HL Deb 26 March 1901 vol 91 cc1267-90

My Lords, I have given the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War notice of a question on a matter which is of the greatest importance to all forces of His Majesty in this kingdom. The question of rifle ranges has been before your Lordships on several occasions. I think I may be allowed some claim to speak upon it, inasmuch as I had the honour of being one of the original founders of the National Rifle Association, which has done more than anything else to promote good rifle shooting indirectly in the Army, and directly among the Volunteers. I also had the honour to be on the War Office Committee which selected what was, I believe, for a great many years, one of the best rifles put into the hands of our soldiers, the Martini-Henry; and in the ardour of my youth I was able to find for the Volunteers, within six miles of the centre of London, the most splendid range that any country in the world has. Not only is it of importance that our soldiers should be trained in rifle firing, but the prospect of rifle shooting is one of the inducements which lead men to join the Volunteer corps. It is hardly necessary to dwell on the necessity for training in rifle shooting. Only a few days ago the noble Earl the Commander-in-Chief, in a letter on this subject, expatiated on the great importance he attached to skill in rifle shooting among all who take the field against the enemy.

I hold the view that there is no more exciting and entertaining recreation than rifle shooting, and I should like to see it become our national recreation, just as archery was in olden days. I have, at different periods of my life, enjoyed runs with the foxhounds, deerstalking, and salmon fishing, and also rifle shooting, having once run very close to the winner of the Queen's Prize, and, to my mind, none of the sports I have named can surpass a good rifle match, while its utility cannot be exaggerated. The noble Marquess at the head of the Government—who I am sorry to see is not in his place to-night—at a recent political meeting greatly encouraged rifle clubs. But, although rifle clubs for those who live in country villages may be very desirable, it is very difficult to find a safe place for shooting. I certainly wish to see rifle clubs established, but I should very much prefer the rifle shooting to be connected with the Volunteer corps. It is a truism that unless you can get rifle ranges it is impossible to cultivate rifle shooting. How do we stand now with regard to rifle ranges? Our country is not well adapted for rifle ranges, as is South Africa or a mountainous country like Switzerland. Many difficulties have arisen, first from the greater range of the rifle, and secondly from the country becoming more populated, and I am sorry to say that numbers of ranges throughout the country have had to be shut. How, then, are you to find ranges? They can only be found at great cost, and with great difficulty. Is it to be expected that the Volunteers themselves can find them? I have heard it said that they ought to provide them out of the capitation grant made by the Government. I venture to say that you can hardly expect Volunteer corps, with the increased expenses that are very properly put upon them for greater drill, etc., to find the money necessary to provide ranges. I should like to see that duty assumed by the Government. Possibly they may not be able to find the whole of the money, but they could provide a great deal more for this purpose than at present. Difficulties arise in every part of the country; in some parts, where there is a large population and land is perfectly flat, the difficulty is greater. There is less difficulty, probably, in the hilly parts of the country. But even there, owing to the requirements made for clearing the ground behind the ranges, it is exceedingly difficult to find ranges.

Take, for a moment, the case of London. London has a magnificent body of Volunteers—the most efficient Volunteers that can possibly be found. We know that from the splendid specimens they contributed to that distinguished corps, the C.I. V. The London corps are put in a difficult position, for all the ranges within easy reach of the Metropolis have been shut. I would urge the necessity for the range being within easy distance of the headquarters of the Volunteer corps. This is absolutely essential if good musketry practice is to be carried on. I heard this morning from a musketry instructor to one of the most important Volunteer regiments in Lon- don—the Queen's Westminster—of the difficulties which his distinguished regiment experience. He said they nearly always had to go to Bisley for their shooting. They had a short range on Wormwood Scrubbs, but here they cannot go through the whole musketry training of the regiment. They have to go to Bisley, and they have to do so under very great difficulties, for the trains are badly arranged. It is a serious difficulty in the way of rifle practice if a Volunteer leaving London at half-past two o'clock cannot, after shooting at Bisley, reach home again until nine in the evening. Moreover, when they get there they very often find that so many regiments from different parts of the country are in possession that they cannot obtain a target to shoot at. The result is, the Volunteers are justly dissatisfied.

