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Remounts—Military Court Of Inquiry—Position Of General Truman
17 February 1902
Volume 103

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My Lords, I beg to ask the Questions standing in my name, viz.—(1) Seeing that the Report of the Committee on Horse Purchase in Hungary was signed in August, if action is now considered necessary as regards General Truman, why was it not taken at an earlier date; (2) If the Under Secretary of State for War will give to the House the authority under which the novel conditions of the Court of Inquiry are adopted; (3) If he will give the names of the officers who are to serve on the Court of Inquiry on General Truman; (4) Whether General Truman will have legal assistance; (5) Whether the proceedings of the Court will be published from day to day; (6) Whether the members of the Court will be sworn, and the evidence given on oath; (7) Whether the Court will have powers to compel the attendance of witnesses other than military; and (8) Whether the Court will report its opinion on the matters inquired into to the Commander-in-Chief. The Questions require hardly any preliminary comment. But there is an additional Question which on Saturday I could not get printed in the Votes, and I therefore had to give the Under Secretary private notice of it. I may here say that I am sorry Lord Raglan is away indisposed, but I understand the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is prepared to answer the questions on his behalf. The Question of which I gave private notice is, whether the Under Secretary can inform the House whether General Truman was asked to resign his office before mention was made of the Court of Inquiry. I ask this Question owing to a remark that fell from my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth the other evening, that he had heard from the man in the street that this was the case, and that, if true, such a course was shabby; but this statement elicited no comment, and the taunt no rejoinder. I submit that this may be a matter of very great importance as regards the General in question and the methods of the Secretary of State in dealing with an officer of the Army. Again, why this delay in dealing with General Truman? If he is so inefficient that a Board of Inquiry is necessary—if, indeed, he had not already been told to resign—why does the Secretary of State wait to deal with the matter till the House of Commons forces his hand? And, then, as regards the legal assistance. Lord Lansdowne will remember that he said that officers were frequently bad witnesses in their own defence—a remark in which I agree, and one which is not confined to military men. I think the officer in this case, on which so much depends, at any rate as regards himself, should, if he wished it, be allowed skilled assistance to aid him in the presentation of his case and while the inquiry lasts. So far as my own opinion goes, I do not think that this Military Court is the proper and most efficient tribunal for dealing with this matter. I do not understand that there is involved in the case any question of military law, of discipline, or even of military custom. The real question has to deal with matters of trade and business combined with the conduct of a branch of one of the great Departments. The question is not the conduct of an individual; it is far larger than that. I submit that the matter has greatly stirred the public mind, and I do not, think the case can be said to be thoroughly and efficiently met by action in regard to an individual officer, undertaken at the eleventh hour. What seems to me to be required is an absolutely independent inquiry by, for the sake of example, a mixed Committee of both Houses of Parliament, into the working of the Remounts Department, on the efficiency of which so much has depended in the war.

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My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Raglan, I hope the noble Lord will allow me to answer the Questions. He has asked, in the first place, how it has come to pass that as the Report of the Committee was signed so long ago as August last, its publication has been delayed until quite recently.

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What I asked was, why there had been so much delay in dealing with General Truman.

