§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question (2nd February),"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
"We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Hardy.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ MR. HUGH LAW (Donegal, W.)
continued the speech interrupted at midnight yesterday. He said that in the course of a journey he made in that part of Europe he found that not only had a great number of villages been burnt down, but the population of others had been forced to fly over the Bulgarian frontier. He could not understand the reason of their exclusion from the Austro - Russian scheme of reform. Was it due to their proximity to Constantinople, or to the fact that no insurrection had broken out in that part? It was a matter of great regret that up to the present not a single word seemed to have been said as to the propriety of including the Adrianople vilayet in any further pro posals for reform in European Turkey. There seemed to be a want of machinery for putting the reform scheme into operation. He did not wish to labour the discussion on that point, but events had already shown that so long as there was a Turkish governor, whether Christian 362 or Mohammedan, at one end of the telegraph wire and the Sultan at the other, so long would there be delay and obstruction, and so long would the reforms be unable to penetrate down to the people to whom they ought to apply. He believed that the Government realised, but he was anxious that the House should realise, how serious and urgent the question was. In eight or nine weeks from now they might expect something to happen. He believed that—things had so long drifted—unless some very active steps were taken it would be absolutely impossible to prevent a fresh insurrection. There was no doubt whatever that the leaders were ready for a fresh insurrection. His own opinion—possibly it did not coincide with that of the noble Lord opposite—was that they had to face the fact that in a few weeks time that part of the Peninsula would again be ablaze. The losses of the insurgents had been insignificant, inasmuch as the Turkish Troops had followed the dangerous policy of chasing the bandits into the mountains and of burning and exterminating their villages. He was informed on very good authority that their losses would not be more than 5 per cent. These losses would be much more than made up by recruits from the tens of thousands of refugees—the men who had lost everything close to the Bulgarian frontier, and who were only too ready to start upon a course which promised the recovery of their property.
Apart from the danger of an insurrection, there was the still greater danger of a Turco-Bulgarian war. His own belief was that it would be difficult to avert a Turco-Bulgarian war. It was very easy to blame the Bulgarians for what was called their provocative attitude, but he very much questioned whether any other nation in the world would have stood quiet so long. For many years past, owing to the uncertainty of life and property in European Turkey, a crowd of people had emigrated every year from Macedonia into Bulgaria. At the present moment they were supported by Government contributions and private subscriptions, the refugees were estimated by The Times correspondent at Philippopolis as early as September at 30,000. The Bulgarians desired to avoid war, because they knew they had a good 363 deal to lose, but he did not believe that if there were fresh massacres it would be possible for the Government of that country to avoid war. What was the British Government going to to? A report from one of our Vice-Consuls stated that the Turks were ready for massacre, and that it was commonly reported in every Turkish barracks that, in the event of an insurrection and a Turco-Bulgarian war, they would burn and destroy every village on their march so as to leave no enemies behind them. The House was entitled to ask, in view of these facts, what His Majesty's Government proposed to do to prevent those horrors which otherwise must certainly ensue. His firm conviction was that nothing would really be effective short of occupation by all the Powers, such as was successful in Crete. A mere interchange of papers between the different Embassies, with their gendarmerie scheme, however well intentioned, and with the appointment of assessors, however able, could not possibly prevent an insurrection or attain the end which Lord Lansdowne laid down as the end to be sought, namely, that the people themselves should no longer join or sympathise with the operations of insurgent bands. He believed that no reform could be made effective, in that sense, short of actual occupation of that country by the great Powers. But if His Majesty's Government were not prepared for that, he thought the House had a right to ask, in view of the gravity of the situation, that they should distinctly formulate their policy.
§ * THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Earl PERCY, Kensington, S.)
I understand it is the general wish of the House to proceed before long to the discussion of another subject, and perhaps it will be for the general convenience that I should reply to the speeches delivered on the very important question of the situation in Macedonia. In the first place I should like to pay a tribute to the spirit in which all the speakers who have taken part in the debate up to this point have addressed themselves to the subject, and to their recognition of the efforts which have been made by His Majesty's Government. It is, of course, very easy to point out defects in the present reform scheme. The hon. 364 Member who has just sat down alluded to one of them when he said that it did not include the Adrianople vilayet in which a great deal of disturbance has recently occurred. The Sultan volunteered his own intention some months ago of expanding the present scheme so as to include the Adrianople vilayet, and we may trust that the result of the application of these reforms to other provinces will strengthen the Sultan in his laudable decision. There are a great many defects which can be pointed out in the present scheme, but I think it should be remembered that that scheme is not ours, and that although we have from time to time suggested amendments and alterations, all of which have been in the nature of improvements, and most of which have been ultimately, if somewhat tardily, accepted, yet we have no desire whatever to claim credit for the authorship of that scheme. In the preparation of that scheme we were not ourselves consulted, and the credit as well a the responsibility for that scheme rests in the first instance upon the two Powers who have assumed the initiative with the full approval and concurrence of all the Powers signatories to the Treaty of Berlin. I think that some hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have expressed regret, which is, I think, also felt by the leaders of the revolutionary movement, that the authority of Europe should, so to speak, have been put into commission in this way, and that we should have delegated a kind of Power of Attorney to Austria and Russia to deal with a situation which arose out of a settlement originally international in its character. Well, whatever may be said in favour of that view, I think it is a view which cannot with propriety be urged by those who on so many occasions have poured contempt and ridicule upon the delays—on the interminable delays—which are associated with the machinery of collective intervention by all the European Powers. But however that may be, it has been throughout our policy to actin conjunction with Austria and Russia. We have frequently stated the reasons that determined us to act in that manner, and I think they are reasons which, on the whole, have commended themselves to the common sense of the country. In the first place it is our duty to put British 365 interests in the foreground, and it is not our opinion that British interests are so vitally concerned as to demand our taking the initiative ourselves. In the second place we think the objects we have at heart are objects which can probably be better fulfilled by the action of Austria and Russia than by any other method.
What are those objects? In the first place we desire to avert a violent disturbance of the existing condition of things which must awaken many difficult questions, open a great many vexed international controversies, and possibly arouse a wide-spread conflagration. That view was nowhere more strongly or emphatically expressed than in the aide-memoire which was presented by the two Powers to the Porte on the occasion of the formulation of the second reform scheme. In that aide-memoire they were very careful to emphasise the fact that they had spared no effort to meet the susceptibilities of the Porte by confining the period of their intervention in the reform scheme to two years, and by maintaining at the head of the administration a Turkish official. But the object of His Majesty's Government is not confined to the maintenance of the status quo. We desire, as every humane man must-desire, to obtain a real and, if possible, a permanent amelioration of the condition of the population of the European provinces of Turkey. That amelioration can only be produced under two conditions. Turkey must recognise that, however excellent her laws may be in theory, the actual practice of her administration is one which her best friends cannot defend, which constitutes a glaring violation of her solemn treaty engagements, and which is at once a menace to the security of her own rule and to the peace and tranquility of the neighbouring provinces. But there is another condition, and that is that the European Powers should be able to convince the law-abiding element of the population—which comprises, I believe, the large majority, if not all, of the non-Bulgarian element, and which I would fain believe comprises a large proportion of the Bulgarian population also—of the determination and ability of Europe not only to procure for them securities against misgovernment in the 366 future, but also to protect them against that kind of tyranny and terrorism by which political agitators for months past have sought to prolong the disturbances and to make the introduction of any real reforms in the provinces impossible. These being the objects of the Government, I think it is manifest that they can best be secured by the two Powers Austria and Russia. They are the two Powers who have most to fear from a reopening of the Eastern question; they are nearest to the scene of action, and, therefore, in the best position to bring material pressure to bear; and, owing to racial and religious affinity, they have the best cause to sympathise with, and the best means of understanding, the sufferings and requirements of the population on whose behalf intervention is sought.
So much for the policy of resigning the initiative to the Austrian and Russian Governments. But His Majesty's Government have always insisted at the same time, and their claims have been frankly met by both of these Governments, on their right to suggest amendments and alterations. These have been directed hitherto to improvement of the details of the scheme, and not to vital changes in its principle. The principle of the scheme we have accepted, and in the opinion of persons best qualified to judge, that principle is well adapted to meet the requirements of the situation. That, at all events, is the opinion of Sir Nicholas O'Conor, our Ambassador at Constantinople; and I understand from a document published by the Balkan Committee at home in The limes only two months ago that they do not themselves dissent from that view. Of course, if these hopes and expectations should unfortunately be falsified it will be the duty of the Government and of all the European Powers to reconsider their position; but I do not think that we should be justified in allowing our hands to be forced, or in assuming as a sufficient proof of the failure of the reform scheme the mere fact of the continued hostility of political irreconcilables who, it appears, if they are to be judged by their actions, would regard the success of the reform scheme as the main obstacle to the realisation of their political ambitions. 367 That that is so I am afraid we have had only too much evidence already. The fact that under the first reform scheme those who profited by the amnesty took the first opportunity of rejoining the insurgents; the fact that, as in the case of the Armenian reform scheme, the Bulgarian element almost entirely stood aloof from the reorganisation of the gendarmerie, and that, at all events in one instance, and I am afraid it will be found in more than one, those Bulgarians who have already enlisted have paid the penalty of their temerity with their lives—these facts show to my mind only too clearly the motive of the political pressure which has been brought to bear.
So far as the action of His Majesty's Government is concerned, I think we may make two claims. We may claim that if there has been any delay in the execution of these reforms—and there certainly has been a very regrettable delay—the responsibility for that delay does not attach to us. We have throughout insisted that in our opinion it is far more important that an imperfect reform scheme should be applied promptly and at once, than that we should waste precious time before applying any reform scheme at all. I think we may claim, in the second place, that we have anticipated by our advice many of the best features in the reform scheme as it now stands, and that some of our suggestions might with very great advantage have been adopted at an earlier period. I refer more especially to our proposal that European officers should be allowed and invited to accompany the Turkish troops during active operations. If that proposal had been accepted at once it might have had the effect of very largely checking the excesses and irregularities on the part of the Turkish soldiers, and it would certainly have had the effect, which the Turks themselves ought to welcome, of furnishing Europe with authentic information gathered on the spot, and not with garbled and exaggerated versions of massacre and outrage. That proposal was first made by Sir Nicholas O'Conor at the very beginning of August. On the 28th of that month he was still able to report that, although there were as many as 200,000 Turkish troops in the field, on the whole discipline had been very fairly 368 maintained. In that connection I cannot pass over without mention a remark made last night by my hon. friend who raised this subject. Without in the least seeking to palliate or excuse any of the outrages or excesses committed by the Turkish troops—for they admit of no excuse or palliation—and without seeking to estimate the relative guilt of outrages perpetrated by men who are suffering under a sense of great grievances and outrages inflicted by an army which is in a state of great exasperation and has suffered long and deliberate provocation, yet at the same time I do not think that the hon. Member was justified in saying that, whatever might have been the action of the committees, they had not been guilty of the appalling outrages on women and children which had been committed by the Turkish troops, regular and irregular. I do not deny that that has been the case as regards the Turkish irregular troops, but anyone who reads candidly and carefully the last Blue-book but one will see perfectly clearly that the nature and character—I do not say the extent—of the outrages committed by the revolutionary troops have been exactly on all fours with the nature of the outrages committed by the Turkish troops. Up to the last week in August discipline had been fairly maintained. The greater part of the excesses of the Turkish troops dated from the beginning of September, when the irregulars were called out to cope with the invasion of the vilayets of Kossovo and Salonica. When His Majesty's Government made this proposal with regard to the officers it was rejected by the Russian Government as somewhat premature. It was renewed on two subsequent occasions, when we had the support of the Italian Government. On the 29th September we were informed that the principle was to be embodied in the new reform scheme, and we at once took steps to warn the officers whom we ourselves intended to employ.
Our action has been the same in regard to the gendarmerie reorganisation and the employment of European advisers in the chief administrative and judicial departments. Both proposals were pressed upon the Sultan by Sir Nicholas O'Conor as far back as the close of 1902, before any 369 reform scheme had been formulated by the European Powers, and when the Sultan had himself taken the initiative by appointing an inspector-general with a committee to sift evidence, and by laying down rules for the admission of a Christian element into the gendarmerie. It has always been the opinion of the Government that what is required in the Turkish provinces is not political change so much as thorough administrative re-organisation. Turkey does not possess the class of men who have the requisite expert knowledge and experience to carry out such a task as that, and for her to come to Europe for trained assistance involves no more derogation of her sovereign rights than is already involved in the admission of European management in the case of the Ottoman Bank and the control of the Ottoman Debt, or in the reorganisation by Europeans of the Turkish army. The necessity and importance of financial reform was explicitly recognised by Austria and Russia in their first reform scheme, in which they laid down that a budget was to be drawn up for each of the Macedonian provinces, that the revenues of those provinces were to be checked by the Imperial Ottoman Bank, and that the expenses of administration were to form a first charge on the provincial revenues. It is a source of great regret to His Majesty's Government that the opportunity was not taken at the time of the elaboration of the second reform scheme to work out those provisions in detail, but we have been assured that their importance has not been lost sight of. At this moment I believe that the inspector-general, in company with the two European assessors, is sitting at Salonica in order to draw up a detailed scheme of financial and administrative reorganisation. Financial reform lies at the root of real administrative improvement, and it will become more and more imperative every day with the great additional expenditure which will be cast upon Turkey by the adoption of reforms, as, I think, we have sufficient evidence already in the large extra taxation, amounting to £2,000,000, which has been recently imposed. The Government trust that the Sultan will himself recognise before it is too late that 370 it is the absence of financial reform which makes judicial and administrative corruption inevitable, which has already reduced the Turkish Empire to the verge of penury, and which, if allowed to continue, will certainly bring it to ruin.