I wish particularly to call attention to the corps belonging to public schools, in which I take special interest. I will first refer to the case of Winchester, about which there has been some correspondence lately in the papers. Winchester School has a large corps, and there are, in addition, about 500 Volunteers in the town. There are also situated at Winchester the depots of two very distinguished regiments, and I understand that they are being considerably enlarged, and that more men will be accommodated there. What has happened in the case of Winchester? Seven years ago they had a range, which was closed to firing with full charges. For about two years they continued to use this range with reduced charges, but for the past five years they have had no rifle range at all, notwithstanding that there is this large number of Volunteers in the town. The result is that the boys at Winchester School do their rifle shooting on the Morris-Tube plan, and forty boys every year go to Bisley and have one day's shooting. This is a most unsatisfactory state of things. I would ask the noble and gallant Lord the Under Secretary to explain how the difficulty at Winchester occurred. In 1897 Dr. Fearon, who was then headmaster, arranged for a rifle range, He did it on his own account, and came to terms with the proprietors of the land. He was ready to lay it out as a private range for the school, and he communicated with the War Office, who put him off' his proposal and said they would undertake the construction of the range themselves. A long delay occurred, and Dr. Fearon was then asked what he would contribute towards the range, and he promised to give the liberal subscription of £500. Directly the War Office, came in, the private individuals who possessed the land refused, unless a very high sum was paid, to let the War Office have it. For four years nothing has been done, and this large body of Volunteers, as well as the members of the school corps, have been entirely deprived of rifle shooting in consequence. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us why it was that the Headmaster was not allowed to carry out his private arrangement. It would be interesting to know, also, whether the noble Lord could lay on the Table of the House the correspondence which took place between Dr. Fearon and the War Office on this subject.

At Rugby there is also a great difficulty in obtaining a range. The only long range is two miles from the town and from the school, and it is practically of very little use. When the range is such a distance from the school you cannot expect the boys to take up rifle shooting, because it occupies so much of their time getting to and from the range, ft is a great misfortune that this fine body of young fellows who desire to be Volunteers cannot practice rifle shooting with convenience. Harrow is in the same position. There is a range at least two miles from the school, but the shooting is frequently delayed for half an hour or three-quarters, owing to the existence of a road behind the range. I wish to ask the noble and gallant Lord whether the War Office will assist these public schools in getting ranges. We heard from the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on two occasions when he was Secretary for War, that considerable sums of money had been taken to give grants towards these ranges. I think on one occasion we heard that the sum was £40,000. that £35,000 had been allotted, and that there remained £5,000 available. Later on, we heard that there were several thousand pounds more available for ranges. I should be glad if my noble friend the Under Secretary would say how far the Government have advanced in fulfilment of the promise made by the noble Marquess of assistance towards providing ranges out of these sums.

There is another point to which I desire to draw attention. My noble friend behind me, Lord Tweedmouth, who, as your Lordships know, is a very expert rifleman and has taken great interest in all matters concerned with rifle shooting, has frequently referred to the question of short ranges. He said—I think with great truth—that if you could not get a long range, it was very important and desirable to have a short range. At short ranges men could be taught the pulling of the trigger and the handling of the rifle, and if they were made to excel at short ranges they would very soon be able to fire at long ranges. I should like to know whether the Government are in favour of assisting corps to provide short ranges where long distance ranges cannot be procured within easy distance of headquarters. Perhaps the noble Lord will also tell us what the Government and the War Office think of the specially contrived covered ranges erected on Wormwood Scrubbs, and whether any objections have been taken to them by Volunteers. So far as I can judge, the ranges on Wormwood Scrubbs are not very attractive. Those who shoot at them are not amused. They get tired and bored by having to shoot through what sailors would call a porthole. It is certainly not as good as a short range in the open, but where you cannot get either short or long ranges in the open these ranges may be of considerable value. It all depends, of course, on expert opinion. They have one advantage over Morris-Tube shooting—namely, that the riflemen fire with the full charge. Morris-Tube practice is very often elaborately done, but there is a great difference when not firing with the full charge. I am afraid I have unduly detained your Lordships, and I conclude by asking the question standing in my name—namely, What the Government have done to assist Volunteers to obtain rifle ranges; whether the War Office approve of short ranges being obtained when long distance ranges are not obtainable within easy reach of the headquarters of a corps; and whether the Government will assist the creation of such short ranges by grants of money.


