HC Deb 03 March 1903 vol 118 cc1285-99

£100 (Supplementary) Pay, etc., of the Array.)


said this was another most extraordinary Vote which they were asked to give. He wished to protest against Votes being taken in this way, for in regard to this Vote they had had no time, no particulars, and they were unaware altogether that the Vote was coming on. There were items in this Vote which required a good deal of consideration and upon which he thought it would be right and proper that the Committee should have some information. Seeing this morning that the Vote was put down, he wrote a letter to the Minister in charge, which he thought would explain a great deal of what was felt upon this question. In that letter he asked certain questions respecting the enormous quantity of horses which were bought for South Africa, and which had been returned at great expense to England, hundreds of them going to different centres, like Colchester, before being sold. In that letter he asked the Minister in charge of this Vote to inform himself as to the details of the sale of hundreds of these horses which were returned, the cost of bringing them home and keeping them for many weeks before being disposed of, the cost of conveyance to the different centres where they were sold, the auctioneer's expenses, and whether the sum set down included also the sale of horses-saddlery etc., during the last financial year. The Committee would l) e surprised to hear that a large number of the horses bought by the Remount Department wore not delivered in South Africa, where horses were very badly wanted, but many of them were at once sent to England at a very large extra cost. They wore then taken to Colchester and other large centres in hundreds and kept there for a long time. He had seen photographs of some of those horses, and all he could say about them was that he never saw such shocking rubbish in his life. After being there some weeks those horses were sent to different parts of the country, so many per week, and sold, and most of them fetched less than £10 apiece. Therefore, horses which cost on an average £25 and £30 each to land in South Africa, and for which this country had to pay for bringing back again to England, were taken to Colchester and sold for a partly sum of £10 apiece or less. That was a question which he thought should be thoroughly gone into. It was one of those matters which belonged to the Remount Department. He believed they were promised that that Department should be reorganised and gone into. But nevertheless, things were pretty much now as they were before. They had had certain Committees dealing with these matters, but from what he had gathered, there had been no change whatsoever. He referred particularly to this question, because if they passed this Vote for £100 they could not discuss the matter again. It seemed to him to be an extraordinary thing for the Government to ask for just £100. In the Estimate there wore items amounting to £5,500,000 and yet they only put down a Vote for £100, and when this Vote was agreed to, the whole question would have been voted upon. At the foot of the Estimate there was a note as follows— This further amount is required mainly to provide for the terminal charges in connection with the late war in South Africa. The additional receipts are due to sales of surplus animals, supplies, vehicles, stores, etc., in South Africa on the conclusion of the war. There were sales in South Africa, but what about the horses that were brought over? Did they belong to the different regiments to which they had been sent? He contended that these horses ought never to have been brought back to England. They ought to have been sold in South Africa, where the people were badly in want of horses. They would have brought a better market there. They might be rubbish, but still they would be a great deal more valuable in South Africa than here. By bringing them over here the Government were putting the country to further expense. He did not think the Committee should pass this Supplementary Estimate without further information as to the course which had been pursued in this matter. In reply to a letter he wrote to the Financial Secretary to the War Office he received the following telegram to-day— Your letter received. Only just learned myself that that Vote would be taken to-day. Will endeavour give particular answer your questions. That telegram was sent at a quarter to twelve o'clock, so that the noble Lord was unaware till then that this Vote was to be taken to-day. He supposed that the whole matter for the present year would be disposed of now, and that the Committee would not be able to deal with it again. He hoped they would hear something from the Secretary of State for War which would enable them to better understand the subject to which he had called attention.


said he did not know why the private telegram he sent to the hon. Baronet should have been brought into the debate. He was glad to say that on this question of horses he could himself take the sole and the fullest responsibility for what had been done. When the war closed the purchase of horses was proceeding. A large number were on board ships, and there were contracts that could not be broken. The question arose whether the horses should be sent to South Africa or to England for sale. The general officer commanding in South Africa was consulted, and his advice was not to sell in South Africa, and 1,246 were brought home from South Africa and 2,451 from Canada. Some of the horses brought home were of the kind required for the artillery units, and what to do with the remainder was the subject of consideration. They consulted the general officer commanding in South Africa as to whether there would be a sale for the horses out there, and his answer was that there would not be a market. The hon. Baronet had talked of giving the horses away, and stated that the horses were wanted there. But there was the question to be considered whether it was wise to give away too many horses in South Africa. For that reason they thought it right only to sell horses in South Africa with the consent of Lord Milner. That, he thought, was perfectly right. Therefore came the question: What were they to do with these horses when they were brought home to this country? Some of of these horses were of a kind which the War Office know would have to be bought for the artillery units. It was therefore cheaper to bring back in the transports which were coming home the horses which would be required for the artillery units As to the remainder of the horses, they consulted as to what ought to be done. The animals came in the autumn, and all stables being full they were put out to grass by arrangements made through the general officers commanding in various districts. Then as winter approached further arrangements had to be made. The horses could not be kept out at grass, and the question arose whether they should be sold, and putting them all on the market at once meant that a good price could not be secured, or whether sheds should be put up and the sales spread over a longer period. The alternative was adopted of cutting losses. The best of the horses were exchanged for those that were inferior among the mounted troops, and others were sold to the Yeomanry. They were, therefore, the worst of the horses that were sold at an average of rather over £14 each. If the horses had been kept during the winter a better bargain would not have been made, and according to a telegram received from South Africa, large sales had been effected there at £12 each, and the horse market being apparently satisfied, the average price was not likely to increase at all proportionately to the quality of the horses they had to offer. It would therefore be seen that by selling in England they got £2 per horse more than if they had been sold in South Africa.


