HC Deb 12 March 1929 vol 226 cc1071-98

"7. That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £116,000, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1929, to meet the excess cost involved in the em- ployment of extra troops in China not provided for in the Army Estimates of the year."

First Resolution read a Second time.

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


When the Army Estimates were introduced I asked, amongst other questions, one dealing with the question of recruiting, but evidently it was overlooked at the time. I thought that in his speech, and also in the Memorandum, the Secretary of State for War showed himself rather apprehensive as to the possibility of meeting the needs of the Army in the future. As I pointed out at the time, there has been a reduction of the standard of height, and a lowering of the standard in other directions. When we remember that the young men of the country who offer themselves as recruits are a barometer of the physical condition of our people, these things are rather discouraging, especially as only some 36 per cent. of those who offer themselves are accepted. It would be interesting to know how the present height standard compares with the average height which has beer demanded during the last 10 years, and how the general standards demanded of recruits compare with the general standards since the War, and even before the War.

We would also like to know whether the War Office and the Army Council have formed any opinion as to the cause of the lowering of the general physical standard of the men who offer themselves as recruits, because their standards are an indication of the physical condition of the still larger mass of this people who do not offer themselves for the Army. One of the things we accept as a matter of course—we never speak about it—is the splendid conduct of the troops generally, their general demeanour and their bearing wherever one sees them, whether it be in this country or any other country. That is something of which those of us in particular who come from the working-class ranks have every reason to be proud. It is a reflex of the general educational standard which has been reached by young men to-day. When dealing with this point previously I think the Secretary of State rather misled the House by a terra which was used. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the leaving certificate was equal to the leaving certificate of the elementary schools.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)

indicated dissent.


That was the general impression created. As a matter of fact, there is no leaving certificate in elementary schools.


I said public schools.


I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has corrected that impression. We are told in the Memorandum that more than half of the men in the Army obtain the second-class certificate. I find that the actual number who have attained to that standard is 85,516. I find also that 13,164 men obtained the first-class certificate, which is the equivalent of the school-leaving certificate. Further, 620 men reached matriculation standard. This, it appears to me, is a tribute to the educational system in the Army; but there are, I think, other factors at work which would help to account for it. I am not sure that the mechanisation of the Army is not stimulating the men. In spite of the criticisms we hear of it I think it can be said of our modern educational system that it has produced generally a higher standard of individuality and personality, and I feel that the Army educational system is fortified to some extent by the growth of the mechanisation of the Army.

This question, it seems to me, has a bearing upon one which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman himself when he said there was a shortage of officers. That ought not to be a matter for very great regret if we encourage the men in the ranks to take commissions. I know there are those who criticise that idea, and say that a man who comes from the ranks does not make quite the same kind of officer as the man who has had a public school training. My answer to that is that there are good, bad and indifferent in all classes, whether of rankers or officers. I think the figures show that a good many of the men in the Army are reaching a standard which would warrant their being seriously considered for commissions. It is true that at the present time a certain number out of the ranks are given commissions. I am not sure what the number is, and I should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us.

8.0 p.m.

I would be glad also if he would give us some indication of the test made for promotion; incidentally, it would be a good thing if the War Office would give us an indication of the general standards required, setting them out on one of the pages of the Estimates next year. It would be interesting to know what are the general tests which are set for the men who leave the ranks to take commissions. The barriers between what are called "the rankers" and "commissioned officers" are generally disappearing in so far as the growth of personality and individuality is concerned. I think we ought to give very serious consideration to the admission of rankers into the higher ranks of the Army. I am not going to labour this question, but it seems to me that it is one that merits more serious consideration than it has received up to the present.

We are spending something like £200,000 on Army training and Army education. I know we are spending much more on the technical branches of the Service, but on Army education and vocational training we are spending something like £200,000. I think we see some of the results in the general conduct and bearing of the rank and file of the Army. I do not want to use this as a matter for propaganda, but I think it can be truly said that in recent years the dry canteen has become far more popular than it was. The recreation side has developed very well in the Army, and that has proved one of the most profitable things we have done in recent years. On a previous occasion, I asked a question about vocational training, and I criticised the weekly charge made to the ranker, amounting to 7s. 6d., as being rather an abnormal charge to make in the case of men who have such a limited amount of pay. We should do everything we can to encourage men to consider vocational training as part of their regular service activity.

I want to see the time when, instead of a few men being trained in the vocational centres, it will be considered as part of a soldier's regular training that during the last six or twelve months of his service he should go into one of the vocational training camps for the purpose of refitting him to meet the conditions of civil life. Those of us who know anything about barrack and camp life know very well that men tend to get out of touch with normal civilian life, more particularly when they have served their full time in the Army. When these men leave the Army, they feel that they are beginning life afresh and going into a new world. For these reasons, there is a growing need that we should pay more attention to the vocational training side of this question. That is why I deprecate the charge which is made when the average soldier goes to the vocational training establishment. It seems to me that that charge is rather on the side of encouraging the highly paid non-commissioned officer than on the side of encouraging the ordinary soldier himself. I have already paid a tribute to the Secretary of State for War for extending these facilities at Chisledon. It seems to me that the point I have raised about this charge of Vs. 6d. requires a more satisfactory answer than that which has been given up to the present time. With these few remarks, I will leave the question of the number of men, and when the answer is given dealing with recruiting, I hope the Secretary of State for War will be satisfied in his own mind that some general effort is being made to meet this very difficult problem.