My Lords, I should like to touch very briefly upon one or two of the points raised in, the speech of the noble Earl. The subject of rifle ranges is one of the very greatest importance. I am thoroughly in accord with what the noble Lord said with regard to civilian rifle clubs, and I agree with him that the claims of the Regular and Auxiliary forces should be first considered. These civilian rifle clubs, as advocated at the present time, will. I think, require the closest attention on the part of His Majesty's Government and the military authorities, because if they are to-be unduly exploited without regard to their effect on recruiting, they may become a serious injury instead of the boon it is thought they will be. Of course I speak with all deference in view of the opinions expressed by the noble Marquess the Prime Minister and the noble and. gallant Earl the Commander-in-Chief. We have been in an emotional frame of mind during the past year on military matters, and I hardly think the noble and gallant Earl the Commander-in-Chief can have fully considered the effect which some of the sentences in his letter can be construed to have. Recruiting for the Regular and Reserve forces has reached almost its highest point, and it does not require a pot of Homocea to place one's finger on the weak spot in Mr. Brodrick's Army scheme. The formation of civilian rifle clubs would probably still further diminish recruiting for Volunteer corps, especially in the country districts.

It is necessary that a man who is to be of real value in the defensive force of this country must have some knowledge of discipline and obedience, but the inculcation of discipline and obedience is not suggested in connection with civilian rifle clubs; and I consider that it would be better to improve the facilities for shooting and the provision of ranges for the Regular and Auxiliary forces than to plunge into some wild scheme for establishing rifle clubs, the value of which has yet to be ascertained. I would suggest to the Under Secretary that he might consider the facilities for transport to and from existing ranges, which are at present inadequate. I will give the House a typical case. I know a Volunteer company in the country which consists of between ninety and one hundred men. They are all poor men, and cannot afford to pay large sums for transport to the range. Most of them live at an average distance of from five to six miles from the range, and some even nine miles. It costs between £40 and £60 a year out of their own pockets to get the carriage transport to and from the range. A regulation was made, the year before last, I think, by which an additional grant was given of six shillings per man per annum towards the expense of getting to and from the range. That grant was applied for in this case, but the War Office refused to make the allowance on the ground that the headquarters of the corps were within two miles of the range. The result of this remarkable decision on the part of the War Office is that this company, some fourteen members of which went out to South Africa, is on the verge of extinction. This is certainly not the way to encourage Volunteers, and it is, in my opinion, a penny wise and pound foolish policy. I would urge the noble and gallant Lord the Under Secretary to, if possible, do away with this grievance, which, though it may sound a minor grievance, is one likely to prove of considerable disadvantage to Volunteering throughout the, country.


My Lords, I am sure I need not say that I fully appreciate the enormous importance of efficient musketry. I have myself been a musketry instructor, and for many years a member of the council of the Militia Rifle Association, and in my humble way I have endeavoured to further the interests of rifle shooting. The supplying of ranges has for many years been most difficult, and the difficulty has been increased by the increasing range of the rifle, which has necessitated, as the noble Lord pointed out, the closing of so many ranges in different parts of the country. The question of ranges was brought to a head by the introduction of the Lee-Motford rifle, and in 1899 a large sum of money was allotted for the provision of ranges in central positions where the Regular forces and the Militia could be trained in musketry, and where it was also hoped large numbers of Volunteers might also be trained. When these ranges were in course of construction the question was raised as to the formation of local ranges to suit the convenience of Volunteer corps. It was found that local ranges added much to the interest, as well as to the convenience, of the Volunteers, and a certain sum of money was subsequently allotted to assist Volunteers in providing themselves with local ranges. The difficulty of allotting the money has been very great. In the first place it was necessary that it should be allotted on a system which would apply as equally as possible to all parts of the country.