said he agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for Dulwich as to the extraordinary character of this Supplementary Estimate. The Committee would, at any rate, be of opinion that the Estimate presented was one of the most striking illustrations of the difficulty of proceeding by Estimate when they had to deal with war. He drew attention to an item of £2,600,000 for gratuities to troops for active service. There had been already paid on this accountin 1901– 2 £2,340,000, and last year the Committee was only asked for £350,000. He wished to know what was the meaning of this great discrepancy. He could not understand how the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for War should have taken such a ridiculously small sum last year as £350,000, and then come down at the end of the financial year to ask for £2,600,000. Then he desired to ask a question as to the China Expeditionary Force, a sum for which was taken at £200,000. He did not suppose that the Committee remembered that in 1900 a sum of £3,500,000 was taken for the cost of that expedition, and in 1901 £630,000; but for the present year only £50,000 was asked for. Why was there £200,000 additional required now in a Supplementary Estimate? He could understand that when these wars were financed from India, where there was a different audit from here, there should be a delay in presenting the accounts, but he could not see why £200,000 was demanded for the cost of the Chinese War so long after it was over. There was a note on the Estimate in regard to a large sale of vehicles in South Africa. This question had come before the Public Accounts Committee, which was informed by officers of the Department that every waggon had been numbered and would be accounted for, and that at the close of the war the Government would not be damaged by the sale of them. He would like to know whether that sale had been satisfactory, and that the statements of the officers had been borne out in fact.


said that the form of this Vote was extremely inconvenient and somewhat misleading. The Committee was asked to vote only £100, but in reality it was a vote for £5,500,100. He presumed that this would be called an Excess Vote, but while the Committee was voting that £5,500,000, no Ways and Means would be required for raising the money as usual, because it was provided for in consequence of a mistake on the other side. The Government had under-estimated expenditure by that amount, but they had also under-estimated the appropriation-in aid to an equal amount. As a matter of fact this Vote was to authorise the application of £5,500,000 as the proceeds of a rummage sale of old horses in South Africa, and the addition of that sum to their original estimates. Again he must complain of the form of this Vote, and the way in which information was withheld. It was invariably the case when a Supplementary Estimate was made to show the amount of the original Estimate, and he could only suppose that that had not been done in this case because of the amazing results which would have flashed immediately on the attention of the Committee. He had had therefore to take his way to the Vote Office to get the original War Office Estimates, so that he might supply to the Committee what his right hon. friend ought to have submitted himself.

Take item 8; they were asked to vote £2,600,000 for gratuities; that was to say, this was a Supplementary Estimate to the sum originally voted for that item. It might naturally be supposed that the Supplementary Estimate would be very much less than the original. It was nothing of the sort; it was enormously greater; it was about eight times greater. The original sum asked for in 1902-3, with all the wisdom of the War Office, for gratuities to troops on active service, was put down at £350,000, and the Committee were now asked to add to that £2,600,000. He maintained that that was a most amazing instance of Supplementary Estimates. There was an almost equally remarkable instance under the item A. A. The whole of the original sum asked for for the China Expeditionary Force was £50,000, while the Supplementary Estimate was £200,000, so that the supplement was four times as large as the original. That betokened a habit on the part of the Departments of making the Estimates what they pleased before the House of Commons, and then coming again to the House to ask for three, four, five, and even eight times as much as the original Estimate, as a Supplementary Estimate. That, he contended, was an abuse of the term "Supplementary Estimate." The Supplementary Estimate was only justifiable at all when some contingency had arisen which could not have been foreseen when the original Estimate was framed. That was not true of any item on the paper laid before the Committee. It was disgraceful to any Government to be so much out in an Estimate of £60,000,000 as by £5,500,000. He ventured to suggest that if it had not been for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had got £5,500,000 for the horses—a very good price, considering that they were the worst horses in the habitable world—forage, and stores, the Estimate would have been out by £5.500,000. This sum of £5,500,000 should have been allowed to go to its proper destination, viz., the extinction of debt. As the Committee knew, the Army and Navy Departments were allowed to divert sums from one Vote to another, but that was not the case in other Departments without Treasury sanction. He supposed that the right hon. Gentleman did not require to go to the Treasury for authority to make this diversion, and therefore he held that this Excess Vote was very deceiving. The original sum was not on the Paper, so that the House might see what was the proportion between the original Estimate and the Supplementary Estimate, and that they were really voting their own horses to remedy a tremendous mistake.


