§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The subjects dealt with this afternoon so far have been of interest, 1602 I think, to everybody in the House. I felt very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand (Mr. Walter Long) for again putting the case for promotion. Although I am not as interested as he is in the subject, I do feel very strongly on the point that promotions should be given to amateurs over the heads of men who have given their life to the Service. I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be discouraged even by the failure of his third attempt to secure something on this question from the War Office, but that he will pursue the old Scottish tradition of the Scottish king who tried six times before he got what he wanted on the seventh attempt. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Goulding) with regard to promotion, while he named a certain number of regiments, he certainly did not name any regiment with which I was familiar, and I myself know a great number of other regiments where the men are exactly in a similar position, and where they have a further disadvantage in endeavouring to secure a commission which was not mentioned by the hon. Member. That disadvantage is this: In some cases where they have persuaded the colonel of the battalion to sign the commission paper, the colonel of some other battalion denies the opportunity to the men to get a commission in that battalion, so that there is a double barrier put upon the man applying for a commission and who enters the ranks with the idea of serving his country and taking a commission when it came along. The subject to which I want to address myself particularly to-day is a subject for which I have been responsible, certainly in questions in this House, for some time past, and that is the affairs of what is known as the Empire Battalion Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield), speaking last night, deprecated my taking any interest in this question at all.
§ Mr. NIELD
I rise at once to correct the hon. Member. I took no objection to his interfering. My comment was that it was strange, the City of London having two Members, and this being a City of London battalion, that those for whom the hon. Member speaks had to go as far as Edinburgh to get a champion.
§ Mr. HOGGE
That is what I was going to say, and to remind the hon. and learned Member that not only had they to go as far as Edinburgh to get me to interfere in 1603 this business, but they had to go as far as Edinburgh to get the Member who represents the City. So if it is necessary on the part of the constituents of the City of London to go to Edinburgh for a Member to represent them in this House, surely there can be no complaint if another Member from Edinburgh takes up a subject of interest in that particular constituency. However, I do not put my argument on that ground. I base it upon the consideration that we, as Members of the House of Commons, are responsible for the expenditure of public money. The right hon. Member for the Strand (Mr. Long) this afternoon spoke about the question of recruiting. He knows, and we all know, that we are still attempting to get recruits for the Army. This particular battalion has been recruited for six months; it is not yet ready, or nearly ready, to go to the front; it is not yet under the direct control of the War Office, although the War Office is responsible for the military training. Therefore, it suggests itself to me that, instead of at one end of the system attempting to secure new recruits, it would be more effective if the War Office would take over every fancy service battalion at once, and make these men efficient and ready to go to the front. I do not complain at all of what has been done towards training these men; I presume that they have the same opportunities as others. Their position may be due to the fact that they have not been able to get all the equipment necessary. What I emphasise is that you have a large body of effective and efficient men. I understand that a large number of these men—several hundreds—have already seen active war service, and would be particularly efficient. It is high time the country understood that these special battalions are not yet under the control of the War Office, and that the only thing for which the War Office is responsible is their military training.
The matter I have mainly to deal with is certain practices in connection with this battalion which I consider have been particularly reprehensible. The hon. and learned Member for Ealing dealt last night with the nature of the committee. He pointed out who were on the committee, and gave their names. I myself reminded the House, in the questions which I put on the subject, of the large number of officers of the King's Army who are serving on this committee. The hon. and 1604 learned Member also reminded the House, which I did not intend to do myself, because we regret that death has removed him from our midst, that Field-Marshal Earl Roberts himself was a member of this committee. There were on the committee, in addition to Field-Marshal Earl Roberts, one general, four major-generals, two colonels, two majors, two captains, the Lord Mayor of London, and two Members of this House. The original intention was to raise a regiment to be called the Imperial Light Horse, but owing to the War Office making a different suggestion it was changed into a battalion of Infantry, and is now known as the Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment. On the committee, which had its offices at 3, St. James' Street, there were two gentlemen named Devereux and Watson. Mr. Devereux was made honorary secretary of the British Empire Committee. The affairs of the committee were put into the hands of a sub-committee, presumably in order that the arrangements for the battalion should be made on a more businesslike basis. I mean by that, that the whole committee could not be expected always to be present, and it was easier to have the business done by a subcommittee. Mr. Devereux was honorary secretary of that particular sub-committee which consisted of General Sir Bindon Blood, who was chairman, Colonel Lumsden, General Herbert, Lord Calthorpe, and Messrs. Watson and Devereux.
The sub-committee proceeded to arrange for the contracts for the battalion. The equipment contract was given to a contractor named Hand, and when that contract was secured—and I do not suggest that it was secured in any but a proper business way — Messrs. Watson and Devereux, particularly through Watson, blackmailed that contractor. If the House wishes for it, I have the evidence and can produce it. The hon. and learned Member knows that it is true; therefore that is common ground between us. They blackmailed the contractor, as the hon. and learned Member admitted last night, to the extent of £285 out of £3,000 at that time. That is to say, on 24th October last year, Hand had received £3,000 out of something over £4,000, and out of that Devereux and Watson had £285. Naturally, that came to the ears of certain members of the committee, and as a result an inquiry was held, presided over by the hon. and learned Member for Ealing. That inquiry lasted the whole of one day 1605 and was continued for a second day in the chambers of the hon. and learned Member. I understand from my own friends on the committee that the hon. and learned Member conducted that inquiry as if he were conducting a strictly legal inquiry, and did it remarkably well. I mean that he set aside for the moment his private function as a member of the committee, and acted as if he were in a judicial capacity. I did not intend to suggest anything else. At that inquiry evidence was taken from Hand, the equipment contractor, and from Watson and Devereux, who were members of the committee, and one of whom was its honorary secretary. The committee came to certain conclusions which, so far as I have been able to ascertain—and I think my information is fairly accurate—were four in number. The first was that they decided to remove Messrs. Watson and Devereux from the British Empire Committee.
§ Mr. NIELD
I think I ought to point out that both of them had resigned on the 4th October on the ground that they were holding Government contracts, that their resignation was accepted at the first meeting of the committee subsequent to that date, on the 6th, and that Devereux was asked to remain honorary secretary until a successor could be obtained. At that time the committee knew nothing at all about these transactions.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am sorry to differ from the hon. and learned Member. I hold in my hand a letter from a member of the committee who was present at the committee meeting on the 6th October, after the date given by the hon. and learned Member on which these gentlemen were supposed to have resigned, in which it is quite clear that they had not resigned. As this is a copy of a letter addressed to the hon. and learned Member for Ealing by another member of the committee reminding him of the fact, he himself not being present at that meeting, it is quite conceivable that the hon. and learned Member is misinformed on that particular point. But that is one of the questions which I am going to suggest to my right hon. Friend ought to be inquired into—as to whether or not these gentlemen had resigned from the British Empire Committee or the 4th October. If they had, it is a curious fact that it was found necessary towards the end of October to conduct an inquiry into their conduct.
