HC Deb 20 February 1896 vol 37 cc782-91

I desire to explain as briefly as possible the circumstances under which it has become necessary to introduce again a Bill in connection with Military Manœuvres. In 1871 a measure of this character was introduced and again in three subsequent years and lastly in 1882, and Manœuvres Bills have passed in each of those years. In 1882 no advantage was taken of the Bill because the troops which should have taken part in the manœuvres were in Egypt at the time, and now for nearly 20 years no manœuvres have taken place on an extended scale in this country. What the reason of that has been it would be difficult in some of the years to say. Speaking generally of the period of eight or nine years from 1878, no manœuvres were held at home because the army was engaged in various small expeditions abroad, and for the last three or four years, a considerable body of troops were in Egypt. Since 1886, on the other hand, the Exchequer has been very heavily charged for the defence of forts and coaling stations, for re-arming the army with small arms and with artillery, and it has not been possible to find the increased sum which is necessary in order to carry out manœuvres. It has now been represented to the Secretary of State by the Military authorities that it is not only desirable but necessary to return to the practice of holding from time to time manœuvres on a large scale. It is regarded by the Military authorities as absolutely essential for the proper training of officers in the handling of large bodies of troops, for the training of the Commissariat and Transport Service, which are unable to obtain that kind of training by any other means, and also for the troops themselves in order that it may be found possible to bring large bodies of troops together, especially in the case of Cavalry and Artillery. It is well-known that there are few stations in this country in which it is possible for large masses of Cavalry to be brought together, and that without brigading Cavalry, they cannot be properly exercised. I will not dwell further on the desirability of holding manœuvres, because it is well-known that the practice has been adopted in connection with all Continental armies, as the first condition of securing military efficiency. Under the Bill which I now present to the House it has been decided to follow very closely the Acts that have preceded it, and especially the Act of 1882. The difference between this Bill and the Act of 1882 consists chiefly in this, that while the Act of 1882 was limited as to time and place, and defined certain local limits within which manœuvres were to be held, and prescribed the period at which they were to take place, this Bill is not so limited either as to time or place, but is brought forward as a permanent measure to enable manœuvres to be held from time to time when it is thought desirable. The circumstances under which it can be put into force are there. It can be put in force within such limits, and at such places as may be specified by Her Majesty by Order in Council. Notice of the intended Order in Council must be given to the local authorities three months in advance of the period at which it is intended to hold the manœuvres. A petition may be lodged within 30 days of notice being given, by any person resident within the district, against the holding of the manœuvres, and such petition will be presented to Parliament. The draft Order will then lie upon the Table of both Houses of Parliament for a period of 30 days, during which time a Resolution against the Order can be proposed in either House, and if carried, will stop the draft Order. If, however, no Resolution is brought forward in either House, Her Majesty may make the Order without delay. The chief feature of the Bill is a provision for the appointment of a Consultative Commission, a Local Commission as in previous Acts. The Lord Lieutenant of each county affected will be a Member of the Commission and will nominate two persons to serve upon it, and where a County Council is in existence, that body will also nominate two Members, while other Members may be appointed by the Secretary of State. This Consultative Commission, with the officer commanding the forces or some officer deputed by him, can go beyond the portion of ground on which forces can now be exercised. Forces can now exercise on unenclosed land, but it will be in the power of the Commission to authorise the use of certain portions of enclosed land for the exercise of forces, to settle the sources of water supply and to issue regulations for the protection of cattle or other stock or property. It is also provided that Members of the Commission shall attend the troops and facilitate the operations. Within the prescribed limits therefore, the local Commission will have full powers to protect the interests of the localities, and by the establish- ment of this Commission we have every confidence that everything will be done to properly safeguard those interests. Within the prescribed limits, the Commission can authorise forces with arms, munitions of war and stores, to pass over and carry out manœuvres upon any enclosed land, and to encamp, dig trenches or temporary works, to use private roads and supply themselves with water; but the Commission has no power to enable forces to enter or interfere with any dwelling house, farmyard, garden, orchard, pleasure grounds, park or premises attached to any dwelling house. There is also a reservation for fenced plantations. The Government recognises that in giving these powers to the Commission for the better furtherance of these operations, it is their duty to give full compensation for any damage done by the forces, and beyond that, having regard to the fact that the manœuvres will attract an immense amount of public interest, the Government think it necessary to take upon themselves the responsibility for any damage done by those who accompany the forces. With that object, Compensation Officers will be appointed by the Board of Agriculture, with the consent of the Treasury, who will accompany the forces. They are given full power to settle summarily with those whose property has been damaged wherever they are able to do so. Anybody who suffers damage by the passing of the troops or strangers over his land can either have the question of compensation settled summarily by these officers, or can send in a claim within a week, and any compensation arranged by the Board of Agriculture will be settled for, cash down, within a month. If it is found impossible in any particular case to settle the amount, we establish a Court of Arbitration consisting of three members, the first of whom will be appointed by the local body, the Consultative Commission, the second by the Board of Agriculture, and the third co-opted by these two, in order that there may be no difficulty in settling differences of opinion. Powers are given to the Court of Arbitration to examine witnesses and decide the matter, and we have every reason to believe that the provisions in the Bill will be prompt and effective. On the other hand, we have found it necessary to introduce some of the clauses which were passed before to enable strangers accompanying the forces to be kept under proper control, in order that private lands may not be overrun by unauthorised persons; and for that purpose magistrates have the power to deal summarily with such offences. The experience of those who have had to administer the Acts during previous manœuvres has been that all these provisions worked absolutely without friction, and therefore we have been justified in placing them before the House. With regard to Scotland and Ireland, we have considered the question of Scotland and have come to the conclusion that the opportunities for manœuvres are not sufficiently great, and the open spaces not sufficiently convenient to extend the Bill to Scotland; but in the case of Ireland, where it has been the habit to hold summer drills, which have been extremely popular, we have felt it would be undesirable that the localities which have benefited by the presence of large forces in the neighbourhood should be deprived of the advantage, and we therefore propose to bring Ireland within the scope of the Bill, in the hope that if not this year, at any rate in subsequent years, we may be able to have manœuvres of some sort in that country. The various provisions in the Bill will be worked by the Military authorities with the utmost consideration and fairness. Our desire in the measure is to meet local wishes and to see that the farmers, whether owners or occupiers, are fairly dealt with. As regards the composition of the forces, and the time of the manœuvres, I do not think I need say anything at this moment, except that it is the wish of the Military Authorities to associate with the regular troops some of the auxiliary forces, and some of the reservists, it is hoped, will join for the period of training, which, in the matter of time, will be so arranged as not to cause any interference with the harvests. The object we have in view is to enable the troops to be properly trained, and at the same time to carry out any measures which might be taken in such a manner as to render popular military exercises, to which so much importance is attached for the efficiency of the Army.

