§ LORD WANTAGE
, in rising to draw attention to a Petition now presented to the First Commissioner of Works with reference to granting a portion of Richmond Park as a site for the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, said, the National Rifle Association had been told to take a leaf out of the book of the Artillery Association; but he desired at the outset to remind 629 their Lordships of a point which was sometimes overlooked. The Artillery Association, which held its meetings at Shoeburyness, an admirable association which had produced admirable results, was a purely military body. The National Rifle Association was quite different, and the object of its founders was to promote rifle shooting generally. It was founded on the principles of the Tir Fédéral of Switzerland, for the purpose of rendering rifle shooting a national pursuit and pastime in the reign of Queen Victoria as archery was 300 years ago. Of the distinguished persons who stood round the cradle of the National Rifle Association he would only mention three—Mr. Sidney Herbert, never to be forgotten among Secretaries of State for War, who sacrificed his life to his official duties as much as ever soldiers did; the Prince Consort; and Her Majesty the Queen, who herself fired the first shot on the ranges. These had recognized how wide was the scope of the objects of the National Rifle Association—the Prince Consort by starting an All Comers' prize, which had been kept up down to the present time, and Her Majesty by the speech she graciously delivered on the 2nd of July, 1860, upon Wimbledon Common. Her Majesty said—I have witnessed with pleasure the manner in which the ancient fondness of the English people for manly and sylvan sports has been converted by your association to more important ends, and has been made an auxiliary instrument for maintaining inviolable the safety of our common country.Under the head of "All Comers" there came to Wimbledon such men, for instance, as a mechanic, who had invented a new system of rifling, or a new sort of breech action; or, perhaps, a Scotch laird, dressed in a suit of tweed, carrying a sporting rifle on each shoulder and with a black pipe in his mouth. Such sights as these vexed the spirit of the visitor to Wimbledon, who expected to see nothing but soldiers in tight tunics and properly adjusted belts; but they could not forego their "All Comers," rough and ready as they were, even under the apprehension of being pronounced mere picnicers on the common. The National Rifle Association and those who directed it had been blamed in some quarters for bringing the Queen's name into the present question with re- 630 gard to Richmond Park. He was responsible for having first approached Her Majesty, and he thought then, as he thought now, that they could not have moved in this matter of the use of a Royal Park without such assent as Her Majesty was pleased to give them. Whatever might be the decision ultimately given by Her Majesty's advisers, the good will shown to the Volunteers by the Queen on this Question of Richmond Park would ever remain a matter of grateful feeling on their side towards their Sovereign. Should the decision be adverse, it would, of course, be accepted at once, and nothing further would be said. Should it be in favour of their request, they would hope that the Ministers of the Crown and the Commander-in-Chief would assist in furthering the objects of the association in their new departure. As their Lordships were aware, the Petition now made was to be allowed to use a portion of Richmond Park for the annual meetings of the association. This scheme, unfortunately, had not commended itself to the Commander-in-Chief. He desired, with all respect, to speak of the Illustrious Duke in his public capacity. The objections which His Royal Highness had raised to the National Rifle Association remaining on at Wimbledon Common were of a similar nature to those he now made as to their going to Richmond Park—namely, danger to the public. This danger—if danger there were—had, as regards Wimbledon, existed for the last 28 years, during which period there had never been a single accident, though 1,000,000 shots had been fired at the ranges there on each meeting. If the ranges used by the National Rifle Association on Wimbledon Common were dangerous, equally so must be the other ranges on the Common used throughout the year by Metropolitan Corps. They must, in that case, be equally closed on the ground of danger. Neither could the process of closing them stop there. Every other range in the country that did not possess a mountain behind the targets must be equally closed. The Commander-in-Chief, like all other public men, was liable to error, and in his official capacity was not, and, he felt sure, did not desire to be, exempt from criticism. He would proceed to show that in the opinion of the National Rifle Association the Commander-in-Chief was wrong on 631 this point. The fact of the past 28 years of perfect safety seemed to be an answer to the apprehensions of the Illustrious Duke, and in confirmation of this he might mention that he had received a letter from the clerk of the works of the National Rifle Association, who stated that compensation was annually paid to the occupants of certain cottages situated behind the butts, to enable them to reside elsewhere during the Wimbledon meeting, but that the people did not do so and continued to occupy their houses, and their children went to and from school without any evil results whatever. The Commander-in-Chief had referred to the future issue of a now rifle with increased range, but the small-bore rifle, with a similar range to the rifle alluded to, had been constantly used for 20 years at Wimbledon by all comers, although not as a military rifle, and none of the dangers anticipated had