reply to the Leader of the Opposition, took exception to the sincerity of the Opposition on the question of the remounts, transport, and other things on the ground that we produce no evidence in support of our statements. I should like to remind the House of what took place on the 6th of June last year. The hon. Member for Dulwich rose in his place and made a series of general insinuations against the honour and probity of certain unnamed officers. On the present occasion there have been no general insinuations, but specific accusations against certain named officers and companies. Therefore, the argument relied on last July in connection with an indefinite charge, unsupported by evidence, cannot be applied to charges brought forward with so much distinctness and clearness by hon. Members on this side of the House. I should like to say a few words on the question of the Hungarian horses. An hon. Gentleman opposite defended, I think very properly and at considerable length, the personal honour of the officer concerned. As a Member of the Committee of Inquiry, I may say that all the officers concerned proved their personal probity, but only proved it at the expense of their intelligence. What are the facts? The Imperial Yeomanry Committee made a contract with an Italian Jew resident in London, who handed it on to a German Jew resident in Newmarket, who passed it on to another Jew resident in Hungary, and between them they shared a profit of something like 40 per cent. of the total contract. That profit was perfectly legitimate from the point of view of the dealer. He tried to get the better' of the person making the contract, and it is unquestioned and unquestionable that he succeeded, but that only proved want of intelligence on the part of the person making the contract, and no way affected his personal honour.

Now, I would like to ask the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office to two or three charges, which I bring to the notice of the House on the authority of official reports made to the War' Office by officers in South Africa. Take, for instance, the question of the Basuto ponies. In the White Paper presented on the subject of remounts in South Africa mention is made by Colonel Birkbeck of the purchase of 3,000 Basuto ponies at an average price of £15, including a commission of £2 for what is euphemistically called "collection" to a certain enterprising firm of Scotsmen. That means that for collection—whatever collection may mean—Messrs. Fraser have received a payment of £6,000 out of the Public Treasury. But in another White Paper on Basutolaud, presented by a Colonial office, mention is made of the further sale of 17,000 Basuto ponies to the War Office. I should like to know whether Messrs. Fraser have received £2 a head on those 17,000, because, if so, there will have been a payment to this firm of no less than £40,000 for collection.

Then there is a subject which the Auditor General has brought to the notice of the House, in his remarks on the appropriation of Army funds, in connection with the purchase of Spanish mules. The contract was for 96,000. The agent at the War Office is unable to produce a single receipt from any of the sellers concerned. Not only that, but the methods employed have aroused the suspicion in the minds of the War Office that he received not only his legitimate payment from the War Office, but also a payment from the sellers of the mules, which mules, when taken out to South Africa, had been declared by Colonel Birkbeck to be flat-sided, misshapen, and exceedingly old.


I have not the report here, but I do not think there is any accusation against the buyer himself; I think it is the agent who brought the mules together for the buyer to see.


All I say is that there are no receipts producible at the War Office. I can assure the noble Lord that those are the words of the Auditor General. It seems to me to be so definite a case, with such positive information corroborated by persons unconnected with each other, that if the War Office are unwilling to grant a general inquiry, this, at all events, is a very glaring case which might be made the subject of a searching inquiry. I will pass over entirely the case of Major Peters and Argentina, to which considerable reference has been made, and come to New Orleans. Here, again, is a very remarkable case. The large gains made by the Army veterinary surgeon employed to pass the horses there have become a matter of common notoriety and gossip in the town, and he has been publicly charged in the newspapers with having received very large sums of money indeed in connection with the transactions with sellers of horses. This case was brought to the notice of the War Office, and the veterinary surgeon was ordered either to bring an action against the people who accused him or to take the consequences of what he had done. But so great had been his illicit gains that he abandoned his certainty of promotion, his pension rights amounting to £800 or £1,000, and elected to do what the War Office ought never to have allowed him to do, viz., to retire from the service. The War Office suspicions must have been well founded, and yet the delinquent, for he is no less, was never brought to court-martial or cashiered; he retired from the service without any stigma other than may be found in the ordinary intimation that he has loft the service. Surely here, again, the duty of the War Office was not to hush up the matter. They ought to have brought this officer to a court-martial; some searching inquiry I ought to have been made into the whole circumstances of the case. From what I have been able to learn of the matter, if such an inquiry had been made other delinquents would have been drawn into the case, and a very gross scandal revealed.

