§ Motiom made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £331,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge for salaries and miscellaneous charges of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Secretary of State for War."—(Mr. Pirie.)
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
, continuing his speech, said the War Office framed a charge of indecency in order to obtain an acquittal. On 5th May the War Office telegraphed to the Officer Commanding in South Africa to know whether Mr. Barclay would come over and give evidence, and on 6th May they received a telegram from the Commander in South Africa stating that he would not. They knew that a charge of that kind could not be sustained without corroborative evidence, and yet they handed that charge to the Treasury on 17th May, the day after they knew that Mr. Barclay, who could give corroborative evidence, was not coming from Johannesburg. The consequence was that a sham Court-martial was held, and the men were acquitted, not honourably, but owing to a deficiency of evidence. The War Office had in their possession at that time the evidence he should now produce. The War Office framed the indictment under Section 16 of the Army Act, and drew it with the object of securing an acquittal. Had 943 they proceeded, as he suggested they ought to have done, under Section 14, there must have been a conviction on the admissions made by the officers themselves before the Court-martial. He had the whole of the evidence given in the civil trial at Gape Town, and also the evidence of Mr. Barclay taken on commission in Johannesburg. Mr. Barclay was present at the mock Court-martial, and was a witness, not for Mr. Stanford, but for the incriminated officers. He would not read the whole of the evidence for the sake of the morality of the people, but he would show that there had been abominable misconduct, and the War Office had shielded these men because of their social influence. The hon. Member proceeded to quote portions of the evidence taken on commission, and at one point declared that he would not read a certain question and answer, because "in all the literature of obscenity he had never met its equal."
§ MR. BRODRICK
, interrupting, asked the hon. Member if it was desirable to further deal with a statement which he admitted he could not read out to the House, or which, at least, it was undesirable to read out to the House. Could not the hon. Member give them a brief résumé of the proceedings, and then say what he wished to say?
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said that the right hon. Gentleman was too clever by half. He would do nothing of the kind suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. If the right hon. Gentleman thought he could destroy debate in that House, he was greatly mistaken, and he should do whit he intended to do, even if he were dragged out of the House. He should not follow the right hon. Gentleman's example of seven years ago, when he got the galleries cleared and told a story of horrible indecency in order to destroy a doctor in the Army. The doctor was in a humble position, but now the right hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to shield these people because they had some social position. That House, despite the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman and of his companions, was still a place of freedom of speech and debate. If the right hon. Gentleman were not so great 944 a man, he should say it was really rather curious that he should attempt to deny him—
§ MR. BRODRICK
My point is this. Is the hon. Gentleman in order in occupying the House with this long explanation of what he believes me to have said and done on an occasion some seven years ago?
Order, order! It is a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman is right in asking whether what the hon. Member is saying is relevant or not.
§ MR. BRODRICK
The point I desire to submitis this. The hon. Member is reading at great length from a document and commenting upon it. If he is in order in doing that, on which I wish for your ruling, I desire to ask if the hon. Member is in order, after a very long speech, in taking up the time of the House in explaining to the House what he believes me to have said and done on a previous occasion.
I think the latter part of the hon. Member's observations was certainly not relevant. The hon. Member is entitled to occupy the time of the House, but there are certain limits to the patience of the Committee—[MINISTERIAL cheers]—and I hope the hon. Member, who has already occupied an hour and a half, will endeavour to bring his remarks to a conclusion.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said he was perfectly in order and was perfectly within his right in exposing a great scandal in that House. The Government had no power over the House except by their closure, and let them use that if they liked to prevent him from exposing this scandal. A very great wrong had been done to an individual. He had never seen Mr. Stanford, and he had had no communication with him, but he believed that he was a deeply-wronged man. At the Court-martial he was not allowed to speak to his counsel, and horrible accusations were made against his character. He was called "Matilda" in court, and subjected to other horrible indignities. A travesty of justice had been enacted by the Department of which the right hon. Gentleman was the extremely incompetent head. This horrible and stupendous outrage, and all the circumstances attending it, had been deliberately kept from the public, as many other outrages had been, not for public but for political reasons by the Secretary for War. He accused the right hon. Gentleman of this perversion of justice, for he had deliberately done his best to burk every means of communication in reference to the scandals of South Africa.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said it was only out of respect to the Committee that he proposed to address a few words in reply to the far too long oration of the hon. Member. He could not help feeling that that speech was rather an abuse of the time of the House of Commons. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
called the attention of the Chairman to that expression. If he had been irrelevant it was the Chairman's duty to call him to order. The right hon. Gentleman had no right to ay that.
I am sorry the hon. Member should feel so sensitive after having just called the right hon. Gentleman incompetent. Every Member of the House has a right to form an opinion whether the hon. Member's speech is an abuse or not.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said he took abuse from the hon. Member as a compliment. He considered it an abuse of the time of the House of Commons to speak for an hour and a half on a subject of this kind, when there were a hundred other topics on which hon. Members, with a real acquaintance with Army subjects, were anxious to speak. The hon. Member had occupied something like one third of the time of his speech declaring that hon. Members were laughing, and to other matters which had nothing whatever to do with the subject. He spoke without any feeling whatever in regard to this matter, and he did not propose to imitate the tone of the hon. Member. He proposed to say one or two words in reply to the indictment which he held had entirely and wrongfully been addressed to him. In the first place he had been exposed to criticism because this case was again brought to public notice, and because of the sentence of the Court-martial. He was ready to take full responsibility on both those points, although, in fact, he was responsible for neither. The person who was mainly responsible for any event which had taken place in this connection was the hon. Member's client, Mr. Stanford.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
You have no right to call him my client. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Order."] Withdraw that expression.
