HL Deb 28 March 1916 vol 21 cc506-10

LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE rose to ask the representative of the War Office whether he is aware that the forage rations for horses in Yeomanry regiments serving in the eastern counties have been substantially reduced below the normal quantity; that no litter of any kind is being provided; and whether he will order the prescribed amount of forage and litter to be issued in future.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I desire to call attention to the shortage of forage and the complete absence of litter in certain Yeomanry regiments now stationed on the East Coast. I understand that this shortage applies, or has applied until lately, almost universally, even out at the Front; but I am not going to speak of that of which I do not know. I will speak only about the regiment to which I have the honour to belong. The noble Lord knows that what is laid down for each horse per day is 12 lbs. of oats, 10 lbs. of hay, and 8 lbs. of straw. The last two items can to some degree be converted, according to the local requirements and necessity, into an allowance of bran or something of that sort; but those are the rough figures. They were laid down by competent and experienced officers, and I who have had something to do with the keeping of horses can assure the noble Lord that you cannot expect any horse to do anything except very slow work, and not much at that, if you give him less to eat than the prescribed ration.

The rations have been reduced, first to only 10 lbs. of oats; then instead of the 10 lbs. of hay we received only 5 lbs., and 5 lbs. of oat straw to be chopped up for chaff. Following upon that an order came down to say that no more litter would be issued. I can hardly understand anybody placing his name to such a document in a country like ours, where we have always stood so high with regard to our kindness to dumb animals. This decision has been arrived at either from motives of economy or else it is because there is not the forage in the country. If it is from motives of economy, then in spite of all that has been said this afternoon about the Party truce I think there will be a great number of people in this country who will think it strange that Members of Parliament are drawing £400 a year while our horses have not got enough to eat. We have been warned off by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House from suggesting any economy which might affect the Party truce. The curious thing about all these speeches with regard to the Party truce that come from a certain quarter is that it seems to me that all the prejudices and predilections of the Radical Party are carefully preserved, especially those prejudices which some of us think may have been instituted with a view to punishing agricultural landlords, while those things favoured by the Conservative Party must be left alone. We have heard enough to-night to assure us that even at the most moderate estimate a great many thousands of pounds every year are being spent in collecting a sum of money for the Treasury which is very much below the amount that is spent on collecting it; and I would commend this to His Majesty's Government supposing they intend to take any steps to increase the rations that the horses are now receiving and bring them up to their normal level.

I hope that the noble Lord who is going to answer this Question will do all he knows with his Department to get the grievance redressed, and that those of us who have been lucky enough to remain mounted will be able to get an increased measure of forage for our horses. In the Brigade to which I belong two regiments have been dismounted and put on bicycles. I am glad to say that when we tossed up as to who should retain their horses I won the toss and my regiment is going to remain mounted. My instinct is very much like that of which we have just had an example from a very high quarter—namely, to sit tight as long as there is a shot in the locker—and I shall hope to stop on my horse, if he will allow me, until the end of the war. But much as I dislike all methods of mechanical propulsion, and much as I wish that none of them, including the railway train, had been invented, I would far sooner ride a bicycle and give up my horse than see the horses not getting enough to eat. If the noble Lord came down and saw the horses he would realise that I am not speaking without the book. They are a discredit to the country, and if they were taken abroad they would lower the reputation which has hitherto been held by this country in regard to kindness to dumb animals. I hope the noble Lord will give a sympathetic answer to this Question, and I trust that he will forward my views in the proper quarter and try and obtain some redress.


My Lords, from his great knowledge of horses and his love for them there is nobody more competent to speak on this subject than the noble Lord, and we can hardly be surprised at the interest he evinces on their behalf. And may I take this opportunity of congratulating him on the spin of the coin which kept the horses for his regiment? As the noble Lord says, there has been a reduction in forage, and forage officially includes litter. But is the noble Lord quite certain that he is correct about the number of lbs. of forage? I think he mentioned 12 lbs. of oats. I understand that it is now 10 lbs. for temporary stables and 10 lbs. in camp. I may, perhaps, point out that it was with the intention of making the fullest use of all the possible resources of forage in the United Kingdom that it was decided to make changes in the amount and nature of the rations at home stations. These changes are of general application, and they have been introduced with the object of preventing the use of an unneces- sary amount of forage, an economy which is clearly desirable in a time of war. While what the noble Lord said was quite correct that straw is at present withdrawn from being used as litter because it is required for chaff, the Army Order of March 18 says this— It is not intended that troop horses in stables should be deprived of bedding, though straw is no longer available for this purpose. Wherever possible, therefore, bedding, other than straw, should be obtained by the troops themselves free of cost. Where this is not possible, the District Purchasing Officers will arrange for its collection and distribution, the veterinary hospitals having the first call on the supply.


I know that Order. We have got nothing out of it. It Las been most unfortunate.


The noble Lord in his Question mentioned two matters particularly. Inquiry has been made, and it appears that in the Eastern counties, generally speaking, there has been no shortage of bedding, except in two cases where there was failure to draw rations owing to a misunderstanding. In regard to one of those they ceased to draw litter on March 7, although it was still available. In regard to the other, they could have obtained as much sand as was necessary, but they preferred not to take advantage of it.


Sand is the most dangerous thing you can put horses on.


In both cases the attention of the Command was drawn to the Regulations with a view to having the thing put right at the earliest possible opportunity. I am, as your Lordships know, the mouthpiece for the moment of the Secretary of State for War, and it is my duty to report on all occasions, and I shall do so here, to the Secretary of State for War the pith of the debates on matters affecting his Department that take place in your Lordships' House.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.