I do not know that I can give any further information beyond stating the position in which the reform scheme stands. The inspector-general has occupied his post for some months, and, according to information which has already been published in the Blue-book, has not laid himself open to the kind of censure which seems to be implied in the speech of the hon. Member for West Donegal. On the contrary, he has shown very conspicuous energy and a praiseworthy determination to do whatever he can to make the reforms a reality. Two assessors—both of them possessing a large experience of Eastern affairs—have been appointed, and have taken up their work. As regards the scheme for the reorganisation of the gendarmerie, the Italians have already selected a general who is to take command. All the Powers have appointed their staff officers, and I believe that, with the possible exception of the German staff officer, they have arrived at Constantinople and will immediately enter upon their duties. Colonel Fairholme, the officer whom His Majesty's Government has appointed, is military attaché at Vienna. These staff officers will consider the details of the scheme of reorganisation which has been drawn up in consultation by the two military attaches of Russia and Austria. As regards the non-commissioned officers, a certain number of European officers, belonging chiefly to the minor European States, were enrolled in the Turkish service some months ago. Four Belgian officers were employed in Macedonia, and since then additional Swedish and Norwegian officers have been engaged. It will be necessary that each of the Powers should depute probably a fairly large number of noncommissioned officers to assist their respective staff officers in the actual work of reorganisation. His Majesty's Government are awaiting the report of their delegates on the scheme of reorganisation before sending out the officers whom they intend to depute. I can only say, 371 in conclusion, that it is the determination of His Majesty's Government to use their most earnest, constant, and uninterrupted endeavours to press forward the execution of the provisions of the reform scheme in their entirety. If we do not at the present juncture discuss the question of an alternative policy it is because we desire to emphasise the solidarity of the European Powers, because we are reluctant to admit the failure of a scheme which, if failure there be, must entail untold misery and suffering, whatever the ultimate result, upon the whole Christian population of Macedonia, and because, in the last place, we certainly do not desire to offer any pretext to the Turkish Government to allege as an excuse for reluctance to apply the reform scheme at once, the idea that any concession made to the Powers will only be the prelude for further demands.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has admitted that this Macedonian question has never been made in this House the means of any Party attack whatever. The discussions in the country which have occupied the minds of the people to a large extent were conducted without any reference to Party. Therefore we are now in a favourable position for discussing the matter. The troubles in Macedonia have arisen from long continued misgovernment of the Turkish Empire. It has been nothing but the existence of abominable oppression and tyranny that has given other Powers an opportunity to come into the field at all. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs appears to have very greatly minimised the horrible atrocities committed by the Turkish troops. and he has compared them with what has been done by the insurgents, and compares them favourably. He seems to ignore altogether the fact that the Turkish atrocities have been committed upon innocent subjects. In one case given in Sir Nicholas O'Conor's report, it is shown that a village was surrounded by regular Turkish troops, and the people were set upon by a number of Bashi-Bazouks, who slaughtered everybody with the exception of about two men. I do not think all the acts of cruelty perpetrated by the insurgents can parallel that one case.
§ * EARL PERCY
The right hon. Gentleman must remember that I did not compare the scale on which these atrocities had been committed. What I said was that the attacks upon women and children had been made by the insurgents in exactly the same way as by the Turkish troops.
§ MR. BRYCE
I submit that they cannot be considered as acting in the same way as the regular Turkish troops. As regards provocation the case is entirely different, for in the cases of cruelty by Turkish troops there was no provocation at all, and many of the outrages perpetrated by those troops have been accompanied by horrors which it would not be right to mention in this House. They consisted of outrages upon women, and acts of savage and incredible cruelty for which there is no parallel in the conduct of the insurgents. Apart from these points I have no criticism to make. Let me now state what I believe to be the broad outlines of the position. In the first place, no one can have followed this story and read these Blue-books without seeing from the first that Austria and Russia have been entirely half-hearted in this matter. What the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has said about the special interest of Austria and Russia is perfectly true, and it might have been the case before 1902, but the experience of the last two years has shown that they have no desire to remove discontent in those parts. The inhabitants there have lost confidence in the promises of Austria and Russia, and are endeavouring now to seek safety in some other quarter. In the next place, the Turks are absolutely incorrigible. They have gone on in their old way, repeating the same kind of conduct and the same cruelty which shocked Europe in 1870. There is nothing to choose between their conduct now and their conduct in 1870, and the most complete proof of this is that these things are being done with the approval and connivance of the Sultan, because nobody has ever been punished for these outrages except in the case of the murder of the Russian Consul. There have been many cases of the grossest possible outrage where the perpetrators have not been punished; all the evils which went on last summer are still going on. The burnt villages have not been rebuilt and taxes are being 373 levied upon the inhabitants of some of these burnt villages. According to the report of the Consul of Monastir there are 14,000 refugees homeless there at the present moment. The first scheme was confessedly useless, and was accepted by the Sultan because the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said he knew it would be so. There was no intention of applying the present scheme in the vilayet of Adrianople. In the fourth place, the danger at this moment is very great. We know that the insurgent bands are still in the mountains, that there is great excitement in Bulgaria, that the present Bulgarian Government has got a large majority in favour of war, and we know that it will be extremely difficult for them to restrain these bands or their own people unless there is some substantial improvement within the course of the next six weeks. I suppose the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs admits that to be the fact. Therefore there is a very serious danger that the insurrection will begin afresh, and be accompanied by the outbreak of a war between Turkey and Bulgaria.
But there is a new feature in the situation which very greatly aggravates it. I am sure everybody in this House must hope that there will be no war in the Far East between the two Powers which are now watching one another with so much suspicion. We must, however, contemplate the eventuality of the outbreak of a war between Russia and Japan as being possible. What will the resut of that be in the Balkan Peninsula? It is desired both by Turkey and Bulgaria because they believe if Russia were occupied elsewhere she could not put that restraint upon their action which she now can, and the Turks think they could finish off the Macedonians and reduce Bulgaria to her old rule I think those who have followed the reports of Continental nations will agree that it is generally believed over Europe that the danger of war in the Near East would be greatly aggravated if war was to break out in the Far East. In these circumstances surely this is an exceedingly difficult position before this country. We must all agree with the aim which the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has set before us. Everybody desires, I am 374 sure, that peace should be preserved, that the reforms should be proceeded with, and the danger of a European war averted. But have the Powers taken the best means to secure that end? I do not complain of what has been done by Lord Lansdowne, for he has shown an earnest desire to improve and strengthen these reform schemes as much as possible. Where his suggestions have not been accepted it would have been a good thing if they had been, and if he had taken even a stronger line than he has taken, and insisted upon the necessity of improving the scheme, I think we should have been in a better position to-day. We do not know from the Blue-books whether he has communicated with the Governments of France and Italy in reference to what will be done in case this scheme should fail. I am sure the House will feel that the Government ought to have considered those eventualities, that they ought to feel that if this scheme fails owing to the difficulties being thrown in its way, an excessively dangerous crisis will arise, and it will be necessary for the Government to consider, along with the Governments of France and Italy, what should be done. Any improvements of the schem should include the super session of direct Turkish rule in Bulgaria. Therefore, I would urge the Government to consider the advisability of arriving at some arrangement with the other European Powers which will provide for the case of the failure of this scheme, and which will enable them when there is a danger of war breaking out, say in the month of April, to arrest it by announcing the scheme which will stop the insurrection and keep Bulgaria quiet That would be a far better course than the continual wrangling of the Turks over this scheme. While acknowledging what. Lord Lansdowne has done, I believe if he takes a still firmer tone he will have, as was shown by the meetings which went on during the autumn, and by everyone who has spoken in this House, the general and hearty support of the people in adopting a decided line in this matter. It will be to the honour of England if we are able at this moment to save Eastern Europe from a perpetuation of her present troubles and from the danger of a Continental war.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire),
who was indistinctly heard, said there were one or two points which he should like to refer to with regard to this very serious question. They could treat this matter from a non-Party view because in every quarter of the House there was nothing but horror and detestation for the cruelties which the Turks had committed. But those who had investigated these matters, and had seen with their own eyes what had happened, declared that things were far worse than had been described in the Blue-books. Whilst thanking the Government for what they had done, he still thought they might have done a little more. He was quite of opinion that unless they acted in a stronger way than they had hitherto done war would break out again in that quarter. The people there had made up their minds to fight; there were plenty of men and rifles; their houses had been burnt down and their property taken from them. Consequently they had nothing to lose, and were determined to wreak their revenge in a bloody war and do everything they could against their enemies. That was the state of things, and whilst Russia was indifferent to these reforms, Turkey was quite indisposed to entertain anything whatever of the kind. If they looked at these matters from that point of view the position was very serious. Russia was entirely indifferent and apathetic in regard to moving in this matter of reform in order to prevent suffering and further war. He was quite sure that Lord Lansdowne and the Foreign Office would do their best; he agreed that they had a very difficult part to play, and they had an alternative policy at their hand. He trusted that His Majesty's Government might see their way very shortly to produce this alternative scheme if the present scheme was not carried out.
§ * MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to move the Amendment standing in my name. That Amendment charges Ministers who were in office at the period of the war with negligence in relation to preparations for the war and its subsequent conduct. That is a serious charge and a personal charge; and I am sorry, and the entire House will be sorry, that I have to make it under Parliamentary exigencies which I cannot control, in the 376 absence of the Prime Minister, who undoubtedly would have been here to meet it had he been able. I shall certainly say nothing against the Prime Minister that may not be dealt with by his colleagues. The charge I make is a failure on the part of Ministers to perform the first duty incumbent on a Government—namely, to provide for the safety of its territories in view of threatening attack. This is not merely a complaint of general un-preparedness for some unexpected contingency. It is a more serious and specific matter than that. It is alleged against the Government that it failed to take precautions and to exercise ordinary foresight and care in spite of ample, distinct, and repeated warnings. Before I deal with the details and instances of the negligence which I allege against the Government, let us first of all endeavour to clear our minds as to the precise scope of the duties in regard to which negligence is alleged. The Prime Minister himself has helped us very materially in this task. In his speech at the Hotel Cecil he pointed out the nature of the problem which faces an English Government in the matter of Imperial and National defence; and when we understand what he regards as the great difficulty we are helped to some definition of the duty thrown on the Government. The Prime Minister says that whereas French and German Ministers are quite familiar with every possible theatre of warlike operations to which they might be required to send troops, and while they also know the number and quality of the troops against which they may be called upon to operate, to an English Minister the problem is indeterminate. The Prime Minister pointed out that we cannot know from day to day and from time to time when we may be required to send our troops or in what climate they may be required to work, nor do we know far in advance the precise quality of the foe we may be called upon to meet; and further that even with our own material for war there is some uncertainty, because it is a vountary army and we cannot quite predict its quantity or cost. No one could phrase the general proposition better than the Prime Minister has done. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has, I think, put it a little less pleasantly, and I hope also a little 377 less accurately. He says we are always unprepared. I should be sorry to accept that as being true in its fullest extent; but no doubt there is a certain sense in which that phrase is entirely true. If we are always unprepared it is well, however, to remember that a statesman who intervenes in an international dispute which might lead to war would require apparently a double dose of caution and of courtesy in dealing with such situations, because if we are always unprepared obviously one aim of our diplomacy must be to give our soldiers time for preparation. One can scarcely imagine under such circumstances anything more perilous or more dangerous than what used to be called the new diplomacy, a mode of diplomacy which insisted on the instant publication of highly controversial despatches which inflamed public feeling in such a way as to make it almost impossible to secure a lengthy diplomatic pause if our soldiers happened to require it. I think we shall see as the story develops with what deadly effect that method of diplomacy operated to quicken the pace and precipitate the catastrophy against which our soldiers were warning us.
The first duty, therefore, which appears to lie on a British s atesman may be gathered from the utterances of the First Lord of the Treasury and the late Colonial Secretary. It is undoubtedly this. As soon as any Government is warned of a definite urgent and imminent danger it ought at once to set its soldiers to consider in a thorough and systematic way the military necessities of the situation. I do not say that with a vast Empire like ours the British Government should be always scenting war. On the contrary, I think it would be a very dangerous temperament for any Minister to possess. I do not suggest, although many do with a fair show of justice, that we should have plans of campaign for all conceivable conflicts. But where a Minister has been amply and repeatedly warned that some other country is preparing for a conflict with us, then he should at least have a plan of campaign for that contingency. That seems to me to be a very modest standard of a Minister's duty. That duty I hope to show, and show as briefly as I may, was neglected, and gravely neglected. I am 378 not sure that even the word "neglect" adequately describes the omission, because when one speaks of neglecting a duty, it rather implies that, although undertaken, the duty was badly done. But this duty was never, in any substantial sense, undertaken—it was omitted. That is the point, and it is a very serious point. It is almost impossible to imagine one more grave. That is the foundation of the charge brought against the Government by their own Commission. During all these years of hostile negotiations, though warning after warning was given, there never was, from first to last, any plan of campaign in operation in South Africa. That, then, is the first duty by which I propose to test the conduct of the Ministry. The second can scarcely be mentioned without some appearance of irony. It is that an English Government warned of an impending conflict should take the trouble to consider, and should even go so far as to decide, what its attitude should be with regard to other Powers, and whether it would have to fight one Power or two or more Powers, because until the Government had done that, the soldiers could not prepare a plan of campaign. I ask the House to keep that fact in mind. An effort has been made to cast the responsibility for our mistakes and mischances upon the Army. Let us then remember the dominant fact that a plan of campaign had of course, in the first instance, to be ordered by the Civil Government; and that it cannot be laid down at all until you know where you are going to fight and who you are going to fight. Up till the last moment, indeed until it was too late, the Government omitted to tell the soldiers what enemies they had to prepare a plan of campaign against, and until that was done the soldiers had to wait for the decision of what was indeed a purely political question. The third duty which I venture to submit is incumbent on every Minister lies in the fact that, having regard to what the Colonial Secretary describes as our perennial unpreparedness, he should keep diplomacy and military preparations in something like accord. He should take care that military preparations did not unduly lag behind diplomacy; but, above all, he should take care that diplomacy did not outrun a necessary state of preparedness.
