HL Deb 06 July 1908 vol 191 cc1163-88

*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE rose to call attention to the recent Report of the Royal Commission on Horse-breeding and to the question of the provision of horses for military purposes, and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is not necessary for me to detain your Lordships at any length this afternoon in introducing the subject of which I have given notice. It is really a corollary of a debate which took place in your Lordships' House two years ago, when several noble Lords had the opportunity of placing their views at some length before the House. The debate on that occasion, I think it is not exaggerating to say, displayed a serious state of affairs, and a state of affairs of which there has been no active amelioration since that date, though I am the first to admit that something has been done in the field of inquiry.

Shortly after the debate to which I refer, the noble Earl opposite, the President of the Board of Agriculture, was good enough to summon a number of those of us who are interested in this subject to a conference at the Board of Agriculture—a conference which, I think, was of very great educational value. A number of other conferences have also taken place. There was one at the United Service Institution, there have been some, I think, at the military headquarters, and there was one about ten days ago following upon a banquet of a club interested in military matters and to which many of your Lordships belong. The views, therefore, of very many people have been placed before the Government, and I do not intend to repeat those views at any great length. My purpose this afternoon is to ask His Majesty's Government whether, with the expert knowledge now at their command, they intend to take any definite action in the immediate future. One cannot help feeling that during the last two years the position of affairs has become much more serious. Two breeding seasons have been lost, but I sincerely hope that we are not going to lose a third.

At one of the conferences to which I have referred a distinguished officer from the War Office was good enough to attend and to tell us the latest mobilisation requirements of the Army in the matter of horses. This officer told us that in order to mobilise all our troops we required 173,000 horses. Of this number 59,000 are required for the cavalry, and 17,000 for the Reserve. The wastage of war will probably cause a rehorsing in six months, and at the end of the year, therefore, there will have been taken 180,000 horses for the cavalry alone. The resouces of the United Kingdom are roughly 1,500,000 horses; but only 150,000 of these are fit for cavalry use. Therefore in this country at present we have 30,000 fewer horses than we should require in the first year of a war. That is serious enough, but the position is getting worse, for the birth-rate is decreasing.

In England, according to the latest figures which I have been able to obtain, there were 10,000 fewer foals in 1906 than in 1905. In Ireland there were 1,450 fewer brood mares and 1,250 fewer recreation horses, as a result of a comparison of those two years; and I was surprised and horrified to hear a distinguished ex-Governor of an Australian Colony state at one of the conferences to which I have referred, that the same tale of decrease is to be told in respect of Australia and Canada; so that we are becoming more and more dependent on the foreigner and less and less on ourselves. But at the same time our export of horses shows an increase. In 1904, we exported only 32,955 horses, but in 1906 we exported 60,400; and your Lordships will, of course, realise that foreign buyers do not come to England to buy our worst horses or our average horses, but our best. Whereas in 1904 we had in this country 208,000 horses under a year old, in 1907 there were but 184,000, and in Ireland there has been a decrease of 11,500 horses in three years.

Your Lordships will remember the difficulties which this country experienced in obtaining horses for the South African war. If I remember rightly, we required for that war, roughly, half a million horses, and we had the markets of the world open to us. We cannot lay down as a fact that in any future war in which we may be engaged we shall find similar facilities for the supply of the horses we require; but, even apart from that, it is not exaggerating to say that if a war were upon us now our difficulty in getting horses would be infinitely greater than it was ten years ago. In almost every direction you find an increase of difficulty. Every one of your Lordships who read the Report of Lord Elgin's Commission will remember that far and away the most satisfactory thing in connection with the horsing of the Army in South Africa was the successful result of the employment of the London 'bus horse as an Artillery horse. Everybody spoke well of them; but at one of the recent conferences a director of one of the London omnibus companies said that at this moment 80 per cent. of the London omnibus horses were foreign born. I only mention this in passing to show that it is not a satisfactory feature, and that even the horses which proved the most satisfactory that we had to deal with in South Africa cannot be produced in England to a greater extent than 20 per cent. Obviously, therefore, something must be done.

Activity is called for on the part of the Government, and by activity one means extension of organisation, and extension of organisation, of course, means money. We do not want quack remedies. I was surprised to see, in an account of a speech made the other day by a distinguished soldier who is interested in this matter, a proposal, put forward, I hope, not seriously, that the motor car deluxe should be discouraged by heavy taxation, the money to go, not to the improvement of the roads, as has been suggested by my noble friend behind me, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, but to go to horse-breeding. I do not think that my noble friend who represents the War Office would himself adopt that as a practical remedy, but it is interesting as showing what extraordinary schemes are put forward. We do not, as I say, want quack remedies. It is only Government action that can help us to deal properly with the competition we are suffering from at this moment on the part of foreign Governments. The question resolves itself under two very simple heads—firstly, what is to be done; and, secondly, who is to do it?