MR. McCARTAN (Down, S.)

observed that there was one matter which he would ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider before the Bill was printed. In Ireland, the Lords Lieutenant of counties were to select the place for holding manœuvres, whilst in England that selection was left to a local commission. It should also have been left to local commissions in Ireland, for the Lords Lieutenant were generally large landowners, with little sympathy with the people over whose land the manœuvres would be conducted. If the hon. Gentleman was desirous that the Bill should pass quickly through the House, it would be well for him to reconsider this particular provision.


pointed out that Military manœuvres on the continent were carried out at a time of year when very little damage could be done to the land. He had been present at manœuvres both in France and Germany, and had noticed that every care was taken to cause the inhabitants of the localities chosen the least possible inconvenience. He doubted whether there were any districts in England or Ireland where manœuvres could be carried on without injury to the interests of the occupiers of the land. He thought that in case of loss caused by damage, local people could best assess it, as in the case of damage caused by hunting. He therefore suggested that increased power should be given in the matter to the local authorities, and not so much to official authorities, who were subject to pressure from the Treasury. In Ireland his experience was that the people were by no means pleased with military manœuvres, whatever some newspapers might say, having their own private ends to serve. They, of course painted everything couleur de rose. Military gewgaws and glitter did not fascinate the poor Irish, and he hoped that the hon. Member who had charge of this Bill would induce the Chief of the Department which he served to relieve Ireland from the incubus of manœuvres.


