HL Deb 05 July 1872 vol 212 cc668-74

asked the Under Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been called to the proposed establishment of a Military Depât at Oxford, and to the strong objections expressed by the University to that measure? The noble Marquess said, the proposal to which his Question had reference met with the unanimous opposition of the University. Beginning with Professor Rogers, whose advanced Liberal opinions were well known, and ranging from him upwards or downwards, as their Lordships might wish, the political and theological opinion of every man in the University was opposed to the measure which the War Office had in view. In the first place, the military and academic lives did not fit in well. Officers in the Army had a considerable amount of duty to perform, but they had plenty of leisure, and with it high spirit and abundant animal health. The experience of the teachers in the University led them to conclude that the facilities of amusement for the students were already sufficient, and that it was not necessary to adopt means to stimulate the students to avail themselves of opportunities to amuse themselves. The luxury of our age made University life more expensive than it was formerly, and rendered it more difficult to restrain the young men from habits which were inconsistent with the pursuit of their studies. It was felt that the existence of a military mess of even a small number of officers in the vicinity of the University would not lessen but increase the evil. Again, if a military depot were once established at Oxford, the War Office could not abolish it hereafter, even if it were found to be very objectionable. There was another point of objection, to which he would not refer further than to say there was a fear that the establishment of a military depât would have a tendency to introduce the Contagious Diseases Act in Oxford. The War Office were, he believed, of opinion that Oxford was a convenient centre, being the junction of several lines of railway; but he would ask the War Office authorities to consider whether in this respect High Wycombe did not possess sufficient advantages in these respects, while in respect of being surrounded by a large area and being nearer to London it had recommendations superior to those of Oxford. It was said that the depot would cause the expenditure of £70,000 a-year in Oxford, which, no doubt, was a temptation to the tradesmen of Oxford who had the good fortune to be the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the War Office. The relations between a representative and his constituents were of a tender character, and he did not like to interfere with them; but the interests of the University in this instance were still higher. Then it must be remembered that, during the last year, the Government had treated the University as "a national institution," subjecting it to all the evils and drawbacks attendant on an institution of that character. They had pulled it to pieces, or turned it upside down, taken its money, and distributed that money as they pleased, and now they had in view a measure which would only add to these evils, instead of trying to mitigate them as much as possible. Whatever was done in a case of this kind ought to be done permanently; but whatever was done in opposition to the distinct wishes of the teaching body of the University could not be done permanently. These considerations ought to outweigh any advantages which Oxford might possess. He hoped the noble Marquess would be able to give their Lordships an assurance that the project had been abandoned; or, if not, that he would promise them that it should not be carried out until the whole of the teaching body, who were scattered, should have an opportunity of speaking their feelings to the War Office.


