§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, the notice which stands in my name on the Paper is, I think, a very clear and moderate one. The issue it raises is simply this. Will His Majesty's Government give facilities to Parliament to exercise one of its highest and most constitutional privileges, the right of inquiry? Parliament has no power to make appointments or to alter the ordinary course of administration, but it is the grand inquest of the nation, and it is the duty and the privilege of Parliament to make inquiry into the actions of the Executive and of its officers and agents in order to secure the reform of abuses, to check maladministration, and to fix on the agents of the Government who are guilty of carelessness, or negligence, or worse, the full responsibility for their actions. There seems to me to be a strong primâ facie case for an inquiry in connection with the contracts and purchases made for our troops in South Africa. I do not intend to go at length into a great many of the allegations that have been made, but shall confine myself to charges that have been brought under four heads—with regard to remounts, meat contracts, contracts for transport in South Africa, and freights for transport from this and other countries to South Africa. As to the remounts, I notice that there appears in this morning's papers a statement from Colonel St. Quintin, who was the agent of the Government, in respect of the first purchase of horses. The case that he makes on his own behalf seems to be this—that the ordinary price paid by the Australian Government for remounts was £26, that the average price paid for the 3, 800 horses bought for the British Government was a little over £29, that the limit to which he was allowed to go was £40, and that therefore, by securing horses at £29, he had really been the means of saving the money of the taxpayers. I think Colonel St. Quintin has rather missed the point. I do not doubt for a moment that the Austrian Government are in the habit of paying £26 to £28 for their remounts, but the horses that the Austrian Government get for that payment are exceedingly different 847 animals from those which Colonel St. Quintin obtained for his £29 odd. I imagine that in the case of the Austrian Government the sum of £28 represents pretty much what goes into the pockets of the breeders of the horses, and that the animals they get are of considerable substance and very useful. But the 3, 800 horses supplied to Colonel St. Quintin were bought in the markets for from £8 to £12 each, and were animals of an altogether inferior type, sadly wanting in stamina in the field, and quite unable to properly fulfil the heavy duties that were laid upon them.
Our charge against the Government on this particular point is that with regard to these 3, 800 horses, which cost the taxpayer £111, 000, certainly not less than £45, 000 went into the pockets of four gentlemen, who made an altogether undue profit. With regard to the subsequent purchases, we find fault with the War Office for not making further inquiries before they entered into new purchases, for taking the word of one man—Colonel Maclean—for not considering other offers, for not consulting our Embassy at Vienna, and for again taking their horses from the same agent, Mr. Hauser. Similarly, in other parts of the world, in England, Ireland, the United States, Texas, Argentina, and Australia, cases are to be found, notoriously plentiful, in which men have made vast sums of money by passing on horses, bought at very low prices, to the Government agents at comparatively high prices. I do not want to bring any charges whatever against these persons, who took advantage of their opportunity to make money. What I say is that it does not show the exercise of due care by the agents of the Government, or by the Department responsible for them, that it should be possible for these large sums of money to be made. There is no greater proof of this than the action of the War Office itself, for we are told by the Secretary of State that in consequence of the facts that have come to his knowledge he has decided on an entire re-organization of the Remount Department. He has also taken very sharp action against the Inspector-General of Remounts himself, to whom, indeed, has been meted out what was pretty well known in the old days in the 848 country from which I come—Jethart justice from Jedeburgh, where, the old ballad says—In the morn men hang and draw.And sit in judgment after.The Government must have assured themselves that they had sufficient grounds on which to have so acted, and I regret that the opportunity was not taken of opening up the whole question of remounts and going into it thoroughly.
I pass to the question of the meat contracts, which is extremely clear and simple. In the first place it would seem that for frozen meat and fresh meat alike a contract at the rate of 11d. per lb. was entered into with the Cold Storage Company. Later on, another contract was entered into for frozen meat at 7d. per lb. and fresh meat at 10d. per lb.; and now, in the last contract, which conies into force on 1st April, the prices are 5½d. per lb. for frozen meat and 8½d. per lb. for fresh meat. Here, again, it is clear that very large profits were made by the Cold Storage Company. The statement of their amount varies very much. from the least, £1, 100, 000, which, I believe, may be called a sort of official estimate.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
What is the basis for the assertion that they made that amount of money?
§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I can hardly quote the source from which I got that particular figure, but it is one which I cannot doubt is a true figure. I am putting it at the lowest amount. The highest amount, given by Mr. Bergl, who is now the Government contractor, is a profit on the first contract for the first year and a half of £4, 500, 000 and of £1, 500, 000 on the last contract, or £6, 000, 000 in all. I think it is perfectly clear that the profit, at any rate on the frozen meat, must 849 have been very heavy indeed. According to the Australian Meat Trades journal of January 7th, 1902, the price of Sydney mutton quoted in Smithfield Market on January 6th was 2⅞d. per lb., while on the same date the prices for beef at Sydney were—prime bodies, 2¾d. per lb., second quality bodies, 2⅝d. per lb.; and for mutton — prime wethers, I¾d. per lb., second quality 1⅝d. per lb. If it was possible to purchase meat at that rate, it must be very profitable indeed to distribute it in South Africa at 5½d., 7d. and 11d. per lb. I am not throwing any aspersion on the present contract, but I think it will be evident to your Lordships that there is plenty of margin for profit to the present contractor if he can buy prime beef at 2¾d. per lb. in Sydney and prime wethers at 1¾d. per lb.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
Will the noble Lord tell us if these quotations are for meat delivered in the same way as is provided for in Mr. Bergl's contract? In that contract there are minute and precise conditions as to the manner in which the meat is to be prepared. I would ask the noble Lord if he has satisfied himself that the low figures he has quoted relate to meat distributed in the same manner?
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The amount I speak of is the price in the ordinary market at Sydney, and the buyer would, of course, have to take it from Sydney to South Africa.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I imagine, in the case of frozen meat, as dressed carcases. My point is, if Australian mutton can be sold in London at 3d, per lb. surely it could be sold in South Africa at a similar price. I next cone to the question of the transport contract in South Africa. It is said that our principal transport contractor made almost outrageous terms with the authorities there. I do not pretend that I can prove these allegations. All I can put forward are the statements ordinarily made, and my case is that the statements, whether they are true or 850 not, are so serious that they ought to be inquired into. It is said that the contractor for the transport received as much as £2 10s.0d. to £3 a day for wagons and oxen. The wagons, in many cases, were not worth more than £15 apiece, while the oxen which he supplied were so small and lean that they were scarcely able to draw the wagons when they were empty, much less when they were full. It is stated that in case of the loss through capture or death of these wagons or oxen the compensation the contractor was entitled to receive was no less than £70 for each wagon and £16 each for the oxen. A further statement is made that when a number of the oxen were offered for sale in South Africa, the farmers would only give from 25s. to 40s. each for them. The story that my noble friend Lord Carrington told the House the other night with regard to the wonderful prize ox applies much more to the method adopted with regard to these trek oxen, because everybody who has been in South Africa comes back with the same story, that the contractor was in the habit of having a posse of his own men following at a respectable distance, and that when these: oxen dropped and had to be outspanned, though they were put down against the Government as abandoned, they were brought into camp in the shades of evening, and next morning again inspanned. The next day they possibly dropped again, and so, again and again, these oxen were paid for at the full contract value as killed or abandoned oxon. As to freights, it is alleged, with, I believe, much truth, that very heavy prices were paid for freights, and that, especially at the beginning of the war, unnecessary charges were paid by the Government to a very large extent for demurrage. I think it could be shown, in connection with horse transport, that the rates, whether from Argentina, Hungary, or Australia, were altogether inordinate. Messrs. Houlder carried horses from Argentina at £16 a head, and I am told that they, with Mr. Bergl, also bought a number of very indifferent ponies in Australia at from £4 to £6 a head, passed them on to the Government at £13 a head, and then transported them from Australia to South Africa at freights running as high as £15 a head.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Might I ask the noble Lord whether, if there is an inquiry, he is prepared to prove all these statements?