The present position is, briefly, this, About £75,000 has been allotted, and when the ranges are completed I believe the requirements of the corps will have been met. Every headquarters of every corps will have within reasonable reach an efficient range, and in a great number of cases detailed companies have been provided for. With regard to London, very great difficulty has been experienced. A scheme was taken up by the County Council on behalf of the London Volunteers for the creation of a large range on Lea Marshes. When the scheme was practically agreed to, it was discovered that the land had been scheduled by a waterworks company for the construction of reservoirs, and the scheme had to be dropped. Subsequently the County Council put forward a new scheme on similar lines for the formation of ranges for the Volunteers at another place. The scheme went forward, and the War Office was prepared to find half of the money for the purchase of the land and the fitting up of the range. We had every reason to believe that the scheme would go forward, but at the last moment the commanding officers of the Volunteers in London held a meeting and decided that they would have nothing whatever to do with any scheme connected with the County Council. It was not a question as to whether they had to pay much or little towards the ranges. The decision was come to on principle, and it put a stop to the second scheme. At the present moment there is no other scheme in prospect. I do not think that the War Office can fairly be blamed in this matter. We had every reason to suppose that this second scheme would be carried through satisfactorily, and the decision of the commanding officers came as a great surprise to us. We think that it is most important to obtain, as far as possible, the assistance of local bodies, because, as your Lordships are aware, the moment the War Office attempt to act as a principal in these transactions the local authorities raise difficulties as to rights-of-way, landowners increase their demands, and the question of price assumes gigantic proportions. Frequently twenty, thirty, or more per cent, over the valuation is asked, and even when arbitration or compulsion is invoked, the expense becomes exceedingly great. I am told that in Scotland it is a matter of course that fifty per cent, is added to the valuation where it is a case of compulsory purchase.

We thoroughly agree with the noble Earl that as short ranges are better than gallery ranges, so long ranges are better than short ranges. The position the War Office has taken up in this matter is that it will not assist pecuniarily in the provision of short ranges unless it is clearly shown that in the opinion of the general commanding the district there is not a long range within a reasonable distance, and no long range can possibly be provided. In that case the War Office would be prepared to assist in making short ranges. There are several reasons why we would not propose to assist indiscriminately short ranges. The first, of course, is the expense. There is a limit even to the purse of this country, and no doubt if you said you were prepared to assist in the provision of short ranges indiscriminately you would receive an enormous number of applications. If you only had a few hundred, and they cost one thousand or two thousand pounds to fit up, you would spend an enormous sum of money. Moreover, if you encourage short ranges you discourage long ranges. If men had short ranges within a short distance of their doors, they would probably practise on them, instead of going two or three miles to where there is a long range. Those of your Lordships who take an interest in rifle-shooting are aware that if men confine their atten- tion entirely to short ranges, the instruction they receive will be far inferior to that which can be obtained at long ranges. You can teach men on short ranges to aim, to pull the trigger, to stand the recoil, and so on, hut you cannot teach them to shoot under varying climatic conditions. This they would learn at long ranges. Again, it is extremely difficult on short ranges to do those collective practices which are so enormously important in teaching men steadiness on parade, and also fire discipline.

Most of the public school corps, I believe, use the ranges of the Volunteer battalions to which they are affiliated, and therefore they will benefit to that extent from the money which has been allocated to assist various corps. I believe the Eton Volunteer corps, in which distinguished corps I had the honour of serving as a full private, is the only corps which is not a cadet corps and hitherto we have never spent anything on ranges for cadet corps pure and simple. The whole question of the position of cadet corps, including range accommodation, is under consideration. The noble Earl alluded to the case of the Winchester range, and quoted statements that have appeared in the press which are somewhat misleading. The history of the case is, briefly, as follows in 1897 Dr. Fearon (the Headmaster of Winchester) offered to construct a range at his own expense. He applied for permission, and was told that the War Office intended to lay one out themselves. He pointed out that the school and city corps had been two years without a range, and offered to lay out a range in whatever way the War Office might direct, on the understanding that the War Office would take it over. An inquiry was held, and it was decided that the War Office should undertake the construction of the range. Dr. Fearon then stated that the school would contribute handsomely. The cost was estimated at £20,000, and Dr. Fearon proposed a contribution—his idea of a handsome contribution is not the same as ours—which turned out to be £500. As he had proposed originally to lay out the range himself, £500 was certainly not a large sum to offer. The general officer commanding the district was asked to detail the plans, but difficulties arose with regard to certain owners and occupiers of land, who put up the value of the laud to an enormous sum, which came to rather more than double the valuation of the War Office valuers. The matter was then dropped, as ranges had been constructed on Salisbury Plain, and at other places within reasonable distance of Winchester. The noble Earl asked whether I would lay the Papers in connection with this case on the Table of your Lordships' House. The correspondence is very large, and I hope a précis will meet the views of the noble Lord.

