HL Deb 09 July 1900 vol 85 cc914-24

My Lords, I rise to ask the Secretary of State for War why no notice was given to owners of lands affected by the Military Manœuvres Bill previous to or during the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords, and to call attention to the injury which will be inflicted by the Bill in some cases. In order to make my case quite plain it will be necessary for me to refer to some of the provisions of the so-called Military Manœuvres Bill, and to call attention to the manner in which the Government passed this Bill through your Lordships' House. Clause 4 of the Military Manœuvres Bill confers upon the War Office power to take compulsory possession of certain specified areas of country for twenty days every year, for the purpose of rifle practice, and, in some cases, of artillery practice, under service conditions. During this time no person is to be permitted, under penalties imposed by means of bye-laws framed by the War Office, to enter upon the specified area, except with the consent of the Secretary of State for War, and under such conditions as he may impose. On each occasion, after the War Office have used these lands, compensation for damage to persons or property, and for interference with rights or privileges, is to be provided, but at the will of an arbitrator appointed by the Government; and no compensation is payable if the arbitrator holds that the damage or loss could have been prevented by the taking of reasonable measures for securing safety. The areas specified in the Bill for rifle practice are as follows: —Crown lands at Woolmer, Cannock Chase, a portion of the South Downs between Lewes and Brighton, and a district of the New Forest; those specified for rifle or artillery practice are Dartmoor, a tract of country in North Wales, and three tracts of country— Morne Mountains, Kilworth, and Glen Marsh—in Ireland. I may say that on a rough calculation, but, I believe, a fairly reliable one, there are between 300 and 400 square miles of land, or from 200,000 to 300,000 acres scheduled in this Bill. No notices whatever have been given to the landowners, commoners, or the local authorities, and yet the lands in question are scheduled in perpetuity. We have had several War Office Bills before us lately, and I confess that this Bill escaped my notice during its passage through the House, and as far as I can learn it also escaped the notice of many other peers in the same way. I must congratulate the Government on having got the Bill through without any alterations, because I am quite sure that if attention had been drawn to the provisions of the Bill it would not have passed the House in its present form. There are some maps in the adjoining chamber showing the areas scheduled, and on examining them I discovered chat between two and three thousand acres of my own property at Can- nock Chase had been scheduled, part of which runs up to the gates of my park, The larger portion of these lands is open common heather-land, on which are grouse, black game, and some wild fallow deer, while some of it is freehold with small holdings, and the remainder consists of a beautiful wild park, within a mile and a-half from my hall door, not my home park, but forming a very important part of my home. My neighbour, Sir Charles Wolseley, also has his fine park, of some 450 acres, scheduled without his knowledge or consent. These parks are very valuable, being within a short distance of a junction on the main L. and N. W. R. line. I will not, however, detain you any longer with my personal grievance, my object is rather to call your attention to the unprecedented provisions of the Bill. These properties are all scheduled in perpetuity without giving the owners any notice or opportunity of defending their rights. I maintain the prospective value of the scheduled lands will be irretrievably damaged. They will be looked upon as plague spots, and no one will buy them for building or manufacturing purposes, as the owner would be liable to be turned out for three weeks in every year; then again the value of the sporting rights will be seriously diminished. I have, myself, valuable sporting rights over these lands, having killed as many as a hundred brace of grouse there in one day, but do you suppose for a moment that anyone would think of hiring these shootings with the knowledge that the Secretary of State for War could have three weeks' shooting on them at any time he liked I Compulsory purchase and compulsory hiring of land have already been heard of in Parliament, but this is the first case of a Government, calling itself a constitutional Government, going in for compulsory land grabbing, pure and simple, without paying one penny compensation whatever. And now I come to the question of the commons and open spaces scheduled in these areas, not by any means the least important part of my case. It is computed that about 100,000 acres of open common lands have been scheduled; the unfortunate commoners will have to drive their cattle and sheep off the scheduled areas, and in some cases they will even have to turn out of their homes, for twenty days in every year, without having had any opportunity of protesting against this serious curtailment of their rights. There is no doubt they are very hardly treated under this Bill. The public, again, will be kept off these open spaces during twenty days of our all too short summer weather, and in this respect I maintain that the provisions of the measure are quite contrary to the public opinion of the day, and to the practice of Parliament of late years, which has been to maintain these open spaces free to the public for ever. It seems to me that the Government have missed a splendid