said that he also had a complaint to make. A part of the sum asked for was for the China expedition, which was over a long time ago, and another part was for an expedition not yet completed, and about the military details of which they had no information. Under the ruling of the Deputy Chairman, the Committee could not discuss what led to the latter expedition, he meant the Somaliland expedition. The Estimate put down for that expedition was no less than £50,000, the details of which had never been explained or put before the House.


said he would call attention to the fact that this Somaliland Vote was an entirely new item. It was not on the original Estimate, and, therefore, was one of the Estimates which involved a question of policy. He submitted that the hon. Gentleman would be directly in order in discussing the policy which led up to the expedition.


said he would ask the Deputy-Chairman whether he would be in order in discussing the policy of the Somaliland expedition.


said that it depended upon the Minister in charge of the Estimate stating whether the Somaliland Expedition was a new item or not.


said he would therefore go on. Unless contradicted by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the War Office, he maintained that this was a new Vote, and that the Committee were entirely in order in discussing the Somaliland expedition. It raised a very considerable point, to which he hoped the Committee would give attention. This was not the first Somaliland expedition. They had had one under Colonel Turnum which came to grief. That officer's Somaliland levies were scattered like chaff, and he had to withdraw. The consequence of that retreat was that we were now engaged in an expensive expedition which might assume larger proportions than the public anticipated. Troops had been hastily gathered together from India, from Natal, from Uganda, and from the King's African Regiment. They ought to have some explanation from the Minister as to what was the intention of the War Office. They ought to know whether the Government were going to repeat the policy of making an advance into the interior, or whether they intended to occupy a line of entrenched posts touching on the one hand the Italian frontier, and on the other hand a sterile and waterless tract of country. He thought the Committee ought to get some outline of what the right hon. Gentleman's advisers intended to do.


The hon. Member who has just sat down has asked what is the intention of the Government with regard to Somaliland. I think that before we separated in December last my noble friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated the position. As was stated by the First Lord of the Treasury, there is no intention whatever of undertaking operations on a large scale in Somaliland. On the contrary, it is necessary to make this advance in order to punish the Mullah and to reassert our power, because it is absolutely necessary for us to protect the tribes who are under our protection. Beyond that point, and also checking any advance of the Mullah into our own territory, there has never been the slightest intention of going. Under the circumstances, it was quite impossible for us to leave the matter alone without a very considerable loss in the position which we have taken up with regard to the tribes After most careful consideration the expedition was framed on the smallest scale which was in any way commensurate with the circumstances of the case, and we have provided all that was required. The Government have every reason to believe that the advance will be covered by this Vote, and will be sufficiently provided for by the troops which are now either at or en route to Obbia. We do not anticipate an enormous expenditure on this expedition, nor do we intend to establish a very long line of posts over a desert country. It will not be expected that I should say what course the officer on the spot intends to pursue, but I may say that I do not think there are any hon. Members in the House more anxious than those who sit on the Ministerial Bench to keep this expedition within the narrowest possible limits.

This sum of money has appeared for the first time in the War Office Vote, but it was discussed on the Foreign Office Vote. My hon. friend has made one of his usual vehement attacks on officialdom for the manner in which this Vote has been presented to the House. When an Excess Vote is taken it is always necessary to know the circumstances connected with the original Estimate. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer explained to the House last March that he was not taking sums for the conclusion of the war, because we did not know under what circumstances the war might conclude, or what sums would be required or what troops could be withdrawn. What has taken place has been the obvious and proper course The gratuities and the withdrawal of troops have caused a large expenditure. On the other hand we have got rid of the whole of the supplies in South Africa to the best advantage. A bargain was struck with the civil government, and the War Office did not come badly out of that transaction. As regards the remaining horses and other transport we sold to the civil government all that they could possibly take for distribution among those who were re-settling in the country. As my noble friend explained, we took a lower price for the residue of the animals which, of course, were not the best A certain number of them were brought to this country and after the best had been taken out the remainder were sold. That is really the explanation of this Vote. War conducted on such a large scale must cause a large excess, and i do not think the sum of £5.000,000 is exceptional in an Estimate which has already grown, I think, to £80,000,000 or £90,000,000 during the course of last year. I do not think any of the remarks which apply to the Army Estimates are applicable to this Vote.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said that something had appeared with regard to the Somaliland expedition in the Foreign Office Vote, but now the whole of that expenditure had been handed over to the War Office and it was now included in this extra Vote. Therefore, as far as the War Office was concerned this was an absolutely new Vote. He did not think the criticism passed by foreign nations on the Somaliland expedition had been at all flattering to this country. It was an absurd system to have the Army kept at one time by the Foreign Office, and at another time by the War Office. The War Office had now taken over this Somaliland expedition from the Foreign Office, and they hardly knew which office would pay for the troops or which they belonged to. The system was an absurd and ridiculous one, and it made the accounts so complicated that any juggling with them which was necessary could easily be done in their transference.




