§ Mr. HOGGE
Before I enter upon a new subject, may I say how much obliged the House is to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the statement which he has just made. And if I am not too presumptuous, as a Member who sat below the Gangway with him before he went above the Gangway, may I congratulate him upon the effectiveness of this, his first appearance in office, and to wish him success in this enterprise and many others which he appears to be contemplating? With regard to the topic which I desire to raise I find 1532 myself in this quandary. I understood it was to be raised on the Consolidated Fund Bill to-morrow, and that it has now been arranged by what are known in this House as "the usual channels" to take place on this Adjournment. But I find on being called upon by you, Sir, and being present at the request of those usual channels, that there is nobody in this House representing the War Office able to deal with the subject which I wanted to discuss. It does seem to me rather farcical that we should be brought here, and two hon. Gentlemen opposite who desire to discuss this matter, and find ourselves on the Adjournment without anybody on the Front Bench who knows anything at all about the matter, or could be expected to know. Under those circumstances I do not propose to discuss the question.
§ Mr. NIELD
I feel it my duty to take advantage of the first opportunity which presents itself, with or without the presence of a Member representing the War Office, to deal with a subject which formed over and over again in this House the matter of an attack by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). As far back as the 25th of February he put upon the Question Paper of this House questions which reflected upon the integrity and honesty of a number of officers and gentlemen who had been assisting in the raising of the Empire Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. I need only refer to one question put to the War Office on the 3rd March as follows by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh:—Whether General Woollcombe has now submitted to him any report of the inquiry into the nature of the illicit commissions paid to the members of the British Empire Committee in connection with the Empire Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), and whether he will state the nature of that report.Mr. Tennant: I have not received the report referred to, but I am making inquiries.Mr. Hogge: Does not the right hon. Gentleman see that the imputation conveyed by this question rests on all the members of the Committee, and will he consider the advisability of calling for the report at once."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1915, col. 807.]Up to the present time that report has not been dealt with in this House, although it may have been considered by the War Office. Under those circumstances I feel it my duty to bring the matter before the House, though the hon. Member for East Edinburgh does not avail himself of the opportunity and take his chance of the representative of the War Office arriving later.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I would have taken the opportunity if I had not been invited to 1533 come to-night by the Whips of my own party, and of the party opposite, and discuss the matter. Under those circumstances I think we are entitled to have a representative of the War Office here, and it is only for that reason I do not proceed.
§ Mr. NIELD
I appreciate that, but there is the necessity of having this matter dealt with once and for all on the floor of this House since innuendo has done so much mischief about it, so that I prefer even in the absence of a War Office representative to deal with the matter. Let us see who are the officers and gentlemen under the imputation. One of the foremost was the late Field-Marshal Earl Roberts, who took the keenest interest in the regiment from its formation, and was in constant communication with the General Committee, of which he was a member, and who did his very best to encourage the men and to support the battalion. We have as chairman of the General Committee General Sir Bindon Blood, and Major-General Abadie, Lord Ridley, Lord Glanusk, Sir Wroth P. Lethbridge. The hon. Member for the East Division of Derbyshire (Lieutenant-Colonel Bowden), Lieutenant-Colonel Lumsden, whose name is associated with that of the raising of Lumsden's Horse, which performed so much service in the Boer war; we have also Sir John Tavener, Major-General Herbert, Major Little, Mr. A. O. Little, Sir Godfrey Lagden, myself, Major-General Robinson, Lord Calthorpe, Mr. Bell-Scott, Mr. Innes-Ker, Mr. McCandlish, Captain Salmon, Mr. Corbett, Captain Sir Pieter Stewart-Bam, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir H. F. de Trafford, Major-General Sir J. W. Campbell, Lord Haddington, and Mr. Ernest Devereaux, and Mr. J. Watson. Those two last-named persons (Mr. Devereaux and Mr. Watson) were engaged in carrying on the Empire Agency in St. James' Street, and, although they were guilty of conduct which nobody could attempt to defend, I say this for them, at the outset of the recruiting of this Committee they did indeed render very valuable services, besides lending their offices in St. James' Street. That is no excuse for what followed. But I am bound to put it on record that they had been assisting the officers and gentlemen engaged in raising this battalion.
The battalion of the 17th Fusiliers is essentially a regiment connected with the City of London. It was raised within a week at the request of the War Office from amongst City men of relatively good position and of West End Clubs. I do not 1534 know of my own knowledge, but I am told that many men who are privates in this regiment have very considerable private incomes, and that the type of men we are dealing with are extremely valuable for the purposes for which they are required. The City of London is represented in this House by two very distinguished Members—my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour), a former Prime Minister and Leader of the party to which I belong, and that very persistent Member, the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), who is never behindhand in advocating anything that concerns the City. Therefore, it is the more remarkable that this question dealing with a City regiment, and assailing the character of those who are identified with it, passed into the hands of an hon. Member who comes from a place so far removed from us as Edinburgh. I draw my own conclusions as to why that should be so. Without speaking derogatively of the hon. Member, I suppose he has copied the character of Rose Dartle in "David Copperfield," who asked questions for information, desiring to know, but generally conveying a considerable amount of information in the process. No doubt it is the well-known ability of the hon. Member which has induced those who are behind him to take up this subject.