opportunity. When the country to a man wishes to do everything possible to increase the efficiency of the Army—and there is no body of men more anxious to do this than your Lordships—the Government ought to have come to Parliament and asked for money to acquire ground on which our soldiers can shoot under service conditions. I am quite sure that money for that purpose would have been cheerfully given by Parliament, but they were afraid to ask for the money, and instead of that they are attempting to take land without paying anything at all for it. I do not think the landowners would have complained so much if this were a temporary measure, but these lands are scheduled in perpetuity. To show your Lordships what is thought of this Bill, I heard from a friend the other day whose land is also scheduled, and in his letter he says— I could have understood it from a Radical Government, but not from a Government that calls itself Conservative. No, my Lords, this is truly a case of "Save us from our friends," for I do not believe for a moment that any Radical Government would have brought in a measure framed on these lines, if only on account of the great commons and open spaces involved. Moreover, I venture to suggest that the manner in which the Bill was carried through the House was quite unconstitutional, and not in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House. I have mentioned the matter to the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, and I hope he will be good enough to state his opinion to the House, as I feel sure your Lordships would be interested to hear it. If it should turn out that my suggestion is a justifiable one, and that this Bill has not been passed in conformity to the Standing Orders, I hope the Government will see their way to withdraw the Bill, as some mark of respect to this House for having got it through in an unconstitutional manner, or if they decline to do so, I trust that, in justice to all who are concerned in the areas to be taken, they will refer the matter to a Select Committee. We all know what an immense amount of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Secretary of State for War, and how much he has on his hands, at the present moment; it is therefore with great regret that I have felt obliged to ask him for an explanation of this matter, but I have looked upon it as a public duty to do so, and I hope your Lordships will think that I have boon justified in my action. The two points I have specially to impress on the House are, in the first place, that a Bill of this nature ought not to have been introduced without holding local inquiries and without giving full notice to all parties interested—landowners, commoners, and local authorities —as prescribed by the Standing Orders and practice of Parliament; and, in the second place, that it is sought to acquire rights over these scheduled lands in perpetuity without giving any compensation whatever for doing so.


My Lords, I must say, in the first place, a few words with regard to the noble Lord's complaint that there has been in the case of this Bill a disregard of the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. I understand his view to be that the fourth section of the Bill is of such a kind that it was the duty of the Department responsible for the measure to issue notices last autumn in the usual manner to the owners and occupiers of the land scheduled under the Bill. I have looked at the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House, and I am bound to say that I do not at first sight see anything in them which leads me to believe that this particular part of the Bill is of such a character as to render it incumbent upon the Department to issue notices; but I am very far from claiming to be a skilled interpreter of the Standing Orders, which are somewhat intricate documents, and I prefer to rest myself on the fact that the very experienced gentlemen who assisted us in the preparation of the Bill did not detect any necessity for issuing notices, and, moreover, that the officers of your Lordships' House, who are, I understand, entrusted with the duty of exercising a certain amount of vigilance upon the irregularities of persons in charge of legislation, did not, at the time certainly, detect that any irregularity had taken place. Of course, if we had been aware that the issuing of notices had been necessary it might have been desirable that we should call the attention of the Examiners to the matter; but I gather from a well-known work—Sir Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practice" —that it is, in the natural order of things, the function, not of the person responsible for the Bill, but of the officers of the House to call attention to the necessity of referring the Bill to the examiners. It is stated on page 443 of the work to which I have referred— If it appears, after the First Reading, that a public Bill affects private rights, notice of this circumstance is sent from the Public Bill Office to the Member in charge of the Bill; and the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills are ordered to examine the Bill with respect to compliance with the Standing Orders relative to Private Bills. If there was a want of vigilance it was a want of vigilance for which many of us were responsible, and a want of vigilance which, in the circumstances of the case, does not seem to be worthy of any kind of censure. There is also this to be said in fairness to the Department—that other Bills authorising the holding of military manæuvres in different parts of the country, Bills substantially for the same purpose as this Bill, have never been sent to the examiners.


Those were temporary Bills.