arisen. He mentioned this in order to prove the safety of the ranges and the skill of those who came up to shoot at the meetings of the National Rifle Association. In confirmation of that he would quote the Petition of the association to the First Commissioner of Works. It said—Your petitioners, however, would point out that competitors at the annual meetings consist of specially selected shots. Their accuracy of fire has been tested by means of a screen opposing an area of 600 square feet immediately behind the butts, through which no bullets have passed out of 20,000 shots which have been fired during the first part of the meeting at ranges up to 600 yards.That experiment was continued for the remaining eight days of the meeting, and during that time not one single bullet passed through the screen, showing that every bullet was either caught on the target or else on the butts. About 10 years after the association was established an Act of Parliament was passed which gave them considerable rights on the common. Unfortunately, that well-intentioned and well-considered Act which gave them compensation for the expenditure, amounting to about £45,000, which they had made in the event of their being removed by the conservators of the Common, was of no avail, because it was not the conservators who were now forcing them to move. They were now told to go elsewhere without a single word in acknowledgment of the services they had rendered; they were told to go anywhere so long 632 as they went far enough. In their extremity the National Rifle Association turned their eyes to the Royal Park of Richmond, a Park noted for its beauty, its magnificent trees, and its sylvan glades so freely open to the public. Those of their Lordships who had read adverse letters in the newspapers, he was sure, would be surprised to hear that not one of those trees would be injured in the slightest degree, and that not one of those sylvan glades would be interfered with. What they were now asking for was simply to put the butts and rifle ranges in a part of the Park never open to public and known as the Paddocks. A danger which had been pointed out caused apprehension—namely, that having got in the thin end of the wedge, they would wish to proceed further and have greater rights. The National Rifle Association would not do so. They desired a range which should not be used by any rifle corps. Parsons came to compete at their annual national meeting from all parts of the Kingdom and from the Colonies. The Canadian Government voted public money to send over to this country their picked shots to compete at our national meeting, and those men had distinctly stated that in no case would they come if they were relegated to some distant place. They would come for a national competition; but they would not come to a place where other men were acquainted with the light and shade and the different effects of the breeze. That was the modest request the National Rifle Association made for that small portion of land called the Paddocks. They were indebted to the great courtesy, good will, and friendship of the First Commissioner of Works and the Illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge), who had given them every opportunity to examine that piece of ground, to mark out the ranges and the trees, not, of course, as had been foolishly alleged, permanently, but with whiting, which could be easily washed off. The Commander-in-Chief had sent down a military officer in order to see what facilities and what danger there might be. No adverse report had been made by that officer, who was the secretary of the committee which was now investigating the capabilities of the new rifle. There were only 30 or 40 trees which would have to be cut down, and 633 those were of an inferior character. The hill at the foot of which it was proposed to place the targets rose 90 or 100 feet above the range, and the bullets which passed the targets would be caught in that rising ground or in the trees which crowned it. The footpaths were far out of range. The chief opposition they had to meet was from those persons who had the great advantage, boon, and pecuniary gain of living in close proximity to a Royal Park which was protected from the builder. Such was the selfishness of those persons who had enjoyed the advantages of Richmond Park that they grudged, for one short fortnight of the year, the use of this part of it to the men who gave up so much of their time to acquire a knowledge of arms. They who were advocating those men's case were told they were no better than Trafalgar Square agitators, and it had been further alleged that the trained men engaged in the work of national defence had threatened to lay down their arms if they were not allowed to have Richmond Park. That was simply a calumny. It could not be supposed that men with ordinary spirit would consent not to make some effort in order to carry on the association which had lasted so long. Besides the piece of ground called the Paddocks, about 600 acres of the Park proper would have to be surrounded by a cordon of police during the shooting hours, but they would not have to enclose it. He would conclude what he had to say by reading to their Lordships an analysis of the Petition which had been got up in three days, because it was thought no time should be lost. It was signed by 63 Members of their Lordships' House, 102 Members of the House of Commons, 48 officers of the Regular Army, 34 soldiers and sailors, 357 Volunteer officers, 2,161 Volunteers of the rank and file, 71 mayors, 264 magistrates and municipal officers, 30 prominent provincial citizens, and 1,494 members of the general public, making a grand total of 4,624. The Petition was got up at Wimbledon, and a more unanimous and earnest prayer he never remembered to have been put forward.
