§ * LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, I rise to call attention to the Report of the Committee on Horse Purchase in Austro-Hungary; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in pursuance of the course adopted with respect to that inquiry, they will order inquiries to beheld into the circumstances attendant on the purchase of horses in other parts of the world and in the United Kingdom, for remounts for British troops in South Africa. I am very sensible that a good deal of the freshness and interest of this Report has vanished, for it has already been the subject of a twice-told tale in the other House, and has been discussed in all the newspapers in the country; but it is not my fault, but the fault of the brief and intermittent sittings of the House that 1190 the subject has not been brought up earlier. Still, I think the Report is one of great importance. It contains disclosures which I do not think should be allowed to pass absolutely without comment in this Chamber, especially as the facts to which it alludes occurred at a time when a Member of your Lordships' House—the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne)—was in charge of the War Office, and, therefore, directly responsible for all the arrangements made for the supply of horses before and after the war, and also because several members of the Yeomanry Committee, who are affected also, hold seats in your Lordships' House.
The facts disclosed by this Report are very simple. There have been altogether 23,956 horses obtained from Hungary. This Report refers to 16,146 of them, of which 3,800 were purchased through the Yeomanry Committee and 12,346 by the War Office direct, leaving 7,810 horses from Hungary of which no mention is made in this Report. I should like to ask at what price and from whom these 7,810 horses were obtained—whether they were purchased by the War Office directly or through the agency of Mr. Hauser. The facts with regard to the purchase of the 3,800 horses by the Imperial Yeomanry Committee are very striking. Colonel St. Quintin gives a provisional contract for 1,000 cobs at £35 a-piece to one Ranucci, soon after Captain Hartigan, an old Army veterinary surgeon who left the service in 1881,calls on him asking for employment; he says he has none to give, but enters into a conversation about his want of Hungarian horses. Hartigan leaves the office, meets one Lewison, a Newmarket trainer and ex-travelling showman in the Haymarket, tells him of his interview with Colonel St. Quintin. Lewison says he can supply Hungarian horses. Hartigan returns to Colonel St. Quintin, saying he has found a man to provide horses from Hungary who knows all about that country. You may bring him to me, says Colonel St. Quintin. Hartigan strikes a bargain with Lewison that he is to receive 2½per cent. commission on all receipts of Lewison's from the Yeomanry Committee, and brings Lewison to Colonel St. Quintin. Colonel St. Quintin eventually arranges with Lewison for 1,500 1191 cobs at £33 16s. 8d., stipulating that Lewison must settle with Ranucci. Lewison buys out Ranucci for £7,000 then makes a sub-contract with a Mr. Hauser to supply the horses at £22 a-piece, later a further contract is given to Lewison for 2,300 cobs at £26 a-piece. The result of the whole transaction is that out of some£111,000 paid by the Committee for these horses, nearly £45,000 clear profit went into the pockets of four gentlemen—£20,000 to Mr. Hauser, £15,000 to Mr. Lewison, £7,000 to Mr. Ranucci, and £2,700 to Captain Hartigan. The official defence is that it is all the fault of the Yeomanry Committee, and on them the blame must rest. Well, my Lords, I must say that I think it is rather a shabby defence. I should have thought that the War Office would have accepted the responsibility, considering that, at a time of stress, when it could not carry out the work itself, it handed it over to others to do it for them. But, apart from that, it is clear that the War Office was implicated—deeply implicated—in the original contract made by the Imperial Yeomanry Committee, and that, moreover, by its subsequent contracts entered into direct with Mr. Hauser, it—to use a Scottish expression—homologated the action of the Yeomanry Committee with regard to the first contracts.
Let us take the first point. The Imperial Yeomanry Committee was appointed by an Army Order on January 2nd, 1900, and, so far as I am able to understand, in the first instance the idea was that the purchase of horses would be carried out to a large extent by a Member of your Lordships' House—by the Earl of Lonsdale, than whom I do not suppose any man has bought more horses or is a better judge of horses. It would be interesting to know why the noble Earl disappeared from the scene and did not continue buying horses for the Imperial Yeomanry. What eventually happened was that Colonel St. Quintin was appointed by the Yeomanry Committee to do this part of their work. In my opinion, that was a very reasonable appointment. Colonel St. Quintin had served for many years in the 10th Hussars, had commanded the 8th 1192 Hussars, and had been at the head of a Government Remount establishment. What was Colonel St. Quintin's first action when he entered upon his new duty? The first step he took was to go straight to the Inspector General of Remounts at the War Office, and consult him as to where he could get horses. He says in evidence—General Truman asked me not to touch the Argentine, or America, or Australia. He was buying all over the world, and also buying all over England. England and Ireland were practically exhausted. Therefore I went to Hungary.It is clear that General Truman excluded him from any other place, and drove him to Hungary as the only country left. Colonel St. Quintin also consulted Colonel Tollner, who was in the Remount Department under General Truman. Colonel Tollner was able to give his experience of Hungarian horses in the past, and he said they were apt to suffer from fever in the feet. Curiously enough, he also told Colonel St. Quintin that the price he ought to pay for horses in Hungary was£35. In his evidence Colonel St. Quintin said—I was told by Colonel Tollner that the price paid by the Austrian Government was £35, and that that was the price I ought to pay.So that not only did Colonel St. Quintin receive advice to go to Hungary, but he had named to him by the Remount Department of the War Office the price it was proper for him to pay for the horses. Even there Colonel St. Quintin did not drop his precautions. He thought it wise to telegraph to Colonel Wardrop, our Military Attaché at Vienna. But here comes in Colonel St. Quintin's mistake, for the telegram, either through his neglect or that of his subordinate, was not signed. However, Colonel Wardrop was struck by the telegram, and took it to our Ambassador at Vienna, through whom he sent an answer stating how many horses he could get and the price. That telegram was sent to the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office sent it to the War Office, who forwarded it to the Remount Department, and in spite of the fact that Colonel St. Quintin had had these conversations with General Truman and Colonel Tollner, it was allowed to remain in the Remount Department and was never sent on to the Yeomanry Committee.
1193 I think what I have stated proves that the Remount Department were largely implicated in the initiation of these contracts by Colonel St. Quintin. The 3,800 horses were purchased in the months of January, February, and March 1900, when the business in Hungary of the Yeomanry Committee came to an end. But immediately after wards the Remount Department of the War Office came to the conclusion that they would themselves buy horses in Hungary. One would have imagined that even then they might have remembered the telegram which had been received through the Ambassador from Colonel Wardrop, and might have consulted our Military Attachéon the subject. In the meantime, many other offers of horses had been made, both to the Yeomanry Committee and to the War Office direct from other persons in Hungary; and I myself have in my possession a formal offer by one set of gentlemen to supply 20,000 horses at £20 apiece at this very time. But, so far as I understand, the Remount Department made no further inquiries at all. They did not refer to the Military Attachéand they took no action on the other offers, but went direct and solely to the man who had been sent out by the Yeomanry Committee to examine the horses and pass them—Colonel Maclean. Colonel Maclean said that Mr. Hauser, who had supplied these horses, was a very good and capable man, and so, without any further inquiry whatever, the War Office entered into contracts with Mr. Hauser for the supply of 2,000 artillery horses at £35 each, 5,000 cavalry horses at£30 each, and 5,346 cobs at£20 each. I think Colonel St. Quintin must have felt rather gratified that the person who had supplied him with horses should have been taken over by the Remount Department and given a contract direct.