Viscount SANDON

I wish to emphasise what was said a week or two ago when these Estimates came before the House, and what I think has been said on every occasion when the Army, Navy and Air Estimates have been brought in, that is that I do not believe we shall ever get down to a satisfactory basis until we can discuss all the three fighting services together, because all the detailed aspects of these Estimates are tied up with the relative merits of the different Forces and the expenditure which we can fairly allot in each direction. There is one point in particular on which I think the Secretary of State for War scored very heavily and that was when he stated—I think he convinced us all and certainly he convinced me—that our case was absolutely complete as regards leading the way towards disarmament as shown in tangible figures by increasing economies year by year in the Army. That makes it more incumbent upon us to scrutinise these Estimates more closely in order to see in what further direction we can apply this admirable principle, always bearing in mind, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us quite fairly, that these economies cannot be made at any sacrifice of the strength and above all of the efficiency of the services for which he is responsible.

There are three directions in which economies can be made which struck me in going through these Estimates, and in following some of the replies given to questions in this House by the Secretary of State for War. In the first place, there is the question of the Supplementary Reserve. I notice that the establishment of this Force is now 23,000 all told and it consists of 2,700 officers and 20,250 other ranks. There are three categories. Categories A and B do some training and consist of 2,387 officers and 8,557 other ranks. There is a third category—C—which does no training at all and this category consists of 357 officers and 11,706 other ranks. The cost of this Force is at the rate of £25 per officer and £8 of £20 for other ranks making £248,000 in all and that is exclusive of the cost of training. That is computed on the basis of 17,790 as the likely strength. Of course, the number would be more if a full establishment was reached.

Obviously, people must be paid for the work they do but that £248,000 is exclusive of training pay and is given for nothing. The Under-Secretary of State for War told us in 1927 that, this money was regarded as a sort of retaining fee because the personnel was liable to mobilisation. We know the type of fellow who comes up on mobilisation with a run. Mobilisation has appealed and always will appeal to the very best instincts of the very best people in this country, and those people who have abilities which they think can be utilised by the State and the War Office will come up quick enough without a retaining fee, and they will be on the spot badgering the War Office to give them work. If we find those means inadequate, then we are quite capable of bringing in compulsion to secure what is requisite, as we have in the past.

There is another direction in which we, might economise and that is in regard to remounts. In 1924—we might consider that a significant date!—there were 77 officers in this Force. In 1927 there were 82 officers, and in 1929—that is to-day—59 officers. Why should not, this Force be put on a pro rata basis. It will be noticed that in the three years between 1924 and 1927 there was an increase of five officers. Does that increase of five mean that the increase was pro rata, as to horse needs? Furthermore, is the drop of 23 between 1927 and 1929 pro rata and does this correspond with a similar falling off in the horse needs of this country? It seems to me that the two things should go pari passu. If the number of horses required in the Army decreases, surely the amount of staff required to look after them should also decrease in proportion. I feel confident that the present basis is the more accurate one of the three but that leads me to reflect what a waste there must have been in previous years when we had a far larger staff. This service costs the country in pay and allowances £18,000 irrespective of 415 civil and military staff dependant upon them. I do not see any representative of the Treasury on the Front Bench but it would be interesting to know why the Treasury who are so eager to spot out means of saving money very often at the expense of things where money is badly needed did not let their eagle eye light on this question. We were told in July 1927 in answer to a question that the function of this Force was to classify some 75,000 horses. Is it really necessary in these days of mechanisation to have this organisation to deal with a problematical 75,000 horses which we might want only after all for a large scale mobilisation.

A case which strikes me, perhaps, more than any other, is that of the Medals Department. The right hon. Gentleman will possibly remember, as a great many questions have been asked on this subject, that in 1927 the staff of this Department at the War Office consisted of 35, namely, two officers and 33 other ranks; and they issued, we were told, 37,000 medals, or less than three medals per day per man. At the present time the staff consists of 22—one officer and 21 other ranks—and they issue 28,500 medals per annum, or 3½ per man per day; so we are getting on! It makes my heart bleed to think of the awful sweating that must be going on in that Department! I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what firm in business could ever make things pay on such a footing as that, or make any satisfactory report to its shareholders? It is only natural that we, as shareholders in the military security of the State, should be interested to know how our money is feeing spent. The cost of the staff is at the rate of £5,000 per annum.