Then I should like to notice how these contracts have been carried out. We all know what Hungarian horses have been admitted to be. One or two Members who have had actual experience of them have testified to their not being bad horses, but the general consensus of opinion in South Africa appears to be that they have not been good horses or very well suited for their work. The Argentine horses are reported to have been bad and half-broken; the Australian are said to have been badly selected, the cavalry horses were disappointing, and the draught horses a scandal. That is the report of the responsible officer to the Commander-in-Chief on the selection of Australian horses. But the same officer goes on to say— The mules purchased in Italy were a source, not only of inconvenience but of positive danger, and, as I have said before, the Spanish mules were flat-sided, misshapen, and very old. On the other hand, it is quite true that a considerable number of horses purchased in this country, and the mules purchased in North America, were of a good and useful stamp. But a great number of the horses regarded as being bought in the United Kingdom and returned as English horses are not English horses at all. Take, for instance, the great mass of bus horses taken up on registration; nearly all of those are foreigners, many of them North American, so that they cannot be claimed as English horses at all.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to what the remount officer says about the capacity of the purchasing officers in South Africa. We are told that one of the essential features of the war, so far as remounts are concerned, is a knowledge of horse-flesh in all its branches, a knowledge of suitable management on a large scale, and especially a capacity and facility for purchase. We are told also by this same officer that it is absolutely essential that this want shoud be met. How has this essential want been met? Colonel Birkbeck reports that— Not a single officer in the Department had any technical training or previous experience. We bought our knowledge at the expense of the public purse; for want of expert officers the Department has been at a grave disadvantage, a great waste of public money has been caused, and, more significant still, the standard of commercial morality has not been proof against temptation. Those are very serious accusations to bring against any Department, and they are a confirmation of the demand urged from this side of the House for an immediate inquiry into these matters.

Great attention has been directed in this debate to the want of proper attendance on the horses. I should like to know whether any of the contracts for the purchase of horses took into consideration the fact that these horses and mules would be a long time at sea, and insisted on a proper attendance being provided during that period on board ship. What are the facts of he case? Twelve thousand horses and mules perished at sea. It is quite true that there may have been no particular pecuniary loss in consequence, but the absence of so large a number of remounts at the base must very seriously have affected the calculations made in anticipation of their being available, and upset some of the plans thus made. In the Remount Committee we had evidence from Colonel Hotham that so far as he was concerned the attendance on the transport ships consisted of the scum of Liverpool and the sweepings of various ports, and that a large number of these people had never handled a horse. A proof of the importance of what he says is the fact that upon this particular ship no less than 6 per cent. of the horses died in the course of the voyage to South Africa. Colonel Birkbeck says that the bad condition is almost invariably a question of the efficiency of those in charge. I should like to know how far this question of attendance on the ships has been a matter of consideration in the making of contracts. It is the worst possible economy to send a valuable cargo of horses to sea and place an inadequate personnel in charge of them. Even if upon no other ground, the Government ought, on the ground of economy, to afford the House an opportunity of inquiring into what is described by their own officer as a grave scandal and a great waste of public money.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, in his reply today, said that the number of officers concerned in these purchases was so great that it would be impossible to withdraw them from the front without causing vital loss to the Army. Let me remind him that in 1810 a Committee of the Whole House sat to inquire into the causes of the failure of the Walcheren expedition, and there were examined in detail before the whole House, the Commander-in-Chief of that day, the principal Admiral, the Chairman of the then Transport Board, and nearly every one of the great officers of the Army. At that time there were serious warlike operations, the issue of which were far more doubtful than the issues of this war were ever expected to be. Whatever other results that inquiry had it certainly improved the morale of the Army. The number of officers we should have to withdraw from the front would be very small. We have been told that of five purchasing officers in Australia but three were now at the front, and that of five officers who had been purchasing in Argentina only two were at the front. Therefore officers are available now before the war is over. There are many officers in this country now who can give information. Colonel Bridge can tell us what took place in South Africa. Others can tell us what happened in Australia, Hungary, Servia, Montenegro, and Russia. And there is ample material available to arrive at a verdict as to the making of these contracts. This is not a case of party at all. It may be true that after a searching inquiry has been made a strong case may be made out against the War Office, and the result of the inquiry may be that the right hon. Gentleman will be displaced, but surely that patriotism he constantly demands from the Opposition would induce him to lay down his office for the good of the country.

