THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I have to ask for a Return of the number of British troops now serving in Egypt and adjacent countries. It would have been more satisfactory if we were aware of the precise purpose that the Government have in view in maintaining a Force in that locality. I believe that this reluctance to explain their object has been very unfortunate to the Public Service—and unfortunate in this respect—the apparent indecision in Downing Street must tell unfavourably with those who are charged with the conduct of affairs abroad. A Commander of a Force in the field, who is uncertain about the mind of the Government at home—uncertain what orders may reach him from day to day—is at a considerable disadvantage as to his own arrangements; at this moment we at home do not know whether the Government regard the Arabs as a people rightly struggling for freedom, or as a hostile 6 power that we are bound to "smash." We do not know whether the General at Suakin has orders to advance or to retire, or to do nothing at all; and, from anything that we can gather from reports of proceedings, the General is not better informed. Reports from a camp—whether through the letters of correspondents or through communications from combatants—are received with a certain reserve; but, as far as we can learn from abroad or at home, the Suakin Expedition is behind a curtain of mystery. The Force scattered along the Nile appears to be in much the same case—whether there is to be another thousand mile boat race next season, or whether the decision that was wanting in 1884 will be exhibited in 1885 in a timely organization of any Expedition that may be determined upon, remain to be seen. But, assuming that the Government has an object in maintaining a Force in and near Egypt, Parliament and the public will inquire with anxiety whether everything has been done, and is doing, that circumstances will reasonably permit, for the health and efficiency of the soldiers who are detained in so trying a climate. Inquiry has shown that in 1882, notwithstanding vast expenditure, and every disposition at home to supply the troops in Egypt most liberally, nevertheless there were failures and slips very disappointing to the troops. Supplies sent out did not reach the soldiers—or did not reach them at the proper time; and in some cases were found of inferior quality. Unfortunately, the contractors who come forward to assist the Government in a military emergency are less careful in their selection of supplies than they ought to be. Now, with this recent experience, the public hope that no similar disappointment may occur, and hope to be assured that supplies of all kinds which are practically the necessaries of life have been sent out. Campaigning is rough work at the best, and accidents must be expected and allowed for. Since I placed my Notice on the Paper, I observe that Questions in the same sense have been asked in the House of Commons. The answer of the Secretary of State was not very encouraging. With reference to shelter from the sun at one camp on the Nile, the Secretary of State had received a Report that the shelter was still incomplete; but he be- 7 lieved there was "something in the nature of a shed." Something in the nature of a shed! An Army, not very strong in numbers, but of material very precious to the country, is detained in a cruel climate, and we are informed that there is "something in the nature of a shed" for their comfort. We might rather have expected to hear that the daily and hourly thought of every official in Pall Mall was the efficient maintenance of the soldiers of this Expedition, not merely by contracting for supplies, but by insuring that they shall reach the soldier. We may yet hope that it is so, and that the noble Earl the Under Secretary can give more satisfactory assurances than the Secretary of State in "another place." In conclusion, I beg to move for a Return of the number (approximate) of British troops employed in Egypt and the Soudan; and to ask whether the troops are completely equipped and supplied as regards shelter, clothing, and rations suitable to the climate?
§ Moved, "That there be laid before this House, Return of the number (approximate) of British troops employed in Egypt and the Soudan."—(The Earl of Longford.)
§ EARL STANHOPE
asked whether any of the troops in the Soudan were to be sent to Cyprus for the benefit of the climate? A report to that effect had appeared in the morning papers, and it would be satisfactory to hear that the statement was well founded. The sickness that prevailed among our troops in the Soudan required the most anxious consideration.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, that the noble and gallant Earl opposite had made a speech which referred in a greater degree to the general policy of the Government than to the exact subject-matter of his Notice. He should confine his reply within the limits of that Notice. The noble and gallant Earl could hardly expect that he would agree to publish the Return for which the noble and gallant Earl asked. It was contrary to all precedent to move for a Return setting forth the actual strength of troops engaged in active operations. He had, however, no objection to state approximately the number of troops employed in Egypt and the Soudan. The number was between 24,000 and 25,000, exclusive of the Indian Brigade and the Australian Contingent. He could assure the noble 8 and gallant Earl opposite that he was by no means singular in his desire to do all that was possible for the comfort and safety of the troops, who were exposed to the hot and trying climate of the Soudan. The wishes of the noble and gallant Earl were fully shared by the Department whose duty it was to provide clothing and stores of all kinds. He thought he could say that the Army was well supplied; but, of course, he could not say for certain how the stores were reaching each of the many stations on the Nile, those stations being at considerable distance from one another and far from the base. When the Nile was falling the transport was extremely difficult; but they were informed weekly of the progress that was made, and of what was being done at the various stations at which the troops were quartered, especially between Dongola and the furthest point, Merawi. Whatever had been asked for had been sent out and forwarded up the Nile as rapidly as possible. The War Office had no reason to suppose that there had been any default on the part of the contractors, or that the supplies had been defective in quality or quantity. On the contrary, he understood—and the illustrious Duke would confirm him—that, with the exception of one or two articles, the stores were extremely satisfactory. With regard to the question of shelter, the noble and gallant Earl had found fault with an answer given by the Secretary of State for War in the House of Commons. He had not seen that answer himself, but he understood that the noble and gallant Earl complained of the use of the word "shed." He really did not know what better word he could use to describe the kind of shelter which was being constructed for the troops in the Soudan. Anything of a thicker material than canvas was far preferable to tents, and, of course, whatever material came to hand was used by those on the spot to shelter from the sun the troops who were unfortunately stationed in hot localities. He felt sure that the officers were doing their very best to render the shelter afforded as efficient as possible. Then the noble and gallant Earl asked questions concerning clothing and rations. He would not weary the House by enumerating all the supplies that had been sent out; he would content himself with saying that the War Office had every reason 9 to believe that there was a superabundance of all supplies on the Nile, and that they were being moved forward as they were wanted without any lo3S of time. The last report stated that the steamer Lotus was then starting with a supply of clothing for the front. He did not deny that, whatever arrangements might be made, articles of clothing and other necessaries might temporarily be wanted by the troops; but if that was ever the case, it was not the result of any want of energy on the part of the Departments at home or of the officers on the lines of communication in Egypt. But, as far as the knowledge of the War Office went, he could affirm that the troops were completely equipped, and that the insinuations of the noble and gallant Earl were unfounded.