In answer to a question the other day, we were told by the right hon. Gentleman that there were "other duties" attached to this work. Many questions have been asked on this subject during the past three or four years, but, unless I have been very careless in examining them, this is the first occasion on which any "other duties" have been mentioned. I should like to know how it is that these "other duties" are mentioned now, while they have not been in the past, what these other duties are, and why, here again, we cannot get down to a pro rata basis and establish a fair scale of labour in that Department as regards output of medals distributed. After all, it is now 10 years since the War. As I said in the case of remounts, why is the Treasury eye not here also? Even the difference between 3½ and three medals per day represents a very considerable total saving in expenditure and personnel, and, if we can have that saving now, what waste must there not have been in the days when we did not have it, before questions started to be asked about it in this House! Surely, here again, we can get down to something much more satisfactory and economical than even a 3½per-day basis for this Department. I would not be a party to stopping any man from getting the medal that he deserves, but there must be by now comparatively few people to whom medals are due on account of the Great War and who have not yet put in their claims or have not had an opportunity of getting them substantiated or otherwise.

I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to think that I am a harsh critic. His Department is, perhaps, the most encouraging of all to criticise, because one's criticism is reduced to small Committee points of this kind. Broadly, he has established his case, and the task is the more encouraging because one feels by his major economies that the appeal is falling on sympathetic ears. To a certain extent, I confess, logic is on the side of the right hon. Gentleman, but I feel—and I am not alone among people of my own political complexion, or among people in the country, in feeling—that there is a good deal of justification for the complaint of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Beckett) as to the use of military personnel in their private time for the purposes of civil occupations. I do not base the case altogether on the same grounds as the hon. Member. Obviously, a strong case can be made against interfering with any man's private time, and obviously, any attempt to do so may well result in ill-feeling, but, at the same time, people who wear His Majesty's uniform—the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; I know that they are not then wearing His Majesty's uniform, but they are soldiers, and the responsibility for behaving like soldiers rests upon them as long as they are in His Majesty's Forces. I feel, and, as I have said, I am not alone in feeling, that there is something unseemly in serving soldiers, in their off time, taking part in work such as has been described, and, of course, it is quite easy to imagine that they might undertake work of a far less desirable character unless some step were taken.

There is one thing for which the right hon. Gentleman deserves every credit, and that is the encouragement which is being given by his Department to the liaison or affiliation—I do not know whether he would agree with that word, and perhaps it is too strong a one—between regiments in this country and regiments overseas. I believe that that will have a big practical result, as he intends it to have, both as regards the employment of men on going out of the service and also as regards the moral effect, both on the units in this country and on the units overseas, which latter are, after all, new units, units in building. It shows an extent of imagination which I must say surprises me, and makes me believe that the War Office is almost a human institution! I have come to the end of what I wanted to say, and I would just like to emphasise a point—which was touched upon by the hon. Member who spoke for the Opposition—on the civilian side. I think it would be interesting to go and see, another year, what is being done in the vocational camps; and perhaps an even greater work is being done by the right hon. Gentleman in his progress as regards education and the preparation and training of men in the service for their ultimate entry into civil life That was a matter which was absolutely lost sight of by his predecessors in pre-War days. The character of the Army to-day is changing, and, although it would be intolerable and inaccurate for me to criticise the standard or type in pre-War days, the change for the better has been most marked since the War, as a result of the enlightened regime of the right hon. Gentleman and the War Office as a whole in realising their responsibility for these men, not only while they are in the Army, but when they leave it and try again to enter civil life. I believe that it will make the service more attractive, that it will make it easier to get the right type of ambitious young men and that it will generally mark a real turning-point in the fighting efficiency of the Forces.


One pleasing feature of these Debates has been the fact that the Ministers, when presenting their Estimates, have themselves spoken of economy, of the desire for a smaller expenditure, and even for a reduction in the Forces; but, with all that, pleasing and in the right direction as it is, it is still a matter of some wonderment why we require such a large number of men in the Army at the present time. I am not going into the question of the numbers of our troops that there are in various parts of the world, but I do want to ask the Secretary of State what a the necessity for our retaining over 7,000 men on the Rhine? When one looks at the details of that number, one wonders still more what is the necessity for it.

I certainly had hoped, and I think that everyone will have been hoping, that these men would have been home in this country long before now. I would ask what it is that they are engaged upon while they are there, and, as training has been referred to a great deal, what training, apart from military training, is being given to them to enable them to take up occupations when they return to civil life, as I hope they will speedily do. I should like to ask approximately how many men in the ranks are engaged in the workshops and are having sufficient real training on the mechanised side of the Army to be able to look after these machines in the event of repairs or replacements being required? This will certainly have some bearing on the position these people will occupy when they return to civil life. I hope we shall have some explanation on these few questions and on the general question why it is necessary still to retain 150,000 men in the Army. I should like to see, and I am sure we could manage with, a much smaller number than the force we are asked to vote to-night.


