§ [THIRD READING.]
§ Order for the Third Reading read.
§ SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
said he did not rise to oppose the Bill, but he wished to point out a flaw in it. The Bill, while regulating the hiring of land by County and Borough Councils, to be afterwards leased to Volunteers for shooting practice, omitted to deal with the case of the purchase of land, which was also contemplated in one of the clauses. That defect, he feared, vitiated the whole Bill. It was strictly the business of the Government to concern itself with this question, and a Bill which involved a charge on the rates should not, in his opinion, be in the hands of a private Member.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said he had allowed the Bill to pass former stages with the greatest possible reluctance. It was practically a Government Bill, introduced through the medium of a private Member; it would enable Councils, at the expense of the rates, to hire land for purely military purposes, and he protested against the opening given by the Bill to the military authorities, to place what were really Imperial obligations on the local rates. The Volunteer forces now constituted a distinct part of our Army Corps system. He believed there was nothing to prevent the Crown, by Royal Proclamation, calling out the Volunteers to serve in any part of the world. They were part of the military organisation of the country, and local rates ought not, therefore, to be saddled with any part of their cost. Finally, he thought they had good cause for complaint that the Government were not represented in the House at that moment.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said there was nobody more capable of appreciating the importance of a Bill or its true character than the hon. Member for Mid Lanark. If ever there were a Bill public in its nature and in its essence, a Bill which ought to be proposed by the Government, it was this Bill. And yet they had not a single member of the Government, concerned with this kind of Bill—the Secretary of State for War, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the President of the Local Government Board—present to advise them. The Bill set up an entirely new principle; it enabled County and Borough Councils to buy land anywhere, and to pledge the local rates for the purpose. There was absolutely no limitation. It was, in fact, a public Bill dealing with a public matter; yet there was no Member of the Government present to advise the House. He felt very much inclined to move the adjournment; but perhaps a prolongation of the debate for a little longer would give some member of the Government an opportunity of putting in an appearance.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
thought that the experience of the past few years would have ensured more strict attention being paid by the representatives of the War Office in that House to matters affecting the Army. Widespread discontent and criticism had of late been directed against the management of the war; yet here they had still another instance of carelessness and laxity. It was a perfectly monstrous state of things that on the consideration of a Bill which was for a purely military purpose not a single representative of the War Office was present. This was the second Bill dealing with a great Government Department which had been under the attention of the House, and yet not a single member of the Government had thought it worth while to look in even for five minutes. It was not treating the House with proper respect. What would the outside public say if it could see the state of the House at that moment. Here was a Bill dealing with a new development of Army matters; yet those who represented the War Office were treating it contemptuously and would not take the trouble to come into the House if only for a few moments. Possibly the absence of the Secretary of State for War was as valuable as his presence would be, but hearing, as they had done of late, so much about the Imperial spirit of the Empire and the influence exerted by our Volunteer forces in all parts of the world, he felt it was regrettable that members of the Government should be too busy formulating plans to make the food of the people dearer to give the least possible attention to a Bill intended to make the defensive forces of the country more efficient. It was a monstrous state of affairs; and if the result should be that the British Empire should go to pieces, the Secretary of State for War would be altogether to blame.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
pointed out that this Bill, which gave County Councils or Borough Councils power to hire land by agreement, was merely an extension of the Act of 1892, under which the Councils had power to purchase land by agreement. The War Office had realised that it had not always been easy for County 694 and Borough Councils to purchase land, although it was possible to hire it, and hence it had been deemed desirable to give this authority. No doubt it would have been better if matters had been entirely kept under the control of the War Office and not delegated to County or Borough Councils, for it was not the proper function of the latter bodies to attend to the military requirements of the country. But this after all was not a new measure; it was merely an extension of one which had already been passed, and the compulsory clauses having been omitted he did not think he could any longer object to the Bill, especially as the military authorities were in favour of it. As to the absence of the Members of the Government he presumed that they did not anticipate any opposition to the Bill at that stage. If the House desired to take advice on that point it was in their power to do so, but at the same time he pointed out that this was not a new power, inasmuch as the County Councils now had power to purchase rifle ranges.