said, that, according to the Notice on the Paper, they were about to go into Committee of Supply for a Supplementary Vote of £3,600,000 for the Abyssinian Expedition. Now, if no further sum was to be demanded, Her Majesty's Government owed it to themselves, to that House, and the country to recommend that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the cause of the huge discrepancy which had arisen between the original Estimates and the amount which had been, and would yet be, demanded; and more than that, the Committee should report as to who were responsible for such a monstrous miscalculation. He said "monstrous miscalculation," because, even if no further sum were to be demanded, the amount would be £3,600,000 more than the House was led to believe the expedition could possibly cost. To justify his remarks, although they had the Supplementary Estimate delivered only yesterday, he had taken the pains to revive his recollection of what had passed on the subject of this expedition, and he had communicated to the Secretary of the Treasury and also to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late Government, his intention to draw the attention of the House to this enormous discrepancy. He found that on the 26th of November, 1867, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, used the following words with reference to the Abyssinian Expedition:—We believe it will be necessary that we should incur an expenditure of £3,500,000.… In case we have to replace the forces which the Indian Government now lend to Her Majesty, there will be an increase in the Estimate of 632 £300,000, more or less."—[3 Hansard, cxc. 191–2.]He might here state that we now knew that there had been no necessity to replace the forces which the Indian Government had lent to Her Majesty. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say—I have seen the most absurd estimates on that head (the expenditure) in the public papers.Now, he (Mr. White) was responsible for the reports that had got into some of the papers with reference to the probable expense of the Abyssinian Expedition. He was then led to believe, and he did not hesitate to avow it, that on the scale on which the Indian Government had embarked, if the expedition were to continue to the end of May the expenditure would amount to £7,000,000, and that that estimate was under the mark was proved by the fact that the former expenditure together with the demand to be made that night, would reach the sum of £8,600,000. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say—The whole amount that would be required would be £3,800,000, but the Government would contemplate the possibility of an expenditure, in round numbers, of £4,000,000."—[Ibid.]Well, the House was aware that a Resolution was carried on the 29th of November, 1867, that the—Pay of European and Indian troops employed, as also the ordinary charges of any vessels belonging to the Government of India, were to be chargeable on the revenues of India.And, therefore, any expenditure so incurred would be plus the amount paid by the Indian Government. He also found that in answer to an inquiry from the present Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Otway) the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), then Secretary for War, informed the House that a Treasury officer had been sent out to audit the general expenses. That was on the 2nd of December, 1867—the date was important—and a few days afterwards, when the same inquiry about expenditure was made, and it was alleged by the hon. Member for the King's County (Sir Patrick O'Brien), on the authority of a distinguished officer who had served in Afghanistan, that if our stay in Abyssinia were protracted beyond April the expenditure would be more nearly £10,000,000 than £4,000,000, no notice was taken of the remark. Then he 633 found on February 20, 1868, in answer to Questions from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) and Mr. Darby Griffith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—I have no reason whatever to believe that the general Estimate I put before the House has been exceeded."—[3 Hansard, cxc. 989.]Then they came to the 16th of March, 1868, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire, in answer to Questions from the hon. Member for Truro (Captain Vivian) and the present First Lord of the Admiralty, said—My right hon. Friend the First Minister of the Crown stated in November last that it was estimated that if the expedition lasted, as was anticipated, to the end of April, the expenditure would amount to £3,500,000, and in certain eventualities it might extend to £4,000,000.… I believe, lip to the time I am speaking, the expenditure in Abyssinia will be covered by the lower of these two amounts."—[Ibid. 1681.]On the 3rd of April the House was favoured with an Estimate from the India Office. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) laid on the table an Estimate of the probable expenses of the expedition, and in reply to a question said that the Estimate had been prepared by a competent and trustworthy person. According to the Estimate which was laid on the table of the House, the charges in India and England were put at £5,000,000, and the following note was appended:—That sum is considerably in excess of the amount shown in Mr. Turner's Estimate to the end of April, 1868, after allowing for the additional month's expenditure; but it is stated by Mr. Turner (the officer of the Treasury sent out by the Home Government) that his Estimate has been framed on incomplete data, and that he has preferred to give totals which will doubtless prove to be considerably under the actuals, when brought to account, than otherwise.He found, too, that Major General Jameson, auditor, signed the India Office Estimate and wrote, on the 12th of March, 1868—Providing the expedition terminates on the 31st of May, it would not be safe to ask for less than £3,000,000" (£2,000,000 having been already voted, thus making up £5,000,000 in all) "and there are charges which cannot at present be estimated, such, for instance, as the railways, telegraphs, &c. If continued beyond the 31st of May next, it would be safe to estimate a further charge of £600,000 for every month beyond that date,634 On the 23rd of April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Financial Statement, said—We estimate the total expenditure for the Abyssinian Expedition, supposing it is successful, and supposing, as we have reason to hope, that it leaves the country by the end of May, at £5,000,000."