HL Deb 04 August 1871 vol 208 cc824-34

, in moving— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to request that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to order that there be laid before this House Copy of the Minute of the Under Secretary of State for War of the 8th July last, directing an examination of the country in the neighbourhood of Wantage and Lockinge, said, that as he understood there would be no opposition to the production of the Paper, he should not repeat his observations on the subject, further than to say he should like, if possible, to have, as an addition, the full documents upon which the Minute of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General of Ordnance of the 28th July last relative to the proposed camp of manœuvres was founded.

Moved, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copy of the Minute of the Under Secretary of State for War of the 8th July last, 61039/49, directing an examination of the country in the neighbourhood of Wantage and Lockinge.—(The Lord Overstone.)


said, that there was no objection to the Minute being produced.


said, he thought that to confine the movements to marching and outpost duties as proposed was preposterous. General officers should be instructed to attack each other, and as umpire should judge of their merits, as in Prussia. The operations now contemplated might be carried out under the command of a civilian, and they could be effected at Aldershot without the expense of forming camps. He hoped there would be real camps of instruction and manœuvre.


said, that the proposal alluded to by the noble Lord (Lord Vivian) had not been approved, and would not be carried out. The noble Lord had misapprehended the nature of the operations which were intended, for the movements of the troops would by no means be confined within the limits the noble Lord anticipated. It had been strongly recommended that the memorandum as to the operations should be treated as a confidential document, it being very important that the details of the proposed operations should not be disclosed beforehand. The paragraph on the omission of which the noble Lord (Lord Overstone) commented last night simply referred to that confidential memorandum, which merely contained a sketch of the manœuvres. It had no bearing on the other questions under discussion.


said, that the noble Lord (Lord Northbrook) had made no allusion to some matters which were referred to by the noble Lord (Lord Overstone) on the previous evening, neither had he given any explanation as to the want of courtesy shown to the farmers of the district where the review was to have taken place, who had shown so much interest and public spirit in the matter. The public had rarely felt more disappointment and mortification than in the present case. The Estimates for the Army during the present Session were very large; but public attention having been strongly drawn to the subject by the occurrence of one of the greatest wars ever known on the Continent, a general desire was expressed that the Army should be placed on an improved footing and rendered as efficient, in proportion to its numbers, as the armies of foreign Powers. When such liberal supplies had been voted for military purposes without any grudging, it was hoped that the country would have seen some satisfactory result of the re-organization of the Army, so that it might be manifest that the money had not been thrown away. In fact, a promise had been given that the results of the proposed improvements should be manifested, and that the public would be satisfied with the attention given to the matter by the War Office. Instead of that, however, they were now told suddenly that the expected manœuvres were not to take place, though those intimately concerned with the matter had not even received notice that there had been a change in the intentions of the Government. It was a fault the way in which the Government had conveyed to the public the reasons for giving up these manœuvres, and as a consequence of that fault, great dissatisfaction had arisen. They should have been cautious in promising so early in the year things which they had no idea whether they would be able to perform. He was not acquainted with the gallant officers who were sent to inspect the ground, and whilst he had no doubt that they were men who thoroughly knew their duty, he must say that, at all events, they did not appear to be sanguine, and their Report did not indicate an anxiety that the manœuvres should be held. Indeed, he thought its tone was decidedly discouraging. He thought that it was a mistake to appoint the 9th of September, because even in the southern counties the harvest was seldom housed before that day, and generally there was a great deal of barley out beyond that time. The tone of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Surveyor General of Ordnance was equally discouraging, because he said that the equinoctial gales might be expected about that period. Why could not the manœuvres have been postponed until after the equinoctial gales were over — that was until the 1st of October — that month being the finest one in the English year? Those really were not good excuses for putting off a review which, for very important reasons, should have been carried out. Besides, the reasons given were not at all fair or complimentary to the British soldier. They had all heard of "paper soldiers;" but surely their soldiers were not made of sugar, nor afraid of a shower of rain, or of the heat of the sun. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also said that the owners of horses expressed the greatest disinclination to hire them out; but that was a difficulty that would always be felt, and the Government should bear in mind, on any future occasion, that they would have to meet that difficulty. He heartily wished, for the sake of the reputation of the Army, and the confidence we should feel that they were effective; that the Government had, at an earlier period, considered whether they could carry out their plans.


