HL Deb 26 April 1916 vol 21 cc832-4

My Lords, I desire to ask the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he will state what is the present position in Mesopotamia. My reason for asking this Question is that I think the Government of India have been too long inclined to adopt the attitude of that bird which thinks all is well as long as its head is buried in the sand. At the present moment we know very little of what is going on in Mesopotamia. We do not know why the policy which first actuated the Government of India has been departed from. Apparently the idea originally, in November, 1914, was simply to send a single Division in order that the oil wells at Abadan should not be cut off. That was successfully undertaken and the oil wells were protected, and also access to the Persian Gulf was cut off from the Turks. I should like to ask why these operations did not stop there.

It is important also that we should know who was responsible for the advance to Kut, and, further, who ordered the advance to Baghdad. The country would like to know whether it was Lord Hardinge who ordered that advance, or whether it was ordered by that august body of twenty-three who manage our affairs in other directions not very successfully. I cannot help thinking that it must have been the Twenty-three when I remember that the Prime Minister, referring last November to the Expedition to Baghdad, used these remarkable words— I do not think that in the whole course of the war there has been a series of operations more carefully contrived, more brilliantly conducted, and with a better prospect of final success. Surely this statement by the Prime Minister suggests that the Government had thought out some plan, and believed that there was going to be a magnificent march to Baghdad which would have great effect.

What has occurred? There has been one disaster after another in Mesopotamia. We know that General Townshend, against his own wishes, was sent to Kut. He has there been shut up for many months apparently without any possibility of relief, and for a long while we have had no news us to the present state of things. I hope the noble Lord will be able to assure us that General Townshend is quite safe, that Kut is still in the possession of British troops, and that as far as he is able to judge there is no possibility of Kut falling. I should also like to know whether the noble Lord can assure us, in view of the futile attempts that have been made up the present to relieve Kut, that the relieving force is properly equipped as regards men, ammunition, machine-guns, and everything necessary. One hears unpleasant remarks that the Government of India did not realise what a gigantic operation this was, that the troops that were sent were not properly equipped, and that this is one of the reasons why there have been such very heavy losses. I do not think the noble Lord will be able to inform your Lordships that everything has gone well with the relieving force. We, of course, are able to judge only from the reports that are published—no doubt censored reports. We have only such information as His Majesty's Government are good enough to allow to be published in the Press; therefore we are unable to judge of the actual state of things. If my noble friend says that the giving of further information is against the public interests or against the interests of the troops there, I will not press for it. On the other hand, I do think we should be informed as to what is the present position in Mesopotamia, whether all is going well, and whether everything is in train for the relief of General Townshend, and should be told that we are not to believe the reports from Turkish sources that time after time we are being driven back, and that apparently the relief of Kut is as far off now as it was some three or four months ago.


My Lords, the Question which my noble friend has placed upon the Paper only came to my notice this morning, as it did to that of your Lordships. Therefore I had not an opportunity of informing the noble Lord that in putting the Question to me he was under a misapprehension, because the campaign in Mesopotamia is now and has been since February 16 in the hands of the War Office. My noble friend has asked several questions as regards the policy of His Majesty's Government, in undertaking the campaign in Mesopotamia. That matter I am not in a position to deal with now, because it is not embodied in the printed Question of my noble friend, in which he merely asks what is the present position in Mesopotamia. In the absence of the representatives of the War Office—the Secretary of State for War and the noble Lord who answers in his absence (Lord Sandhurst)—I have been asked to give to my noble friend the answer of that Department, and I am afraid that in the circumstances and at the present, time I must limit my reply to this formal answer, which I will now read: "The position in Mesopotamia has been the subject of frequent, communiqués issued to the Press, and there is nothing further in the present situation or in probable future developments which can be fittingly made public at the moment."