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
Certainly. After all, the contracts are in the hands of the Government. At the same time that Messrs. Houlder were charging these frieghts; another firm in Australia were taking 5, 000 horses to South Africa for General Baden-Powell at £8 per head. Again, the contract price for conveying the Hungarian horses from Fiume to South Africa was, first, £26 3s.4d., and later on £28—an altogether extravagant rate. I have at this moment two Canadian horses in my own stable. They were brought from Canada to the Thames, being on the sea seventeen days, and yet the freight was no more than £5 each. These are matters which, whether true or not, are worthy of being inquired into. If they are untrue, it is only fair to the people against whom the allegations are made that they should be shown to be untrue. If, on the other hand, they are true, then the responsibility should be laid on the shoulders of those who have made what must have been extravagant and improper contracts on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I put forward these things simply as specimens of what is the common talk everywhere, and on these data I say that an inquiry should be granted. What has been the answer of the Government to the demand for such an inquiry? One would have imagined that they would have said they were anxious to clear these matters up, and would consent to an inquiry. They might, on the other hand, have said, "We will not give you an inquiry because these evils are non-existent, or, if they did exist, we have taken steps to remedy them." But that is not the answer of the Government. On the contrary, they admit the desirability of an inquiry, but say we shall not have it till the end of the war. That seems to me to combine all the disadvantages of both courses. How do you imagine that an inquiry into these things can be carried on at the end of the war? You know perfectly well that when the end of the war comes, everybody will be throwing up their hats with joy, and will be very little inclined to go into this or any other subject. There is 852 this other point, that the necessary evidence to show the truth or not of the statements will become more and more difficult to get at as time goes on. If you want to get at the truth of the transactions which are alleged to have taken place, the sooner you get to work with the inquiry the better.
The Government might fairly object to an immediate inquiry into the conduct of the war, but this is absolutely excluded from the Motion, though there are many matters that require examination, such as the treatment and feeding of the horses, and the neglect to lay hands on horses in South Africa, instead of leaving them to supply remounts to De Wet and other Boer commanders. The Government have, by their own action, estopped themselves from the plea that it is impossible or undesirable to carry on an inquiry while the war is going on, for they have, with good results, carried on three inquiries. Allegations were made in the House of Commons against the hospital management in South Africa, and a Commission was issued, the inquiry being carried out on the spot while the war was going on. The Report that followed showed that the hospital arrangements, which had been thought to be perfectly adequate, were inadequate, and, as a result, those arrangements were immensely improved. Then, again, a number of ladies were sent to report on the condition of the concentration camps, and at the end of their Report they mentioned ten several heads under each of which they attributed considerable improvement to the fact of their inquiry. Then also severe strictures upon the manner in which Austro - Hungarian horses had been purchased led to an inquiry from which good results have proceeded, or, at least, it has justified the Secretary of State in announcing an entire reconstruction of the Remount Department, and, as I have already said, very severe action against the head of that Department. I shall not further labour my argument. I hold it a duty to, press for this inquiry for the purpose of securing economical and efficient administration. I do not bring forward this. Motion in any sense as a Motion of censure, it is simply a Motion to get at the truth; and if, having got at the truth, we find that individuals have failed to do 853 their duty, then to bring those individuals to justice, which, I am sure, is desirable in the interests of good administration.
Moved to Resolve, "That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament be forthwith appointed to inquire into all contracts and purchases made by the War Office, or on its behalf, for the outfit, supply, and maintenance of our troops in South Africa. "—(Lord Tweed-mouth.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Earl of MORLEY)
My Lords, the Motion which has been moved by the noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench is one of immense importance, and of a very comprehensive character. It seems to me to be the culmination of discussions which have been carried on in this House during the past fortnight, principally between the two Front Benches, and I do not think it is undesirable that other noble Lords, who have no special interest or desire to defend or screen the Government from the charges made, should intervene in the debate. For myself, I venture to address your Lordships entirely in that capacity. I have no desire to defend or attack the Government. I admit to the fullest extent that the noble Lords who have brought this question before the House are doing what they have a perfect right to do; I will go further, and say that it is their duty, as an Opposition, to call attention to what they consider to be abuses in administration. I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to listen to the charges that have been made and the answers given by the Government with an absolutely impartial mind, and I am bound to admit that on several points there seems to be a primâ facie case for inquiry; nor has this been gainsaid by the Government. The Government admit that for the sake of the service it is desirable that the questions which have been brought forward, and which throw doubt upon the good administration of the War office, should be thoroughly investigated, but whether the maladministration amounts to what is too commonly called a scandal I think it is too early to say. The word "scandal" has been somewhat prematurely, and too often, used in these discussions. It may be discovered that there are individual 854 scandals, but I think we should not affix that name to any actions until we are quite certain that we are in a position to do so. My noble friend, in moving this Motion, very frankly told the House that the evidence winch he quoted with regard to remounts, meat contracts, freights, and transport was hearsay evidence. It may constitute a primâ facie case for inquiry, but your Lordships should not condemn the Government without hearing what they have to say on the subject.
I am not in a position—I have not the knowledge—to answer in detail the points that have been laid before the House, and all I can venture to submit to the noble Lord is, has he considered whether the circumstances in which the low prices he mentioned have been offered are the same circumstances as those in which the prices were fixed in the Government contract? That is the very essence of the question. At such a time of pressure, almost intolerable pressure, as existed at the end of 1899 and the beginning of 1900, it is perfectly clear that there must be higher prices paid to middlemen than would be paid in ordinary times. But the real question is whether the inquiry should be held now or at the end of the war. Before dealing with that, I should like, if the House will allow me, to say a few words with regard to the impression which these debates have made upon my mind and upon the minds of many noble Lords who take an impartial view of the subject. I would ask the House to consider whether in every respect the evidence that has been adduced has been brought forward in an absolutely fair manner, with the simple object of the public good, or whether there may not be to some extent other motives, which I will not specify, behind. When there is such evidence as the statement of a waiter at some obscure Hungarian inn brought forward with a rhetorical flourish, and interviews with rival contractors reported to show the extent of gains, it appears to the mind of an impartial man that there is an appearance of animus which may, for the time at any rate, have distorted judgment. Another point is that, in bringing forward these criticisms no one ever refers to the circumstances under which the administration by the War Office has been carried on. I will not for a moment maintain that the circum- 855 stances are an excuse for maladministration, but, in fairness, they should be mentioned. My noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs gave some figures the other day as to what had been done during the last two and a half years at the War Office, and at the risk of repetition I will venture to bring those figures again before your Lordships, for I do think that they should be impressed upon those who wish to judge the action of the Government.