THE EARL OF FIFE
said, that this was a question about which the inhabitants of Richmond Park and its neighbourhood felt strongly, and had a strict right to be heard. As an owner of property, he had been asked to give 634 expression to some of the objections entertained against the proposal. He had no technical knowledge; but he thought no unprejudiced man could deny that there must be in the neighbourhood of London, within reasonable distance, some localities admirably suited for the purpose of the National Rifle Association, without depriving, even for a short time, the public of one of their not very numerous resorts in the neighbourhood of London. Those who advocated this scheme had lost sight of the fact that of late London had increased very rapidly in the direction of Richmond Park. Some 20 years ago Richmond Park was considered a long way from London. But it was not so now, and from daily observation he could testify to the presence of large numbers in the Park every day in the week. It was said the meeting only lasted a fortnight in the year; but with the preparations beforehand, and the clearing up after, for at least a month in the best part of our short summer, the people would be deprived of the enjoyment of a great portion of this beautiful Park. He knew the place very well where it was proposed to place the butts, and there was hardly any place less suited for the purpose. It was very easy, upon paper, to define the range of shooting; but it would be almost impossible to control the bullets, which would fly about in all directions. He was told that during the week at Wimbledon there were 1,000,000 shots fired. If the Government consented to the proposal, not only the portion of the Park devoted to the meeting, but its neighbourhood, would be in imminent danger. Richmond Park was surrounded by a thickly-populated district, and with modern rifle shooting going on in the vicinity all sense of security and enjoyment would be entirely gone. As to the sylvan objection to the scheme, he believed that 75 trees had been marked for destruction; and if the cutting down of trees were once permitted, it was impossible to say what devastation might ultimately be involved. Again, if the proposed inroad on Richmond Park were once allowed, the precedent would be followed in other cases—a great many other open spaces in the neighbourhood of London might soon come to be seriously interfered with. This proposal came at a very inopportune moment, when hundreds of thousands of 635 pounds were being spent in order to increase the scanty number of breathing places for this great city. He did not believe that the great majority of Volunteers shared the opinions of the National Rifle Association. Most of them came from long distances, and could have no special interest in the exact spot chosen for the competition unless it was suggested to them. He did not believe they would wish to interfere with the comfort, convenience, and enjoyment of the public. He hoped the Government would not assent to this proposal, which, at the best, was only a makeshift scheme, and involved a gross violation of public rights as well as being a piece of intolerable Vandalism.
§ VISCOUNT BURY
said, he thought that all who had had to do with the management of the Rifle Association ought to share the responsibility undertaken by his noble Friend. It was in 1860 that Her Majesty made the first bull's-eye on Wimbledon Common. He stood by her side, and had taken part in every meeting since. If the noble Earl's estimate of 1,000,000 shots per Wimbledon meeting was correct, some 28,000,000 of shots had been fired at the range since the Wimbledon meetings commenced, and he was not aware that a single accident to the public had ever happened in that period. It was not, therefore, too much to say that the danger referred to by their opponents was purely imaginary. It should be remembered that those who fired were trained riflemen, under the orders of officers who were themselves practised shots. There was no reason to expect that the future would be different from the past. Extra care had always been used, and it was an exaggeration to say that bullets were firing all over the place. The people would not be deprived of the Park for a month, as the noble Earl had said. The meeting only lasted a fortnight, and it was proposed to hold it in a part of the Park to which the public were not admitted. It argued very little patriotism not to be willing to endure this possible inconvenience for so short a time. Those who had been Volunteers for 28 years knew the immense sacrifices which had to be made by men to render themselves efficient members of the Force. Many in the House could remember the constantly 636 recurring panics of the last generation, and would admit that no small debt of gratitude was due to the men whose patriotism had relieved the country from those periodical panics. He claimed for the National Rifle Association that it had changed the English people into a nation of riflemen; and, if the Association were not to have their convenience in some degree consulted, it would he a very poor return for the very considerable amount of patriotism they had shown in the defence of their country.
THE EARL OF MEATH
said, that having listened to the debate with great care he could not admit that any convincing argument had been used to show that the Volunteers required Richmond Park for purposes of shooting. If, as he had said, the majority of the Volunteers came from long distances, it would be a matter of very little consequence whether the rendezvous was a place within two or three miles of London or 10 or 20 miles of London. He declined to allow, even for a moment, that he was unpatriotic in not at once jumping to the conclusion that it was absolutely necessary for the protection of the nation that the Volunteers should shoot in Richmond Park and nowhere else. On these grounds he was distinctly against the prayer of this Petition, and he hoped Her Majesty's Government would not grant it.
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
said, that as one who had been a member of the National Rifle Association for 20 years, and done all he could to support the Volunteers, he believed that if a rifle range were chosen well away from London, in some open part of the country where they could enjoy field exercise and drill, as well as engage in shooting, it would do more to promote the efficiency of the Volunteers than merely coming up to London for a fortnight in the year, to shoot in Richmond Park. The noble Lord had pointed in triumph to the Petition in favour of Richmond Park, signed by 4,000 persons; but, as he understood, the Association sent down a notice requesting all the mayors to sign the Petition, and many of them had done so really knowing nothing of what they were signing, having no knowledge of Richmond Park whatever, and never having been there, he should think. That was the way things were got up. As against the 4,000 petitioners, he would point to the 637 4,000,000 of Londoners who would not wish any of their not too ample breathing space taken away from them, and who, he hoped, would long have Richmond Park preserved to them intact.
