§ LORD AMPTHILL rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether there is any truth in the following statements made in the telegram of the Government 414 of India, dated 30th July, 1916, respecting the action taken by General Shaw with regard to the despatch of troops from Karachi on the 5th June, 1916—namely,—(1) That he knew responsible members of his Staff with one exception were inexperienced; (2) that he took no steps nor gave any orders to see that the safety or comfort of the troops was provided for.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the answer to that Question is "No, there is no truth in either statement." But that is not the answer that the noble and learned Lord will give me. I feel sure that if I approached the noble and learned Lord privately, and asked him as man to man to tell me in confidence. whether or not there was any truth in those statements, he would reply, "No, there is no truth in them." He will not be allowed to give that answer here, because he is not speaking as an individual, but as the mouthpiece of a Department, and the deplorable thing is that, in the present system of politics and Parliamentary procedure, you cannot get a straight answer to a straight question. Those of your Lordships who are interested as students of politics in the present. development of affairs; arid find opportunities for admiration in the skill and dexterity with which answers are avoided in Parliament, and the high degree of ingenuity which is developed by our well-trained bureaucracy in the arts of Parliamentary equivocation, will, no doubt, be interested to see what answer is given to this perfectly plain Question, as to whether or no there is truth in these two statements.
It only remains for me to prove that there is no truth in them at all, and the proof is to be found in the evidence given before the Court. of Inquiry. In the first, place, let me say that all the officers on General Shaw's staff, numbering five, were, with one exception, well-experienced officers. The one exception was the medical officer, who, at that time, had held his post on the embarkation staff for over three months. The rest had been constantly on embarkation duty since the commencement of the war in August, 1914, and they have all been promoted, except Colonel Macnamara, who was General Shaw's Assistant Director of Medical Services and had thirty-one years' service in India. I do not know what the noble Lord is going to say. I know he cannot say that there is 415 no truth in these things, because, if, he does, he gives away the whole of the case on which General Shaw was made a scapegoat, and had placed upon his shoulders the blame for mismanagement, which was due to Army Headquarters in India. That blame was accepted by the Secretary of State for India on a telegram from the Government of India, which has proved to be inaccurate and incorrect on the showing of the Court of Inquiry.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (LORD SINHA)
My Lords, perhaps, because I have not had time to become the adept in political equivocation at which my noble friend hinted, my answer will be more satisfactory to him, although it may not be quite so satisfactory as he wishes. Before I answer the two specific Questions which my noble friend has put on the Paper, I should like to make a general statement which, perhaps, will explain my specific answers. In view of the fact that the Court of Inquiry which investigated the occurrences under discussion—the Karachi troop train incident—did not proceed in accordance with the Regulations so far as General Shaw and Colonel Macnamara were concerned, the Secretary of State offered both these officers a fresh Court of Inquiry in India, as my noble friend is aware. The officers concerned have not seen their way to accept the offer under the conditions which the Secretary of State felt bound to impose. In those circumstances, it is now desired to repeat in this House what the Secretary of State has already said in another place—namely, that he considers, and has always considered, that the censure passed upon Major-General Shaw and Colonel Macnamara was not in all respects accurate.
It must be remembered that these incidents happened five years ago, that the censure was passed by another Secretary of State, and that the Military Department of the Government of India has complete changed since the incident happened. In those circumstances it is impossible, at any rate it is most difficult, to review all the, points, and I have, on a previous occasion, informed the House that the Secretary of State does not feel himself competent to review the findings of the Court of Inquiry on this point. Now that another Inquiry, which the Secretary of State always desired, has not proved possible, all I can say on behalf of the Secretary of State is that while dissociating 416 himself from the censure, which requires much modification, he must not be understood to mean that in his opinion, formed on the advice which is available to him, these officers—General Shaw, and his Assistant Director of Medical Services, Colonel Macnamara—acted up to the full scope of their responsibilities. That is as far as the Secretary of State is able to go, on such advice as is available to him. As I have already said, he is not competent and it is impossible for him to review the findings of the Court of Inquiry.
Now I will take those two specific Questions. Firstly, as regards the members of General Shaw's staff, with one exception, being inexperienced, all that is before the Secretary of State is the evidence given before the Court of Inquiry, and from that the only conclusion he can draw is that there was one officer who was certainly experienced and that the others were inexperienced in the matter of military administration. In regard to the second Question, the Secretary of State has already, on more than one occasion, said that the statement that General Shaw took no steps nor gave any orders to see that the safety or comfort of the troops was provided for, is far too sweeping a statement, and, because of that, he offered the fresh Court of Inquiry which circumstances have rendered it impossible for General Shaw to accept. That, my Lords, is my answer to the two specific Questions.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
I am sorry to trouble the noble Lord again, but what I want to know from the India Office is whether there is any truth in the statement. The fact is that General Shaw exceeded the Regulations in order to provide for the comfort and safety of the troops, and the Secretary of State has all that information before him. He knows that General Shaw, although he was not allowed to do it by the Regulations, provided ice, extra railway carriages, and extra wagons for the kits of the troops so as to make more room. He knows that General Shaw put 120 dozen of mineral waters on the train and provided a coffee shop. He took a great risk in doing so, because he was liable to he held personally responsible and surcharged on account of it. Yet, in face of that, the Government of India say that he took no steps to see that the safety or comfort of the troops was provided for. I want to know whether there is any truth in that statement.