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I will come to that point in one moment. But I wish, because it is germane to the matter, to point out why it was that the Report was not published sooner. It was not published sooner because at the time it was received two lawsuits were in progress, in each of which persons were involved whose conduct had been frequently referred to both in the Report of the Committee and in the evidence received before it. One was the lawsuit between the Earl of Lonsdale and Colonel St. Quintin for libel, and the other was the case in which the Secretary of State for War took proceedings against a person named Studdart for fraudulent transactions in connection with the sale of remounts to the Government. The litigation in each case proved much more protracted than was anticipated. In the first case a settlement was arrived at on 13th January, and the other case is still pending, although it began so long ago as the end of the year 1900, and this in spite of the efforts made by the War Office to bring on the trial as quickly as possible. The noble Lord has suggested that nothing was done in this case until the hand of the Secretary of State was forced by the discussions that took place in Parliament. That observation, I think, proceeds upon an entire misapprehension. It is not the case that nothing was done by the Secretary of State. On the contrary, the whole of the facts were taken into his most careful consideration, and he set to work at once to prepare measures for the reorganisation of the Remounts Department—measures which I am able to say are in an advanced state of preparation. It had been the hope of my right hon. friend that when those preparations were completed he would have been able to deal simultaneously with all the persons concerned, including the case of the Director-General of Remounts, whose position, in particular, had been under his consideration. But then came the debates in Parliament, during the course of which very strong complaints were made of General Truman's conduct, and of the manner in which he had administered the Remounts Department. It became evident in the face of the statements which had been made, that it was impossible for him to retain his official position without some inquiry into the manner in which he had administered the affairs of his Department. General Truman was informed to this effect, and after communications between himself and the Commander-in-Chief, and the Secretary of State for War, he asked to be given a Court of Inquiry. He had a right under the Queen's Regulations to make that request, and it was at once granted. I gladly give this information to your Lordships, and I am able to say that the Secretary of State is very far indeed from desiring to withhold from Parliament any information upon this subject which he can be properly expected to give. But I am bound to add that, now that the case of General Truman has been committed to a Court of Inquiry, it does not seem to me that His Majesty's Government would be right in making any intimation to the public, as to the particular opinions which the military authorities may have formed in regard to the merits of the case, and in regard to General Truman's conduct. For that reason, I do not think the noble Lord should press the supplementary Question to which he referred at the outset of his remarks.

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The Question as to whether General Truman had been asked to resign his office?

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The Question whether General Truman was asked to resign his office, and, if so, whether he was asked before any mention was made of the Court of Inquiry. These are details into which I do not think we ought to enter. The next Question the noble Lord asks, is whether I can give to the House the authority under which the "novel conditions" of the Court of Inquiry are adopted. That authority is to be found in the Army Act of last year, Clause 4, which runs as follows—

"The rules as to the procedure of Courts of Inquiry may provide for evidence being taken on oath, and may empower Courts of Inquiry to administer oaths for that purpose."
That change was, I understand, introduced with the object of giving a more formal character to the proceedings of Courts of Inquiry. It was considered desirable that such Courts should be resorted to in certain cases, rather than Courts-Martial, for the reason that in the case of a Court-Martial it is necessary that a direct and specific charge should be framed against the officer who is put on his trial, whereas that is not the case with regard to Courts of Inquiry. The next Question I am asked is whether I will give the names of the officers who are to serve on the Court of Inquiry. The names will be given as soon as possible, but I am unable to give them tonight. The answer to the fourth Question is that General Truman will have legal assistance on the occasion of the Court of Inquiry. Then the noble Lord wishes to know whether the proceedings of the Court will be published from day to day. No, my Lords, they will not be published from day to day. They will be submitted in their entirety to the Commander-in-Chief, and it will not be until after he has considered them that any publicity will be given to them. The answer to the sixth Question is that the members of the Court will not be sworn, but that the evidence given before them will be given on oath. Then the noble Lord desires to know whether the Court will have powers to compel the attendance of witnesses other than military. The answer to that Question is in the negative. Finally, the noble Lord asks whether the Court will report its opinion on the matters inquired into to the Commander-in-Chief. The answer to that Question is in the affirmative. I think I have answered the whole of the Questions put to me, and I will only add, before I sit down, that I cannot concur with the noble Lord in considering that a Military Court is an inappropriate Court for an inquiry such as that which is about to be instituted. As I ventured to explain to your Lordships the other evening, it is fully intended that there shall be a larger inquiry into the whole of this remount question, although we hold that such an inquiry cannot, without great inconvenience, take place at the present time. This inquiry, however, is for a strictly limited purpose—it is an inquiry which has been asked for by General Truman for the purpose of enabling him to meet personal charges which have been made against him as to his conduct as the head of a Government Department, and as to the various matters which have been referred to in the evidence given before Sir Charles Welby's Committee.