was in favour of extending the Bill, because he thought its object was valuable. He saw no reason why it should not be extended to Scotland.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

thought it would be admitted that large tracts of land were absolutely essential for Cavalry manœuvres. He did not object to any Bill which would enable Cavalry manœuvres to be carried out under conditions where officers and men would obtain the maximum of training with the minimum of national cost. In the Bill, as explained, however, he found no reference made as to what would happen in the event of common and lammas land being used in a similar way to private property, nor whether compensation was to be paid if damage was caused. He took a great deal of interest in the retention and preservation of what common and lammas lands belonged to our people in country districts; and he believed that they ought to be treated, if damage was caused to them, on the same principle and with the same consideration as private lands. He trusted that the damage to common and lammas lands, especially by repeated cavalry charges in wet weather, would not be overlooked by the military authorities. This raised, also, the important point whether it would not be of advantage to capitalise and consolidate the annual cost of compensation and incidental expenses under the Bill, in order to enlarge by 2,000, 3,000, or 4,000 acres the best training-ground in the country—Aldershot. The ground there was too small for its present purpose, and he believed that if the military authorities had some continuity in their policy and in their arrangements of Aldershot, the ground would be better fitted for cavalry purposes than it was now. There were three Bills before Parliament through which it was proposed to appropriate 300 acres of lammas and common land for railway, tramway, gas, and water works. He trusted, therefore, that the Bill would not earmark or permanently damage these lands to the detriment of the people's recreative heritage.


did not rise to contravene the principles laid down by the Under Secretary with reference to military manœuvres, because he believed them to be of great value to our Army. Most of our wars were small ones, but the time might come when this country might find itself face to face with the great continental system, the unit of which was the corps d' armée. Unless we could train ourselves to adopt the same principle we might find ourselves in the presence of a great danger. With reference to the remarks of hon. Member for Battersea, he believed that a few years ago, when the camp was first made, the land for miles and miles around could have been bought for a mere song, whereas now, owing to the population which had come into the district, it could not be purchased without the expenditure of a very large sum of money. It was commonly said that if you once make it known that the Government was going to buy a large tract of country, the price would immediately go up. At the present time there was more than one large tract of country which could be bought at a very reasonable rate—he might instance Salisbury Plain and the down lands of Hampshire. If a Committee were appointed to look out for such land it could be seen that available tracts could be bought on easy terms, he believed com- petition would bring down the land to the real market price at the presen time. He only regretted that this Bill was to be made a permanent Act, as he feared this would interfere with purchasing a tract of country for permanent use.


, in a maiden speech said, this was a subject in which he had had great experience, more especially in Germany, and he could testify to its enormous importance in relation to Military manœuvres. In Germany, where they expended large sums of money upon their army, there was nothing they grudged less than the two or three hundred thousand a year which they spent on manœuvres. He would point out that the enlargement of Aldershot only affected a very small portion of the British Army, and that in order to have it efficient, every brigade and every regiment ought to have manœuvres every year. The Army must not be kept cooped up in barracks, they must be manœuvred in the field and know the conditions under which they would have to meet the enemy. In Germany he had seen charges of Cavalry made without the slightest compunction over large tracts of cultivated land, the compensation costing £3,000. He hoped power would be given in every part of the country to acquire land for the Army.


assured the hon. Member for Battersea that compensation for damage to land was not confined to private owners, but would certainly cover lammas or public lands. In answer to another question he had to say that if a general desire was expressed by hon. Members for the extension of the Bill to Scotland, the Government would be glad to consider such extension. He hoped he would now be allowed to introduce the Bill.


said, he should like to know the reason why Scotland was not included in the Bill, and he should do his best to have Scotland included at a subsequent stage.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Brodrick, Mr. Powell-Williams, and Mr. Attorney General; presented accordingly, and read 1a; to be read 2a upon Monday next.—[Bill 97.]