What are the facts? A Committee was formed as soon as the War broke out, originally with the intention of forming a Cavalry regiment. After considerable negotiation with the War Office they were informed that a Cavalry regiment was not desired, but that if they would raise an Infantry regiment the War Office would be extremely grateful. Later they received a communication from the War Office, dated 29th September, informing them that in all matters relating to this regiment they should communicate with the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in the Eastern district, and they have rigidly adhered to that direction. They commenced to deal with this matter in August. It was well on in August before the request of the War Office was received, but they proceeded towards the close of the month and in the early part of September to invite recruits. It is worth while to state that this battalion, 1,100 strong, was raised within a week, and went into camp on 12th September.
A large committee like this, many of whose members could hardly be expected to attend at all, obviously had to act through sub-committees. They had an executive committee consisting of well- 1535 known officers of experience—General Sir Bindon Blood, Major-General Herbert, Colonel Lumsden, and others. They had also a clothing sub-committee of which Lord Calthorpe, who had the requisite experience, was chairman. Tenders were invited for the clothing in open competition; samples were submitted; and on the 11th September, the day before the battalion left for camp in Surrey, the order was determined upon and given to the contractor. In pursuance of this order clothing was delivered in various quantities. It was examined, not by members of the committee, but by experts appointed by them. Everything was done in the most businesslike way possible. The goods were received, and there were very few rejections. According to the information I have received—I am speaking as a member of the general committee—the order was executed to the complete satisfaction of the committee.
What happened was, the order having been placed, one of the two men whose names I have mentioned, acting on behalf of himself and the other, went to the contractor and demanded from him a share of his profits. After some considerable demur the contractor agreed to concede one-third. The contract was performed—the Committee knowing nothing at all of these facts—during the month of September, and from time to time the contractor made payments to one of these men, Watson, who received them on behalf of himself and the other man, amounting altogether to £285. Nothing was known of these transactions by any member of the committee until the end of October. On the 6th October both these men resigned from the committee because they had accepted Government contracts, and they did not consider it consistent with their duty any longer to remain members of the Empire Committee. I agree it was a great pity they had not thought of that long before. Towards the end of October the matter was brought to the notice of the committee by one of its members, and thereupon an inquiry of the most formal character was held. The committee had the contractor before them; documents were produced and carefully initialled; I myself took down the statement of the contractor and dealt with his documents in the same way as if one were conducting an ordinary legal proceeding.
1536 After the contractor had completed his observations, these gentlemen, having had the documents read over to them, were invited to make their own statements, which they did. They produced a typewritten copy of a letter, dated mid-September, purporting to have been sent by them to the contractor, in which they specified that in respect of future transactions they should enter into a limited partnership and share profits—I think in the proportion of two-thirds to the contractor and one-third to them—on any orders obtained by them out of which profit was made, and that any sums of money which might be advanced to them by the contractor should be regarded as advances in respect of that agreement. That was their case. They both affirmed to the truth of the facts. The committee were therefore put to consider the matter in the light of these contradictory statements and the documents which were produced. I invite the House to consider the position in which the committee were then. Having heard these two persons they made a report. I do not know whether I am justified, even though it may be in anticipation of the arrival of a Minister from the War Office, in so prolonging the proceedings—
§ Mr. WALTER REA
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to explain. I am sorry that there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War is unable to be present, but if the hon. Member will be good enough to make his case to-night, the Under-Secretary will make a full reply on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill to-morrow.
§ Mr. NIELD
Of course I accept that, but I am sorry, because I distinctly informed the right hon. Gentleman last night of the proposal to deal with the matter in this way, in order that the Consolidated Fund Bill might be clear for other subjects.
Mr. PIKE PEASE
May I suggest, as this is a very important matter, that it might be a better plan to defer it till to-morrow, and have it raised again?
§ Major BOWDEN
I am a member of this committee, and I have had the honour of commanding the battalion in question for the last six months. I possess all the data, and with the permission of my hon. Friend below, I would urge very strongly indeed that the Under-Secretary of State should be here and hear the facts.
§ Mr. NIELD
I am not going to force this matter forward, but I hope the House will understand that I have risen to-night to open the matter, because it was understood that it should be opened, and because I regard it as a matter of vital necessity to take the first opportunity of making a public statement to clear the names of these gentlemen. Under the circumstances, I am perfectly willing for a restatement of the case, and a continuance of the discussion to-morrow, in order that we may have an ordinary Debate and an official reply.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Let me suggest to the hon. Gentleman that before he gives up his opportunity we should be quite clear on both sides that we are depending upon the ordinary channels of communication to give us the opportunity we are asking. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do what may happen to-morrow. A great many other subjects may intervene, for it is the discussion on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. That can run till after eleven o'clock, and we may be 1538 kept until two o'clock in the morning before we are allowed to get to this question.
§ Mr. REA
The hon. Gentleman must understand I am not quite in a position absolutely to pledge the Government as to the time to-morrow. I can only say that I will take good care that, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh has said, the matter is specially placed before the proper authorities, and I am sure that in view of the unfortunate misunderstanding—a perfectly genuine misunderstanding, there being no desire in any way to be discourteous to any hon. Member—all possible will be done. I will represent the situation to my chiefs, and, so far as I can, will endeavour to secure that an equal opportunity to the present one should be given for a discussion on this subject.
Mr. PIKE PEASE
I think my hon. Friend ought to be satisfied with that. We quite understand that the hon. Gentleman opposite naturally cannot pledge his party, but if he puts the matter before the chiefs of the party we shall doubtless get the facilities for which we ask.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Half after Eight o'clock.