§ VISCOUNT HARDINGE
asked whether any orders had been issued directing that any brigade should move northwards?
§ VISCOUNT BURY
said, that when the Secretary of State for War was questioned in "another place" as to the condition of the troops at Debbeh, the noble Lord distinctly said that he was not specially informed about the state of affairs there, but promised to make special inquiries in order to ascertain whether the representations that had reached this country were true or not. The noble Earl opposite must be aware that not only had general statements been made, but officers stationed on the spot had written home private letters, which many of their Lordships had seen, stating that they were suffering, to a great and increasing extent, from fever; that there were no sheds for shelter; that the only thing they had between them and the extreme heat of the sun was the ordinary bell shelter tent; and that the temperature was so rapidly increasing that the officers said that every day was 24 hours of agony. It was also said that the clothing had not reached the troops; that they were without shoes; and, in fact, the description given of the condition of affairs existing in connection with the Nile part of the Expedition were such as to demand instant inquiry. He trusted that his noble Friend would institute the necessary inquiries; and he should like to know whether any steps had been taken in pursuance of the promise given by the Secretary of State for War in "another place?"
said, no doubt, the real fault lay with the want of a proper system, the immediate fault being caused by the Commissariat and Transport officer not being under the orders of the senior combatant officer—commanding officer—on the spot; and there would be no regularity in the issue of supplies to the troops in the field unless the commanding officer was made responsible, which in common fairness would require, with a view to efficiency, that all non-combatant officers should be placed under the orders and control of the senior combatant officer, which equally applied to the Medical Departments. No troops in or near the tropics should be in bell tents with a temperature of 120 degrees.
THE EARL OF GALLOWAY
said, he had received private communications with regard to the want of boots and shoes; and he hoped the noble Earl would make it a special point to inquire into the matter.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
asked whether any communications had been received from General Buller to the effect that an adequate supply of clothing and boots had already reached Dongola?
THE DUKE OE RICHMOND AND GORDON
wished to know whether the noble Earl opposite had questioned any of the officers who had come home from the front as to the condition in which the troops were; and, if so, what was the nature of the replies he had received? Their evidence as to the exact state of the facts would be more satisfactory than the mere Report to which the noble Earl had alluded.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, that the last Report received from the front was dated March 29. It came from Sir Redvers Buller, who was then at Dongola. The Lotus was then pursuing its way towards the South with a cargo of clothing and necessaries on board. Therefore, he hoped that at Dongola there was now a sufficient quantity of those materials. He did not wish to be understood that there had never at any time been an insufficient supply of boots and clothing. He had, however, taken the opportunity of talking personally with the officers who had returned from the Front, and had heard no serious complaint with regard to the want of the articles mentioned. He did not know the date at which Lord Hart- 11 ington undertook to make inquiries, but, no doubt, if inquiries were promised, they would be made at once, and he should be glad to give any further information to the House when he had any to give. He sincerely hoped that the troops who had been engaged in a most trying campaign had suffered as little hardship as possible.
§ THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE
said, that in no previous campaign had the troops been better looked after by the Commissariat and the officers responsible for their welfare. The conditions in which the officers and men were placed were, of course, not very pleasant in such a hot climate; but those who made up their minds to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, must also be prepared to undergo a certain amount of discomfort. In India, where the climate was also very hot, every kind of arrangement existed for the comfort of the men. Such arrangements, of course, could not be made in the Soudan, and the discomfort there was, no doubt, very considerable. He could assure their Lordships that sufficient supplies were at the front. The materials were all there, and it was merely a matter of time when they would reach the troops requiring them. He had no reason to believe that anything was wanted.
THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I do not, of course, press for the Return to which the noble Earl objects, and I ask to withdraw the Motion. I have heard the answer as to the supplies with satisfaction tempered by hesitation in my own mind how to reconcile his statements with reports that have reached me and Members of this House from other quarters.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.