HC Deb 04 April 1911 vol 23 cc2130-7
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)

moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying His Majesty to make Orders in Council under The Military Manœuvres Act, 1897, authorising the execution of military manœuvres in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertford, Huntingdon, Bedford, and Cambridge, and also in the county of Ayr, drafts of which were presented to this House on the 7th day of February last."


Before this Motion is agreed to, I should like to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman if he can give us a few particulars as to the nature of the area to be included in the Schedule. Without some knowledge of that I should not be inclined to allow the matter to pass at this stage.

Colonel SEELY

This is purely a formal I stage. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] As hon. Members will see, this Motion was presented to the House on the 7th February last. Of course it would be impossible for me at this stage to state what the nature of the manœuvres will be, but as hon. Members are aware every care is taken that any damage done should be fully paid for in compensation. I trust the House will allow this formal stage to be taken as was done with hardly an exception in former years without a Division. I shall be very glad to inform the House on any point I can elucidate, but there is really nothing to state except it is proposed to hold manœuvres in the counties named. The military authorities could, not state the precise nature of the manœuvres at this stage because it would be better not to do so.


Is this business that may be taken after 11 o'clock, or is it business that can only be taken if unopposed?


It is exempt.


I am not sure I understand this matter. A Paper entitled Report of the Military Manœuvres Commission, 1910, was presented to the House on the 7th February last. I find on page 7 a draft of the proposed Orders was deposited for public inspection, but the depositing of this Order is nothing but a farce. The draft is entirely in blank. It is not even signed by the Commissioners responsible for carrying out the Orders. It merely says:—

"We, the undersigned members of the Military Manœuvres Commission appointed under the Military Manœuvres Act, 1897, do by this Order made in pursuance of the said Act, determine that all lands, roads, and sources of water within the limits of the area described in the Schedule to the Order in Council dated the 28th day of June, 1909, made in pursuance of the said Act subject to the exceptions mentioned in Section 2 of the said Act, are to be authorised lands, roads, and sources within the meaning of the said Act."

You are supposed to find them in the Schedule, but there is no Schedule here that I can sec. I do not understand why this Order is presented in dummy. If this is to be a definite procedure to be adopted by this House, I think we should have full information upon it.

Colonel SEELY

I can assure the Noble Lord that this Order is laid in the form in which it always has been laid before.


Last year I can assure the right hon. Gentleman we had the Schedule before us specifying the exact area.

Colonel SEELY

I think everything has been done in the usual form. It is signed by the Secretary of the Military Manœuvres Commission. There is no mystery about the matter whatever. If at any subsequent period the House wishes to raise the question of having the manœuvres in this or any other area an opportunity will occur on the salary of the Secretary of State. If I could give any other information I should be glad to do so, but it is difficult to give any other information than that which I have already given.


This Paper refers to the military manœuvres area for 1910, and there is nothing about the area contemplated by this Motion. Why is it alleged by this Motion that Papers have been laid describing the position when no such Papers exist?


The Under-Secretary has informed us that a state of preparation has been reached in regard to these manœuvres. It seems to me to be treating the House of Commons with a little less courtesy and frankness than is due to it to put before us a proposal in this way. When a sufficient amount of information is in hand the War Office should ask the House openly for the powers it requires and give the details of what they want to carry out. The House would be well advised if it signified its desire that this Motion should be withdrawn until the War Office is prepared to lay before us a full statement. I am sure my hon. Friends on this side would be the last to delay anything connected with the proper training of our troops, but we have a duty to perform in seeing that we get full information.

Colonel SEELY

There seems to have been some misapprehension. I have just received the Paper and the House will excuse me, seeing that these documents were drawn up before I went to the War Office. I am not of course blaming any of the officials. I may explain to the Noble Lord opposite that he has got the wrong Paper. It begins with the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertford, Huntingdon, Bedford, and Cambridge. If the Noble Lord will go to the Vote Office he will find there the correct document giving full information, and then he will see that it is quite in order.


I beg to move "That the Debate be now adjourned."

It is very refreshing to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to find a Minister on the Bench who does not throw over a subordinate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has had the courage to acknowledge that the mistake has been made in his office.

Colonel SEELY



Well, at all events, the blame is not thrown on a subordinate. Nobody on this side of the House wants for a moment to delay military manœuvres. But we say it is in the best interests of carrying out these manœuvres without any friction with the farmers, labourers, or residents, that they should know beforehand exactly what districts are to be occupied. Really we are entitled to have further information, and it is in the interests both of the House and of the War Office and the manœuvres that we should have that information.

Colonel SEELY

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite has misapprehended the Paper which I have handed to the Noble Lord below the Gangway. The fullest information has been given to the House, as I am sure the Noble Lord will now be the first to tell the House with regard to this matter. If he will read to the House a portion of the document he now holds in his hand—and I understand it has been in the Vote Office since February 8—it will be seen that the House is in possession of the fullest information on the matter. Therefore, I trust the House will not immediately adjourn a purely formal stage to enable military manœuvres to be carried out, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself says they should be carried out, in the best interests of the nation.