379 In any test, then, as to the performance of these duties let us bear in mind the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury at the Hotel Cecil, to which I have already referred. He there sought to create in the minds of his audience the impression that this was only another instance of the general unpreparedness with which the English nation was prepared to be content; and that Ministers could not be expected to know the theatre of operations or the precise kind of enemy our soldiers would be called upon to meet. Nothing could be more inaccurate. In this case all uncertainty was absolutely removed. The Government knew, none could know better, exactly where the theatre of operations would be, and the character of the war. It has been assiduously sought to create in the mind of the British public that Ministers were unprepared through no fault of their own. That impression has now no right to be held in the public mind after the publication of this Report; and I am very glad that the time has come at last when public justice may be done to the work of the Intelligence Division. That great and admirable division of the War Office and its work has been alternately neglected and maligned, and something like justice has been done it by the Report of the Commission. But I do not think that even the Commission has done adequate justice to the extraordinary excellence of the work of the Intelligence Department. I venture to say that, although in this war one had a great deal to lament and to criticise, the work of the Intelligence Department seems to be almost above criticism. When one looks at the warnings it gave and the information it supplied one is disposed almost, even now, to ask, looking back on the war and all we have to regret and to learn, was there anything which the Government needed which the Intelligence Department did not tell them Certainly so far as facts were concerned, almost nothing. The only criticism that could be made against the Department was that in one or two particulars it did not seem to express a right opinion; but as regards the supply of material facts there is no criticism to be made. Take, for instance, the Report of the Intelligence Department immediately after the Jameson Raid. The Department seem to have appreciated the significance of that raid. 380 They exercised to a certain degree an intelligent anticipation as to the consequences that might ensue, and they therefore began at once to warn the Government. Major Altham pointed out what the result of the raid had been on the relations between the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, and there were no less than a series of twelve other full and admirable reports from the Intelligence Department in 1896 to 1899. They are brought up to date in June, 1899, and that is the report I have in my hand. This is by no means the last, but I take this as being one which is teeming with warnings and information. It begins by giving an elaborate account of all the physical difficulties of the Dutch Republics for military operations, and then it goes on to speak of their armament. We remember, when the war broke out, one of our Ministers expressed pained surprise at the excellent arms and guns these Boer peasants possessed. That with most people conveyed the impression that the Government were really surprised, but the Intelligence Department, year by year, ever since 1892, gave statistics of every gun the Boers possessed, and the only error which they committed was to make the warning they gave rather stronger than it need have been. The Intelligence Division warned the Government that the Boers had 107 guns. There was therefore no uncertainty; the problem was not indeterminate. With regard to men, the whole military organisation of the Transvaal is described with a lucidity that is simply marvellous. Great stress is laid on their mobility. Another Minister expressed surprise that not only had the Boers guns but that they were mounted. Yet that was one of the maters upon which the Intelligence Division was most precise. I would ask the House to listen to one sentence that might have been written after instead of before the war—As regards mobility it must be recollected that the force which was defeated at Laings Nek and Ingogo was operating on foot, and with practically no mounted troops, against men whose hunting experience had taught them to get the utmost use out of their horses in approaching, surprising, and surrounding large herds of wild antelopes. Moreover, South Africa is of all countries perhaps the most dangerous in the world for infantry to 381 operate in without a screen of mounted troops in the near front and on their flanks.And then it goes on to describe their tactics—tactics which we all became painfully aware of during the course of the war—The tactics employed by the Boers were in fact such as they had learnt by hunting experiences on the veldt. Alike in attack and defence they acted on the same principle, containing the enemy's front, with a thin but well posted body of skirmishers they utilised every fold of ground to gallop unseen round his flanks, and then leaving their horses, which are trained to stand without holders under cover, gradually concentrated a ring of overwhelming fire on their objective.There is the origin of a good many of those painful surrenders which it pains us even now to remember or mention. That was a very precise warning as to the mode in which these surrenders were likely to be brought about. The Report goes on to explain the skill with which they take advantage of cover and concentrate this overwhelming fire on their opponents without practically the loss of a single life. Turning over the page, one scarcely knows what extracts to take from it, I find this—At the outset of war they would, no doubt, boldly take the offensive against Cape Town or Kimberley, a serious engagement would necessarily ensue before our columns had penetrated far into the Republican territory. Defeat in such an engagement would, as has been already said, involve such disintegration of the Boer forces as to terminate the war.Then there is this piece of information, and I wonder what we should have thought if we had known that the Government knew this before the war—General Joubert said in conversation in March, 1898, that a scheme for such offensive action had been drawn up by a German officer, but was not yet approved. A report from a reliable source dated June, 1899, states that the present Boer plan of campaign contemplates a concentration with the Free State forces west of the Drakensberg and an advance on Lady-smith through Van Reenans Pass.So that before the war broke out we had the Intelligence Division foretelling the advance against Ladysmith; foretelling its method and the danger of such an advance to this country. So much for means and methods, though I might go further and point to the amount of ammunition they had accumulated almost to a round, and the sites where that ammunition was stored. I counted myself something like twenty-three places, 382 which would have indicated to anybody except the Ministers on that Bench that a guerilla warfare was contemplated.
I now desire to draw attention to the Report in one particular respect, which, I think, outweighs all other considerations. The most material thing to be considered by the Government. both in directing operations or in moulding their diplomacy, was the attitude of the Orange Free State. That is the matter on which their ignorance seems now to be most complete and profound. They knew nothing of the organisation or the military armaments or men of the Transvaal, but their ignorance of the Orange Free State is most black. Just let me tell the House how matters stood in the Orange Free State—that is a very important fact—after the peace in 1881. In 1881 there was a treaty, offensive and defensive, between the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, by which the Orange Free State bound itself to assist the Transvaal if it thought the cause of the Transvaal was just. After the Jameson Raid that treaty was revised; it was made again in a somewhat different and a slightly stronger phraseology. In 1897 there were the same conditions, entirely, except that the Orange Free State was to be at liberty to withdraw from offensive and defensive operations with the Transvaal if they thought the cause was unjust. That is to say, in 1897 the Orange Free State bound itself to act with the Transvaal unless it could show or prove the quarrel was unjust. That was the only condition on which the Orange Free State could avoid the obligations cast on it by this treaty. That was in 1897. Afterwards came a long period of hostile negotiations, right down to 1899, and in June, 1899, a very important event took place which had the greatest bearing on the matter. In June, 1899, there was the Bloemfontein Conference. The proposal made at that Conference came to be considered in the Free State Raad. Then was the time for the Orange Free State to make its treaty absolute or let it go altogether. If the Orange Free State had said, We think Mr. Kruger's cause is unjust, then the treaty goes. But after the Bloemfontein Conference the Orange Free State Raad passed a resolution affirming its agreement with Mr. Kruger on his propo al. Nobody could doubt 383 for a moment then that Mr. Kruger's view-was also the view of the Orange Free State. That was the state of circumstances in June, 1899, and, as all of us know, the war broke out in October of that year. That only states in a short way that which is stated over and over again in the course of these reports, that the Orange Free State intended to throw in their lot with the sister Republic, and Sir John Ardagh said that this agreement was no dead letter. Ample provision was made for joint operations, and Sir John Ardagh goes on to say that apart altogether from these treaties there was already ample provision made for | joint operations, and that in fact the Orange Free State was being armed at the cost of the Transvaal with armaments and ammunition. They had worked out their scheme completely. Sir John Ardagh sent a copy of a resolution, passed apparently in secret session of the Transvaal Raad, that they must arm others besides themselves. There was no question, therefore, in June, 1899, as to the attitude of the Orange Free State. These two States were in a condition of absolute solidarity. What then did the soldiers ask His Majesty's Government for? They wanted to know what the route was to be in order to approach the Transvaal, and that question was not settled until too late. On 28th November, 1899, the First Lord of the Treasury made a speech at Dewsbury in which he explained what he understood to be the state of things with regard to the Orange Free State. The right hon. Gentleman said—If I had been asked two months ago whether it was likely we should be at war with the Orange Free State, I should have said that you might as well expect us to be at war with Switzerland. They were local friends from whom we had nothing to fear, and who had nothing to fear from us.This was said of a State that had made an offensive and defensive alliance for combined offensive operations against us, and had intimated that they made their own the casus belli of their neighbour. In January, 1900, the First Lord of the Treasury repeated the same statement. Some colleague, perhaps some colleague connected with the Colonial Office, might surely have warned the right hon. Gentleman that he was wrong. The right hon. 384 Gentleman, addressing his constituents a Manchester, referred to the intention of the Boers to precipitate a struggle from which they hoped to gain some national advantage, and then he goes on and observes—This was not a question on which the Government had, could have, or ever pretended to have, special means of information. There have been, and there may be, European questions on which the public cannot be taken into the confidence of the Government of the day. The Government of the day may know perfectly, and secretly, facts about the intents of this or that foreign Government which impose on them a certain policy which they cannot communicate in any fulness of detail to their fellow countrymen. But in this case there were no secrets, everybody was on an equality. The man in the street knew as much as the man in the Cabinet. If I held the view that peace was a possibility, I held it with the great mass of public opinion.Just imagine a statement like that with these twelve reports lying apparently undusted upon the shelves of some Government Department. There is no parallel in English history to this case of a Government receiving warnings like these year after year, month after month, touching Imperial peace, and neglecting them, so as to show in the end a state of hopeless and helpless ignorance such as the First Lord of the Treasury showed at the end of 1900. He was not the only member of the Cabinet who did not appreciate the situation. I do not wish to trouble the House with extracts, but you remember a speech of the late Prime Minister on this matter. I think the Duke of Devonshire also intimated that so far as he was concerned he had not been made acquainted with the imminence of the danger arising from the Orange Free State. Here we have got the First Lord of the Treasury, who was a member of the Cabinet Committee of Defence, and it would appear that these reports were not laid before that august body. I daresay, like other bodies which are to be constituted under the new reform scheme, that body became too august to be active. Neither were the reports asked for by the First Lord of the Treasury. Of course they would have been produced, but the right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten the existence of the Intelligence Department altogether. It was no momentary lapse of memory such as might occur with 385 anyone engaged in the absorbing duties of First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of this House; it was a forget fulness that continued for three and a half years of anxious and perilous crises; it was not only forgetfulness, it was a feat of forgetfulness. He may have asked for them and been told that there were none. I do not think that is likely. It would have been a grave mistake if such a thing happened in this case, and one would have nothing more to say about the First Lord of the Treasury. He might in that case have been expected to ask why there were none, but further than that I could not push my criticism. There is a third alternative which I mention only to exclude, that the Prime Minister might have read these reports and have failed to appreciate their importance. That certainly would be an admission of incompetence greater than any charge I have dared to make. We have further to ask how it came that these reports were unknown to Ministers of such importance as the Prime Minister and others? They were sent, in the first instance, to the Colonial Office, and then to the War Office, with covering letters drawing attention to their contents and enforcing the gravity of the situation.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I do not know whether it is of importance to the hon. Member's argument, but he must be entirely mistaken. There may be some particular report which came to the Colonial Office first, but reports of the Intelligence Officers go to the War Office.
§ * MR. ROBSON
I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman is correct as to the first step, but that does not touch my argument at all, I only mention the subject for the purpose of saying that the letters accompanying the documents showed that the Colonial Office appreciated the gravity of the reports. The Colonial Secretary, however, might have consulted the First Lord of the Treasury or the Duke of Devonshire. Was that done at all? One cannot understand how, if there was anything like specific or explicit consultation between the Colonial Secretary and the First Lord of the Treasury, the 386 First Lord of the Treasury should have remained as ignorant as he did of the information contained in the reports. But the ignorance—I do not use the word I offensively, but I cannot think of another adequate to the occasion—of the First Lord of the Treasury with regard to the intentions of the Orange Free State was symptomatic, because we will see that the soldiers were kept waiting for the Government policy with regard to that Republic. The question of the Orange Free State never seems to have been put forward in any form so as to invite the collective consideration and action of the Cabinet. There seems to have been a remarkable silence and reserve between the Departments concerned with regard to this vital matter. How comes it that it was not more fully discussed between the Colonial Secretary and the First Lord of the Treasury? It might be said that the Colonial Secretary did not in those days habitually consult his colleagues. That is his way. That may be so. I am not going to criticise his action on any matter of that sort. That is a matter which affects the self-respect of his colleagues. But there is another point of view—the point of view of the colonies and this country. Remember that the Colonial Secretary was responsible for colonial defence. The Colonial Secretary, therefore, with the War Office, ought to have insisted on having adequate supplies of money in order to provide that that defence was not neglected. He could not possibly expect the Treasury to make adequate grants of money unless he did his best to make them realise exactly the state of affairs. No criticism except of a favourable character can be passed on the letters which the Colonial Secretary passed to the War Office. He points out that the colonies are not prepared to meet attack, and that if an attack was made there will be great humiliation and expense to the Empire. He was warned that there would be great loss of prestige to the Empire unless these warnings were heeded in due time. He knew the danger. Did that exhaust his duty or end his duty? I venture to submit it was only the beginning. The danger was pointed out in 1897 and again in 1898; they could not escape knowledge of it. These reports were made—whether to the 387 Colonial Office in the first instance or not, certainly they were brought to the knowledge of the Department. Therefore he knew the danger. I ask the House to consider whether, in the events that followed, he did his duty in making his colleagues realise the danger as it was communicated to him? Collective responsibility should have been invoked, for this question lay near the root of all other delay. Let me follow to a finish this story about the Orange Free State. We see at a very much later stage—in 1899—General Buller begins to grumble about the delay of the Government in making up their minds. He was informally appointed in June, 1899, when he was at Aldershot, a busy man and engaged in his duties as Commander there. His formal appointment was not made till 9th October—two days before the outbreak of the war. This is what he said in that interval—I thought the question of the Orange Free St ate should be settled, and that until we could make a plan of campaign we could not get on. I was always grumbling to Wolseley about it. I was always told to leave the orange Free State out of account.Lord Lansdowne says that he did not tell him that, and I am quite sure that we accept Lord Lansdowne's word as to the best of his knowledge and as likely to be correct. But he never told General Buller to take the Orange Free State into account. And remember, almost contemporaneous with General Buller's informal appointment was the resolution of the Orange Free State Raad, which made it perfectly clear that we would have to fight the Orange Free State if we entered into hostilities with the Transvaal. Therefore he was not told the plans of the Government. What are the concluding dates on this point? There was a report in June, 1899, andon the 8th Augustafresh memorandum from the Intelligence Department by Major Altham, pointing out—I need not read it; it was the same in substance—the danger that lay in our path in regard to the Orange Free State, and the urgent importance of deciding at once what the English policy in regard to the Orange Free State should be. No act on is taken until at last we get to the 23rd September. On that day General Buller says he was "suddenly told he might put forward his views as to the route" to be taken. War broke out on 11th October; and on 25th September 388 there appears, so far as the evidence is concerned, the first glimpse of a Cabinet consultation on this subject. A Minute is laid before the Cabinet by Lord Lansdowne, in which he says—The question of the Orange Free State ought, I think, now to be faced without further delay.So that after three years of inexplicable and inexcusable delay we get at last this decision; and even then war had been thought inevitable for at least three weeks. In another part of the evidence Lord Lansdowne was asked when he thought war inevitable, and he said 5th September Now we turn from this statement of facts which may be excused—we may be overwhelmed with rhetoric, but these facts cannot be denied. We turn from that to the Ministerial defence. That Ministerial defence appears to be put forward by the Prime Minister in the Hotel Cecil in November last. I venture to say that rarely—never in the history of this country—has any Ministerial speech excited such deep, universal, and bitter resentment among all ranks of the English Army as that speech. The Prime Minister bewail by saying that—The root of every complaint was that we under-rated the military task before as.What he means by "we" will be seen in a succeeding extras He continues—All the so-called failures of the war arose out of that miscalculation.and—The impression left on many gentlemen after reading the Report is that the War Office authorities bad not taken advantage of the information given by the Intelligence Department, and that if they bad thought a little more about their plan of campaign that miscalculation might have been avoided. Personally"(says the First Lord of the Treasury),"I differ from that.One does not wonder that he should differ from that. Mark what the right hon. Gentleman says. Here is a charge made against the Government of not having made up their minds on a political question in order that the soldiers might set to work to study the military question—Observe,"(he says),"that in so saying I am offering a defence not for the Government but for their military advisers.and—We thought the soldiers were better judges than ourselves.