The hon. Member is entitled to raise a point of order, but he is not entitled to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
Mr. Chairman, you well know the relations between client and counsel; I have never seen or heard from Mr. Stanford, and I have had no communication with him, and yet the right hon. Gentleman spoke as if I were a barrister who had been feed. He must instantly withdraw.
The phrase is very often used in this House, and does not necessarily convey what are generally supposed to be the relations between the client and his solicitor or barrister. It is a phrase which is constantly used, and I do not think the hon. Member need take offence at it.
§ MR. FLAVIN
said it was a different matter when the word was applied by a paid official to an unpaid legal gentleman who had a very correct feeling. [OPPOSITION cries of "Withdraw."]
Order, order! The hon. Member is not entitled to interrupt. He was listened to with great patience, and the least he can do now is to listen to the right hon. Gentleman's reply.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said he had listened to the hon. Member for an hour and a half whilst he read a number of statements, He listened to him with patience and without interruption.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said this question was only one amongst many which the House of Commons desired to discuss, and he did not see why hon. Members who had a real acquaintance with subjects connected with the Army should be debarred from discussing them by this question. These regrettable proceedings took place on December 24, 1901, in Cape Town in regard to Mr. Stanford. He had been censured for not taking action earlier, and it had been said that the War Office had deliberately remained in ignorance of what had taken place. Mr. Stanford had his own remedy. If Mr. Stanford had desired to take his military remedy he would have applied to the officer commanding in Cape Town and placed his case before him. But he did nothing of the kind. He went to solicitors and sued these officers in a civil trial, and accepted from them £1,500 and a full apology. The case, therefore, never came before the military authorities at all, and consequently he had had no power of dealing with it any more than any Member of that House. The case might then have remained in abeyance if it had not been for the hon. Member opposite, who had interfered in so many cases where statements had been made against officers in 948 South Africa with inadequate information, and he took no notice of the hon. Member's intervention. Had he done so he should have been showing great disrespect to officers of importance and high character whom the hon. Member had frequently impeached in that House by question and innuendo in a manner which he thought was quite unworthy and without the smallest foundation. He had it in his mind that the hon. Member repeatedly attacked Lord Methuen in that House. Having such proceedings in his mind, he replied to the hon. Member that Lord Kitchener would no doubt take notice of any disorder, and if he could not deal with it himself would report thereon to the Commander-in-Chief.
On December 22, 1902, Mr. Stanford, after having got an apology and £1,500, went out of his way to bring the whole matter to his notice, and he wrote to him a letter in which he said he was sorry he had not done what he previously had been advised to do, and requesting him to receive a statement of the maltreatment he had undergone. In regard to such a letter the Secretary for War had only one course to take, to reply that he was ready to receive any statement; and he subsequently received the statement, which covered not merely maltreatment in the ordinary sense of bullying and assault, but imputations of grave acts of indecency which any officer or gentleman would desire to repudiate. He then took the only course in his power, and he handed the letter to the Adjutant-General in order that the military authorities should take what steps they thought desirable; the officers were called on for an explanation, and that explanation was at variance with Mr. Stanford's statement. There remained then nothing for it but either to investigate the matter, or to take action without investigation. He felt unhesitatingly that investigation was the only thing which would be possible, or fair to the officers, some of whom had been actively engaged since the civil trial. The inquiry might have either been one which would not necessarily have been public, or a Court-martial, which would have been public. A Court-martial had power to subpoena witnesses, and consequently that form of inquiry was decided on by the military authorities, and all those officers were brought to a Court-martial. The hon. Member complained that the 949 officers were not tried for the bear-fighting which took place, but only on the graver charges of indecency. But Mr. Stanford went to the civil Courts and obtained his remedy for the bear-fighting. In his opinion it would be a very grave injustice if a man were to be allowed first to seek his civil remedy, and then some time afterwards, after the defendants had been risking their lives for their country, to proceed against them in other ways. The Secretary for War had no power whatever in a Court-martial.
§ MR. BRODRICK
That power lies not only by custom, but by law, with the Adjutant-General. He hoped the hon. Member would curb his impatience a little. The Adjutant-General drew up the charge, the Court-martial tried the case, and the Adjutant-General submitted the verdict to His Majesty, without the intervention of the Secretary of State at any stage. He was, in fact, in no way responsible for it. The Court-martial found the officers not guilty of the charges submitted; and, that being so, it was not the War Office that was in fault, but Mr. Stanford, who went for damages, but did not come to the War Office for the punishment of these officers at a time when they could be dealt with. He got the damages in May and did not write to the War Office till September. He deeply regretted these proceedings having taken place, and, after the verdict of the Court-martial, that the hon. Member should have thought it necessary to bring the case before the House. As far as Lord Roberts was concerned, and he himself was concerned, they had not only taken the only just course, but the only course open to them. They secured for Mr. Stanford a full and impartial investigation. Mr. Stanford's word was not believed and the word of the officers was believed. ["No."] He must remind the hon. Member who interrupted that in one important fact that Mr. Stanford brought forward—namely, that he had to keep his bed for many days after the events of which he complained—he was proved to have misstated the fact by the evidence of the doctor whom he called in, and who found him within a short time walking about in the 950 hotel. It was not for him to say whether the rest of Mr. Stanford's evidence was more credible than that; but it seemed reasonable to conclude that the Court-martial might have felt that, when they were trying officers, as it were, for their lives, they were bound to give full credit to the fact that the main witness had himself misstated his own case.