asked whether the commanding officers would be changed in the course of the manœuvres, so as to give various persons an opportunity of exercising their talents; whether it would be decided what troops were to retire and what were to advance; and, whether umpires would be appointed to decide whether the manœuvres had been successfully and properly carried out?


said, that the Government were apparently exercising that policy of silence which they had recommended in their proceedings "elsewhere," and that that policy seemed especially necessary with regard to War Office matters. He would, however, again ask why no consultation was had with the farmers in Berkshire, who would have known better than anybody else as to the prospects of the harvest, and the inclination as to the supply of transport. Anything that threw light upon the Control department was interesting at that moment, and therefore it was as well to see how they set to work to ascertain whether the harvest would be late or not. One would have supposed that they would have applied to the farmers; but that was not their idea. Their idea was to send down two general officers to make what they called inquiries upon the spot—what particular spot was not known—and having done this, they came back and said—"The harvest will be very late." He should like some information as to the views of the Control Office in reference to meteorology. They appeared to think a fortnight's military manœuvres impossible unless held after harvest and before the equinoctial gales. Now, in the latitude of Berkshire the harvest was very seldom entirely carried before the end of August, and the equinoctial gales often came at the beginning of September. ["Oh!"] They occurred three weeks on either side of the equinox, and as frequently before as after. The English people were in a melancholy position if, with the wettest climate in the world, their Army could not face wet weather. He hoped their soldiers would henceforth be so fortified as not to be afraid of rain, and it might be as well for the noble Lord (Lord Northbrook) to ascertain General Moltke's views of wet weather, and whether the Prussian Armies ever served at such times. The Government, at any rate, before making plans of this kind, should take means to carry them out, and should not affect to be frightened by such trivial incidents as a late harvest, and the wet weather generally accompanying the equinoctial gales. The Papers published by the Government, and the peculiar way in which they had defended their conduct, could only strengthen the suspicion that the real cause for the abandonment of these manœuvres had not been disclosed, and that there was some breakdown somewhere, and must tend to increase that distrust of the Control department which was becoming more and more general.


said, it would be a great relief if the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) would, in one single speech, at least, during the Session, abstain from imputing disgraceful motives to his opponents.


said, he must ask the noble Earl (Earl Granville) to explain what disgraceful motive he (the Marquess of Salisbury) had mentioned. He had only referred to the fear of wet weather, and he did not know that that was disgraceful.


said, in continuation, that the noble Marquess had rather shirked the question by going back to what he said about the weather, for he certainly finished his speech by hinting that some secret motive had induced this change of plan. As to silence on the part of the Government, he generally thought it the best tactics not to speak on things with which he was not well acquainted. His noble Friend (Lord Northbrook) had acted quite properly in waiting till the questions put to the Government on very small details, with which nobody but himself was acquainted, were exhausted before he rose to reply. As to discourtesy towards the farmers, he was not sufficiently acquainted with the facts to explain the matter; but it was certainly strange to represent that the War Office could not form an opinion whether the harvest would be late or not without applying to the farmers in one particular county.


said, that the question he had asked turned on the absence of any explanation why, instead of communicating with an intelligent and zealous committee of agriculturists, the War Office sent down two military men, who were not even informed of the committee's existence. The committee had for two or three months been in continuous communication with the Government, and their views had been triumphantly quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War in the House of Commons, yet when a difficulty supposed to arise from a late harvest and a wet season had to be considered the officers sent down were prohibited—for that was what it amounted to—from communicating with the committee. A simple-minded man could not but infer from what had passed that there was something more than appeared on the surface.