The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked one or two questions in the course of a very suggestive and helpful speech. He asked again with regard to the reduction in height of recruits during the present year, what that really signified, and whether it was the opinion of the Army Council that it was a symptom of decline in the health and physique of the present generation. I can reassure him on that point. The Army Council is not principally concerned with forming an estimate on a subject of that nature, but there is no reason whatever to suppose that there is any decline in the physique of the country. The lowering of the height standard is merely a normal way of increasing the supply of recruits for a certain branch of the Forces when necessary. At present, recruiting for many branches is satisfactory, but it is below the normal for infantry. One reason for that is, very likely, that the men, naturally, are more anxious to join corps in which they get better opportunities of training in mechanisation and things of that sort. That is one of the reasons why we have reduced the height. Another is that during the next two or three years, an abnormally large number of men are due to leave the infantry, and, therefore, the supply will be lower still, and also during the next two or three years we shall be suffering from the abnormally low birthrate during the War, which is an additional reason. The men of shorter height who are now accepted as recruits are men who have to come up to exactly the same chest measurement and weight standard as before. Therefore, it cannot be said that they are in any way in worse health or worse general physique than men who are tall. A man is no less healthy for being shorter than another man.

The hon. Member also asked what is being done in mechanisation, and the education of the men in mechanisation. It is impossible at present to give an exact figure of those who have been perfectly trained in mechanisation. If I could, it would be a low figure of those who are really fitted to pass a high standard of examination and to act as factory workers in a mechanical factory, but the numbers who are receiving mechanical education, and who are perfectly fitted now to do running repairs, and are gradually taking further instruction, is very large, and that is one of the great values of mechanisation as a branch of education in the Army to-day.

The hon. Member asked about ranker officers. He suggested that more officers should be recruited in this way, and hoped the Army Council would give consideration to this possibility. It is a matter which the Army Council have constantly in mind, and they have increased the number of officers coming from the ranks in recent years. The numbers at present accepted for Sandhurst are 15 each half year, and last year, or the year before, which was the first time it was introduced, we also sent three officers to Woolwich. There are always plenty who are anxious to go to Sandhurst and who succeed in passing the examination. The system is that they are recommended in the first place by their commanding officers, and then they have to pass an examination. The standard at Woolwich is slightly higher. The mathematical standard is relatively very high, and there has been some difficulty in obtaining cadets fitted to pass that examination.

With all that the hon. Member said about the need of vocational training and the admirable work that has been accomplished at Chiseldon, I am in entire agreement, and there is no one more anxious than my right hon. Friend to extend that training still further. The difficulty is the one that we find in all these justifiable and praiseworthy desires—the financial difficulty. The extension of the training, of course, involves further expenditure. The only point in connection with that part of the hon. Member's speech with which I am not in complete agreement, though I entirely see the point, is the complaint that we charge candidates for Chiseldon 7s. out of their pay. I have always realised the objection to this procedure, and I have often told the hon. Member the reason for it, which is to make sure that we get people who will really take advantage of the possibilities there and are not going merely to have an easy time. Whether that charge could or should be reduced is a matter that deserves careful consideration, but at present there seems no real reason to reduce it, because we have no difficulty whatever in obtaining candidates who are anxious to go there.

The Noble Lord the Member for Shrewsbury (Viscount Sandon) objected to the number of people in the Supplementary Reserve and the money spent upon them. He is doubtless aware that the people who constitute this Supplementary Reserve are specially trained and have special technical qualifications, and, as he says, they receive an allowance more or less in the way of a retaining fee. The first people to come forward are not always the best qualified people, and it does not always follow, when you get a sudden rush of recruits in an emergency, that they are exactly the people you want or that you know exactly where to send them. We have the Supplementary Reserve ready to our hand. We know what they can do and where they are wanted, so that, when they appear, we can tell them exactly where to go. Their places are waiting for them, and there is not the confusion that naturally results when you have thousands of people offering their services, as we remember at the beginning of the Great War, when highly qualified people were put in the wrong places and people who were not qualified at all put in positions that the others ought to have occupied.

Viscount SANDON

I see the hon. Gentleman's point, and no doubt he makes his case there, but I do not see the ease as regards payment. The question of organisation rests on the Department. As far as the man is concerned, I do not quite see what service he renders.


The reason far payment is that you cannot be quite so sure of a man turning up for his job when wanted unless you pay him. If the hon. Member was constantly plunging into lawsuits, or was one of those unfortunate people who live surrounded by lawsuits, he might think it worth while to keep counsel on a retainer in order that when he wanted him he might be there. Another question with which he dealt related to the remount department. There, again, I can only say, as he himself admitted, that expenditure is being continually reduced, and we believe that it is being reduced as rapidly as possible at the present time. There are still great demands in the way of horses, and we find that it is impossible to satisfy them by spending less than we do at present. In respect of the medal department, from the case presented by the Noble Lord it sounds rather absurd to have so many people engaged in the task of dealing out medals. The saving possible in that department is not so much as the hon. Member would lead one to suppose. I think that the majority of people employed in it are officers who would be employed in other capacities if not engaged there. When he talks as if we were a commercial house, and that it would not be fair to the shareholders to keep up an establishment of this kind, he forgets that the object of the medals department is not to pay. We do not intend to sell people medals. People are given medals. We expect to lose money on the medals department, and it is necessary to keep a certain number of people there. As the War gets further away, and as the date when these people earn their medals becomes more distant, it involves increased research.


One medal a day then, I suppose?


We hope that people will claim their medals.

Viscount SANDON

The figures were 21 other ranks, and one officer. I think the hon. Gentleman stated they were mainly officers.