But the whole of his argument is absolutely beside the point. The question is: has extravagance prevailed in the public service? Have officers robbed or not robbed the office which they were supposed to serve? Upon these points there has been concealment and secrecy. It has first aroused public suspicion and then justified it. If in the course of an inquiry those suspicions are refuted, then nobody will be more congratulated by the country and by this House—and I venture to say also by the Opposition—than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. On the other hand, if there has been serious faults and want of control over subordinate officers, then it seems to me that we ought to be able to obtain summary justice for the offenders.

*(11.35.) MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)

It is certain that an inquiry into such mistakes as have been made is desirable and should be conducted, but as I understand it, the question is not as to whether an inquiry should or should not be held, but whether the present time is the moment to hold that inquiry. I understood from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that he is fully alive to certain shortcomings in this war, even as we are aware of the shortcomings of every other war. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of his knowledge of the shortcomings in the frankest manner, but when he said they were less than might have been expected owing to the sudden strain, he said even less than the truth. My hon. friend the Member for East Bristol referred to the inquiry held in 1811 into the failures in the Walcheren expedition, and he stated that at that time the issue was even more doubtful and fatal than in the present war. I may agree that it was more doubtful, but I do not agree that it was more fatal. If you are to choose this moment to bring certain isolated black spots to light, that which is the object of every hon. Member of this House—namely, to assist our troops to bring the present operations to a successful conclusion—will not be assisted.

A great deal has been said tonight with regard to the remounts, and the gravamen of the charge against the Government is that those remounts were not as good as they should have been. Having seen samples of every remount in South Africa, no doubt it is easy to imagine a better horse than some of those I had to do with, but I cannot say honestly that it is certain that a better horse could have been obtained throughout the whole course of the war. No doubt better horses could have been obtained at a given moment. At one time Basuto ponies might have been bought, which are not available now, and we might thus have been spared some of the Argentine horses, but the statement that the remount service has been grossly mismanaged throughout is grossly untrue. I will refer to the remount establishments in South Africa. I have seen many of these establishments, and, as far as a humble soldier could judge, they were admirably managed. It may be, as my right hon. friend has said, that horses have been sent to the front from these depots without sufficient rest, but when everybody is overworked mistakes of that kind must arise; but where people have had the opportunity to be at rest, I am glad to think that my countrymen have shown their usual capacity for dealing with the subject in a common-sense way. Both in Natal and Capo Colony and at the different bases the remount establishments have been conducted in a manner which I am sure would be a surprise to hon. Members opposite, who seem to think that everything in South Africa is wrong. I can honestly assure hon. Members opposite that with regard to the remount establishments in South Africa, they are altogether on the wrong scent.

With regard to the land transport, out of which great profits are said to have been made by certain individuals, although it is probable that these great profits were made, it should be borne in mind that if such arrangements had not been made at the moment, it is more than likely that we should not have got the transport we desired. I think hon. Members opposite do not appreciate the immense difficulty of dealing with so large an area as that from which this transport had to be collected. One hon. Member stated that if our own officers had endeavoured to collect this transport so much per cent. would have been saved. I submit that that is not so. I do not know from which particular farms and districts all those waggons and oxen came, but I do know that these particular men who had this contract were only able to put their hands upon them through an intimate knowledge of the district. That they have made large profits cannot be denied. The question is, however, could you have obtained the transport without their assistance? Lord Roberts' greatest success was undoubtedly due in a great degree to his large and rapidly improvised transport. I should be the last person to endeavour to induce any persons, and more especially this honourable House, to shrink from investigating anything which was wicked and wrong, but I would ask the House to reflect that there are moments when, by spending money, you do so, well knowing that you are going to lose a large percentage in order to obtain what you require. If that is true of the land transport, I believe it is also true of the horses, though in a less degree.