I should like to ask the hon. and learned Member for Ealing if he will explain, when 1606 he takes part in the Debate, what power they had, if any, to compel the attendance of Messrs. Devereux and Watson at that Committee of Inquiry if those gentlemen had resigned from the committee and ceased to be members of it. However, that is a point in dispute. The second conclusion was that the committee should remove its offices from 3, St. James' Street; the third was that they should strongly recommend that all the contracts held by Devereux and Watson should be cancelled; and the fourth, that General Sir Bindon Blood should be asked to convey to General Woollcombe, in charge of the Eastern Command, the result of this particular inquiry. Reference is made in the conclusions arrived at by that committee to other contracts hold by Devereux and Watson, and there are one or two very pertinent questions that I want to put to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War with regard to that particular point. I deprecate, and I hope the House deprecates, in all these committees in charge of special battalions, the giving of any contract whatsoever to any member of the committee. The moment you give a contract to a member of the committee responsible for the battalion you open up possibilities which may lead to considerable and regrettable results. Will the House believe that despite this report of that sub-committee of the British Empire Committee, which presumably was put in the possession of General Woollcombe as far back as the 14th October, and in spite of the fact that Mr. Devereux was removed from the honorary secretaryship of the committee because he had been convicted of blackmailing a contractor—
§ Colonel BOWDEN
As a member of the committee I really must correct the hon. Member. That is not so. Mr. Devereux had resigned long before that date. His resignation was in before that transaction. He was not dismissed from the committee. He was acting at that moment as temporary secretary while we were finding another, he having already resigned, but at the request of Sir Bindon Blood he stayed on for a short time.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I have already discussed that point and as to whether my hon. Friends are right in regard to it. It can be settled by the production of the minutes of the British Empire Committee. My hon. Friend will bear in mind that I am talking of these facts with knowledge that I have from these members of that committee, all of whom have resigned from the committee 1607 on account of practices which they deprecate. If it is, as the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Colonel Bowden) says, the simple production of the minutes will show it. In any case, perhaps the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire, if he takes part in the Debate, will explain, or will assist me in deprecating, to the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War the continuance in the contract from the War Office of the man who has been convicted of the blackmailing of another contractor. If my hon. Friend will give me assistance on that point I shall be infinitely obliged. I will repeat to the House that, despite the conclusions of this committee, those two men were continued in the hutting contract for the battalion and in the messing contract. It is only within the last fortnight, or seventeen or eighteen days, that Mr. Devereux has ceased to be responsible for the victualling of the Royal Fusiliers.
I understand that since he has ceased to be responsible for the victualling there has been obtained a very great economy on the feeding of the battalion. Perhaps the colonel, who happens to be present, will be able to tell us whether that is true or not. If my information is correct, it is going to be a very wise arrangement for his battalion, and he is going to save money. If it be true that the man was convicted by the sub-committee of the British Empire Committee of blackmailing the equipment contractor as far back as October, 1914, is it not a remarkable circumstance that he was still in possession of the victualling contract for the battalion a fortnight or so ago? The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) suggested that I was casting aspersions upon public men. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman regard it as an aspersion when I say that an appeal can be made to the public by men of the type and status which the hon. Member read out to this House, and that those things can be allowed to go on under their name—because so long as they continue and are not rectified they are as responsible as everybody else?
I could give my hon. Friends opposite quotations from newspapers. I could read a quotation from the "Globe" newspaper months ago, in which they were asked to take decisive action so that they could persuade the public that what they 1608 wore doing was with a single eye to the public service. These rumours have been going on in the public Press, and not a single member of the British Empire Committee has taken the trouble to deny them. What is the result. In those circumstances the general public either believe that they are not true or they get the impression that those big names stand for something which is above suspicion, and that nothing is really going on. It is not in the mouth of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ealing to suggest that I am casting aspersions on any public body. What I am seeking to do is to clear these people—some of them friends of my own—of the aspersions which have been cast upon them by the committee on account of the fact that Messrs. Devereux and Watson in particular had used the committee for purposes which should bring them within the Prevention of Corruption Act passed in this House in 1906.
There happens to be, or did happen to be, in the Royal Fusiliers a lieutenant and quartermaster whose name is Willard. That man is an old soldier. He has served his King and country in more than one war. Whilst he was with the Royal Fusiliers he was an efficient quartermaster. He was liked by the men, and he looked after the interests of the men. I have not yet found any man in the Royal Fusilier Battalion—and I know many of them—who has anything but the highest opinion of Lieutenant and Quartermaster Willard. This man reported to the colonel of the regiment that Mr. Devereux had attempted to bribe him in connection with the messing of the battalion. Lieutenant and Quartermaster Willard, for that and other reasons—which I do not know, but which we may hear in Debate—was brought before a Committee of Inquiry—the names of which I could give the House if it were worth while—and as a result of the inquiry he has been dismissed the Service. I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind what that means. This man, after serving his country as an ordinary soldier in the ranks, is thrown neck and crop, bag and baggage, out of the Army, with no prospects at all in life, or his prospects, at all events, entirely damaged.
I want the members of the committee who happen to be present, to tell me, if either of them, or anybody in connection with the committee, knowing, as they knew, that Mr. Devereux was continuing the victualling contract, being convicted of 1609 obtaining illicit commissions already from Hand, the equipment contractor, informed any member of the committee that that was the man who had attempted to bribe the lieutenant and quartermaster? I think it iniquitous that a man in the ranks, who has nobody to champion him, should be so dealt with. The result will be to deprive him of every opportunity hereafter. Everybody knows what it means when a man is cashiered from a regiment, after he has been brought before a Court of Inquiry, with nobody to make it plain that the man who brought one of the charges against him was the man who himself ought to have been prosecuted by the British Empire Committee! Having said that, I do not want to elaborate the case more than need be.
There is a practice obtaining in connection with these battalions by which the contractor pays, or refunds, some of the profits to the battalion fund. It is on record that Mr. Devereux, convicted of obtaining illicit commission, paid over to the battalion funds of the Royal Fusiliers as much as £400. That money had come out of the ration allowance of the men, which for every battalion is 1s. 9d. per day. That amount is what the War Office consider the men ought to have. Any profit that is made is made by persuading the contractor or caterer to accept the contract at a lower figure than 1s. 9d., the remaining money going, as in this case, into the funds. I do not know whether it was all the remainder of the money, or a certain portion of it. I consider that system wrong. I consider it an iniquitous practice. I consider that when you are training men for the front, when those men come to you—not as a matter of fact in this case, because this happens to be a particularly fine body of men—in some cases not altogether physically fit, that they require to be made physically fit, and their food is one of the chief necessaries for that purpose.
I deprecate very much that anything should be taken off the allowance to these men and used for the purpose I have described. I want now, practically in conclusion, to put some deliberate questions to my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench who represents the War Office. Since I came into this House this afternoon, I have had sent to me a letter which I have not been able to show my right hon. Friend—I have, as he knows, sent to him a large number of questions—a letter from Captain Parsons. There are 1610 a great many men on the other side of the House who know Captain Parsons. He is one of the greatest exponents of anti-socialism that we have in this country I see my hon. Friend opposite (Colonel Bowden) amused, but he will remember, of course, that when they removed the battalion offices from St. James' they went to the offices of the Anti-Socialist Union—to show, I suppose, that the party truce was still on. I presume the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire felt quite clear that he would not there be impregnated with any anti-socialist doctrines, and that he could safely go there. Captain Parsons, this well-known public man, a member of the British Empire Committee, writes to me as a result of having been at the committee yesterday. Presumably the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ealing was present. He must therefore have known that at least three members of the committee had resigned. Despite the fact that he knew that he read out to the House in the Debate last night the names of those gentlemen as being members of the committee—
§ Mr. HOGGE
The one that died was the name, regretfully given, of the late Field-Marshal Lord Roberts. I accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, that he read the names out as being those of the original members of the committee; therefore I will put it that he omitted to mention the fact that three of them had resigned. The gentleman to whom I referred, dealing with the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech last night—in arguments which I will not take from him—winds up his letter to me with a desire that I now put to the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War:—I feel that all the honourable and distinguished men who have so ungrudgingly sacrificed their time and ability to further the patriotic tasks of this committee—and none have done so more than Mr. Nield, K C.," —There is no animus there, you see.however much they may differ one from the other as to the methods of procedure, will at once welcome the establishment of some machinery by which all the facts in connection with the committee can be dragged into the public light, and those guilty of disgraceful conduct brought to justice.That is a letter from a member of the committee, a distinguished officer, and a man who has seen war service; one who 1611 is disgusted with the disgraceful conduct which has obtained in certain instances. I want to ask the War Under-Secretary a few questions. If the sub-committee of the British Empire Committee removed Messrs. Devereux and Watson from the committee, or, if I accept the interpretation put upon it by my right hon. Friends opposite, if they resigned from the committee, and if the committee removed from 3, St. James's Street, will the War Office tell me, or the House, why Messrs. Devereux and Watson were continued in the hutting contract? They got the contract from the War Office, according to General Sir Bindon Blood before the British Empire Committee. They are on the War Office list. The War Office knew, or ought to have known, from General Woollcombe what had been the report of the committee presided over by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ealing. Yet they were continued in the hutting contract. I should like my right hon. Friend at the same time to tell me if he has looked into the price that was given for that particudar hutting contract. If he does he will probably find that no higher price was paid by the War Office for any huts that had been built than for the huts built in connection with this contract.