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My Lords, I rise to express my very great disappointment and regret at the answers which have been given to my noble friend by the noble Marquess. I should first like to say that Lord Sandhurst was in error when he attributed to me the use of the word "shabby" in respect to the treatment offered to General Truman. I used that word the other night in reference to the action of the Government in the other House when the remount question was brought forward, and they threw the blame on the Yeomanry Committee, instead of the War Office taking the responsibility. That was what I described as shabby, and I was glad that the Yeomanry Committee did not receive that treatment in this House, for both the Under Secretary of State for War and the noble Marquess admitted that the War Office took the responsibility in the matter of remounts. I said the other night that I had heard a rumour to the effect that General Truman had been required to resign, and that he had asked for this court of inquiry. I put that purely hypothetically to point out that I thought such action would be very unfair to General Truman. The exact case that I put as a hypothesis turns out to be the fact. I will state briefly to the House what has taken place with regard to General Truman. I hold no brief whatever for General Truman, and I express no opinion whatever as to his management of the Remount Department; I am perfectly ready to believe either good or ill of that management, according as the inquiry may show, but an officer in General Truman's position has a right to the most generous and considerate treatment. This remount scandal took place in 1900. It was brought to light by a Member of the House of Commons in 1901, and an inquiry was held in July, resulting in a Report being handed to the War Office in August, 1901. I accept the statement of the noble Marquess that preparations were made for improvements in the Remounts Department; but so far as anything connected with the doubtful methods which were brought to light by this Report was concerned, no action whatever was taken, though it seems to me they were of a character which would have warranted instant action. This Report was not presented to Parliament until the eve of a large Remount Vote being discussed in the House of Commons on January 31. Considerable comment having been made on the facts which came out in the evidence, the Secretary of State, the very next day, interviewed the Inspector-General of Remounts, and told him that his conduct had been the subject of grave comment in the House of Commons, that it made his position impossible, and that he ought to retire. Naturally, the gallant officer did not quite see why he should be thrown to the wolves of Parliamentary criticism.

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Will the noble Lord say on what authority these statements are made?

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The authority is a Memorandum drawn up by General Truman himself, which I have seen, although it was not shown to me by General Truman, with whom I have had no personal communication. He asked, naturally, for time to consider what he was to do, and drew up a short statement of his views. On Monday, February 3, however, he was again interviewed by the Secretary of State, and also by the Commander-in-Chief and the Quartermaster-General, and was told that he was expected to resign his office. That office he accordingly resigned under protest, and asked for an inquiry, which was granted. I want the House to note that the Commander-in-Chief, by asking him to resign, had already expressed a conviction that General Truman's action had not been consonant with the duties of his office. Then, when an inquiry is asked for, a military inquiry is given. This military inquiry, which is to consider General Truman's conduct, is summoned by the Commander-in-Chief, and on their Report the Commander-in Chief is to give his verdict. My point is this, that the Commander-in-Chief, by his preliminary action, had already given a strong verdict in this particular case. That is a position which is neither fair to the Commander-in-Chief, to the Inspector General of Remounts, to Parliament, nor to the country. I make no imputations of bad motive. It seems to me, also, that absolutely to restrict this inquiry to the conduct of General Truman is not altogether fair. A very material point in the question is, surely, whether the Remount Department was organised in such a way that the Inspector-General, whoever he was, was able to do his duty. Had he a sufficient staff? Had he sufficient power to get information? Is it a fact that the Remount Department was precluded from consulting the military attaches? Is it a fact that there were difficulties with regard to the Treasury? I think I have raised a sufficient number of points to show that the proposed form of inquiry is not altogether a satisfactory one.

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said there were things going on in the Remount Department which had no business to go on, and if it was now found necessary to have a military inquiry, he was surprised that the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs did not institute it, instead of forcing a private law suit as he did.

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My Lords, I venture to suggest to your Lordships that there is a certain amount of inconvenience in carrying on a discussion upon the general question of remounts, when there is no Motion before the House on which it is possible for your Lordships to come to any decision. I wish only to say one or two words in reply to the question raised by the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite. The noble Lord gave to the House a statement of the transactions which had taken place with regard to General Truman, which, as he said himself, was based on a Memorandum he had seen. Of course, we have not seen that Memorandum, and as far as I am aware, the War Office have not seen it, and therefore we are not in a position to discuss the facts therein brought forward. And as an inquiry is going to be held, at General Truman's desire, into his conduct, it seems to me that it would be more convenient if any discussion of the proceedings towards General Truman taken by the War Office were postponed until that inquiry has been held. The noble Lord said that General Truman had been placed in an unfair position; that it was quite possible that the organisation of the Remount Department was such that it was not possible for any officer, whoever he might be, whatever his abilities might be, to do his duty in that office. And he mentioned, among other matters, that it was possible that ho had not a staff sufficient to enable him to carry out the duties. There is no doubt that if the circumstances are so, it would be perfectly competent to General Truman at the inquiry which is being held to bring forward these facts and any other facts which might account for any shortcomings in connection with his Department. But as an inquiry into this part of the subject is going to be held, it is impossible for me to see what object is served by attempting to discuss beforehand matters which are to form the subject of inquiry by the Court. As my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has said, we are not under the impression that an inquiry of this sort, which must mainly be of a personal character, relating to the action of General Truman himself, is a substitute for the more complete inquiry which it may probably be found necessary at no distant time to undertake into the whole question. But, so far as I can see, no good object can possibly be gained at the present moment by discussing matters avowedly personal to General Truman himself before the inquiry is commenced.

