HC Deb 17 March 1911 vol 22 cc2612-8

Resolution reported, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1911, for Additional Expenditure in respect of the following Army Services, namely:—

Vote 10. Works and Buildings—

E. Part I.—New Works, Additions, Alterations, and Special Repairs 9,800
J. Purchases of Land 94,000
Less Surpluses 103,700

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I do not wish to challenge the Vote in any way, but I wish to ask the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement in reference to a matter which has very much interested my Constituency. In this Vote money is taken for the purpose of providing an artillery range in Redesdale Valley or Coquetdale Valley in Northumberland. I want to ask, for the benefit of the inhabitants of the district, if he will make a clear statement as to what is going to happen. Is there to be a camp during the summer only or all the year round? Is he satisfied as to the suitability of the land? I am told that it is extremely boggy in wet weather, and that the conditions in that part of the world in winter are not of the best. I wish to be told, further, how much of the camp is to be in the Valley of the Rede or the Valley of the Coquet, and, in either case, will there be a light railway laid down? If so, can he arrange that as some compensation to the people of the locality the light railway will be available to them for the purpose of the transport of agricultural produce. If no light railway is to be laid down, will he take into consideration the extra charge which will fall on the local authority for the upkeep of the roads on account of the additional traffic. It is quite clear that the sheep pasture cannot be carried on on these hills as hitherto, when the Artillery range has been provided. Probably this will lead to the displacement of a number of shepherds who have worked there for a long period. I would like to have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that he will view the claims of such shepherds to compensation in a friendly spirit, and that in any case he will be careful to inflict as little hardship as possible on the people who may be dispossessed. Everybody recognises that the Artillery service must have proper ranges to practice upon in order to make themselves efficient. I think the House will recognise that it is a very great nuisance to people in a district to have land taken for this purpose. I shall be grateful if my right hon. Friend would, for the convenience of my Constituency tell us as much as he can consistently with the public interest as to what his intentions are.


I wish to draw attention to an item of £103,700, of which £64,000 is for regimental pay, and £39,700 for gratuities to officers and enlistment expenses. Are we to understand by this item that the Special Reserve is costing less in 1910–11 by over £100,000 than the Government thought it would cost when they framed their Estimates, because, if that is so, I think the House will agree with me, that shows a very disquieting state of affairs. Here we have a Special Reserve, which we were told was going to take the place of the old Militia—a force which was to be far superior to the old Militia, both in efficiency, age, musketry, and practically in every respect. We heard the other night that this force had decreased in twelve months from 67,500 to 60,000. That is to say, there are 7,500 men less in the Special Reserve than twelve months ago. I presume that the £103,700 represents the saving, if it can be called a saving, to the country, owing to the loss of 7,500 men in the Special Reserve. I think more attention should be given to the deplorable state of the Special Reserve, as shown by this Supplementary Estimate, than the country has yet given to it. Here we have a force which is going to train our recruits for war purposes, which is going, it is claimed, to be the creator of twenty-seven extra Reserve battalions, which is going to do garrisoning abroad, guard our lines of communication, go abroad in units if necessary, or garrison the important centres in England, or garrison in Ireland. Here we have brought up again to-day the fact that this force is a miserable failure, as is shown by there being over 20,000 fewer men than in the old Militia. How can the right hon. Gentleman come to the House and ask us without discussion to pass this Estimate? Having destroyed the Militia against the wishes of a very large number of the people of the country and against the experience of many Members of this House who had served in the Militia, he now acknowledges on this Paper that he has only 60,000 men instead of the 80,000 which the old Militia consisted of, and that in twelve short months over 7,000 men have fallen off. And the falling off is not only in men but in officers. We have here £39,700 less and a considerable portion of that decrease is due to falling off in officers. The right hon. Gentleman in his Memorandum issued with this year's Army Estimates practically acknowledges that he had given up the attempt to get officers with any training at all. He has now come down to six months' training, and I am sure that next year he will come down to no months at all. I do not complain of that. I think, on the whole, the old Militia officer did extremely well. I wish that the country as a whole could see what deplorable injury has been done to our second line by destroying the Militia and substituting this Special Reserve.