—[3 Hansard, cxci. 1165.]When he reminded the House that on the 13th of April Magdala was taken, and on the 17th of the same month the troops were making preparations to return, he thought he had reason to inquire why there should be such an enormous discrepancy between the original Estimate and the actual disbursement? He had placed the facts before the House, and he would leave them to speak for themselves. He held it to be a disgrace to our country that an official Estimate should be not merely erroneous, but absolutely deceptive, and that such gross misstatements should have been made by persons who were alleged to be quite competent to give correct information to the House. It was not for him to say who was to blame, or on whom the discredit was to fall, whether on the Treasury, the War Office, or the Indian Department. It would, he thought, be expedient to inquire into that matter, and affix the blame on those to whom it justly belonged; for it would detract very much from the administrative prestige of this country when it could be said that, merely to accomplish the object they had in view in sending out the Abyssinian Expedition Great Britain had spent more money than Prussia did in conquering one of the greatest European Powers—Austria.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
said, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. White) had said that he wish an inquiry to be made with a view to settle the responsibility of the expenses of the Abyssinian Expedition, and he (Sir George Jenkinson) would suggest that the inquiry should be extended into the causes that led to the commencement of the Abyssinian War, and the mismanagement, if any should be proved, of those who caused the war. In the interest of England, they ought not to attempt to discredit an expedition begun in ignorance of the difficulties with which it might have to contend, and brought, in the eyes of all men, whether at home or abroad, whose opinion was worth anything, to the most auspicious termination. The Government who decided on 635 that expedition did so, he believed, with the greatest possible forethought, and the General, under whose command it was placed, conducted it to so successful an issue, almost without any loss of life on their side, that he thought they ought to congratulate themselves on its exceedingly happy result, and, without cavilling at what they had to pay for it, only be thankful that they had not to pay any more.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am not quite sure that the moment at which the hon. Member for Brighton has raised this question is the most convenient one for its discussion. Certainly, I feel myself under a disadvantage, because we have not yet heard, what I suppose we shall hear as soon as we are in Committee, what the account or explanation is of the further sum for which the Government have to ask; and I have no doubt they will be able to state to the House that which we are unable to supply—what are the circumstances which, so far as they are informed of them, have led to this extra expenditure. If we were informed of the nature of the extra expenditure, we should be in a better position to offer, or attempt to offer, some explanation regarding it. However, there is no doubt that the hon. Member for Brighton is perfectly right in calling the attention of the House, at whatever moment he may think most expedient, to the great difference between the Estimate originally formed of the expense of this expedition, and the actual out-turn of which we are unfortunately aware. It is perfectly true that at the beginning, in November, 1867, the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, speaking then as Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the House that what was required was an immediate Vote of £2,000,000, and that, probably, if the expedition lasted till about the end of April, a sum of £1,500,000 or £2,000,000 more would be requisite. Now, what was the state of our information at the moment when my right hon. Friend was addressing the House? At that moment, the expedition had not, I think, actually left the shores of India; at all events, we had received no information of its having done so, and it had not yet reached the coast of the Red Sea. A very small pioneer expedition had gone out for the purpose of inquiries, and it was then impossible to estimate 636 with any accuracy what the demands of the enterprize or the nature of the country would be beyond the coast from which the troops would have to advance. I believe that the Estimate of £2,000,000, formed with the idea that it would be sufficient to place the force on the coast, was a fair estimate; and, so far as I know, it has not been exceeded. With regard to the remaining portion of the Estimate, it certainly was of a very vague and loose character, based on a general reckoning of the cost of men in the field, assuming that supplies were easily to be obtained, and the country, or the greater part of it, tolerably accessible to troops. What I wish to call the attention of the House to is this—we must not take so much notice of casual Questions asked and answered as best they might be in a casual manner.—What the House has a right jealously to look at is the information that was supplied to it when it was called upon to vote money. Was the House truly informed by the Government of the state of the circumstances in which that request was made, and was it put in possession by the Government of all the information which they then had? That is the first question. Was anything kept back from the House? because, if anything was deliberately kept back, of course a serious charge might be made against the Government. As to whether the Government ought to have had better information, that is a question which we will enter into presently. But as to keeping back information, my right hon. Friend told the House all he had to tell it, on November 26, 1867, when, he said that £2,000,000 would suffice to place the force on the shores of the Red Sea, and that perhaps £2,000,000 more would be needed. All I can say is that in naming that sum he exceeded what the authorities of the India Office, framing the best conjecture they could, led him to expect; and he observed to me afterwards that he had thought it right to put it at a rather higher sum, in order that it might cover all the possible expenditure. When the force landed the state of things was different from that on which we could have calculated. The country through which it had to march was one of the most impracticable and extraordinary that could be conceived. Not only that, but it was barren of supplies naturally, and it so happened 637 that in that particular season it was barren in an exceptional degree, owing to the failure of the crops. It also turned out that the supply of water was less than we had any reason to suppose, and the water required for the force had to be got by the necessarily expensive means of condensing engines. That all added to the cost. The great object of the Government in sending out the expedition was this—knowing that we had a great task