HC Deb 01 April 1909 vol 3 cc601-5

[Mr. EMMOTT in the chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed: "That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money voted by Parliament for Army Services of compensation for damage and other expenses caused by billeting under any Act of the present Session to provide during twelve months for the discipline and regulation of the Army."—[Mr. Haldane.]


I desire some explanation of the outlay which under certain emergencies are to be incurred under the clauses of this Bill. The Resolution which you, Mr. Speaker, have just read from the Chair refers specifically to compensation for damage and to other ex- penses caused by billeting. Under this new scheme the ordinary billeting is to be very much extended, and instead of its being for troops en route from one town to another the billeting can be extended for the whole period of the emergency training—that is to say, for the period of six months. The question of the cost of this billeting is going to be important. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to give us an estimate, which I have no doubt is in his Department, of the cost which is likely to be incurred under conditions of that character. It is clear that the intention of this scheme, which personally I think is a very good one, is that a private dwelling-house in this country is to be liable. I think it is well that private citizens as well as holders of licensed premises should incur this responsibility at a time of great national emergency. I do not know whether it is intended under the Bill that the ordinary occupier of a private dwelling-house should be compelled to provide food and fodder in precisely the same way as the holder of a licensed house has now to do. I wish to know what is the financial basis of this scheme. I have no doubt it has been very carefully worked out.


I will give as clear an explanation as I can. The clause provides that compensation is to be paid in respect of any damage caused by any officer billeting under this section. This clause is one for billeting, which will arise in time of war and of great national emergency. There are powers taken without which the mobilisation of the Territorial forces would become a farce. They might be required to be in some place where they could not be unless private property was used. The prices to be paid can easily be determined by regulations made under sub-section 4. This is for damage, and the damage we hope will be the smallest possible amount. The Noble Lord will observe that arrangements will be made beforehand with the civilian authorities, and the greatest care will be taken to avoid damage. It is not possible to estimate the amount of damage, but we trust it will be nil. If damage does happen we ought to have power to pay for it.


The damage, I presume, will be very small—the minimum—but I meant the passage about other expenses. I want to know whether the charge for billeting is included in the term other expenses; that is the charge for billeting 200,000 or 300,000 men of the territorial forces?


That is so. "We have got, of course, to provide money for the payment not only of the damage but of the price to be paid for the billeting. That will be determined in a form which will be laid before Parliament for consideration. That is provided for by another section, which I think the Noble Lord has not read. Any regulations as to price shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after they are made.


This is an important matter, and I think an important stage in this matter. I was surprised yesterday afternoon to hear the right hon. Gentleman suggest, as I understood it, that this stage should be regarded as a formal stage, one which, if I understood him correctly, he thought it would be undesirable or rather useless to enter on a discussion of. It seems to me that this is rather more important than most of the stages because this Committee is well aware that unless this resolution is passed no other stage could be debated or considered, because we have at this moment to consider whether or not it is expedient to provide the money out of money provided by Parliament, without which the whole purpose of this clause would be defeated, and its effect made impossible. The question is, whether it is or is not expedient that payment for expenses, either damage or charges of various kinds, due to the great extension of the power of billeting which the right hon. Gentleman asks for in his Bill, should be provided for now at this moment; whether under this Bill we should provide for that sum during the next 12 months. I do not know what the necessity of doing that now is. That is the first question which I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman. What is the situation? At this moment by the Arms Act and by the present regulations ample provision is made for the billeting of soldiers, both of the regulars and of the auxiliaries, so far as ordinary circumstances are concerned. T do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman will suggest that if the next 12 months remain an ordinary year there will be any need to use the powers for which he asks. The whole case for this Resolution is that within the next 12 months, or at least at some future time, some strange and great emergency will arise which will force the right hon. Gentleman to put into force the very wide, and, I think, not altogether undebatable, or perhaps even necessary in some respects, powers which he asks for in this Bill. In other words, unless some grave emergency arises during the next 12 months or at some future time there is no case whatever for asking the House of Commons to provide this money for these purposes at the moment and in this Session.

Well, then, if the emergency does arise—and it is admitted that it may quite frankly in the very admirable Memorandum to this Bill—Parliament would have to be called together to adopt such measures as would meet the emergency. One would have thought that among the proposals of the Government such proposals as are in this Bill would naturally and properly be included. I want, therefore, to ask what would be the practical inconvenience to the right hon. Gentleman or to the military administration of this country in any particular if we refused this Resolution.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)

First of all, as regards the effect of the clause. If Parliament, on Tuesday next, docs adopt this clause, which it can only do if we pass this financial Resolution to-night, the clause will be embodied in the Army Act. It will galvanise the main Act into life. Then, the hon. Member asks why you wish to have this now, when Parliament, in a great emergency, has to be called together. I will tell you why: It will allow the necessary arrangements to be made, which will need to be made, by the territorial forces. I sincerely hope with him that we may never need to use these powers. I believe it to be very unlikely that they may be used in the year that is coming; but if we have got a Territorial force we ought to arrange to make them effective if the necessity arises. Otherwise they are a sham and non-effective. Supposing you hoard of a landing taking place at some particular point, you want the powers of this clause to deal with the situation which would need to be met before Parliament could be called together. The military authorities would need to work out a definite plan, so as to make the Territorial force capable of effective mobilisation. This clause applies to that mobilisation and the embodiment of the Territorial force, under the Territorial Forces Act, which can only take place if the reserves have been called out. The reserves can only be called out in case of great emergency and imminent national danger, and the whole subject is; adequately protected. The plans will so work out that the Territorial force may be rapidly and swiftly concentrated on the spot which is most effective.

Resolution agreed to; to be reported upon Monday next.