In answer to the question what is to be done, there are, to my mind, two essentials that must be considered. In the first place, there must be a large extension of what is now done for stallions. At present the Royal Commission are able to offer twenty-eight King's premiums for stallions, and these I believe to be wholly insufficient to ensure breeding solely from good stallions, or to ensure that all our best stallions are not taken out of the country by foreign Governments. This action must be extended and increased. I do not wish to suggest that we should extend it to the extent that foreign Governments have gone. I believe the French Government owns 2,500 stallions. I do not suggest that we should try to emulate that example, but I mention the figure as showing that whatever we do now is totally inadequate when compared with these figures. I believe the Irish plan is a good one. In Ireland facilities are given by the Government to enable private individuals to purchase good stallions, but that does not go far enough. Personally I should not hesitate to support a Government which proposed to make it absolutely illegal to charge a serving fee for any stallion unless it was already passed and certified as sound by a Government inspector.

I hope the Government will do something also as regards mares. Many of our best mares are now leaving the country, having been purchased by foreign Governments and individuals abroad. They are thus lost to us for breeding purposes. It is a regrettable fact that a mare bought for the Army is equally lost. I believe it is a most exceptional thing that a mare once bought for the Army is ever used for the purpose of breeding. The Army system is that once they have got a horse they work it until it drops, and by the time it drops it is not a very good subject for breeding purposes. I do not intend to go into detail on the subject of what is required for mares. The details are before your Lordships in the Report of the Royal Commission now lying on the Table. Suffice it to say that something must be done to re-stock districts with suitable mares, and at the same time to ensure that their progeny is not entirely lost for the purposes of further breeding. We require, in fact, to build up our stock in the districts from top to bottom for breeding purposes.

Something has been done without cost to the public, but not enough to cause amelioration to the extent required. But I think enough has been done to show that from small beginnings and small expenditure satisfactory results do follow, and results such as would justify the most timid of Governments—I am not now referring to the present Government—to take a plunge. I am informed that in one district eleven mares were placed out under observation at a cost of £15. I do not pretend that the noble Earl opposite will be able to organise any districts at a cost of 25s. per mare, but I mention the figure as showing that with very little initial expenditure something can be done, and that a moderate expenditure may really be expected to have a great result.


They were not bought for £15.


No, they were presents, but the distributing organisation only cost £15. I now come to the second question: Who is to do this? The Royal Commission has hitherto been the only authority interesting itself in this question in a practical manner and although there have been certain attacks lately made on the Royal Commisssion, I certainly do not desire to associate myself with them, and, above all, I do not wish to rush in between the two assailants. I think everybody will admit that the Royal Commission has for twenty-one years done excellent work with almost starvation resources, and the public owes them a most sincere debt of gratitude for the good work that has been gratuitously done by the individual members. The Reports they make from time to time, the twelfth of which is now before your Lordships, contain almost invariably information and advice to anyone interested in horse-breeding. They have always known their own minds, they have advocated certain measures of amelioration ever since they were formed, and it has only been want of funds that has prevented them carrying out their original policy. A policy of premiums is not, I believe, what they would consider their first and their principal remedy. They were forced back upon their second line of policy for want of funds, but I think everybody will admit that their second line of policy has been a very successful one. I am informed that the success of the premium system as regards the main object with which it was instituted—that is to say, the promotion of soundness—is shown by the fact that with an annual production of 783 foals from premium horses their descendants won 498 prizes in 1907.

But if the work of the Royal Commission is to be extended, or, to put it boldly, if the Treasury is to provide more money for this kind of work, I cannot disguise from myself the fact that they are more likely to provide it if it is to be spent under the supervision of a Government Department. Therefore, if the necessities of the case make some sort of reorganisation necessary—I believe they do—I would content myself by saying that I hope the benefit which the public has received from the advice of this body of experts for the past twenty-one years will not be lost, and that we shall continue to enjoy the advantage of the assistance in some form or other of the individual members of the Royal Commission. What is it, therefore, that the Government have to hand? They have the fruits of twenty-one years of experience; they have the reports of conferences innumerable, in the course of which everybody interested in the subject has been able to put his view forward; and they have in the Papers before your Lordships certain schemes which I claim have acted successfully, though only on small lines. I hope, therefore, that before this debate concludes, the noble Earl opposite will be able to tell us that he means to push forward vigorously, both as regards organisation and expenditure, towards an object, upon the advisability of reaching which I take it we are all agreed.