§ MR. BRODRICK
submitted that the action of the hon. Member was unwarranted, because the present Commander-in-Chief had shown himself sedulous to a degree to stop improper conduct of this kind on the part of officers. Even with the hon. Member's censure before him he said unhesitatingly that he thought a great distinction should be drawn between schoolboy noisiness among young officers in a regiment and really grave offences. They ought not to be severe over mere youthful exuberance of spirits; but the Commander-in-Chief had really shown that when such exuberance of spirits degenerated into bullying or a system of ill-treatment of any individual he was determined to put an end to such conduct. The Reports now sent in during the first three years of an officer's service as to whether or not a young officer was suited for the profession, made ill-treatment and bullying absolutely unnecessary. Such representations had been received by the War Office, and carefully acted upon, as had in many instances conduced to the great advantage of officers. He protested against individual outbursts of high spirits being made the subject of philippics against the whole British Army, more especially when they were absolutely untrue and uncalled for. Upon all really serious matters, the Commander-in-Chief had taken every action which lay in his power. He submitted that in this case not only was the right course taken, but the only course that was possible or open to them to take in the matter was taken, The officers who composed the tribunal did their duty, and the case was tried in the fairest and openest manner. He believed that the verdict on the evidence brought forward showed that there was the strongest reason for 951 believing that these young officers had not been guilty of the graver charges made against them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said he was very much surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he was in no way responsible for what took place in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman was responsible for everything that took place in the Army, although it might be done by someone else. He was the only representative of the Army, and if Parliament was to have any control over the Army, these matters must be raised in the House. This method must always be recognised, unless they were going to lay it down that the Army was entirely independent of the House of Commons. With regard to the charges brought against these officers, when the right hon. Gentleman said he thought they had cleared themselves entirely of those charges, he did not think he was quite right. If he remembered aright there was an application made to send out a Commission and it was refused. He agreed that on the evidence before the Committee the officers were properly acquitted, although had the case been before a Scotch Court the verdict would probably have been "Not Proven." Putting aside the indecency, he could not understand why a charge was not made against them from the facts they had themselves admitted. It was rather a stretch to say that the conduct which took place was mere exuberance of spirits or pardonable excitement. He had looked through the evidence. Had it been mere exuberance of spirits, and the man had been merely ducked in a pond, it would be different, but here the man was positively tortured for three or four hours, according to the officers' own evidence, and at the end he was compelled by force, majeure to sign a document to the effect that he deserved all he got. The right hon. Gentleman had explained his position, and defended the War Office on the ground that Mr. Stanford sought his remedy in a Civil Court before going to the military authorities. Surely the fact of damages in a civil action did not exonerate the officers from the charge of having behaved contrary to what an officer and a gentleman ought.
§ MR. BRODRICK
I pointed out that since the occurrence, these officers had been employed in the field, and there is a well-understood custom that officers who subsequently risk their lives in the field should not have old charges raked up against them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
thought it was a bad usage. He believed that the only reason why the facts did not come out in the newspapers at the Cape was that a person connected with the censorship was sent round to the offices of the newspapers, whose conductors were told not to allude to them. That was unduly interfering with the liberty of the Press, for it was desirable that the Press should take up a case like this so that the right hon. Gentleman might be able to know what was going on abroad. He denied entirely that the offence to the Army was washed out by the fact that an action was brought and damages recovered in a civil Court, and he would like to point out that the charge of indecency was not withdrawn on that occasion. He believed that in this matter the officers of the Army as a body, who were most careful of the honour of the Army, did not quite take the view of the right hon. Gentleman. He was surprised at the complaint of the time taken by the hon. Gentleman, who did not consume more time than was absolutely necessary to lay the case before the Committee. The Secretary for War had tried to get out of specific charges by somewhat generalising, and he had not made out his case. It was felt that something had gone wrong in this case. It was admitted that this bullying and torturing went on for three or four hours, and the public were surprised that in no sort of way under military discipline were those, who had themselves admitted what they did, to be made responsible and punished. The War Office regulations, it should be remembered, were intended for the benefit of the Army and for the public good; they were intended to punish officers—as the ordinary law was intended to deal with criminals—not as an act of vengeance but in order to deter others from pursuing the same course. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had not promised to give further consideration to the case, in view of the fact that it had undoubtedly excited strong public feeling. There was no need 953 for vindictive punishment, but he would not have thought it impossible to take the two ringleaders and invite them to leave the Army, and to punish in some minor disciplinary manner the others. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had not said that some further consideration would be given to this mutter in order that public opinion might be satisfied. With the encouragement of the right hon. Gentleman Lord Roberts would, he felt sure, take some steps to vindicate public justice. He was surprised that Captain Williams, who presided over the mock tribunal, and had since admitted at the Court-martial a great deal not to his credit, should have been made a major; Lieutenant Prior was told that he could not resign till there had been an inquiry. As these two men were a good deal older than the others, something ought to be done to punish them. Stanford had been brought to him by an Irish nobleman, whom he knew in the sort of way that a humble person like himself knew an Irish nobleman, and who said Stanford was a relative. Mr. Stanford was not the style of man he particularly admired. He appeared to be one of those hangers-on in society, with some sort of position, who, like some gentlemen in England, got up parties and talked to ladies about their dresses. Although he was that sort of man, it did not follow that everything should be believed that was said by officers against him. Mr. Stanford's lawyer, Mr. Hawksley—an eminent lawyer connected with the Chartered Company of South Africa—thought he had been very ill treated, because these officers had been allowed to make any sort of charge against him and his character and he had had no opportunity of reply. He had received the invitations which were sent from Government House after these occurrences. One of the allegations was that Stanford had been turned out at, he believed, Admiralty House; but the answer elicited by an inquiry on this point was that he had not been turned out. Then there was the affidavit of the gentleman who was at the head of the Uitlanders' Committee. He had stated that Stanford was perfectly respectable, and that he would not have the least objection to his being on friendly terms with his own 954 wife and daughters. It was hard on this man that he should not have an opportunity of rebutting allegations which were ruinous to him. It appeared that since he had been in London he had been ordered to clear out of a restaurant by an officer, and that his presence was also objected to at a ladies military club to which he was taken by a lady. If the right hon. Gentleman could find some way of arranging an informal inquiry as to whether the despicable light in which Stanford had been regarded by society officials at the Cape was justified by facts he would only be performing an act of justice.
