HL Deb 20 November 1918 vol 32 cc336-9

THE EARL OF VERULAM rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can see their way to an immediate repatriation of the best mares of every class suitable for breeding, and now employed on war service abroad, with the view of their being utilised for breeding purposes during the forthcoming season, thus safeguarding the future of our stock of horses, and so making an effort to preserve this invaluable asset.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Question speaks for itself. The matter is of extreme urgency, and the time being so near for Proregation, I ask the Government, if they will, to take immediate steps to carry out the idea if they see their way, and accept the suggestion put forward in this Question. When I put down the words "best mares," I referred to the most sound, the most healthy, and the most fitted for the purposes of breeding for the stock of the country.


My Lords, this question has been receiving the very earnest consideration of the War Office and of the Board of Agriculture for a considerable period. As my noble friend knows, a Committee was set up in 1915 to go into the whole subject of horse-breeding ill this country in relation to Army requirements, and a further Committee was set up last year.


I refer to all horses, agricultural as well.


Yes, all; and, of course, the Committee naturally had to go into the, question of all sorts of horses, both riding horses, light draught and heavy draught. They have made three recommendations which, perhaps, it may interest the House to hear. I will give them very briefly. They are (1) that an adegnate and sufficient staff under the Board of Agriculture should be appointed to direct operations in regard to horse breeding; (2) that we should board out light draught horses to civilians on payment; (3) that mares should be distributed for breeding purposes to suitable civilian farms and other places free of charge. Mares for breeding horses of the artillery type would be placed out and the War Office would have a lien the progeny up to October 1 in the year in which the foal or filly becomes three years old. The noble Earl will realise the importance of that, because I am sure he knows that in the old days we used to buy horses of four years and upwards, and these, of course, would be rising four, which would make a very considerable difference to the farmer.

There is a further proposal that fillies should be left out with the farmer, and that if they succeeded in getting a foal farmers should be given £10 bonus before the filly is called up for the Army. Hunter and polo pony mares would, in the first instance, be sent to members of the Hunters' Improvement Society and the Polo Pony Society. There again, there would be no payment. Therefore, the whole question of the breeding of horses in this country for Army purposes is receiving the consideration both of the War Office and the Board d of Agriculture at the present time. I may say that the proposals of this Committee have received the general approval of the two Covernment Departments concerned, but they have still to be approved of from the financial point of view.

As regards the bringing back of horses from France, I am afraid at the moment I cannot tell the noble Earl anything very definite. As I had to inform the House yesterday, the requirements in regard to transport are, if anything, rather higher at the present moment than they were before the signing of the Armistice, and the War Office is not at present in a position to know how many horses we are likely to have surplus to Army requirements in the very near future. That, of course, depends on the size of the Army of Occupation which Marshal Foch, commanding the Allied armies, considers that the British ought to keep in that area. Consequently, it is not possible to say now how many horses are surplus to Army requirements or how many mares we can repatriate; but the question of the repatriation of mares has been a subject of careful consideration by the War Office, and we hope that the best mares of all classes surplus to Army requirements will be repatriated at an early date.

I can assure the noble Earl that we are quite as keen about the subject as he or any other member of your Lordships' House can be, and that we shall certainly lose no time in bringing back the best mares—taking the description which he gave of them—for the purpose of breeding in this country. We are able to sell a few horses which are at present in this country in the Army and which are unsuitable for service abroad. By that I do not mean horses which are unsound from a breeding point of view, but horses that would be unable, either from age or perhaps from accident, to undergo the severe conditions which horses have to meet with on active service. The House would, perhaps, wish to be assured that there is no question of their being turned over for unsuitable purposes because any horse which is unfit for work is destroyed, and, as the minimum price for horses sold under these conditions is £15, your Lordships will see that there is no question of the horrors that one used to remember in pre-war days when horses were exported to foreign countries and treated in a way of which we all disapproved.


I beg to thank the noble Earl for his reply.