§ * ME. ROBSON
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham says "Hear, hear." Well, if he says that he thought the soldiers were better judges than himself he should have followed their advice. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman thought the soldiers were better judges than himself. The First Lord of the Treasury continued—I mean to do my best to defend them.Then this very remarkable defender goes on to speak of "the error the soldiers made." He says—That they made the error common to all regular forces 'of undervaluing men not organised as a regular army. The mistake is in the first place one of which the whole British military profession were alike guilty, if guilty be the word.'I think "guilty" is the word; but not as applied to the British Army. Let us consider the Prime Minister's action in saying that he has defended the Army. He is directly charged with making a serious blunder, and he turns to his military advisers and says—"I will not go into the dock, but if you go in I will defend you." That is a very ingenious method of defence, and one which this House should very carefully consider. Of course we know that in effect all Ministers are responsible for their advisers; and we know that that responsibility is disregarded by the House and the country if it can be shown that Ministers have been misled by their advisers. Now can that be shown here? Let me take the advice they got. First of all we have the Intelligence Department. In the beginning of 1897, as the result of the Jameson Raid, Sir J. Ardagh said that they ought to increase the South African garrison by 20,000 men. That advice was not taken. Then the Intelligence Department goes on to warn them in 1897 and 1898 and tells them precisely the forces that ought to be sent out. In April, 1897, the Intelligence Department advised the Colonial Office that there ought to be at least three regiments of cavalry and two batteries of artillery. The Colonial Office communicates that advice to the War Office. That advice is considered by the Colonial Secretary and by his colleagues, and Lord Lansdowne 390 Points out that it would cost half a million of money, and he says—The matter was discussed by Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Lansdowne with colleagues and the expense was thought greater than was justified by the circumstances.So only £200,000 was given, including a sum of £36,000 already spent. But he adds—This would not be a mobile force and it could make no pretence of anticipating the Boers at the numerous points indicated by Sir John Ardagh.So that you have the Intelligence Department and the soldiers warning the Government at the earliest possible date and indicating the necessity of what no doubt was a serious force. I am not going to argue here how the serious political situation had been brought about: but here you have the Government saying—"No, the expense is too great, and instead of £500,000 we cut it down to £200,000. and even that is to include £36,000 you have already spent." That was in 1897. The garrison was substantially increased in 1897 and slightly diminished in 1898. In the latter year the warnings began again to the Colonial Office and the War Office, and there was some small provision of regimental transport, but nothing further was done.
We now take the soldiers. Lord Wolseley began in June. 1898, to warn them and suggested that the Government should set about unobtrusive preparations and that they should send out certain transport which would be unnoticed. Lord Wolseley also recommended the immediate mobilisation of an army corps and a cavalry division of 35,000 men on Salisbury Plain. Of course that was a very serious step. but he suggested that colour might be given to it as being a part of our ordinary military operations. It had long been thought desirable that we should have an experimental mobilisation of an army corps, and he thought that even if such an excuse were not believed, why then at least the mobilisation would; have a wholesome moral effect on the Boers. I only call attention to these facts to point out what the soldiers thought of the situation. That was in June. On the 7th July, Lord Wolseley 391 returned to the fray. In the recommendations which he made in his June Memorandum was one that contingents should be invited to co-operate with us from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. I think he is entitled to the credit of that. In July he gets urgent, and says that he would recommend at a very early date the despatch of 10,000 men. He also recommended the Government to commence the purchase of ponies. That was a very practical recommendation. How much was lost by its having been neglected? He also said it would be advisable to get a transport corps ready, and that if there were mobilisation it would greatly increase the effectiveness of our force in the field. He followed these recommendations up with subsequent recommendations about buying ponies, carts, mules, and wagons. Anyone can see that in June and July of 1899 the military advisers of the Government did-not under-rate the task before them. So far from under-ratiag it, they put it as being one of such magnitude that it was thought by the Government to be out of all reason. They were afraid because of political considerations to follow the advice of the soldiers; and these are the very Ministers who are now seeking to throw unmerited blame for the disasters of the war on the soldiers. What happened in July? By way of showing how urgent the situation was, the Boers sent 100 cases of ammunition into the Orange Free State, and rifles and ammunition were landed at Port Elizabeth for the Orange Free State and sent on by Mr. Schreiner. These were public facts; and why in face of them were not Lord Wolseley's recommendations adopted? What excuse can the Government give? It might be said—and it is an excuse to which I would listen with the greatest deferencs—that it was very desirable not to make provocative preparations. That is in general circumstances a sound excuse. It would never do to interfere with the course of peaceful diplomacy by sending out an armed force if it was desired to have any fruitful results from that diplomacy. But remember in adopting that line and leaving your frontiers unprotected in order not to be provocative you must keep your diplomacy in accord. But so far from this being anything like a valid 392 excuse, the Government as a fact did send out more men in August. After all these warnings they got as far as to send out 1,744 men to defend our borders against attack. Everybody knew that such a force was ludicrously inadequate; but it was sent out, according to the admission of the Government, in order to strengthen their diplomacy. That is an end of all the talk of keeping back reinforcements lest it might seem provocative. You sent out 1,700 men; but Lord Wolseley and the War Office were making great efforts to get more. I think Lord Lansdowne offered a battalion for Natal, and then he said they could only have half a battalion, and all this time our borders were lying absolutely undefended. There was some arrangement made in July, not involving any substantial expenditure, for supplying transport duties, but the 10,000 men Lord Wolseley asked for, and asked for at once, were not even ordered until the 8th of September. On the 18th August—I am following the dates, as that may be better than arguing in general terms—Lord Wolseley wrote again urging the despatch of 10,000 men, and saying that it would cost £500,000 but that it was well worth it. He pointed out that the Transvaal continued to make preparations for war. In August it is only fair to mention that there were certain hopeful intervals in the negotiations, but these intervals were very short, and were practically closed on the 21st when the terms which Mr. Kruger attached to his proposals became known to the Government, because they were regarded by the Government as wholly inadmissible. On the 24th August Lord Wolseley wrote a Memorandum to which I invite the attention of the House. He said—At this moment, we are not, locally prepared for war, so if it comes under present, circumstances we shall surrender the initiative to Kruger, and in no recent, case would that initiative be more likely to injure our national prestige.That was sent to the Colonial Office, and on the 26th August we had from the then Colonial Secretary a speech which I am sure the House will not forget. He used in it the metaphor about the squeezed sponge. Remember what the situation was at the time that speech was made by the Minister responsible for colonial defence, who had been told that 393 our colonies were unprepared to meet an attack, and moreover, that if any such attack were made it would be disastrous, not merely to our soldiers but also to our Imperial prestige. He was told also that our enemy was well armed, well mounted, and resolute to defend his national existence by force of arms, yet on the 26th August we have the then Colonial Secretary making a speech in the highest degree provocative and almost certain to precipitate a situation full of peril to ourselves. We have him flouting the commonsense advice of the soldiers, and remember it was the soldiers who were the men of business of the situation. They knew the burden of responsibility that would fall upon them, and not only that, but their very lives were at stake, as well as the honour of the Army, and consequently they were entitled to be considered, and we had a right to expect that a Minister would not precipitate and provoke war by a speech of that character. Soldiers by no means object to a firm front, but they want a front made firm by preparation, not a paper front consisting of provocative speeches. The public were eager for war—they thought that speech was the speech of a man of action, but they did not know that behind all this platform energy there were the greatest administrative omissions, and they did not know that the colleagues of the then Colonial Secretary had actually been left for years in blank ignorance of the elementary dangers of the situation. They did not know that by this very speech, and speeches like it, the soldiers were being prevented from getting time for which they were vainly asking. What right had the Colonial Secretary or any other Minister, in view of the warnings from the soldiers, to precipitate the situation against them and to force the pace at a time when they were asking of diplomacy that it should be carefully moderate?
See what followed. One cannot help wishing that instead of hectoring the Boers the right hon. Gentleman had hectored his colleagues, or that even without hectoring them he had given them a little more information. On the 5th September a very important minute was received from Sir Redvers Buller in which he said— 394There must be some period at which the military and diplomatic forces are brought into line.There was a diplomatic force at work here which it was very difficult to bring into line.Before diplomacy," he added. "proceeds to an ultimatum the military should be in a position to enforce it.What an astounding statement to make to this Government. It had never occurred to them. The War Office did not know how fast diplomacy was moving. Then General Buller added—We must know the line on which we arc to advance,And he said that if they were to take the Natal route 50,000 men would be required, leaving the Orange Free State out of account. That was before our disasters, which greatly increased the magnitude of our task. No soldier contemplated such a delay in the preparations as would allow the enemy to take the initiative against which Lord Wolseley warned us, nor were the military authorities made aware that a force would be required not only for the defeat but the annexation of the Transvaal, and on these differences as to the amount of men, you have General Buller's message which he sends direct to the Prime Minister. On the same day he sends one to Lord Wolseley, and there he seems to speak of the order that is to be adopted. He says—Early in July I suggested to Lord Lans-downe that the officers commanding in South Africa should be invited to say what troops they required to enable them to protect our Colonies from invasion by the Orange Free State or the Transvaal. So far as I know this has not been done.Who was the officer Commanding-in-Chief during the time? It was General Butler. What is the first thing that would suggest itself, not to a Cabinet Minister but to the man in the street, who is the final judge of appeal? That, at least, if you wanted to know the magnitude of your task you should write to the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa. He was not consulted at all, although I suppose he has fallen under the ban of the Prime Minister like the whole of the military service for whose miscalculation he suggests we are now suffering. Lord Wolseley's minute of the same day is—First intimation that our negotiations have readied an acute stage from Buller.395 Was this treating the soldiers fairly? Lord Wolseley then says—Cannot we stave off hostilities for five or six weeks?That was on the 5th September. Any Parliamentarian would have told him that you cannot stave off hostilities, that there are other forces pushing the pace. And then he goes on to say—We have committed one of the very greatest blunders in war, we have given our enemy the initiative.Whose was the blunder which brought about our initial losses? Were the soldiers responsible? Is there a single Member of this House who does not recognise the sense of fairness in Lord Wolseley's minute about the initiative? That blunder and the failure to follow-up that warning which was the root of our failure was a politician's blunder. It was the Cabinet's failure. What followed after this request for five or six weeks delay. There followed on the 8th of September a most important despatch which set out our proposals in their final form, with a minor indication that if they were not accepted there would be further steps taken which were not very obscurely veiled. One might call that despatch very nearly an ultimatum. That was three days after Lord Wolseley's request for five or six weeks more time. So that within three days of Lord Wolseley's request war was deliberately brought nearer. Lord Lansdowne said then he thought it was inevitable, and on that date 10,000 troops were ordered out. Lord Wolseley thought first of all 10,000 would be sufficient with one army corps. But, in advising only 10,000 men, he had in view the rapid mobilisation of an army corps. Ten thousand men with the rapid mobilisation and despatch of an army corps is a very different thing to 10,000 men sent unsupported. Lord Lansdowne says Lord Wolseley pledged his word that the borders of the colonies were now safe until the arrival of reinforcements, but Lord Wolseley was never asked as to this by the Commissioners, and although I do not doubt Lord Lansdowne's word, I think too much has been made of that. But did the 10,000 get out there before the outbreak of war? Not completely.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middle-sex, Ealing)
Yes, they were, the hon. 396 Gentleman is confusing the Indian troops with the 10,000. The Indian troops were there before the outbreak of the war.
§ * MR. ROBSON
I am not confusing anything. There were out of the 10,000, 5,600 who came from India. The rest came from the Mediterranean and home ports. The date of the arrival of the troops which came from India were between the 5th and the 13th October, and the troops from the Mediterranean and home ports between the 17th and 30th. The battle of Elands-laagte was fought on the 21st, and the war broke out on the 11th. But even supposing they were there before, they were not at the front, but at Durban. So that the arrivals go on right up to the 30th October, after some of the most vital battles had been fought. To what extent the troops were delayed after arrival in getting to the front I am not expert enough to say but Durban is a long way from the front. They ought to have been sent out when the general at the front could make good dispositions of them, but you have them arriving after the date when one of our most successful generals tells you 5,000 men might have changed the whole aspect of the war. I am quite indifferent, if it can be shown that these men were in South Africa on such a date, if it cannot be shown that they were at the front fit for service.
Now I take the question of the army corps. Very few facts indeed will be enough to show how the matter stands. It was asked for in June, and passed over through July, August, and September. It was never ordered until the 7th October. It took four months to prepare, and its arrival in South Africa was not completed till after our worst defeats. It might have been prepared in three months with the expenditure of one million of money, but the money required for the army corps was not obtained until 22nd September, nineteen days before the war broke out, and even when the money was provided it was not the whole amount but £600,000. The whole of the money was not sanctioned until the 29th. Is that fair to Lord Wolseley? It is not fair when you consider the burden 397 of responsibility cast upon him. I do not blame the Treasury. I think anyone who goes through this evidence will rise from it with an increased feeling of respect for that Department. The Treasury are the properly constituted guardians of the public purse, and there is no case throughout all the evidence of the Treasury being responsible for any niggard treatment when they had been made acquainted with the danger of the situation. But the Treasury did not know much about the danger. That has been my complaint against the then Colonial Secretary, that he did not invite or compel the collective action of his colleagues so that they would have put before the Treasury representations which would have secured more prompt and generous expenditure. That finishes all I have to say with regard to Lord Wolseley, and I have only a word to add in reference to two other soldiers, who, I think, ought to have something said for them. The first is General Duller. General Buller made one recommendation after another. On 5th July he said—You should strengthen the garrisons to the extent that the local authority there think sufficient.That was not done. The local authority—General Butler—was not consulted, General Penn-Symons is said to have been consulted and to have recommended some small addition, but he was killed, and therefore we have not heard his evidence on the point. The next recommendation made by General Buller is, "Make up your mind as to the route." The third was, "Commence mobilisation." Not one of those three heads of advice was carried out by the Government so far as General Buller was concerned.