The machinery at the War Office in the year 1899 was, as the noble Marquess told us, designed to send out, at the most, two Army Corps, viz., 70, 000 men. That machinery had been approved by successive Governments, both Liberal and Conservative, as sufficient for our military needs, and their decision was acquiesced in by the military authorities. But in one year—in fact, from 1st October, 1899, until 1st August, 1900—no fewer than 250, 000 men were placed in the field, including the Colonial contingents, and before the end of last year there had been 388, 000 men placed in the field. It cannot be gainsaid that this great Army has been provided in circumstances of unexampled difficulty, and that in spite of all these difficulties everything has been provided which was necessary for the conduct of war. These facts—they are seldom referred to—ought to be borne in mind by your Lordships before you turn your attention to such criticisms as we have just heard. It ought to be recognised that the production of this enormous number of men and their maintenance in South Africa was an enormous strain on a machine which was doing five times the work it was meant to do at the utmost. Is it fair, then, to assume, as the noble Earl below the gangway assumes, that the revelations as to the remounts is only the lifting up of a corner of the curtain which conceals the utter want of businesslike, administrative capacity on the part of the Government? It seems to me that this is generalising in a very rash and hasty way and without sufficient evidence. The facts I have mentioned seem to me, at any rate, to show that the Government is not so unbusinesslike as suggested, and also that those who make suggestions are not prepared to make any allowance whatever for the circumstances in which the Government acted. If, as I think is not 856 improbable, the profits made by the middlemen in the cases mentioned were excessive—and I fully admit that this is a question which ought to be thoroughly and drastically inquired into—I contend that it is most unfair to infer from that that the Government have displayed an absolute want of administrative capacity in the conduct of the war. I was surprised the other night to hear the noble Earl below the gangway draw a parallel between the inquiry which is now asked for and that granted on Mr Roebuck's Motion in 1855. I do not think that is a fair parallel. In Mr. Roebuck's own words at that time—The troops were without shelter, without food, without clothes, and without ammunition, and out of 54, 000 men sent from England at that time, there remained before Sebastopol only 14, 000 men, of whom less than 5, 000 were in good health.Is it to be wondered at that such a statement sent a thrill of anger and indignation throughout the length and breadth of the land, and is there any sort of reason for assuming that anything of the kind exists at the present moment? Is there any possible analogy between the condition of our Army in South Africa and that Army which was wasting away in the trenches before Sebastopol? We are accustomed to rhetorical language in this House, and we can discount it, but to use similar language to a popular audience in a provincial town to urge people on this small basis of fact and false analogy to get up an agitation against the Government is, I think, mischievous to the highest degree, and hardly consistent with those feelings of patriotism with which the noble Earl to whom I am referring is always actuated in his public life. I now turn to what is the real point.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
I do not think I have ever been fairly off the point; but I wish now to turn to the real point at issue—namely, the time of the inquiry. Nothing could be more general than the terms of the noble Lord's Motion, which is to inquire into all contracts and purchases made by the War Office, or on its behalf, for the outfit, supply, and maintenance of our troops in South Africa. It does not 857 seem to me to be businesslike to hold this inquiry when so many officers whose evidence may be required are at the seat of war, and I think it would be dangerous and mischievous that evidence in one direction, which might reflect on individuals until it was answered, and which could he answered by witnesses at the seat of war, should have to remain unanswered for a considerable time until they came home. I do not think my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth has had much experience of the administration of a large Office, but anyone who knows the work of a large Department knows how, pending an inquiry affecting that Department, business is dislocated and the staff almost paralysed by the necessity of producing and preparing the evidence and statistics required from day to day by a Committee of Inquiry. An inquiry so searching as the one now proposed could not be conducted without dislocating and paralysing business at a time when our paramount duty is to devote all the energies at our command to the successful prosecution of the war. The inquiries cited by the noble Lord who moved the Motion as having been already granted by the Government, such as that into the hospitals in South Africa, are in no way analogous to the inquiry which he seeks. I am certain that we are all, in whatever part of the House we sit, anxious not to impair the efficiency of the Government in prosecuting the war to a successful issue; but I am equally certain that if this Committee is granted the effect will be inevitably to produce that result. For that reason I shall, without the slightest hesitation, give my vote against the Motion.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I do not propose to take your Lordships over any of the ground which has been so ably quartered by my noble friend the mover of this Motion. I wish at once to associate myself with what was said by the noble Earl on the Woolsack, and to state that I do not intend either to attack or defend His Majesty's Government; but, with all due deference to him, I shall try to stick a little nearer to the Motion before the House than he did in the earlier portion of his observations. Nor shall I follow the noble Earl into the analogies of the Roebuck inquiry. As I understand, he supports His Majesty's Government in 858 resisting this Motion, and I can quite understand that the Roebuck inquiry, which led to the fall of the Government of that day, is not a very great invitation to His Majesty's Government or to its supporters to grant this inquiry. I entirely agree with the noble Earl on the Woolsack that the question raised by the Motion is one of circumstance and time, and it is for that reason that if we go to a division I shall vote for the Motion. It is a question for the present moment and for the circumstances of the present moment, because the people of this country are thoroughly uncomfortable about these contracts, and probably none more so than the Government themselves, whose odd reasons for refusing the inquiry are a sign of some sort of apprehension as to its result. In my humble opinion they had much better have the matter cleared up by an inquiry such as would follow the adoption of the Motion now before your Lordships. Moreover, I quite agree with what fell from my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth, that the advantage of having this inquiry now is that it is an inquiry quite separable from other considerations suggested by the war, such, for instance, as its good or bad conduct, its wisdom or the reverse. I repeat, therefore, that this seems to me preeminently a question for inquiry at the present moment. The noble Earl said that it would be impossible now to get the necessary witnesses, because most of them were at the front.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
But Mr. Bergl, Colonel St. Quintin, and Mr. Hartigan are not at the front, and would no doubt be quite willing to come forward and give evidence. I know that your easy-going agents have covered, in their operations for the purchase of horses, a very large portion of the world's surface, and when I was in South Africa I saw a great number of Russian remounts. Really, the activity of the Governments' agents reminds me of Bishop Heber's hymn:From Greenland's icy mountainsFrom India's coral strand.At all events, the Government's agents seem to have visited most of the countries mentioned in that fine piece of sacred verse. But it is much easier to get at these gentlemen now than it was in Bishop 859 Heber's time, and I cannot see that there would be any difficulty in the way of their coming to give evidence, whether they be in Russia, Hungary, Argentina, or the Western States of North America. By the way, I have heard that lately very large purchases of horses have been made in the Western States of North America. I understand that something like 17, 000 horses have lately been sold to the Government and have been delivered at Kansas City. I know the average price which should be paid for a remount in that part of the world, and as I am interested to know the price which has been paid by the Government for these horses, I will put a Question on the Paper at an early date.
To return to the Motion before the House, we are told that a piecemeal inquiry of this sort would do a great deal of harm; but this is a curious suggestion to come from a Government which, when the interests of their friends call for it, do not display any objection to piecemeal inquiry and piecemeal legislation, as the Agricultural Rating Act and the Tithe Rent Charge Act show. I have just come back from South Africa, and I am satisfied that the war is now being extremely well carried on. I agree with what the noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne said the other night, that in questions like that of remounts it is not quite fair to look only at what I will call the face price paid for the article. What you have to consider is whether you have got value for momey. The difficulty of forming any impression in South Africa is the great size of the country; you see so little. I went on trek for a short time with a column, and the cavalry columns I saw were very well mounted, taking them all round. I agree with what was said by the noble Earl on the Woolsack as to the completeness of the transport. One of the most distinguished of our column leaders said to me—"Whatever they may say about the war, it will put us the length of a whole street ahead of any other nation in the matter of transport, "and I should be glad if the noble Marquess who bore the hard stress of the period of surprise and crisis in the early part of the war could go out and see how efficiently the machinery which he has put together and developed is working now. But all this does not divorce me from my conviction that on these particular contracts a joint 860 inquiry of the kind we are asking for tonight would do good all round. It would, as I have said, satisfy a great many people who are very dissatisfied now, and, unless the Government are really nervous about something, I cannot help thinking it would also be to their own advantage. This Motion does not involve anything like an impeachment of the conduct of the Government. All we ask is that there should be an inquiry in the interests of the tax-payers. I do not believe that this Motion is in the nature of a Party move. I repudiate the suggestion, but I assert that the interests of the tax-payers cannot be served or properly protected by an indefinite postponement of this inquiry. When the division is taken I shall vote for the Motion with confidence and satisfaction.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (The Earl of SELBORNE)
My Lords, I do not think a greater disappointment could have fallen to the originator of the Motion than to have as a supporter the noble Lord who has just sat down. The noble Lord, in supporting the demand for an inquiry, gave very emphatic testimony as to the present efficiency of all those services which he desires to have considered and inquired into.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
I do not know that I quite said that. I am an honest man, and I spoke well of what I saw. I saw good horses and good meat in South Africa, but I should like to know what was paid for them. It is the contracts I want inquired into.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
No one who has the honour and privilege of the acquaintance of the noble Lord would doubt for one moment but that he would accord justice to those with whom he is brought in conflict, but I think the noble Lord has not apprehended the real draft of the Motion which your Lordships have been called upon to consider. I do not think that any of the arguments which he has addressed to your Lordships have really disposed of the very weighty arguments with which my noble friend on the Woolsack concluded his speech. I would ask your Lordships first of all to consider what is the nature of the proposed inquiry. It is to be by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. 861 I do not think that even a Royal Commission is a more serious or solemn tribunal that a joint Committee of both Houses appointed to inquire into the efficiency of one of the great Departments of the State. And what is to be the scope of the inquiry? The Committee are to inquire into all contracts and purchases made by the War Office, or on its behalf, for the outfit, supply, and maintenance of our troops in South Africa. Has any one of your lordships the slightest conception as to how many purchases and contracts those terms would apply to? I do not exaggerate when I say that these purchases are not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands in number, and that these contracts are numbered, not by thousands, but by tens of thousands, and they cover every month since the autumn of 1899—two years and a half of contracts and purchases by the War Office and on its behalf, affecting every single article which an Army in the field requires, affecting the ships which took those articles to South Africa, the outfit of those ships in every detail, every article of ammunition and offence, every article of clothing, equipment, and stores. The mere inventory of the points of the inquiry would occupy volumes. And who are the agents by whom these purchases and contracts have been made? They are, not a few, but hundreds of officers, not only in England and South Africa, but scattered throughout the world. It has been suggested by no less an authority than Lord Rosebery that this inquiry might at any rate be begun. Is it seriously contended that, having taken up the ease of one article of equipment or of one contract, when a bona fide suggestion has been made to the tribunal that all was not wise or well in the conduct of that contract, made, perhaps, two years ago, and when the question is asked by the Chairman of the Committee who has made the contract and the answer is "Captain So-and-so" or "General-So-and So" who is serving in the field in South Africa—is it suggested that there and then the Joint Committee shall shut up that matter, and that the inquiry with regard to that purchase or contract shall come to a full stop?