They are other ranks. The hon. Member also spoke of the point raised in the Committee stage in regard to soldiers being employed on the stage and in various capacities. I do not think that it is at all an unseemly occupation for a soldier in his spare time to take part in a serious stage play. I think that, on the contrary, it would be very much better that small parts in stage plays dealing with military affairs should be played by proper men trained as soldiers than by those who are not soldiers, and much more likely to bring discredit upon the British Army.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) asked why the troops were still retained on the Rhine. He knows that that is not a question for which the War Office can answer. That is a question of foreign policy, and he knows that it is the policy of this Government to withdraw the troops as soon as possible. It was agreed at Geneva last September that we should explore with the French and the Germans the possibility of withdrawing them as soon as possible, and negotiations, I understand, with that object in view are still going on. He asked about the education of these men. They enjoy the same educational facilities as if they were at home. A branch of the educational corps is out there, and those who qualify can equally avail themselves of the facilities for lectures and vocational training. Therefore, they are not worse off in that respect than they are at home. As a matter of fact, they may have the additional advantage of learning a foreign language. [An HON. MEMBER: "And pick up foreign wives as well."] Hon. Members opposite sometimes consider that they are internationals, and I should have thought that they would have regarded this also as a great advantage. I think I have dealt with most of the points raised in the Debate.

Question put, and agreed to.

Second Resolution agreed to.

Third Resolution read a Second time.

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


I should like to ask a question—I am sorry I have not been able to give notice of my intention with regard to Chilwell. In page 194 a very big sum of money is set down in connection with this matter. While we are being asked for only £2,000 for the year 1929 there is facing us in the years to come a sum of £102,000 for the Chilwell Ordnance Depôt. Is this the old Chilwell munitions factory or munitions depôt? It seems to be a very large sum, and I think we are entitled to an explanation. Another point I wish to raise has reference to Singapore. In page 202 of the Estimates a sum of £123,000 is put down for the year 1929, leaving us to face the huge sum of £885,000. What is this money being expended upon? We had this matter in the Air Estimates, where a considerable sum was provided. I believe that we are to be faced with the question in another set of Estimates which we are to consider in the course of a day or two. We have had no explanation why in that distant part of the world we should spend such a huge sum of money except that we are told that we must have some defences in that particular part of the Far East. May we have some explanation given as to the item of £123,000 and as to the amount with which we shall still be faced as far as the Army Estimates go?


I want to ask whether we have now reached the limit of expenditure for the Catterick Camp. I think that Members of the Committee know quite well that the original estimate for this camp was somewhere about £1,000,000 for reconditioning. It was subsequently estimated, I think, that it would cost something like £3,000,000 for new accommodation for the housing of the troops and so forth. The total estimate is for £1,438,000. Can we have some guarantee that we have reached the limit of expenditure for this camp? No one begrudges the building of barracks and the making of proper housing accommodation for troops in a part of the world like that where we know it is a very exposed area and no one begrudges the provision of proper recreation facilities for the troops. It was only to be expected that re-arrangements would have to be made in regard to this military centre, owing to the Free State Treaty, and that it would be necessary to expend a considerable amount of money in rearranging for the housing and training of the troops; but the House has some right to expect that, after eight or nine years we have reached some definite limit of this expenditure, and I hope that the Secretary of State will give us some guarantee to that effect.


I should like to preface my few remarks by assuring my right hon. Friend the Secre- tary of State for War that I am not desirous of placing any unnecessary difficulties in his way or in the way of the War Office, but I feel it to be my duty to bring to the notice of the House certain activities of the War Office in my constituency which have caused considerable consternation amongst the residents in the Guildford Division of Surrey. This is also a matter in which the general public are taking a very lively interest, because the War Office has partially enclosed, and is continuing to enclose, certain lands to which from time immemorial the public have had unrestricted access. Whether that unrestricted access was a legal access I am not prepared to argue, but the fact remains that at all times within living memory the public have been able to gain access to this very beautiful land without any restriction whatsoever. The particular piece of land to which I refer forms part of the prettiest portion of Surrey, and includes a place called Kettlebury Hill, a viewpoint which is one of the finest in Surrey and much frequented by the public for recreation and amusement.