THE DUCKE OF CAMBRIDGE
My Lords, I have been so pointedly alluded to by the noble Lord who brought forward this question that I feel bound to make some remarks. I am sorry to detain your Lordships, but statements have been made as though I were the person who mainly opposed the scheme for securing Richmond Park for the National Rifle Association in addition to putting a stop to the shooting at Wimbledom. I hope noble Lords will understand that I am as great a friend of the National Rifle Association as the noble Lord (Lord Wantage). I concede to him nothing in that respect; but I cannot understand why the position and fate of the Association should be dependent on the question of shooting either at Wimbledon or at Richmond Park. If I were convinced that there is no other place suited to shoot at but those I have named, of course the case would be quite different; but I cannot imagine why, in this country, where we have all sorts of ground available for various purposes, it is impossible to find another place where the shooting could be carried on in exactly the same manner, and I believe a better manner, than at Richmond Park. In answer to the noble Lord, I would only refer to the letter which the noble Lord himself wrote. He wrote a letter in which he very wisely, as I thought, said that if Wimbledon should cease to be available, it would be a good thing to consider whether a large space of ground could not be found where the shooting of the National Rifle Association should take place, and where Volunteers could be collected from time to time for the purposes of exercise and drill. I thought that a most admirable proposition; and if the noble Lord will only adhere to his own view of the case as stated in that letter, he may depend upon it that I will support him by every means in my power. As my name has been so prominently put forward by the noble Lord, I ought perhaps to state that as Commander-in-Chief no question has ever been put to me on the subject; but I was addressed as Ranger of Richmond Park, and in that capacity I was approached one day by the noble Lord, 638 who said that it had been suggested—I am open to correction if I am wrong—to Her Majesty that it would be very desirable that, as the National Rifle Association was not to remain at Wimbledon, they might have the use of Richmond Park; and I understood from him—he will correct me if I am wrong—that Her Majesty had so far assented that she said she personally would have no objection, provided the authorities who had to deal with such a case were of opinion that no evil results would follow. That was a natural question to be put to the Ranger, and the question having been put to me, I most distinctly told him that, while I would consider the matter till next morning, I was afraid there were a number of reasons—of danger and the public use of the Park—which would make it undesirable that the National Rifle Association should be allowed to shoot there. Next morning I wrote a letter to the noble Lord, and he will be so good as to remember that I distinctly laid down the reasons why I gave that opinion. I said I considered the time had come when all shooting at targets ought to take place away from villas, gardens, or habitations. I did not mean that the Volunteers should go to a Sahara, to a distant or disagreeable portion of the country, because I think there are large tracts of land perfectly accessible, and which are still perfectly safe. I submit I did my duty as Ranger of the Park in giving that opinion. To my great surprise, and without consent or notice—your Lordships will remember I am at the present time the President of the National Rifle Association, elected annually by that Association, several times having tendered my resignation at the business meetings, being always re-elected—in spite of that fact, at the very last meeting, when I was again re-elected in the same way, the noble Lord, without any notice, as I have remarked, said—"I am going to make a statement about Richmond Park." Well, I was astonished beyond measure, because, at all events, I supposed the question would have had some further elucidation before such a statement should be made to the meeting. I wrote to the noble Lord immediately, and explained to him that I had nothing to do with the decision on the question; that it lay really with the Chief 639 Commissioner of Works and Her Majesty's Government, and that I, as Ranger, would carry out what orders I received either on the part of Her Majesty or Her Advisers. I have no more to do with the stopping or not stopping the shooting at Richmond Park than the noble Lord has himself. An application was then made to the Chief Commissioner, and the Chief Commissioner had an interview with gentlemen representing the Association. Such is the way in which this singular idea has been put forward—that I, in my individual capacity, have put a veto on shooting in Richmond Park. As regards shooting there, I may just observe that I ought to know something about the Park. It was stated that the portion desired for the purposes of the Association is not part of the Park. It is as much part of the Park as any gentleman's park in England who has a certain portion hedged off for the purpose of feeding cattle or of providing grass for deer which have to be maintained in the winter. It is my impression that it is for such a purpose that this portion of Richmond Park has been distinctly kept. It is a most extraordinary idea that this land does not belong to the Park—most singular. If you were going to shoot into the part of the Park which is not used by the public, I can understand the argument; but the shooting is proposed to be from this portion into the Park. Now, with regard to the question of trees. What I say is, that you are going to cut down trees in a portion of the Park which will very materially affect the appearance of the Park. I was very much astonished to hear that a General Officer had said that only three trees would have to be cut down. I have taken considerable trouble to ascertain the number considered necessary, and I understand there are 75 trees which would have to come down. I quite agree with what was said by one noble Lord, that when you once begin cutting down trees, there is no doubt that very many more will probably follow; it is a case of first this tree and then that tree being discovered to be in the way. Then it is stated that there is a great rise in the ground. Well, measurement has been made, and it shows that the highest point behind the 1,100 yards' range is 42 feet. I ask your Lordships whether that is a safe mode of 640 shooting? But we are told that there are such a number of trees that they will stop