§ There shall be paid to the keeper of a victualling house for the accommodation provided by him in pursuance of the Army Act the prices specified in the First Schedule to this Act.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
I beg to move to leave out the Clause. I do so in order to draw attention to a subject which at the present moment does not get very much attention, but which is one which occupied very much more attention years ago, and was one of the grievances embodied in the then Petition of Rights. I refer to the question of billeting and quartering. In those days there was only barrack accommodation for something like 5,000 soldiers and the Government used their powers of billeting and quartering the extra forces very freely. At the present moment the Regular Forces require very little billeting, since there is good barrack accommodation and troops are moved by rail. There is a note to Clause 4 of this Bill which drew my attention to the question of billeting with respect to the Territorial Force. That note says:—It is thought desirable, as the powers of billeting will be principally exercised in respect of the Territorial Force, that the powers to issue billeting requisitions should be exercisable by divisional, brigade, and battalion commanders of the Territorial Force.In other words, this new citizen Army which has been lately introduced, and which will, I hope, be extended in numbers and made more really fit as an Army, may billet its members. Under those circumstances, I think it desirable to draw attention to the billeting Clauses and billeting prices. Except in cases of emergency, 1978 powers of billeting can only be exercised on licensed victuallers and innkeepers, and the prices to be charged by those are carefully laid down. During the last few years the Schedule has been, I think, on more than one occasion revised. It was revised in 1907, the year of the creation of the Territorial Force, but having regard to the great rise in prices of the necessaries of life, the Schedule is wholly inadequate, and the prices which the licensed victuallers are allowed to charge could not possibly admit of a profit. I quite admit there was a rise in 1906. The total charge for three meals then for a soldier billeted on an innkeeper or licensed victualler was 1s. 6d. for breakfast, dinner and supper. At present it is 1s. 9d., but surely that increase is not enough, having regard to the increase in prices. Let me point out what the innkeeper can charge a soldier for tea. He has got to give him with the tea a certain amount of bread, sugar and milk, and not a cup, but a pint of tea. For all that the innkeeper is allowed to charge threepence; it used to be twopence halfpenny. I ask hon. Members would it be possible for any innkeeper to make much out of that with a pint of tea and bread, sugar and milk? The thing is impossible. There is then a substantial breakfast with bacon for which fivepence is allowed, and dinner which is to consist of half a pound of meat, vegetables, beer, mineral waters, 1s. 1d. The thing is absolutely impossible. There has been a rise from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 9d., or something over 10 per cent., but that is not commensurate with the total increase in the cost of living. There is then the question of lodging. If a soldier does not take the meals provided by the innkeeper, then he has to be given the use of a kitchen and fire and vinegar and candles, and he has also to get attendance and a separate bed, and for all that the innkeeper is allowed to charge sixpence. I do not know what the charge in a "doss" house is, but I imagine it is something like threepence per night, but the man certainly does not get clean sheets and attendance and vinegar and candles, while the innkeeper is supposed to make something out of the sixpence. Again I say the thing is impossible. Take the question of a separate bed. It is only within the last few years that a separate bed has been required for each soldier. After the soldier has slept in the bed, naturally the innkeeper has to have the sheets washed. That means twopence, 1979 leaving only a balance of fourpence, out of which the innkeeper has to provide candles and vinegar.