The safety range constructed on Wormwood Scrubbs has, I believe, been a complete success as regards safety. The original scheme was not quite successful, but some additional money was spent, and I believe the range is now thoroughly safe. The amount actually spent on it was a little over £6,200, or rather more than £200 a target; but I am afraid I am not in a position to say that any similar range can be constructed for the same amount—in consequence of the increase in the price of building materials, among other reasons. As to the range used by the boys at Harrow, it is, unfortunately, a fact that it has to be constantly closed in consequence of its being interfered with by a road on which vehicles travel. I regret to say that that is not the only range which has been closed for a similar reason. Even the range on Salisbury Plain is embarrassed by rights of way and other rights, and the shooting has to be stopped sometimes for hours. With regard to civilian rifle clubs, no doubt there is some chance of their interfering with recruiting for the Volunteers, but I may tell the noble Marquess below the gangway that this is not the opinion of all Volunteer officers. Opinions are divided upon it. and I think that if such clubs are carefully watched in their formation, and if no clubs receive assistance that are not affiliated to the National Rifle Association, no harm will ensue in the long run to the Volunteers. As to the refusal of travelling allowances to the particular corps referred to by my noble friend the noble Marquess, if he will send me the Papers I shall be happy to make inquiries.


My Lords, we have no reason to be dissatisfied with the sympathetic way in which the noble Lord has answered this question. It was only natural, with his experience of shooting and musketry instruction, that he should thoroughly realise the immense importance of the subject. At the same time, I am inclined to be a little disappointed at not hearing from him that the Government are prepared to take further steps in the direction of assisting corps to provide ranges. The noble Lord said that £75,000 had been allotted in aid of local ranges, and that he thought that when that sum had been fully spent, all the requirements would have been satisfied. I should have liked to have some statistics showing exactly what was proposed. I confess that the noble Lord the Under Secretary takes an optimistic view if ho thinks the money already allotted for local ranges will satisfy the requirements of rifle Volunteers throughout the country. The noble Lord referred to the construction of ranges on Salisbury Plain and elsewhere. I assume those ranges are largely for the regular forces.


I think I said so.


Therefore, they do not meet the question of supplying ranges for Volunteers. The situation we are in is this—our troops, both Regular and Auxiliary, have been armed at considerable expense with an excellent weapon with a very great range, and any defect in shooting rests not with the weapon but with the person who uses it. You have a small proportion of men who are excellent shots, but the average soldier and the average Volunteer is, as a rule, a very indifferent shot, and the value of having a weapon that will kill at 2,500 yards or 3,000 yards is largely destroyed. To pick off a man at a thousand yards is a difficult thing, even for a good shot. The variation of a 150th part of an inch on your backsight means a drop or rise of ten inches in a thousand yards, and it is not surprising, therefore, to find that the ordinary soldier when he tries to pick off the enemy at what he thinks is a thousand yards, does not succeed. When we talk about the necessity of training our soldiers and Volunteers to shoot at long ranges, we are, to a large extent, aiming at what is not very useful. It is by no means an easy thing to train a man to shoot at long ranges. He should rather be trained to shoot straight and well at what can be described as an effective range. So great an authority as Colonel Henderson puts that at 450 yards. In training the soldier up to that range a great deal can be done by the use of short ranges, which could be constructed at comparatively small cost.

The noble Lord did not express himself as warmly with regard to short ranges as I should have liked. I know that soldiers hate them. I admit that it is an extremely dull thing to shoot in these gallery or protected ranges, but I maintain that you can become a very good shot at a moderate distance by short range practice. There should be such ranges within easy distance of the headquarters of every regiment and Volunteer corps throughout the kingdom, and I would like to see efficiency certificates granted to Volunteers for good practice at them. Only last year a change was made. Before then Volunteers could gain their certificate for efficiency at the shorter ranges. I go a step further, and say that you should train your men standing up. At present any position is allowed, even at 200 yards. I know it is said that in actual warfare you do all your firing lying down or with a rest of some sort. But if a man is a good shot standing, he will be a better shot lying down. I do not know what was the result of the Commission which was sent to Switzerland last year to inquire into the system of ranges in that country. The Swiss and the Belgians shine among rifle shots on the Continent, and yet their ranges are invariably short ranges. I think there are 2,700 ranges in Switzerland under Government control, and of those there are over 62 per cent, under 400 yards The same thing obtains in Belgium; and, whilst it is perfectly true, as the noble and gallant Lord the Commander-in-Chief said the other day, that you find an immense number of ranges scattered about the Boer farms in South Africa, almost all those ranges are comparatively short ranges. The Boer is not trained to shoot at long distances, and the most successful Boer shooting is found at comparatively short ranges.