any number of bullets. All I can say is, I should be sorry to see that considered as safe; because my noble Friend must know as well as I do that it very often happens that when anything is hit, the glance of a bullet is very much more dangerous than a direct shot. Allusion has been made to a military officer himself having gone down there, and having said, very properly, that, as a range, nothing could be better. But that is not the question—the question is, Are you to seek a range in Richmond Park? I have no doubt there are plenty of good ranges; but are you to seek a range in the Park when the very fact of your being in the Park at all under such circumstances must be a danger to the public? We are told that only half the Park will be taken. I must say I should be sorry to drive about the Park during the shooting, and I do not think your Lordships would care to send your families there. I believe that if the National Rifle Association go into Richmond Park you will have to shut the Park for the time being during the shooting hours. Then I am told that, though the preparation for the meeting and the putting of the ground in order again will take about six weeks, only 12 days are occupied in actual shooting. Are we to be told that Richmond Park is to be made available for 12 days' shooting when you can find other places if you only look for them? Have the noble Lord and his Friends gone into the question of other ground? No doubt they have heard of other ground, but what further notice have they taken? None. At least I have heard nothing about it. I do not understand how a distance from London of 16 or 17 miles is to be any real detriment to the National Rifle Association. I believe it stands upon much firmer footing, and I should be sorry to think that it stood on such a delicate footing that it would be seriously affected by a distance from the Metropolis of 16 or 18 miles, or even 40 or 50. It may be a façon de parler which I had, perhaps, better not use to say that I know several places; but I know excellent places for such a purpose. For instance, there is one near Brighton; there is also Pirbright, if the Government would agree 641 to it—and I believe they would. I know that Pirbright has been sneered at by some noble Lords; but Her Majesty's Guards shoot at Pirbright, and I cannot see why civilians should not shoot on the same ground as soldiers. It is suggested that screens might be put up behind the targets. The noble Lord who makes that suggestion looks at the matter from one point of view, while I look at it from another; but I do think I know more on that point than the noble Lord. I say frankly and honestly that there is very considerable danger, and I can assure him that a large number of bullets are annually picked up in my neighbourhood. For 28 years I have said nothing about it. I have always wished that the Association would go somewhere else; but I have never said anything all that time. When, however, I heard that nothing was to be done in this direction, and that they were going to spend money on butts in order to remain at Wimbledon, then I considered that the time had decidedly come—and I said it generously and without any bad feeling—for them to seek ground elsewhere, which I should have thought they could have found by this time. Some people have been under the impression that I did it for myself and my interests only. Certainly I have not overlooked my interests; I do not see why I should not look after them when they are seriously interfered with. Considering that during 28 years I never said a word, I do not think I have been very grasping or ungenerous to the National Rifle Association; but I must frankly say that I considered it my duty also to look after the interests of my neighbours, many of whom are not as safe as the noble Lord seems to think they are. The noble Lord who brought forward this question spoke of cottages from which the inhabitants never moved, though they were in the line of fire. I do not know to what cottages the noble Lord referred, but I think that he is under a mistake; I know people who have to leave their house whenever the National Rifle Association is at Wimbledon. I consider that shooting now, with the improved rifles, is far more dangerous than it was when it commenced at Wimbledon, and we have to look forward to its being still more dangerous; and therefore why should we make a range for a short period of time when, 642 as the noble Lord said, the time cannot be far distant when they must go elsewhere? Therefore, I say, that in the interests of the National Rifle Association it would be far better for them to make up their minds to the inevitable, to the growth of population, and the increase of London, and to seek a new place where all the advantages of the old one would be found. I have been over and over again described in connection with this matter as an enemy to the Volunteers. Am I to be told that the Volunteers—that great and fine body of men—depend upon the National Rifle Association for their existence? I have a much higher and more exalted idea of the Volunteers of England. I believe they are men who can be depended upon and relied upon; and though they, no doubt, rejoice in having an opportunity of shooting for prizes and showing their prowess, I do not believe for one moment that it will make the slightest difference as to their numbers whether the National Rifle Association exists or not. I hope it will continue to exist; I will give it every assistance in my power. But it is an extraordinary thing that anyone who opposes the peculiar views which it now puts forward must be considered an enemy to the Association or to the Volunteers of this country. I am afraid I may have been somewhat warm in making these observations; but the fact is, I certainly do feel strongly that I have been put forward very unfairly by a large section of persons because I have given my opinion honestly and fairly in my capacity of Ranger, and in no other capacity, and because I merely stated to the noble Lord what my opinion was on his proposal, which was that of taking advantage of Her Majesty's having permitted him to ask the question whether Richmond Park might not take the place of Wimbledon.