It must be admitted that on the Committee whose Report is now before us the War Office was extremely well represented, for it had as a member Sir Charles Welby, who had been private secretary to two Secretaries of State and had been appointed an unpaid Assistant Secretary to help the War Office at a time of stress; it had upon it the brother-in-law of the Secretary of 1194 State for War himself; and the private secretary to the Financial Secretary Lord Stanley, Mr. Ward, was also the secretary of the Committee. The substance of the Report must therefore have been well known to the War Office authorities, but no step whatever was taken in consequence of the facts disclosed in this Report, which was signed in August of last year, until after it had been presented to Parliament 12 days or a fortnight ago, and had created great excitement in the House of Commons. Surely, if the facts disclosed are true, and if the Government are justified in taking any action against any of the persons connected with these contracts, they ought to have taken it seven months ago. But the only person on whom the Government have fallen with a heavy hand is the sort of odd man of the situation, Captain Hartigan. It seems to me that Captain Hartigan's part of the proceeding is the one least open to reprobation of all. He was the introducer of Mr. Lewison to Colonel St. Quintin, and Mr. Lewison gave him a commission of 2½per cent. as a reward of the introduction, not on each of the horses he passed, but on the total amount received from the Government in payment of the contract. Captain Hartigan was not in the service of the Government. He went out to Hungary with Mr. Lewison in order to assist in examining the horses on Mr. Lewison's behalf, for which he was paid two guineas a day and his expenses. Towards the end of the time—I suppose in the beginning of March—Captain Webb, who was examining veterinary surgeon under Colonel Maclean, was called back and had to go to South Africa, Colonel Maclean then suggested that it was not necessary to send another man out to examine the remnant of the horses, as Captain Hartigan was there and would be able to do the work satisfactorily and well. Colonel Maclean knew exactly the relations that existed between Mr. Lewison and Captain Hartigan. When Captain Hartigan was approached on the subject, he explained what his relations to Mr. Lewison were, and before he undertook the work of examining horses on behalf of Colonel Maclean he severed his connection with Mr. Lewison.
It may be perfectly true that it was 1195 not a very tactful thing on Captain Hartigan's part to undertake this work, but surely if blame was attachable to anybody it was to Colonel Maclean, who, knowing the exact relationship existing between these people, still recommended and chose Captain Hartigan to assist him. I do think that the hand of punishment has fallen a little too heavily on Captain Hartigan, if what is displayed in this Report is the whole amount of his guilt. From curious side lights in the evidence, I rather suspect that the whole truth has not come out. There are references in the Report to happy evenings spent at the hotel at Szabadka by Colonel Maclean, Captain Webb, Mr. Lewison, Captain Hartigan, and Mr. Hauser, who appear to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves together, drinking the best of champagne, and smoking the finest brands of cigars largely at Mr. Hauser's expense. I do not think that was a very satisfactory state of affairs to be going on. It comes out perfectly clear that when the pressure came for horses, the Remount Department neither had the knowledge where to get them, nor the power to get them; and, as usually happens in cases of emergency of that sort, they resorted to a dealer, and while the dealer sold well, the Government and its representatives bought badly. Take the case of the cobs to begin with. I do not care whether you paid £33 each, as you did for the first lot, £26 each for the second, or£20 each for the third, in every case you paid a great deal more than they were worth. The amount paid for them in the open market was from£8 to£12. Whether buying through the Yeomanry Committee or through the War Office, the price paid by the Government was infinitely too high, and an immense amount of money ought to have been saved in that respect alone. I think the best proof of that is Colonel Wardrop's description of the result of these purchases on Mr. Hauser himself. Colonel Wardrop was asked—What sort of position does Mr. Hauser hold in the horse-dealing world of Hungary? Is he one of the leading men?and his answer was—I do not think he was then, but he is now. Money commands position there, like everything else. They say that he has made enormous sums. That is his business. I do not blame him for that.1196 As a matter of fact, we know perfectly well that Mr. Hauser was an extremely small man in Hungary.
§ * LORD TWEEDMOUTH
And that he has now become an extremely big man, owing to these Government contracts.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Where does the noble Lord get the evidence that Hauser was a small man?
§ * LORD TWEEDMOUTH
That is the general drift of the evidence. I turn for a moment to the question of the quality of these cobs. It is a little difficult, of course, to obtain evidence on that point, but Lord Kitchener, speaking of some of the later purchases, described them as "flat-catchers." Mr. Lewison brought what he considered four of the best of these cobs to England in the spring of 1900. Three of them have gone the way of all weak horseflesh, and have broken down; the fourth is in the possession of a friend of mine at Newmarket, and can be seen by any noble Lord who has the curiosity to inspect it. The strongest evidence I have to offer as to what the horses were like is to be found in Colonel Wardrop's description of them. I will read four questions which were asked, and the replies given by Colonel Wardrop—You saw a particular shipment of cobs leave Fiume, did you not?—Yes.Do you remember what ship it was?—Yes, the 'Iona.'You saw the cobs, I suppose, before they were put on board?—Yes, I saw every one, and I looked at them fairly closely.Can you say what impression the lot, as a whole, made upon you?—As a lot, I would say they were a nice lot of a sort, but my opinion is they were not of the right sort. I think, for the money, you could have got better horses—more adapted for the work they had to do. They were too light boned and too-light fetlocked. The majority of them, taking them all through, were more of the ladies' class of phaeton pony, than animals for a rough country. Granted that they had the quality, they were not, to my mind, the mounted infantry stamp of cob.I think we may take it that these horses were by no means the best class for army work to be found in Hungary. The Austrian Government pay£28 for 1197 their remounts, and it is not likely that the British Government could obtain for £8 to £10 animals up to the mark of cavalry remounts. I do not wish to go deeply into the question of transport, which is a matter of very great importance. I only wish to notice this fact, which seems to me rather curious, that in the case of these horses shipped from Fiume, the cost of transport was £26 3s. 4d., which, added to the £33 16s. 8d. paid for the horses, brings the total to £60 per horse landed in South Africa, which rather looks as if the transport authorities and the horse contract authorities in Hungary were working together on similar lines.
The point I wish to insist upon is this, that what has been shown to be the case with remounts in Austria-Hungary has existed largely throughout the world. Wherever the Government have gone to buy horses, similar facts could be elicited if a proper inquiry was instituted. I do not mean to say that no good contracts have been entered into. I know, myself, of one by which 650 excellent animals were procured from Australia and delivered per at Cape-town for £33 odd a-piece; but that is not what generally took place. It is a matter of notoriety that in America three or four young Englishmen, with good connections out there, have made a very profitable thing, indeed, of buying up horses throughout the States and passing them on, at highly advanced prices, to the British Government. A gentleman with a large business in Buenos Ayres told me only last night that the contracts made there are the subject of scandal and ridicule to the whole of the British Colony. He says it is a notorious fact that very high prices were paid by the Government, with the result that enormous profits were secured by those who sold ponies. The manner in which the horses were inspected by the Government Inspectors was most curious. They were paraded in a circle, and those which were rejected at first were worked in again, and eventually passed. Then there is the notable case of Italy. A very capable person got a contract for 1,000 horses from Italy at £35 a head. I believe that contract was carried out extremely well, but the contractor himself admitted that each horse he passed on 1198 to the British Government cost him under £20, so that he made a profit of £15 for every horse he supplied. In Ireland things have been found to be sufficiently scandalous for the War Office itself to start legal proceedings; while in every part of England men will be found who have made large profits from the selling of horses to the Government, and who have, in many cases, been able to retire from business in consequence.
Facts like these form a good prima facie case for inquiry. The Government admit the justice of the demand, but say the inquiry they will give us is an inquiry into General Truman's management of the Remount Department now, and into other things, at the end of the war. I venture to say that that will not be satisfactory, and I hope the subject will be reconsidered. We do not want merely to know the excellence or the badness of the management of General Truman. What we want to know is the capacity of the Remount Department itself—whether it is properly equipped, properly informed, properly supplied with funds, and what is its knowledge of foreign and colonial markets. It is proposed to hold a military inquiry into General Truman's management. What is a military inquiry? It is a very limited inquiry. The Court is composed of officers of the Army, who report to the person summoning the inquiry. The members are not able to give any verdict themselves, but it is on their report that the verdict is given by the officer who has called the inquiry. I do not think that is very satisfactory. If what the man in the street says is true, then the inquiry in this particular case is an extremely improper one. It is said that General Truman has been asked to retire, and that he has done so under protest. If that rumour is true, what is the effect of referring the action of General Truman to a military inquiry? It is this. The Commander-in-Chief, who has considered that General Truman's action has been such that he is warranted in calling upon him to retire, summons an inquiry into the General's action. He directs the exact points to which the inquiry is to be limited, and then, when the Court presents its report, he has to give a verdict on the officer's conduct 1199 by the light of the inquiry, having already condemned him by requiring him to retire. If this rumour has truth in it, then I say that by such an inquiry a considerable injustice would be done to the Court, to the Commander-in-Chief, and to the person whose conduct is affected.