said he did not accuse the noble Lord of juggling. [An HON. MEMBER: You said so.] No, what he stated was that the system enabled juggling to be done. He should very much like to know what proportion of this extra expenditure was supposed to go to Somaliland. The greater part of this extra Vote was no doubt due to the winding up of the war in South Africa. He would like to know what part of this Vote belonged to a totally different question. [An HON. MEMBER: The details are all there.] If they were there he could not find out from them what part of this extra expenditure was going to this new expedition. He hoped this would be an object lesson for the Foreign Office not to take up again the administration of arms and troops in foreign countries.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

said he hoped the colonial contingents had received their pay and gratuities. The colonial troops had been of great value, and it was important that they should have a good opinion of us. Our own officials had not the best reputation for settling up their accounts promptly. Bis dat qui cito dat was an admirable maxim, and it was of the greatest value to the Empire that none of their colonial fellow-subjects should have a grievance in regard to their pay.

*SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)

The noble Lord had told the Committee that 40,000 horses had been sold at.£12 a-piecc in South Africa and 3,000 at £14 a-piece in England. Rut the total amount realised is put down as £3,000,000. Taking the whole 43,000 horses at the highest price, viz., £14, I make it that there were over 240,000 horses sold. Rut the noble Lord has only accounted for 43,000. Where are the other 200,000?


There are other animals besides horses. There are oxen and mules.

MR. SOARES (Devonshire,) Barnstaple

There was one other question. He understood that when peace was concluded there were 2,400 horses in Canada waiting to be sent to the front, and that they were brought over to this country: that the best were then taken for the Artillery, and the rest were sold for what they would fetch. What he desired to know was why these screws were brought over to this country at all.


said they were not screws at all. They were the surplus over and above what the War Office could possibly use. With regard to the claims for gratuities, it was no doubt convenient to settle those as soon as possible. Of course, one method would be to pay any claim that was made, but that would be rather expensive. The War Office now bad a sufficiently large staff to deal with the claims for gratuities in the most expeditious way possible, and of the colonial claims the great majority had been paid.


asked how much of Item C also went into Item B B as part of the Somaliland expedition. It was evident that the whole of Item C was not spent in England.


explained that that money was for furlough gratuities given to the men when they landed. Men who went into the Reserve were allowed a certain amount of leave on full pay.


could not understand why these Canadian horses were brought over to this country. He should have thought they might have been sold on the spot at a sacrifice of £2 or £ 3 a head, instead of being brought over here at an aggregate cost of probably £20,000 at least. He thought the money spent in bringing them here had been thrown away.


said the hon. Baronet left out of account the most important fact that the ships were already hired and had to be paid for, and as there was no market for these horses in Canada and they had the ships, the horses were brought over here.


said of course if the ships could not be utilised in any other way that was to a certain extent a justification, but he should have thought these ships might have been utilised for the China expedition.


asked whether this was the final amount that would be taken for China.


No, Sir. I could not say that, because there are troops in excess, and we shall have to take money for them on the General Vote.


asked for some information with regard to Somaliland. As he understood, the amount asked for in this Vote on that account was £75,000. It was impossible to bring two regiments from Uganda and three from Bombay: to purchase the camels necessary to carry water for the troops in this waterless district; and to organise native levies and the special service that had been organised on an expenditure of £75,000. He submitted that the Estimates brought before the Committee were Estimates calculated to deceive the Committee. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman's military policy would not be a repetition of the blunder committed under the auspices of the Foreign Office two years ago. The noble Lord at that time was advised that if he retreated after he had checked the Mullah, there would be a recurrence of the state of unrest and insurrection, and that had been proved to be true. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman now would not pursue a line of conduct which had proved so fatal when followed by the Foreign Office, because if he did the only result would be to pile up the Estimates of future years with such items as the Committee were now asked to vote.


thought he might be excused from discussing any question of policy. The hon. Member was quite right in assuming that the sum put down in the Vote for the Somaliland expedition did not represent the sum which had been or would be spent. The total sum would probably amount to £250,000 by 31st March next.

Vote agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.

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