Moved, "For Papers relating to the question of the provision of horses for military purposes."—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I must first thank the noble Earl for the flattering tribute he paid to the modest, if painstaking, operations of the Royal Commission. The noble Earl said, at the conclusion of his remarks, that if a grant was likely to be given to supplement more substantially what has been done by the Royal Commission, it would be more willingly given by Parliament if vested in a Government Department rather than in the present Royal Commission. Although as a Commissioner I might have liked to have had notice of that proposition, speaking off-hand I find myself in agreement with him. The noble Earl also said that this is a subject which invariably lends itself to repetition. I have noticed that anything to do with horses always does. I will, however, try not to repeat what I have previously said and what the noble Earl has said, arid there is no necessity, I think, for me to give again the figures with which he has already dealt in the best possible way to bring the present state of things home to the House. I was very glad that the noble Earl who moved this Motion did not adduce an argument which I have constantly heard brought forward, namely, why does the richest country in the world only give £5,000 a year to horse-breeding, while France gives £200,000, and Austria £220,000? I was glad that argument was not used, because the cases are not comparable, we having no extended land frontiers to protect.

I do not like bounty-fed industries. I dislike extremely any restriction on the free current of supply and demand, and I think the sombre picture of our horse possibilities is often overdrawn and the jeremiads about it are very often overdone. Yet at the same time I find myself in agreement with the noble Earl in that, with all these reservations in my mind, we are at present face to face with a combination of various circumstances which, if it becomes normal, will be certainly insecure, and in the emergency of a sudden outbreak of war would at once become extremely hazardous. I rest myself for this on the words of Lord Carrington a few months ago when he told a company of his countrymen that horse-breeding occupies a thoroughly unsafe and unsatisfactory position. No one will accuse the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture of being a pessimist about any of the duties that are committed to his charge. When he says that, I think we may believe that he is citing what is the actual state of things, and we may credit him with a sincere determination to get this position into a more agreeable prospective in view of occurrences which might arise.

As the noble Earl who has just spoken said, we are considering especially the provision of public service horses—artillery, cavalry, and transport. The noble Earl said a good many things about 'bus horses which I will not go into, but I say "ditto" to him on those points. While we may look upon it from the Army point of view, we have also got the consumer and the taxpayer's point of view inextricably involved. We are all taxpayers, many of us are interested directly or indirectly in agriculture, we are all concerned with an efficient cavalry, and as a House we have always been particularly connected by the public with a knowedge of and liking for anything to do with horseflesh. I remember the late Lord Pembroke used to say that there was only one subject which did interest the House of Lords, namely, anything to do with horses. So that such seed as is sown to-night seems to me to have the benefit of being sown on more or less prepared ground.

In my opinion what we have to consider is whether the taxpayer can be honestly recommended to give a little more, either directly or indirectly, for public service horses, and whether agriculture by some practical covenant of this kind can be induced to breed more horses of the type and quality required, from which Army purchasers can select their requirements and anticipate the foreign purchaser, whose operations are represented by some people as being almost piratical, though as a producer of horses I cannot take quite that view myself. I am told that only the other day the powers that be at the War Office, acting in harmony with the powers that be at the Board of Agriculture, came to the conclusion that a good thing would be for the Government to buy three year-olds. That I believe to be a matter of cardinal importance, and it would be the most important step taken since this question has been prominently before the public. It would give an especial stimulus in England. I believe that the great majority—certainly over 70 per cent.—of the horses for the Army are bought in Ireland. They are purchased when four years old. The Irishman has an aptitude for horses which the Englishman does not possess. He has a country which is practically unfenced, and he naturally wishes to keep his horse till it is four years old. If he does not like the animal then, he is willing to sell it at remount price, but he is not willing to sell a three-year-old. But there are lots of people in England with small fenced holdings, and the very last thing they want is a wild and well-bred three-year-old knocking about the place with no one to look after him. That man is willing to sell a three-year-old, and I, as a taxpayer, would run the risk of buying a three-year-old. The foreigners are quite good enough judges to come here and buy our three-year-olds.

I rather agree with the noble Earl that if something is going to be done, it need not be a very large sum. The Government have already a good deal of experience, and active machinery is at hand which has been more or less perfected by the Brood Mare Society, the Hunters' Improvement Society, the farmers' clubs, and the district committees which do a great deal of useful work for the Royal Commission. The noble Earl referred to quack remedies. Speaking as a taxpayer I am not fond of very heroic remedies, represented by the figures which I see constantly advocated in the Press and by enthusiasts on this subject. Having had twenty-one years experience in this matter, and having agitated on the question in a more or less quiet way—without robbing myself of a night's rest or getting locked up for storming the House of Commons—I say that the present Minister for War is the only Minister in my experience who has given any real direct attention to the solution of this difficulty. He is, I believe, acting in the most harmonious relation with the President of the Board of Agriculture. No doubt both Ministers are in the usual difficulty in which I believe Ministers invariably find themselves when they want to do anything which costs money, the difficulty lying in the taxpayers' pocket and the ever-increasing accounts of our national housekeeping books. I am certain that the man we have got to convince is not my noble friend below me or my right hon. friend the Minister for War—the man we have got to convince is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who very properly keeps a jealous care of his key and is responsible to the taxpayer for the money he finds. What I think all who are interested in this particular question have to do is to make out a sufficiently good case on its merits and of not too heroic dimensions, which will convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a grant such as that recommended by Lord Donoughmore, not of a very large amount, but of a considerably larger amount than that which is at present at the disposal of the Royal Commission.