I freely admit that those Bills were of temporary operation, and that this Bill is a permanent measure. The question as to the necessity of notices is not yet disposed of, because I believe it is the case that the Bill has come before the Examiner in the other House of Parliament, and I am told—I do not know whether the authority is good—that he has reported that there has been a breach of the Standing Order, but not of the Standing Order relating to the service of notices on owners and occupiers, but of that relating to the publication of advertisements. The matter is still sub judice, and until the question has been disposed of by the Committee in another place, I think I must claim that the point raised by the noble Earl with regard to the non-compliance with the Standing Orders is still an open question. In the meantime no harm has been done because the owners and occupiers of land affected have still an opportunity of raising in another place the question which the noble Earl has raised here, and I have no doubt, if their case is as good as he supposes, they will be able to obtain the redress which they desire. The noble Lord seems to think that he personally has been very badly used, because he received no notice that the Bill affected his private rights to the extent it does. I certainly cannot admit, that so far as the noble Earl is concerned, there was any attempt on the part of the War Office to steal a march upon him. I do not know any Member of your Lordships' House who would be loss likely to be caught napping than the noble Earl, who is a constant frequenter of the House. He takes part in the debates, and pays a good deal of attention to our business, and I think he himself admitted that he had not been quite as watchful as he might have been when he made what I would certainly describe as a Second Reading speech on the Bill after it had gone to the other House of Parliament. The Bill was introduced by me in this House on 28th May. I then stated, not at very great length, but I think with sufficient clearness, what the object of the Bill was. I called particular attention to the fourth clause, which I said was to my mind a very important clause, and I gave the reasons for which it was necessary. I referred to the areas which were to be scheduled, and I referred by name to Cannock Chase. I am bound also to add that the noble Earl was in the House at the time. I have a distinct recollection of having seen him on the particular evening, and I see, on reference to the Journals of the House, that he took part in a division a few minutes before I made the statement. Therefore, there was a reasonable opportunity for him to make himself aware of what the nature of the Bill was. The Bill was read a second time on 22nd June, but before that day I had maps showing the scheduled areas exhibited in an adjoining chamber, and on 25th June the measure passed through Committee. The noble Earl told your Lordships that no attention was paid to it in Committee. That is not quite the case. One noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who evidently know that his property in the neighbourhood of the New Forest would be affected, called attention to the Bill. The Bill went to the Standing Committee, and was read a third time on 28th June, so that it was for a whole month within the cognisance of your Lordships' House. As I have referred to Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, I desire to point out that all the landowners who are affected by the measure do not regard it in the hostile and uncompromising spirit which the noble Karl has exhibited. I hold in my hand an extract from a south country newspaper, containing a report of the proceedings of the New Forest Court of Verderers. The report states that— Lord Montagu said he would go further and say that a Bill of this character ought to pass, and his Lordship pointed out the difficulties which our soldiers had had to face in South Africa, adding that it was absolutely essential that they should practise in parts of the country at unknown distances under service conditions. As patriotic people they must do the best they could and make the best of it. Another gentleman, speaking individually, and as representing other Commoners, said— He thought they were all agreed there should be no local opposition to the Bill under the present circumstances, as it certainly was their duty to do all they could to provide the troops with proper practising and firing grounds. That is the spirit in which the Bill has been met in some parts of the country, and I cannot help feeling that if the noble Earl had shown a little more of that spirit in his remarks, he would have treated the subject in a worthier manner. As to the: alleged iniquity of the Bill, I am not prepared for a moment to say that in matters of detail the Bill may not require amendment. I am sorry that attention was not called to its details in the House. I can conceive nothing more useful in the case of a measure of this kind than thorough discussion in an assembly like this, in which owners of land are so largely represented. As to the principle of the Bill we take power, under it, to use for a few days in the year certain areas of moor-land country, and to close them to the public—a measure which is necessary in the interests of the public itself if these areas are used for rifle and artillery practice. Then we provide for compensation, and the compensation clause is drawn in a most liberal manner. The clause provides that full compensation shall be made for any damage to person and property, or any loss or any interference with rights or privileges, occasioned by the exercise of the powers given by this section, and for any expenses incurred by any person in taking any reasonable measures for securing the safety of any person or property. That is a clause which would provide ample satisfaction for injury, for instance, to those sporting rights to which the noble Earl attaches so much importance. The noble Earl told us that nobody would ever build on one of these scheduled areas. I do not see the least reason why they should not. If buildings grow up the effect would be that the troops would not go there to manœuvre, for if we attempted to manœnvre troops over a district in which cottages were beginning to grow up we should find ourselves face to face with such a claim for compensation as would render it altogether beyond the powers of the public purse to provide adequately for. I venture to press upon your Lordships that powers of this kind are very urgently needed in the interests of the Army. I do not believe there is any country in Europe in which private rights are allowed to prevail to the detriment of the efficiency of the Army as they are allowed to prevail in this country. If those rights prevail, if our troops are to be exercised merely in barrack squares, along the high roads, or in places such as Aldershot, with every feature of which they are thoroughly acquainted, then we cannot expect that our soldiers will exhibit when called upon for service in the field the qualities of resource and readiness which we desire they should possess. I earnestly hope that, however much this Bill may be amended, we shall in substance be given the powers we ask for.


