HL Deb 18 May 1900 vol 83 cc536-41



My Lords, the main object of the Bill. which I now ask your Lordships to road a first time is to give local authorities facilities for assisting Volunteer corps in providing themselves with the necessary buildings, and with rifle ranges. Knowing the interest which has been on several occasions expressed in this House as to the question of rifle ranges for the Volunteers, I feel sure that any proposals tending in that direction will be received fey your Lordships in a sympathetic spirit. I will state in a few words the purport of the principal provisions of the Bill. Under the existing law the Public Works Loan Commissioners have powers to lend to Volunteer corps or to local bodies acting on their behalf money for the purpose of purchasing or acquiring land. This Bill contains a clause which enables the Commissioners to make loans for the purposes of erecting buildings on the land, or for the purpose of adapting it to military uses. There is another clause which extends to urban district councils the powers now possessed by county and borough councils under the Military Lands Act, 1892—the powers, namely, of purchasing land for Volunteer corps and of borrowing money for the purpose. There is another clause of some importance which gives to all councils already having power to buy land for military purposes the power of hiring it, and of hiring it either by agreement or by compulsion. I frankly confess that I shall not be surprised if when we come to discuss the details of the Bill some exception may be taken to the proposal that there should be such a thing as the compulsory hiring of land for military purposes. But I have looked into the matter, and I have considered the safeguards which are provided by the statutes under which we propose to proceed; and I am not without hope of being able to convince your Lordships that there is no reason for apprehension with regard to this point. We propose that when there is a compulsory hiring the procedure should be that laid down in the Local Government Act of 1894 for the compulsory hiring of land for allotments. I believe I am right in saying that in the case of allotments it has been found extremely advantageous to have this recourse to compulsory powers in the background, and I think the same thing may happen when the case of acquiring land for rifle ranges arises. You may find that you are face to face with a reluctant owner, or with a body of trustees having exaggerated ideas as to their duties under their trust, and who may possibly wreck all your attempts to provide suitable land for a rifle range. I think, therefore, that it is absolutely necessary that as a last resort we should have compulsory powers to fall back upon. I may remind your Lordships that under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1894, ample safeguards against abuse are provided. The procedure laid down in the Act of 1894 in the case of the acquisition of land for allotments requires that there shall be, in the first place, a public inquiry by the county council; then that there shall be a reference to arbitration in regard to disputed points; after that, that there shall be an appeal to the Local Government Board, who are to institute a second inquiry, after which the decision is to be given. In addition to that, in the Allotments Act of 1887, some of the clauses of which are embodied in the Local Government Act, 1894, there is a provision exempting from the operation of the Act parks, gardens, and pleasure grounds. I hope, therefore, if this clause passes, that all risk of injustice to private owner's is effectually guarded against. The other clauses of the Bill are clauses in which the War Office and the Admiralty are both interested. The object of the remaining clauses is: to give the Admiralty the same power of making bye laws for an area used for artillery or rifle practice as may be exercised under the existing law by the War Office; to remove some difficulties which have been experienced in working Section 3 of the Artillery and Rifle Ranges Act, 1885, under which bye-laws can be made for land adjoining the sea or a tidal water; to extend the power of taking land which is given by the Military Lands Act, 1892, so as to make it clear that land includes the bed of the sea or any tidal water, and certain rights connected with the use of land. These are the technical provisions of the Bill; but, as I said at the outset of my observations, its main object is to encourage co-operation between local authorities and Volunteer corps for the purpose of providing the latter with rifle ranges and the buildings which are essential to their use for military purposes.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Marquess on the two excellent Bills he has to-day introduced. But if, as the noble Marquess at the head of the Government told us in a most spirited speech the other day, it is desirable that we should as a nation make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with the use of the rifle, it is necessary to remember that there are large numbers of persons who, however patriotic, are unable to become Volunteers, and that means must be taken for training our lads in arms and the use of the rifle. If we are to become a nation of riflemen, the sooner our lads begin to handle a rifle the better. Young fellows who could not become Volunteers would thus, in an emergency, be available for defence. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War has been very kind in listening to me several times on this subject, and I know that in his heart of hearts he is very anxious indeed to do all he possibly can in this direction. But as an old Government clerk, I know how difficult it is for Government officials to be receptive of new ideas and to throw off the trammels: of red tape. An instance is given by a gentleman in the eastern counties who wrote to The Times on the 18th May to recount his experience with the War Office in an attempt to form a body of sixty-five riflemen. He received very little encouragement, and I know the same thing has happened in other cases. I am bound to say that I do not believe the noble Marquess has surrendered to red-tape influence, having regard to the magnificent manner in which the War Office has come out of this war; and I hope that he will seriously consider the point I have raised—namely, whether the lads in this country should not receive some small encouragement in the matter of rifle shooting and drill at the hands of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, this subject has been considered to a considerable extent by representatives of the county councils. An association called the Counties Volunteer Development Association appointed a committee to inquire into it, and to suggest amendments in the law which would facilitate the hiring of rifle ranges for Volunteers, and the particular proposals which the noble Marquess has introduced into this Bill have received the unanimous approval of that committee. They will probably be considered at a general meeting of the County Councils Association in a few days, and I think it is exceedingly probable that the association will look favourably upon the proposals. I may observe that on Monday last the Hampshire County Council, of which I have the honour to be chairman, also passed a unanimous resolution in favour of the proposal to give to county councils and borough councils the power of hiring land for rifle ranges and of applying the compulsory powers given by the Local Government Act of 1894 in respect of allotments to the hiring of such ranges. But I hope the noble Marquess, when he moves the Second Reading of this Bill, will make it clear from what sources the funds for the hiring and equipment of rifle ranges will be obtained. There is a very general opinion, I think, that a matter like this, which really concerns the general defence of the country, should not be paid for out of rates upon real property only, but that the expense should be met out of general revenues. The noble Marquess on a former occasion indicated—I do not say with absolute clearness, but he gave a strong indication —that that was his view; but a statement to that effect on the Second Reading would make a very considerable difference to the manner in which the proposals in the Bill will be received by local authorities. I do not mean to say that local bodies will not be ready to pay all the expenses which are necessary to carry out the local inquiries, but there will be great objections to putting a heavy charge on the rates for the hiring and equipment of ranges.