My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of the noble Earl who has brought this subject before the House, because I think it is quite impossible to exaggerate the importance of it both from a national and from an Army point of view. I think the fact that we have admittedly lost the predominant position we used to occupy as a horse-breeding country and the fact that the Royal Commission has told us that the country has been swept of stallions, mares, and three-year-olds render it imperative that the Government should do something to try and arrest a further denuding of the country of horses suitable for military purposes.

To my mind it is impossible to disguise the fact that it is altogether beyond the power of private enterprise to cope with this question. It can only be dealt with by State aid and under scientific direction, and, in spite of what Lord Ribblesdale has said, on a scale which has never before been contemplated in this country. The public have never realised how great the danger from a military point of view is. Otherwise they never would have acquiesced in the miserable sum of £5,000, which is all that has been allowed to the Royal Commission for the encouragement of horse-breeding. In foreign countries all this is very differently managed, and every encouragement is given to the breeder to produce good cavalry horses. The amount spent in France is, I believe, £300,000 a year, and not £200,000 as has been stated; in Germany, £190,000; in Austria-Hungary £370,000; in Russia, £500,000 per annum; and Italy, £54,000. It is small wonder that our cavalry should not be so well mounted as foreign cavalry, and that our horses should be of a decidedly inferior character to the horses of France, Germany, and Austria. I have this on the very best authority, and I do not think it is a matter of which this country can be proud. As far as the question of land frontiers goes I can hardly agree with Lord Ribblesdale, because we have almost the largest land frontiers in the world in India and in Canada.

In discussing this question it is quite impossible to separate the two problems, the civil and the military. Unless we can get the farmer to produce the horse, the Army, of course, cannot get it, and, conversely, if the breeder cannot get a market other than the normal market of the Army it will not pay him to breed. The normal number of horses we want annually is 2,700, but on mobilisation that number would rush up to 170,000. It is between these two figures that the great difficulty exists, and I hope the noble Earl the Minister for Agriculture will be able, to give us some idea of how this is to be remedied. The other day Lord Newton asked the Under-Secretary of State for War how soon the Territorial Army would be able to mobilise, and Lord Lucas replied, "Instantly." I ventured at the time to ask whether arrangements had been made for the horses for the Territorial Army on mobilisation, in addition to those which would be required for the Regular Army. The noble Lord replied that the horses were in the country, and that the question was receiving due consideration. I have very grave doubts as to whether horses for the Territorial Force on mobilisation exist in the country.

It has been admitted that if we were to mobilise the Regulars at once we should be 54,000 horses short. I understand that the Artillery alone require 18,000 horses; only about 5,000 are available for the purpose, and since what I may call the passing of the 'bus horse the balance is very much more difficult to get. The figures which the War Office have supplied are largely conjectural, and I think it is of the greatest importance that there should be a census of the horses in this country, and that they should be properly classified. There is no doubt that what are called general utility horses are getting fewer year by year, because it does not pay farmers to breed them. What they breed are cart horses and show horses, but these are of no use for military purposes. The public do not realise that of the 21,000 Yeomanry less than one-half have their own horses, some 11,000 being hired, and, what is more, these are hired over and over again, with the result that it would be impossible for all the Yeomanry regiments to go into training at the same time. In the case of some of the London regiments they are entirely horsed, I believe, by Mr. Tilling, who stipulates that they should not train simultaneously, as three men cannot ride one horse. I think that is a serious matter. Every Yeoman in the country ought to have a horse registered which could be immediately claimed on mobilisation.

Reference has been made to a discussion which took place the other night at a meeting of the National Defence Association, at which Lord Ribblesdale read a paper. There were present at that meeting, besides the Minister for Agriculture, a great many officers, some now serving in the Remount Department and some who served in the Remount Department at an earlier date, most of them with war service. Officers of the Artillery, Cavalry, and Yeomanry were also present. Mr. Tilling, who is, I believe, one of the largest jobmasters in London, was there, and an agent, who told us that during the last forty years he had supplied 37,000 horses to the French Government. Mr. Eagan told us that in some years he had supplied them with as many as 2,500 horses. Last year he had only sent 300 horses over; he might have had a contract for 800 but could not find them. Mr. Tilling also stated that during the last fifteen years the price of a bus horse had gone up from £10 to £15, and that he had the greatest difficulty in finding them. The general opinion of those present at this very representative meeting seemed to be that the general utility horse was getting more and more difficult to find. They also thought that the numbers would not be forthcoming in an emergency. They suggested the importance of the retention of mares in this country, because they said that as long as we had racing here there would be no difficulty in getting the stallions. They also represented that it would be better if we could buy our horses at three years old instead of four years old, so as to prevent them being taken abroad.