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I am exceedingly sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but my remarks had reference solely to the inquiry as to remounts.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I entirely accept the noble Lord's contradiction. But, without putting any responsibility for the suggestion on the noble Earl, is it not clear that that point must arise in the course of the inquiry? Is the inquiry to stop at a certain point with regard to one contract, and are the Committee of both Houses then to go on and fish for another accusation in reference to some other contract? Such a course would be perfectly impossible; it would be making a farce of this most solemn and important tribunal. And what about justice to the officer concerned? At the very least his competency is involved, and possibly his honour. Is he to be allowed to go on serving his country in South Africa while, in black and white, in evidence in London, is a suspicion, even possibly an indictment, against his competency, and perhaps his honor? Such a suggestion is preposterous. How can you expect a man to go on serving you cheerfully in the field when you hold the sword of Damocles over his head? There are three classes of people involved in the making of these contracts. The first class, and by far the smallest class—the only ones my noble friend mentions—are the casual employees of the Government. They are, of course, available to give evidence. The second class, and by far the most numerous class, are the men who have made purchases, not only in South Africa, but the world over. The immense variety of articles which have been supplied for the Army in the field have not been drawn from England only, nor from South Africa only, but from all parts of the world. Is the whole system of supplying the troops in the field to be disorganised by recalling these men to answer vague and indefinite accusations? The third class are the men in South Africa. The Commander-in-Chief is responsible above all other men for the contracts and purchases made in South Africa. Are you going to recall Lord Kitchener to answer to the Joint Committee of both Houses, or are you going to allow the inquiry to go on—the inference being natural in such circumstances that the real person responsible was Lord Kitchener—compiling a list of accusations, more or less serious, to which 863 Lord Kitchener on his return to London may be asked to answer by way of welcome?
The number of officers in South Africa who would be involved in such an inquiry amount to some hundreds, and include Lord Kitchener's headquarters staff. I am perfectly certain that the noble Lord would never have moved for this inquiry had he ever been at the head of a great spending Department. The whole country knows that for two and a half years the staff of the War Office have been slaving as only men can slave who have their hearts in the service of the country. I have myself a personal friend there, who has not had a single day's holiday from the beginning of the war till October last, having worked till midnight every day, and frequently on Sundays. At the end of October he was given three months leave, but he had not been away more than a week when he was telegraphed for to come back, and he has been at the War Office ever since. If these officials are called for examination before the Joint Committee, they will have to neglect their work in connection with the War in South Africa. Would the Joint Committee for a moment allow an official to state that he had not had time to look into certain matters upon which he was questioned? Certainly not. The officer would have to obtain the information, and while he was working up the evidence, he could not at the same time perform his duty to the troops in the field. The noble Earl and his friend have sot themselves up as the apostles of efficiency; but I do not hesitate to say that, if they wished to be instead the apostles of inefficiency, they could not possibly adopt a better method than that of turning the whole of the work of the War Office for the last two and a half years over to a Joint Committee of both Houses for investigation. I am told that this proposal is made in the interests of the tax-payers; but the interest of the tax-payers is that the war shall be efficiently conducted and speedily finished, and nothing, in my opinion, could so militate against the consummation we all desire, so far as the efficiency of the officers in question is concerned, than to require them to attend and answer to this inquisition 864 now, at a moment when the whole of their energies are required for the performance of their duties on the spot.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale, I do not intend to traverse the ground which was covered by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. I propose to devote the few observations which I shall make to the question whether this inquiry should be held now, or he postponed until the end of the war, for I understand that the necessity for some kind of inquiry is admitted by His Majesty's Government. It is true that it is not safe to act in a hurry, where matters of policy or of legislation are concerned, but I am not at all sure that where administration is concerned, the moment, I will not say of panic, but at any rate of public uneasiness, is not the right moment at which to make inquiry. In all our public offices there is such a dead weight of tradition, and also such a power of esprit de corps, which is very good in itself, that some great popular interest is needed for the holding of a really valuable inquiry. I venture to think that it is better that somewhat exaggerated charges should be made and inquired into, than that no attempt should be made at inquiry. As an instance, I would mention the original charge brought by Sir Blundell Maple in the House of Commons, with regard to remounts. I am quite prepared to admit that Sir Blundell Maple's charge was not altogether happily worded. It allowed people to suppose that imputations were made against officers, which Sir Blundell Maple himself afterwards denied. When the matter was considered by the small Committee whose Report caused so much sensation in the country, the blame of the Committee was practically confined to Sir Blundell Maple. There never was so polite a Committee; all the excuses that were made by the witnesses were anticipated by the Committee, and their shortcomings lightly passed over. I confess, therefore, that so far as Departmental inquiries are concerned, it is impossible, from the point of view of the public, to have any very great confidence that through them it is possible to get at the bottom of matters about which suspicion is entertained.
865 Suppose the inquiry is postponed for two or three years. Well, blunders of two or three years ago run a very fair chance of being condoned. It is argued by the First Lord of the Admiralty that it is impossible to get on the spot the men whose evidence is required. As to that, I presume, even when the war is over, that there will be a considerable force retained in South Africa. Those officers who are still kept out there will not then be available for the inquiry. Again, other officers will receive appointments in India or in the Colonies which they will proceed to take up with very little delay. It would, no doubt, be held to be most unfair to those officers that their careers should be interfered with by their being detained in England to give evidence before a Joint Committee whose inquiry would undoubtedly be a very long one. The fact is, it is impossible to get a perfect inquiry, or to suppose that every human being who might give valuable evidence on these contracts can be found in London at one given time. If, therefore, the inquiry must necessarily be in some respects imperfect, I think it would be less imperfect if held now than it would be by the nature of the case if held after the lapse of years. The noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty said it would be necessary to inquire into hundreds of thousands of contracts and purchases, and that consequently the task of the Joint Committee would be an almost insuperable one. As to that, my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth pointed out that he only suggested inquiry into four matters—namely, the contracts for meat, remounts, freights, and transports.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I cannot help what the noble Lord suggested. The words in the Motion are "to inquire into all contracts and purchases for the outfit, supply, and maintenance of the troops in South Africa. "
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
But after moving the Motion my noble friend proceeded to limit it to the four subjects named, and I have no doubt that the wording of the Motion could be easily amended. If it is difficult now to inquire into the matter, owing to the great number of people at present scattered all over the world who might have to be called, and 866 the enormous complexity of the subject generally, surely it will be infinitely more difficult two years hence to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the question. My noble friend the Chairman of Committees, who made what I venture to think was a speech on behalf of the Government, at least as good as any which could be made from the Bench opposite, dealt somewhat severely with the attitude of those who desire this inquiry, and he endeavoured to show that there was no, analogy whatever between the present case and the well-known case of 1855, when Mr. Roebuck's Motion was carried in the House of Commons. It is true that in one sense the cases are different; so, also, is the scope of the demand. Mr. Roebuck's Motion was to inquire into the condition of the Army, but there is no proposal in this Motion to inquire into the condition of the Army; and, so far, the scope of the two inquiries is entirely different. In looking back to the debates at that time, I am struck by the identity of the arguments now advanced against an inquiry with those urged against inquiry during the Crimean War. The arguments then used were that the unforeseen had happened, and that everything had had to be done in a hurry, that it was not a matter on which one Party had any right to blame the other, for they were all responsible, that great difficulty had arisen as to the numbers of the enemy, that everybody had believed that the war would have been of short duration, and that it would not be necessary for the troops to remain through the severities of a Russian winter, and that, therefore, it could not be supposed that the necessary provision had been made. You hear the same observations now. It was also argued in 1855 that that was not the moment for the inquiry, because the Duke of Newcastle, who was Secretary of State for War at that time, was engaged in a most searching reform at the War Office; and Mr. Sidney Herbert, who has left an undying memory of devoted public service at the War Office, used the very expression which has been made use of tonight by the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, for he said—Show me, if you can, an instance where so large a force—27, 000 men—was transported to the seat of war with such expedition, and landed with such success.All these arguments did duty then, and they are doing duty now. The noble 867 Earl on the Woolsack was rather hard upon us, for having, as he said, introduced some degree of Party feeling into the matter. I think it is not altogether disadvantageous, I will not say that Party feeling should be displayed, but that there should be a body of men opposed to the Government, who, without, I hope, any fractious behaviour, regard it as their duty to watch the operations of the Government with a critical eye. And when it is pointed out that matters of national defence should be regarded as above Party, I would remind your Lordships that in 1895 it was the question of a defect in the defence of the country which incidentally had the effect of turning out the Government of the day. In a matter of this kind it will not do to allow the Government to be the final judge; it is not only that their personal feelings may, to some extent, be involved, but every head of a Department has a loyal dislike to seeing his subordinates overhauled by an outsider. I hope it is not too much to appeal to your Lordships to set aside for once your adherence to Party ties, and to support my noble friend.
