HL Deb 08 September 1887 vol 320 cc1623-7



asked, Whether Her Majesty's Government are in a position to make any statement as regarded the establishment of a Reserve of Horses for military purposes?


I am glad of the opportunity given by this Question to state the intention of the Government. Your Lordships will recollect that some months ago the noble Lord (Lord Ribblesdale) raised a discussion on the subject of the supply of horses, which remotely touched the question of horses for military purposes. The main object he had in view has, I believe, been dealt with by another De- partment; but I stated on that occasion that the Secretary of State would give careful consideration to any schemes that might be presented to him, having for their object the supply of horses for military purposes, and I am now prepared to state the result. Communications were received from many quarters presenting a great variety of views on the subject; some were for organizing breeding establishments, others for subsidizing stallions and mares, and others, again, for the purchase by Government of horses which should be lent to the Yeomanry, who would undertake the expense of keeping them, on the understanding that the horses were to be handed over to Government when wanted. Most of the schemes, however, would have involved a far greater expense, commensurate with the possible result, than the Secretary of State dared to contemplate; and many of them were based on the fallacy that these Islands are unable to supply easily the normal annual demand for military purposes. Military requirements may be divided into two large divisions as regards numbers, and also several subdivisions as regards stamp. The two large divisions show, on the one side, the normal and annual demand, affected by deaths and casting, and which may be taken as ranging between 1,400 and 2,000 horses. There is not the slightest difficulty in getting this number at Government prices in these Islands, the Cavalry horse, as a rule, coming from Ireland, the Artillery and Transport horse from Great Britain. On the other side is the abnormal demand which might suddenly arise from a mobilization of forces. The smaller sub-divisions, as regards stamp, represent the Cavalry, the Artillery, and the Transport horse. The abnormal demand is the question which the Government have been desirous of arranging for, and they have now prepared a scheme to meet that demand. The actual number required depends, of course, upon the number of troops mobilized; but we have no fear that the country is incapable of producing, for registration purposes, such a number of horses as will meet all reasonable requirements. The number required we believe to exist; but, without a registration system, it would be impossible to select and collect any large number in the time within which it should be possible to bring the horses together. Experience has proved how much time is consumed in the appointment of selection committees, the mapping out of districts, giving notice to owners of horses, and the examination and selection. To avoid that delay has been our object, while, at the same time, we have endeavoured, by preferring a voluntary system, to obviate discontent. Your Lordships may have noticed in the reports of the mobilization experiment in France that the Government have requisitioned horses for military purposes. Such a requisition must, one would think, cause dissatisfaction, or a heavy expenditure, and would, I trust, only be resorted to in England at a very grave crisis. Without a system of registration it might, however, at some time or other, become necessary, and can be avoided only by a system of registration. I have stated that we propose to make the system voluntary, or I should rather say, perhaps, that we are going to make an experiment in that direction. Compulsory registration was considered, but discarded, mainly because of the very large number of horses it would entail, many of them unsuitable for military purposes, and because, as well, of the expense of registering such numbers. What the Government propose to do is to offer an annual fee for all horses up to a certain number and within a certain age, suitable for military purposes, the owners of which are willing to place them on the register. The horses would be examined for soundness and suitability by a registration staff, and a further inducement to owners to come forward voluntarily would be an enhanced price over the Government price of the year if the horse is taken by the Government, as a compensation for the loss of its services. It is, of course, impossible to say now whether this experiment will prove successful; we are hopeful that it will, and that owners of horses—more particularly owners of largo numbers of horses—will come forward in order to benefit by the receipt of the annual fee. If it is successful, it should, from a financial point of view, be an economical system, being more or less in the form of an insurance against war risks; while, from a military point of view, the most beneficial results should ensue; for, on mobilization becoming necessary, the Military Authorities will have at hand a list of horses, with information as to where they are situated, and as to what purpose they are best suited. They will also be easily recognizable by a system of numbers, and easily transferable to such points of concentration as may be decided upon. The experiment will first be tried in the Metropolitan area; but it is contemplated to extend the system eventually to the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. I imagine it is probable that in its initiation the class of horse which will be found forthcoming will be suitable for Artillery and Transport purposes, as, the experiment being in London, the large Companies are most likely to meet the demand; but I hope to see the system extended in such a way as will produce the Cavalry horse as well. I would point out to your Lordships one very great advantage—namely, that these horses, if ever taken up by the Government, will, in the vast majority of cases, be seasoned horses in hard condition, not young and green, without the condition to do a day's march, or the stamina to survive a campaign. Treasury sanction has been given in general to the scheme, though there are still some points of detail as regards pay to the staff which have to be settled; but I was anxious to make this statement before your Lordships rose, and assurance having been given by the Secretary of State some time back in "another place" that the matter was under consideration. I should add that it would be more difficult to put this system into practice had it not been for a change that is about to be made in the system of purchasing remounts. Hitherto, those for Cavalry purposes have been bought by the commanding officers of Cavalry regiments, and for Artillery purposes by the Inspector and purchaser of horses for the Royal Artillery. In future, all horses for military purposes will be examined, selected, and passed into the Army by the officers of a remount establishment at headquarters. Among other advantages, we hope by this change to meet, to a certain extent, the complaint that has been made in many quarters that breeders of horses cannot get them viewed by Government buyers. The registration of horses will be dealt with by this staff, whose business it will be to examine the horses for suitability and soundness, to register them in such a way as to render them distinguishable, and to keep the registers so as to obviate delay when the transmission of horses to selected centres or ports of embarkation is necessary. My Lords, this is an experiment, I admit. The voluntary system is objected to by some whose opinion is of the highest value; but I am hopeful that competition among owners of horses will produce the desired result. The voluntary system has raised a magnificent army of citizen soldiers; I hope it may answer as regards a supply of horses; and but a modicum of the success that has attended the first will be sufficient to remove any anxiety as to the Army being sufficiently horsed when the crisis comes.

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