The difficulty of providing protected ranges in towns is not so great as might be expected. In Birmingham the gun manufacturers have covered ranges on the house-tops, which are no nuisance and afford good opportunities for trying rifles and guns at distances of fifty yards; and as the garrison ranges at St. Petersburg are constructed on the tops of houses, it ought not to be difficult to provide Volunteers with short distance ranges in a similar way. Why should not short ranges be constructed on the tops of the drill-halls? This suggestion is perfectly practicable and worthy of consideration. The military authorities are making a mistake in insisting too much on shooting at long ranges. I admit that it is much more amusing. I admit also that men cannot become first-rate shots except at long ranges; but if they are made good shots at 200 yards, they can be quickly made good shots at long ranges. The want of London in the matter of ranges is extreme. You have in London between 30,000 and 40,000 Volunteers, and there are only twelve possible ranges which they can use. There are the Bisley ranges, which are very much used, but which are at a very inconvenient distance and badly served in the matter of trains. Then you have the Caterham range, which is a very small one. The Childs Hill range is also a small one, and cannot be enlarged. The Ilford range belongs to the Morris Tube Company, and has, I believe, been condemned as being unsafe. The Milton range, near Gravesend, is a Government range, and is only used by Volunteers when the Regulars do not want it; and the Pirbright range can only be used on Saturdays, when the Guards do not require it. The Rainham range is one that might be added to, but the result of our inquiries is that the cost would be too great. There are several other ranges, but of these twelve possible ranges there are but two—Bisley and Runnymede—which are practically available for the Volunteers.

The London County Council, as the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War stated, had decided to provide a range at a cost of £164,000—of which the War Office agreed to pay half—and to let it to the London Volunteers at a small rent. The County Council pro- posed to acquire the land they had in view under the Military Lands Act, and they obtained for the purpose the necessary requisition from the London Volunteers, but, to their surprise, the commanding officers suddenly changed their minds and said they did not want to have anything to do with the proposal. The matter then dropped. The noble Lord said it was because the commanding officers would have nothing to do with the County Council that they came to this decision; but I have the suspicion that the officers, knowing how strong was their case for a range, thought they would ultimately got the range for nothing, instead of having to pay even the small rent which would have been charged by the London County Council under the proposed arrangement. We (the County Council) were not going to make any profit out of the range, and the money we would have received for grazing on the land would have been so considerable as to enable us to let the range at a comparatively small cost. I am anxious to take this opportunity of thanking the War Office for their action in the matter, and also of putting in a good word for that much-abused body, the London County Council, who, in this case, at any rate, rose to the level of what I may almost call its Imperial duties. The noble Lord was a little sarcastic with reference to Dr. Fearon's proposed contribution to the range at Winchester. I think he accurately described what took place, but when Dr. Fearon offered to provide a range himself he had the promise of private help and concessions with regard to the land on which the range was to be made. The cost to him of constructing the range, therefore, would not have been large, and the £500 he proposed to contribute afterwards was a very large proportion of what the actual cost to him would have been had his proposal been allowed to be carried out. This is a case in which the people who had rights over the land thought the War Office fair game, and they were, therefore, prepared to claim considerably more than would have been the case if the range had been allowed to be constructed by the Headmaster of the school.

At present, under the Military Lands Act, local authorities have only the power to buy land for ranges. I think it would be a great help if they were allowed also to hire land for this purpose. After all, local authorities and Volunteer corps are transitory bodies, and, if Government help was given to the hiring of land instead of actual purchase, it would be of advantage. There is often a reluctance to enter into a big purchase scheme, which places a permanent obligation upon both the local authority and the Volunteer corps. For some reason or other the range may eventually cease to be used, and they would then be saddled with land for which they had no use. Before the debate closes I trust that we shall hear that the Government are at once pro-pared to do something more to assist our soldiers and Volunteers in this matter. It is especially important in view of the new proposals made by the Secretary of State in another place, because, after all, as I understand, we are largely to be dependent in the future for our defence in this country on the Auxiliary forces. It is impossible that these men can be trained and disciplined like Regular soldiers, but they can be made good shots if they are provided with ranges and plenty of ammunition.