With regard to sea transport, I think, speaking broadly, it is agreed that it has been well and honestly done. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] An hon. Member says "no," but it is difficult to argue only from one's own individual experience. I think if you would refer the matter of sea transport to any impartial tribunal, they would find that it had been well and efficiently managed. To suggest that a Committee of this House should be called upon at this inopportune moment to consider such a question as sea transport, to decide whether it has been badly managed or not, is an absurd proposition, at a time when the tremendous weight of evidence goes to show that it has been well managed, and when there is only an infinitesimal weight of opinion on the opposite side.

But, Sir, apart from the various details of which I have spoken, there is a broad principle involved. I said at the commencement of my remarks, that what we had to consider was, how to best secure the success of our arms in the field, and I say, that by pushing this matter to a division, we are not going to assist that object. I know full well that my saying this may be held to imply that I take a gloomy view of this war. I do not say that I do or do not, but I say that this is a critical moment, when we have just suffered a bitter defeat, and when it does not consort with the dignity of this House to be frittering away time by trying to impute dishonest motives to officers in the field. I would suggest that we should leave to another time the question as to who shall rake over those old ash-heaps, and who shall interpret the dream, not of the chief butler but of the head waiter. I would suggest in all seriousness that we should turn our faces resolutely to the future. I know very well that if the Government were cynically minded they would welcome this inquiry, for it would show that the past, whatever its faults, has been illumined by the gallantry of our troops and by hard and steadfast work on the part of the non-combatant staff in South Africa. They have chosen another course, a bolder course, a more difficult course, and they have turned their faces to the future, which is not all bright. I for one, fully as I agree that any malpractices should be brought to light in this House, do not believe that this is the moment when the inquiry should take place. I would appeal to hon. Members opposite to realise the gravity of the situation in which we now stand, and, though they may discuss, not to force this matter to a division.

*(11.48.) MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)

said there was one Department at least in connection with the proposed inquiry which would not require the recall of a single officer, and that was the question of the purchase of remounts in this country, without regard to those which were made public abroad. The general impression made was one of complete bewilderment as to the choice the Government had made of the officials whom they were employing to make purchases in various parts of this country. The hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch spoke of his friend, Colonel Maclean. That officer was also a friend of his, and he had nothing to say of him but words of the highest commendation. He was a man of the highest experience and character. A successor of his in the command of the same regiment was on the retired list, and, having great experience in horses and wishing to do some service, he offered his services for any post in which he might be useful. He was ordered to go out to New Orleans to purchase horses, and he had made preparations for his passage by steamer, when all of a sudden he received a telegram countermanding the appointment, and without giving any reason therefore. Shortly afterwards, another officer was appointed, and it was a matter of notoriety that that officer was not at all competent to discharge the duties, with the result that the purchases in that part of the world had been anything but satisfactory. He did not know General Truman except in connection with official matters, but he was quite sure that he was a man of the highest honour; but it was perfectly notorious, to use a somewhat vulgar expression, that, for an officer connected with a cavalry regiment he was one of the most unhorsey men in the whole service. It was most inexplicable that he ever got the position to which he was appointed. In regard to the purchase of horses in this country, he had already referred in the House to the extraordinary fact that farmers apparently never had the chance of selling to the agents. What they said was that the agents who were appointed, certainly in the early part of the war, were very largely not the right class of men, and that they did not go to the right persons from whom to buy. The scandal of the purchase of worthless horses in Hungary might have been altogether avoided if the offers of service submitted to the War Office by Colonel Wardrop, the military attaché at Vienna, had not been ignored.

(11.58.) Debate adjourned till tomorrow.