Then I should like to ask my right hon. Friend if he has ever inquired whether, in spite of all that I have said being true, Mr. Devereux was an honorary member of the mess of the Royal Fusiliers; whether, for instance, on 1st January, he was an honorary officer of the mess on the occasion of the inquiry into the conduct of Lieutenant-General Lowe; and will anyone tell me why Devereux, convicted of those offences, and the colonel of the regiment knowing he was convicted of those offences, should be made at any time an honorary member of that particular mess? Will my right hon. Friend tell me why the committee did not prosecute Messrs. Devereux and Watson? Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman who presided over the Committee of Inquiry will tell us. There is an Act of which they know—the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906. I understand that if the facts are placed before the Attorney-General he can advise on a prosecution. Does my right hon. Friend know whether those facts were placed before the Attorney-General or not for the purpose of the prosecution? He knows perfectly well, and even the hon. 1612 and learned Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) has admitted in this House, that Devereux and Watson obtained £285, or 7 per cent.—much better than the Meyer contract—on this particular contract by blackmail, and yet nothing was done by anybody. Nothing was done by the sub-committee of this Empire Battalion which ought, in the public interest, to have done something, and was entitled to do something, knowing those facts.
I want to know from my right hon. Friend why no prosecution took place. I have asked already whether it was true that the highest price paid for huts was paid in connection with these huts. I should like him to find out where the materials were obtained, and to whom they were invoiced. In pursuance of an inquiry of that sort he will find some distinctly interesting information. He will find that firms from which the material was ordered were not the firms to which it was invoiced. Then I should like to ask him whether Devereux or Watson, or both, in any capacity, are on the Army contract list now? Have they been removed? Are they in possession of any contracts? I would also like to ask him if he knows whether a very careful attempt has been made to cover up the tracks of this particular incident by the contractor Hand, who was blackmailed, issuing a writ for the return of his money; whether he knows if that money has been returned or not; and whether he knows, if the writ has been issued and the money paid, that that constitutes an admission on the part of all throe of an illicit transaction?
I think I have given the House enough material to demand from my right hon. Friend a very searching inquiry into this particular case. He tells me that he is having a Departmental inquiry. I do not think that is really sufficient. I think there ought to be a public inquiry—a judicial inquiry. If there is nothing to hide in connection with the affairs of this battalion, let them be brought into the light of day. Things have been hidden since the end of November, and would never have been dragged into the light of day but for the questions I happened to put on the Paper; and I say again it is the duty of any public man, knowing those facts, to bring them to the notice of this House. The use that is so frequently made of the names at the top of the list by the people who come in on the ground floor for their own purposes is a practice which ought to be deprecated in public life, and it is perfectly 1613 obvious that two men, with antecedents that will not stand investigation, by some means or other got themselves constituted the executive part of this committee, and have been making money. If there is one thing more abominable than another in public life it is improperly trying to make money out of contracts in equipping our soldiers. This has occurred in connection with this battalion.
I make no reflection on the two hon. Gentlemen opposite who happen to be connected with the committee. I have made specific charges against two men who remain on the War Office Contract List, and I say the War Office ought to remove them from that list, that they ought to be prosecuted for what they have done, and that if you want to restore confidence in these special battalions you ought to have an inquiry. I also strongly plead with my right hon. Friend that he will immediately take the step of putting all those battalions under the direct control of the War Office. It ought not to be possible for any Committee to be responsible for the equipment and the housing and feeding of soldiers who are going to the front. The War Office is responsible for their military efficiency; let the War Office come in now and take over every special battalion. There are enough of them in the country to form one of the divisions which an hon. Member has said were necessary for the front. It is fine material and it is ready to go. In this case it is being exploited by men who have no right to exploit it, and from whom we in this House ought to protect it.
§ Mr. NIELD
I have no complaint to make about the tone of the hon. Member's speech. From the information I gave to the House yesterday, it is perfectly clear that the Committee admitted that at a certain date they became aware of a certain fact, and they proceeded to hold an inquiry. I fully acknowledge the reference the hon. Member made to myself in relation to that inquiry, and I can only tell the House that I and others who were associated with me, on 27th and 28th October, when that inquiry was held, desired to probe the whole thing to the bottom, and, having probed it, made a report and passed resolutions which I will read in a few moments to the House. I think the House will be perfectly satisfied that the honour both of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Colonel Bowden) and myself, and those distinguished gentlemen who 1614 are members of the committee, will be amply vindicated in the proceedings which we took. I will ask the House to keep in mind the dates which are of importance in determining whether the proper course and the prudent course was followed. I yesterday sketched the constitution of this committee and sub-committee. I pointed out that we had received the War Office circular of the 29th September directing all communications to be made not to the War Office, but to the Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern District, General Woollcombe. It was General Woollcombe who, on the 12th September, inspected the battalion in St. James's Park, immediately before it went into its camp.
Although I am not concerned to-day to minimise the conduct of the two men whom the committee found to have received this money, nor the contractor by whom the money was paid, I do say that Mr. Devereux, before that unhappy event, had rendered signal service to this battalion—I do not say it was not for what he might ultimately get out of it—but those who are acquainted, as I am not, with the details of the management of the battalion since it has been in camp, will, I think, bear testimony that, at any rate, Devereux was responsible for considerable additions to its comforts. I feel sure that the fact is that Devereux had sent in his resignation—I think I am right in saying both Devereux and Watson, but certainly Devereux, had tendered his resignation on 4th October, and on the 6th October the committee had the matter brought to their attention. I was not present myself. General Sir Bindon Blood was in the chair, and the other members present were: Colonel Harland Bowden, Major Cosmo A. Little, Lord Calthorpe, Major-General C. W. Robinson, Mr. J. A. McCandlish—who, I think, is the hon. Member's informant—Captain Parsons—
§ Mr. NIELD
Perhaps the hon. Member will give the name of his informant. However, we will psss that. Mr. Watson and Mr. Devereux were also present. A question arose at that meeting as to the propriety of Mr. Devereux holding the messing contract of the battalion. The only connection the committee had with the messing contract was to provide in advance for the men when they arrived in camp on the 1615 20th, and the liability to pay for the provisions supplied to that battalion, so far as the general committee was concerned, was limited to a period of one week, from the 10th to 17th September, so as to cover the date when they would get into camp. From 17th September the messing contract was purely one between the War Office, through the commanding officer, and the contractor. No money passed through the general committee's fund, which had been kept in such order that, if the hon. Member chooses to examine the vouchers and pass book, he will realise at once that every payment made through the committee has been a regular payment and proper.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The hon. and learned Member must not take it that I made any observation about that. So far as I know, what he is saying is the case. That is not the point I was making. It may be true that the messing contract was at that date in the hands of Mr. Devereux. My point was that if the hon. and learned Member knew that about Devereux, did the War Office know when they were continuing his contract?
§ Mr. NIELD
That I shall show in the course of a few minutes, but the minute relating to the 6th October states that the question of the propriety of Mr. Devereux holding the messing contract of the battalion while a member of the committee was raised, but, on it being explained that Mr. Devereux was receiving no profit from the contract, the committee unanimously approved of the arrangement. The members whose names I gave you just now were present at that meeting when that minute was signed. Mr. Watson and Mr. Devereux tendered their resignations from the committee, but Mr. Devereux was requested to continue to act as honorary secretary until somebody could be found to replace him. I am informed that the resignations were sent in on the 4th October. The first committee meeting after that date was on the 6th, and at that meeting the resignations were accepted. It was on the 22nd October, which was the day on which the notice convening the meeting to inquire into these alleged irregularities was passed, on a communication sent by a member of the committee, whose name I mentioned a few minutes ago, that Major-General Herbert took over the temporary duties of secretary in order that we might deal with the whole matter in the inquiry. The hon. Gentleman wants me to answer 1616 certain questions. One of them was what power had we to bring about the attendance of Messrs. Watson and Devereux at the inquiry. We had no power, but we made a request, and both of them attended. We made a similar request to the contractor, and he also attended and produced his documents. It has been said that what we did on that day ought to have prevented the War Office from having any further dealings with these men. I will not take up the time of the House by reading more than I am obliged to, but as I stated last night, the committee had to decide a question in which there was a conflict of statements between these men. On the one hand, the contractor alleged that he had been compelled to grant a share of his profits, amounting to £285, to these men. The prices had been settled by tender, and there is no member of the committee, past or present, who will allege that in regard to the quality of the goods supplied the battalion has in any way suffered. The goods were carefully examined by experts, and they were in the main right, although there was a few trifling rejections.