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, as one of those who voted for Mr. Roebuck's Motion in 1855, I should like to assure my noble friend who has just sat down that there is no real analogy between the present case and the state of things at the time of the Crimean War. In the latter case the Government had failed to carry on the war in a satisfactory manner. They had failed in supplying the Army in the Crimea with the necessaries of war, with a result that the troops suffered grievously on the heights of Sebastopol. Our Arm had sustained the honour and glory of British Arms, but the Government had utterly failed in supplying to the Army what was required even for their sustenance. Naturally, Mr Roebuck brought forward a Motion which amounted to a vote of censure, and for that Motion I had the honour of voting. I think we have some reason to complain of the vague charges winch had been made by noble Lords opposite with regard to remounts. The noble Lord who moved this Motion did not confine himself to remounts from Austria-Hungary, but referred to England and Ireland, and Lord Rosebery the other night also referred to 868 my county, Yorkshire. Now, we have sent out some very excellent horses from Yorkshire, and we believe that they have done extremely well. I have in my hand a letter from an officer in the Yeomanry who is engaged in supplying these remounts. He, with other officers, is naturally very much concerned at these charges, and he protests against the whole Yeomanry remount organisation being exposed to suspicion because some persons have been found acting dishonestly, and he states, as to the horses obtained by the Yeomanry Committee in Yorkshire, that they could not have obtained sound horses in peace time for less, and that the officers took more care of the Government money than if they had been buying for themselves. I thought there was much force in what was said by the noble Lord on the Woolsack as to the circumstances under which the contracts were made. Noble Lords opposite seem to have forgotten the stress that existed, and how important it was to supply the Army in the field with everything that was necessary for carrying on the war. Noble Lords opposite haggle about these things now, but if they had been in office I have no doubt they would not have carried on the war with any success. I remember Majuba Hill, and I am convinced that if noble Lords opposite had been in office we should have lost South Africa altogether. I feel bound in the circumstances to support the Government in resisting this inquiry. I believe this to be only a Party move, and I appeal to your Lordships to rally round the Government and support it in carrying on the war to a successful issue.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I came down to this House this evening with a perfectly open mind, not as to how I should vote, I admit, though I am even open to conviction on that point, but as to whether I should speak. I really am more compelled to speak, not on account of any references to myself, but on account of the references to the German waiter, rather than with regard to any great novelty of argument which has been produced on either side of the House. With regard to the speech of my noble friend who has just sat clown, I am quite sure he is sincere in his intention to rally round the Government, which he says it is the duty of every Member of this 869 House to do, and I am quite sure, too, that his exhortation will be listened to in a favourable spirit by your Lordships. I myself am of opinion that the Government will have a majority on this occasion, which is quite according to precedent, and, I believe, not unknown in the annals of the past. My noble friend said that if noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench had been on the other side of the House, the conduct of the war in South Africa would have been inefficient, and that we, or they, would have lost South Africa. He is, of course, quite open to entertain those opinions; but I do not know how anybody who cannot see into the books of destiny can be quite confident in that opinion. He has referred particularly to the Roebuck inquiry. He will remember that the result of that inquiry was to upset a Conservative Prime Minister, who had proved himself inefficient, and to substitute for him a Liberal Prime Minister.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord is mistaken. I was in those divisions. Surely that is not the case. It was Lord Palmerston who was upset.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
It was Lord Aberdeen, a highly successful Conservative predecessor of the noble Marquess, both in the Foreign Office and as Prime Minister.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If you include him as a Conservative Prime Minister. I never thought of that.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Then I do not know what a Conservative Prime Minister is. It is not for me to define him, but at any rate Lord Aberdeen answers to the ordinary definitions of Conservative Prime Minister. He served as Foreign Secretary under the Duke of Wellington, and subsequently under Sir Robert Peel; and he led the House on the Conservative side until he headed a Coalition Government. Anything more Conservative I cannot imagine; but, if the noble Marquess disowns him, I will not press the point. Then my noble friend proceeded to point out that the cases were totally different, because the war in the Crimea had been inefficiently carried out by this anomalous Prime Minister, whereas, in the present case, it has been most efficiently carried out by what I hope I may call a Conservative 870 Prime Minister. I can only say, as regards that, that I think even my noble friend will admit that the end of the war is somewhat officially overdue. I do not know whether he is conversant with the declarations of his leaders on that subject, but I think he must be aware that the war was over in October, 1900, and that we are still engaged in warlike operations of an anomalous description, which answers very much to the purposes of warfare. Then he read a letter from Yorkshire with respect to horses. I am quite willing to give up the case of Yorkshire, which weighs so much on my noble friend's mind. But he must remember that the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, who spoke with such efficiency the other night, and whose speech seems to have been altogether overlooked by the noble Earl on the Woolsack, who spoke of these as purely Party debates, brought forward a very strong case from Yorkshire of a noble Lord who offered four horses in his stable to the Remount Commissioners. They selected the worst, disdaining his advice, and for horses he was prepared to take £5 for they paid £80 or £100. I do not want to labour these points. They are, I admit, ancillary to the purpose of our debate; but I wanted in a friendly manner to remonstrate with the veteran survivor of the Roebuck Committee on the points he has raised against us. This debate had a somewhat ominous commencement. I do not mean in the speech of my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth, which I still venture to think is almost an impregnable statement of his case, but in the appearance of the noble Earl on the Woolsack. I know that on occasions when Governments are criticised it is usual to bring forward some noble Lord, an impartial person, integer vitœ scelerisque purus, and who descends, as it were, from the heavens above, and gives an impartial verdict on the subject before us, and in which he invariably leans to the Government that has instructed him in the matter. I hope he will not mind my saying that he produced almost the impression of having a brief, which I seemed to see peeping out of his coat pocket.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
I should like to explain that I have had no communication whatever with the Government, 871 about the speech which I have made to the House, and that my facts were entirely derived from the Return placed before the House.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
It is, as I suspected, one of those pious impulses which always arise in debates when Governments are censured. When my noble friend on the Woolsack rose to address us I was for a few moments deceived into the belief that the illustrious seat which he occupies in the temporary absence of its distinguished occupant would impart, by some electric process, some judicial aspect to his observations. But I was soon deceived. We had all the old remarks about the patriotic duty of an Opposition, that, in fact, it is to obliterate itself and never to offer any criticism of any kind on the Government to which it is opposed. He offered those remarks in a perfectly impartial spirit, but they amounted very much to what partisans on either side of the House are apt to say, and I decline to think that the mere fact of his being on the Woolsack imparts to his observations that severely judicial character which I am sure he would wish them to assume. I came in for a considerable amount of the judicial scourge in the course of his summing-up. First, it was, I think, about the waiter. Let us say something about the waiter. I am the more ready to mention him because I observe that he produces a general feeling of geniality and hilarity in the House such as is produced by the Under Secretary for War when he addresses us. People seem to think it is a very wonderful thing that anybody should attach any weight to the evidence of a waiter: I really do not know why a waiter is to be put outside the confines of humanity and disbelieved on his oath. But, after all. you must remember that the waiter in question is not even the ordinary waiter with which your Lordships are familiar; but he is a head waiter, who is the manager. The noble Duke the Duke of Devonshire laughs. I hope he sees nothing disreputable in the character of a manager. He is the manager of an hotel; and by-the-by—I am now referring to what fell from the Under Secretary for War the other night—I would say that 872 inquiries point out that there are two luxuriously fitted-up hotels in this place where the horses were bought. So that the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War was either deliberately misinformed by his informant or else he was instructed by people ignorant of the facts of the case.