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I am not certain whether His Majesty's Government accept the statement made by Lord Tweedmouth that it was put to General Truman that he should resign his office. The speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs led me to the conclusion that that was the fact, because he said that the Secretary of State for War came to the conclusion that, after the discussion in the House of Commons, it was not right that General Truman should remain at the head of the Remount Department.

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I said "Without some inquiry into the part which he had taken in those transactions."

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Will the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs tell the House distinctly whether or not General Truman was asked to resign? If the noble Marquess is not prepared to give that answer, I must assume that the statement made is correct.

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What I understand happened was this—that General Truman was given to understand that the charges made against him during the discussion in Parliament reflected on his conduct to such an extent that it was impossible for him to continue to hold his appointment unless some steps were taken to clear his conduct, and that it was thereupon, after more than one discussion at the War Office, that General Truman did what I understand is usual when an officer finds himself in such a position—viz., to ask for a Court of Inquiry, which was given to him.

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But he resigned under protest.

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It seems to me that that is precisely the same thing. I can make out that no other impression could have been given to General Truman except that he was asked to resign and that thereupon he asked for a Court of Inquiry. If it is the case that the Secretary of State for War and the Commander-in-Chief have already expressed the opinion that General Truman should not remain at the head of the Remount Department, it is not fair to that officer to investigate his conduct by a tribunal which has to report to the Commander-in-Chief, who is the deciding authority in the matter. I cannot think that that is a fair way to treat an officer in General Truman's position, and there should be some way in which an investigation could be made in which the Secretary of State and the Commander-in-Chief should not be concerned. It is important that officers employed in important positions at the War Office should be fairly treated by their superiors when their conduct is impugned. I have also to observe that nothing has been said of the Quarter-Master General in whose departments General Truman served.

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My Lords, I am sure the Commander-in-Chief, though I understand that he did practically dismiss General Truman, will act fairly as regards the opinion which is placed before him by the Court of inquiry. But I do not think that a Court of inquiry is the proper Court to deal with the case of a man who has been convicted and dismissed. Moreover, a Court of inquiry such as this cannot compel the attendance of witnesses other than military, and this case of the remounts is bound up and connected with civilian witnesses, and for that reason, and that reason alone, I consider that this Court of Inquiry is not a proper and fair Court to try General Truman. I hope His Majesty's Government will consider the matter in the interests of justice and of the Commander-in-Chief, who, I am sure, would be glad to be freed from giving any opinion upon it.

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The criticism of the noble Lord who has just sat down seems to me to be applicable to all Courts of Inquiry. The case must surely have arisen before, when the Commander-in-Chief, or some superior authority, has said to an officer against whom charges have been brought, "You must either clear yourself by a Court of Inquiry or, if you are unable to do so, I must regard you as unfit to hold your present position." That seems to me to be the perfectly natural way of dealing with cases of the kind. I would also point out this—that, if the inquiry were made, not by a military court, but by a Committee of this House, it would still remain with the Commander-in-Chief to decide what military notice should be taken of any offences of which the accused officer might be found guilty.

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I cannot endorse what has fallen from the noble Marquess. A Court of Inquiry is assembled to inquire into circumstances that are not quite clear to the person who has to adjudicate on the conduct of an officer. But a Court of this kind should not be assembled, because the Commander-in-Chief, if it be true that he has called on General Truman to resign, has already expressed a conviction that General Truman ought not to remain in his position, and has therefore prejudged the case. I agree with Lord Tweed-mouth that some other court should be substituted in this case.

House adjourned at half-past Six of the Clock, till to-morrow, Eleven of the Clock.