I know I shall be told that instead of spending a great deal of money now the best thing for us to do will be to buy horses in the event of emergency, but I very much doubt whether we shall be able to do this, as in the case of a European war foreign Governments and staffs would see to it that the Continental markets were closed. Luckily the Boers overlooked this question; otherwise it can hardly be doubted that they would have done something to close the markets in Europe, while, with the large amount of treasure they then possessed, they might very easily have bought up all the horses in the Argentine. They meant to beat us all the time by their horses, but, unfortunately for them and luckily for us, they underrated our power of buying. It is very unpleasant to think of what would have happened to us supposing our supply of horses at that moment had failed. The waste of horses at the beginning of the South African War was very great. Going up to the relief of Kimberley the Cavalry Division was practically wrecked. I find no fault with that, because I think the game was quite worth the candle. In my opinion the relief of Kimberley and the surrender at Paardeberg perfectly justified the sacrifice of horses, but it is very painful to think what would have happened to us if that Cavalry Division could not have been remounted owing to the closing of the European markets, and if we could not have got horses for the very large number of mounted men required towards the end of the War.

We shall, of course, be able to get a certain number of horses from our colonies, but the number will be limited, and it must be remembered that every transport will have to be protected. I have pointed out these matters because I think they are worthy of consideration by the man in the street, who does not really appreciate the gravity of the situation. Lord Carrington told us, at the end of our discussion the other night, that the present state of the horse question in this country was a national disgrace. I hope the noble Earl will tell us to-night how he is going to remedy that disgrace. In conclusion, I would say that I do not see any use in encouraging breeding for the benefit of the foreigner; what we want is some scheme by which the horses we have can be retained in this country.


I should like to ask the noble Earl one question. Does any one know, within half a million, the number of horses in Great Britain and Ireland at the present moment?


All the horses in the United Kingdom? Two million and eighty-seven thousand.


If the noble Earl will turn to Page 86 of the Agricultural Statistics, 1907, he will see that this total refers to horses for agricultural purposes, including mares kept for breeding and unbroken horses. That is the very point I want to bring out, because, so far as I can learn, nobody has the least idea—apparently not even the President of the Board of Agriculture—as to how many horses are in the streets of London, and the other great cities and elsewhere in the country. I believe that only one gentleman has attempted to solve this, and he was a Cambridge professor, whose book is, I believe, in the possession of the Board of Agriculture, and he gives a very different return. The first move before we can begin to discuss the question is to have a census of all the horses in the country. That will have to be done by law, and the horses should be classified as to their suitability for military purposes, and the annual veterinary certificates as to their fitness should be returned. The horse question is studied in every country but our own. In France and Germany every officer has a sealed envelope containing directions as to where his horses are, and where he is to send them in case of mobilisation. We have no sort of mobilisation orders in this matter. The War Office the other day issued an an Order that no horses should be recruited for the Territorial Army until the whole of the horses required for the Regular Army had been procured. That throws back the mobilisation of the Territorial Army to an unknown date. It is absolutely the fact that only on one occasion has there been a real census, and that was when the late General Gatacre, who was a very hard-working officer, had every horse in Wiltshire properly marked down. Before we can possibly get much further in the discussion of this subject we ought certainly to inform ourselves of the number of horses we have in this country, and the only method of doing that is to have a census enforced by law in order to get it thoroughly done.


My Lords, I do not propose to intervene for more than a brief moment between your Lordships and the reply of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture. By his public utterances the noble Earl has given rise to very high hopes in this matter. He has told us very plainly indeed that he is impressed with the arguments which have been uttered not for the first time to-night by my noble friend behind me who was Under-Secretary for War in the last Government. He has told us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a great duty to perform. He did not tell us quite what that duty was, but I think we can fairly guess—it is to keep his pocket buttoned-up as closely as he can. But the noble Earl went on to say that he had great hopes that he would be able to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do something to overcome the difficulties referred to to-night. I wish to associate myself entirely with all that fell from my noble friend with regard to the work of the Royal Commission. The work of that Commission has occasionally been subjected to criticism, but I am quite certain that in all its Reports, and perhaps in this twelfth Report more than any, we have the most valuable contributions to the question of horse-breeding that any country could possibly desire to have. It is equally true that, if my noble friend succeeds in softening the heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would be very difficult to do so to the extent of inviting him to increase the funds at the disposal of the Royal Commission. But I hope that there will not be any feeling between the members of that Commission and the President or the staff at the Board of Agriculture. I cannot myself, from some knowledge of the inner working of that office, see any reason why the Royal Commission might not very well work as the handmaid of the Board of Agriculture. I know there are extremely capable officials in that Department, but I am not prepared, to say that they are equipped with special knowledge of the question of horse-breeding, and I think that special knowledge might easily be provided by the members of the Royal Commission. I sincerely hope that the noble Earl will be able to tell your Lordships to-night that it is the determination of the Government to deal seriously with this question. Every year it becomes more apparent that the horses available in this country in case of war are becoming fewer and fewer, and I can assure the noble Earl opposite that if he wants any support in the operation of unbuttoning the pocket of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he will get that support from those who sit on this side of the House.