It seems to me that the only satisfactory inquiry which could be offered in respect to General Truman is an open and unfettered inquiry by a Committee of Parliament or a Commission. We are promised an inquiry into the circumstances attendant on the purchase of horses in all parts of the world at the end of the war. I am afraid that is putting it off till the Greek kalends. But even if the inquiry could be commenced 18 months hence, you would, by then, have lost the opportunity of getting the evidence necessary to prove whether the statements to which I have alluded are true or not. The only way to get a satisfactory and full inquiry is to follow the exact precedent of the inquiry in regard to Austro-Hungary, which amply justified the charges made by Sir Blundell Maple in another place. We say that we have every reason to believe that scandals, similar to those brought to light by the inquiry into the purchase of Hungarian horses, are to be found in other parts of the world; and we demand as a right that as full and satisfactory an inquiry should be held at once into these as was conducted by the Committee on horse purchase in Austro-Hungary. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, having lately returned from the Antipodes, I can assure the noble Lord that, so far as I have heard, there are no such scandals as he has referred to in connection with the purchase of Australian horses. It is true that the Imperial authorities paid slightly higher rates than were paid by the Colonial authorities, but that was only to be expected. Where one officer has to cover a vast extent of country, it is absolutely necessary that he should employ a middleman, who naturally does charge more than would have to be paid if the horses were bought direct. With regard to the statement of the noble Lord that the 1200 same horses were trotted round and round, and that those which were, in the first instance, rejected by the inspecting officer were ultimately passed, I would point out that it would take a very clever man to always recognise horses straight from the bush, which he might previously have refused to pass, after they had been kept for a couple of days and properly fed. I can assure the House that the officers who have been entrusted with this work in Australia have been doing the utmost in their power to secure the best horses at the cheapest possible prices.
THE EARL OF MAYO
The noble Lord who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench made a great point of the prices paid for these horses, but everybody knows that when you want things in a hurry you have to pay more for them. Lord Kitchener may have described some of the cobs as "flat-catchers," but Lord Valentia's evidence was quite to the contrary. Lord Valentia stated that—When they arrived, Colonel Birkbeck said they were by a great deal the best remounts he had seen come out.If that be so, it was worth while paying a good price for them. I can give your Lordships a piece of independent evidence, which is not in the Blue book. I am authorised by Colonel St. Leger Moore, who commanded a regiment in Rhodesia, to say that of over 2,000 horses which he had in the paddocks, the 700 Hungarian cobs, one of which he rode himself, were undoubtedly the best. The strongest indictment of the War Office is contained in the report of this Committee, who state that—The case of the Government Remount Department is different. In that case the decision to resort to Hungary as a field for obtaining remounts was not, apparently, come to as the result of a sudden emergency. We feel bound to express the surprise with which we have learnt that before the decision to purchase for the Government in Hungary was actually come to in April 1900, no steps bad apparently been taken, since 1884, to ascertain the best sources of supply in that country, the best methods of tapping those sources, or the most reliable people to employ. The war bad by that time been in progress six months, and it must have been obvious that a heavy drain on our remounting resources was inevitable.Quite apart from the matter of these particular purchases, there is sufficient 1201 disclosed in the Blue-book to lead us to hope that, instead of seeking to excuse themselves for unfortunate lapses, the War Office are steadily making preparations for the future in regard to remounts.
* LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, a great deal of loose talk and loose writing have been indulged in with regard to this matter. I was greatly surprised to see the other day, in a letter to a newspaper, a statement supposed to have been made by a friend of the writer's who had been an officer on board a horse ship, that the horses were in such a bad condition when they were put on board that 92 per cent. died on the voyage. I need not say that that is an extraordinary exaggeration, and that if the percentage had been the otherway—if 8 per cent had died—that young gentleman would have heard a great deal about it. I have soon the statement that the profits of the contractors might be estimated by millions. I have every respect for the business capacity and smartness of the horse dealer, but I decline altogether to believe that it is possible for any man to make a profit of several millions out of a contract for £100,000.
The noble Lord opposite asked if the War Office accepted responsibility for the proceedings of the Yeomanry Committee. There is only one answer to that question. The Yeomanry Committee was a delegation of the War Office, and, of course, the War Office accepts the fullest responsibility for its proceedings. It may be convenient if I explain the reasons which led to the formation of this Committee. In December, 1899, after the reverses which had occurred, it was suggested by certain Yeomanry officers—and the suggestion was accepted by the War Office—that a force of Yeomanry should be raised for service in South Africa. The original idea was that this force should consist of men actually belonging to the Yeomanry regiments, who would naturally bring their own horses and saddlery. But it was soon recognised that a much larger recruiting area could be tapped for a force of this description, and it at once became apparent that a large number of horses would have to be purchased, either in this country or abroad. In the meantime a Committee had been appointed of Yeo- 1202 manry officers to superintend the raising of the force and to assist the War Office with regard to its equipment, and to that Committee was joined Colonel St. Quintin, who was responsible for remounts. Colonel St. Quintin had had considerable experience, and I do not believe there is a better judge of horse flesh living.
When the first contract was made between Colonel St. Quintin and Mr. Lewison, two officers—Colonel Maclean and Captain Webb—who were known to be excellent judges, were sent out to Hungary to pass the horses. The first contract was for 1,500 horses at £33 16s 8d. each. The reports of Colonel Maclean on these horses were good, but Colonel St. Quintin considered that the contract price was too high, and the next contract was made for 2,300 horses at £26 each. Something has been said by the noble Lord of convivial meetings at the hotel in Szabadha between Colonel Maclean, Captain Webb, Mr. Lewison, Captain Hartigan, and Mr. Hauser. Upon this, I think it is right that I should explain that there was only one hotel at Szabadha in which they could have stayed, that there was only one room in that hotel in which they could have had their meals, and that there was only one table in that room, to that all the guests dined together. At least, that is what I am told. The noble Lord seemed to think that Captain Hartigan had been harshly dealt with. There is considerable conflict in the evidence, on two important points, between Captain Hartigan and Colonel Maclean. The former declares that he made a clean breast to Colonel Maclean of his position with regard to his commission, but Colonel Maclean says he know nothing about it. Again, with regard to the horses which were passed by Captain Hartigan, Colonel Maclean said they numbered a few hundred, while Captain Hartigan said he passed several thousands. The noble Lord made an attack on Mr. Hauser.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I made no attack on Mr. Hauser. He was a horse dealer who, in the course of his business, made as much profit as he could. What I said was that I was sorry the Government were such donkeys as to buy so badly from him.
* LORD RAGLAN
The noble Lord said Mr. Hauser was a very small man when he secured this contract, but was now a big man owing to the money which he had taken out of the pockets of the British taxpayers. We have it in evidence that Mr. Hauser bought largely for export to foreign countries, and had between 3,000 and 4,000 stalls at Szabadha. He is a dealer with a considerable business, and having many large contracts. Now I come to the question of the price of the horses. The Remount Department, on the advice of the Yeomanry Committee, made a new contract with Mr. Hauser, paying £32 10s. for the large horses, with which every satisfaction was expressed, and £26 for the cobs. Then there appeared on the scene, in the light of a contractor, a Mr. Von Folgár, who appears to be a large landed proprietor in Hungary. He was a director of a Hungarian company, the object of which was to push the products of that country. He said—You are paying a ridiculous price for these horses, and are not getting good animals. I can supply you with a great deal better horses at a cheaper rate.A contract was given to Mr. Von Folgár for 260 cobs at £20 apiece, and in his evidence he stated that he had lost £1,500 on this contract. Further asked what he would have charged per cob if he had taken up the contract as a business transaction, he replied £25 or £26. Therefore, £26 for a Hungarian cob cannot be considered excessive. As soon as Mr. Von Folgár got this contract, he did exactly what he blamed others for doing—he went to a Jewish horse dealer to carry it out for him. He said in his evidence—You are obliged to go to these people. You cannot do anything in Hungary without them.In the not result the prices paid show that to the extent of £10,000 or £12,000, too much money was paid for the horses under the earlier contract. The noble Lord mentioned the names of several of the members of Sir Charles Welby's Committee, but he did not mention Mr. Hobhouse, M.P.—a Member of the Opposition, and therefore not 1204 favourably disposed to the Government—andColonel Kenyon-Slaney, M. P., than whom no fairer man ever lived, and who, I am sure, would not put his name to a report in which he did not thoroughly believe. Therefore, to call it a whitewashing Committee, by which name it was described in another place, is untrue and most unfair.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My point was that the War Office must have been well informed, both publicly and privately, of what was in the report, and ought to have taken action earlier.