Of late I have had a great deal of attention devoted to me by junior members of the aristocracy; but one of them for whom I have the most sincere regard, and who is connected with the War Office, is reported to have said—I am not sure that he was rightly reported—that he should be ashamed, that he should blush, or do whatever is right in the circumstances, if he believed the word of a German waiter against the word of a British officer. That was obviously directed against me, because I am the person who read the affidavit of the German waiter; but I have, fortunately, not been put in the position of that compromising choice, because I have never heard what the word of the British officer is against that affidavit. I believe it would be a very good thing: if the officers who were charged with having their expenses paid by Mr. Hauser—I do not know who they are—were to rely on oath by affidavit to that charge. It would, at any rate, to some extent clear up the situation. I only brought forward the German waiter as one of the indirect pieces of evidence, proceeding on sworn affidavit, which seemed to show that there is some scandal, if I may use the word in the presence of the noble Earl, that must be cleared up. Of course, if German waiters or anybody else are allowed to go on swearing these imputations on agents of the British Government, they will come to be believed; and it is part of the argument for an immediate and prompt inquiry that these officers may have an opportunity of asserting on oath what actually took place and so clearing any cloud that may rest even momentarily upon their fame. The noble Lord on the Woolsack repudiated the word "scandal." He said it was a word much too commonly used. I do not think the noble Lord has read tile Blue-book. Has he read the account of Captain Hartigan's evidence of the corrupt agreement he drew up to introduce Mr. Lewison, of whom he knew 873 practically nothing, to the Remount Department? If that be not a scandal, if a contract drawn up on stamped paper, which can be produced in a Court of Law, giving him 2½ per cent. on all purchases made by the Government, be not a scandal, I really am very much at a loss to know what a scandal is, and I am inclined to think that if the member of the Government who usually sits in that exalted position were occupying it tonight, he would not be able to deny that there was an element of scandal in the state of things revealed in the Blue-book.
I beg the noble Earl's pardon for interrupting him. Captain Hartigan was a private individual when he made that contract with Mr. Lewison. I do not quite see where the scandal is as regards the War Office or the Yeomanry Committee with reference to Hartigan.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I never mentioned the War Office or the Yeomanry Committee, I said there was a scandal in connection with Captain Hartigan and the purchase of these horses, and I said it requires investigation. If you put it off to the end of the war you are not likely to see much of the people concerned. Now we come to the Roebuck Committee. My noble friend on the Woolsack rebuked me for having alluded to that Committee. He said there was no analogy whatever between the Roebuck Committee and the inquiry into the remounts. I do not think the noble lord can have read my speech. I do not think he could have listened to me even in this House. I did not plead it as an analogy for an inquiry into the remounts, because, of course, the circumstances are different. The Roebuck Committee was a much more large and exhaustive inquiry than that we are asking for. I only cited the Roebuck Committee, both here and at Liverpool, to show how different was the spirit of Parliament in those days and the spirit of Parliament now. I cited it to show that in the days of Lord Palmerston and Lord Aberdeen private Members of Parliament were not afraid to assert their own opinion, and to vote against the Government when they saw reason to believe that there was a scandal to be inquired into. That was the limit of my 874 allusion to the Roebuck Committee, and I hope the noble Lord will on some future occasion explain how it is I was destitute of patriotism in that allusion. Of course, I do not wish to take too high a line in this matter. If the Government are indifferent to an aspersion much more upon them than upon their officials, then it is only for us who think differently on this subject to shrug our shoulders and pass on. If they do not believe that the state of things revealed by the Remount Committee does indicate the necessity for further and drastic inquiry, that is their affair and not ours. The responsibility lies with them and not with us. If they are not so sensitive as we are with regard to what is said all over the Continent and in half the daily papers in England about what are called in the organs of public opinion—I do not care to use the word myself—"these scandals, "that is a matter for the Government, not for us. But let them remember one thing, that the postponement of inquiry has a very deleterious effect on their position. My noble friend Lord Tweed-mouth cited cases in which they were compelled to make inquiries, and where they had inquired, without any serious inconvenience, where they were perfectly able to inquire. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in his picturesque and animated speech, attempted to prove a great o deal too much. He quoted the case of a friend of his, to whom I trust a statue will be erected in front of the War Office, who had had no holiday since the war began, and who, when he had a holiday, was recalled by telegraph. He argued from the analogy of this black swan that it would be impossible for anybody at the War Office to find a moment's time to give evidence before any Committee.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
It is not what you said, but what your argument comes to, otherwise I do not see the force of pointing to this unfortunate gentleman without a holiday. The noble Earl said also there were hundreds of thousands of contracts—
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Contracts and purchases, and that they affected a large number of officers now in South Africa, and even Lord Kitchener himself. He drew a picturesque scene or conjured up a vision of Lord Kitchener returning from South Africa, and instead of being met with all the paraphernalia of a triumph, being confronted with the gaunt form of a Joint Committee. I think these are fantastic imaginings. I do not imagine any noble Lord honestly thinks that Lord Kitchener or any leading officers in the field are affected by any evidence that is likely to be given about contracts. The noble Earl also drew a picturesque view of these officers suffering agonies from the imputations on their conduct contained in evidence before the Committee. Now I do not take such a gloomy view of the state of mind of our officers in South Africa. I doubt if any one of them has the slightest reason to fear any evidence that may be given before the inquiry. What I do think they may dislike is that these charges should be bandied about perpetually in the public Press, and more especially in the responsible organs of the Press, while the only answer given on the part of the Government is—"Postpone all this until the war is over, let everything remain unanswered until the war is over, we are prepared to bear the responsibility until the war is over." Cynics may say that at the real end of the war— not the official end— we shall all be in a state of great jubilation and triumph, and I myself shall be so pleased that I shall hardly wish to look back on the past at all, and I confess I shall be much more languid about inquiry into the question of remounts then than I am now, and that, I take it, is the average state of mind among the population. It is at that moment the Government promises us, not merely an inquiry into remounts and contracts which we now hear involve hundreds of thousands of articles, and before the war is over may include millions, but an inquiry into every branch and detail of the conduct of the war. Why, the Siege of Troy will be nothing to it! If such an inquiry is really conscientiously conducted it will last for ten years it will be buried under scores of Blue-books, and nobody but an 876 antiquarian when that inquiry has taken place will have the slighest interest in its results. That, I am afraid, is the scheme of the Government in postponing this inquiry until after the war. I myself had hoped that this was not their plan; I hoped that the very reasonable proposition of my noble friend would be accepted, that they would be prepared anxiously and chivalrously to clear themselves at the earliest possible opportunity, but from the state of the Benches opposite I see that is not their course. I regret it, I deplore it, in their own interest. At any rate, I feel that, whatever the result of the division may be, we have done our best to impress on the Government the gravity of the issue before us, and the responsibility and result does not rest with us.
THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOVVNE
My Lords, my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has so well expressed the arguments upon which we rely in resisting this proposal that I will add very few words to those he has spoken. The noble Lord who introduced this subject began his speech by declaring that the issue before us is simple, and so it is. It is not whether there shall be an inquiry or not, but whether that inquiry shall be now or at a later time. It was unnecessary for the noble Lord to remind us that it is a constitutional right of Parliament to institute inquiries, and it was not necessary for him to travel over old ground to show that there is a primâ facie case for investigation. We will not dispute that the allegations made demand inquiry, and up to this point we agree. But, meanwhile, I cannot help thinking that it is scarcely to the public advantage that we should occupy ourselves in disputing across the floor of the House as to whether a certain horse which cost £26 ought to have cost £20, or whether meat supplied at 5¾d. per lb. should have been bought at a lower figure. We are ignorant of the circumstances and conditions in which the transactions took place, and consequently we discuss them at very great disadvantage. Upon the question whether inquiry should take place at once or stand over, I say at once, if we on this Bench consulted our personal convenience and predilections we should unhesitatingly vote for immediate in- 877 quiry. It would be far preferable that these charges should be gone into and that we should know where we stand than that there should be an indefinite postponement, and we should have the additional advantage that we should be spared these weekly discussions, which, for all I know, may be repeated at the same interval of time as the session advances. I should have thought that if anyone was interested in not relegating this subject to an inquiry which would have the effect of withdrawing it from Parliament, that feeling would be found on the other side of the House, because if this subject were withdrawn from the cognisance of the House and relegated to a Joint Committee the Opposition would, so far as I can see, be deprived of the one topic upon which they are able to join forces for the purpose of attacking the Government. But, while we deny altogether the charge of the noble Earl below the gangway that we wish to avoid inquiry, we have to consider other aspects of the question to which I cannot help thinking he has not given sufficient attention. I desire to support as strongly as I can what my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has said as to the deplorable effect that would be produced on the efficiency of the public Departments if at this moment while the war is going on they were made the subject of a far-reaching and hostile inquiry of this character.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Well, I will not use the word hostile if the noble Earl does not like it, but the whole character of the suggestions showed a hostile attitude.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Well, I will say an attitude of suspicion. The noble Lord has had a large experience of public affairs, but not so much of the inside of a public office as my noble friend and I. We know perfectly well that it is impossible to expect any officials to give not only the whole of their time, but of their attention, while 878 they are conscious that these charges are hanging over them, and that inquiry is in progress, which will require them to tax their memories in order to prepare their defence, and to turn their thoughts in the direction, not of holding their own in the public interest against the wiles of contractors, but in the direction of making good their case under the cross-examination of astute Members of Parliament. Another reason why inquiry should not take place at the present time is, that beyond all doubt a great number of the persons whose evidence it would be necessary to take are beyond our reach. The noble Lord has spoken as if the only testimony that would be required would be that of the persons engaged in making these contracts, but, surely, if inquiry is to produce the desired results, we should require not only the evidence of the persons who bought the horses, but of the men who rode them; not only the evidence of the men who made the contracts for meat, but of the officers and men who consumed it. It is only in that way that you will get the most important portion of the case—that part which goes to show, not only whether the price paid for the commodity was the proper price, but whether the quality of the horses, of the meat, or of the fodder procured was good or bad. My noble friend Lord Crewe, protesting against the postponement of the inquiry, said that if we put it off, all the indignation of the country would have evaporated. I should have thought that if this inquiry is to be conducted in a judicial spirit it would be better that some of the animus and indignation which may have distorted the public view should have had time to pass away and be replaced by a calmer and more moderate attitude of mind. We have heard something of precedent. We have been told that we ought not to resist inquiry, because we have already granted inquiry into hospitals, concentration camps, and remounts. These three inquiries, however, were of a very special and restrictive kind, and do not compare in any degree with the more far-reaching kind of inquiry to which your Lordships are now asked to consent.
But if we are to refer to precedents, I will venture to lay before your Lord- 879 ships a precedent much more to the point. In 1884, after one of the Egyptian campaigns, there was a great outcry against alleged shortcomings — I will avoid using the word scandals—in the Transport and Commissariat Departments, and a House of Commons Committee was appointed. That Committee sat, and had not concluded its inquiry at the end of the year 1884. At the beginning of the year 1885, a Motion was made for the reappointment of the Committee; but at that time another phase of the Egyptian operations had commenced. The Nile Campaign and the Suakin Expedition were in progress, and my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire, who was then Secretary of State for War, resisted the Motion for the reappointment of the Committee upon the very ground upon which we are resisting it this evening —namely, that while operations were proceeding in the field it was not desirable that there should be an inquiry of the kind. The case to-day is infinitely stronger than the ease which at that moment Lord Hartingdon put before the House of Commons. In the first place, the operations now proceeding in South Africa are of a much more serious character; and in the next place the Committee which sat in 1884 had already commenced its operations, and had taken a great deal of evidence, so that the inquiry was actually cut short in 1885 with the consent of the other House of Parliament on the ground that it could not be carried on without danger to public efficiency. These arguments still weigh with us, and we believe that it will be contrary to the public interest that this inquiry be commenced at once. But when we say that, we have no idea of shirking the inquiry, and we undertake that if at the proper time that inquiry is demanded we shall certainly not stand in the way.
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I shall stand in this place but a very few moments before the division which I suppose will take place; but there are one or two things which have been said in the course of the debate to which we ought to give sonic answer. We have often been twitted in this House by my noble friend who is usually on the Woolsack, and who tonight is absent—I am sure we all regret the cause—with asking Questions 880 and founding debates upon them without coming to a vote, or even a Resolution. We thought that on this matter, after the frequent discussions we have had on the several subjects comprised in the discussion, we ought to test the opinion of the House by making a Motion. With regard to the First Lord of the Admiralty's reference to the great scope of the inquiry, my noble friend would be perfectly ready to confine his Motion, if such were the desire of your Lordships, or if such a change would induce your Lordships to agree to the Motion, to limit it to four subjects—remounts, meat, freights, and transport. The noble Earl now sitting on the Woolsack at one moment said it was our legitimate business—our duty—to find fault where it could be found with the Administration, and yet further on in his speech suggested that we were actuated by Party spirit. That has been answered by my noble friend below the gangway. But I should like to add that I maintain that we should have been singularly wanting in our duty if we had not brought this subject before your Lordships; because we think a very serious scandal has occurred in regard to these various contracts, and that it is to the public advantage that debate should take place, and that inquiry should be made. I admit the great difficulties in which the Government found themselves at the commencement of the war. I quite admit there was a greater emergency than they had foreseen, and that they had to arrange gigantic operations, probably on a larger scale than had ever been arranged in this country before.
I fully admit that the War Office has had too great a burden put upon it, and in some ways has not received the amount of credit deserved for having sent out such a large force to South Africa. But while making that admission most freely, I think we must throw great blame on the Government, not only for their want of foresight, which in many cases prevented them from dealing, with these questions in time, but for the manner in which they ultimately did deal with them. The questions of the contracts are very serious indeed. It is a gross scandal that the middleman in one instance should have pocketed 881 out of £110, 000 something like £44, 000, and on the meat contract the same kind of thing can be said. The case for a Committee has been admitted by the noble Marquess. The head of a great Department always feels that he is bound to make his Department as efficient as possible, and that if he cannot secure efficiency and any scandals arise he is always liable to be called upon by the Houses of Parliament to account for his inability to carry on the administration efficiently. The argument used regarding the effect upon the Department of such an inquiry is a reductio ad absurdum. Such an argument would prevent inquiry into even greater scandals. I totally deny that a great office could be so disorganised in the case of a necessary inquiry as to be perfectly inefficient. A primâ facie case for inquiry having been made out and admitted by the Government themselves, the sooner that inquiry is given the better. There is a point with regard to precedents. In the year 1856 there was an inquiry, which I remember very well, that was made by most distinguished general officers at Chelsea. That inquiry was made in consequence of the report of two very able men who were sent out to the Crimea on purpose to investigate the charges made. I do not say such an inquiry as that can be held now; but in the case of an inquiry such as we propose that precedent of obtaining evidence on the spot could be followed, and able men could be sent out to obtain evidence and bring it home. I will only use one further argument, which seems to me of great force, and that is that the Government themselves have allowed several inquiries lo take place, though, perhaps, of a somewhat different character to that we now propose, namely, that with regard to the Medical Department, and that with regard to the Concentration Camps. Not only did the Government institute those two inquiries, but they also appointed a Departmental Committee over which Sir Charles Welby presided; and, although that Committee never left London, the result has been to disclose a state of things which certainly was not creditable to those engaged in the Department. Why cannot the precedents thus set by the Government be again followed in this case? I feel 882 that we are perfectly justified in the Motion we have brought before the House, and I shall certainly, with the greatest confidence in the patriotism of the act, vote for the inquiry which it proposes.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Earl who has just sat down has touched on very many different subjects and has wandered over a wide field of controversy, and if I rise now it is not for the purpose of following him into those devious paths, but in order to remind him of the points that are actually at issue before us. The noble Earl has spoken of former inquiries which he said estop us from offering any objection to the inquiry now suggested; and as an illustration in argument he went back to the year 1856 and said there was a Commission appointed in that year which should force us to accede to the proposal now made.