My Lords, the Report of the Royal Commission, which has been introduced to your Lordships' notice in an excellent speech by the noble Earl opposite, is a double-barrelled Report. It deals first with the question of horse-breeding and the supply of military horses, which is very interesting and important; and, in the second place, it deals with a speech of my own made about sixteen months ago, which I am afraid is neither one nor the other. I can assure the House that, so far as the Board of Agriculture is concerned, the best possible feeling exists towards the Royal Commission. I am afraid I got rather into a scrape by making the speech which is noticed at length in the Report. Perhaps I may read my exact words. I said— Almost the whole time of this conference was taken up by speeches of the members of the Commission, who enlarged on the need of more money but proposed no plan for dealing with the question. I made a mistake. The best of us do that sometimes, and I apologise to the members of the Royal Commission for having used the plural for the singular. One member of the Commission made a somewhat lengthy speech which took up one-fifth of the time of the conference. The other members made excellent and pithy speeches, all to the point and many of them embodying excellent suggestions; but each of them said he was speaking for himself individually, and not for the Commission at all. I was right, therefore, when I said that no scheme was put forward by the Commission as a whole.

But the Commission's first Report contains a scheme which is practically complete, in which the policy of the Brood Mare Society is said to be probably the best means of dealing with the question. That is a great compliment to Mr. Algernon Turner and the noble Earl opposite who have taken a great interest in that society. The other proposal is that the Government should purchase the very pick of the most desirable stallions in addition to the premium stallions. On the face of it, that seems to me rather a tall order when the income-tax stands at 1s in the £[...] The Commissioners is their Report (page iv.) refer to the formation of a haras and state that the formation of a haras ought to be accompanied, they think, by a scheme for providing liberal premiums for competition by stallions; and in Paragraph II. they say— From these views the Commissioners have never departed. On the other hand, the idea of a haras has been condemned by Lord Donoughmore, by the Director-General of Remounts, by Sir Walter Gilbey, by Mr. Algernon Turnor, and others, and when such experts disagree it is not for me to decide the point. I do not, therefore, propose to take up your Lordships' time further in regard to that matter.

The last proposal of the Royal Commission is that, to encourage breeders, a large and liberal addition should be made to the prizes offered at agricultural shows; and for these three recommendations it is proposed that a grant of £25,000 should be given to the Royal Commission, in addition to the £5,000 already granted, making a total of £30,000 a year. Of course, it is not for me to say whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer of either Party would be willing to meet that demand. I think all will agree that the Report of the Royal Commission as it stands is extremely valuable and full of useful information. It contains many valuable suggestions from both individuals and societies, and, although the Report may not have given satisfaction to everybody—that, I think, is an impossibility—I heartily agree with the noble Lords who have preceded me that the country ought to be very grateful to the members who have attended the meetings of the Commission so regularly, and who have given so much of their time and done so much on so small a subsidy; and I think the thanks of the country are especially due to my noble friend behind me, Lord Ribblesdale, and to the Duke of Portland, who, I believe, were the original parents and promoters of the movement.

Before I leave the Report altogether there is one clause—Clause 45—to which I take exception. It is a damnatory clause, and, in condemning the present Government it says that seventeen months have elapsed and the country is still left without the aid and encouragement of the horsebreeding industry which is so greatly needed and is of so vital importance. That is perfectly true, but what struck me immediately on reading that clause was that if we are so much to blame for having done nothing in the matter for seventeen months, are not other people still more blameworthy for having done nothing for seventeen years? Still I know the tu quoque argument carries no weight in the country, and I will not pursue it; but I think the charge is a little unfair. When the present Government came into office two and-a-half years ago a great many agricultural matters required attention. We have been able to pass eight agricultural measures. It was not until the session of 1907 that we were able to take up this particular matter in earnest. As soon as I was able to deal with it I approached the War Office, which was very sympathetic and helpful, and we tried to frame a practical scheme which would meet the difficulties.