Then as to General Butler. A more remarkable circumstance than that connected with the name of General Butler is hard to imagine. He was the officer commanding-in-chief there; he knew the theatre of operations; he had been requested in December, 1898, to draw up a local scheme of defence, and he had done it. It was not a scheme of defence adequate to meet invasion. No request of that sort was ever made to General Butler or anybody else in South Africa, he was simply asked to formulate 398 a scheme of defence upon existing conditions and with the materials then in South Africa. That is the ordinary method. Colonial governors and generals are not allowed to frame schemes of defence as if they had an unlimited command of troops; they have to frame their schemes according to the troops at their command—to cut their coat according to their cloth. He was never asked to make a considered estimate as to what force would be required in view of the contingencies of war and annexation which were then appearing on the horizon. Why he was not asked I do not inquire. He told the Commission that in conversation with his staff he had often expressed the opinion that 50,000 or 100,000 men would be required to deal adequately with the South African situation. It is a thousand pities the Government did not ascertain his opinion and the grounds for it.
These are the facts. I need not add to them by rhetoric; they speak for themselves. But I would add this word of warning. Are these Ministers fit to be chosen as the Ministers by whom even our commerce, and trade, and industry are to be turned into sub-departments of the War Office—because that is what we have got to expect. I hope the incompetence and neglect which is now made clear will not be allowed to pass without the English people and this House profiting by it. It is perfectly idle for us to listen to such a story as the Commissioners have unfolded and say, "Oh, let bygones be bygones." That will not do. We see already from the new proposals for the reconstruction of the War Office that you cannot let bygones of this sort be bygones. The Prime Minister who knew nothing about the Orange Free State is now to be almost Commander-in-Chief, and the Ministers who have proved themselves so negligent and reckless in dealing with Imperial peace are now to be invited to deal on War Office principles and methods with the industry and subsistence of the English people. Let us take care that the negligence which has been disclosed in one Department is not allowed a free hand to operate in all Departments. I beg to move.
§ * DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)
I should have been glad if I could have seconded this Amendment from the Government Benches, because then I should have escaped any charge of partisanship. But I can honestly disclaim any Party motive, as the matter involves the gravest national and patriotic issues, and I feel with my hon. and learned friend that if we pass over the defects which have been disclosed our future as a nation is sealed. We cannot afford to let bygones be bygones. The Secretary of State for War, speaking at Liverpool on 21st January last, said—Some people may interest themselves in assigning the particular responsibility for what is good or for what is evil under the circumstances which are commented upon in that Report. I do not myself take a very lively interest in that task of distributing the responsibility. In the first place, J do not think really that the public at large very much care. They are very sorry it happened, but I think the thing they cure about least is to go back now to the question of responsibility.I think the right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The public do care about fixing the responsibility. The Prime Minister much more accurately summed up the situation when he said on November 27th last—What is the view at the present moment of the man in the street.…I think his view is that the recent war and the Commission which has sat upon the war have shown, at all events, if they have nothing else, that before the war there was culpable negligence, and that during the war there was a deplorable breakdown.That is exactly what the man in the street does say, and with great justice. He cannot fail to remember that 25,000 of his sons and brothers were either killed in action or died of wounds or disease; that another 25,000 have come home broken in health and constitution to be a burden to themselves and their relatives for all time; and that of those 50,000 a very large number were time-expired reservists, who before the war broke out had left the colours, entered into civil occupations, and had wives and families dependent upon them for support. Moreover, he thoroughly agrees with the finding of the Commission on page 57 where it says—It certainly appears now that with a greater amount of forethought in arrangements generally, in the provision of stores and equipment, and with the addition of perhaps another Brigade, the situation in Natal might have 400 been so strengthened that the whole course of the war must have been altered.I ask Members of the House to carry their memories back to the dark opening days of January, 1900. The war had been raging for three months; 6,000 British troops lay dead on the fields of Glencoe, Belmont, Graspan, Modder River, Stormberg, Magersfontein, and Colenso; Mafeking, Ladysmith and I Kimberley were invested, and the people in this country were filled with surprise, disappointment, and despondency. They were asking one another how it was that we did not know the enormous character of the Boer preparations; and, above all, with regard to the investment of Lady-smith, they were asking one another, "How is it the Government was not advised of the possession by the Boers of the Long Tom guns which outclassed our guns every time?" The Prime Minister at the close of that dark week addressed his constituents, and his first answer to the criticisms was that he did not think the Boers would fight. His words were—If we were wrong in thinking war improbable, we erred with the great mass of opinion instructed on South African affairs.The same position was taken up by the late Colonial Secretary. Let us see if we comprehend how the matter stands. My hon. and learned friend might with advantage have gone into greater detail with regard to the remarkable statement of the Intelligence Division. Lieut.-General Sir W. G. Nicholson handed in this statement—The Intelligence Division prepared and submitted during years 1896–99 reports concerning—Then I read later on—
The Intelligence Division urged repeatedly, from a military point of view, the expediency of defensive preparations in South Africa.
- (a) The military preparations of the Boers, including their armaments and forts.
- (b) The number of fighting men the Boers would place in the field at the commencement of hostilities.
- (c) The political and military relations existing between the South African Republic and the Free State.
- (d) The offensive plans of the Boers and the probability that Natal and Kimberley would form their objectives.A memorandum written by Sir John Ardagh in October, 1896, entitled 'The Transvaal Boers from a military point of view' examined the existing situation in South Africa. It pointed out that the South African Republic was spending that year 401 £2,350,000 on military preparations, including the provision of artillery, rifles, ammunition, and fortifications, 'that this large expenditure can have no other explanation than an anticipation of war or an intention of aggressions against this country and its supremacy in South Africa.'That was in 1896. During the whole of 1896–97–98–99, practically weekly, despatches giving the most precise descriptions of the Boer forces, were coming home from South Africa. I am sorry the late Colonial Secretary is not in his place, because he challenged the statement that they were sent direct to the Colonial Office. I think he must have been in error there, because the great bulk of them are headed: "Sir A. Milner to Mr. Chamberlain." They are too voluminous to go into in detail, but one of them before me is worth reading.
Here is the substance of what Mr. Greene said on 7th February, 1898—I am told that there are now 105,000 rifles in the magazine at Pretoria, independent of stock in district magazines, and it is therefore difficult to understand how any further supplies can possibly be necessary. It is, however, clear that the Government do not share this view, for they recently dispatched an order to Messrs. Kynoch for 8,000 rifles, as reported in my secret dispatch of the 16th ult., and I am told that they now propose to place another order for arms with Messrs. Webley of Birmingham, a member of that firm to be invited to come out here and enter into a contract. Moreover, the Government are, I hear, prepared to give orders for the latest improvements in field artillery, and quick-firing guns—the orders for artillery to go to Germany, and those for small arms to Birmingham.That is a characteristic despatch, and the despatches in 1896, 1897, 1898, and 1899 are full of statements of that nature. I am taking no evidence that has been challenged or contradicted, or that has in any way been impugned in the course of this Commission. Take the evidence of Sir William Butler. In question 136l7 Viscount Esher asks Sir William Butler—What was the essence, in one sentence, of the whole of your advice to the Government?And his reply was—Following the close of the Bloemfontein Conference, I sent. a series of telegrams and despatches to the War Office, in which I extended to the utmost limits of official language my warnings of what war with the Dutch Republics 402 and the Dutch race generally in South Africa would mean. I think I am within the meaning of those communications when I aver that the gravity of the warnings therein given could no easily have been greater.I turn now to Vice-Admiral Harris, who was in command at the Cape in 1889–90 He was asked by the Chairman the following questions and gives the following answers—In 1899, were any preparations made for the war on its outbreak?—From a naval point of view, yes.18959. At what date were those preparations made?—About August I began to assemble the ships in my squadron and put them all through a thorough course of docking and repair in readiness for any emergency.18960. Was that on instructions from home?—No, I did it on my own initiative, on what I imagined was coming. Of course, I was in consultation with Lord Milner as well.18961. But there were no instructions from home?—There were no instructions from home until immediately before the outbreak of the war.18962. What preliminary knowledge then had you of the matter?—It was a matter of very common conversation in Cape Town that the Boers were preparing for war. That was in June; and on July I was shooting near Port Elizabeth and met several English farmers of that district who told me that they were absolutely certain from what they knew of their Dutch colleagues that they were preparing for war. Following that up again I went up the River Maputa, on a shooting expedition nominally, but for another purpose really, and there I came across a Dutch farmer named Kotse, who travelled constantly in the Orange River State and the Transvaal, and he asked to speak to me privately. He said to me, 'Well, Admiral, I may tell you this in confidence. The Boers are certain to make war directly the grass comes in October.' I said, 'What is your reason?' And he said, 'I travel about from farmhouse to farmhouse, and they all tell me war is coming.' I naturally made a note of that and telegraphed it to Lord Milner.I turn from Vice-Admiral Harris to Sir Andrew Noble, the Chairman of Sir William Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. On page 484 of the same volume of evidence he says—Naturally, I heard a good deal from Continental makers of artillery and from other sources of what was going on in the Transvaal; but I believe that information was open to almost everyone who cared to take an interest in the subject. Having, moreover, served in South Africa myself, I knew something of the country and I saw the authorities at the War Office, and pointed out that the guns that were being imported into the Transvaal could be intended to be used against no country except this country.403 And later on he says—I had known, certainly for three years, of the preparations going on, and I had supposed, perhaps ignorantly, that the same information was at the disposal of the Cabinet.And then Sir George Goldie says to him—If that information was at the disposal of the Cabinet, do you think they ought to have made some further preparations earlier than at the time at which you spoke? Sir Andrew Noble replied: That was what I pressed.Then the Chairman said to Sir John Ardagh on page 213—I think we had it in the statement from the Intelligence Division that the Secretary of State for the Colonies, having had reports communicated to him, expressed his acknowledgments of their value on two occasions in 1897?—Yes, the Intelligence Department was in very constant communication with the Colonial Office, in fact, it always is, but at that time more so than usual.5047. So that the Government, so far as your is concerned, were fully informed of the view responsibility that you took of the position in South Africa?—I think I may say that they were quite fully informed.Now let me take one extract from Lord Lansdowne. The Chairman asked him the following question—21101. So that the Cabinet were aware, as is brought out in these papers, that the Boers were making warlike preparations which could only be intended for war with this country as early as 1898 at any rate?—Lord Lansdowne's reply is: Certainly.In the Report itself, paragraph 56, page 30, it is recorded—The consideration of the official records and the relative evidence sufficiently establishes the main fact that for at least three years before the outbreak of the war the Intelligence Department of the War Office had been fully aware of the warlike preparations in the Republics, and had recognised that the only object of these preparations could be to provide for hostilities with the British Government. If then the outbreak of war found us unprepared, it is necessary to discriminate between the causes which contributed to unpreparedness.What I cannot understand is how, with the information at their disposal, the Prime Minister and the late Colonial Secretary clung to the last moment to the belief that the Boers did not mean business, and did not mean to fight.
Let me go back now to the Prime Ministers' speech of 8th, January 1900. The first statement he made was that he did not think the Boers would fight, and his second assertion was, that if they did fight preparations had been made on a 404 scale sufficient to meet any forces that were likely to be arrayed against us in the field, according to our military advisers. The Prime Minister said—Looking back impartially, I say that the steps we took were, in the state of our knowledge, sufficient steps.That justified me in saying that the Prime Minister's view was that if the Boers were to fight the preparations were on a scale consistent with the description of the forces given by the military advisers. At the Hotel Cecil last November the Prime Minister said—It was in the fact that the task before us was proved to be far greater than any critic, military or civilian, had ever suggested that what are now called the deplorable War Office blunders really have their origin. I am not going to make the smallest apology, or attempt the smallest excuse, for anything that went wrong in the war.That was the second defence. At the outbreak of the war everybody war astonished at the nature of the was preparations, and particularly at the range and capacity of the Boer big guns. The late Lord Salisbury was asked in January, 1900, in the House of Lords, how it was he did not know that the Boers had these quick-firing and big guns, and he replied—The guns were generally introduced in boilers and locomotives, and the munitions of war were introduced in piano cases and tubs. We had no power of search, we had no power of knowing what munitions of war were sent in. We know it now; we have the best reasons for knowing it. But that we knew it to the extent to which it existed in June last I entirely deny.Lord Salisbury's "June last" is the month of June, 1899; and this is the date of the compilation of that marvellous handbook by Sir John Ardagh, which has already been referred to and which tabulated in the most specific and detailed way, and with extraordinary exactitude, the whole of the Boer armaments and the number of men they would be likely to put in the field. Take the big guns. With the accuracy of a trade prospectus there is a description given of the Long Toms, the Krupps, the Howitzers, the Nordenfeldts and the Hotchkisses. That hand-book states that the Boers had 107 big guns, and all of then are described most accurately. It appears from the papers captured from the Boers after the war, that in September, 1899, they really; had 99 big guns, and the hand-book 405 described them as having 107. The same work placed the Boers' machine guns at 34, and their papers showthat they possessed 27. It placed small arms at 87,264, and the papers at the close of the war showed the total to be 96,661, and 12,000 of these were obsolete. Small arms ammunition was estimated in this hand-book at 33,000,000 rounds, while the papers captured showed that in September, 1899, the total was 33,050,000 rounds. I have never read of any case where the description has been so minutely accurate, and this hand-book was placed in the hands of the Government four months before war broke out. This hand-book said that the Boers could place in the field 47,600 men, and The Times "History of the War" estimates the highest number of Boers ever in the field at one time at 45,000 men. The Report says nothing more than it should say when it states—It will he seen from the above epitome of the "Military Notes" that the information given therein has been proved by after events to have been generally accurate, and that it sufficed to give a correct impression of the numerical strength, armament, and plans of the Boers.I ask why did not the Ministers of the Cabinet make themselves more acquainted with the facts? Lord Lans-downe does not appear to have been very well acquainted with them. I see from Sir Ralph Knox's evidence that it was not mentioned at the debates of the War Office Council. The Prime Minister said—We took such steps as in the state of our knowledge were sufficient.I think that the state of the Government's knowledge might have been very much more complete. Again, in a speech on 8th January, 1900, the right hon. Gentleman said—I do not believe it will ever be maintained that the army we have sent into the field is inadequately equipped with any of the modern requirements or any requirement which the progress of invention has shown to be necessary in the case of a modern army.Now there are literally hundreds of expert contradictions of that statement. I take Lord Roberts. He says—In the way of artillery we were considerably behind other European nations at the commencement of the war. It was not until German guns were placed in the hands of our 406 artillery officers that they recognised how far the Germans were in advance of ourselves as to quick-firing guns.I take Sir Henry Brackenbury who says—We had no quick-firing guns in South Africa until we sent out some 4'7 guns, and the Navy sent up their 4'7 quick-firing guns also and 12-pounder quick-firing guns.I take Sir Ralph Knox—I do not think we sometimes take the trouble to find what the improvements are, otherwise we would never have gone to South Africa with the guns we had.I take General Plumer—The guns I had up to the relief of Mafeking were of various and mostly of old patterns, and were ineffective. We had seven guns and twelve machine guns; out of seven guns three only were efficient.I take one point that has come up in the debate this afternoon. The Prime Minister said at the Hotel Cecil that the Government thought soldiers were the best advisers. Therefore, the argument was that if things went wrong, the military advisers of the Government should be blamed. Well, I quote only one of the Government's military advisers—Sir William Butler—a man who, I think, has been very badly treated. After the Bloemfontein Conference he said—The Boers will fight to the last man if you menace their independence.That has turned out to be very true. In another part of his evidence he says that he warned the Government that the Boer women and children would help. That also turned out to be pretty true. How was he treated? He was recalled. He says he was ridiculed and vilified. That was treating the soldier as the best adviser in regard to these matters. I need not go in to Lord Wolseley's statement that reinforcements were necessary, and the Colonial Secretary's statement that no reinforcements were required at that time. That is another example, I suppose, of treating the soldiers as the better judges.