* LORD RAGLAN
I now come to the question of the value of these horses, and I would remind your Lordships that there is a great difference between price and value. The question is not the actual price of these horses, whether bought in Hungary or elsewhere, but their value to you when you get them to South Africa. Mr. Von Folgár says they were exceedingly bad horses, while, on the other hand, Colonel Maclean states that they were very good horses. I do not think I should go for an unbiassed opinion to either of these gentlemen. Colonel Maclean is not likely to say that the horses he passed were bad, and Mr. Von Folgár, who represents the Hungarian horse dealers from whom we did not buy horses, is not likely to say that the horses supplied by a rival were good ones.
The only evidence we can get that is of any value is the evidence from South Africa of the people who have had to make use of the horses. That is extremely difficult to obtain, but, on the whole, the reports from South Africa are favourable. The Hungarian horses stood the voyage remarkably well, the percentage of losses being less to them than among the horses sent from this country, or from Australia and the United States. Therefore they could not have been in the deplorable condition 1205 described when they were put on board. Your Lordships smiled just now when I said there was a great difference between price and value. The value of a thing depends upon whether you get it exactly when you want it. I ask your Lordships' attention while I read a short extract from a despatch by the Duke of Wellington, who, in writing to explain a failure, said—The people of England, so happy as they are in every respect, so rich in resources of every description, having the use of such excellent roads, will not readily believe that important results here depend on 50 or 60 mules, more or less, and a bundle of straw to feed them.May I venture to use a homely illustration? We will imagine that there is a house on fire and a man at the top window. Another man comes along with a ladder, puts it up to the window, and the occupant of the burning house is rescued. The price of the ladder may have been only 25s., but the value of it to the man at the window was considerably more. If the owner of the ladder had said "This is a very expensive ladder. I cannot use this one, but I have a friend round the corner who thinks he knows a place where you can obtain one for 15s., and if you will wait a minute I will go round and see if I can arrange it," the language that would have been used by the man at the window can be better imagined than described. The Government could not be expected to say to their agents in a time of crisis—and I do not think any noble Lord will forget the dark days of December 1899, and January 1900—that they were to take time to make good bargains. If they had done that, the country would have rung with indignation, and the Government would have deserved to be turned out of office.
The noble Lord asks why we cannot hold a complete inquiry at once, similar to the inquiry which has been held with regard to the purchases made by the Yeomanry Committee. My answer to that is, that the purchases of the Yeomanry Committee constituted a transaction complete in itself. The book, as it were, was closed. The actors all through were in this country, and available for examination before a 1206 Committee. Any inquiry into the question of remounts, to be worth anything, must be thorough and searching, and to be thorough and searching it must take considerable time and be carried out with care. At this moment the officers of the Army are fairly well employed. There are very few that one could lay one's hands on who are not employed. It is impossible to withdraw from the countries in which they are the officers who are engaged in the work of purchasing remounts, and even if it were possible to withdraw them, we should have to send others to replace them, who, however good they might be, would take a certain time to learn the work, and for that time would be, to a certain extent, inefficient. I do not see how any Committee or Commission could go to Australia, to the Argentine, to America, and, most important of all, to South Africa, to take evidence. In the present state of things that would be absolutely impossible. The Remount Department has plenty to do. It is up to its eyes in work, and the work is by no means so easy as a great many people appear to imagine. It is a very pleasant form of amusement to occupy an afternoon buying a horse at a dealer's, but to spend many hours a day, month after month, and year after year, feeling the legs and punching the necks of horses, and haggling with horse dealers in foreign countries, is not the pleasant life that many people at first blush appear to think it is. I have heard the statement made that the desirable positions on board horse ships were given to officers because of their social position. If anybody thinks for a moment that the position of an officer in charge of a horse ship is either a desirable, comfortable, or pleasant one, I hope he will take a trip in one of them. I will do my best to get him a passage, and I think that, after he had spent a day and a night in a gale he would considerably modify his opinion.
Whether the purchases of the Remount Department have been done well or ill, the Department has been able in a time of stress to do a hundred per cent. more work than it was constructed to do. General Truman has applied for a Court of Inquiry into his conduct, which does not seem to meet the views of the noble Lord opposite. This Court of Inquiry 1207 will take evidence on oath, and give a decision which will, no doubt, be the one the Commander-in-Chief will act upon. The War Office in this matter has no wish to conceal anything. We have no desire whatever to shield misconduct, or pass over incompetence. The noble Lord referred to a pending trial with regard to the purchase of horses in Ireland. That inquiry was ordered as long ago as December, 1900, and it is not our fault that it has not yet taken place. Whatever the Secretary of State for War can be accused of, I do not think he can be charged with ever hesitating to deal adequately with cases where offences have been committed. If it is proved that there has been dishonesty in the purchase of horses, it shall be punished; and if it is proved that there has been incompetence or carelessness, the persons concerned will be properly dealt with. The whole question of the Remounts is being most carefully considered, and an inquiry such as we intend to hold at the end of the war cannot possibly take place now, for it would stop the flow of Remounts to South Africa and would impair most seriously the efficiency of the British Army, on which the safety of the country depends.
THE EARL OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships for many minutes, but as I have been referred to by the noble Lord who brought this subject forward, I desire to make a statement concerning my relations with the Remount Department. On December 18th, 1899, I was asked if I would undertake the purchase of certain horses, and I was requested to state by the 19th whether I could produce 1,700 horses. As your Lordships know, I have been all my life very closely connected with horses and the horse trade, not only in this country but abroad. I immediately placed myself in communication with the proper sources of supply in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and I sent 23 telegrams in all. I then communicated with the Ambassador at Vienna, and with other gentlemen in that country. As a result of my inquiries, I undertook to produce 1,200 horses ready for shipment at Liverpool or Southampton by January 2, 1900. I guaranteed this, and the horses were 1208 delivered in time. With what happened afterwards I have nothing to do; but it is a fact that those horses, some of which arrived on Christmas evening, remained unshipped until March, costing the country three shillings a day. At the time I was in communication with Austria, I absolutely entered into a preliminary contract with a gentleman named Spencer to deliver at Liverpool horses similar to those eventually supplied for the sum of £33. I also had an offer to deliver horses, either at the Cape or at Liverpool, for £45, another for delivery at £50, and a fourth and fifth offer to deliver at prices varying from £35 to £40.
As to the prices of horses in Austria, which every man who knows anything about Austrian horses will tell you range from £12 to £15 for animals of that height, it seems to me remarkable that the authorities were unable to find out in many years experience what I was able to find out in 48 hours. I went off on December 25th, to Harborough to inspect horses, and before going I asked the Committee for warrants to justify my purchases, as the price depended, to a great extent, on immediate payment. By January 2nd, I had entirely fulfilled my promise, but a telegram was then received, not by myself, but by my servant—In future take your orders, not from Lord Lonsdale, but from me only—(Signed) Colonel St. Quintin, Director General of Remounts, Imperial Yeomanry.That was the only intimation I had that I was to dissociate myself from the Remount Department. I did my best. I produced from 1,200 to 1,500 horses within a few days, and I was prepared to supply any amount of horses at the proper price. There my responsibility ceased, and I had nothing more to do with the matter beyond telling Colonel St. Quintin of the transactions that had passed. I am perfectly aware that Colonel St. Quintin, when he succeeded me was not in the same position to deal as I was, for the simple reason that an Army Order had been issued, distinctly giving the price of the horses as £40. Therefore Colonel St. Quintin's hands were, to a great extent, tied. I know that many people have blamed the Imperial Yeomanry for what has hap- 1209 pened, but that is unfair when Colonel St. Quintin—I have never yet learned why I was suspended—was employed to do this work.