§ MR. BRODRICK
, referring to the promotion of Captain Williams, said that in the event of the Court-martial having found a verdict of guilty, the gravest sentence that could be pronounced—removal from His Majesty's service—would have been pronounced. These officers ran that risk, and in view of the decision of the Court-martial the Commander-in-Chief had no power whatever to take any further action. If the Commander-in-Chief had stopped Captain Williams's promotion he would have been punishing him on account of something of which he had not been found guilty by the Court-martial. On the other hand, he did not think anything could show the Committee how strongly the Court-martial and the Commander-in-Chief felt with regard to misconduct of this description, and he particularly desired to guard himself against in any way being supposed to justify conduct of this discription by the statement he had made that afternoon. As to Lieutenant Prior, who apparently had been guilty of another assault, and whose word had been called in question by a magistrate, his papers had been refused, and he had been informed that his removal from the Army must be considered unless he could clear himself of the very serious imputation made against him. It was out of his power to comply with the request that he should endeavour to clear Stanford's character. He knew nothing of him. He did not know on what ground any evidence as to Stanford's character was produced before the Court-martial, unless it was to enable the officers to show that they had received provocation. Of course, he was not responsible for that. He must say that, 955 having first brought his whole case before them, and then having written to the papers and said that he did not wish the matter to be pursued, Stanford had put himself in a very difficult position with regard to the War Office. He had really only himself to thank for the position in which he found himself.
hoped the Committee would pardon him for directing its attention for a moment to the very momentous declarations which had been made as to the retention of an Army Corps in South Africa. He asked the noble Lord to make one or two points clear in regard to the forces to be stationed in South Africa. Hon. Members on that side were much disappointed that no undertaking had been given that the forces at home should be reduced proportionately with the increase of the permanent garrison of South Africa, for they believed it would be possible to strengthen the Army while reducing the establishment. He wished to know were the garrison regiments which were to be placed there to be taken from the places where they now were, or were they to be fresh regiments formed for the purpose?
said that in that case the question arose, what would be put in place of them? He was disappointed that there had been no promise of a reduction, because we needed the money. The result of the announcement made that day was that we were going to be involved in an expenditure of £1,500,000 per annum more than we now spent, minus whatever the Indian Government might give us.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said that what he stated was that the extra cost of 25,000 men in South Africa as compared with 25,000 men kept in Great Britain would be £1,500,000 annually, but he added an important proviso. From that sum must be deducted the extra cost there was before the war of keeping a garrison in South Africa, and the extra cost of any 956 garrison which it might be resolved to keep there after the war. The Government provided in their scheme of 1901 about £600,000 towards this object, so that the extra amount involved would not exceed £900,000.
said he was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for explaining this to the Committee; but at any rate there would be an increase in the expenditure, although it had been hoped that possibly this plan might have resulted in a slight diminution, and he thought it was reasonable to ask whether it was not even more important to devote this increase to more important subjects. They were grateful to know that the Intelligence Department was to be increased, but there was the matter of the guns, as to which he thought the Committee would be glad to have some further assurance. No one in the House supposed that the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord were not extremely desirous that the country should have quick-firing guns; but, when the right hon. Gentleman asked by what method they could proceed to get these guns without further delay, he would answer that they could proceed by the same methods as those adopted by foreign Powers. The position was exactly the same now as it was four years ago when the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman said the matter was being carefully considered. He thought the time had now come when the House of Commons really meant this thing to be done; and he was encouraged in that belief by the fact that the Service members, a body not prone to attack unduly in these matters, had unanimously resolved that it was expedient that the Committee should at once be informed that the matter would be carried through, that a date should be given, and, further, that delay was dangerous. He would ask the Financial Secretary whether his own military advisers did not admit that a grave national danger was being run by permitting our small Army to be armed with a worse weapon than that of the great armies of the Continent.
§ SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
thought the Committee ought to have some 957 official denial of the statement made by the hon. Member for Whitby that the system of decentralisation was practically being given up, that the powers of the general officers commanding corps were being limited, and that the correspondence was increasing rather than diminishing. He desired to ask how the system of sending auditors from the War Office to take financial control of the separate corps was working; the great object of the system, to his mind, being that the officers should be taught not only to take the financial control but also to take over the supplies and keep the accounts. He further asked whether the audit by the financial controller in the Army Corps was regarded as final, or whether the accounts would come up again at the War Office. As to the Remount Department, he reminded the Committee that in 1898–1899 it consisted of eight persons, with an expenditure of about £100,000 per annum. In 1901–1902 the expenditure had risen to £7,000,000, and the Committee would be amazed to hear that only seven persons were added to control that large expenditure, while for the first six months of the war the Department was not strengthened by a single officer. This probably was a cause of the breakdown of the Department. It was true that something had been done in the way of reorganisation. Six officers had been selected to go about the country buying horses wherever they could, and four others had been sent abroad to ascertain where the best supplies could be secured. He desired to know how the new system was working, and whether the officers would tabulate the information they obtained.