I will state, as clearly and briefly as I can, the proposals which eventually we mean to bring forward. We are face to face with two things. We have to encourage horse-breeding generally and to secure a reserve supply of horses of a class from which remounts for the Army can be obtained. We have heard this afternoon that the Army buys 2,500 horses annually at five years old; they pay £40 apiece, making a total of £100,000 a year; so that the War Office are a very fair customer of the tenant farmers of England and Ireland. Then we are told that 70,000 horses would be required on mobilisation of the expeditionary force, and the total number required to bring the units up to war estalishment is 174,000, of which 59,000 would be cavalry horses, a certain number would be artillery horses, and the others would be heavy draught horses necessary for the Army Service Corps and the wagons. This total of 174,000 includes the horses for the Territorial Force, but I do not propose to touch on that question now. The object is to get a scheme for the expeditionary force first, and then, afterwards, in concert with the lords-lieutenant and the County Associations, we will endeavour to find a scheme for the Territorial Force. The chief reason for having separate schemes is to avoid overlapping. Your Lordships will learn with satisfaction, on the authority of the Director-General of Remounts, that the present supply of horses in the country would probably nearly meet the requirements of that Department. The known number of horses in the country is 2,089,000. Those are agricultural and young horses, but that number does not include the horses in the towns.


How many horses are there in the towns?


I was coming to that. The noble Lord's proposal that a census of the town horses should be taken is a very good one. That is a proposal we have under consideration. We wish to know what horses there are in private and public stables, in the omnibus and cab stables in the big towns in England. It is no use being an alarmist, and I think my noble friend Lord Lucas will bear me out that there is no immediate cause for alarm. If the horses are wanted at once they are there. We have that on the authority of the Director-General of Remounts; and, of course, we should be able to take these horses in case of invasion.


Does the noble Earl know approximately how many horses there are other than agricultural horses in the country?


That is what I was endeavouring to explain. There is no census at the present moment—


In fact, you have not the least idea how many there are?


Of course, there have been guesses, but I would prefer to stick to the statistics we have, if noble Lords would not mind.


The noble Earl spoke of getting at the number of active horses in the towns. Is he under the impression that there is a census of the active horses in the country, including those which are the property of private owners? I do not remember any one asking me how many I had in my stables.


We have a Return of the number of horses in each part of the United Kingdom up to 1907. The total is 2,089,000. In addition, there are all the town horses of which it is suggested we should also have a census. We should then know, to within two or three hundred, practically how many horses we have in the towns and in the country.


I do not think the noble Earl has answered Lord Ribblesdale's question. Unless Lord Ribblesdale's hunters are taken out to draw the garden mower, or are used for some agricultural purpose, they would not come under this Return.


We shall have to have an inquisition of my noble friend's horses as well. I believe the number of hunting horses in the stables is known.


By whom is it known?


Is it not the fact that nothing is known of any horses whatever except agricultural horses?


That is so, but we are considering the best way in which a census of the town horses can be obtained as well.


And all the country horses?


I suggest that what is required to be known is the number of horses which would be useful in an emergency, and if you do not get that the census would be no good at all.


I quite agree. I think this is wholly a question of machinery and detail. We have, under our scheme, to get an advisory committee, and we shall be glad to have the advantage of the advice of my noble friend and of any one who will be good enough to help us so that we may get the total number of horses in town and country in England and Ireland.


I should like to ask—


Really, my Lords, this is becoming so very irregular that I must protest.


As I have said, this is wholly a question of machinery and detail. Though there is no alarm for the present, the future does cause the War Office no little anxiety. As the noble Earl opposite has said, there were 10,000 fewer foals in 1906 than in 1905, and, therefore, it is the duty of the Government, in the agricultural interest as well as in that of the Army, to take the whole matter in hand. The scheme is practically the registration of a large number of suitable stallions, say 500, and of a large number of suitable mares—we ought, eventually, to have no less than 25,000 brood mares. The registration of their stock would be approved by the military authorities, but no brood animal would be accepted unless, first, it was passed by a civil veterinary surgeon for breeding purposes, and, secondly, by a remount officer certifying it as suitable for the Army. All registered animals would thus be officially certified as sound. That is, I think, a most important matter, because it would discredit, if it did not altogether knock out, the unsound animals that are now travelling about the country. The ultimate object, and it would not take many years, would be to secure the breeding annually of 15,000 foals of the various classes registered, so that we might be able at a moment's notice to put our hands on the 70,000 horses required in the case of sudden mobilisation. That relates entirely to the First Line, and does not bring in the Territorials at all.

Then we propose to give a special fee to the stallion owner, in addition to the covering fee, for every registered mare which is found to be in foal to the registered stallion at the end of the covering season. I know a good many people would sooner see the money go to the mares, but I am not certain that this plan would be the better of the two. If you gave a certain amount to each travelling stallion at the end of the covering season it would amount to a very considerable sum, and it would make the owners of these stallions missionaries in the movement. When a mare was brought to the horse the owner of the stallion would ask: Is she registered? If she were not registered he would not get the additional fee, and, therefore, he would urge the owner of the mare to get her registered and procure the certificate of soundness. In that way we think we should have 500 travelling missionaries in the country desirous in their own interests of getting the mares registered. It is also proposed to assist the owners of mares in some cases by the payment of the whole or part of the covering fee. This is intended to assist the small farmer, but the payment of such fees on a large scale could not be undertaken.