§ Mr. NIELD
No, we had nothing to do with the hutting which was done with the War Office. These goods were delivered and the full value has been received by the battalion. The mischief was that these men went to the contractors after the placing of the order, and then induced him by some means—he said by saying they would make it awkward for him to get payment of the money—to concede them a share of the profits amounting to £285. Messrs. Devereux and Watson's story is nothing of the sort. They say that they received the money under a limited partnership which was contained in a letter of the 17th September. I am sorry that last night I misstated the division of the profit. The letter suggested three-fourths to the contractor and one-fourth to these two men. It was alleged that it was stated in this letter that any sum the contractor might advance to the men was to be regarded as an advance under profits made under this contract. That is the issue we had to determine, and looking at the two statements and the documents as I would look at them in my own profession, the conclusion was irresistible that the money was paid in accordance 1617 with this statement of the contractor, and not in accordance with the letter of the 17th September, the existence of which the contractor denies, and there is no satisfactory evidence to show that the letter was ever posted. Under these circumstances the committee reported as follows:—The committee are of opinion that in considering the conflict of evidence between the parties they must have recourse to the documents, and so fat as they are admitted, it appears to them that they support the statements made by Mr. Hand. They cannot but express a strong opinion that Mr. Hand ought not to have made any of the payments without acquainting the committee of the circumstances, or, at any rate, of bringing the facts to the notice of Lord Calthorpe, who was the chairman of the executive sub-committee, who had the arrangements in hand for the clothing of the battalion. In the opinion of the committee, the matter, while not involving any loss of public money or operating to the immediate detriment of the battalion, is indefensible and ought not to have taken place. It was of a character which was and is calculated to give rise to criticism which cannot fail to injure the work of the committee, which has been undertaken purely upon patriotic grounds.
§ Mr. NIELD
That was the conclusion which the committee arrived at. This report was adopted upon the motion of General Sir Bindon Blood, seconded by Colonel Lumsden. Upon the proposal of Major Cosmo A. Little, seconded by Major-General Abadie, it was resolved—That the committee, upon the facts admitted by Messrs. Devereux and Watson, consider it obligatory upon them to show their strong disapprobation of the transaction by requesting Mr. Devereux to retire from the temporary secretary-ship, and, further, that all connection with Messrs. Devereux and Watson and the British Empire Agency, Limited, should be forthwith severed; and that in future the meetings of the committee be held and its business conducted at some address otherwise than at 3, St. James's Street.On the proposal of General Abadie, seconded by Colonel Lumsden, it was resolved:—That Sir Bindon Blood be requested to personally interview the authorities at the War Office (or the Horse Guards) and explain the circumstances of the case, and the course which the committee have been obliged to take in order to preserve the position of the committee and the battalion in relation to the authorities. That he be also requested to place before them the question of the existing contracts.On the 30th October, immediately after the passing of that resolution, Sir Bindon Blood did call, together with the commanding officer, upon the admittedly proper officer, General Woollcombe, and he explained the whole of the circumstances. I am not sure that he did not read a copy of the whole of the Report which I have quoted—at any rate, he read a summary of the evidence of the Report. 1618 General Woollcombe had that in his possession on the 30th October. I am told that at that time the question was discussed how far the messing should be continued in the hands of Mr. Devereux. The general inquired how the men were being fed, and satisfied himself by visits to the camp that the men were having good value for the money. The contract was for 1s. 11d. per head, and this was afterwards reduced to 1s. 9d. I am bound to say, in fairness to everybody, that Mr. Devereux, on the completion of the contract, which was in formal War Office form, wrote a letter to Colonel Bowden, in which he said:—You are fully aware of the part I have taken in the raising and equipping of this battalion and of the increased interest I have in the progress and welfare of the men, who have so readily and quickly subjected themselves to discipline and willingness to become efficient soldiers. I am pleased to send you copies of letters I have from wholesale suppliers of provisions and meat, friends of mine, from which you will gather that I am in a unique position to buy at the lowest possible price the best articles. I wish to give the battalion the benefit of the position I am in the market and would ask you to permit me to hand over to the battalion for the men's extra comfort and for their general welfare 85 per cent. of my profits, if any. I estimate that 15 per cent. will repay my working expenses, and I repeat I am delighted for above reasons to give the benefit of my position for use of the men under your command and for their future welfare. The best of luck and good wishes to all in your charge, and may the Empire Battalion succeed and prosper.The colonel commanding acknowledged that letter and thanked him for his generosity, and the result was that one penny per head per man was put into the regimental funds, which produced a sum of £400, which has been of inestimable advantage, and has enabled the regiment to get what the War Office would not allow them to have. It is only fair to remind the House that at the end of October the hutting contract was only partly completed, the materials were not on the ground, the weather was wet and the men were under canvas and suffering great inconvenience, and after a full consideration of the whole of the circumstances General Woollcombe came to the conclusion that the proper thing to do was to allow the contract to go on. It is only fair to say that the Chief Engineer of the Eastern Command, after paying a visit to this camp, found that the huts were satisfactory, and stated that they were, in his opinion, superior to any he had seen. It is a matter between the War Office and the contractor whether or not the War Office thought under the circumstances that General Woollcombe should have disregarded the convenience of the battalion by the cancelling of this 1619 contract, necessitating going to arbitration, and interminable delay with regard to the new contract. This is a matter upon which I think General Woollcombe exercised common sense in allowing the contract to continue. That is the only point that can be made by the hon. Member.