said, it was evident there was neither any local nor any military objection to the carrying out of the original plan. The Secretary of State might have announced such a scheme, and altered or abandoned it without giving any reasons; but the reasons he had given were such that Parliament and the public naturally expected some further explanation. He was not prejudiced against the Control system, for he was one of its godfathers, though he should have some difficulty in recognizing it in its present shape. The office of Surveyor General of Ordnance was created for the purpose of consolidating four or five departments supposed to work cumbrously, yet he was sure those cumbrous departments would have easily accomplished what the improved administration could not effect—namely, effectively transport and supply these 30,000 men. It was the business of the Surveyor General to facilitate measures resolved upon by the War Office; but he apparently realized the apprehension which had been expressed by the illustrious Duke at the head of the Army when the formation of the Control department was under discussion, that an officer might be created with power in his hands to raise difficulties, and to control not only those below but those above him.


said, he thought the real reason of the change was that the original scheme had proved more costly than was expected, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not sanction the expenditure.


said, the reason why he had not risen earlier in the debate was, as his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had stated, because he wished to give an opportunity for any further questions that might he asked in connection with the subject. It was hardly fair for the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) to accuse him of reticence, for he went into the whole question on Tuesday night at such length that he was afraid of being tedious. The insinuations of the noble and gallant Earl (the Earl of Longford) respecting Sir Henry Storks were quite unjustifiable, for Sir Henry, instead of thwarting the project, had from the first engaged that his department should facilitate it in every possible manner. It was obviously his duty, however, to point out any circumstances which appeared to affect the plans; and, as had been already explained, contingencies arose affecting the facilities of obtaining transport. The noble Earls (the Earls of Longford and Malmesbury) had stated that the original plan was not to be carried out; but that was not the fact, and he begged most distinctly to say that the original plan would be carried out. The original plan was that in the course of the autumn 30,000 men, composed partly of Regulars, and partly of Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers, should meet for manœuvres. The first place intended for the assembly was in Hampshire, but it was afterwards arranged that it should take place in Berkshire. This latter intention had been abandoned in consequence of the lateness of the harvest. The manœuvres would now be carried out in Surrey and Hampshire; and he would ask whether, on account of the mere transfer of operations from one county to another, the Government could fairly be charged with abandoning the manœuvres? The change of place was no reason whatever for asserting that the manœuvres had been abandoned, and, provided the manœuvres were of the same class and on the same scale, it was immaterial, except to the residents of the districts in the counties concerned, where they were held. That the area now chosen was unsuitable was not the opinion of men of the greatest military knowledge, for he met the other day with the report of a paper read by Lieutenant Colonel Bray, of the 4th King's Own, at the United Service Royal Artillery Institution, on the Prussian manœuvres, and he observed that in the discussion which followed a distinguished officer—Sir Linthorn Sim- mons—referred to this area as well adapted to extended manœuvres on the Prussian system. This was before the locality was selected. It was also obvious, whether the fact was reported by the Inspector General of Fortifications or by the Control department, that the harvest would probably be later than it had been for a considerable number of years. He very much regretted that there was any feeling among the gentlemen in Berkshire who had co-operated with the Government in reference to these manœuvres, that they had not been consulted before the last decision was come to. He had communicated with the Secretary of State for War, and he was able to say that this impression had arisen in consequence of a misapprehension. The Secretary of State for War and Sir Henry Storks, after the meeting on the 24th July, at which the Reports of the Inspector General and the Quartermaster General were received, saw Colonel Loyd Lindsay in the House of Commons, and told him that they anticipated difficulty in consequence of the lateness of the harvest. From that gentleman, as the representative of the Berkshire Committee, the Secretary of State for War understood that a meeting would be held in Berkshire on the following Wednesday on the subject. It was necessary that the Government should decide on Saturday, the 31st July, and the Secretary of State for War expected to have heard from Colonel Loyd Lindsay the result of the Berkshire meeting on the Wednesday, before the meeting on the Saturday was held at the War Office. He received, however, no communication from Colonel Loyd Lindsay, and immediately after the meeting on Saturday he communicated to him the decision to postpone the manœuvres. The want of further communication arose, therefore, from some misapprehension in reference to the date of the meeting to be held in Berkshire. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War was the very last person to do anything discourteous, especially to gentlemen whom he had on many occasions thanked for the assistance which he had received from them. The noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) said they promised what they had not intended to perform. But as it was intended that these manœuvres would yet take place, that remark was, to say the least, premature. The manœuvres were still to be held, and he should shortly submit to their Lordships a Bill giving powers for the purpose over the proposed area. It was a misapprehension to suppose that the manœuvres were designed only to test the powers of the Control department, for there were other objects of equal or greater importance. Since this time last year every branch of Army organization involving the constitution of a corps d'armée had been revised, with a view of placing them on a footing more in accordance with the practice of modern days. This had been done by a Committee composed of officers belonging to the different branches of the service, and their recommendations required practical testing, in order to see whether any modifications were requisite. Instruction in tactics and strategy, moreover, the value of which had been urged by the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn), could in many respects, according to the best authorities, be conveyed by manœuvres of the Prussian class, such as were now intended. In these and other respects the manœuvres were very important, and they were not intended for a mere military promenade, in order to test the transport and supply department only. As to the noble Viscount's (Viscount Melville's) question, the officers to command had not yet been selected, and he could not say whether they would or would not be changed during the course of the operations. The provisions of an umpire staff for the purpose of deciding when troops were to retire or advance was under consideration, and the arrangements would be notified previously te the commencement of the manœuvres. The Government, he assured the House, were keeping nothing behind, and had no reasons which they had not plainly stated. The two distinguished officers whose Report had been challenged had reported honestly and conscientiously, and had they said the harvest would be early when it was likely to be late, they would not have performed their duty. Their Report was sensible, straightforward, short, and to the point. They had pointed out the probable lateness of the harvest, and the difficulty of encamping on arable land in bad weather, and had suggested an alternative scheme. As to the remarks of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), uttered in his usual caustic manner, although the Government had not considered it advisable to postpone the manœuvres till a later date, when the nights would be longer, and the chances of bad weather greater, it was not to be inferred that the British Army was unfit to go out in damp or cold weather. No Minister was justified, for the purpose of manœuvres, in exposing troops to hardships which in actual service they would undergo with the greatest alacrity. When called upon they would be ready to act in any weather; but some consideration should be shown to them and to the Reserve forces when they were simply sent out for the purpose of practice. The amended plan would give as much instruction to the officers concerned as the original scheme, while heathy uninclosed land—such as they had now decided on—was better fitted for manœuvres when the harvest was likely to be late.