May I trespass on the time of the House for one moment to add my testimony to the necessity for a few short ranges in the neighbourhood of London? I am greatly interested in the matter, having for the last thirteen years commanded a brigade of Metropolitan Volunteers. The difficulties which my brigade have experienced in finding range accommodation have been very great. Short ranges would take off a great deal of the pressure upon the good long ranges which we have at Bisley and Runnymede. Ranges of 300 or 400 yards, with high walls at the back, would meet the requirements and be perfectly safe. I have in my mind a range at Hounslow which has been used for many years, and I have never heard of any accident there. I know the range on Wormwood Scrubbs very well, but I think the more open range is the one we ought to have in larger numbers round London. I hope the War Office will see their way to help the Metropolitan Volunteers with more ranges in the immediate vicinity of their headquarters.


My Lords, I wish to say, with respect to the Winchester range, that what has fallen from my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth is perfectly accurate. Dr. Fearon, the Headmaster of Winchester College, had no intention of buying the land for the range, but he had made arrangements with the tenant of the land. He was quite prepared, at his own expense, to fit up the range, and I am not surprised that, when he could have done that perfectly easily in a few months, he should have been somewhat irritated in finding that, when the War Office took up the affair, it went on for more than three years, and ended by a letter from the Under Secretary of State for War saying that nothing whatever could be done. As regards the five hundred pounds, I am bound to say that in my opinion this was an exceedingly handsome offer on the part of Dr. Fearon in the circumstances of the case. I have no doubt the noble and gallant Lord the Under Secretary of State for War is aware that only a few days ago an unanimous resolution was passed by the Town Council of Winchester thanking Dr. Fearon for his exertions; and, in the course of the discussion, no very polite language was used towards the War Office in respect to their interference. I hope the Papers will be produced. I am sure my noble friend Lord Spencer will agree with me that we do not care to have the whole of the communications, and that a précis will be sufficient. I should be glad to see the opinion which was given by the officer comanding the Winchester depot on the subject, and also the opinion of the Inspector General of Auxiliary Forces, who, of course, is the officer who would be consulted by the War Office on a matter of that sort.

Not only are the depots of the two battalions of the Hampshire Regiment at Winchester, but barracks are now being built there for the King's Royal Rifles and the Rifle Brigade—eight battalions. It is also the depot of the Hampshire Militia, and there is a very strong company of Volunteers there. It seems to me that there can be very few places in England where it is of more importance to have a range than at Winchester, and from my own knowledge of the locality I can say that there are several sites on which an excellent range could be provided. As regards the case of London, my noble friend Lord Tweed-mouth has given the view of the London County Council. I do not know whether I any commanding officer of London I Volunteers is present in your Lordships' House, but I cannot believe that the commanding officers of the London Volunteer teers could have refused—


It is absolutely true.


I cannot think that they refused the offer for the reason stated. I am told that their objections arose partly from financial reasons and partly in consequence of the control which the County Council wished to exercise over the range. I do not, how-ever, state that of my own knowledge. The noble and gallant Lord the Under Secretary used some very strong expressions regarding the great desirability of acting with the local authorities in the provision of rifle ranges, and he also, with much truth, said that when it is known that the Government are negotiating for land for any purpose, the owners and occupiers ask higher terms than they would ask from the local authorities. My noble friend Lord Tweedmouth suggested that power should be given to local authorities to hire land for rifle ranges. I must remind, your Lordships that this subject was brought before the House last year, and the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who was then Secretary of State for War, entered most cordially into the views of the local authorities in respect to their willingness to help the Government. My noble friend Lord Dartmouth took a great interest in this question, and brought it forward in the House. He was after-wards chairman of a body started by the Middlesex County Council, called the Counties Volunteer Development Association. That body put itself into communication with the County Councils Association, on which, as your Lordships know, there are representatives of all the county councils in England. I hap- pened to be deputed by the County Councils Association to confer with Lord Dartmouth's Committee, and we drew up a Report as to how we thought local authorities might assist the Government. That Report was put before the general meeting of the County Councils Association, at which all the counties in England were represented, and the following resolution was unanimously agreed to— That it is desirable that the Military Lands Act, 1892, should he amended to enable the Council of a county or borough to hire land for military purposes. We also recommended that there should be power given to the county councils, with certain restrictions, to hire land compulsorily for rifle ranges. This recommendation was carried unanimously. The meeting also expressed the opinion that the expenses of the provision and equipment of ranges for Volunteers should be provided by Parliament, and not out of the rates. That opinion was entirely endorsed by my noble friend Lord Kimberley when the subject was last discussed in this House. The noble Marquess opposite adopted the views of the County Councils Association as regards the hiring of land for ranges, and was kind enough to embody them in the clauses of the Military Lands Act of last year, which passed through all its stages in your Lordships' House. In the other House the clauses connected with hiring land were omitted. I presume, from the sources of public information, that this happened because the Bill came on at the end of the session, and because some opposition was offered to those clauses. I feel certain that if those clauses had become law, very much better facilities would have been in the hands of the War Office to provide rifle ranges than now. The manner in which the county councils deal with such matters is more practical, and more likely to lead to a fair settlement, than the sending down of military officers to negotiate for the purchase of land. There is first an inquiry conducted by three members of the county council—men who know the neighbourhood and the people—and usually they can settle things amicably on reasonable terms.

