HC Deb 31 May 1905 vol 147 cc361-76


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [May 15th], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

aid this was only a one-clause Bill but was most rar-reaching in its effect. In order to understand the nature of the Bill they had to go back to the year 1892, when the Military Lands Act was passed. According to that Act the Secretary of State might purchase land for military purposes, build sheds, and the like. Under that Act land might be purchased for military or naval purposes by the Secretary of State for War or the First Lord of the Admiralty, but these were Imperial purposes and had no relation whatever to private individuals, the locality, or the Volunteer corps. Here they were dealing with land and not accoutrements or anything of a movable nature, but with the acquisition of land. Upon what principle should a Volunteer corps acquire land for naval purposes as provided for under this Act? He was aware that they had to get the consent of the Secretary of State, who could send down inspectors to investigate as to the suitability of the land and see that proper provision was made for the safety of the public. Was it not a very extraordinary thing to empower a Naval Volunteer corps to purchase land for naval purposes and that they should be responsible for the borrowing of the money giving the land and also the grant which was given to the Naval Volunteers as security? They were making grants to Volunteers, both military and naval, and what was the use of giving the grant if it was to be held as security for certain lands used for military and naval purposes.

In the case of the military there might have been something to be said for this at the time when the Volunteer corps was essentially a Volunteer corps, and when it did not pretend to be part and parcel of the military organisation as it had become lately. We had now an altogether altered state of matters both in regard to the military and Naval Volunteers. The Naval Volunteers were not now allocated to this country alone; they might be sent, outside the country. That was a distinction which existed in the case of the Naval Volunteers which did not exist in the ease of the military. The land which the Naval Volunteers were likely to take was land somewhere near the sea and as far away from dwellings as possible. Therefore it would probably be land that was practically of no other use. Take the case of a naval battery, which, he supposed, was one of the purposes for which land would be wanted. The land would first be purchased, and then a large amount of money would be expended in order to make it fit for the purposes of a battery. Power was being taken to borrow money for that purpose. Of what use was the land and the battery when the place had ceased to be used as a battery? But it was proposed to make the grants of the Volunteer corps liable as security for the money borrowed on that land.

When the Military Lands Act was passed in 1892 the Volunteer force was not as it was now a part of the regular Army organisation. At that time the powers given were intended very much for providing rifle ranges, and, generally speaking, rifle ranges were easily accessible from a city or populous place. That land, if not used as a rifle range, would have a value corresponding very much to the value given for it as a, rifle range. In connection with the Military Lands Act it was stated at the time that drill halls were wanted for the Volunteers. In the case of drill halls and the land on which they were built, there was perhaps something to be said for the locality making a little contribution. This Bill said not merely that a Volunteer corps might hold land, but that the council of a county or borough might hold land on behalf of one or more Volunteer corps. He maintained that the loyal people of a borough or a county district should not have the local funds saddled with the cost of providing what it was essentially the duty of the Imperial Government to provide. It was absolutely necessary that we should have these lands for military and naval purposes. On what reason or principle should a locality be in any way made responsible for the providing of land for purposes of that kind? Supposing a town council or county council borrowed money to provide a rifle range for a Volunteer corps there was likely to be something of value left when the land ceased to be used as a rifle range. In the case of a drill hall, obviously the buildings might be utilised in some way by the town council, and probably very little loss might be sustained. The land would probably rather increase in value, because the tendency was for land in towns to increase in value.

Another point was that the money was to be borrowed from the Public Works Loans Commissioners, repayable within fifty years, at 3½ per cent. interest, or such rate as might be fixed by the Treasury. Why should a responsibility extending over fifty years be placed either on a Volunteer corps, a county council, or a town council in order to provide land for naval and military purposes? What would be the effect supposing a Volunteer corps was disbanded? Where the land was held by the corps of course there was no difficulty because the Secretary of State for War, as representing the Government, was responsible for the loss in connection with that property. The land would become vested in the Secretary of State, subject to the repayment of any money borrowed and not repaid. The sum required, in so far as not provided by sale, was to be provided out of moneys voted by Parliament. But if land was held by a county council or a borough council, and the corps was disbanded, the council might appropriate the land to any purpose which could be approved of by the Local Government Board, or might sell it for the best price possible, and then any money received from the sale was to be applied towards the repayment of the money borrowed, and so far as not required to be applied for that purpose should be applied to any purpose to which the capital moneys were properly applicable and which were approved by the Local Government Board. Supposing there was a deficiency in the case of the county council or the borough council, then that was to be a burden on the county or the borough rates.