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said he gathered there was a general feeling in the House that a representative of the War Office should have been present to advise the House upon this Bill, and he also understood the hon. Baronet who had just sat down to say that both the War Office and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War approved of this Bill or that the military authorities were favourable to it. Whether they were favourable or not a representative of the War Office ought to be present to advise the House. He thought it was a very good Bill, and therefore in the absence of the Secretary of State for War he would undertake to defend it. The question of handing over any sort of military duties in connection with the Volunteers to local bodies had been pointed to as being the most important question in this Bill. He had always held that the Volunteer forces would profit and increase the further they were withdrawn from the purview of the War Office, and that much advantage could be obtained by them if they could be put more and more under local bodies. It was quite true the local management of Volunteers might 695 clash with their duties in the so-called Army Corps Scheme, and anything that conflicted with that might be deemed a misfortune; but never having taken that view he did not regard that argument as one worthy of consideration or one that ought to weigh with the House. The value of the Volunteer forces of this country depended largely upon the local training which they received. The idea of the War Office at the present time was that Volunteers should only be trained on large open spaces. He read a few days previously that a brigade of Volunteers were taken from Newcastle to Salisbury Plain for the purposes of training; but he might point out to the House that a Volunteer was only wanted in England, and in many cases he would have to fight among the hedgerows of his own county. Anything more absurd than to take them away from the country that they knew in order to train them on Salisbury Plain it was impossible to conceive. It was of the greatest advantage to train men locally, and to use for that purpose the country which they had a special knowledge of. The value of such training had been seen in the Boer War, and in order that local Volunteers should be trained in that knowledge this Bill, or some thing like it, was absolutely essential; and who could better make arrangements with the farmers in the neighbourhood for the use of the land for this purpose than the local authorities. Would not they be able to make far better arrangements than the War Office authority. (Lord Stanley at this moment entered the House.) He was glad to see his noble friend now in his place, because he was perfectly certain that his noble friend would agree with every word that he had said and would be glad to offer his thanks for the manner in which he had sustained the position of the War Office. This Bill offered facilities for manœuvres, and there was nothing in its form to prevent the establishment of local rifle ranges, upon which the efficiency of the Volunteer rifle corps of the country so much depended. The Bill also offered means of economy, because it provided for the manœuvring of the Volunteers in their own counties instead of the absurd practice of taking a brigade from Newcastle to Salisbury Plain at a great expense and waste of 696 their time in the journey there and back, and at a great cost to the public. The troops would be better trained in their own locality, and a great economy would be effected. Therefore he hoped that the absence of the Secretary of State for War on this occasion would not be deemed a reason for the rejection of this Bill, the benefit of which was incontrovertible, and which if passed could not fail to put the Volunteers in a very much better position than that in which they had hitherto been placed.
§ *SIR WALTER THORBURN (Peebles and Selkirk)
, said he was not disposed to follow the hon. Member for Oldham into the matter of whether it is expedient to bring Volunteers from Newcastle to Salisbury Plain, as the subject had no connection with the Bill before the House, beyond remarking that if Volunteers are to be brigaded with Regular troops, it follows that if they are not to be sent from home to meet the Regular troops at a rendezvous, the Regular troops must be taken to them. He then went on to say that a Bill of this character would find few friends in the House. He was not a military man but he was a ratepayer, and he objected to the cost of a matter of this kind being put upon the local rates. It was, in his opinion, a national affair, and should be dealt with by the War Office.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)
hoped that the House would not be influenced by the hon. Member's objection. He did not wish to argue the question as between rates and taxes, though he had some little sympathy with the taxpayer. It must be remembered that in the Bills which had been passed by Parliament in recent years the taxpayers had been very heavily charged with expenditure for the provision of ranges at the more important centres of military administration, and he did not think it would be practicable to impose upon them the cost of providing local ranges purely for Volunteer practice all over Great Britain. But he had another argument in favour of the Bill. It seemed to him to be very desirable to keep up the ancient interest of local bodies in the Volunteer force; and that would be effected to some extent, at any 697 rate, by the present measure, to the general saving of the expenditure of public money. He was convinced that the County Council of Gloucestershire, for example, who were extremely anxious that the Bill should become law, would be able to obtain a local range more cheaply and perhaps with more regard to the general interests of the public than would be practicable for the War Office. He believed that the Bill not only had the support of his own County Council, but also the practically unanimous support of public opinion, at any rate in that part of England. It was a very small measure; and for his part he would have been glad if it had gone rather further, and, under proper safeguards, enabled the local authorities, perhaps with the assent of the War Office, to bring compulsory powers to bear for the purchase of land. But be welcomed the Bill in any case and hoped the Government would support it.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE WAR OFFICE (Lord STANLEY,) Lancashire, Westhoughton
said that he felt he owed the House an apology for not having been present when the Bill was brought up for a Third Reading; but it had passed through its previous stages without a single word, and he confessed that he had looked upon it as a Bill which would pass by the unanimous wish of the House. He still hoped that that would be the case. The War Office were entirely in favour of the permissive clause allowing agreements between local authorities and landlords for the hire of land for the purposes of the measure, and they had always held that the more they associated the local authorities with local military enterprise the better it would be. In this case he was perfectly certain that it would be much cheaper for the country.