§ EARL SPENCER
I only referred to the fact that they sent out two able men to obtain information which the noble Marquess opposite said could not be obtained except by bringing officers home.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There would, therefore, be no difficulty in carrying out the inquiry But our objection to an inquiry now is that from more than one point of view it would seriously hinder the prosecution of the war; in the first place, because, as has been well said, it would paralyse the administrative1machinery by which the war is carried on. The noble Earl who has just sat down denies that. He seems to think that, if the War Office had only the good fortune to be presided over by a sufficiently virtuous public officer, there 883 could be no hindrance to its operations in consequence of an inquiry like this being carried on. I am surprised to hear the noble Earl make such an observation at all, and I am sure that his experience of public life cannot carry him to that conclusion. I remember very well an inquiry conducted in time of peace under Lord Randolph Churchill into the fighting Departments of the Government, and I remember hearing the bitter complaints of the extent to which all business was brought to a standstill while the officials were getting up the case they had to submit to the Committee. Of course, men will not submit to have the case decided against them, and their own defence shut out, because they are compelled to spend their whole day and time in considering their duties and giving up their powers to the public service, and are not able to make that elaborate investigation into the past history of transactions which is necessary. The effect of an inquiry, in the first instance, I have no doubt would be very seriously to limit the pace at which the War Office can go. As matters now stand, it is worked to the utmost. Every opportunity it has is devoted to the public service, every hour it can spare is taken up by the absorbing demands of what, remember, is the largest expedition which has ever been sent out from these shores. That expedition can only be carried out, initiated, and sustained by the constant, unremitting efforts of the officers upon whose shoulders the conduct of the expedition is thrown; and if you take them deliberately from their proper duties, and insist that, instead of their performing those duties, they should employ their days and nights in answering a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, you will undoubtedly feel the result in a diminution of the fervour and effect with which the war is carried on, That, on that side, is our answer. Commence this inquiry now and you diminish the power of the Government and of the War Office for carrying on the war, and you will see a diminution or a retarding of the prosperous results as the effect of the imprudent course you have taken.
But then there is the other side of the question. You cannot investigate what is alleged against these men without 884 summoning not only them, but all who have had an opportunity of bearing witness as to the matters which are called in question. There has been talk of hanging the inquiry up. Yes, but just look at the imputations that are made. I do not wish to repeat them for fear of seeming to give emphasis to them and of drawing graver inferences than the circumstances admit; but you can not think of the whole story which we have had with respect to the remounts in Germany, and the whole story we have had with respect to the prices of the meat that was sold for the sustenance of the Army, without seeing, though there may have been no such intention on the part of those who have brought these things up against the Government—without seeing that, if a verdict hostile to the Government and to its servants is adopted by the public mind, the honour of many excellent and perfectly guiltless men will be seriously impeached; and when you have set up a machinery to impeach a man's honour you cannot say: "We cannot go on with the evidence just now, we will hang the inquiry up until the war is over. "All the time you are dawdling over it these accusations are being repeated, exaggerated, and carried through the length and breadth of the land; and you not only seriously damage the reputations and prospects of the officers brought in question, but you inflict upon those who, as members of an honourable profession, feel, more bitterly than any other persons can do, the severest mental torture; for you are telling them that in the sight of their countrymen it is to be an open question for many years whether they are honest men or not. You have no right to inflict such an injury upon them; and, if you suggest fetching them home, of course it must be obvious that with so large an army, scattered in various places, performing various duties, you cannot summon them away from the front and bid them to give up their military work without very seriously affecting the efficiency of the forces by which the war is being carried on. Well, what is said on the other side? You will undoubtedly do great harm to the work at the front, and you will undoubtedly do great harm to the reputation and interests of these officers. And for what 885 reason? Why are you bringing this inquiry forward at this moment? The noble Earl on the Cross Benches told us that the war might be compared to the siege of Troy, and that it would be ten years before the investigations of the Committee, When they were begun, would terminate.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is not much encouragement to us to commence the investigation; because whether the war ends sooner or later an investigation which lasts ten years cannot be considered of much value. What noble Lords opposite say is that when the war is terminated we shall not be in so good a position for investigating these matters as we are now; that we should seize this opportunity, when everyone is so much excited about the matter, to enter upon the inquiry; and that we shall never again have the chance of conducting it under such favourable circumstances. I think the indignation of the public was the particular quality which the noble Lord who moved for the inquiry pressed upon us as a reason why we should accede to his proposal. If you asked noble Lords opposite why we should order the generals to come back from the front to give evidence, they would reply "To keep up the indignation of the people. "
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am trying to understand them as best I can. I admit they were a little cloudy. Evidently the view is that the officers are to be recalled from the front for examination because the British public would lose their indignation if the subject were allowed to be delayed. They say that if a wait of one or two years were to take place no one would care a bit about the inquiry; that when peace comes the people would be throwing up their hats and would forget to obtain justice for the delinquents. I object to disorganising the public service and to paralysing our military operations in order that we may keep up the fever of public indignation which is necessary to support the Motion of censure brought forward by the noble Lord. I am afraid the noble Lord must be content to work in a cooler atmosphere. He must be content to wait until the feelings of indignation are entirely evaporated; and I can give him very little hope that, if the British public do examine this matter quietly and impartially, and not under the frenzied inspiration of the noble Lord, they will do otherwise than decide that, considering the difficulties they had to meet and the tremendous task that was thrown upon them to do, the Army fulfilled that task in a manner such as no army that had ever been sent forth from the shores of England ever fulfilled it before.
§ On Question, their Lordships divided:—Contents, 25; Not-Contents, 88.887
|Northampton, M.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Reay, L.|
|Ripon, M.||Brassey, L.||Ribblesdale, L. [Teller.]|
|Carrington, E.||Burghclere, L.||Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)|
|Crewe, E.||Coleridge, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Durham, E.||Davey, L.||somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)|
|Lonsdale, E.||Denman, L.||Tweedmouth, L.|
|Portsmouth. E.||Hobhouse, L.||Welby, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Monkswell, L. [Teller.]|
|Battersea, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Devonshire, D. (L. President. )||Bath, M.||Derby, E.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Landsdowne, M.||Doncaster, E. (D. Bucclouch|
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal. )||Zetland, M.||and Queensberry.)|
|Argyll, D.||Pembroke and Montgomery,||Dudley, E/|
|Marlborough, D.||E. (L. Steward.||Essex, E.|
|Northumberland, D.||Camperdown, E.||Feversham, E.|
|Wellington, D.||de Montalt, E.||Hardwicke, E.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Denbigh, E.||Harrowby, E.|
|Howe, E.||Brampton, L.||Manners of Haddon, L (M.|
|Ilchester, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton. )||Granby. )|
|Lauderdale, E.||Chesham, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly. )|
|Lichfield, E.||Churchill, L. [Teller. ]||Newton, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Colchester, L.||Pirbright, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Rathmore, L.|
|Morley, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Revelstoke, L.|
|Onslow, E.||De Mauley, L.||Robertson, L.|
|Romney, E.||Farquhar. L,||Rothschild, L.|
|Scar bourgh, E.||Gage L. (V. Gage. )||Rowton, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Glenesk, L.||Sherborne, L.|
|Stamford, E.||Harlech, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington. )|
|Stanhope, E.||Harris, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul)||Southampton, L.)|
|Waldegrave, E. [Teller. ]||Hothfield, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E.|
|Frankfort de Montmorency,||James, L.||Galloway. )|
|V.||Kelvin, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Knutsford, V.||Kenyon, L.||Tweeddale L. (M. Tweeddale. )|
|Addington, L.||Lamington, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss. )|
|Alverstone, L.||Lawrence, L.||Wenlock, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Lilford, L.||Wimborne, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Lindley, L.||Windsor, L.|
|Belper, L.||Macnaghten, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.