It might be asked why there should be all this roundabout transaction when a Volunteer corps had become responsible for the land. The Volunteer corps had to borrow the money and to give the Government grants in security of repayment. Power was given by the Act of 1897 to borrow in respect of buildings, as the Act of 1892 only applied to land. Buildings were not included under the Act of 1897, but the powers were afterwards extended to the purchase, construction, or alteration of permanent works for the purposes of Volunteer corps. In the case of a battery, for instance, that would include everything necessary to make up a military work. Another power was given in 1900 to county councils and borough councils to lease land to any Volunteer corps for military purposes for a period of ninety-nine years. That was a very precarious sort of undertaking; and it was obviously a very roundabout way of getting money out of the Public Works Loan Commission. They lent the money, but if the money was not repaid, it was wiped out every year in the Public Works Loans Act. That was how they never knew exactly the amount of expenses which had been incurred. Then if the Volunteer corps was disbanded the lease was to vest in the Secretary of State subject to repayment. That was to say, the Secretary of State would be responsible, not only for the unexpired portion of the lease, but for the money borrowed as well. By the Act of 1903 a county council or borough council might, at the request of a Volunteer corps, hire land for military purposes for a period of twenty-one years. The object was that as limited owners were not in a condition to sell the land, it was advisable to confer power on them to lease land for not less than twenty-one years. But all these powers given to county councils and borough councils of hiring land, etc., were not for any local benefit whatever, but solely for the benefit of naval and military purposes for which the responsibility rested on the State. Naval Volunteers were organised for the purpose of defending the country as a whole, and not for the purpose of defending that part of the country where their buttery happened to be situated.

His contention was that all expenditure for naval and military works—batteries, rifle ranges, etc.—should be a national, not a local charge. That was more especially the case in regard to Naval Volunteers, who by recent Acts could be taken out of the country on emergency and were an essential part of the Imperial service. Hence the locality should not be burdened with the expense of providing them with batteries or other means of training. Every service in this country should be kept within its own sphere; local rates for local purposes, and Imperial taxation for Imperial purposes. Much was heard as to the extent to which local rates were rising; but why should the local rates be burdened with expenses for purposes which had nothing to do with the locality? He did not wish to move the rejection of the Bill, because he knew that there might be cases in which the Admiralty might be able to get land for the desired purpose themselves. He did not object to the Admiralty having all the powers to borrow money to provide everything necessary for the training of the Naval Volunteers; but he objected to the county councils and the borough councils being in any way involved in a matter of this kind. He protested against the Naval Volunteers having to give security for money borrowed to buy or lease land for batteries out of the grants which Parliament voted to them for efficiency as a Volunteer corps; and he strongly objected to county councils and town councils being made responsible in a matter which concerned the country as a whole.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said there must be some misunderstanding in regard to proceeding with this Bill. The announcement was made the previous evening that the Agricultural Rating Act Continuance Bill was to be first taken. The Government Ships Bill was allowed to be taken without any discussion. He would not go the length of saying that there was a definite pledge that no other business would be taken; but there was a general understanding that no other business would be taken, and there was general surprise that discussion had arisen on the Naval Lands (Volunteers) Bill, and hon. Members were indebted to the hon. Member for Mid.-Lanark for his able and lucid statement in regard to that measure. He asked the right hon. Gentleman if he would allow this debate to be adjourned? There was a general understanding that this Bill, which presented opportunities for a good deal of discussion, would not be taken that afternoon. The Memorandum ought to be enough to warn the House not to proceed hastily with the Bill. It was not a good argument to say that because the military authorities had power to acquire land similar power should be given to the naval authorities. It was an entirely different matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite objected to power being given to local authorities to borrow money; but Bills of this character almost invariably proceeded from those hon. Gentlemen themselves. He thought more time should be given for the consideration of the measure.


said he could not admit there was any breach of faith in taking the Bill. He stated in reply to a Question that the Agricultural Rating Bill would be taken as the first order, and the Government Ships Bill as the second order; hut that did not mean that no other business would be taken. As regarded the statement of the hon. Gentleman that more time should be given for the Second Reading, he would point out that the Second Reading was part heard, so to speak, three weeks ago. Therefore, there was nothing to be founded on that argument. He would be quite prepared, if this stage of the Bill were taken, not to proceed further to-day. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would accept his assurance that he did not give a pledge that no further Bills would he considered.

MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny, S.)

said that after the masterly statement of the Member for Mid.-Lanark the House should not pass the Bill without adequate discussion. He objected to the Bill on two grounds. Firstly, it was legislation by reference, which rendered it difficult for hon. Members to understand, what was proposed. It would have been much simpler to have introduced a Bill on the lines of the Military Lands Act. It was generally believed in the country that the Admiralty was better managed than the War Office; and it would have been better if the Admiralty had worked on their own lines rather than have followed the War Office. He also objected on another ground. The Bill would remove control of expenditure from Parliament. If the money were needed for the purpose of purchasing land for Naval Volunteers then Parliament should be given the option of saying whether it agreed or not. The Estimate ought to be put down in the usual way. This roundabout way of spending money was against all the principles of sound finance.


said that having regard to the description of the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark as masterly, it would be a pity to waste the afternoon. He wished to express his surprise that of all men the hon. Member for West Islington should suggest what was practically a Derby Day adjournment. He thought that the better sense of the House would prevail; and that business would be proceeded with. He did not for a moment suggest that the Bill was not open to very considerable objection. In how many cases had the Military Works Act been put into operation? He objected to the proposal that the Government should be paid out of the rates for providing land for naval purposes. At the same time he was most strongly in favour of giving every facility to the Volunteers, naval or military; and if there was any such prospect he would be the last to interpose any obstacle. The Volunteers were, however, like the Militia, in a state of chronic doubt as to their ultimate fate. That was the difficulty. This Bill was not a Bill to enable the State to do its duty to the Volunteers; if the Volunteers did their duty to the State the State ought to do its duty to the Volunteers; this was a Bill to allow the corporations and the Volunteers themselves to do what the State ought to do for them. After the Volunteers had under the Act spent their money and the corporations the money of the ratepayers, the result might be that the lands and buildings might be left on their hands. The work of the defence of this country was primarily the duty of the State, and under no Bill or Act of Parliament should the Volunteers be under the obligation to erect batteries for the defence of the nation. The thing was absurd on the face of it. The question of a drill hall for Naval Volunteers was a different question, but with regard to all those things which were essential to the proper training of the State forces they should be furnished by the State.

How many corporations had applied the Military Lands Act? Had it been generally applied by the municipalities it would have been a strong argument in favour of this Bill, but that was not the case. Some corporations, he was aware, had given land for the purpose in their own locality, and perhaps that meant that if the corps ceased to exist the possession of the land; would be resumed, and if such gifts were made all the better for the Volunteer forces and of course the State, the performance of its duties thereby being delegated to another body which had nothing to do with the general defence of the country. Exception was taken by some corporations to the terms upon which they were permitted to borrow from the rates for such a purpose as this. The Military Lands Act gave fifty years in which to repay a loan which was based on the security of land. Land was a permanent asset. However bad a man might be he could not run away with an acre of land, and in his opinion the time for repayment in such a case should be eighty or a hundred years. In the Committee stage of this Bill he should move to increase the term of repayment. Again, why should the ratepayers be called upon to make good the ultimate deficiency, if any? They had already performed their, obligations and if there was ultimately a deficiency it should be borne by the community. He saw no reason under the Military Lands Act for putting that obligation on the ratepayers. If they thought it right and wise to help the Volunteers, he saw no reason why they should be prevented from doing so, but they should not be allowed to assume an ulitmate liability of this kind for posterity to discharge.

He agreed with the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark that it was mean and shabby to take as part of the security the capitation grant. The capitation grant was given in order to enable the Volunteers to perfect themselves in their military and naval duties. It was granted for the sustentation of the corps, and to say under this Act of Parliament, "You may build drill halls and so forth but we shall take the capitation grant as security," was not only unwise but unworthy on the part of any Government which put such proposals before the House. Whatever might be said about the Volunteers they had saved the country large sums of money in the past, and he believed with a very short training they would be a most effective force for home defence in any emergency in the future. At the present moment we were discouraging them and wiping out such corps as the Militia and Volunteer submarine miners and the like, and making changes the value of which was extremely problematical, and would probably soon be changed again, yet at the same time we were passing Acts to enable other people to do what was really the duty of the State. While he should support the Second Reading of the Bill, in Committee he should endeavour to make such alterations as he deemed desirable to adapt it and the Military Lands Act, to practical and just application in the interest of the State.