I should like to ask whether there is any further stage on which we can discuss this Paper. At present I have every reason to suppose there is no such Paper in the Vote Office. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be under an entire misapprehension if he thinks the Paper he has just handed to my Noble Friend is in the Vote Office.


I may say I have been to the Vote Office, and it is perfectly impossible to find the Paper of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken. I really think it is unreasonable to ask us to discuss the matter when we cannot get the Papers necessary to intelligently do so.

Colonel SEELY

We got the Paper from the Vote Office, so I suppose anybody who goes to the right place will be able to get it. I think the Noble Lord has not gone to the right place.


I went to the Vote Office before the Noble Lord. I was told this was laid in draft, and that it was only in dummy. I asked to see the dummy laid, and the only thing I saw was the Report of the Military Manœuvres Commission of 1910. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for handing his copy to me, but I have not had time to master its details in the short time it has been in my hands. I notice that in the Report of the Military Manœuvres Report for 1910 there are some animadversions cast on the restrictions on various kinds of property which have been imposed by persons in the area scheduled in previous Acts, and we have not had time to ascertain whether anything is being done under the new proposals to meet the objections alleged in previous years. We really do not know in the least what the position is. I have no wish to interfere with the manœuvres. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the "Patronage Secretary to the Opposition" (Sir A. Acland-Hood), if I may so describe him, is well aware of that fact. We wish on this side to encourage manœuvres to the fullest possible extent, but I do not see any urgency in this Schedule, and I think we should have a further opportunity of mastering the details. I certainly shall support the Motion for an Adjournment, and, indeed, I shall be surprised if it is not acceded to by the Under-Secretary for War.


The full details which the Noble Lord below the Gangway now has were obtained only a short time after this discussion commenced, and there has been no time to study them.


No hon. Member on this side of the House has the least wish to put any obstacle in the way of the manœuvres or of anything connected with the training of our soldiers. I rise merely to support my hon. Friend's Motion, as a protest against the incurable sloppiness we have seen in the House during the last two days and again to-night.


There appears to be some mistake about this Order. The Address to the Throne refers to manœuvres in the county of Ayr, but that county is not mentioned in the Order, and if you pass it the Address to the Throne will not comply with the antecedent Orders of this House. So far as the county of Ayr is concerned, therefore, the Motion is out of order: it is not in accordance with the Statute. I would also point out that the Paper I hold in my hand, and which could not be got at the Vote Office just now, lays down in the most explicit terms the exact line of route, and the roads in the area selected for the manœuvres; and therefore the House is not in possession as yet of the information which would enable it to judge the value of the proposed manœuvres. As to the county of Ayr, the right hon. Gentleman must, I think, deal only with that portion of the Schedule which has been laid before the House.

Colonel SEELY

I can only speak again by leave of the House. But I would like to point out, as regards the Noble Lord's suggestion respecting the description of the areas to be taken for the manœuvres, that the Order does not imply that every part of the scheduled areas will be used by the troops. We cannot give all the details asked for, as we cannot say beforehand what particular details of the manœuvres will be carried out. Everything has been done in accordance with the usual form. This draft has been laid for forty days. The forty days have now expired, and I obtained it through the usual channels after the Debate had begun. I am informed it may be obtained in the Vote Office, or it may have been in the Library. At any rate, it has been available in the ordinary way as it has been for years, and I appeal to Members not to obstruct this business as the necessary formalities have been complied with.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman once more to give his attention to this question, and to tell us definitely whether this Order which, according to him, was laid forty days ago was laid only to-night, and whether the details are obtainable to-night, and tonight only, and they have never been available to Members before. This is not the first time that this sort of thing has occurred. The same thing was done by the Board of Agriculture, and, after an official document had been, it was said, laid on the Table, it was found, on inquiry at the Vote Office and the Library, that it had been laid in dummy, and was absolutely a blank piece of paper. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman, who is new to the Department, but I appeal to him to see that this is not done in future.

Colonel SEELY

There seems to have been some misunderstanding. I do not know how it has arisen, but every hon. Gentleman who has addressed the House seems to have assumed that there has been a departure from the usual procedure. I am informed that that is not the case. It will be very undesirable that in any matter of purely formal military concern, which cannot conceivably raise any party feeling, there should be any attempt on the part of the Government to take advantage of what seems a misunderstanding; and if it is thought, as it appears to be, that there has been a departure from the ordinary procedure, or that we are proceeding in a way which is unusual, I say, on behalf of the Government, that we do not wish to proceed with this Order any further to-night. It is a purely formal military measure involving no question of principle, and there having been a misunderstanding, I am perfectly prepared, after the objection which has been taken, to put this down on Thursday, when it cannot take long. It is the fact that any hon. Member on that side who goes to the Vote Office cannot get a copy of the Paper, and I suppose I got the last one. Therefore I propose that we should accept the Motion for adjournment of the Debate, and put this down again on Thursday.


I have an official list of Papers presented during the Session, which shows that it has been laid. There is one for Scotland presented and laid on 7th February for thirty days. The other is a similar Order for England. I have also been to the Vote Office, and have been unable to get a copy.

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday next (6th April).

And it being after half-past Eleven of the clock upon Tuesday, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-two minutes before Twelve of the clock.