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, the illustrious Duke suggested that the National Rifle Association looked upon this annual meeting as vital to its existence. It was not a question whether the National Rifle Association would cease to exist or not. What they urged was that its national character would be changed, and that its double purpose—namely, to encourage the Volunteers, and to make this nation a nation of riflemen like the Swiss—would be in danger of ceasing if they were driven to a dis- 643 tance from London. His noble Friend who introduced this subject had put this matter, and, indeed, the whole bearings of the question, so clearly before that House that had it not been for some remarks that had fallen from the illustrious Duke he should not have thought it necessary to intrude himself upon their Lordships' notice. The Gold Medal of the Association, which went with the Queen's Prize, told what the nature of their Association was. On the left there stood the figure of an archer with the date 1300, on the right there stood the figure of a rifleman with the date 1860, thus showing how the founders of their National Rifle Association hoped to make the rifle in their day what the bow was in the earlier times of English history—namely, not only an effective weapon of defence, but also an arm of amusement, which from its accuracy and range would lead men to meet in friendly rivalry at the butts, and make rifle shooting a national pastime, in which all, the classes and the masses, would equally take part. They believed that rifle shooting induced men to remain Volunteers who otherwise would cease to be in the Force. When they brought not only Volunteers but "all comers" to the rifle contests it was necessary that they should be near London. When they started at Wimbledon they tried to make the meeting as pleasant as possible to those who came there, whether Volunteers or not. They induced Jenny Lind to sing to the Volunteers, and they got, among other pulpit celebrities, the Bishop of Peterborough to preach to them. And now the social pleasant camp life was sneered at and denounced as a demoralizing picnic and "adventitious attraction." Greater rubbish was never talked than that about picnicing on Wimbledon. The Military Authorities appointed an officer, generally an officer in the Guards, to command the whole. There was also a camp officer. He would like the illustrious Duke to say whether, notwithstanding all this picnicing, there had been any case of misconduct on the part of any Volunteers? Let them, then, hear no more of that rubbish about picnics. But now they had to find some suitable place for their meeting—banished as they were from Wimbledon—and Richmond Park seemed to be the most suitable. It was said that they had not sought elsewhere for a fit place; but that was not so. A Com- 644 mittee of the Council had made all possible inquiry, and the result was that no place appeared to them to be so well adapted to their wants as an outlying portion of Richmond Park, from which the public were always excluded, and which was used for agricultural purposes. They heard much of public opinion on this subject; but there was a public opinion which was worth considering, and that was the opinion of the Volunteers who came to Wimbledon from all parts, not for the purpose of learning to shoot, but for testing the shooting taught elsewhere. At a mass meeting held at Wimbledon he put this question on the 1st resolution—"Are you of opinion that it is desirable that the meetings should be held near London?" and there was not a dissentient voice. His noble Friend had referred to a very important part of the question—namely, a permanent range. He had shown it was not at all the object of the National Rifle Association to have a permanent range. If you were to have one, no one would come from Canada, from Australia, from India, from Scotland, or other parts, simply for the reason that you must have a neutral range where no men were in the habit of shooting. The illustrious Duke had, at a dinner at the "Star and Garter," spoken of dozens of ranges as being available; but here he had only mentioned two places which he thought would be suitable—one of them was Brighton Downs, the other Pirbright. He supposed his noble Friend (the Earl of Fife) had not got a villa there. ["No."] Brighton Downs, he admitted, would be perfectly safe; but did the illustrious Duke think that Brighton Downs fell within the category of places near London?
§ THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE
It may not be near London, but, as a matter of fact, the Railway Company would take the men down to that place in an hour and bring them back in an hour—that is, two hours—for half-a-crown; and I do not think the thing could be done cheaper or better to Wimbledon.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, that Wimbledon was assuredly nearer to London, and 6d., the present railway fare there, was certainly a less sum than 2s. 6d. And now as to Pirbright, the other place named by the illustrious Duke. That might do very well for soldiers, but it would not do for Volunteers. There was very much mirage in the 645 month of July, and you could not shoot with mirage—the target danced before you. Soldiers shot early in the morning, and if they did not shoot to-day they could put it off until to-morrow. But here you had men brought a long distance, and the whole thing would break down if they could not shoot at certain hours. If they went from London they changed the national character of the Association. He meant by "national" what interested everybody equally in rifle shooting, the classes and the masses. He believed rifle shooting was a great element in the continuity and permanence of the Volunteer movement. One word about Richmond Park. Richmond, they were told, was not to be thought of. The sylvan beauties of the Park would be destroyed; the ranges would be unsafe. Now, as it happened, on the outlying portion of the Park that they proposed to occupy there were few, if any, trees of any value. There was, no doubt, a druidical worship of all trees which he quite understood—indeed, his own feeling was at first strongly against the Richmond plan; but, looking at it exactly as he should if a similar request were made for the use of his own park, he could truly say no injury would be done to the beauty of the Park. His noble Friend on his right said that the public would be excluded from the Park for months. They would be only excluded from two-fifths of the Park—where about 15 persons passed in a day—for a portion of 12 days of each year. The illustrious Duke, in his speech at the Star and Garter, talked about the danger at Wimbledon, because of the necessity for policemen to keep the public off the ground. If they had at Wimbledon a cordon of police, in addition to their danger-signal, it only showed the extra precautions they took. But would His Royal Highness tell him of any range in the Kingdom where soldiers or Volunteers shot that had not got a danger-signal up, which implied that no one should pass behind the ground? Something like 28,000,000 shots had been fired at Wimbledon without a single accident. No range in the Kingdom could be considered safe from the accidental discharge of a rifle which might go off in any direction; but at Wimbledon there was not a single accident from a stray bullet during the whole time. The butts at Richmond might or might not 646 be permanent; they would not be seen from the Park; but if they were permanent butts they might be covered with gorse or hid by planting. With regard to the trees, they were told that 75 must come down. But there were scarcely any trees of any value and only three very valuable which would have to come down. Some, too, might be transplanted, trees even of considerable size, out of the line of the ranges.