MR. BUCHANAN (Perthshire, E.)

said he regarded the debate as somewhat hollow. The general object which the Bill had in view had his sympathy, but he joined the hon. Gentleman opposite in the comments he had made on the way in which the Bill was to be carried out. There was a well-known case in his own county where the people were desirous of getting a range. They took advantage of the Military Lands Act, with the result that they were involved in litigation which terminated in a cost of £700 to themselves and they did not get the range. He was sorry to say anything in opposition to the Home secretary, but he did not think it tended to the dignity or the usefulness of this House that an arrangement should be made that the House should adjourn when this debate had come to a conclusion, and the orders of the day had been gone through. There were twenty-one Government orders on the Paper, and he thought, having disposed of the first two orders, the House should proceed to consider the other orders it had before it. If such an arrangement was allowed to be carried through, it would not lay in the mouth of the Government hereafter to find fault with and to put pressure on the House to make arrangements for the acceleration of business.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

, as a thorough believer in the making of mutual arrangements, differed from the remarks of the last speaker. Progress had been made, not because hon. Members desired to shirk their duty, but because they had postponed their criticism to enable the Government to get particular stages of certain Bills. It was to the best interests of the House that whenever possible mutual arrangements should be made and carried out. If the sitting were continued the House would have to discuss measures which no one had the least notion would be reached that day. The Bill under consideration was clearly not generally acceptable to the House. His main objection was that it involved legislation by reference, which was sufficient justification for opposing any Bill. But as there would be an opportunity for dealing with the matter in Committee, he was prepared to postpone his remarks.


said that criticisms had been made, on the one hand, by those who objected to the principle of the Bill, and on the other, by those who, although regarding the privilege as having been rightly extended to military Volunteers, objected to its extension to Naval Volunteers. Personally he could not understand why any preferential treatment should be accorded in this matter as against the Navy. The argument seemed to be that military Volunteers would be employed in this, country, whereas Naval Volunteers would not. Obviously if Naval Volunteers were to be of any use whatever they must be employed upon the sea: if engaged in naval operations they must follow the enemy wherever he might go. That objection, therefore, was not a very valid one. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire had tried to draw a distinction between the value of drill halls and other property acquired by Naval Volunteers and the value of similar property belonging to military corps. He could not follow the hon. Member's argument on that point, as the requirements in the two cases were precisely similar. In reply to other objections he could assure the House that there was no proposal or intention to apply this money to batteries either for defence or for drill purposes. Batteries for drill purposes, if required by Naval Volunteers, were provided by the Government out of naval funds. What was required was that drill halls for shore exercises should be provided for Naval Volunteers in the same way as for military Volunteers.


pointed out that the Act of Parliament which it was proposed to incorporate gave power for permanent works, without any limitation whatever.


said there was no desire or intention on the part of the naval authorities to erect batteries or to apply these funds to any purpose but the provision of drill halls and sheds of similar nature to those already supplied for military Volunteers; consequently the argument that the sites would be less valuable in the event of the disbandment of a corps fell to the ground. There was no reason to suppose that a site would not have the value it originally possessed or that any charge of a serious nature would fall on either naval funds or local authorities.


asked how often the Act had been put into operation.


said the Military Lands Act was being continually applied.


said that his point was more particularly as to its application by borough councils. He knew of few, if any, instances.


Can we have figures?


said that statistics could probably be supplied, but he could assure the hon. Member that the Act had been very often applied. In most Cases the money was borrowed, not by the local authorities, but by the Volunteers themselves under the provisions of this Act.


said he did not doubt its application by Volunteers; his reference was to its application by borough councils.


said that it depended upon the willingness or otherwise of local authorities to assume the burden. If they were willing in the interests of the country at large to assume that responsibility there was no justification for preventing them. The local authorities of the city of Glasgow were particularly anxious to assume the burden on behalf of the Volunteer corps there, but were unable to do so under present conditions. Objection had been raised to legislation by reference. The original Bill consisted of twenty-nine clauses, and it was in accordance with the well-established practice of the House, where there was no desire to change the principle but simply to extend its application, that the whole of the provisions of the original Act should not be brought up to be rediscussed.