It is said that the War Office, having had notice of these facts, ought to have had no further transaction with Devereux or Watson. That is for the War Office and not for the committee to decide. We have nothing to do with it, and the bulk of us knew nothing about it. I think I may say, with every justification, that the War Office have indicated their obligation for past services by asking them to raise two Field and one Heavy Artillery brigades, and that would not be entrusted to the committee if the War Office entertained a shadow of doubt as to the propriety of their conduct in regard to the Infantry regiment. I am anxious to keep within certain limits, but I must complain about the method in which these questions have been put, and the circumstances under which they came to be put. The hon. Gentleman opposite has not called attention to the publication of paragraphs in the "Globe," spiteful little paragraphs, for which they could have taken proceedings. Any member of the public, or the "Globe," in the exercise of that beneficent duty which it wants to discharge towards the British public, could have had the documents, and could have called upon the Empire Committee to produce the original documents and put the law in motion. I have always expressed my obligations to the "Globe" in the past for many years, but I am not quite sure that the "Globe" is not in search of a policy like Japhet in search of a father, and is bestowing its filial affections on the affairs of the Empire Battalion. There is nothing like getting something to run. I know that the "Globe" has not put these papers before the Public Prosecutor, and the reason they have not done so is that they wanted the committee to play the cat to their monkey, and pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them. On the 26th January in the present year the "Globe," acting through its editor, wrote to the secretary of the committee as follows:—When last you called upon me, at the request of General Sir Bindon Blood, to discuss the question of the Empire Committee's action in connection with certain alleged irregularities they had investigated, I made a suggestion to you which 1620 you promised to consider. I have not yet had an answer, and, if the committee is still to meet, may I ask you to formally put it before them. I told you that a certain clothing trade society was desirous of instituting a prosecution for the alleged payment of illicit commission and were anxious to be supplied with the names of the parties concerned. I suggested to you that, if the committee still hesitated themselves to take the course I venture to think they should have taken three months ago, a way out of the difficulty might be found and the ends of justice served by placing the names and facts before this society. You asked time to consider the suggestion. Perhaps the committee have already had it placed before them, in which case would you be good enough to let me know what they decided?The following day this answer was sent to the editor of the "Globe":—The committee have had before them your letter of the 26th instant, which has received their careful consideration. Their one object is the interests of the battalion, and they are satisfied that nothing has taken place which has caused any pecuniary injury to the committee or battalion, nor has the public been prejudiced. I am to inform you that the committee do not consider that they are justified in acceding to the request you make; but if, unfortunately, litigation of any character should result (and in the interests of the battalion the committee will much regret it), whatever documents the committee have in their possession, or any evidence which would be material which members may be able to give will, under subpœna, be forthcoming at the proper time. The proper military authorities were made acquainted with the whole of the facts immediately after they were ascertained.In reply the committee received a letter which was a distinct threat as to the course the "Globe" would take. They indicated that there were three courses open to them. They might publish the correspondence. Curiously enough they had incorporated in the correspondence the terms of a confidential interview, so that is the reason, I think, why, when it was called to their attention, they abstained from that course. Secondly, they might place the facts before the Trade Protection Society. And, thirdly, the matter might be raised in the House of Commons. The House will hardly believe that the editor of the "Globe" was furnished with a copy of the statements of the contractor, independently of the investigations made by the committee. The member of the committee whom I suspect has been responsible very largely for all the trouble which has come upon this battalion in relation to this matter had, himself, originally taken the statement of the contractor. It was he who brought it to the notice of the committee, and it was he again, we find, who was in communication with the editor of the "Globe." The result of all this is that they have from time to time introduced very mischievous paragraphs in their paper. One has only to look at to-day's issue to see in a little leader, written in satirical terms, that they "await the 1621 explanation" which may be offered to the House of Commons. They have now got it. I have never attempted to justify the taking of that commission, but if ever a circumstance of that sort was misused to abuse other people and to cover other people who have done their best in the public interest with scorn, it is the case of this alleged illicit commission in the Empire Battalion.
The Member for East Edinburgh also suggested that the committee had been wrong in not at once putting an end to this contract. They took the only step possible. They put the whole of the facts before the competent authority, General Woollcombe, and, if he has not handed them on to the War Office, then I can only regret that the system of public business is such that there is no communication, not only between Department and Department, but even between a General Officer Commanding and the War Office. They had the facts on 30th October. They had this typewritten précis which I hold in my hand, containing a careful history of the whole of the dealings of the committee. The resolutions passed by the committee, the whole of the correspondence, and the contract relating to the messing were lodged with General Woollcombe on 9th February, and I regret that the system should be such as to enable the Under-Secretary of State for War to say, as he has said again and again during the early part of this month, that he had not received a report on the matter. I commend the inquisitiveness of the hon. Member, because I think he has probably mistaken his vocation. He would have done very much better where cross-examination always brings an advocate to the front. Under these circumstances, I regret that the system did not enable this communication when male to General Woollcombe to be promptly sent to the War Office, so that they might have been able to answer in such a manner the first of these inquiries as to allay at once the suggestions made against a number of honourable and gallant gentlemen who are trying to do their duty by the State.
§ Colonel BOWDEN
I trust that hon. Members will grant me the customary indulgence on such occasions, because in attempting to answer as fully as I possibly can the statements made by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, I want also to make a protest of which I wish the right hon. Gentleman to do me the honour to 1622 take notice. My protest is in regard to these questions, and the manner in which they have been brought up in relation to the Service. I do not blame the hon. Member. No doubt he thought that he had sufficient facts absolutely to justify his questions, and therefore his asking those questions was perfectly justifiable, but I do think that he did not take sufficient trouble to compare the characters and histories of the men from whom he was getting his information and on which he based his questions, with the characters and histories of the men who were doing the constructive work. There is such a difference between construction and destruction at such a time.
It is so easy to stand in the background and criticise men hard at work night and day. It is the easiest possible thing. I say this, and I say it to the right hon. Gentleman: One does not know what harm these questions are going to do. Now we are talking about it and letting the men of the battalion know the truth, but until they know the truth, what is the relation between the men in the ranks and the officers? It is bad for the Service. It is very bad indeed for the officers, and it is worse for the men. It is injurious to the battalion. I do protest, and I think, if it can be shown that any such agitation has been worked up on a malicious foundation and that work has been delayed and efficiency impaired in consequence, the right hon. Gentleman should give some expression of opinion that at such a time of national crisis these people are deserving of punishment and should have it.
I submit to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh that if anybody really interested desired to ask a question or two, or had a doubt in his mind—this was a time when the committee and all concerned deserved assistance and not to be hampered—he had only to go to that committee, a body of gentlemen doing a great patriotic work, and they were able and would have been willing to answer any honest inquiries. Surely the fact that on that committee were distinguished soldiers like General Sir Bindon Blood, Major-General Herbert and Colonel Lumsden daily doing their work would have assured anybody desirous of making fair inquiries that he would find, as he certainly would have found, that the very best was being done in the interests of the men and the Army to which they belonged. There is no doubt about it. I shall never forget that first month or six 1623 weeks. We were formed in a week. The first recruit was enlisted on the Monday morning, and we marched a thousand strong on the Saturday.
My battalion has sent out 300 men for commissions, and I can raise another battalion at once. The men want to come to us. At a time when we were working at that pressure, night and day, on construction, on finance, and on organisation, our work was made doubly hard by a system of organised revengeful agitation, founded on a little fact which gave a little ground for it, by people who stuck to it with a tenacity worthy of a better purpose. They hampered the committee, they hampered me, they worried the battalion, their action affected discipline, and they made it every day a part of my duty the writing of reports and the answering of reports, to the detriment of the battalion and to the delay of national work. That is my plea for saying that these people, if it is proved malicious, should be punished.
I will endeavour to answer the points mentioned by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh to the best of my ability. He referred, somewhat humorously, to the committee going to the anti-Socialists' premises. It will probably interest him to know that when we had to find premises suddenly it was through Mr. McCandlish, his friend, we went there. His friend Mr. Parsons also works there. It was Mr. McCandlish who introduced us there, and we are delighted to be there, because we have in our new secretary, Mr. Urwin, an organiser who is working night and day in our interests and doing the very best work possible.
§ Colonel BOWDEN
I have no objection to your humour either. You made a humorous suggestion why we went there, a reference which I certainly grant was humorous, and which in the serious Debate which was going on I enjoyed. I have endeavoured to return it in the same strain. I am sorry if I have failed. The only thing in the hon. Member's remarks to which I object was the calling in of that unfortunate individual and mentioning his name—Lieutenant and Quartermaster 1624 Willard. If the hon. Member is a friend of that man, he has done him the most unkind action he could possibly do him. I will tell the hon. Member and the House at once that in Lieutenant and Quartermaster Willard, up to a point and up to a period of time, I do not think any commanding officer could possibly have had a better quartermaster, but I am compelled, in my own defence, to say that I had to have that officer put under close arrest for a serious breach of discipline. The whole matter was fully inquired into, and he was dismissed the Service. I am sorry to say that, on inquiry, I find that it is the second occasion it has occurred. He is one of those from whom the hon. Member has got his information.
§ Colonel BOWDEN
That was the point. I am sorry the hon. Gentleman mentioned the man's name. It was one of the points I had against him—that he reported the suggestion to my own personal secretary, and not through the battalion. I heard it outside, and I had to send for him and ask why he did not report to me. He replied that he was pressed for time, and further that he could not prove the statement. I have inquired in an unofficial way, to the best of my ability, and it appears to me that it was a counter-charge, and he had asked for it. What could we do under the circumstances? Later I heard of written documents flying about my battalion among the men, and presumed to be official documents sent to me in regard to that incident. It was one of the matters which was brought forward when he committed an act I could not possibly excuse. If I had excused it I would not have been worthy to hold my command, and I had to have him promptly arrested.