§ MR. GUEST (Plymouth)
thought that all who were concerned in the criticism of the War Office some months ago must have listened with pleasure to the conciliatory tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. Personally, he cordially welcomed that speech, as it afforded a complete justification of the criticisms which were advanced earlier in the session. In the matter of the Intelligence Department, the Secretary of State had given an almost satisfactory answer, and in 958 regard to South Africa unexpected success had been achieved. Some Members were rather afraid of the expenditure which these 25,000 men in South Africa would involve, but he was inclined to regard the matter in a more sanguine spirit, believing that when the right hon. Gentleman came to consider the ways and means by which his proposal could be carried into effect he would very likely be driven to the reduction at home which he now seemed so loath to concede. There were already indications pointing in that direction. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to appreciate the fact that it would be difficult to ask Parliament for a larger sum than was now granted, for he had surmised that India would be under a debt of gratitude or a pecuniary obligation to this country, and he had not obscurely hinted that the colony itself might be invited to subscribe something for this piece of colonial preference. It seemed likely, therefore, that force of circumstances would drive the right, hon. Gentleman to effect some of the economies in the home establishment which had been so strongly urged upon him during the course of the present session. Moreover, there might take place in the home establishment, an automatic reduction which would be beyond the control of the right hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State was very sanguine as to recent recruiting. He had stated with considerable, and perhaps pardonable, pride that the recruits for the infantry of the Line bad risen from 11,000 in the last half-year to 13,000 in this. But those figures would hardly bear investigation. On March 18 the right hon. Gentleman promised that he would not knowingly enlist men under eighteen years of age or of bad character. Between that date and June 20 the number of recruits was 4,719, which left 8,500 for the period not covered by the promise. If that proportion was maintained, it was obvious that instead of the number of recruits which had been obtained during the last half-year being maintained there would be a great falling off. With regard to the question of re-engagement, he wished merely to insist once more on the point which had been frequently urged—viz., that the voluntary enlistment system 959 would never give the number of recruits necessary for the ambitious Army Corps scheme of the Secretary of State, and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be realising the fact, for he had practically given up the system of linked battalions. The fourteen battalions in South Africa were not to be linked, and in some cases the linked battalions in connection with the seventy-one battalions in India might be abolished. He was very sanguine, therefore, that when the questions of money and of men came to work, as they assuredly would, and the reserve was built up, the right hon. Gentleman would come to see that, without diminishing the fighting strength of the country, it was possible and expedient to make some reduction in the establishment now kept on a peace footing.
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
sincerely hoped the Government would reconsider the idea of imposing any extra burden on India, as the natives already had as much as, and in some cases more than, they could bear. In any event, he hoped the Committee would be given an opportunity of discussing the proposal in all its bearings. Reference had been made to the difficulty of finding men of sufficient physique for the Army. That was undoubtedly a very serious matter, but it was not to be remedied by an increase of sixpence a day in the soldier's pay, or by physical training after the men had joined the Army. Each of those courses was very good in its way, but it would be necessary to begin with the children, to see that they were properly fed, and that the fathers earned sufficient wages to feed them properly, so that when they grew to manhood they would have the necessary physique. He desired to call attention to the recent destruction of provisions at Pretoria. It appeared that, in consequence of complaints as to sickness among the troops, it was decided to have samples of the rations analysed. A case containing twenty-eight tins of meat and vegetable rations was analysed, and the doctor found seven of the tins to be blown and their contents decomposed, while the contents of the remainder showed signs of decomposition. The result of the Report was that 59,620 cases of these rations, amounting to a total of 1,665,382, tins were destroyed. That was a very serious matter from two 960 points of view. The first was that the health of the troops might be very seriously affected if these poisoned ration were consumed; and the second was that it involved an imposition on the public purse, if it could be shown that the rations were knowingly supplied either improperly tinned or of inferior quality. He had no information to enable him to judge as to the quality of the food which had been destroyed; but all the evidence went to show that the tinning had been defective. He knew it was said that soldiers always grumbled when they were asked to live upon tinned rations, and that it was in consequence of such grumbling that the food was destroyed. It was also alleged that these particular rations were knocking about in South Africa for a number of years, and that they became decomposed through old age. But the Report to which he referred completely disposed of both these statements. As regarded the first, the men did not complain until sickness was very general: and with reference to the second statement it was shown by the stamps on the tins that four-fifths of the rations destroyed had been delivered in South Africa within six months of their being discovered to have been decomposed. Therefore, it could not be alleged that decomposition was due to old age.
Now he came to a point in which not only the House but the whole country was interested, and that was who was responsible for such a danger to the health of the Army and such a probable loss to the public purse. In the Report, the names of eight or ten firms were given, but only two supplied any considerable quantity. A London firm supplied 15,547 cases and Maconochie Bros, supplied 20,510 cases, the other firms ranging from 86 cases to 4,512. The Committee was entitled to some explanation as to why these two firms supplied such a large proportion of the actual goods in stock. The information which he was able to gather was to the effect that certain of the firms named in the Report had an equal capacity for production as the two favoured firms, and their reputation for quality equalled, if it did not exceed, the two particular firms to which he referred. He thought, therefore, they were entitled to know how it came 961 to be that such a large proportion of the condemned goods was supplied by a firm which, according to admissions made in reply to questions addressed to the War Office, should not have been specially favoured. As to the question of responsibility, he understood that such goods, before leaving this country, were supposed to be submitted to a test, and that any defect of quality would probably be discovered before they were shipped. If that was so, they were driven back on the conclusion that the rations became decomposed as the result of defective turning or some other deterioration in the tin. It was noticeable that in every case iron was found in the rations, and unless it could be shown that in some way or another iron was produced by a combination of meat and vegetables they were driven back on the conclusion that the tin was not of a quality which should have been used for the purpose. He was informed that the making of the tin in which the rations were put up had a great deal to do with the matter. He had endeavoured to ascertain from practical workmen engaged in the trade what was the reason for the presence of iron in the food, and he was told that by a comparatively recent process the tins, instead of being made as formerly by hand, were blocked out by machinery; and that as a consequence the surface of the tin was broken, and when hot food was brought into contact with it, corrosion set in very rapidly, and that that accounted for the presence of iron in the rations. Practical workmen said that after the tin had been blocked out the surface should be retinned and in that way corrosion rendered impossible. He hoped that the Committee would see how far that was correct, in order that a quality of tin might be obtained which would not corrode, even though it might cost more.
