LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the Question which I have put on the Paper relates to a simple series of facts, and is in these words—
§ To ask His Majesty's Government whether it is the fact that with the consent of the War Office some motor ambulances have been provided by private benefaction for special brigades through the British Red Cross Association; whether, on such cars being landed in France, they have been taken possession of by the Army Service Corps and devoted to the general service of the Royal Army Medical Corps; and if so, whether this course has the sanction and approval of the War Office.
§ The facts as given to me from private sources are these. Early in the autumn there was a great need for ambulance cars for the seat of military operations for the purpose of bringing the wounded back to the base hospitals with as much speed as possible. The demand exceeded the supply, which is not perhaps wonderful, and I for one cast no stones and lay no blame on account of what happened under what were unprecedented circumstances. But I am told that on the facts being made known to the friends of some of the regiments concerned they themselves got up subscriptions for the purpose of giving this service to the special units in which they were interested. I am informed by my right hon. friend Mr. Walter Long, whose son is in the Scots Greys—a regiment of Cavalry with which we in Scotland have many associations—that he approached the War Office to find out whether this procedure would have their consent, and he was definitely assured that individual units could not be given this privilege by themselves, but if cars were supplied for each of the three units making up the brigade, then that would have the consent and the approval of the War Office.
§ Accordingly, I am informed, the friends of the Scots Greys, the 12th Lancers, and the 20th Hussars, which made up one Cavalry brigade at that time, did provide ambulance cars for the service of the brigade. I am informed that others have been sent out, but in no single case has the car reached its destination. I want to point out to the House that, according 336 to the information given to me, every condition laid down by the War Office was complied with, and these cars were sent out through the British Red Cross Association. I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not acting for the British Red Cross Association. I have had no communication with them; I have not been in any way prompted by them. I desire that nothing should be said which would cause conflict between that Association and either the Army Service Corps or the British Medical Corps. I am acting for the individuals who have supplied these cars and whose names I will give, if necessary—I do not want to mention them here, but I will supply them if I am asked to do so. Now, are these facts which I have stated correct? If so, is it fair that the property of private persons, subscribed under the sanction of the War Office for a definite purpose, should be taken from them and applied to other purposes which probably ought to have been provided for by the public funds? Even after the lapse of many weeks neither have these cars been delivered to the destination to which they were despatched nor has any compensation of any kind been offered.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have made inquiry into this matter, and my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State for War sends me this information which I think to some extent clears up the obscurity which appears to prevail. A considerable number of motor ambulances have been provided by private benefactors, and in a great number of instances the donors have stipulated that the ambulance in question should go to some particular unit, brigade, or other formation. The answer to such stipulation has invariably been that as far as possible the donors' wishes will be carried out, but that it must be distinctly understood that any such gifts can only be accepted on tile condition that they are available for the general service of the Army. Those ambulances which have been given for work with the Expeditionary Force have been so despatched. It is, however, obvious that the difficulties of the maintenance of an Army in the field make the special ear-marking of certain vehicles to certain units only, a practical impossibility. A vehicle requiring only slight repairs must necessarily be replaced by an efficient one and the 337 damaged one when repaired must necessarily go into the general pool available for replacement wherever required. So that it comes to this, that while every effort has been made to carry out the wishes of the donors they have always been warned that it might be impossible to carry them out in particular cases.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I cannot, of course, ask the noble and learned Viscount to press the matter further on this occasion. But I want it to be clearly understood that Mr. Walter Long has definitely stated to me that he got the distinct authority of the War Office; the names of the units were painted on the cars, but the cars have been taken for the general service of the Army Medical Corps, and no communication whatever has been made either to the donors or to the persons for whom they were intended. I am informed that one of the cars has not been paid for, and that the donors do not intend to pay for it until they get compensation.