This is not the time for the discussion of the question of the Special Reserve. What the House is now asked to vote are certain Votes for works and buildings. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to take advantage of that to switch the discussion off to a wholly different subject, and to point out that certain results have arisen from the Special Reserve. The time to discuss that is on the Special Vote for Special Reserve.


I would like some explanation of the footnote No. 3. It is stated that provision is made in the Army Estimates under Vote X. I have looked through Vote X. very carefully, and I do not find any direct special increase in the place you would naturally expect to find it for the sum of money required for this range, I presume it ought to be under the Northern Command, but I do not find it there. I know that in the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum there is a special sum, I think of £28,000, for the Northumberland range, which was to come out of the falling in of these annuities of £340,000. I should be glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman where I could find the special specification for this Northumberland range.


I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having altered his first mind with regard to the site of the old Duke of York's School at Chelsea. On behalf of the county associations of London I put down several questions, pointing out that if it should go out of the hands of the Department it might be put to very good use by the supporters of the associations. As a supporter of the voluntary system I tried to do the best I could to convert the right hon. Gentleman to that view, and I am delighted to see by this Supplementary Estimate that our views have been recognised by the right hon. Gentleman; and I am sure that it will greatly assist the Territorial Association in its work in providing proper accommodation so far as the county of London is concerned. There is one question, as to the Bedford Barracks, as to which I do not know whether it is in order to mention it here. I am not sure whether the works and buildings are in the Vote. I do not know whether the discussion is limited to a certain number of subjects, or whether the whole question of works and buildings may be discussed on the Vote now before us. If there was that opportunity, I should be very glad to have the chance of saying a word or two about it.


The only works and buildings are the two mentioned in the Vote.


I would like to say a few words on the Supplementary Vote on Ordnance Army subjects.


We will reach that by and by.


I share the satisfaction that has been expressed by the hon. Member below the Gangway at saving the old school at Chelsea, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that the question which I am going to ask is due to any feeling of antagonism. As the right hon. Gentleman is, no doubt, aware, several Members on this side of the House went very carefully last Session into the question of the valuation of the Duke of York's School. I notice in the footnote of these Estimates that the calculation of the site and buildings is put down at the sum of £225,000, which gives an excess of £7,000 over the cost of establishing the new school. I do not wish to set the information which we acquired in the course of last Session against the expert information and advice which the right hon. Gentleman has received from his own Department, but it does appear to me that that estimate of £225,000, which is, after all, only a hypothetical estimate, is rather a swollen estimate and considerably in excess of the valuation that private valuers would put upon the land if they had been consulted. One other point I would refer to. In carrying out these new works and rearranging the site it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman would make provision for adding a small strip—it is only a question of a few feet—to the public way, which I understand can be done without in any way causing serious inconveniences to the rearranging of the site for the purposes of the Territorial Forces.


I wish to call attention to a subject of great interest, namely, the provision made for the accommodation in this country of the dirigible balloon, the "Clement Bayard," which was brought from France to Shepherds Bush in London. A few days later it was taken to Aldershot, where they tried to put it into the shed which had been erected. That shed was apparently too small for the magnificent balloon, which, unfortunately, was ripped to pieces and fell among the machinery. It has been found necessary to enlarge the shed, but I want to know why it was not made large enough at the beginning. Why is it that, while in France, between Paris and the German frontier, they have three enormous structures for the accommodation of these dirigible balloons with their apparatus, we have only one shed at Aldershot, which was found too small for the balloon which had been purchased? I think it is very unfortunate. The War Office might have made better preparations for the reception of the balloon, especially as the dimensions were known beforehand. A sufficient margin should have been left to enable the balloon to be brought in and housed in safety. I do hope we shall not have disappointments of this kind in future, and that care will be taken in the erection of sheds to allow a sufficient margin for the accommodation of the balloons for which they are intended.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)