I should like to speak of the sort of activities that the War Office are pursuing. They are erecting, to say the least of it, a very hideous fence around this large acreage of land. A friend of mine who has had experience of savage animals told me that it was very like an elephant kraal. I have no knowledge of what an elephant kraal looks like, but I can assure the House that this fencing, this barbed wire entanglement, which is being erected around this land is quite unnecessarily forbidding to the gentle and long-suffering members of the British public, either for the purpose of exclusion or restraint. Last year, an agreement was come to between the Lords of the Manor of the Common Land which adjoins this particular piece of land to which I am referring, and I think my right hon. Friend will agree that in that matter the Lords of the Manor met him very generously. In that agreement, which was made with Lord Midleton's Committee for the protection of the Surrey Commons last year, it was stated that: The Secretary of State shall do nothing to exclude the public from the common or from the freehold land except when the same may be in use for the purposes of a camp. On the face of it, it looks as if the War Office were making a direct breach of that agreement, but I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend would not do anything of that sort. Whether it can be regarded as an actual breach of the agreement or not, it certainly appears to be a breach of the spirit of the agreement because now, owing to the erection of this fence, the public are restrained from entering this land, which is most desirable land from every point of view and to which they have had access for so many years. I know that my right hon. Friend may say that he is unable to give access to this land owing to the terms upon which he has bought it. If that be the case, I wish to make a suggestion to him that it might be possible for him to introduce into the terms on which he bought, the land a clause so that the public shall continue to have access to the land over the roads which have been cut across the small intervening piece of land for the purposes of the troops. If he could arrange such a thing in the terms of his purchase he would go a long way to allay the feeling of alarm which, undoubtedly, affects the public 10-day as to an infringement of their rights. If my right hon. Friend can see his way to do something of that sort the public would be extremely grateful and he may rest assured that those of us who are anxious not only to maintain any public rights that there may be, but also to encourage as far as we possibly can the necessary activities of the War Office shall do everything we can to help forward that arrangement.


I should like to raise on this Vote the question of the roads of communication of the Southern Command and to make a further appeal to the Secretary of State to consider the closing down of this particular department. I appreciate his attitude towards the Wiltshire Members of Parliament in agreeing to a further extension of the closing date for a period of four months after the 31st March, but I should like to urge upon him to bear in mind that we are in a special position in Wiltshire. This department was started eight or nine years ago, and there is no other work on Salisbury Plain except agriculture and Army work. The men have come from all over the country, and if the department is closed down there will be no work for them to do in the district. The manager of the Employment Exchange in Salisbury views with considerable alarm the prospect of closing down. Some 95 per cent. of the men are ex-service men and 75 per cent. of them are married.

I have had a communication this morning from a body of my constituents, and on this point I should like specially to ask for the consideration of my right hon. Friend. In Wiltshire, we used to let out the roads to contract, but it was a failure, and they are now under the direct control of the county. If it can be shown that this Department is working at a profit I should like my right hon. Friend to reconsider this matter. Then the amount in this Vote in regard to the scheme of cottage building on Salisbury Plain is very small indeed this year. I am always having it brought to my notice by local authorities in that part of Wiltshire that the War Office might do rather more to house their employés, both military and civil. I know that it is not very easy for an hon. Member to put a question of this kind when everybody is asking for economy, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Financial Secretary are anxious, in any part they play in Wiltshire, to maintain the reputation of the old-fashioned landlord in the best sense of the word.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I desire to draw attention to the proposed new by-laws issued by the War Office in connection with the Sheerness Defences. These Regulations relate to firing practice in the Thames Estuary. Under the Military Lands Acts, 1892 to 1903, the War Department may, with the consent of the Board of Trade, issue Regulations for regulating firing practice. The existing Regulations framed in regard to the Thames Estuary have imposed certain restrictions and limitations in regard to firing practice; first, the area over which firing practice may take place; secondly, the number of days in the year on which firing practice may take place and, thirdly, the number of hours in each day, whether by day or night. The proposed new Regulations go further. They propose to remove, first, the limitation on the number of days upon which firing may take place and also on the number of hours; secondly, they extend the area over which firing may take place.

I have here a plan showing the proposed extension of the area, which is very considerable. If these new Regulations come into effect the area will be extended eastwards as far as north of the North Knobb Buoy, which will mean the enclosure of a very considerable additional area to that over which firing may now take place. The inconvenience to shipping of all kinds through this very necessary firing practice is obvious, but facilities are afforded to the ordinary coastwise traffic for transit through the area while firing practice is taking place. As regards the fishing industry, the matter is much more serious. A real hardship is imposed on the fishermen who come to these particular waters from the coasts of Essex and Kent and who depend for their livelihood on the captures they can make in these waters. The Kent and Essex Sea Fisheries Committee have asked for an inquiry before the proposed Regulations come into force. This Committee is a statutory body charged with safeguarding the interest of the fishermen of Essex and Kent. If that inquiry is held there will be no difficulty in producing evidence as to the number of men and boats employed in the fishing industry in the Thames Estuary, and the main grounds of objections, which are, first, that there would be an unlimited control by the War Department over almost the whole of the Thames Estuary; secondly, that this particular area is thought to be in excess of what is really necessary for carrying out efficiently the necessary firing practice; and, thirdly, the great disability which will be inflicted on the fishermen of the Kent and Essex coasts in carrying out the earning of their livelihood.

9.0 p.m.

