HC Deb 03 August 1875 vol 226 cc466-71

rose to call attention to the subject of the following Resolution, which he was precluded from moving by the result of the division:— That it is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should take such steps as they may deem best to secure for the Volunteer Regiments of the City facilities for drill and exercise in the Artillery Ground, near Finsbury Square, similar to those which were originally granted to the London Trained Bands, and are enjoyed by the London Militia under the Act of 36th Geo. 3, c. 92. He said he was sorry to trouble the House once more with this question. Though slightly altered in form, it was substantially the same as one which he had brought forward on two previous occasions. The form had been altered because the Volunteers were anxious that the House should feel that they were only asking for what had already been done in the case of the Militia. It could not be pretended that this was a case of interference with private property, because the Volunteers only asked for the rights which would clearly belong to the Trained Bands, if such existed, and which were enjoyed by the Militia under the Militia Act of 1796. The City of London Volunteers were a very important body, about 3,000 in number; the average number attending drill was about 1,000; and at present the nearest open space in which they could drill was Hyde Park. Going there involved great loss of time and great inconvenience. Yet, in the heart of the City, only a quarter of a mile from the Bank of England, there was an open space of no less than eight acres which had from time immemorial been set aside as a drill-ground for the Volunteer Forces of the City. Unfortunately, this land had been let to the Hon. Artillery Company for the purposes of drill, subject only to the rights of the Trained Bands. The Hon. Artillery Company maintained that technically and legally the Volunteers did not represent the Trained Bands. When the Militia were constituted at the close of the last century, the House interfered and introduced a clause into the Act of 1796, under which the Militia used the Artillery Ground when it was not required by the Hon. Artillery Company. In 1873, when the matter was brought before the House, the hon. and gallant Colonel the Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay), as Colonel of the Hon. Artillery Company, promised, as was understood, that if all legal claim on the part of the Volunteers was withdrawn the matter would be satisfactorily settled. The Volunteers performed their part, but without any result. The Hon. Artillery Company was, no doubt, a very ancient regiment, but it was very small for its age. From the last Returns it appeared that, though the regiment numbered 620, there were 240 who had never attended a single drill during the year, only 140 who had attended nine drills, and, in fact, less than 150 effectives. It was obvious that a microscopic corps of that character could not require eight acres all to themselves. They drilled twice a week—on Mondays and Thursdays; on Mondays they averaged 12 in number, on Thurdays 50. Let the House consider the value of eight acres close to the Bank of England! The Artillery Company alleged that they paid rent. Yes, they did pay rent, amounting, as he was informed, to £300 a-year, but then they had let off the fringe of the land for £2,400, leaving them a balance of £2,100 a-year; so that each effective actually cost £150 a-year, without counting the value of the land left unoccupied. Land in the City had been sold at the rate of over £1,000,000 an acre. Taking this land, however, at only a quarter of that value, these eight acres would represent £2,000,000, which at 4 per cent involved a loss of interest of £80,000 a-year, to maintain a corps of 150 effectives. It would be difficult to find a case of greater waste of public property. He would remind the House that the Volunteers only asked to be allowed to drill on the ground when the Artillery Company or the Militia were not using it. He would have thought that one Volunteer Corps would have been glad to assist another. Unfortunately, it had proved that this was not the case, and he therefore asked Her Majesty's Government to obtain for the City of London Volunteers the same rights as were enjoyed by the Militia under the Act of 1796.


said, this was the third time this question had been brought under the notice of the House. When Lord Cardwell was Secretary of State for War, he said he felt sure that an amicable settlement would be arrived at between the hon. Member for Maidstone and the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay), but no such settlement had been come to. There were three regiments of Volunteers in the City, numbering 2,500 effectives, while the Artillery Company had only 160 effectives, and these 150 were able to make use of the ground and to exclude the 2,600. He hoped the Government would support the Volunteers in the matter. They did not wish to interfere in any way with the rights of property, they only desired to use the ground for the purpose of drill at times which would not be inconvenient to the Hon. Artillery Company, and on any terms which the Artillery Company might fix, provided they were not prohibitive. The London Volunteers had the greatest possible difficulty in finding places to drill in; and although his regiment were able to use the Guildhall occasionally, preparations for festivities were often being made there which prevented drill taking place at the best time of the year. The Volunteers asked to be placed on the same footing as the Militia with reference to this ground, and he did not see any reason why they should not be treated in a similar way.