The hon. Member is really attacking the Schedule rather than Clause 3. It must be understood that if he makes his points now, he will not be able to raise them again on the Schedule.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
I would rather take my chance now. With regard to forage, the price has not been raised at all, and if the amount allowed is reckoned out, it will be found that an innkeeper might be liable to have an officer's horse quartered upon him for something under 12s. a week. That is not a living price. It is certainly not the price that we should have to pay if we attempted to quarter our horses upon any innkeeper in the country. The old idea was that when in cases of emergency it was necessary to billet or quarter soldiers on innkeepers, the burden did not fall upon ordinary citizens. The innkeeper had a house which, without a licence, would be worth perhaps £30 in the way of rent, but the possession of a licence made it an exceedingly valuable property. Therefore he could justly be asked to bear some extra burden when the State required him to feed and lodge soldiers for a short time. But that is all changed now. The licensed victualler is a heavily-taxed individual. In ninety-nine cases out of 100 he does not own the house in which he lives; he is merely the tenant. At the present moment the licensed victualler interest is the most heavily taxed in the country. Therefore it is unfair now to ask this class to bear an extra burden. All their expenses have risen. Rates are higher. During the last few years in any hotel you like prices have been raised against the customer. Even in this House the Kitchen Committee have had to raise the price of dinner during the present Session. Therefore we ought to consider whether we are paying a fair price in this matter. We have also to face the fact that Territorials may be quartered or billeted in the future. To a large extent the Territorials are drawn from a rather superior class to that from which members of the Regular Forces come, and what might be suitable accommodation for the latter would not be suitable for, say, a young clerk serving in the Territorials. You want to make the life as comfortable as possible for these people. If you could have a system of billeting Territorials in various parts of 1980 the country, it would be an excellent thing both for the force and for the people at large. It would make the force more, popular, and it would make the people in one part of the United Kingdom conversant with the habits and thoughts of the people of another part. For instance, the Territorial battalion in my own Division has to go to Runnymede for firing practice. Runnymede is a long way from Enfield, and I suggest that if small parties of men could be billeted while doing their practice, it would be much better than their rushing down in the morning and back again at night. I imagine that we should all wish people to have a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. The innkeeper simply asks for a fair price for a good meal and a good bed. I suggest that the present prices are bad, and in an Amendment to the Schedule I have put down what I imagine would be, not adequate prices, but at any rate something better than those paid at present.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Harold Baker)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is at present receiving a deputation, but I hope he will be here shortly. Meanwhile, as this matter concerns my Department I hope the hon. Member will not mind my replying to him. The hon. Member for Enfield, by his Amendment, has really raised the whole question of the prices set out in the Schedule. As he has very frankly admitted, the subject was discussed so recently as 1911, and in consequence of that discussion a considerable increase was made in the prices allotted. The effect of the hon. Member's proposals would be to raise the price by a further 6d., but the hon. Member did not give any good reason for supposing that the increase in the cost of living had gone up to any corresponding extent. As a result of the discussion in 1911 the amount payable was raised by 3d., and if the hon. Member had endeavoured to show that the rise in prices justified the further increase now proposed, he would have found himself in great difficulty. We have received no complaints since that increase from innkeepers or any other persons concerned that the prices are in any way inadequate. The hon. Member stated that these prices were doss-house prices…
§ Mr. NEWMAN
For the bed.
§ Mr. BAKER
And that there would be great advantages in enabling the Territorial Force to pay good prices when they 1981 had to be billeted. I think the hon. Member has overlooked the fact that these prices are paid in respect, not of individuals, but of numbers. They are calculated according to the individual, but the innkeeper will receive them in respect of a considerable number of soldiers at the same time. Therefore, in calculating the profit to the innkeeper it must be remembered that it is the profit not on a single person, but on a number of soldiers. The hon. Member also raised the question of forage. I am not at all sure that there may not be some ground for looking into that matter. It is true that the cost of forage has risen, and it is some time since the rates in the Schedule were revised. I do not promise that the prices shall be raised, but I do promise that they shall be investigated, and if we can find good reasons for increasing them I have no doubt that we shall do so. On the general question I suggest that it is rather early to ask for a revision of the prices, seeing that it is only twelve months since they were last revised. While I quite agree that the moment you can show definitely that there has been a permanent increase in the cost of living, it is our duty to increase the prices in the Schedule; I do not think we ought to take notice of every temporary variation that may occur. The cost of food is showing an upward tendency, but taking last year alone, from the time the prices were raised, I am not sure that a case can be made out—certainly the hon. Member has net made it out this afternoon—for a further increase. The hon. Member must remember that although it is possible for the War Office to raise the prices in the schedule, it is hardly practicable, in the event of a fall in the price of food, to reduce them. For that reason I think that we are entitled to take into account only permanent changes.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
I think that on this matter I must support the view suggested by the Financial Secretary. I do not know whether it is generally assumed by the hon. Member for Enfield that under no circumstances whatever should citizens who are specially favoured and who have had conferred upon them a monopoly of a certain kind bear any part of the expense relating to the billeting of soldiers. I know from my own experience that complaints have sometimes been made by publicans that they have not had their proper share of billeting. There is not the slightest doubt that in certain cases, 1982 in small country towns, for instance, it is very often a considerable source of revenue for the innkeepers when soldiers have to be billeted upon them. It is not merely a question of the actual sum paid, though that is the only item we ought to take into account here. I am glad that this discussion has arisen, because it shows how anxious militarists are to avoid the personal inconveniences attached to the establishment of a great military force. It is a fact that in other countries those who are put to the inconvenience of having soldiers billeted upon them are not paid on nearly so good a scale as that objected to by the hon. Member. I believe that in the case of the Swiss Army it is a part of the military law that only 60 per cent. of the admitted cost shall be paid. That, of course, is a militarist country, and the people are prepared to shoulder a part of the burden. I am delighted to see, however, from the observations of the hon. Member for Enfield that, although we are all in favour of an Army, yet even those who are very well circumstanced do not want to be put to any personal expense or trouble over the matter. That is a very good sign, because it shows to the country how the militarists stand in this respect. I therefore suggest that one would have to show that other countries in relation to this matter of treating those citizens upon whom the Army is billeted for the time being do worse than we do here.