I ask the House now to remember the circumstances of 21st June, 1895. The Liberal Administration had on the specific advice of the military experts allowed the supply of cordite to run very low, and hon. Gentlemen opposite came down to the House in a state of 407 high indignation that we should have been left short of cordite. I make no complaint of that. I state the fact. That was at a time of profound peace. There was happily no war cloud on the horizon. The present Secretary for Ireland was Under-Secretary for War in 1898–1900. He gave vent to an entirely unexceptionable statement on the shortage of cordite. He said—If we were overwhelmed by some national disaster, and it was due to any extent to neglect in the supply of ammunition, the Adjutant-General might not be shot, but the Minister of War would be held responsible for betraying the country.That is a statement with which I associate myself. The Liberal Administration was put out on the shortage of cordite at a time of profound peace. A Conservative Government came in pledged to strengthen the national defences, and to perfect a great Department of State. I see from a statement made by the Prime Minister in 1895, after the Government was reconstituted that—No abler body of men were ever at the head of the Imperial Departments of the State than those who have recently been appointed.I should think that he must have got rid of most of them recently. The Conservative Government came to power highly indignant that there should have been a shortage of cordite. Where do we find ourselves at the outbreak of the great Boer War, about the nature of which the Government had been warned for three years?
Sir Henry Brackenbury says—On taking up the appointment of Director-General of Ordnance in February last, I commenced an inquiry into the condition of our armaments and reserve of guns, ammunition, stores, and clothing; and I should have been able to report fully before this, had not the whole energies of my Department been absorbed by the war in South Africa. That war has now disclosed a situation as regards armaments, and reserves of guns, ammunition, stores and clothing, and as regards the power of output of material of war in emergency, which is, in my opinion, full of peril to the Empire. That is after seven years of the Government which came into power pledged to put these things straight.Sir Henry Brackenbury in his evidence says—We had in reserve the material of only one horse-artillery battery…We had only material for eleven 15-pounder batteries.408 This is a statement of affairs in December, 1899, but at a later date we got into a worse condition. Sir Henry Brackenbury says—Then of gun ammunition we had only a reserve of 200 rounds per gun for each horse and field and mountain gun and howitzer, in addition to the 300 rounds which were with the batteries; and the whole of this reserve was absorbed by South Africa long before 15th December.…Naval orders for ammunition had to be held in abeyance from the beginning of October.…We borrowed ammunition from the Navy, and we borrowed ammunition from the Government of India, and yet I was unable to meet Sir Redvers Buller's demands for 5-inch howitzer ammunition and 7-pounder ammunition until a fortnight after they should have been complied with.I take one point from the evidence of Major Sir Henry Colville. He says—On the second day at Magersfontein, G Battery, R. H.A., had only six rounds per gun left, and the Field Battery about twelve. I believe that at that date there was not another round left in Cape Colony.Sir Henry Brackenbury further says—It caused roe the deepest anxiety as to what would take place in the event of a war in which both Navy and Army were engaged, for if in this war, in which only the land forces were engaged, we had, in order to keep up supplies, to borrow ammunition from the Navy, what would happen if the Army and Navy were both to be engaged? It would be impossible to meet the demands for ammunition under the conditions then existing.Then there is the pitiable story of the small arms ammunition, 66,000,000 rounds. When a shot was fired with that ammunition, the bullet stripped and a coating of nickel and lead was left in the grooving, so that, as Sir Henry Brackenbury says—If there was a second load, you were apt to get an accident—a blow back in the breech.He advised the Secretary for War to withdraw the whole of the 66,000,000 rounds as being ineffective for the purposes of war. He says—We were driven to great straits at one time because we had actually got reduced in this country to two or three boxes of Mark II ammunition, so that if we had had to go to war with a European Power we should have had to fight them with expanding bullets.Take it any way you like it is the same terrible story of breakdown.
I shall only mention one other point. Take the case of the 25,000 Lee-Enfields which were supplied to the reservists.
409 the men of whom we were so proud. They were men who had left the colours and gone back into civil life. At the call of duty they left wives and families and sprang to arms to a man. Each man was armed with a new pattern Lee-Enfield. These Lee-Enfields were so sighted that the best and truest shot was bound at 1,000 yards to place his shot wide of the mark The whole matter is very well summed up by Viscount Esher—The condition in 1899, as disclosed in Sir H. Brackenbury's memorandum, of our armaments, of our fortresses, of the Clothing Department, of the transport, of the Army Medical Corps, of the system of remounts, shows that either the Secretary of State was culpable of neglect, or that he was in ignorance of the facts.If the Secretary of State was ignorant of the facts, his ignorance was culpable. I confess that I feel very strongly about all this. It was my privilege to be born and brought up in the barracks of a British regiment. I am proud to be able to speak of myself as the son of a man who fought at Crimea as a private soldier. The earliest lessons I learned were the bitterest lessons I shall ever learn. They referred to the sufferings and hardships which were inflicted on the men who fought in the Crimean War, owing in too many cases to what Lord Esher calls culpable negligence. It was said that this sort of thing could never occur again after Russell's letters to The Times, and the inquiries ordered by the House of Commons. I do not claim that the soldiers suffered as severely in South Africa as in the Crimea. It could not be so. There have been fifty years of advance in the means of communication, and fifty years of newspaper progress and the Press is read in every cottage home. But I say that if there had been no such improvement in communications and in the Press, things would have been just as bad in South Africa as in the Crimea. I do not say things were so bad from the point of view of the soldier. Here is the final Report of the Select Committee of this House on the condition of the British Army in the Crimea, of which Mr. Roebuck was chairman—The Cabinet appear to have been confident of success.410 That is the first comment.At the date of the expedition to the East no reserve was provided at home adequate to the undertaking.That is the second comment. The Secretary for War, the Duke of Newcastle, found himself—imperfectly acquainted with the best mode of exercising his authority over the subordinate Departments, and these Departments were not officially informed of their relative position, or of their new duties towards the Minister for War.Take another extract—The Cabinet, according to the statement of Ministers, was in darkness.Take another statement—Your Committee must express their dissatisfaction with the administration of the contract system under the Ordnance Department.And take the final paragraph from the Report, which shows that the South African Report is a hideous plagiarism of the Crimean Report—The administration which ordered that expedition hoped and expected that it would be immediately successful, and as they did not foresee the probability of a protracted struggle they made no provision for a winter campaign; what was planned and undertaken without sufficient information was conducted without sufficient care or forethought. This conduct on the part of the Administration was the first and chief cause of the calamities which befel our Army.Now, here we are again, fifty years after, in the same position. The Report of to-day is merely a hideous plagiarism on the Report of fifty years ago. When the Government came down to the House on 20th October, 1899, they asked that supplies should be voted for the South African War. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a promise that the Estimates had been prepared with the "utmost possible accuracy and care." First of all, the House was asked to make provision for 35,000 men, and the Under-Secretary for War. stated that that would be the—Superior limit to the margin for which we might be called upon to draw.Then on 21st October the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for £10,000,000 for the war which was to be over in four months. It was to be all over by 31st March, 1900. [Cries of "Oh, oh" from the GOVERNMENT Benches]. Oh, excuse me. The Chancellor of the 411 Exchequer asked for a Vote up to 31st March, late in October, and he said they had every reason to expect that the war would be over within the limit of time that the money was asked for. I call that four months. There is a good deal of new arithmetic about nowadays. Now, the four months became thirty-three months and the £10,000,000 became £222,974,000, and the 35,000 men became 448,435. I cannot help feeling that a great deal of the cost, duration, and magnitude of the war was the result of negligence and mismanagement; and that many a gallant lad's bones lie whitening on the South African veldt, and many a gallant lass is committed to a life of penury and toil to keep her children out of the workhouse, because of that negligence and mismanagement. It is because feeling that as I do I am bound by my conscience to second this Motion.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, 'But humbly represent to Your Majesty that the facts now made known in regard to the preparations for and conduct of the recent war in South Africa, and particularly the evidence taken by your Majesty's Commissioners appointed to inquire into those matters and their Report thereon, disclose grave negligence and mismanagement on the part of Your Majesty's Ministers, whereby the duration, magnitude, and cost of the war were greatly increased.'"—(Mr. Robson.)
§ Question proposed, "That these words be there added."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, towards the conclusion of his remarks drew a parallel between the state of affairs in the Crimea and the state of affairs in the first months of the South African War. It is true he added some words of mitigation, but in substance he believes himself, and would have this House believe, that there was some parallel to be drawn. There was none. When I come to that part of my argument I shall be able to show from the Report of the Commission that, so far as the finding of the Army is concerned, those who were responsible for that expedition stand acquitted, or justified in asking for 412 acquittal, at the hands of this House. But in order not to leave that without giving some immediate reply, I will take an authority who may be accepted, I think, even by the hon. Member, as justification—I mean, Lord Wolseley. Lord Wolseley served in the Crimea, and he was competent to advise on matters of that kind. Lord Lansdowne in his evidence cites Lord Wolseley, and says—I am inclined to believe that Lord Wolseley was not far off the mark when he said in that minute of January, 1900, that the army which we sent to South Africa was a better found and a better equipped army than had ever been sent from these shores before.I take another particular instance which the hon. Member suggests. Perhaps I may lead up to his remarks on guns and armaments by reminding the House of a very sound constitutional dictum I laid down on 21st June, 1895—namely, that the Government are responsible in these matters. I say so. I would call to mind something else I once said in this House. The hon. Member has laboured at great length his point regarding the information supplied by the Intelligence Department, and more particularly in respect of the guns. I made that point myself exactly four years ago in this House. Speaking on 1st February, 1900, I paid a compliment and just tribute to the exactness of the information which had been supplied by the Intelligence Department. Very well, the hon. Member asks us how it comes that Cabinet Ministers used words which seemed to mean that the Boers had armaments far in excess of those described. Well, the country believed that at the time. We had newspaper reports that went to prove that our guns were actually inferior to the guns of the Boers, that our guns were bad, that the guns of the Boers were much better, and that they were relatively more numerous. The hon. Member quoted Lord Roberts; the Commission quoted Lord Roberts. [HON. MEMBERS: Read it.] I will read it if you like. Lord Roberts says—Our experiences in South Africa have shown us that in the way of military matériel we were considerably behind other European nations at the commencement of the late war. Our field-gun, though a good serviceable weapon, was wanting both in range and rapidity of fire, whilst the fact of the enemy employing heavy field artillery against us at 413 the commencement of hostilities placed us in a difficulty which we could not have avoided without calling on the sister service for the assistance of naval guns.What is the next line of that Report—Notwithstanding this opinion, it would, we think, he unjust to say that the field armament prepared by the Ordnance Department was inferior to that which was in use by other great nations, or that there was a deficiency in the number of guns, though there was undoubtedly a deficiency in the reserve.