I leave other questions to be answered by my hon Friend (Mr. Acland) and will deal with the question put by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). It was not the "Clement Bayard," but the "Lebaudy," which got into difficulties at Aldershot. The reasons why the shed was too small was because we built it to the dimensions furnished to us from France for the balloon. We carried the building out on the dimensions of which we were told, but I think we should have allowed a larger margin. The structure is now being put right, and we shall take care in future to allow a larger margin. As regards the Duke of York's School, I thoroughly appreciate what the Noble Lord (Lord A. Thynne) has said in regard to leaving a strip of land to be taken into the road. But that question does not arise at this moment, because there is another piece of property further along the road which the local authority have not got hold of. We quite see, however, that the King's Road should be made as good-looking a thoroughfare as possible, and the arrangements which we are making in regard to the Duke of York's School will not prevent the accomplishment of that object. There is a rather ugly wall on the King's Road, and we propose to take that down and substitute for it an ornamental railing. We also propose to put the Riding School in such a position that the public view will not be blocked. If at any time the King's Road is to be improved, nothing we are doing will make that work difficult. On the other point, as to the valuation, the amount of the purchase money, £225,000, was fixed by the Treasury valuers. I may remind the Noble Lord that various views were expressed as to the value of the property. There was a smaller valuation of £185,000; but on the other hand, the valuation went up to £300,000, while the Treasury valuers fixed the sum at £225,000. We have had to do our best. The purchase has been successfully accomplished, and what we are trying to do is to make the Duke of York's School fairly worthy of London. I quite appreciate the remarks of my hon. Friend (Mr. John Ward), who, with his military zeal, has contributed with hon. Member's opposite to bring about a state of things which is much better than if the Duke of York's School had fallen into the hands of the jerry builder instead of being retained for military training.


In regard to the purchase of land, the reason why we do not mention in advance the exact sum we wish to give for a piece of land is that if the amount were stated the purchaser would be asked to give more than the price named. Therefore, we have to put down a lump sum for the purchase of land, and we leave it vague on purpose so that the persons from whom we are intending to purchase cannot tell in ad- vance, by a study of the Estimates, what we are willing to give. We have found it very unwise to put down in detail the amounts we intend to give. As to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) in reference to the Artillery range in the North, in the first place, no railway will be required to the site of the range. There are two good roads, not, I think, in the Valley of the Rede or the Valley of the Coquet, but from Knowesgate and Woodburn, two stations on the line from Hexham to Morpeth. Of course, if we do any extraordinary damage to these roads, and become legally and rightly liable to pay compensation we shall have to pay compensation accordingly. The total area we are purchasing is about 19,000 acres. I do not wish to name the exact cost now, for if I were to indicate it, the owners would be able to arrive at the amount which we intend to spend this year, but perhaps I may state that the amount is somewhere about £7 or £8 an acre for the 19,000 acres. It is very suitable land indeed for the purpose of an Artillery range. Great care was taken, and many inspections were made during several months to find a suitable site for an Artillery range anywhere in the North of England, and the site selected was found to be the most suitable. The land slopes gradually up from the valley of the Rede for about seven miles in a northerly direction, and it is one of the best sites for an Artillery range we shall have in the country. As to sheep, there must, of, course, be some disturbance, but it is not intended to have troops in the area all the year. They will be there for practice purposes only in the summer months, and even then there will be as little disturbance as possible. A very considerable part of the area may be used for sheep even at the time the troops are there and firing is proceeding. The question of compensation to farmers has not been left out of the reckoning in the price we have to pay. I hope the hon. Member for Bath is satisfied that there is wisdom in our practice in not revealing in advance the exact price we think we may have to pay when we are purchasing land.

Question put, and agreed to.