Objection had been taken to local authorities being permitted to assume a share of the burden. He did not by any means anticipate that a charge would fall on the local authorities in all cases, but, in any event, any loan would be well secured. It was secured, first of all, on the land, and then on the Government grant. The hon. Member for South Islington described that as a mean proposal, because the grant was given to the Volunteers to increase their efficiency. But surely one of the first essentials for these corps, if they were to be efficient, was that they should have proper facilities for drill, and he could not see why this should not be a proper charge to place on the grant, as the primary purpose of the hall would be to increase the efficiency of the corps. As to its being the duty of the Government to provide drill halls, the Government assumed a certain financial responsibility with regard to Volunteer corps, which responsibility they discharged by money grants. It would be inadvisable to attempt to force the Government to pay both in meal and in malt. The contribution in the form of a grant was the most convenient, and, so far as he knew, no serious objection had ever been taken to it. He failed to see how hon. Members could differentiate between naval and military corps in this matter. If it was right that the principle should be extended to military Volunteers it was equally right that the same advantages should be given to Naval Volunteers, who were not contemplated at the time of the original Act, otherwise they would undoubtedly have been similarly treated. The principle of the present Bill was extremely simple, being merely to remove the existing preferential treatment against Naval Volunteers. The period of borrowing was open for discussion, he agreed, but he thought it could be more properly dealt with in Committee. He did not think the local authority would be the people upon whom the burden would fall. The only object of this Bill was to place the Naval Volunteers on the same footing as the other Volunteers, and therefore he hoped the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time.


said the hon. Member for Fareham stated that the Act of 1893 did not provide these powers of borrowing because at that time the formation of these Naval corps was not then contemplated. He thought the hon. Member was wrong, because there had been Naval Volunteers before, but they were found to be ineffectual and useless for naval purposes and that was the real reason why the Act of 1893 did not provide for the Naval Volunteers. Recruiting had almost stopped for the Royal Naval Reserves, although this was a force which would be of real service and could be sent into the Fleet at a day's notice. The Government had stopped recruiting for the Royal Naval Reserves, whilst on the other hand they were encouraging the formation of the Naval Volunteer force. A land Volunteer force was an excellent institution and soldiers could be very quickly made, but that was not the case with the sailor. They must have sailors ready made before they were any use in the Fleet, and when they took young men like city clerks and others and dressed them in uniform they were only deluding themselves. Some of the Naval Volunteers had got their uniforms and that was about all they had got. He objected to the Naval Volunteers being encouraged by a Bill of this kind to enter upon a course of borrowing which would be as ruinous to the corps as it would be ruinous, if persevered in, to the country. If a Bill had been introduced to enable them to acquire some thousands of acres of sea and to build ships, there might have been some meaning it. What did Naval Volunteers want with drill halls? There were Volunteer drill halls all over the country which could be let to the Naval Volunteers without the necessity of building others. In all the naval ports the Naval Reserve drill-halls could be utilised for the Naval Volunteers.

With regard to what had been said about referential legislation, an emphatic protest had been made against this kind of legislation in another place. In 1893, at his instigation, the Behring Fisheries Bill was re-enacted and embodied in the Bill in the shape of a schedule. Why could they not put the Act of 1893 in this Bill in the schedule? Whenever a referential Bill was brought up the House should insist upon the Bills referred to being put in the schedule. He entirely objected to the new system of Naval Volunteers because he believed they were perfectly useless, and he protested against public money being devoted to support them, especially when it was accompanied by stopping enlistment in the Royal Naval Reserves. He also objected to the still more demoralising suggestion that borough councils were to be their accomplices in such ventures. The principle was altogether dangerous and the measure required reconsideration.

SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)

said it should be remembered that the military Volunteers numbered 250,000 men, whilst the Naval Volunteers only numbered about 6,500 last year, whilst this year they had gone down to 4,700. Of the 6,500 only 3,600 were efficient. In regard to ranges and drill halls being required there was all the difference in the world between these two forces. The business of the Naval Volunteers was to pursue the enemy on the sea, and surely they did not want borough councils to acquire land for them. This Bill was wrongly conceived altogether, and to pledge the Government grant to the Volunteers as security for the land was most objectionable.

And, there being no further Business set down for the Afternoon Sitting, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER left the Chair until the Evening Sitting.