§ LORD SINHA
I submit that I have answered the question. It would not be correct to state that he took no steps, but it would be incorrect to say that he took all the steps that could have been taken. That is the finding of the Court of Inquiry.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
also had on the Notice Paper a Question to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is not a fact that the India Office in their letter, No. 10,514, dated 21st March, 1918, stated that the Secretary of State for India in Council had decided that the Court of Inquiry which investigated the Karachi troop train incident, on the findings of which the late Commander-in-Chief and the Government of India decided to remove General Shaw from his command of the Karachi Brigade, had not been constituted to deal with the question as to whether General Shaw could be held responsible for that incident and did not deal with that question; and, if so, why the Under-Secretary of State for India denied this fact in his speech on the 18th May last.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will not trouble to read to your Lordships the next Question which stands in my name on the Paper. I have the letter mentioned, and your Lordships shall judge for yourselves whether the answer which the Under-Secretary of State gave me on May 18, when I last raised this Question, can be reconciled with it. I said to the noble Lord—I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but it was the India Office who said that the Court of Inquiry did not inquire, and was not constituted to inquire, into the conduct of General Shaw.and Lord Sinha replied:—I cannot agree with the noble Lord as to that being the statement of the India Office. The Court of Inquiry was constituted for the purpose of investigating this occurrence, and to consider and report who, if anybody, was responsible for its result.I am justified in saying that the Under-Secretary of State for India denied the fact to which I referred. I am not blaming him, and let me make it clear that the last thing I wish to suggest is that the noble Lord was intentionally saying anything that was inaccurate. I happen to know that his Department did not fully inform him of the case; and, of course, it occurred long before he took office.
418 The letter, written to General Shaw, is dated March 21, and is as follows—The Secretary of State's offer of a fresh Inquiry was intended to afford you an opportunity of vindicating your conduct in regard to the troop train incident, a matter with which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State in Council, the Court which investigated the incident itself and on the findings of which the late Commander-in-Chief of the Army in India decided to remove you from the command of the Karachi Brigade, had not been constituted to deal, and with which it did not deal in the manner prescribed by the Regulations.I want to ask the noble Lord why he would not admit the accuracy of what I said on the last occasion.
§ LORD SINHA
My Lords, the very Question of the noble Lord shows that my answer was correct. The letter states that the Court of the Inquiry had not been constituted to deal with the question as to whether General Shaw could be held responsible for the incident, and did not deal with that question. But the words which follow are not quoted in the Question, and were not put by my noble friend on the previous occasion—namely, "did not deal in the manner prescribed by the Regulations." The Court of Inquiry was constituted, as the noble Lord is aware, for the purpose of inquiring into this occurrence and also for reporting—these are the terms of the reference—" upon all errors of omission and commission, and to indicate the individuals responsible for the same." General Shaw was only a witness before the Court, and the Court was not constituted under the Regulations to conduct its procedure, with reference to General Shaw, "in the manner prescribed by the Regulations."
§ LORD SINHA
That is a matter of construction. My construction differs from that of the noble Lord; and, what is more, the terms of reference substantiate what I alleged—namely, that one of the things the Court of Inquiry was asked to do was to indicate the persons liable to blame for the occurrence.
§ EARL BATHURST
My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is not a fact that the Court of Inquiry held on the Karachi troop train incident, in their findings, were of opinion that the 419 primary cause for the disaster lay with the Army Head Quarters, in that they—
Also, whether it was not the opinion of this Court of Inquiry that, whatever precautions had been taken, the troops were liable to cases of heat stroke in the Sind Desert in June, and, if so, why General Shaw and Colonel Macnamara, who were not among the responsible authorities on Army Head Quarter Staff, were held to blame and most severely punished for the disaster.
- 1. Diverted the Transport "Ballarat" from Bombay to Karachi.
- 2. Brought the troops through the Sind Desert in June.
- 3. Did not issue special instructions to G.O.C. at Karachi.
- 4. Did not consult their Medical Authorities.
- 5. Did not increase the speed of the train.
§ LORD SINHA
My Lords, with regard to the first Question, the diversion of the transport "Ballarat" from Bombay to Karachi, the Court of Inquiry reported that the primary cause of the occurrence of the heat stroke cases was the long journey of unacclimatised British troops across the Sind desert in the hot season. They also reported that the "Ballarat" was diverted from Bombay to Karachi by orders issued from the Quartermaster-General's Branch at Army Headquarters, and this resulted in the troops having to travel across the Sind Desert. The Court reported that no special orders were issued by the Quartermaster-General's branch dealing with this journey, and also that the. Medical Branch at Army Headquarters was not consulted. The Court considered that the railway expert attached to the Quartermaster-General's Branch should have represented to the Quartermaster-General the unsuitability of the timing of the train and that the Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Traffic at Karachi should have made 420 similar representations to the General Officer Commanding at Karachi. The Court considered that under the conditions of temperature then existing in the Sind Desert, whatever precautions were adopted, the troops were liable to cases of heat stroke. The Court of Inquiry did not restrict blame to Army Headquarters. The responsible officer at Army Headquarters was punished by removal from his appointment.