§ * SIR. CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
Does the right hon. Gentleman himself agree with the first line of that sentence?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Notwithstanding this statement? No. [Laughter from the OPPOSITION Benches.] I do not disagree, and I do not agree; and I can tell the hon. Members who laughed why. Because I do not intend to copy them and to constitute myself another Commission in place of the one which has sat, and to select everything which suits my case, just as they have selected out of those volumes of evidence everything which suits theirs. I say you appeal to Caesar and to Caesar you shall go. There is the Report. By that we are ready to stand or fall. I think the line which the speakers have taken, and the interruptions with which they marked my very modest quotation from the finding, and not from the evidence, accounts for the phrase which I admit caught my eye in the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member—Humbly to represent to Your Majesty that the facts now made known in regard to the preparations for and conduct of the recent war in South Africa, and particularly the evidence taken.It is particularly in the evidence that they revel during these proceedings—in a selection from the evidence. [Dr. MACNAMARA: What about the sighting of the rifles?] In order to conclude in the time allotted to me, I refer the hon. Member for a reply on the sighting of these rifles to a speech I made four years ago in this House. I approach the task of replying to the forcible and able speech of the hon. and learned Member with a feeling of distaste which almost amounts to repugnance. I share as fully as it can be shared in many quarters which support 414 the Government, and which earnestly desire to see Army reform, a feeling of annoyance at any attempt of justification, even on my part, when I am dealing with errors, some of which were committed long, long ago, and I share the feelings of annoyance at anything which could be twisted into recrimination upon our part against the great and distinguished soldiers who have rendered such important services. I do not think the soldiers will thank the hon. Gentleman opposite for the line of defence he has taken to-night. Who has stated more frankly than Lord Wolseley that he and all of them had a great deal to learn from this war, and that every war has lessons to teach that could not be anticipated. But, supposing we wilfully neglected the advice of our advisers, what the House has been asked to do to-night is to pass a vote of want of confidence in this Government. The hon. Members opposite who moved and seconded the Amendment were quite frank on that point. They have painted the Government which was in office at the beginning of the war as black as they could. They painted it so black that they want the House now not to act on the maxim that "a devil you know is better than a devil you do not know." Now, if the House will bear with me, I think I can take up, point by point, this accusation and show that we have a pretty good case. I will be quite candid and I shall leave the decision to the impartial consideration of the House. I do not know why the hon. Members opposite did not go to the Report instead of to the evidence.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I think they were the more bound to go to the Report, because the Commissioners themselves take account of the evidence in two ways. For one thing they discount—I use the word in no offensive sense—the value of some of the evidence on the ground that it was conflicting, and they refer to the evidence given by great soldiers on strategic problems, and say that the questions could not be determined unless you had a number of eye-witnesses on the spot. They also treat the evidence 415 in another way. They cite in extenso a considerable section of Lord Lansdowne's evidence. I have hardly heard the mover or the seconder quote Lord Lansdowne during the course of their speeches, and yet his evidence is very pertinent. The length of that evidence, over 500 answers to questions, is no bar to the study of its purport, because it was very accurately and fairly summarised in a précis which appeared in The Times newspaper. I have yet to learn that The Times has been a very indulgent critic of Lord Lansdowne, and if you will not have the Report of the Commission because you do not think it sufficiently vindictive, perhaps you will take the views expressed in The Times on the evidence as given by Lord Lansdowne. But I appeal to the Report. Now, in considering this Report, I think we ought in all fairness to take note of two things. In the first place, the Commissioners pronounce themselves, I will not say incompetent, but not called upon, to declare judgment upon the diplomacy which preceded the war. They leave that out of account. In the next place, I would ask the House to consider that the terms of reference confined the investigation to the period ending with the fall of Pretoria, and therefore, when they complain that no more had been done in this or that direction, they omit a great many things which have been done since the fall of Pretoria. What we have to deal with now are things which ought to have been done before the war and which were not done. Take the point of diplomacy. The hon. Member for South Shields stated as one of his most formidable facts that Lord Wolseley had asked for the mobilisation of an army corps on Salisbury Plain in the month of June. That would have been a political act and not an act of military preparation. Surely it would have been a political act and not an act of military preparation. The hon. Member endeavoured to avoid that difficulty by stating that the Government had authorised the strengthening of the garrisons in South Africa in order to strengthen their diplomacy. Is there no distinction to be made between sending the number of troops stated by your advisers to be necessary to protect your frontiers against invasion and 416 taking steps which could only be taken as contemplating invasion on a colossal scale? The diplomatic argument turns on the minute written by Lord Lansdowne on 12th August, 1899. In that minute he stated all the steps which must be taken in order to place a force in a condition to march in South Africa, and the step which would take the longest time—namely, three months—was the collection in South Africa of land transport. Will anybody say now that such a step ought to have been taken between the Bloemfontein Conference at the end of May and the rupture or cessation of diplomatic efforts towards the beginning of September? Such an act would have made it plain to the Boers and the whole world that we intended to invade them.
The hon. Member made another point, by the way. He asked, "Did you tell your soldiers you meant to annex the Transvaal?" What is the meaning of that remark? That you should conclude the war on terms? On what terms? the only terms offered were that we should evacuate the country and acknowledge what we had always denied—namely, to treat the Transvaal as a Sovereign and independent State. When a great country such as Great Britain has been provoked to war by the invasion of her own territory, you cannot suspend the war by making terms of the only character which would have brought that war to a conclusion. If we go through the Report in that spirit—am I claiming too much of the House of Commons when I invite the august Assembly which appointed this tribunal to take some heed of its conclusions? I have made one point, which I will not make again—namely, that, though the Commissioners took notice of the advice given and the views held by many great soldiers on strategic problems, they found there was conflict of opinion among these distinguished officers, and they declined to pronounce any judgment on their views separately. There was a divergence of opinion as to the proper strategic route of advance. The great fundamental strategic problems of the war were decided in various ways by some of the greatest strategists of the day, and the Commissioners found that it was quite impossible to subject those opinions to any reliable test, and that the only course that was 417 fair to all was to leave them on the same footing, to record them, and to leave them to the judgment of the reader. I am not here to prove that with a better organisation at the War Office you could not have had a plan of campaign which would have been a better plan. On the contrary, the Government are now suggesting that that course should be taken and have adopted it by their own executive act. What I do say is that, acting with the machinery of those days, and with the guidance given us—and I pass no reflection on that given by our distinguished soldiers—we do not stand condemned.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
The Committee of Defence were the existing body at that time for dealing with questions of this nature.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
The Prime Minister put the Committee of Defence upon a basis which, as far as it goes, has earned the encomium of Lord Esher's Committee; but it was not within the duty of the Committee of Defence to decide on the strategical advance to be followed in the war. That was discussed as between Lord Lansdowne, the Secretary for War, Lord Wolseley, and Sir Redvers Buller, and you will find a triple minute, one by; each, was written on 25th September, and yet the hon. and learned Member says that Sir Redvers Buller was complaining in October that proper attention was not paid to his views.
§ MR. ROBSON
Yes, on 25th September; but I pointed out that it was only on 23rd September Lord Lansdowne communicated to General Buller that he might put forward his views with regard to the route.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I understood the hon. Member to say that Sir Redvers Buller took exception to the lateness of the date.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
My reply to that is that the principal adviser of Lord Lansdowne was Lord Wolseley, and if the hon. Member will turn to page 514, answer 21,234, in the evidence of Lord Lansdowne, he will find these words—You will see in Lord Wolseley's minute of 8th June that he says:—'The general plan of campaign to be adopted is one that must thoroughly meet with the views of the general officer selected for the supreme command. There are, practically, only two lines of advance for an army into the Transvaal'; and in his later minute of 7th July, again, after considering the two lines of advance, he says that, 'should the Free State help the Transvaal against us, he presumes Sir Redvers Buller would not shrink from using the Free State as the line of advance upon Pretoria.'There is no substance or foundation in the charge that the soldiers were hampered by not being free to adopt either of those lines of advance, and again I would ask the House to accept the Report of the Commission. They say that the line of advance through the Orange Free State was considered to be the best. Well, it may or may not have been an over-refinement of political diplomacy on the part of the Government not to shake their fist at the Orange Free State before that was necessary. The hon. and learned Member has spun a long tissue of ingenious arguments, but what does it amount to? We knew there was a defensive alliance between the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, although the hon. and learned Member put it in words not familiar to me—he talked about the quarrel being just. It might have been an offensive and not a defensive alliance, but we should have been acting unwisely and wrongly if we had presumed that the Orange Free State would have backed up an unprovoked invasion of our territory. We may have believed they would, but the question was ought we to have acted as if we thought they would; and that question becomes very pertinent when upon the larger political problem—namely, the time it would take to get an efficient force in South Africa—we knew that three months must elapse, and that the first step to be taken—namely, the collection of transports—would proclaim to the whole world that we intended the invasion of South Africa. They may have been wrong, the Cabinet of that 419 day—I was not a member of it, but I am here to defend Lord Lansdowne—but I think they were perfectly right. I think they would have offended the feelings of the civilised world if in June and July, when despatches were going from ourselves to the Transvaal Republic and back again, they had taken steps which could have only meant one thing, the intention on our part to crush that Republic. If it is argued that we are to be found guilty for having delayed preparations, I reply that I do not call that a delay of preparations. I call it the avoidance of a political act which would have put our country in the wrong, and would not, as a matter of fact, have really put us in a better position at an earlier date in South Africa.
Now take another finding of the Commission. The Commission point out on preparations that—A distinction must be made between the preparedness of this country for any war in the year 1899 and the definite preparation made for the event of a war against one or both of the Dutch Republics in South Africa.The hon. and learned Member said—You must have known that these people Were preparing for war, and obviously for war against no one but yourselves.And he thinks that statement of fact disposes of the Prime Minister's speech in which he pointed out that we had in this country to be prepared for a varied number of emergencies. Suppose you had prepared for that war and had found yourselves on the eve of war, or of national disgrace—you can always avoid it by accepting that—with some other Power; not with a small Republic, but a great European Power. I do not wish to revive unhappy memories, but if anybody will cast his eye carefully back over some of the anxious months of 1898 he will see that the Government of the day would have been guilty of the greatest folly and crime if they had specialised their preparations for one contingency in South Africa instead of dealing with Imperial defence as a whole. I will tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that in the matter of general preparations we have a record of which we need not bo ashamed. We ought not to glory in it, to take pride in it; we have made mistakes; we have not had the best system for the Army, nor a 420 close enough correlation between the Army and Navy in Imperial defence; and until the present Prime Minister, whom we are asked by this Amendment to turn out of office, took the reins of the Defence Committee it was not as good an instrument as it is now. But with the opportunities at our disposal we have a record which I am not ashamed of comparing with the record of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I do not think, after the two speeches we have heard from the mover and seconder of the vote of non-confidence in the Government, that I shall be accused of adopting an unduly partisan tone when I say that on general preparations our record will stand examination and that theirs will not. When Mr. Stanhope was in power there was general preparation. During the Government of 1886 £21,500,000 was spent on the Navy—not wasted, but spent. I am not going to take up the small point about cordite; it is not a very important accusation, and there is a larger one; I say that during the years 1892–5, in the first place, the construction programme of the Navy was delayed, and, in the second place, nothing was added to the artillery of the Army.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
It is not denied that when we came into office in 1895 240 guns had been added to the field artillery arm; that was general preparation; but 364 guns were sent out during the first few months of the war, and if the war had occurred in 1895 instead of 1899 you would have had that inferiority in the numbers of your artillery which is unjustly charged now. But I may be asked, Why had not further progress been made? Because, when the Government came into office it put the Navy first, rightly, as we think, in the scheme of general preparation; and, apart from keeping up the Navy to the two-Power standard then adopted, it appointed a Commission to report on the armament of all the naval stations, and the first work of the Government was to re-arm all our naval stations in the world with 421 breechloaders instead of muzzleloaders. Observe, these armaments are not pertinent, are not relative. You ought to have been preparing particularly for the war in South Africa. Would hon. Members opposite have supported the Government if we had said we must re-arm all the naval stations of the world at a cost of £7,000,000, and we must also prepare for war which may or may not happen in South Africa in four, five or six, years time, at an annual cost of an additional £2,000,000 a year? It is absurd to put forward that proposition. General preparation had been pushed, not as far as it could be and not under the best system for obtaining the best advice, but honestly and truly pushed to a standard which enabled us to conduct the war to a successful conclusion in spite of the miscalculation, for which we accept, responsibility—namely, that 75,000 men were enough. That was the miscalculation. I ask any one to read this Report impartially and to judge whether that is a miscalculation which would justify this Government in being turned out of office. I do not wish to indulge in recrimination, but I say they acted on the advice that was given them.
I take the other point, of which much may be made—namely, that the garrisons in South Africa prior to the landing of the field forces were insufficient for the defence of our Colonies against invasion. What is the finding of the Commission on that point? They quote the statement of Lord Lansdowne, which is as follows—That the Government had received the assurance of their military advisers that the reinforcements sent to South Africa, together with those which could be added before a field force was despatched, would ensure the defence of the Colonies from serious invasion by the Boers.They then quote more than a page and a half of Lord Lansdowne's evidence, and refer to Lord Wolseley's evidence also, and state that—Taken, as a whole, the evidence appears to support the position of the Government on this point—namely, that the steps taken to reinforce the troops in South Africa for defensive purposes, pending the arrival of the field force, were in accordance with the advice and requirements of their military advisers.422 We stand or fall on this—namely, that politically we were right not to take a step three months before the first act of war in order, if possible, to win a diplomatic victory—in order, if possible, to avoid war. And we confess that we were responsible for believing that 75,000 men was the total necessary, and that the forces in South Africa: prior to the advent of the field force could hold the passes until the field force arrived. If that shows such a lack of foresight and judgment, such a reckless want of consideration for the advice which reached us, then in heaven's name turn out the Government, and put in a Government which will do better. If not, let the acquittal, for it amounts to that, of the Commission stand. But when the Government is charged with not having made preparations for war, words are used which lead the people of this country to suppose that the supplies were inadequate in quantity and bad in quality. I believe that a noble Lord in another place, or elsewhere, made himself responsible for talking about paper boots or boots with paper soles. I will quote Lord Wolseley's dictum again, that no army was ever better equipped or better found, and I think there is a confusion in the minds of many as to the meaning of the words equipment and reserves. When we are told that there was a deficiency of reserves, that is perfectly true—there had been no policy in this country of accumulating large reserves; it was the settled policy of Government and Government, acting on the advice of those who were competent to advise them, that it was unwise to lock up a great deal of money in accumulated reserves, and it was believed that the manufacturers of this country could respond to any sudden stress. Well, as it turns out, that was an unfounded and bad policy, and when the first grave operation of the Government—namely, the re-armament of the coaling stations—was over, General Brackenbury was appointed by Lord Lansdowne for the specific purpose of going into this question of reserves. A Departmental Committee sat upon it, and the Treasury and the Government of the day allotted £10,500,000, in addition to the £7,000,000 for naval stations' armaments. So much for the reserves, and I say the first force.