said, that with regard to what had been stated by the noble Lord who had last spoken (Lord Northbrook) as to the knowledge of Colonel Loyd Lindsay with respect to the intentions of the Government to change the arena for the contemplated manœuvres, he (Lord Overstone) was with that hon. and gallant Gentleman on Saturday last, when a letter was received by him from a Member of that House, saying that the writer thought it well to let him know that the campaign in Berkshire was to be put off in consequence of the state of the harvest. Colonel Loyd Lindsay was utterly surprised, and we both agreed that the person who would be sure to know all about it would be the chairman of the committee of farmers in Berkshire, to whom they repaired, only, however, to learn that he knew nothing about it. On the following morning came a letter from the Secretary of State for War, informing Colonel Loyd Lindsay of the fact, and giving quite a different account of the alternative from that which had been submitted to the House that evening. In that note there was no reference to any anticipated difficulty on the part of the farmers, or to any anticipated meeting of the committee.


said, he was sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he had spoken three times on this subject.


explained that he had again risen in consequence of allusions to facts of which he was personally cognizant.


said, he must disclaim having imputed to the British Army any fear of wet weather. He had only commented on that as one of the reasons assigned by the War Office.


said, he trusted the character of the manœuvres would not be changed, and that the troops would not be broken up into two or three camps.

Motion agreed to.