These fishermen come from Brightling sea and Tollesbury and Burnham-on- Crouch. There is also a cockle industry carried on on the Macklin Sands, which will also suffer. The importance of this industry can be estimated by the fact that £30,000 worth of fish were caught and landed in this particular area in 1927. The fishermen are perfectly aware of the necessity for this firing practice. They recognise that in this matter the needs of the State are paramount. I recognise that fully as well. I happen to be in command of a brigade of my own county Territorial Artillery and, therefore, I quite realise the necessity for firing practice, but it is obvious that when new Regulations of this kind are made that the interests of a body of fishermen should be fully considered. I have had the privilege on a former occasion in this House to defend the fishermen of Essex. Some six years ago I defended their interests against the encroachment of a private company which desired to enclose for its own use and profit an additional area of fishing in the Thames Estuary; and on that occasion I was successful. I hope I shall be equally successful on this occasion, and I am fortified in that hope, because I am well aware that the Secretary of State for War has always had the interest of the fishermen of Essex fully at heart, and I feel certain that in this matter he will go as far as he reasonably can in meeting the interests of the fishermen in all respects, while at the same time safeguarding the interests of his Department.


I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I reply to the various questions which have been put to me. First, with regard to the work at Chilwell: We have put in a sum of £2,000 for this work, but no official decision has yet been come to in regard to it. It is a very small sum and would not permit of work continuing through the year, because it would soon be spent. It is rather in the nature of a Token vote, and in order to carry on until we can settle exactly what is wanted at Chilwell. We can then put the work in hand during the year.

With regard to Singapore, the amount to fie spent has been reduced this year because some of the work of providing artillery has been postponed. It would not be in order for me to discuss the general question of Singapore, whether we ought or ought not to have a base there. All that I can answer for is the, military expenditure. The nature of it is preparation for the establishment of heavy guns to assist in the defence of Singapore. It also means the provision of gunners and a garrison, and of buildings for their accommodation. All of these items are included in the general lay-out of the work under the Army Vote, and the expenditure in this year's Estimate is part of the current expenditure for that work.

Can I say that there is a limit to be put to the expenditure on Catterick? That is a question that I was asked. In the book of Estimates there, is set out in detail all the expenditure at Catterick. From anything that I can now see I do not anticipate that there will be any large additional expenditure at Catterick. Of course if the number of troops that are to be housed there is increased, that increase will cause extra expenditure, but so far as I know there is no large amount of extra expenditure likely to take place. I do want a little extra expenditure because I want to improve the amenities of Catterick. I do not know whether any hon. Member has been there lately. If is not very well kept at the moment. The roads are very bad. They were inches deep in mud when I was there. That is not good for the men, for they carry the mud into the barrack huts. I am anxious that the roads shall be improved, that there shall be some trees planted and a layout of the gardens. There will be some expenditure on that score this year, but no great expenditure. The contractor originally was not bound to put in the gardens, and that work is now being done.

Several other matters of real substance have been raised during the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. H. Morrison) asked me whether the Roads Department could not continue. I have done my best to meet the hardship which inevitably results from closing down any works which employ men. There is some work that will be continued, but the main part of the work has come to an end. The work that will be continued will be continued finally under contractors, but so that there shall not be any abrupt dismissal of men I am spreading the change-over over four months. I do not say that the four months will be rigidly maintained. If great hardship is being caused we must try to see where we can ease the difficulty.


Would my right hon. Friend inquire if the Department has been carried on at a profit?


There cannot be a profit in removing rubbish which was left over from a camp, or in building roads. There is no profit in that work. You cannot test it by profit unless you say that if it had been put out to contractors they would have charged more than the expense that was incurred by the Department. That question has been gone into. It is because the bulk of the work has come to an end, and because it is impossible to maintain the staff for the smaller number of men to be employed in future, that it is considered that it would cost less to do the work through contractors than departmentally. That is the reason why the change is being made. My hon. Friend also put in a plea for more housing on Salisbury Plain. If my hon. Friend will look at page 198 of the Army Estimates he will see that the Avon Valley housing scheme will cost £195,000, of which £134,000 has been spent. We are continuing it this year, and in future there will be still further sums spent. Larkhill quarters for married officers total £60,000, and £21,000 is to be spent this year. Salisbury Plain quarters for non-commissioned officers and men or civilians—the cost of the scheme is £121,000, and £21,000 is to be spent this year. I can assure my hon. Friend that all the money I can squeeze out has been going into housing. It is a great burden that has to be carried by Estimates which are called military or Army Estimates. Our military expenditure is judged partly by the amount that we have to spend on housing. I cannot hold out much hope that I can spend further sums on housing in the Salisbury district.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon Division (Lieut.-Colonel Ruggles-Brise) put forward a very eloquent plea on behalf of the fishermen who might be affected by the firing from Harwich. I am very interested that no damage should be done to those who are carrying on their legitimate calling on the sea in the neighbourhood of Harwich. I have personally looked into the proposed regulations to see whether there was any way in which the reasonable fears of the fishermen could be met. Some negotiation has already been taking place between the officers in charge at the War Office and representa- tives of the men. The men have asked that the number of days in July and August during which firing shall take place by day should be reduced to sixteen. We had proposed twenty-five. I cannot reduce the total to sixteen, but I can reduce to twenty and I shall be willing to do that.