wished, in the first place, to assure the noble Marquess that the arguments he had urged with so much force had not only been considered, but fully and patiently considered by the War Office. The Committee, to whom had been entrusted the task of recommending certain divisions of the country into districts for military purposes, had weighed with the utmost care all the advantages and disadvantages of the different centres that were proposed, and that extreme care had been equally exercised by those on whom would fall the duty of giving effect to the recommendations of the Committee. But he must tell the noble Marquess that it was not in his power on the present occasion to give any assurance as to the selection or non-selection of Oxford. The decision must, in fact, depend on circumstances connected with adjoining districts, and till these had been fully considered he could give no answer to the Question of the noble Marquess. The objection founded on the supposed disadvantages in a moral respect of the presence of a body of troops had been argued from other quarters. There was another objection founded on the argument that it was inexpedient to make any encroachment on ground likely to be required for University extensions, and a further one founded on the argumen that the proximity of a barrack would lead to a deterioration of property in Oxford. He would preface his answer to these objections by making two statements, the first having reference to the site of the proposed depôt, and the second, to the time and place of the annual training which might or might not take place hereafter at Oxford. Most of the arguments of the noble Marquess would be disposed of by this statement—that should the depôt be fixed at Oxford it would be neither within or near the University grounds, but at a distance of two or three miles. With regard to the training of the Militia, if Oxford were selected, that would take place in vacation and not in Term time. One of the recommendations of the Committee proceeded on the belief that, as there was probably a natural attachment felt by the Militia corps for their traditional headquarters, it would be expedient to retain High Wycombe for the Buckingham Militia, so that if Oxford were selected for the depôt, that arrangement would diminish by one-half the number of troops which would be at Oxford. Should any inconvenience be found to arise from the assembling of large bodies of Militia in or near the University of Oxford, it might be possible to have the training of that body carried on at Aldershot, or some other military station, and so relieve the University from any dangers that might arise from that source. The number of troops that would be stationed in or near Oxford would be very inappreciable for interfering with the order and discipline of the University. In most of the proposed centres throughout the country a mistaken impression prevailed as to the number of troops that would be stationed there, and their conversion into what were known as garrison towns, because, by a reference to the Report that had been laid upon their Lordships' Table, it would be seen that, under ordinary circumstances, in the non-training period of the year there would only be 250 men stationed at each centre, of whom 200 would be recruits undergoing a severe course of training, and 50 old soldiers invalided or to be drafted. There would be in all about 15 officers; but he was informed on authority that the number of dining members of the mess—that mess to which the noble Marquess looked with so much apprehension—was not likely to exceed six, besides which the majority of the officers would be, in all probability, married men. He thought that if the noble Marquess looked at the map, he would find that Oxford possessed much larger railway facilities than High Wycombe. With regard to the suggestion of the noble Marquess that the Secretary of State for War might have a bias in favour of Oxford because the citizens were his constituents, he did not think it necessary to defend his right hon. Friend from that suspicion, and he would pass it by. As to the argument that if the depôt were established at Oxford there would be a difficulty in removing it hereafter, if such an argument were allowed to prevail against present practical advantages it would not be easy to come to any decision on such a subject. While he believed that the arguments against Oxford were not so gigantic as the noble Marquess seemed to suppose, their Lordships might be assured that the matter had not been decided, and that no decision would be come to on it without mature consideration.


said, he should have thought, only for the last sentence in the speech of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), that the question had already been decided by the War Office. What was it that enabled the noble Marquess to say that the site of the barracks would not be within two or three miles of the University?


said, he would be very glad if the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would kindly give the House the basis of his calculation that the number of dining members of the mess would be only six, and that the majority of the officers would be married?


replied that no site had been selected at Oxford. What he meant when speaking of the distance of the site was, that care would be taken that it should not be nearer to the University than two or three miles. As a considerable number of the officers would have lodging-money, he believed he was correct in saying that the dining members of the mess would not exceed six. He believed it was probable that the commanding officer would arrange so that the majority of the officers in the depôt would be married officers.


said, that some of the objections that had been raised by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), which had been heard in different parts of the country in the treatment of similar questions, depended rather upon his appreciation of the character of military officers than otherwise, and, perhaps, evinced a want of acquaintance with the facts on the part of those who permitted themselves to make such observations on the condition of society as affecting the officers in Her Majesty's service; but having been so many years connected with the Army as regimental and commanding officer he took exception to any suggestions which impugned the character of the officers of the Army and the depreciation of their character, and more especially of the younger officers. It was impossible not to attribute the statements of the consequences that were likely to flow from the establishment of depôt centres as given in all the representations that had come from various quarters, to the ignorance of military society. He was confident that everyone who had had an opportunity of forming a judgment on the matter would say that no small communities in civil life exhibited a higher morality or better order than the small military communities represented by officers' messes. That being so, he did not think any civil community, even an academic one, would be exposed to any danger from the presence of a depôt, whether the number of the dining members of the mess were six or sixteen, or whether the majority of the officers were single men or married men.


explained, or rather he protested against the involuntary statement of his opinion by the noble and gallant Lord opposite (Lord Sandhurst). He did not state or suggest anything derogatory of the Army; but that a number of imperfectly- occupied young men in close proximity of the University would be an incentive to idleness in persons in statu pupillari that would not otherwise exist. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) seemed shocked at anyone suggesting the possibility of the Secretary for War being influenced by his constituents; but the noble Marquess himself, in the debate on the promotion of officers of the Scientific Corps, did not hesitate to state that noble Lords on the Opposition side were influenced by personal motives. Sic volo sic jubeo seemed to be the principle of the War Office. He should not move an Address, or propose to invite the House to expose itself to the insults of the Secretary of State for War; but it was possible that a legislative opportunity might arise without their being exposed to such rebuffs for ventilating the subject, and, if necessary, he should not scruple to ask their Lordships to avail themselves of it.

Back to