In reply to Questions asked in the House it was admitted that one of the firms who supplied the rations had been under suspicion, to put it mildly, for a considerable time. He referred to the firm of Maconochie Brothers, the head of which was the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire. The War Office admitted that 365,000 cases supplied by this firm as emergency rations had been previously condemned, and that in 1900 other goods supplied by the firm were also condemned. In this connection it was worthy of note 962 that when the "Discovery" was sent out on her Arctic Expedition, the only tinned food that went wrong during the voyage was that supplied by the firm of Maconochie Brothers. Therefore, they were entitled to ask how it was that a firm which had been under suspicion for at least three years was still retained on the list of War Office Contractors, and had a larger proportion of orders from the War Office than any other firm. The matter was one which demanded investigation. The other day he put a Question to the Secretary of State for War as to how the tins had been sealed up; and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to treat it as a matter of no account. There were two methods in which tins were sealed. One was by soldering, and the other was by turning the flange over and clinching it by machinery. He was informed that the manner in which the tins were sealed was responsible for the blown condition of the rations destroyed at Pretoria; and they were entitled to know whether the health of the troops was to be sacrificed in order to increase the profits of this firm. Government contractors should in all cases be above suspicion, and more particularly when a Government contractor was also a Member of this House. Then there was a double obligation on him to see that he gave full value for the money he received, and that the quality of his goods was such as to set an example to other contractors. He hoped the War Office would be able to give the Committee an assurance that no further orders would be given to this firm, which had been under suspicion for at least three years, and whose goods had been found to be unfit for human use on two previous occasions, until at least there was an investigation as to who was responsible for the imputation under which the firm rested.
§ MR. CUST (Southwark, Bermondsey)
said he ventured to utter a word of warning with reference to recruiting. They had heard from the Secretary of State for War that quality was even more important than quantity, and that he proposed to insist on character as a preliminary to recruiting. He certainly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. But he saw it was proposed to receive 963 as recruits boys who had served their time in reformatories. No doubt was it possible that boys who had been sent to reformatories as a result of youthful indiscretion might make excellent soldiers, as an early incursion into crime was often induced by a superabundance of courage and adventure. He would ask, however, the Secretary of State to consider what effect that would have on the sources from which recruits with a cleaner record might be expected. They had heard a great deal about how one bad character spoiled the whole tone of the regiment, and how one crime in a regiment could make it unpopular to recruiting, and he therefore thought that if it were known that recruits were being drawn from boys who had been cradled in crime it would render recruiting unpopular. Knowing what he did of country life he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his scheme. There was another point which he would wish to mention. They were told that some record of character should be presented on enlistment, but when a record of character was demanded it should be of some value. He had seen a circular—he felt sure it could not have been issued with the cognisance of the right hon. Gentleman—giving the official interpretation of the regulations to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded that evening in such moving terms. That circular stated that the character of recruits might be obtained from any responsible person, and need not necessarily be written. For instance, the circular continued, a verbal report to the effect that nothing was known against the recruit was sufficient, and it was added that a written character from the employer need not be insisted upon when such verbal reports were obtained from other sources. He admitted that was a very generous provision, though scarcely consistent with the statements of the right hon. Gentleman in the early part of the session, and also to-day. He would ask if the right hon. Gentleman was aware of such an amusing interpretation of his excellent intentions. He felt that a word of reassurance on this matter would be of considerable comfort to the Committee.
§ *MR. MACONOCHIE (Aberdeenshire, E.)