In the same way the men asked that a concession might be made by reducing night firing from eight nights to six. Again, while I cannot contract the area for all purposes I can say this—that the wider danger area will not be wanted on all the days when shooting takes place. We will use half charges so as to keep the danger zone smaller for at least 60 per cent. of the time that we are firing. So I hope that there may be some means of still maintaining what is absolutely essential, namely, the range from Harwich, and yet meet the fishermen and those who wish to use those waters. I can also say that the regulations will not be put into force without local inquiry. That inquiry will be held by the Board of Trade and the fishermen can be represented. I have no doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend wil represent them as well as he has done on other occasions. Of course, my case must also be put. I hope that we shall be able to find some ground which, while preserving the rights of the State, will not necessarily hurt the fishermen.

I have kept to the last, the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir H. Buckingham) because I wanted to cool down after the attack which he made upon the War Office. He said that the War Office were acting in breach of the Midleton agreement. That was an agreement which was reached after a great many unnecessary fears had been aroused last year that the War Office intended either to enclose certain commons, or to exclude the public from certain pleasure resorts. The War Office never had that view. I will not go into the past but that matter was settled by agreement with the owners of the commons who met me most fairly. We have come to a perfectly amicable arrangement which the War Office intend to carry out to the utmost. When I am charged, therefore, with breach of that agreement and, with the intention of excluding the public from land over which they have hitherto had unrestricted access, that is a serious charge which must be met. The piece of land to which my hon. Friend is referring is Kettle-bury Hill and the land adjoining. That land is not common land and never was common land. It is freehold land which belonged to the Cubitt estate. I have got the land from the Cubitt estate—I think 439 acres—and, by the terms of the lease, I am obliged to put up what my hon. Friend calls hideous fences of barbed wire strands.

I am obliged by the lease to put up these fences from one point X to another point X, which is all the fencing that I am doing. I am not putting up one yard of fencing that I am not compelled to put up under the lease. These alleyways, these "rides," which are marked "for troops only," are also to be made under the terms" of the lease. I am obliged to do it. I cannot get the lease unless I do it and it is provided that access to the land at the back shall be through these "rides" and shall be only for troops. I am allowed to let the public have access to the land provided I make by-laws to the satisfaction of the Cubitt estate, and the lease says: Any such by-laws or regulations shall give to the public no rights of access, ingress, or egress, from, or to, or over, the several strips of land coloured pink. These are the drives which I have marked "for troops only." It is because I am literally compelled by the lease to put up these wire fences and to reserve these entries for the troops only, that I have taken the action which has been taken. Now let me look at something else. The hon. Member said that the public had had unrestricted access to this land from time immemorial. For the last five years the whole of this land has been obstructed and the public has not had access to it. There has been a fence along the whole of this parcel of land. The whole of the 340 acres were fenced in, because that land has been under the Forestry Commission, and the public have been excluded from it. As a matter of fact, the public will have a great deal more access than they have had, latterly at any rate, when our arrangements are complete. As soon as the by-laws are made I intend to throw open to the public the whole of that land which I have leased subject, of course, to military user. I have bought another 600 acres of land on the other side—freehold land—which I intend to throw open to the public too, so that, actually, the public will have not common land, but freehold land which the War Office has bought, as to 600 acres, and which the War Office has leased as to 400 acres—a total of 1,000 acres. The public will have access to that which they have never had before.

I am surprised that my hon. Friend should have been misled by some of the headings which have appeared in the papers. I am surprised to find that he reads them. I notice one of these papers, the "Daily Chronicle," has headings like this: "War Office breaks pledge to public." "Beauty spot surrounded with barbed wire." "Approach to commons made difficult." "Surrey scandal." "Definite undertaking made last year violated." I have told the House what are the facts. There is not the slightest justification for this sort of political propaganda.—for it is nothing else—that has been indulged in by the "Daily-Chronicle," the "Daily News" and some other papers. I think I have answered all the questions addressed to me by hon. Members, and I hope they will now allow me to have the Vote.


I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give further consideration to the claim which has been put forward from my constituency in respect of property damaged as a result of firing practice. We have put one or two cases up to the right hon. Gentleman regarding breakages resulting from the very proper and necessary firing exercises which have to take place on the coast, and to which my constituents do not object. They claim, however, that when the military authorities do damage of this kind they should pay for it, and that proper care should be taken to provide beforehand for the property and also for the comfort of the people concerned. In respect to the claims now before the Minister, I want the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers to give this matter further consideration and to take into consideration especially the case of the fishermen. A strong committee of the fishermen on the coast have put forward a case showing that they are not able to ply for their livelihood as a result of these firing exercises as sometimes practised by the batteries. I want the House to remember very distinctly that there is no more patriotic community than that which we have in the Hartlepools and which I have the honour to represent. I think 1915 proved that; and when it comes to pots and earthenware and other household property being broken in this way, it should be remembered that these are the property of poor folk, many of them very poor who cannot afford to fight the War Office in the Law Courts. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt can take up a perfectly legal stand in the matter, but I want to ask him if the Department cannot show a little of the milk of human kindness in this matter. If these claims are just and if the War Office have had the benefit of this firing practice by reason of greater efficiency in the Service, then I think they ought to pay for the breakages and I would ask the Minister to go into our case once again and to see if he cannot do a little more for my people.

Question put, and agreed to.

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Resolutions agreed to.

The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.

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