423 which was to be a force of 75,000 men, was properly equipped. So I run through the findings of the Commission. There is the finding on guns. Take rifles—The supply of rifles during the war appears to have been adequate and satisfactory.Take clothing—The supply of clothing and boots in South Africa appears to have been satisfactory.Saddlery and harnessWas of good material and workmanship,better than the colonial. The Commission refer to the scandals about the remounts, and say they were very much exaggerated. I said I should be perfectly candid, and I will give the words of the Commissioners. They say—The Commission, having considered the mass of evidence taken by the Court of Inquiry and in other investigations with regard to the proceedings of the Remounts Department and the Yeomanry Committee in the purchase of horses, were convinced that it would be a waste of time to investigate afresh the individual transactions and questions of personal conduct to which most of the attack is directed. The former inquiries have shown that there was much exaggeration in the allegations of scandal, and more especially so far as the Government Remount Department was concerned, and the Commission sees no reason to dissent from the judgment delivered by the Court of Inquiry acquitting General Truman from personal blame.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
And yet it was made the occasion of an attack upon this gentleman that there had been corruption leading to improper horses being purchased in large numbers.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must not persist in interrupting unless the right hon. Gentleman gives way.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I have very little time. I do not deny for one moment that our arrangements for the Remount Department were totally inadequate, and my right hon. friend the late Secretary for War took steps during his period of office to carry out some much-needed 424 and, I believe, effective reforms. So it is also with regard to the supply of food and forage—The evidence shows (the Commissioners say), that both in method of distribution and in quality the supply of food was one of the successful features of the South African War.So it is of sea transport, and so it is on almost every head. Now, you may say these are all small points, but it is an acquittal against the charge which has been preferred. It is an acquittal against the charges that used to be made against the Government during the early months of the war, charges preferred even by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Certain salient features emerge from this Report. In the first place, the Government made themselves responsible for the belief that 75,000 men was an adequate force. There is on that a finding against the Government, and we accept responsibility. But we ask impartial critics to read the Report and find in that acceptance of responsibility any justification for such an Amendment as has been moved. We say, in the second place, that for political considerations, which may have been valid or invalid—we all believe them still to be valid—we declined to take steps which would have advertised three months beforehand our intentions of going to war. We declined to take those steps when diplomatic negotiations were still in process, and when we trusted and believed that the Republics would not be guilty of an invasion of our territories. The third salient fact is that the interim defence provided for our own colonies was, in the opinion of our military advisers, adequate until the arrival of the field force. And the fourth salient feature is that, in the choice of a strategic line of advance, although there was no elaborate plan of campaign as there might be now when we have reorganised the War Office, we acted on the advice of the most distinguished military authorities. They all agreed in that advice, and there is not the slightest reason to believe that if they had been sitting together on the remodelled Army Council they would have given any other advice than that which, as a. matter of fact, Lord Lansdowne followed. Then there is the quantity and quality of 425 the provision of munitions of war. I feel that we need plead guilty only to having believed that 75,000 men were enough. We plead not guilty to the charge that these 75,000 men were not available or that they were not properly and adequately equipped.
We are arraigned by critics who think that they can impale us on the horns of a dilemma when they say that you ought either to prepare for war or to avoid war. Are you to prepare at all costs for every conceivable expedition? That is the view of one set of extremists. Are you to avoid war at all costs? That is the view-of extremists at the opposite pole. We say that it is the duty of a reponsible Government to seek for some mean between those opposite views. We declare that, according to such guidance and with such facilities as were then available, that purpose was sought by the Government of the day and by their predecessors when Mr. Stanhope was Secretary for War. We say we have always sought to find the exact mean between the two—between war and diplomacy. But who are those who bring this charge against us? What was their diplomacy in South Africa, and what were their particular preparations in South Africa? Having receded from the Transvaal in 1881 and given a large measure of independence, what did they do in the year 1882? They contracted a treaty with Portugal to admit of the free transit of arms and munitions of war into the Transvaal Republic. And then, when you come to 1895, you get a beautiful balance of diplomacy and preparation for war. A despatch was written in the Colonial Office urging upon President Kruger for his acceptance a five years franchise, the very terms which were offered by Sir Alfred Milner, as he then was, at the Bloemfontein Conference in May, 1899, and what was the preparation for war? The garrison of South Africa consisted of two battalions! I know the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition thinks that that was an adequate garrison at the time. [OPPOSITION cries of "So it was" and "That was before the Jameson Raid."] Then why did you keep the despatch back? The right hon. Gentleman has made himself responsible for saying that they had an overwhelming superior- 426 ity with these two battalions at Cape Town, but the despatch did not go. He has made it a charge against us that, without sufficient preparation, we allowed the quarrel to develop. They did not allow the quarrel to develop. They kept the despatch back, and it is very easy to adjust the balance between your diplomacy and your preparation for war if you put nothing, or next to nothing, in either scale. It is not easy to keep an exact balance. It is very difficult to adjust that balance if you have, as you ought to have, a regard for your worldwide responsibilities, and, in particular, a regard for your responsibilities to your colonial brethren, and if at the same time you have, as you ought to have, a regard for the taxpayers and the credit of this country. To say that with all our efforts towards general preparation, and with all these diplomatic reasons for not pushing on special preparations too far, we are to be condemned upon such an issue, is to prefer a charge which this House will cast to the winds. What is the question? Is the Prime Minister, who received a special encomium from Lord Esher's Committee, to continue his work of Army reform, or is he to be succeeded by the distinguished statesman whom hon. and right hon. Members opposite have unanimously agreed upon as more fitting to direct the organisation of the War Office?
§ SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
said the right hon. Gentleman had appealed to the evidence of Lord Lansdowne. That being so, might he refer him to page 518 of the Blue-book, where the following passage would be found—It is abundantly clear from Sir H. Bracken-bury's report that we were not sufficiently prepared even for the equipment of the comparatively small force which we had always contemplated might be employed beyond the limits of this country. For the much larger force which we have found it necessary to employ our resources were absolutely and miserably inadequate. We had at the outset of the campaign to send troops abroad insufficiently supplied with clothes and equipments. If other complications supervened a catastrophe would have been inevitable.The right hon. Gentlemen had appealed to Caesar; to Caesar, then, he should go. By that evidence Lord Lansdowne gave a complete contradiction to a great deal that the Chief 427 Secretary had been urging. Surely the right hon. Gentleman would also remember that according to the advice of the military authorities it then required an expenditure of £640,000 to complete the equipment of the First Army Corps. And were they to be told that soldiers, into whose hands were placed rifles which carried six inches to the right at 500 yards, were properly armed? or that cavalry with a reserve of eighty swords, and those of a kind perfectly useless for cavalry purposes, were efficiently equipped? It was impossible for Lord Wolseley to have taken these facts into consideration; the evidence of Lord Lansdowne was much more to be relied upon. The House owed a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. and learned Member for South Shields for the able and lucid speech in which he had brought this complicated question before them. He had been inclined to fear that the question had receded somewhat in public interest owing to the length of time which had elapsed since the events took place. to the time it had taken to compile the evidence, and to the appearance on the political horizon of a very large question which, like Aaron's rod, appeared to have swallowed up all others. Moreover, there had been the I promise of reform in the War Office, and they had in that Department a Secretary of State enlisted on the side of Army reform. His hon. and learned friend had wisely made it his first object to place the saddle on the right horse, being not only anxious to exonerate the soldiers, but to allot the I blame in the proper quarters. One quotation would show the opinion of the Royal Commission on this point—It appears now that with a greater amount of forethought in arrangements generally, in the, provision of stores and equipment, and with the addition perhaps of one brigade, the situation in Natal might have been so strengthened that the whole course of the war must have been altered."(Page 30.)And again on page 28—There can be no doubt now that the position in South Africa was dangerously weak.In the judgment of Sir J. French, the addition to the force in Natal of a brigade of 5,000 men,' would have turned the scale in the operations after Elands- 428 laagte. It was difficult to form any conception of the difference in the whole course of the war which might have been the result. What was the situation in June, 1899? According to page 25 of the Report—In June, 1899, it has been shown that an Army Corps and a Cavalry Division was designated as the force which would be required in the event of hostilities. The equipment of that force required, in the opinion of the Army Board, an outlay of £640,000. The minutes of the Army Board up to 22nd, September 1899, make it clear that in their opinion the main difficulty was the refusal of sanction for the expenditure of the money involved. It is, however, equally manifest from his minute of the 12th of August, that Lord Lansdowne, as Secretary of State, fully appreciated the extent of the deficiency, and the consequence of any delay in the grant of money, and that he brought the whole circumstances before his colleagues. The decision not to sanction expenditure was, therefore, taken by the Cabinet, though Lord Lansdowne, of course, does not dissociate himself from it.Therefore the very thing which prevented the Army Corps going out was the refusal of the Cabinet to sanction the necessary expenditure. Nothing could be more clear than that it was not the fault of the soldiers. Sir H. Brackenbury had shown that nothing was done by the Secretary of State to remedy the state of affairs. From his evidence it appeared that—The proceedings of the Army Board were full of instances of our asking at that time to be allowed to spend money in making preparations and of our being told we could not do it. It was perfectly clear that it was the decision of the Government that they would not spend money at that time in preparation for the despatch of an army corps.And again—We, were equally refused money by the Secretary of State in the early stage to make any preparation for providing clothing for the First Army Corps, and nothing was done until the 22nd of September.He could not conceive how that decision had been arrived at. The Cabinet must have known of the immense importations of arms and ammunition into the Transvaal; they must have known at the time of the Raid that we were very weak; they had the excellent reports of the Intelligence Division; and they knew that war was impending, because they sent to Sir Redvers Buller with the First Army Corps, and told him that when hostilities broke out he would be 429 appointed to the command. It was, indeed, most melancholy to read of the want of preparation that obtained at that time. The question of the reserves in this country should not be lost sight of. The authorised reserve of cavalry swords was 6,000; the actual reserve, however, was 80, and they were described by Sir J. French as the worst that could possibly be used by any mounted troops, and by General Baden-Powell as a perfectly useless weapon. As to the rifles, the back-sight had been altered, and that was the cause of the divergence of the bullets, and it was a terrible blow at the commencement of the war that 200,000 rifles were useless. But who found that out? Not the War Office, but the unfortunate Yeomanry to whom they were served on the eve of going into the field. That, he contended, was a scandalous thing. Great use was made of machine guns, which were especially useful when acting with cavalry, but Sir H. Brackenbury stated that while the authorised number was 1,224, they had only 898, a deficiency of 326. And further—We were driven to great straits for ammunition, because we had actually got reduced in this country to two or three boxes of Mark II. ammunition, so that if we bad had to go to war with a European Power we should have had to fight them with expanding bullets.He further stated—Almost the whole of the supplies tell a similar tale. We had 500 sets of cavalry saddlery in reserve to meet the wear and tear of 16,000 sets with the troops, we had 10,000 sets of infantry accoutrements in reserve to meet the wear and tear of 364,000 sets, we had 1,700 sets of mule harness and we had to buy an equipment of 25,000 sets from the trade before l5th December.Then Lord Lansdowne stated in evidence—We had a quite insufficient reserve of horse and held artillery material, only one battery of horse artillery, and that converted to an experimental quick-firing system. The whole stock of field-gun ammunition was absorbed by demands from South Africa at an early stage. We borrowed from India and the Navy. We had only 500 sets of harness and 500 of Cavalry saddler in reserve, we at once exhausted the reserve of infantry accoutrements, we had to borrow large guns from the Navy, machine guns from fortresses, boots and helmets from India, to buy 25,000 sets of mule harness, 17,000 tents and 900 marquees, we had no reserve of hospital equipment, the fiftieth of the picketing gear required, and a reserve of 80 swords.430 That was from the evidence of Lord Lansdowne, a conclusive authority who cannot be mistaken.
With regard to the provision of men—Colonel Lucas, who acted as Deputy-Adjutant General of the Imperial Yeomanry, stated that on several occasions, he urged upon the War Office, after the despatch of the first contingent-that recruiting for the Imperial Yeomanry should not be stopped but the committee should be allowed to raise drafts to maintain the strength of the force. It was a mistake on the part of the War Office authorities to have declined to santion this. If the force first sent out had not been allowed to melt away the subsequent hurried and unsatisfactory raising of further contingents would not have been necessary.The second contingent was raised by order in February, 1901. The privates were given 5s. a day, to the great disgust of their comrades in the first contingent who were paid at cavalry rates, and had also to be raised to 5s. a day, like the Colonials. These men when they arrived in South Africa, were absolutely untrained, and could neither shoot nor ride.
That was about the most extravagant expenditure in the war. Lord Methuen said of them—It was not their fault, it was sending them out unprepared and not giving them a chance when they got to the country of getting into order, before they were in front of the enemy.Sir B. Hamilton says of them—The second lot of Yeomanry knew nothing at all, they did not know how to handle a rifle.Sir C. Knox said of the same contingent—They were very bad; I do not know where they were got, but they had no idea of riding, shooting, or anything else.Colonel Crabbe said that—They were absolutely ignorant of the rudiments of soldiering, and knew nothing about horses. Some of the officers were unfit and had to be sent home.With regard to the officers he limited himself to the Militia. Lords Wolseley and Roberts and the Adjutant-General agreed that the Militia failed in the matter of an adequate number of well-trained officers. In the sixty-eight battalions warned for embarkation, there was a deficiency of 303 officers. One battalion was seventeen, another sixteen, and another fourteen officers short. The whole Militia 431 force in 1899 was 624 officers short. The Inspector-General of the Auxiliary Forces between October, 1899, and April, 1900, gave away 407 Militia Commissions. He sent out young gentlemen with no training whatever, and knowing nothing. He took them straight from their families or from school and sent them out without even gazetting them. Naturally Lord Roberts found the greatest difference between Line and Militia on service, and could only employ the latter on lines of communication, and he referred to the great anxiety he felt in his communications being held by partially trained troops such as Militia and hastily raised Yeomanry. No doubt one of the great difficulties was the supply of trained officers. They could not pay a man for longer time than he served. Might they not utilise the Militia, increase largely the establishment, train an officer for three months and then one month yearly. They then would not need largely to increase the cadres of regiments, or pay men for twelve months while doing one month's duty, and yet they would get the Militia properly officered.
As to horses, there was less reason to speak of the terrible deficiencies of the remounts, as there had been more than one debate and more than one Committee upon it. But no one could pretend that an establishment to purchase only 2,500 horses a year was sufficient; nor could any excuse be found for not increasing the staff when they suddenly had to deal with an expenditure of £7,000,000 in a single year. All would agree with the finding of the Commission—That the real complaint against the Remount Department does not so much relate to its purchase of horses during the war as to the fact that from first to last there was not the symptom of an idea in anyone who was responsible for its organisation that in time of war there would be necessity for its expansion.In conclusion, he thought they were all indebted to his hon. and learned friend for the admirable manner in which he had brought the subject before the House.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.