said he was indebted to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil for having given him an opportunity of showing the matter to which he drew the attention of the Committee in its true colours. For many years this particular form of food had been used in every campaign in every part of the world, and approved by general officers, the present Commander-in-Chief, and officers, and soldiers. In every instance it had received great praise. No matter who manufactured it the name was given to it of the original inventor. He might explain to the Committee the method in which the testing and examination of this particular form of food was done by the War Office. In the first place an independent inspector visited the factory of any firm manufacturing this class of food. He went at any hour, day or night, and took samples when he wished. That was not all. When the goods were packed he frequently took samples; when the goods went alongside the ship, another inspector took samples, which were taken to Woolwich. They were again taken and placed in the hands of the first analysts of this country, who tested them as to the quality of the tin plate, and also as to the quality of the food, and if any manufacture did not come up to the standard it would have been promptly rejected. It was a great pity, he thought, that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil did not study the subject somewhat more before he tackled it. In the first place the particular form of drawing he spoke of had been in use for something like fourteen years, and the particular method of closing had only been in use for three or four years, and could be used by any manufacturer at a nominal royalty. There was nothing whatever, so far as he knew, to prevent anyone using it. The particular form of tin complained of by the hon. Member had been tested to the extent of 370,000 tins by a well known Chicago firm, and it had been adopted by them. As to discolouration and the effect of tin upon food, it must be remembered that these foods—fresh meat and vegetables—had been used in West Africa, the Soudan, India, and China, and had always been highly praised. This particular quantity that had been complained of was probably the tail end of 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 supplied by Scotch and 965 English contractors. If the hon. Member would go down any day to any factory he would find discolouration caused by heat, which was used to create a vacuum, or rather sterilisation. This was a well-known fact to anyone who knew the business. No matter how carefully preserved the foods might be they did, to a certain extent, deteriorate after a certain time in a tropical climate. If they took the trouble to examine a tin of mutton or beef they would find if it had been in a tropical climate nine or twelve months a redness appeared where the meat came in contact with the tin, showing that more or less it must have absorbed some iron. He did not think that in the short time he had been a Member of the House he had ever seen a more dastardly attack on a Member that had been made on him that night. He said so advisedly. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil wrote him a letter saying that he intended to mention his name. He told the hon. Member he would give him any information he might desire and then the hon. Member calmly told him that since he was not paying the union rate of wages—
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE
I rise to order. I expressly informed the hon. Member that that was no part of my complaint. It is a fart all the same that he employs boy and girl labour when other manufacturers employ men labour, which may account for the different quality of the goods supplied. I expressly said to him that that was no part of my case against the firm, and that it was purely as a Member of this House, desirous to see honest treatment in connection with public Departments, that I intended to call attention to the matter.
§ *MR. MACONOCHIE
said he turned to the hon. Member and said that his firm used modern methods in their manufacture; that they never were known to grind the faces of their workmen; and that they would undertake to prove that, although they used machinery their men for years past had earned much higher weekly wages than the workers in any other house doing the same class of work. The Committee would notice that the hon. Member had been careful to mention the name of one English firm and the firm with which he was connected, but carefully refrained from mentioning firms 966 in Aberdeen who employed the men who had instigated him to bring forward this matter.
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE
said no one had instigated him to make the attack. He had neither been approached nor had he approached any one connected with any firm in relation to this matter. The only person he had seen was the secretary of the Tin Makers' Trade Union.
§ *MR. MACONOCHIE
said there never had been more care exercised by the War Office in testing all the food products which were sent out. He was perfectly confident that the firms mentioned in this complaint had nothing to fear. He had not the slightest doubt that many of them made great sacrifices, and laid by their own special work, to do the work they were called upon to perform.
§ LORD STANLEY
said he would answer some of the questions which had been raised in the course of the debate. First of all he would deal with what fell from the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight on the question of guns. The remarks of his predecessor in office had been quoted, and it had been inferred that, as no result followed then, so there would be no result now. But it should be remembered that shortly after those remarks were made the war broke out, and the matter was for a time at a standstill. But since the war came to an end inquiry had taken place, and trial had been made of quick-firing guns by separate firms and by the ordnance factory, and there had been a conference of manufacturers with Government experts, and a specification had been made adopting the best portions of several guns; and now the War Office had ordered a battery from two firms, and he believed that in the result they would have a gun infinitely superior to any now in existence. The two batteries would be tested equipped as they would be in time of war. He hoped that next month they would have two complete batteries which they could test one against the other. They would then in a short time be in a position to lay their decision before the House and the country. No one could realise more fully than his right hon. friend that there 967 was grave national danger in not having these guns; but his right hon. friend could not commit the country to a large expenditure of money for the rearmament of the artillery until he received from his military advisers an assurance that the gun which they asked him to have made was one which was calculated to fulfil all their requirements.
With regard to the auditors, they had had three reports from each general officer commanding the Army Corps, and each of them spoke very highly of the work done by the auditors in their district, who had not only carried out the audit but had given much excellent financial advice. The audit was final as far as the War Office were concerned. They were now considering whether certain other duties could be devolved upon the auditors, and also whether they could send out more auditors. With regard to decentralization, general officers commanding did not in many cases realise how much they could do without referring to the War Office. Many of the questions which were sent up for decision were being sent back with an intimation that it was within the province of the general officers concerned to decide them. The general officers were gradually finding out how much power they possessed, and the War Office were considering whether they could give them even more power than they had at present.
As to the destruction of rations in South Africa, the War Office had done all they could to ensure that the goods sent out were of the best quality. They had inspectors at the places where the goods were manufactured, and when the goods were sent to Woolwich inspectors took tins from almost every consignment for examination. Not only the goods, but also the tins, were sent to the Government analyst for analysis, and there had not been a case in which the analyst had not been able to make a most favourable report. The question of the destruction of rations was one on which a definite statement could not be made at present. The first notice the War Office had of the destruction was by seeing it in the public Press. They at once telegraphed out for a full report. They found from that report that, as there was a certain amount of sickness which was attributed to defective rations, the general officer commanding assembled 968 the Board, with the result that the Board ordered the destruction of a large quantity of rations. The rations were accordingly destroyed. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen had said that during the time of the destruction it was noticed that the natives took away rations, and that they probably suffered no ill effects.
§ LORD STANLEY
Even it there was a suspicion that some of these rations were good and ought not to have been destroyed, be thought, in view of the report, the general officer commanding would have received the censure of this House if he had not destroyed them. The question of personal liability was not one which could be gone into at the present moment, It would probably have to be considered from the legal point of view, and any statement now-might prejudice their own case and be unfair to those with whom they were dealing. It was only right to say, however, that the various firms who furnished them with supplies during the war undoubtedly did their best to keep them well supplied with the best article, and that they should take into consideration that goods which had to go through the tropics and then up country, and had to be left out in all weathers, were not so likely to keep as those which were carefully stored at home.