in hand—knowing that the honour and credit of the country were deeply involved in it—knowing that when we placed the troops there it was our duty to take every precaution for their well-being, we determined to spare no expense in carrying through the expedition at the smallest cost of human life and suffering, and with the utmost possible despatch. We were pressed for time—the difficulties were considerably greater than had been anticipated; but I believe no unnecessary expenditure was incurred or step taken in attaining our great object. At all events, we have the great satisfaction of knowing that the expedition was carried through in a perfectly successful manner, with the smallest possible sacrifice of human life or suffering. No doubt we discovered after a time that the expenditure was running up and was far more than we had been able to calculate; but there was a difficulty in getting correct information as to what the real rate of that expenditure was. And when my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Hunt) came forward to ask what was necessary for the Supply of the year, the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) asked me whether we were prepared to state that we could give an Estimate which might be relied upon. I will call the attention of the House to the words in which I answered that Question before the Budget statement was made, in April, 1868. My answer was this—The accounts received from Bombay are, I regret to say, neither so full nor so accurate as I could have wished. They have, however, been placed in the hands of a gentleman of great experience in connection with military expeditions, and he has been engaged in making an Estimate which may be relied upon as much as any Estimate of the kind can be."—[3 Hansard, cxci. 1148.]It was also stated in the printed Paper laid on the table at the time to which the hon. Gentleman referred that— 638The information available here for the preparation of an Estimate of the expenditure on account of this expedition is very insufficient, although repeated applications have been made to the Government of Bombay on the subject. An Estimate has, however, been prepared in this office, which must be regarded as approximate only, from which it appears that the charges in India and England to the end of May, 1868, will probably amount to about £5,000,000.From that statement, and the answer which I gave, I think the hon. Gentleman must have been fully cognizant that we were not able to give an Estimate with any degree of accuracy, and that considering the extraordinary circumstances of the expedition and the very imperfect information which we could get, or which the Bombay Government at, the time could collect, it was really impossible for us to give any Estimate that could be absolutely relied upon as to the total expenditure. Nor did we attempt to do so. We stated to the House that the expenditure might be taken at the rate of about £600,000 per month, and we gave the details of that £600,000. I shall be glad to hear whether those details were in any degree inaccurate, or whether the excess of expenditure was not greatly attributable to circumstances which arose after the period up to which our calculation was made. The length I of time occupied in carrying the troops back to India, the expense of transports, and other circumstances, I have reason to believe, much exceeded anything that we had a right to calculate for. In saying this, I am not objecting to inquiry. It may throw light on the costs of a war, and in regard to the cost of wars I think we cannot have too much information for the guidance and warning of the House before we allow ourselves to be placed in a position in which wars become necessary. I hold it to be very desirable that we should have the fullest information as to the nature of the expenditure and all its details; but I entirely repudiate on the part of my Colleagues and myself the charge of placing Estimates before the House which were in any degree consciously inaccurate, or for which we ought in any degree to be blamed. We asked for no money after the date of the 23rd of April, though, of course, soon afterwards we saw that more money would be required. We could not get information enough to enable us to come down to the House with a full and com- 639 plete statement, and we thought it better to wait till we could do so. The hon. Member for Brighton has taken up a position which it is quite right a Member of this House should take, and charge with the appearance of laches or faults the Government who had presented Estimates which happened to be greatly exceeded; but I hope he does not impute to us any want of good faith in presenting those Estimates. [Mr. WHITE: No!] When we have heard the explanation of the Government as to the excess of the Estimate we shall be in a better position to offer our opinions on the subject than we are at present. I trust the House will bear in mind that the Expedition was undertaken under very special circumstances. There was very little time that could be spared, for if we had run over another month or so we should have lost a whole season, in which event the expenses would have been enormously augmented. Besides, we were obliged to take precautions against contingencies, which, as it turned out in the result, did not occur. For instance, although we believed that the expedition would terminate before the end of the season, it was possible that it might not, and then the troops would have been left there in a state of great embarrassment, as everything they required had to be sent from a considerable distance. We, therefore, accumulated stores, which would have carried the army over another season if they had been detained there; and no doubt that accumulations of stores and their transport constituted one great cause of additional expense. In various other ways extra precautions were taken which swelled the expense beyond what might, strictly speaking, have been fixed as the limit. I hope we shall now go into Committee and hear any explanation which the Government may be able to give us. When I was at the India Office we were continually urging the Government of Bombay to send us full information, but as they had to obtain information from Calcutta, and from the officers sent to Syria and other parts of the coast of the Mediterranean and elsewhere, it was extremely difficult for them, with the great pressure on their resources necessary for the organization of the expedition, to comply with our demands for Returns and information. Before sitting down I must express my opinion that the Government of Bombay deserve great 640 credit for the manner in which they organized the expedition, and that in particular Sir Seymour Fitzgerald is entitled to greater credit than he has obtained for his great exertions and personal labour.