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, his noble Friend (the Earl of Fife) who had just spoken on behalf of the villa holders—himself being one—and of the inhabitants of Richmond, had drawn a most touching picture of ruin to property, and of the agonized state in which they and those for whom he spoke would be kept by their rifle meeting. But, saddening as was the thought of his noble Friend, shaking and shivering in his villa——
THE EARL OF FIFE
rose to explain. His noble Friend had referred to him more than once as a villa-owner. He admitted that he had villas in the neighbourhood, but it was not as a villa-owner that he opposed this scheme. He opposed it because he had been asked to do so by a body representing thousands of persons resident in the neighbourhood.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
asked, whether his noble Friend knew how far these shivering ladies and gentlemen whom he represented would be from the firing point? They would be two and a-quarter miles, and, that being so, he maintained they were perfectly safe ranges. Why, if that range was unsafe, every range almost in England was. [Lord HARRIS assented.] He was glad to see that his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War agreed with that. But was it unsafe? His Royal Highness had told them that Major Burton, the specialist he sent down to examine the proposed ranges, considered them of ample extent; but he was greatly mistaken if he did not also report upon them as being safe. And he would ask His Royal Highness if that was not so? He owned he should like to see Major Burton's Report. And, as regarded depriving the public of the enjoyment of Richmond Park, it must be remembered that it would only be 647 used for a portion of 12 days in the year, and that the portion of the Park so under fire was very little frequented. All that part near Pembroke Lodge and the "Star and Garter" would be as safe and available as it now was. And, by proper precautions being taken, there would be no danger to the public in the Park. He asked His Royal Highness to show him a safer place. If a better and safer place could be obtained, by all means let them have it. The matter really came to this—that if the National Rifle Association was to fulfil its purposes as originally intended, and was to be a great public institution, its annual rifle meeting must be held in the neighbourhood of London; and the Committee appointed to make inquiries could find no site near London so convenient as this site in Richmond Park. He himself went down to the Park prejudiced against the scheme; but after viewing the site he readily assented to it, because he believed that what was required could be done without any injury to the Park or any inconvenience to the public. His noble Friend the Chairman and the Council of the National Rifle Association had done their duty in trying to find the most convenient site, and the Volunteers had done their part in backing up their decision. The Vestries of St. Martin's and St. James's had petitioned in favour of the scheme. [Laughter.] It was all very well to laugh at Vestries, but they had constituents, and whatever the Vestry said might be taken as the general opinion of the inhabitants. Then there was a Petition signed by 60 Peers and a Petition signed by 100 Members of the House of Commons. And now he had only this more to say—that, believing as they did that rifle shooting was a great stimulus to Volunteering, and helped to maintain the permanence of the Force, they thought it essential to the national character of their Association that its meetings should be held near the Metropolis. It was for the public to judge; but he thought it should be borne in mind that the work the Volunteers had done for the last 28 years had rendered the enforcing of the ballot for the Militia unnecessary. Why, every Englishman was bound by the existing law of home military service—now annually suspended—to serve in the Militia for home defence; and if the Volunteer Force were to disappear, this law would have immediately to be 648 put in force, and in less than three months Sir John Whittaker Ellis and his constituents would be doing "goose stop." They had never asked for anything before—[Laughter, in which the Earl of Kimberley joined]. What had they ever asked for? Only for what was necessary for their efficiency. They really treated the Volunteers as if it was a favour to allow them to serve, whereas they were doing the nation a favour by so serving. This was the first time the Volunteers had come forward and asked for something they believed to be essential to the original constitution of their Association, and he could not help thinking it would have been a graceful act on the part of the Government and the public if they were to concede the request of the National Rifle Association.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, he believed that this proposal would be injurious to the Volunteers, and that if the National Rifle Association were to die to-morrow it would make no difference in the shooting of the Volunteers. No doubt, the Association gave a start to rifle shooting which everyone must value highly, and they deserved great credit for that movement; but that spirit had spread throughout the country, and if the Association said that if they died out rifle shooting would die out, he contended that that was utterly and entirely a mistake. He could not help thinking that the National Rifle Association had not been fair in their arguments in this matter. They had used the name of the illustrious Duke in a way which made him extremely angry. They ought rather to have expressed their gratitude to him for being allowed to use Wimbledon for 28 years. He should like to have a plébiscite taken of the Volunteers with regard to Richmond Park. He believed the Volunteers valued the shooting at Wimbledon very little, except, perhaps, a very small minority, who merely looked to the "pot-hunting." He trusted the Association would look about for some permanent place where they would be able really to assist the Volunteers in their shooting, and where they could continue to be of value to the nation in the future as they had been in the past.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