The Remount Department has for many years been the laughing stock of the world, and it will remain so as long as the present system lasts. There is no Department out of which so much amusement is to be gained. A year ago the Inspector-General of Remounts sent to examine five horses the property of a master of hounds in the North of England. Four of these horses were registered, three at £80 and one at £100. The officer sent down carefully examined every horse in the stable and selected four, three at £80 and one at £100. This sagacious officer had selected four horses which were just being sent off to a big market in the north as absolutely useless. They were to have been put up as the "property of a gentleman," because the owner hardly liked to put his name to them. These horses were put into an open truck, and the offer of the master of hounds to supply rugs to cover them refused. They were conveyed in the open truck, without clothing, in frosty weather, to Aldershot, where one of them died from a severe cold. I feel that I am justified in explaining my position with regard to remounts. I have asked for the minutes of the meeting at which I was superseded, but I have always been told they were unobtainable. I accuse nobody of any malpractice, but I do think it is a very remarkable thing that the members of the Remount Department should think it necessary to give at least four times its value for a horse, and a third more for transport than was necessary.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I will not detain the House more than a few minutes. It would be a pity to attenuate in any degree the effect produced by the very remarkable and straightforward statement to which we have just listened from an expert I am one of those who listen to the Under Secretary's answers in this House with the greatest pleasure. If I had a Department, I should certainly wish him to answer for it, because his genial rhetoric puts every one in a good humour. But I am bound to say that 1210 if he had risen after the noble Earl who has just sat down, he would have found it difficult to justify his contention that inquiry was superfluous, if not impossible, and could be postponed until the end of the present warlike operations. Now that is the point before us. My noble friend behind me went into the details of the purchase of horses with such minuteness that it is unnecessary to recapitulate them. It is all very well for the noble Lord the Under Secretary to bring forward the metaphor of a man in a fire taking the first ladder in order to escape. That, after all, is not the point. If I may correct his metaphor, it is this, that the gentleman who wanted to get out of the window with, perhaps, some special hurry, deliberately chose the greenest, the rottenest, and the most expensive ladder offered to him. No one who has listened to the speeches of my noble friend and the noble Earl can fail to believe that there has been a grave scandal in this matter. It is not confined to the case of General Truman. His evidence has not displayed him as a very perspicacious or businesslike officer.
The point is whether, not only in Hungary, but all over the world, you have not been plundered by your agents. The Under-Secretary very genially threw ridicule on the statements of those who indicated that there had been anything in the nature of improper dealing or corruption between Mr. Hauser and the agents sent out. Dealing with the agents sent out, the noble Lord said there was only one room, with only one table, in which those unfortunate individuals were obliged to "pig it" together in a wayside inn. I do not attach much importance to that point; but since the noble Lord spoke, an affidavit has been put into my hands which I will read to the House. It is from the head waiter of the one inn in the place where the horses were bought. I am glad that the circumstance of the deponent's being a head waiter causes so much amusement in the House. The affidavit says that at the beginning the members of the commission fulfilled their obligations with strict conscientiousness and exercised severe control in regard to the horses presented for inspection, so that in the first week out of 1,000 horses presented only 150 were purchased. However, already in the second week the control of the commission had been lax 1211 and negligent, and it was frequently represented by one or two members at the most. The horses which had been previously presented and rejected, about 800 in number, were later presented again for inspection, were found to be good and suitable by the commission, and were purchased for the British Government, payment being made to Mr. Hauser. The prices ranged from 90 to 100 florins, or about £10, per horse—at most 150 florins, but in numerous cases only80 florins were paid. For the most part of the day, the deponent says, the commissioners contented themselves with eating and drinking and driving out. Early in the morning at breakfast their table was supplied with champagne, whisky, and cigars. These princely breakfasts, which were served in great style, as well as four or five carriages, were always paid for by Mr. Hauser, together with the rooms at the hotel. Mr. Hauser also paid for telegrams sent to the War Office in London. The Englishmen themselves, the affidavit says, only rarely paid some small bills.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The deposition is in German. It was made at Budapest, and therefore I presume he is a Hungarian. Of course I cannot myself endorse or support the statements in the affidavit.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Will the noble Earl tell us at whose instance the affidavit is taken and forwarded to him?
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The affidavit was handed to me by Sir Blundell Maple, to whom the country owes a debt of gratitude in this matter of the remounts. As to the affidavit, I cannot tell whether a word of it is true or not. It is sworn on oath, and the depositions in the Blue-book are not. All this shows that there is a case for inquiry, and for immediate inquiry. There are things you cannot very well pass over in a scandal of this description. Who was Lewison? How did Lewison get the contract? Captain Hartigan goes to the Yeomanry Committee, who not unnaturally—and we ought to make 1212 allowances for them—were somewhat flurried by the duties laid, upon them, and solicits employment. I do not know whether he got employment or not; but he wanders away to the Haymarket and there he meets Mr. Lewison; and in an instant a compact is apparently struck between them involving the payment of two-and-a-half per cent. The Remounts Committee did not show the slightest curiosity to find out particulars about this agreement. But if we may judge the character of Mr. Lewison from the fact that he endeavoured to resist by an action at law the claim of Hartigan, we may take it a contract was made, stamped, signed, sealed, and delivered in the neighbourhood of the Haymarket before Hartigan took Lewison to the War Office. And what were the qualifications of Lewison? Hartigan seems to have said to the Yeomanry Committee, "Here is a man who will tell you all about horses in Hungary," and the Yeomanry Committee seem to have fallen upon his neck, with the exception of one more suspicious member, who, taking Hartigan aside, asked him whether Lewison had not something to do with the turf, as if that disqualified a man from knowing anything about horses. A bargain was struck and concluded.
Now, I do not care whether the War Office is responsible for this or not. I do not impute the slightest malfeasance to any member of the Yeomanry Committee, though I think they treated the noble Earl opposite with but scant courtesy as one of their members. But here we have the statement of the man Lewison that he paid two-and-a-half per cent. on the whole contract that was made for the horses on this occasion; that he bought another contract for a sum of £7,000 or £8,000 from Runucci; that he had another contract still; and that these horses, on the statement of the Committee itself—the report of which I think was on the whole favourable to the War Office—were bought at from £8 to £12 apiece. My noble friend behind me [Lord Tweedmouth] stated that the Yeomanry Committee were tied up into buying Hungarian horses, because they were told that they must not go to America, Australia, or Argentina. There was another part of the world to which they might have addressed themselves with advantage for the purchase of their horses—a place from which there are great complaints at 1213 the present moment—the Dominion of Canada, which claims for its horses that they are better than those of the United States. Yet you have bought from the United States 77,000, and from Canada only 11,300. We hear a great deal of the Imperialism of the Government. I wish they would show a little practical Imperialism in their dealings with regard to horses. It is not true that the Imperial Yeomanry Committee were shut up to buying horses in Hungary by the decision of General Truman, that they were not to attempt to buy either in Argentina, America, or Australia. Now what is the value of these Hungarian horses? One significant part of the evidence laid before the Committee was General Truman's extreme want of curiosity on that subject, and the Committee shared in it. General Truman seems never to have taken the slightest pains to find out whether the Hungarian horses sent out to South Africa were satisfactory. But he offered to the Committee to procure that information, which one would have thought the Remounts Department would particularly have wished to possess, which the Committee of inquiry would have wished to secure, but which the Remounts Department do not seem to have yet obtained, and which, at least, the Under Secretary has not communicated to the House.
I wonder how many of these Hungarian horses are in the ranks at this moment? What reports as to the efficiency of these horses have really been received by the War Office? Are the Government prepared to lay on the Table of the House the reports they have received with regard to these Hungarian horses? No, they are not prepared. The only evidence we have as to their fitness is that Lord Kitchener declared that they were "flat-catchers." The Government—if I may say so unofficially—are, after their electoral campaign, good judges of what "flat-catchers" are. But we have no evidence whatever to tell us what has become of those horses, or how far they have satisfied the authorities in South Africa. I have heard—I know not if the statement be true—that they were tried some time ago, both in England and Egypt, and found to be wanting, and were rejected for the future by the Remount Department of this country. I give that for what it is worth. There is another story which is somewhat illustrative of the character of these horses. I will tell it 1214 to the House, but I cannot vouch for it any more than for the affidavit. A gentleman was travelling not long ago in Hungary and was perfectly delighted with what he saw. He said to a Hungarian friend, "I am delighted with this place; I have not seen a bad horse since I have been in the country." "No," said the Hungarian gentleman in reply, "they have been all sold to the British Government." I do not know if that story be a parable or a fact; but at least it conveys to your Lordships the general impression in Hungary as to the nature of the purchases which the Government have made there.
There are two general considerations which I would urge upon your Lordships before I sit down. I say that this gross carelessness about the remounts which has been detailed in evidence is only a part of the policy of the Government throughout. From the time when they particularly requested the colonies not to furnish them with mounted men down to the time of the purchase of these remounts, they have shown themselves strangely indifferent or blind to the true character of the war in South Africa. I do not believe there is a military authority worth one row of pins who will not tell you that, if you had mounted men in sufficient numbers and well mounted, the war might have been over before now. That being so, this question of the remounts assumes an aspect far more important than the mere reputation of General Truman, which the Government propose to make the Subject of an inquiry by a military Court. The fact is that it is one of the largest and most pressing questions connected with the war. The noble Lord the Under Secretary for War say all this happened a long time ago. In that remark, "a long time ago," relating to the events of the war, I quite agree with him. But it will be a very long time, according to the most sanguine estimate, before the war is completed. But I do hold that if there is one point which has been brought out by every particle and scrap of the evidence, whether it be on behalf or against the Government, it is that this should be made a matter of instant and pressing inquiry. Mr. Balfour said the other day in the House of Commons that it could not be made a matter of inquiry, because the officers were scattered all over 1215 the world, and that it would be a great mistake to disturb them in the performance of their arduous duties. Begin your inquiry. You can begin it with Lewison and the other people at home; take their evidence on oath and wait for the return of the officers from abroad. That is the common sense aspect of the question.