As to the question of recruits, he could assure his hon. friend the Member for Southwark that neither his hon. friend nor he had seen the document from which he quoted, nor were those at the War Office who were in charge of the Department which would issue such a document able to identify it.
§ LORD STANLEY
said he could not ask his hon. friend to give the name of the receiver in public, but perhaps he would let him see the document privately, so 969 that he might ascertain from where it emanated, and by whose authority it was issued. With regard to the question of character, he had always been strongly of opinion that, if they insisted on characters with recruits, they should get a bettor class of men. But there were cases in which he thought they were justified, after making careful inquiries themselves, in not insisting on a written character from the employer. Those were, he admitted, cases which ought to be exceptional, and he trusted that they would be only exceptional. The hon. Baronet had asked him what were the future proposals in regard to the Remount Department. He might say that the time of the present Inspector-General of Remounts was nearly up, and he would be replaced by Colonel Benson, an excellent cavalry officer, who was known to many Members of the House. Colonel Benson would have some Regular subordinates, and he would be called upon to work out a scheme for the expansion of his office in time of war. There would be in this country six purchasing officers in areas which would be, as far as possible, equal areas of horse population. They would not have regular establishments under them, but they would be called upon to make their own propositions as to whom they would employ in time of war. It would be their duty to make all the arrangements in their respective districts for the registering of horses, for the taking up of horses in times of emergency, and for the supply of the Army both in time of peace and war. In addition there would be a certain number of officers in the colonies, and others would be told off to go abroad at stated periods, and who would proceed to the countries where, in time of war, they would be required to purchase. These officers would be required to formulate a scheme to the satisfaction of the head of the Department, for the development of an establishment for purchasing in those countries.
§ MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)
asked whether any plan had been adopted for permanent breeding establishments for remounts in Canada, or other colonies.
§ LORD STANLEY
said that there was no actual scheme at present, although one such establishment was contemplated for South Africa. He very much regretted that the hon. 970 Member for Bolton took the view he did of the tenant system of canteen. He could not agree with that view, and he referred the hon. Gentleman to Aldershot, where the tenant system was largely employed, and where the universal opinion of the officers was that the supplies were good, the prices moderate, and the soldiers satisfied. The returns were far greater, unit by unit and year by year, than under the regimental system, while the officers were entirely free for their regimental duties.
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Perthshire, E.)
said there was one point in reference to the scheme of the War Office for the British, troops in South Africa which had not been dealt with, and upon which he desired some information. They were told in March last that the permanent British forces to be stationed in South Africa would number 15,000; but now they were told that they were to be 25,000. The Secretary for War had not stated to the Committee the reason for that increase. Was there any reason connected with the condition of things in South Africa, or with the relation in which we stood to foreign Powers in various parts of the world? Some adequate reason should be given for this change of policy. The Secretary for War had stated that the new policy would entail a considerable increase of expenditure, and on that ground alone he was opposed to it; but there was another ground—viz., that this country was not to pay for it, but that the expenditure was to be put on India. He held that to make India pay the increased cost was unfair and ungenerous. It appeared to him that the main idea of economy which the Government had as regarded the Navy was to get contributions from the colonies; and the main idea of economy as regarded the Army was to coerce the Indian Exchequer. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean had alluded to the correspondence that had passed between the Government of India and the India Office and the War Office in regard to the large increased expenditure imposed upon India in connection with the short service system without the consent of the Indian Government, and even without any notice having been 971 given to it. Every Viceroy from Lord Northbrook to Lord Curzon had protested against the way in which the Indian Exchequer was perpetually being drawn upon, particularly by the War Office. The Indian Government had constantly complained that alterations in the military administration to suit the needs of the Army at home were introduced, and extra charges were made on the finances of India, without any regard to either the financial or military necessities of India, and without any consultation whatever with the Indian Government. The right hon. Gentleman had, however, gone a step further, because he was going to put on the Indian Exchequer a charge for British troops in South Africa which were not borne on the Indian establishment, with which India had no connection, and for which she could not have any responsibility. It was within the knowledge of the House that a British regiment had always been stationed in Ceylon, Singapore, and Mauritius, but it had never been proposed that the cost of these regiments should be charged against the finances of India, and yet these places were much nearer India than South Africa was. He ventured to say that the real reason for the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was not military exigencies but financial exigencies. The Government had not the courage to face the necessity of imposing extra taxation on the people of this country to meet this charge. Before the final resolution imposing an inequitable charge on the finances of India, was passed, the House of Commons should have ample opportunity of discussing it in all its bearings, because the matter was vastly important politically and Imperially.
§ LORD STANLEY
said he was now able to inform the Committee that the 972 circular referred to by the hon. Member for Bermondsey had been issued by the junior officer in one particular regimental district. It was absolutely and entirely unauthorised, and although, owing to his hon. friend having given it to him confidentially, no action could be taken in this particular case, he would see if anything could be done by general instruction to prevent any such circular being issued in future without authority from headquarters.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER
asked whether the new guns would be ready for trial in August, and if the whole Artillery would be re-armed before the House met again? He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the action he had taken in regard to the small depôts. The final question was whether the extra troops for South Africa would be taken out of the First Army Corps.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said he would ask his right hon. friend to take into his serious consideration the extension of the special Volunteer decorations to those who had given long service in the Yeomanry.
§ SIR MANCHERJEE BHOWNAGGREE (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he would lay on the Table the Papers in connection with the increase of the troops in South Africa, and whether there would be full opportunity for discussion before imposing any new burden on the finance of India?
And, it being midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.
§ Adjourned at five minutes after Twelve o'clock.