I come next to the question of the catering for the battalion. Mr. Devereux, on the whole, did what he had to do in this connection very well indeed. With regard to the man being an hon. member of the mess, while I do not object to the way in which the hon. Member for East Edinburgh mentioned this point, I am sorry he thought it necessary to bring it in. I would ask him to remember how this committee, with its secretary, was looked at from the battalion point of view. It was deemed to be a step between the War 1625 Office and ourselves. This man was its secretary. He was the first member of the mess. Hang it, he got the mess ready for us! What could we possibly do? This incident cropped up weeks afterwards, and till it was proved and acted on nobody could take any step. As secretary of the committee the man naturally carried some weight. We looked to him a good deal. He had much to do with it in the early stages. He provided our food for us the first time we went down. He got into touch with the contractors, and therefore when the time came when we had to arrange our own contracting, what could be more reasonable than that we should go to the man who had the whole matter in train? The higher military authority decided that it was best, in the interests of the men, that the feeding should go on as before. Our General Officer came down three times and personally went through the kitchen, saw the men feeding, and questioned them as to whether they had any complaints. Since the first fortnight in camp—I should think even since the first week—when we were under temporary conditions, and had temporary cooking houses, and when the men were being trained to do the carving, we have not had one single complaint as to the way in which the battalion is fed.
I have two samples of the menu here, and if it were not that I might make the mouths of hon. Members water, I would bring more here. From the first the feeding has been extraordinarily good, and I have heard the boast that the battalion is the best fed battalion in the English Army. Here are samples of the menu at the end of January. For breakfast—porridge, bread and butter, and coffee; for dinner—curry stew, roast beef, boiled meat, cabbage, potatoes, and jam roll. For tea—tea, bread and butter, and cake; and for supper, a most unusual thing, soup, sausages and potatoes, and cheese. There was nothing wrong about the feeding. There was nothing to complain of either as to quality or as to quantity. More than that, during the time Mr. Devereux was acting as temporary secretary to the committee, and doing the catering, he voluntarily and patriotically gave up 85 per cent. of his profits, and I can assure the House, as the commanding officer of a newly raised unit, that I was very grateful to receive it on behalf of the men.
I hope the hon. Member for East Edinburgh will not think I am applying this 1626 charge to him, but I wish to point out that this fact has been made the foundation for a most foul suggestion of the worst kind. The money has been used, every penny of it, for the men in providing extra comforts, in purchasing sporting and training appliances, and providing extra comforts for the sick and needy, and money has even been sent away to help some poor soldier's wife left at home with sick children, on one occasion when the man was absent without leave, because of his anxiety for his wife, and because he failed to realise, not having been a soldier before, what military discipline really meant. The account of the expenditure of the money has been most scrupulously kept. It is not involved. It is kept apart from every other regimental account. It has been the subject of one regimental audit, and another audit is due in a fortnight's time. Yet when this matter has been discussed, an innuendo has been thrown out that the officers were involved in this money. It is a scandalous thing to allege.
§ Colonel BOWDEN
I do not. I come next to the question of the huts. Nobody who lived on that hill from the end of October, through the wet months of November and December, would have dared to suggest the taking of any steps whatsoever that might, even apparently, cause delay in putting in a single plank or brick. The weather had been of the very worst kind. The huts were put up as rapidly as possible, bearing in mind that there was a scarcity of civilian labour, and that carpenters especially were hard to get. I am an engineer myself, and I know what construction is. I went in for road building. The camp is now practically complete. I may be biassed, but I should very much like to show the camp to hon. Members. I am very proud of it. These huts had to be provided. They were part of the War Office specification. One half of the camp has been passed by Major Redway, who has complimented us on it, and given his certificate for that portion of it. As to the other half, there is only one buliding to be finished, and it will be completed in five days' time. All the rest of the buildings are occupied.
Then with regard to the expense. I want to nail a statement on that point down at once. The right hon. Gentleman will find when he comes to look into the 1627 question of hutting—and I hope he will see that the information is conveyed to the House—that, so far from the estimates having been exceeded, we are one of the very few battalions which have been able to carry out this kind of work for the amount authorised by the War Office. There is one item of £300 for unforeseen contingencies, cutting down trees, clearing hedges, and levelling up sites, which could not possibly go into the War Office quantities, but, with that exception, the work has been completed for the authorised amount. I am sorry I should have had to delay the House so long, but I did feel that the honour of the regiment and of myself, as commanding officer, was at stake, and therefore I was bound to take part in the Debate.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am sure the House listened with much interest to the vivid and picturesque speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I will, if I may, congratulate him on it, and I may add it is not surprising that he should have used some warmth of language in repudiating charges which he considers have been made against the honour of his colleagues on this committee. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) say that they had not been made by him. The House is aware that this matter is now in a position which renders it impossible for me to make anything like a full statement. But I wish to say a word or two because I do not desire that anything in the nature of charges should lie against either hon. Gentlemen in this House or gallant gentlemen outside, when those charges cannot possibly properly so lie. I should like to state categorically that the charge brought by Lieutenant and Quartermaster Willard did not and never has involved any suggestion of corruption or personal misconduct against any existing member of the committee. The charges were made in September last, and the then secretary of the committee and the other member concerned have ceased to hold their positions in connection with it. There is a controversy between my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh and the two hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken as to the actual date. The statement is, I believe, that these gentlemen resigned their position on the committee on 6th October last, but I am unable to vouch for the date.
I rather deprecate discussion on this matter at the present moment, because 1628 the whole question will have to be gone into by the committee which I have promised the House and my hon. Friend to appoint. The inquiry will be of a very searching kind. It may take the form of a military court of inquiry with a legal assessor, but probably the House will be content to leave it to the War Office to decide on the form of the inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh asked several questions, and I may be able to reply to some of them. With regard to the contract undertaken by Mr. Devereux, of the execution of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite spoke in terms of such enthusiasm, I think the House will agree with me that it is usually considered irregular, and it certainly is undesirable for any member of a committee to obtain a contract from that committee. My hon. Friend asked me whether Mr. Devereux was still one of the contractors on the War Office list. I should like to disillusion his mind on that point. He is not.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The information that reaches me was that a company called the Construction and Contract Company, which, I believe, is one of Mr. Devereux's companies, applied to be put on the War Office list, first for huts and then for palliasses. They were not put on the War Office list for huts owing to their uncertain position and standing; and as to palliasses, bedding, etc., they were informed in December that their application must be declined. That was not upon the same ground, although I dare say the same ground would apply as well, but upon the ground that we did not require any more, as our requirements had been met. My hon. Friend went on to ask whether Mr. Devereux was made an hon. member of the mess before the inquiry. I am uncertain as to that. The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Bowden) said he was, but I think it was after the inquiry. Again, my hon. Friend asked why did the committee not prosecute Mr. Devereux? This matter will be before a court of inquiry; it may be considered as being sub judice, and it would be premature and undesirable for me to make any statement here on that question. As to the price of huts, I would say that we, at the War 1629 Office, have no control of the prices under contracts entered into between raisers of battalions and the contractors whom they employ. That is the business of the raisers. In this case I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Bowden), and the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Neild) were both mistaken when they said that the messing contract was made by the War Office and not by the committee.