I remember a great discussion that took place here some time ago. The Labour men, with the assistance of the late right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, kept the House up all one night on this very subject of the prices relating to billeting, and such like. The late Sir. Charles Dilke, with his extensive knowledge of military affairs, helped us. We did not get much assistance then from hon. Members, who are putting this matter forward at the present time. I do not see that there is any complaint at all to make. There are other matters which it strikes me it would be much more interesting to look into. If the Army Council, or the Secretary of State, has any surplus money that they wish to dispose of, there are hundreds of ways in which to dispose of it. I am sure that the military Gentleman opposite, and some on this side of the House, could point out to the authorities where funds could be expended infinitely better for the purpose of perfecting the organisation of 1983 the Army, both the Territorial and the Regular Forces, than in increasing the expenditure in the direction suggested. If the hon. Member goes to a Division, it is because I would prefer to keep my mind directed to the more essential things of Army organisation and the equipment of our voluntary forces that I should certainly oppose him. There are other subjects which will be introduced during this Debate where money will be required infinitely more than in this connection. This, as a matter of fact, is about the last thing that military men who want to see the Army well equipped and efficient, would begin with. I suggest therefore that there is no reason or justification, seeing how recently we have revised these rates, for the matter to be reopened at the present time.
§ Colonel YATE
I think the Under-Secretary stated that there had been a considerable increase last year in the price for billeting. I cannot remember the exact amount.
§ Mr. J. WARD
§ Colonel YATE
Threepence for the whole day?
§ Mr. H. BAKER
Threepence per day per man.
§ Colonel YATE
It was stated by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think, that the cost of living showed an upward tendency that was perhaps more or less temporary. The cost of living, I think, is acknowledged by all to have gone up, and it probably will remain up. You cannot expect it to come down. The point I would like to ask about is, Does this Clause simply refer to licensed victuallers—that is, to proprietors of publichouses—or, in the case of manœuvres, such as are coming on, does it refer to anyone in any part of the country in which men may be billeted? If it is only in respect of public-houses and innkeepers, then I can quite understand an innkeeper liking to have the men in his house, for he possibly makes other money by virtue of their being present which compensates him. But, if men are liable to be billeted on private citizens, I think these private citizens may justly claim to be repaid the money expended by them. Will this scale of billeting apply to the ordinary householders in the villages or to the innkeepers only?
§ Mr. H. BAKER
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will remember that recently fresh powers were taken in respect of billeting, power being taken to billet the soldiers not merely in licensed houses, but in private houses as well. These powers are confined to certain occasions. In ordinary times the power of billeting is the same as it was. The scale applies only to billeting of that kind. Soldiers will not be billeted in private houses except in case of emergency. The practice at manœuvres will continue as at present.
§ Captain JESSEL
When was the change made?
§ Mr. H. BAKER
§ Colonel YATE
May I ask if the Under-Secretary considers that this scale is equal to the expense incurred by those concerned?
§ Mr. H. BAKER
I am afraid I have not made myself quite clear. In the coming manœuvres the billeting will be as under peace conditions, and only be on innkeepers and people of that description.
There was one point brought to our notice by the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke. He said he was glad to see this discussion for various reasons. The publicans, he said, would be content. But the hon. Member seems to miss one point—that if you skimp and restrict those who billet the soldiers in any way in their remuneration they will skimp the soldier in the amount of food they give to him. I have known it from experience—not personally. Men of mine when we have been on the march at different times have reported that the publican or innkeeper had given a cup of tea, which he was supposed to give for the men's breakfast, but he would neither give milk nor sugar to put in it. I venture to suggest that if you skimp the money paid for billeting you will run a very great risk of the man keeping the house skimping the soldier.
§ Mr. J. WARD
That might occur whatever figure you pay him!
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.