regretted that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berkshire (Colonel Loyd Lindsay) was not present, because no one was so thoroughly conversant with the matter. The subject, as had been stated, had been brought on three occasions before the House, and on the first the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire stated that the City Volunteers had practically claimed a right to enter this ground, that this claim had been advanced in a letter signed by their commanding officers, and that as long as they claimed it as a right he could do nothing to admit them to the use of the ground. Last year, the subject was again brought forward; there was a discussion on it, but no decision was come to. He did not know what the hon. Member for Maids tone expected him to do. Whether the hon. Member wished him to use his power of persuasion, or to pass an Act of Parliament, he could hardly determine. If he desired him to introduce a Bill, he could not undertake to do so, and on the same grounds as had been taken by his Predecessor—namely, that it was not the business of the Government to settle claims with respect to private property. In this instance the Artillery Company not only claimed the ground as private property, but they said they would invalidate their lease by admitting the City Volunteers to the ground. If this were so, he could not interfere with those who were in possession. The Militia were not on the same footing as the Volunteers. They were successors of the Trained Bands, and as such were allowed the privileges of the Trained Bands, one of which was the occupation and use of this ground. The Militia were not admitted by the Artillery Company as a favour, but as entitled to the right of the Trained Bands; and the Volunteers did not hold this position. "What might be done by means of the persuasion of the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire, who was Colonel of the Artillery Company, he did not know; but the War Department had no right to exercise any influence, and he thought there must be some claim on the part of the Volunteers which the Company did not recognize. He could not help thinking that some of the difficulty which existed was due to the letter of the commanding officers.


said, that letter was written under a misapprehension, and had been withdrawn two years ago. The Artillery Company said that if they admitted Volunteers they would invalidate their lease; but he did not think that such would be the ease.


said, that, at all events, he could not interfere to obtain admission for the Volunteers to a piece of land which the Volunteers claimed as their own. If he interfered in this case, he should be asked to do so all over the country in favour of Volunteer corps which might want to gain admittance to drill grounds. The best plan for the Volunteers to adopt was to endeavour to obtain the influence of the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire in their behalf. With every desire to benefit the City Volunteers, he did not see that he could take any steps in the matter.


said, the Hon. Artillery Company held a lease of one half the ground from the Corporation of London, with a right of renewal for ever upon a fixed payment, and he was quite sure that the Corporation would modify or permit any modification of the terms of the lease which would enable the Volunteers to use this ground. The other half was held from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and was granted originally for the use of the Trained Bands. Now, the Volunteers were in spirit more nearly the successors of the old Trained Bands of London than any other body of men. The Militia were not at all the same. The legal difficulty with regard to the lease might be got over; but another difficulty arose from pique. In the year 1873, when he held the office of Lord Mayor, the Volunteers came to him and stated their case. He thought it a strong one, and advised them to go to the Prince of Wales, and an interview was arranged with Lord Colville and the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Colonel Lloyd Lindsay), and it was considered most desirable that the use of the ground should be allowed to the Volunteers for drill and exercise when it was not required by the Company. At the desire of the Prince of Wales a meeting of the Court of the Hon. Artillery Company was summoned, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Lloyd Lindsay) gave notice of a motion that, if the terms of the lease permitted, the Volunteers should be invited to use the ground under proper regulation and upon payment of adequate compensation. He believed this resolution would have passed by general consent but for an unfortunate incident. Without his knowledge, the colonels of the Volunteer regiments wrote a very foolish letter, saying that they viewed the concession as a matter of right, instead of courtesy. This, of course, raised the ire of every member of the Artillery Company, who had not yet recovered their good humour. The land was not private property. It was granted at a nominal rent for public purposes. This being so, he hoped, the Government would use their influence with the Artillery Company, or, failing success, would take steps to place the City Volunteers on the same footing as the Militia.


said, the Government had the power to place the Volunteers in the position which was due to them, and might exercise the power by bringing in a Bill. He had a high opinion of the force, as they tended to foster the martial spirit of the nation. They did not fight themselves; but by their example they encouraged others to join the Army.


thought that if the question were approached in an amicable manner some settlement might readily be arrived at. It seemed to him that the hon. Baronet (Sir John Lubbock) wished to employ the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War as a sort of Jezebel to get possession of this Naboth's vineyard.