§ Colonel BOWDEN
It was made through the Paymaster of the Eastern Command at Hounslow, where the payments are made. After a given time it is all put down through the paymaster, and, of course, the War Office is the head of it. It is a regimental matter purely.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think we all understand how it was made. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says quite truly that it is a regimental matter. Because it is a regimental matter in connection with a regiment not taken over by the War Office, but under the management of the raising committee, it becomes perfectly clear that, however much you may desire to bring in the War Office, it is very difficult to bring the War Office into this contract. I do not believe that either of the gentlemen mentioned by my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) are in the Army List. There is an Ernest Devereux in the Army List. As to the name of Watson, there are a good many Watsons in it, and I do not know whether this is one of them. I am not able to give an absolute answer upon that point. That answers all the questions he put, except the last, which was: Has Mr. Hand recovered the commission paid to Devereux and Watson since the date of the inquiry? From the documents we have in our possession, I believe that is not so, but, as the matter is so doubtful, I consider it much better that the matter should be left to the searching inquiry which I have promised, and that I should say nothing which would at all prejudice the case either for or against. Before leaving the matter I should like to say how greatly we should regret it if any of 1630 the actions which have occurred, or any of the charges made, should impair the efficiency of the battalion which is under the command of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Bowden), and how much I hope that may not be the result, because we feel that the men who have joined this battalion are most patriotically serving in the best possible manner and are deserving of all praise. We should regret nothing more in the world than that any action taken by us or any Member of the House should do anything to impair their efficiency or discourage them in their patriotic action. I would like to say the same thing about Sir Bindon Blood and the other gentlemen who have done so much work on the committee.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My hon. Friend is very anxious to pin me down to a definite form of inquiry. I say it is quite within the competence of the War Office to order such an inquiry. I think very likely that may be the course we shall adopt, but I ask my hon. Friend and the House to have confidence in us and to believe that we shall not burke an inquiry, but that we shall have an inquiry which will be the most suitable and the most certain to bring out all the facts and satisfy the feeling of disquietude which may be, and probably is, in the public mind as to the transactions that have taken place. I do not wish it to be said that I definitely stated that there would be a Military Court of Inquiry. It may be so, but, if it is not so, there will be some other Court which will be equally efficacious. If I may, I would return to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long) and the speeches upon various matters connected with War Office policy which have been made. The right hon. Gentleman prefaced his speech by informing the House, and me in particular, that not only he but all his Friends have been most desirous of helping the Government in everything they have done. I am very grateful to them and to him, as I have said before in this House, for the help they have accorded to us. He went on to say that the Government had not treated him and his Friends with that amount of consideration which he expected and they 1631 deserved. I was amazed to hear that. It is desirable that we should remember that he has stated he was anxious to help us, because we may be in danger of forgetting it. Therefore, I would ask hon. Members always to bear that fact in mind. He painted all of us, including my Noble Friend the Secretary of State, in somewhat gloomy colours. He talked about the incompetence of the War Office and said we were, generally, hardly fit to remain outside Bedlam.
§ Mr. LONG
I did not say anything of the kind. Let us be quite clear. I never suggested that the right hon. Gentleman or Lord Kitchener ought to be in Bedlam. What I said was that certain arrangements had been made and obviously by people who had charge of that particular duty. I did not suggest it was either the Noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman. That is a gross travesty of my statement.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am within the recollection of the House. I do not wish to enlarge further upon that. I only suggest this to the right hon. Gentleman. It is not very desirable at the juncture in which we find ourselves that the kind of aspersions which have been cast by him upon the War Office methods and policy should be made, because there is nothing less likely to encourage us, the Army, or the good administrators who are responsible for the Army, than the kind of language he has used, which is much more likely to encourage the enemy.
§ Mr. LONG
I rise to a point of Order. This is a charge which should not be made by a Member of the Government in circumstances under which he knows that no answer can be made to him. I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to state here and now upon what grounds he charges me with making a statement which would encourage the enemy.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what I mean. He said, for instance, that we were gravely and unduly remiss in our action. He said that we were breaking the heart of our soldiers in the trenches and in the field.
§ Mr. TENNANT
He charged us with breaking the hearts of wounded men who came back from the front. He said our recruiting officers were perfectly absurd. I do not wish to be unduly controversial, but I really must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he hit very hard at the War Office, and he cannot expect us to take it lying down. I do not think he ought to get up on points of Order, and say that I am taking an undue advantage because I knew he would not have a chance to answer me. We work very hard at the War Office. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that. I do not think he will deny it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I may be allowed, after having said so much to endeavour to answer the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He asked us to provide a co-ordinating authority as between the various Departments of State, and he gave as an illustration a certain defect as between the Local Government Board and the War Office. I can only refer him to the fact, which is very well known to him, of Cabinet responsibility and the co-ordinating authority of the Cabinet. That is the only way I conceive it would be possible to deal with cases of that kind. I feel quite confident that if he will bring to the notice of the President of the Local Government Board the case he has in mind my right hon. Friend will endeavour to put the matter right. The right hon. Gentleman asked me, as representing the War Office, if I could not give the numbers we should require for the War; whether I could not give the numbers of the enemy. The numbers we have asked Parliament to vote must be considered a good index of the numbers we think we shall require for the War. Further, I have given, in answer to a question, the numbers of the Germans, as far as we knew them. I do not know whether 1633 the right hon. Gentleman has seen those figures, but they have been given and published. It is desirable not to rely on any figure which we can get of that kind, because the enemy is constantly taking large numbers of divisions and Army corps from one front to the other. It is their business, and they do it with great skill, to try and confuse us and the Allies as much as they possibly can. Therefore, as I say, no figure that one could give would be a figure upon which you could rely.
To come to the case of recruiting officers, recruiting officers of the Regular Army are retired officers who have volunteered their services. They are, I should say, in 90 per cent. of the cases, men who are not fit to fight from age or infirmity of one kind or another. I am so informed since the right hon. Gentleman spoke. Not being on the active list we have of course no control over them. If they should by any accident happen to be within the age limit of men fit to serve and of physical capacity to serve, it would be within their competence to volunteer for service; but not being on the active list we have no control over them. Territorial recruiting officers are officers in charge of depots, and the depots are in the hands of the Territorial Force Association. I believe they, as a rule, also are men who have served a considerable time and are not of the right age to serve at the front. I should like also to inform the House that instead of having half a crown and one shilling, I think the right hon. Gentleman said, as a contrast between the Territorial and the Regular recruiting, I do not know when it was changed, but the figure is one shilling per head for both. We have called for a return of all the recruiting officers in the Regular Army, and I think the Territorial Force too, to see whether there should be among them any larger proportion than the 10 per cent. When the return arrives I will communicate with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The fact that we have two recruiting offices, one on one side of the road and one on the other, happens to be fortuitous. In time of peace the Territorial Force Association does the whole of the recruiting both for the Regular Army and the Territorials, but now the Regulars are doing their own recruiting, and they happened to want an office, and 1634 it happens to be just opposite one belonging to the Territorial Association. It is not an inconceivable thing nor one quite so absurd as has been made out that they should be one opposite the other. I quite agree that the differentiation as between the half crown and nothing is an undesirable condition, and I am glad to say it has now been cancelled.
§ Mr. RONALD MCNEILL
Does the right hon. Gentleman really say that the Territorial recruiting agencies recruit for the Regular Army?
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, in time of peace. I now come to the question of purchasing horses. The right hon. Gentleman considered that we were extraordinary foolish in our methods of purchasing horses because he considered we were sending out so many officers. I should like to disabuse his mind of that. The truth is, of course, that an enormous percentage of our recruiting officers are civilians—men of the type of masters of hounds, and of a man like Sir Alfred Pease, who was well known in this House and one of the best riders to hounds, I believe, in the North of England, with a great knowledge of horses. He took the place of Major Dixon, and allowed him to go to the front. With regard to purchases in the United States and Canada, General Sir F. Benson writes that "horses are to be bought at many different kinds of prices, even as low as 125 dollars" (£25). The average price paid by the commission is 175 dollars (£35) for riding horses and 210 dollars (or £42) for draught and Artillery horses.