My Lords, I must plead guilty of not myself having observed the precise nature of this Bill, and of not reading it with sufficient care. I thought it was a Bill of the same nature as those which Radical Governments to which I have belonged have brought in. Those Bills, however, were annual Bills, and therein lies the great difference. I agree with what the noble Marquess has said as to the necessity for having large tracts of land for manœuvres, but I think it is a very strong measure indeed to take permanent possession of private property by a Bill in this manner. It is an alarming thing. If once the Government are to be given power to take land in this way, without that kind of inquiry which is always made whenever private property is taken, it will open the door to all manner of things. I am not very likely to belong to another Government, but if I do I hope they will not take this as a precedent and adopt this method of dealing with private property. It is very necessary that private property should be taken for public purposes, but whenever that is done it has been a fixed principle in this country to give full notice and compensation to everybody whose property is taken, and an opportunity for them to bring their objections before the Houses of Parliament. I regret one little remark made by the noble Marquess, who rather insinuated that the noble Earl had not shown a proper patriotic spirit. This is not a question of patriotism at all. It is a very cheap kind of patriotism to take other people's land. It is desirable that impediments should not be thrown in the way of the Government in making our forces sufficiently strong for all purposes required, but I protest against our being thereby debarred from looking into the nature of the Bills brought in. I should very much prefer that such Bills should be of a temporary nature, so that Parliament may from time to time have an opportunity of revising them and of seeing whether their continuance is necessary. I cannot, of course, anticipate what may be the decision of the other House, but I hope, at all events, that the course the noble Earl has taken will cause more attention to be paid to the Bill than unfortunately was paid in this House.


The noble Earl who brought forward this question appealed to me as to whether or not the Standing Orders had been broken in the passage of this Bill through the House. The usual custom is that when a public Bill deals with private rights it is referred to the Examiners. I must plead guilty of some negligence in the case of this Bill, which I did not look carefully into. I have inquired of the officers of the House, and I am told that Military Manéuvres Bills have never been referred to the Examiners, and that they did not see the necessity of taking that course with regard to this Bill. In the House of Commons the Bill has been referred to the Examiners on Standing Orders, and I believe they have decided that the definite Standing Orders of that House dealing with the point in question have not been complied with. What course the House of Commons will pursue it is impossible to say, but I cannot help very strongly supporting the view taken by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition. To take these important rights in perpetuity, and without giving the slightest notice either to individuals, or even to the local authorities who are responsible for the districts in which the rights are taken, seems to we a most high-handed and unparalleled proceeding. I quite sympathise with what has fallen from my noble friend as to the necessity of having land on which to exercise our military forces, but that does not absolve the Government Department that brings forward a Bill of this kind from the necessity of giving the persons who are affected ample notice. In this case there was no notice whatever until the Bill was brought into your Lordships' House. The Bill, as my noble friend said, was read a first time before the Whitsuntide holidays. It was read a second time the Friday after we reassembled, and it passed through all its stages during the ensuing week, and was read a third time on the Thursday following. During that time it was impossible for anyone in the country to know what was going on. I earnestly hope that in future, at any rate, it may be a warning to public Departments that in matters of this kind they should give notice in local newspapers and to local authorities, and not merely in the London Gazette.