In reference to what has just fallen from the noble Earl opposite, I may, perhaps, make two observations. I heard with great pleasure his remarks with regard to the action of the committee to which he referred. The noble Earl was good enough to speak to me about this matter earlier in the session, and I am glad to admit that I am indebted to him for a part at any rate of the proposals which are embodied in this Bill, and my desire to proceed with them was greatly strengthened from the knowledge that they had the-support of the very influential body over which he presides. With regard to the suggestion that the expense of these local rifle ranges should fall not only on the local rates but in part on the public funds, I have on a former occasion stated that I had at my disposal a considerable sum which we propose to distribute to Volunteer corps for the purpose of assisting them in obtaining local ranges. It is most certainly our intention to adopt what I may describe as the principle of co-operation between the War Office and the Volunteer corps, the latter being aided, no doubt, by contributions from the rates.


I do not think the noble Marquess has quite met the objection of my noble friend. The proposal in this Bill, so far as I understand it, is that the county councils are to hire rifle ranges, in some cases exercising compulsory powers. I must say I entirely concur with the noble Earl in feeling great jealousy of the expenses of such operations being charged on the local rates. There is far too great a disposition to place upon local rates—which means upon only one portion of the wealth of this country—what are really national charges. This is not a local matter. Local rates are continually increasing, not because the administration is faulty, though that may sometimes be the cause, but because charges which are national charges are put upon them; and I am sure that the county councils will strongly dislike any fresh charge for rifle ranges. I am not wishing to discourage the establishment of rifle ranges—far from it; but I do think that the expense of them ought not to fall in any case upon the rates.


It seems likely that rifle clubs will be springing up in all directions, and I would suggest to the noble Marquess that difficulty may be experienced by these clubs in obtaining the use of rifle ranges which are appropriated to Volunteer corps. They will certainly require some place to shoot in. Has the noble Marquess considered this point?

On Question, agreed to. Bill read la accordingly; and to be printed. (No. 87.)