I am unable at the present moment to give any answer to my noble 649 Friend on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, for this question is still under careful inquiry. But I rise to enter my protest upon one or two matters. I cannot help thinking that the tone of my noble Friends who represent the National Rifle Association is somewhat unfair to the public. They appear to think that the position in which they are placed is the result, if not of actual hostility, at any rate of want of appreciation of the services they have rendered. I am sure that there is no such want of appreciation of their services. I admit that they have rendered great services, and all of us take an interest in their welfare. Whether they can be admitted to Richmond Park or not, the fact that they have been driven from Wimbledon, and so far removed from the Metropolis, is not the result of any want of appreciation or of hostility, but of the necessary action of causes constantly going on. The country is becoming more crowded. Above all things, the Metropolis is becoming more crowded, and side by side with this is the counter movement that the range of these weapons of precision is increasing every 10 or 20 years. This is not the result of any feeling against the Volunteers, but of the action of natural causes. Grounds which some years ago were perfectly suitable for use as rifle ranges, have, by reason of the increase of population and of the increase of the range of weapons, necessarily become unsafe for such purposes. Whatever decision is arrived at in this particular matter, it is inevitable that rifle ranges must be driven further away from the centres of population. It is impossible to resist this tendency. Only last night we were discussing a somewhat similar point with regard to a range near Portsmouth upon which shooting has gone on for 50 years without objection, as long as the Solent was not so crowded with navigation, the fisheries were not so frequented, and the range of the rifle not so extensive. But now complaints have arisen with regard to that range, and there has been an accident. This is an illustration of the process that is going on. I hope that the speech of the illustrious Duke will be a valuable warning to the Volunteers throughout the country in regard to this matter, so that they may make their arrangements accordingly. The only other point on which I desire to 650 say a word is as to the responsibility in this case. I wish it to be distinctly understood that the responsibility of arriving at and pronouncing a decision on this matter as to Richmond Park rests with us. Her Majesty's name has, I think most improperly, been introduced. Her Majesty, as is her wont, has expressed her willingness to sacrifice any personal rights of her own for the benefit of the Volunteers. As far as her own rights are concerned, she has expressed her willingness to forego them; but, of course, Her Majesty's decision must be made subject to the advice of her responsible Advisers, who must have regard to the general interest of the public. In the same way, with regard to the illustrious Duke—he had not to decide whether the National Rifle Association could use a portion of Richmond Park—he has given us his opinion, which, owing to his military and local knowledge, we consider of the greatest value; but the decision does not rest with him. The responsibility rests with us and us alone, and it is against us that any blame must be directed. The determination of this matter turns on very solid considerations. Sentiment is altogether out of the question. I do not think that we ought to decide in favour of the Rifle Association in order that the Volunteers may enjoy the advantages of singing and the preaching of the Bishop of Peterborough, or in order that they may secure that day's outing which the noble Lord says is their right. On the other hand, I am not much moved by the destruction of 70 trees. If it is necessary that 70 trees should be sacrificed for a public object the trees must go. But what I am moved by is the consideration whether Her Majesty's subjects would be safe if this arrangement were adopted. Will they be safe in going from one place to another whore they have a right to go? Will they be safe upon adjoining private property, and in all other parts of the Park to which they have a right to penetrate? Whatever the inconvenience may be to the National Rifle Association, Her Majesty's subjects cannot be exposed to real and substantial danger. My noble Friend spoke with enthusiasm of the heroism of a certain laundryman who pursued his avocation at Wimbledon in the line of fire, and in spite of the constant rain of bullets. He is a 651 worthy son of the race from which he springs, but the noble Lord cannot expect all Her Majesty's subjects to have the heroism of that man. My own belief is that the majority of them prefer that the part of Richmond Park to which they have admission should be free from the inconvenience of rifle bullets whistling over their heads. The noble Lord, with great love of his art, said that the public might with absolute safety place themselves in front of a rifle held by any person under the guidance of the National Rifle Association; but something must be allowed for the nerves of Her Majesty's subjects; and if rifles are pointed in their direction and they are in the range of those rifles they will not have that absolute certainty which the noble Lord enjoys. However, I am not attempting to give an answer to my noble Friend. I am not now authorized to speak on the subject. We will give it the best attention in our power, and we shall be guided by no sentimental considerations. We shall recognize fully the high services rendered in the past by the National Rifle Association, and we shall do our utmost to extend to it all facilities that are consistent with the right and safety of Her Majesty's subjects.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he fully agreed with the remarks that had fallen from the noble Marquess—even as to the detail of 70 trees. It was only right to point out that the objection which came from some of his friends as to the use of Richmond Park for the purpose of the National Rifle Association meeting was not because of any feeling against the Association or the Volunteers, but because they thought the use of the Park for such a purpose would be fraught with danger to the public.