To speak of this as a matter which can be met by the inquiry of a Military Court into the conduct of General Truman, betrays that strange blindness and that want of sense of proportion which have so often distinguished the Government in the course of those operations. Why, my Lords, it is the Government themselves who are to a large extent on their trial in this matter. They are ultimately and immediately responsible. And yet it is they who think of shifting this matter into a Military Court of Inquiry on General Truman. That Court is strictly limited by the Commander-in-Chief to the subject of the inquiry; it has no power of expressing an opinion on the conduct of any officer. It can only report—I do not know whether its report is confidential—to the Commander-in-Chief. Is this the inquiry that will be made into the conduct of all your agents all over the world—in Argentina, in Ireland, and in every other place where you bought horses? I venture to think that no such fruitless proposal, no such fruitlessly delaying proposal, was ever placed before Parliament in reply to a just demand for inquiry. You have other questions besides the question of the buying of horses. You have the question of saddlery and fodder. Unless rumour is more lying than usual, there are scandals in connection with fodder which, if inquired into, would throw grave light on the conduct of the war by the Government. I do not believe the Government can resist meeting the demand for an inquiry by a military inquiry into the case of General Truman. I am quite certain that they could not resist it if Parliament possessed the spirit which animated it at the time of the Crimean War, when it would not burke the inquiry proposed by Mr. Roebuck—though we were in the midst of a great war—into afar more searching and delicate question than the question of remounts and fodder; when it up rose in all its wrath and overturned a powerful Government with a large majority 1216 —overturned it by an overwhelming majority—feeling that their duty as citizens and Members of Parliament would not be fulfilled if they allowed the Government to hush up a gross and flagrant scandal in connection with that war.
My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene in this debate, and I should not have done so but for the fact that reference has been twice made to the business of the Transport Department, with which I was immediately concerned. So far as I understood him, Lord Tweedmouth suggested that the Transport authorities in England were working with the contractors in Hungary.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I was referring not to the transport authorities in England, but to those at Fiume. Mr. Van Launcontracted to convey these horses from Fiume to the Cape for £26 3s. 4d. The contract with Mr. Lewison was for £33 16s. 8d., and I pointed out that the two sums together amounted exactly to £60. I expressed the opinion that that looked as if Mr. Lewison and Mr. Van Laun had agreed together as to the total price for horses and transport combined.
As regards the price for transport, I am responsible, and am quite ready to defend the price in the case of every transport taken up by the Imperial Yeomanry Committee. The first thing I did, on being asked to undertake the business of transport for the Imperial Yeomanry, was to obtain the assistance of Sir John Hext, a gentleman who has had considerable marine and naval experience, and I have every reason to believe that we got the most economical price possible. I was astonished to hear the noble Earl (Lord Lonsdale) say that the price paid for transport was at least a third too high; but I prefer to accept the opinion of Sir John Hext on a question of that kind to even the opinion of the noble Earl. The noble Lord may or may not be a good judge in the purchase of horses. Evidently the Yeomanry Committee did not think he was. I was not on the Provisional Committee which the noble Marquess appointed on December 21st; I was not appointed till January 4th, and I do not know what happened in the two weeks during which the noble Earl thought he had—as he may have 1217 had, for all I know—authority to purchase horses. But, apparently, for some reason or other, the Provisional Committee had not sufficient confidence in the noble Earl to suggest to the Secretary of State that he should remain in the position which he had occupied for the first two or three weeks. The noble Earl who spoke last described the purchase of these Austrian horses at the prices named as a great scandal.
It is a fact, as the noble Lord who represented the War Office pointed out, that Mr. Yon Folgár stated in his evidence that a fair price was £26
There is a difference of opinion as to what is a fair price for these Hungarian horses. Therefore you have to fall back on this—did you get horses worth having? I admit that there is also a difference of opinion about that. At any rate, you have the opinion of Colonel Maclean that the horses were good horses. The noble Earl prefers the word of some German waiter to that of Colonel Maclean. It is not the first time that members of his Party have endeavoured to throw obloquy on British soldiers. Personally, I would prefer the word of the British officer to that of the German waiter. We have the evidence, not of Colonel Maclean alone, but of the remount officer in South Africa, who expressed the opinion that they were first-class horses. I will not go into details. The evidence in this Blue-book is most conflicting. I have no doubt that the Yeomanry Committee made mistakes. Having regard to the pressure, the difficulty of even obtaining apartments in which to do their work and of taking counsel together, they would have been more than human if they had not. But I am Convinced that they did their best at a time of great crisis. It was im- 1218 possible in the time and with the means at disposal to secure that discussion in Committee of every step taken which was desirable. We had to leave a great deal of executive action to the heads of the Departments, who reported to us afterwards. I daresay mistakes were made which would have been avoided if proper discussion had been possible. The question, however, as regards the Yeomanry Committee is, did they, or did they not, deserve well of the State? I never agreed with the then Secretary of State (the Marquess of Lansdowne) about the appointment of that Committee; I believe the work could have been done by expanding the War Office a little and operating directly with the Yeomanry Colonels. What I contend is that the Yeomanry Committee did their best under very difficult circumstances; and if they have made mistakes I am perfectly certain that your Lordships and the country, having regard to the services they performed at a time of very severe crisis, will overlook those mistakes and endorse the extremely handsome compliment which the noble Marquess paid to the Committee before it was dissolved.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am sure your Lordships will think it natural that I should desire, before this discussion closes, to say a few words about events in which I was personally a good deal concerned, and for some of which I am very largely responsible. Let me at once associate myself with what was said by my noble friend behind me (Lord Raglan) that neither now nor then does the War Office in any way disclaim responsibility for the proceedings of the Yeomanry Committee. On the contrary, having myself been responsible for their appointment, I take in the fullest possible degree the responsibility which belongs to me for the manner in which they performed their task. Of course, I am not going to tell your lordships that for every detailed action of the Committee I am prepared to make myself responsible. I should be inclined to say, after hearing the speeches which have been delivered to-night, that the members of the Yeomanry Committee did not, to use an expression which this debate has made classical, always "homologate" very closely.
1219 The speech made by the noble Earl (Lord Lonsdale) afforded a strong evidence of that fact. With regard to that speech, which made an impression on the House, I find in the original Army Order of January 4th, 1900, which called the Yeomanry Committee into existence, that the noble Earl is described as being in charge of the department of saddlery and horse equipment, and Colonel St. Quintin as having been responsible for the Department of Remounts. I cannot help thinking that when the noble Earl issued, as he appears to have done, large orders, not for saddlery, but for horses, he must have been poaching on the preserve of his colleague.