Then there is the proposal, which originated and was very much insisted upon two years ago in the speech which the Duke of Portland made on horse breeding in your Lordships' House, of the purchase of three-year-olds, instead of five-year-old horses. Your Lordships will see that there is a supplementary report advocating that by Sir Walter Gilbey in the Report of the Royal Commission. The difficulty up to the present time on the side of the War Office has been in looking after these three-year-old horses when they have been obtained. The cavalry commanding officers do not want them in their stables; they want animals in a hard condition that they can depend on. Then there is the great expense involved if you have harases or depots where the horses are looked after during the two years which are the most dangerous in their existence. The French plan is to buy three-year-olds in the autumn. The mares are purchased in March or April, and are left with the owner, who feeds and keeps them under inspection and in good condition at light work. But each year a Government stallion is brought into requisition. The foals remain the property of the breeder, and then the mare is taken over by the military authorities in her sixth year, when her second foal is weaned.

Then comes the question of expense. The establishment expenses are necessarily very heavy. The cost for the five or six-year-old horses that pass into the ranks of the French Army is £70 or £80, as compared with £40 here. Some means must be found, if possible, to carry out this idea in a cheaper way. The idea is that all the young horses should be left with their sellers until such time as they were required, a monthly payment being made for their keep for not more than two years. Then it would have to be discussed as to what should be done with the mares and the horses, but the foal would be the property of the farmer who sold the horse at three years old. The Army Council would agree to inspect the produce of all breeding stock at three years. This would mean an inspection of, we hope, from 12,000 to 15,000 young horses annually, so as to keep a lien on the three-year-old horses. Then a report would be made to the Board of Agriculture on the remainder of the 12,000 to 15,000 young horses, which would be placed on the register of young horses. Then we should know pretty well what position we were in.

It is next proposed that the Board of Agriculture should be assisted in carrying out the scheme by a consultative committee, on which we hope to induce the representatives of the leading societies who have done so much good in the past to give their aid—such societies as the Brood Mare Society and the Hunters Improvement Society—as well as noble Lords and other persons whose disinterested activity in the cause is a household word.

There is only one matter I have not dealt with and that is the question of cost. The noble Earl opposite joined organisation and expenditure together. We can be responsible for the organisation, and, with the help of the advisory committee, we hope we may be able to do something practical. But expenditure comes under an entirely different head. We have worked out satisfactory figures among the departments concerned, and I am glad to say that we have the entire co-operation of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, and of the Army Council. The question of expenditure is now being examined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though I need hardly remind your Lordships that the commitments of the Government at present are very large. It would be, however, to the best interests of the nation that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have all his liabilities and all the requests submitted before he gave any definite pledge, even on such an important subject as this. The scheme will depend entirely for its success on the support given to it by horse-owners and persons interested in horse-breeding. I hope that, though the scheme may not please everyone, it will receive support, for it is by some such method as this that the country can alone hope to deal with the question which has in days gone by been a practical danger, and which is considered to be, in present circumstances, a national disgrace.


I should like to ask the noble Earl whether there is anything in the Government scheme to prevent the foreigner from entering into competition with the Government in either buying mares or their produce; or are they earmarked for the Government in case of war?


I am glad that the noble Lord has taken up that question. There is nothing whatever in the scheme to stop the ready sale of horses abroad. I venture to think that that would be a very dangerous thing to do. There is nothing in the scheme to prevent a man from breeding the best kind of barouche horse, or a high-class hunting horse, and exporting it; but we are trying to get enough of the "misfits" and to make them into a better class of horse than they are at present, so as to enable a ready sale to the War Office of horses which are not wanted for other purposes. But there is nothing to hamper the great horse-breeding industry, which brings a great deal of money into this country.


Do I understand that we are now to have a return of all horses in town and country under a proper classification? I think it is clearly admitted that we have no return whatever except as regards what are called shire horses. Does the noble Earl now intend to have a full return?


I am afraid I have not been able to make myself understood. My great desire is to get a census of all the horses in the country, and I hope my noble friend will give me the benefit of his advice and assistance.


My Lord, I do not desire to press my Motion. I would thank the noble Earl for the trouble he has taken in putting, his scheme before us this evening. It would be ungracious on my part to criticise it at such short notice, but I hope the noble Earl will continue pressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the sooner something is done the better. I am sure he will have the unanimous support of your Lordships in pressing him. I may say that I am a little alarmed at the use of the word "misfit" as applied to the horsing of the Army. We have heard of a great many kinds of horses this evening, but I should be sorry to think that the noble Earl's scheme would have such a small result as perhaps would be suggested by his last remark. I hope it will be kept in mind that we want to retain our best horses for ourselves. I am confident that something in the direction of placing difficulties in the way of the foreigner coming in and purchasing our best horses is necessary, and I am not at all certain at the moment that what is now suggested is enough.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.