The commission of which Mr. Alec Parker, the well-known horse authority, is a member agree among themselves that a lower price would not secure the horses we require, that is, broken in and in good condition. They are satisfied that they are getting full value for their money. They are buying from the large firms, and there is no doubt that they could not get the proper type of horse at a lower rate in any other country. To represent that we are being swindled in America because we do not understand their methods is not, I think, a true description of what has occurred when I tell the House that we are only paying these comparatively small sums of £25 to £35 and £42 for draught and Artillery horses, which cost more in this country. I am informed further that, out of thirty-one buyers of horses in America, only nine are officers at all, and of those nine only two probably 1635 are fit for service, so that it is not correct to suppose that we are employing large numbers of officers who might be fit to fight for us in the purchase of horses. I now come to the question of the promotion of officers. I should like to be able to impress on the right hon. Gentleman that by conferring an immediate benefit on a certain number of juniors you do not necessarily create justice amongst the larger number. In fact you very likely create injustice to a large number.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I have already given the right hon. Gentleman the illustration of the brigadier-general which he enlarged upon so much in his argument. A brigadier-general who was a lieuenant-colonel before he was appointed brigadier-general, immediately hostilities cease, if his place is filled up by a lieutenant-colonel with substantive rank, is reduced from £1,000 a year, which he gets as a fighting brigadier-general, to the pittance of half pay, which comes to 11s. a day—rather less than £200 a year. That being so, it cannot be to the advantage of the Service to produce a system by which you place a man, singled out for his ability to be a brigadier because he is really a fine soldier, in so happy a position after the War is over as that would be. I know I am wholly unable to convince the right hon. Gentleman, and if he has decided it in his own mind it does not seem really necessary to argue the point with him. I submit that that would be a very hard case. The question of granting temporary rank, with pay, to an officer who is a major and is promoted to be a lieutenant-colonel is one which I told him was engaging our attention. I am not able to give a definite announcement because I think he understands that it is impossible for the Department to make promises of that kind before the Government has given its decision upon the question.
§ Mr. LONG
I quite understand that, and I am the last person who would desire to ask for undue haste, but what I tried to impress upon the Government is that every day these men are risking their lives. A man who is doing the work of a colonel dies as a major, and his widow receives the pension of a major, although her husband has died doing the duty of a lieutenant-colonel. Every day's delay 1636 runs the risk of fresh injustices added to the large number of those which have already been incurred.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I quite understand that, and fully appreciate it; and I will expedite the matter as much as I possibly can. I will also admit, quite freely, that there have been a number of promotions of dead officers brought to the notice of the House by the right hon. Gentleman. That was due to the time which elapsed before we got authority to promote them in place of prisoners and missing. We have practically got up to date now. I wish to add my appreciation, equally with that of the right hon. Gentleman, of the services of regimental officers and the gallant and splendid actions which we know they have performed in the military operations. I am not aware of the reduction of pay of wounded officers at home alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman. Is it the case that wounded officers get half pay? I understand not, but I have not had time to investigate that.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I was not aware of that, and it comes to me as a surprise. I will, at the same time, engage to investigate the case of the non-commissioned officer whom he desires to be restored to his original rank in the case which he had in mind. If he will furnish me with the name and particulars of the case I will see what can be done. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Yate) spoke on the question of insurance. I should like the House to realise what a very large stride we did make in that matter at the beginning of the War. It was really a most remarkable step taken in advance to be secured on the insurance companies. We got the whole of the New Army and the Territorial Force admitted without any extra premium at all, although in the old Army the old officers had a perfect opportunity, if they had only taken it, to pay the extra 10s. per cent. for the risks which their occupation naturally engendered. Of course, I very much regret that they did not do so; and no doubt they do too. The present situation, as I am constantly informed by members of the boards of various insurance companies, does not pay them. So far from paying they are losing money very largely. Anyone connected with insurance work will tell you that. I do not think it is possible for me to press them further with regard to the Regular Army. In fact, I cannot 1637 possibly do it. I have done my very best, but I think the insurance companies have behaved most generously, and I would not say anything which could at all be misconstrued as not recognising that and I really do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman should press me to go further into that matter.
The hon. Member (Mr. Goulding) asked me to say a word or two about the very hard case, as I quite agree with him, of the young men who at the outset of the War were patriotic enough to go into these Public School Corps because they properly thought they would get commissions and perhaps larger advantages by that method more rapidly than by any other. I sympathise very strongly with their case, but I ask my hon. Friend to put himself in the position of the commanding officers. I will tell him the history of this matter. It is all recorded in a number of War Office letters from which I will read one or two extracts. I should like him to realise that these public school battalions supply a very large number of officers. The particular brigade he alluded to supplied between 1,800 and 1,900 officers to the two Armies. That is a very large number. They came to the Secretary of State asking him to put an embargo on further officers from their ranks as they were gradually being so thinned that they feared that when they came to be considered as a unit they might prove insufficient or inefficient. On 1st February this letter was written to the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief of various commands, in which we said:—It is not in the public interest that any individual should serve in a capacity which affords no scope for his particular qualifications, nor is it advantageous that those in the ranks should feel that they have no outlet for their legitimate aspirations. For these reasons it is not proposed to place any real restriction on the appointment to commissions of candidates from these sources, although it is recognised that some limit must be placed on the number promoted from the ranks of any one un t, in order that its efficiency as a unit may not suffer.7.0 P.M.
That is all very sound sense I am sure the hon. Member will agree. Then we went on to refer to the pressure on the commanding officers. The gentlemen who are raising this public school brigade wrote to the Secretary of State for War, asking that this might be done, and the Secretary of State replied:—As your ranks are becoming very thin, I think it is desirable that no more officers should go at present.Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman said he wrote letters to two commanding officers, we were both correct in saying that no further officers should be allowed 1638 to proceed from the ranks of these battalions. Since then I have had a conversation with Lord Derby. I have asked him whether he would engage that these commanding officers should free a few more men from the ranks of their battalions, and I hope that will be done. I do not wish to encourage unduly the hopes of any hon. Gentleman that all or each of his candidates will be by that means recommended for promotion to the commissioned ranks, for I am sure hon. Members will realise how difficult it is to carry out their wishes. No doubt it will be a very difficult task for the commanding officers. No doubt there are many men who are well qualified for commissions, but if commanding officers were to give to each young man who is qualified the recommendation which he desires, undoubtedly his ranks would be unduly depleted. I would ask hon. Gentlemen to use such patience and indulgence as they can command in this matter, and I hope very much that a modus vivendi may be arrived at.
§ Mr. GOULDING
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Are we to understand that the veto against all recommendations is still to exist?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think the hon. Gentleman should understand that that is withdrawn for the moment. I am only thinking of five battalions and one brigade of the Middlesex.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I will see what I can do. The hon. and gallant Member for Southport (Major White) also spoke about promotion, and especially in relation to the Special Reserve. I am unable to give him an answer at the moment on that subject. I am not really quite certain that I know what he was referring to. He said that there was a differentiation between the Regular Army and the Special Reserve.
The right hon. Gentleman knows better than I do what is the actual latest ruling of the War Office. There are men who are second lieutenants who are having junior Regular officers placed over their heads.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I cannot say as to that, but I will engage to look into it, and communicate with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He will understand that a great strain has been placed upon our troops 1639 during this most momentous struggle. There has been, as one result, a very great deal of physical and mental strain and stress. These men are most deserving of all the leave the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked. In a large number of cases they have been given a certain amount of leave, but not such long leave as the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested. I certainly feel with him that it is due to them, and I hope it may be possible, in connection with the arrangements which are being made for the New Army, to allow them the necessary amount of leave, so as to give them the chance for recuperation, which they so splendidly deserve.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is really most unsatisfactory as an answer to my right hon. Friend. He hardly answered any questions at all. He does not appear to be aware that there is a strong feeling in the Army on the subject of promotion. We talk of appreciation and consideration, but it is time that we began to act. These men are saving the country. They are laying down their lives by thousands, and so far as regimental officers go, the regimental major who takes command of his regiment may save the whole campaign. He may save thousands of lives, though he is not getting the pay and promotion to which he is entitled. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is very hard on their wives. They do not get half pay or pension which otherwise they would get. It is the same with non-commissioned officers. We are at war, and if these men do the work, they should get the pay. Another point which the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned at all was that in regard to the National Reserve. In connection with that, the men have been swindled out of £5. By the mistake of a War Office official these men did not sign in the way required, and it is monstrous when they believed they would get the £5 that they do not get it. We have given the Government a dictatorship. They are autocrats. They passed a Bill yesterday which might be injurious to the interests of the country if it is not well managed. If we give the Government a dictatorship, it is very unfair not to bring forward in the House of Commons proposals to provide what is required for the men who are saving the country. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was not an answer to the points raised by my right hon. Friend.