THE EARL OF LONSDALE
I would remind the noble Marquess of a letter which I received dated December 21st, and that I was sent for by the Under Secretary. I was instructed to buy up to 1,700 horses immediately, and the order was signed by Sir Evelyn Wood, who authorised me to pay for them.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Here is the officially printed Paper, in which the noble Earl is described in the manner I have indicated.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
May I recall to the recollection of the noble Marquess the fact that on December 23rd, 1899, a paragraph appeared in The Times referring to a Provisional Committee for the Yeomanry to assist in organising the Yeomanry force. Among those forming it were Lord Chesham, Colonel Lucas, and Mr. Walter Long. The Earl of Lonsdale was stated to have promised to assist the Committee in obtaining the horses.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I think that the noble Lord has "homologated" the matter. But a few days afterwards Colonel St. Quintin became responsible, and solely responsible, for the Remount Department. Assuming, however, that the Yeomanry Committee did make occasional mistakes, I suggest to your Lordships that you should never lose sight of the circumstances in which that Committee began its labours. Some of us seem inclined to forget the dark days we passed through at the end of 1899 and at the beginning 1220 of 1900. I, at any rate, am not likely to forget them. Your Lordships have been reminded often that our Army system, which had been accepted by successive Governments, contemplated that we should in the event of a foreign war send out of this country two Army Corps, or about 70,000 men. It was generally understood that we should probably send out one Army Corps at the outset of the campaign, and that as time went on we should endeavour to send out a second. What happened in 1899? Between the beginning of the war and the end of the year we had already embarked 90,000 men, equivalent to the whole of the two Army Corps and 20,000 men besides. It was evident to every one who watched events in South Africa that we were only at the beginning of our troubles. You have probably been told that in 1900 we embarked for South Africa 140,000 men and 113,000 horses; in the following year we embarked 78,000 men and 130,000 horses. In these figures I do not include the troops which were raised in South Africa or the large numbers of horses and mules collected in that country. That was the situation at the beginning of 1900. We had sent out of the country a large part of our available troops, including the greater part of our cavalry, and we had to provide large quantities of extra troops to keep the campaign going. It was obvious by that time that the troops we should require would have to be to a great extent mounted men. The noble Earl below the gangway (Lord Rosebery) has once again paraded before your Lordships that venerable assertion that on the outbreak of the war the Government had discouraged the colonies from sending mounted troops. It is put in this way—that the Colonies offered mounted troops, and that we snubbed them and said that we did not want any. That story is repeated in every military debate. I ask your permission once again to remind the House of the actual facts as they occurred. We sent out with the first troops that went to South Africa more than the usual proportion of cavalry. We also arranged that with each battalion of infantry there should be a company of mounted infantry, 1221 and when the question of making use of the Colonial troops came up we began by accepting the services of three small bodies of Colonial mounted infantry. That in itself is a proof that we did not set our faces against the employment of Colonial mounted troops. Then came the moment when from all over the Colonies offers of assistance, mostly in general terms, were received by the War Office. It was necessary to send some kind of answer to the Colonies at once. We consulted the general who was to have the chief command in the field, Sir Redvers Buller, and in consultation with him it was determined that we should inform the Colonies, who were at that moment offering in some cases cavalry, in others artillery, and in others infantry, that at that particular moment infantry would be most serviceable and cavalry least serviceable. Cavalry and mounted infantry are different things. The reason infantry were asked for was that it was proposed that we should attach small bodies of Colonial soldiers to the units of Imperial soldiers already at the Cape. It was a proposal very much approved at the time by the Colonies, and it was a reasonable one. At that time we were dealing altogether with a force of not more than 1,500 Colonial troops. A short time after, when the question of larger colonial contingents was being discussed, I find that we took 4,700 mounted men from the Colonies, as against 2,400 unmounted men. It is, to say the least, a gross exaggeration to represent the then War Office as having repudiated the offers of mounted troops from the Colonies.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I quoted from the speech of a Colonial Prime Minister. The statement was that they offered mounted men, and that the Department said they did not want them.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
At one moment, with reference to this small body—about 1,500 troops—we said that we preferred infantry to cavalry and artillery.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I want the House to understand this— 1222 that it is upon that slender, infinitesimal foundation that this charge of crass ignorance, stupidity, and obstinacy has been built up, and thrown again and again at the War Office. Well, my Lords, it was at that moment of stress and difficulty that we became aware that commanding officers of the Yeomanry were prepared to give us their assistance, and we appointed that committee of which so much has been said tonight. I welcomed the proposal. The noble Lord behind me (Lord Harris) suggested that it might have been as well to dispense with a Committee and operate through the officials of the War Office. I hailed the assistance of the Committee with delight for two reasons. In the first place it afforded a very great relief to a number of men who were overworked at that time to an extent which can only be realized by those who were, as I was, behind the scenes. In the next place it was so constantly dinned into my ears that nothing could be well or intelligently done by any one inside the War Office, that they were so hidebound, so tied up in bandages of red tape, that it seemed to me not a bad thing to make an experiment and see what results could be obtained by delegating some of this business to persons who were not under the suspicion of being saturated with the evil traditions of the War Office, I have often thought that some day or other an essay might be written on the question of red tape. I have myself a strong belief that without red tape in moderation no public business can be satisfactorily transacted. But I do admit that we have sometimes rather too much of it, and a shrewd observer once said to me that the worst variety of red tape with which he was familiar was the red tape which was stiffened by military pipe clay. I think that there is some truth in that; at any rate, here was a grand opportunity of emancipating ourselves from red tape. I hold that the Yeomanry Committee did a very great service to the country. It may have paid too much for some of these horses, but it procured, before dissolving, 11,000 soldiers, of whom I will take leave to say in the presence of the Commander-in-Chief that they formed a very valuable accession of strength to 1223 the South African Army; and the same organisation, a part of which survived after the Yeomanry Committee was dissolved, was instrumental in obtaining for us 25,000 more Yeomanry, most of whom, though a few might not have been quite up to the mark, were excellent and valuable troops.
What is the charge against the Yeomanry Committee? It is that they paid too much—that when they paid £33 a head for these Hungarian horses they made a very bad bargain for the country. On the face of it, the amount has nothing extravagant about it. The price of an Austrian remount is £35. But the great complaint is that these transactions put a large sum of money into the pockets of the middleman. It is easy to overrate the importance of that argument. The middleman always comes in for a great deal of abuse, but he is a very necessary person, and you cannot get on without him, particularly at moments of great pressure and stress. It would have been absolutely impossible for the War Office to send out agents to travel all over Austria-Hungary and to buy horses direct from the breeders. I submit to the House that the only possible thing was to find a good middleman or middlemen, and to make the best bargain you could with them. Of course, when you are in a hurry to buy—and, I take it, that will be confirmed by the experience of any of your Lordships who have had transactions in horseflesh—you have to pay dear, and the middleman makes his profit out of you. The real question, however, seems to me to be, not so much whether we paid too much for them, but whether they were bad or good animals. As to that, there, is a very great conflict of evidence, I confess that the evidence against the horses seems to me to be much more open to suspicion than the evidence in favour of the horses.
What is the evidence against the horses? There are produced testimonials from rival dealers, from disappointed sellers—letters, written after the event, saying that they saw in So and-So's stable a very badly broken-down animal, and that they believed it was sold to the Government. That is 1224 evidence which must be received, I think, with a good many grains of salt, and so must the evidence of a gentleman like the other middleman, Mr. Von Folgár. Of course, Mr. Von Folgár, and all the Folgár gang, will be ready to condemn the horses supplied by Mr. Hauser and his friends. That, I take it, is obvious. And then, to crown the edifice, we have the affidavit of the waiter. I do not believe that in any Parliamentary debate a more extraordinary piece of evidence has ever been tendered. How that wonderful document was procured, and who paid for it, we are not privileged to know. But where is this to end? If we are to have an affidavit from the waiter, some one may put in a counter affidavit from the boots, and then there will be a rebutter from the chambermaid. I really do not know to what length this extraordinary testimony is to be carried. I own I attach much more importance to the evidence of a man like Colonel Maclean, and certainly to the evidence of a witness like Lord Valentia, who was examined by the Committee, and who testified that when those horses arrived Colonel Birkbeck—Colonel Birkbeck was the remount officer in South Africa, and the kind of person from whom the noble Earl opposite wishes to get reports as to the quality of these remounts—stated that these Austrian horses were by a great deal the best remounts he had seen come out. I say a bit of evidence like that to my mind outweighs all the evidence of the disappointed horse dealers, the waiters, and the other people.
I wish to say one word about the Remount Department, which, of course, is a separate matter from that of the Imperial Yeomanry Committee. I must say I do not think that General Truman's evidence is of a very satisfactory character; but General Truman is, I should say, like many other gallant soldiers, a very bad witness before a Committee. I have known many men who are, when they are confronted by cross-examination, quite unable to do justice to their own case. What I think should be taken into account, when we are considering the alleged delinquencies 1225 of General Truman, is the fact that his Department is one of which it is the duty in an ordinary year to produce an average of 2,500 remounts for the Army, and that that demand was suddenly increased to such an extent that, in the first six months of the year 1900, the Remount Department had to provide no less than 80,000 horses. Of course, the strain on the Department was such that a breakdown of some kind was almost inevitable. But, after all, when it comes to General Truman, and the purchase of the Austrian horses, your Lordships will find that the Committee in the Report which has been so often quoted, testify that they have heard no complaint of this contract, that satisfactory horses seem to have been obtained, and that the profit was not an unreasonable profit when the risk is taken into consideration. I think, therefore, that so far as that transaction is concerned, your Lordships should hesitate before you condemn General Truman for the purchases which he made for His Majesty's Government.
But then the noble Earl complains of us, in strong language, because the Remount Department was insufficiently provided with information as to the sources of horse supply to which we might look, in case of such a crisis as that through which we were passing. The noble Earl referred especially to our alleged failure to buy horses from Canada. I always listen with a great deal of sympathy to anything that is said in favour of the Dominion of Canada, but I do happen to remember that with regard to the possibility of buying Canadian horses, we were told that there was a very great risk in sending horses out in the middle of the Canadian winter, which is one of very extreme severity, to the climate of South Africa, and for that reason it was not desirable to resort to Canadian sources of supply to the extent which might have been desired. As to other sources of supply, it has been constantly assumed in these discussions that the War Office sat with folded arms and took no steps whatever to ascertain where horses and other transport animals could best be obtained. I am able to say that in the month of July, 1899, which was some time before the war broke out, we sent officers to Italy, 1226 Spain, the United States, and to Australia, for the express purpose of marking down and ascertaining where horses and mules could best be obtained.
Then we come to the alleged failure of the Remount Department to make use of the assistance of the Military Attachés. There is the extraordinary story of Colonel St. Quintin's telegram to Colonel Wardrop; but surely the fact that Colonel St. Quintin omitted to sign his telegram puts that argument, so far as this particular affair is concerned, out of Court. The Remount Department by that time had acquired a very considerable amount of information with regard to the best source of horse supply, and was buying horses all over the world at a great rate, and I doubt extremely whether anything would, have been gained by dragging the Military Attachés into the matter. I should certainly be inclined to suggest that it would be impossible to use them as agents for the purchase of horses. I believe that that would be probably and not improperly objected to by the Governments to which they are accredited. The utmost that they could have done for us would have been to give us the names of vendors of horses, and of these vendors, by that time, we had a very considerable number already upon our list. But I fully admit that one of the lessons of this war has been that the Remount Department should be placed upon a footing better adapted to copy with a great emergency, more particularly because in the wars of the future mounted troops are likely to play a more considerable part than they have done in former days.
There is one other thing which I should like to say, and that is to express my belief that a great part of these complaints, as to the bad quality of the remounts which went out to South Africa are attributable to the fact that these wretched horses, when they got there, were not given sufficient time to recover from the effects of the journey before they were sent up to the front. You may choose the finest animals in the world, but if you land them exhausted by a long sea journey and put them to hard work at once they will fail you and will become "flat-catchers," and worthy of any other designation of the kind that you may think fit to attach to them. While that is the case I am bound to say that, so 1227 far as the care of the horses on shipboard is concerned, the War Office authorities have, to my mind, a very good case indeed. They are able to show that out of something like 300,000 horses altogether only 3½ per cent. were lost on the journey to South Africa, and of the large number of mules sent out only 2½ per cent. I dwell on this fact, for I remember distinctly the charges that were made—the "scandals" as they were termed—in relation to the shipment of horses, the rotten forage, and the defective horse-fittings. It was just one of those cases where the word "scandal" was freely buzzed all over the place. These figures, however, I think, show that this part of the work of the Quartermaster-General's Department was done in a very creditable manner indeed. As I said a moment ago, these wretched horses were sent to the front in an exhausted state, and consequently they died in great numbers, and I know nothing to my mind in the story of this campaign more pitiable, or which fills me with deeper compassion, than the thought of the sufferings to which these poor dumb creatures were subjected in their short existence at the seat of war.
There was only one way in which this evil could have been remedied, and that would have been by the accumulation in Cape Colony before the war broke out of a very large reserve of horses and transport animals. So far as our knowledge now goes, I am inclined to say that nothing short of a reserve of some 40,000 or 50,000 would have been of any appreciable use for such a purpose. I do not suppose that anybody will contend that the Government then in power, or any Government, could have accumulated such a reserve of horses in South Africa in the circumstances then existing. Think what would have been said here and elsewhere if we had attempted anything of the kind. What would have been said by the critics who tried continually, in the summer of 1899, to show not only that there was no cause for war but no cause for preparation for war? It is humanly certain that if we had begun to collect a great reserve of horses of this kind the immediate effect would have been to precipitate hostilities, and the invasion 1228 of British territory earlier than it actually occurred.
Then the noble Earl complains that we do not grant an immediate inquiry, but I can assure him there is no desire at the War Office to shield culprits if there be any. He has represented us as trying to put him off with the Court of Inquiry on General Truman. The noble Earl spoke of shifting the matter on to a Military Court of Inquiry, but I can assure him that nothing of the kind is desired by us. The Court of Inquiry on General Truman is not intended as a substitute for the fuller inquiry promised. General Truman asked for a Court of Inquiry, and according to the regulations he has a right to this Court, and will obtain it. But that is not an attempt to elude another and more far-reaching inquiry for which the noble Earl is so anxious. But that larger inquiry could not, in my opinion, take place with advantage at this moment. It would unquestionably involve the summoning of a large number of officers now at the front and others concerned in the management of the Remount Department, and also officers of those corps to which remounts have been attached, and who alone can tell us what the quality of the animals was. The noble Earl asks if we are going to lay on the Table any reports from South Africa, and I am able to tell him we are going to lay reports from South Africa, and that these reports will refer to Hungarian and other kinds of horses. What we most desire is that these matters shall be thoroughly cleared up. If there are culprits let them by all means be punished for their offences, but, to my mind, this is a comparatively small consideration. The important consideration is that we should spare no pains to turn to account our dearly-bought experience, and that the Remount Department for the future shall be placed on a footing which will render it amply competent to deal with any emergency it will hereafter be called upon to meet.
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, this is not a convenient time to enter upon a discussion of a very serious character, and I will not go at length into the subject, but after the speech of the noble Marquess I feel bound to say a few words. The noble Marquess seemed to think that those who were making criticisms on this matter were not doing 1229 justice to the services of the Yeomanry Committee. Now we who are on this side of the House consider that the Yeomanry Committee did very great service. They did good service in bringing forward a class of men, who, no doubt, have been of value in the South African war. They had a large share in the work, and we ought to thank the Committee, and be grateful. At the same time, we hardly think that some of their work was successful. The noble Marquess speaks as if there had been no inquiry and no report on this matter. Of course, he may say that further inquiry should not be made on account of the difficulty of obtaining evidence from officers in the field. He may say that, but he appears to me to disregard the report now before us. I cannot help thinking that this report, a most valuable report, ought to lead to great reform and the stopping of great abuses in connection with this subject of remounts. Now that this Committee has been successful in showing up—it is a word the noble Marquess does not like, but I venture to use it—these great scandals in connection with the purchase of horses, we claim that the same inquiry should be made on a broad basis, independent of this military inquiry.
The subject has been amply discussed, and I will not go over the ground again, but I may mention one thing in regard to those purchases of horses. It is said we were in an emergency and should have been glad to get anything at any price. Now it appears to me that this Committee, or those who went out, had apparently a cut-and-dried plan; they were to buy horses up to a certain price, and the price to be paid in Hungary and elsewhere was such as probably might have been paid in this country. The noble Marques has spoken of middlemen as necessary, and so they may be, but not to such an extent that out of £111,000 a profit of £44,000 should go into their pockets. I conceive there has been a gross scandal, and if anything of the kind has occurred in other places the sooner it is stopped the better. The noble Marquess has quoted two friends of mine and their evidence. Viscount Valentia, as everybody knows, is an admirable judge of horses; he has been master of hounds, and an enormous number of horses have passed through his hands. He does not 1230 entirely commend these Hungarian horses, and there are passages which show that his opinion is not far from the description "flat-catchers." I hardly think that anybody with knowledge of horses will say that the noble Viscount's description is that of a horse that will do heavy work in a rough country. Another friend of mine, Colonel Wardrop, is now military attachéat Vienna, and I agree it would be a bad thing to employ an officer in that position to buy horses; but when he happens to be an expert as Colonel Wardrop is, I think those who had to buy should have obtained information from him. He is a brilliant rider, and one of the best possible judges, and has been resident in Vienna for a long time, and I have no doubt is well acquainted with the classes of horses to be bought. His account is not a flattering or satisfactory one. I cannot help impressing on His Majesty's Government the immense importance of this inquiry, which should be carried out promptly and thoroughly. Such scandals as have been shown to have occurred should be prevented elsewhere. We have a strong case for pressing the Government to insist on further inquiry.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, till to-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.