If it came to compulsion, it would be, of course, subject to an appeal to the Local Government Board after a public inquiry, so that there would be no danger of any person having his property injuriously affected by the compulsory power. In the Bill originally introduced into this House there was a defect—a defect which exists in a good deal of our legislation— inasmuch as the procedure was by reference to other Acts of Parliament. No doubt strong objections can fairly be raised to legislation of that kind. Objection was raised by my noble friend Lord Thring and my noble friend the Chairman of Committees, and I think it would be very desirable if, instead of legislating by reference, clauses were introduced into any future Bill of the kind which would distinctly show the procedure and the precautions to be taken to prevent any injury to property by the compulsory power, because compulsory power in respect of rifle ranges is a matter of very much greater consequence to owners of property than compulsory power to hire small pieces of land for allotments; and when land is hired compulsorily for rifle ranges there should be a provision to enable the owner of the property, on paying fair compensation, to get the land back if he required it for building or other purposes. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government are going to introduce any such measure in the present session of Parliament, but if I hear that it would be of any assistance to the Government if a private Member introduced such a Bill—and there would be very little difficulty in preparing it—I shall be perfectly willing to undertake it and lay it on the Table. I hope, at the same time, to receive some assurance that the Government do not intend to ask the local authorities in the country to support, out of the rates, rifle ranges which are really necessary for national purposes.


My Lords, I have very-little to add to the speech of my noble and gallant friend behind me, which I think was accepted by your Lordships as indicating that the Department which he represents is in full sympathy with the views of the noble Earl opposite as to the importance of providing our Volunteers with adequate range accommodation. I am not sure that my noble friend brought out to the full extent the financial assistance which His Majesty's Government is prepared to give with this object. There is, of course, to begin with, the large expenditure which has taken place on certain ranges for the Regular troops—an expenditure which may be stated in round figures at one million pounds. Those ranges, though primarily designed for the Regular troops, will be to some extent available for the Auxiliary forces; but besides that, during the course of last year no less than £170,000 was set apart for the special purpose of providing Volunteer ranges. The whole of the money has not yet been allocated, but even as long ago as the month of June last year we were advised that when the sums already allocated had been spent the process of providing the Volunteer forces with suitablerange accommodation, except in the case of London Volunteers, would have advanced far towards completion. After the provision of these ranges we were told that there would in future be no corps without suitable ranges within easy reach, not only of their headquarters, but even of detailed companies. That was, I think, a substantial step in the direction which the noble Earl wishes.

With regard to short ranges, my noble friend opposite suggested that the War Office had not been quite diligent enough; but it is within my knowledge that in the circular which was sent out exactly a year ago the general officers commanding districts were desired to take the question of providing these shorter ranges into their consideration, and report upon it. I believe it is perfectly true that the military authorities do not lean towards those ranges quite so decidedly as my noble friend does, and I will not attempt to decide whether they or he are right. With regard to the other class of ranges which have been referred to as gallery or closed ranges, my noble friend asked whether the Report of the two officers whom we sent to the Continent last year to inquire into this question had added usefully to our knowledge on the subject. I have seen that Report, and I think I may summarise its purport by saying that it goes to show that, partly owing to the great difference in the conditions prevailing in other countries, and for other reasons, we have not a great deal to learn from their practice in this respect. As to Switzerland in particular, I believe the officers reported that gallery ranges were not greatly encouraged by the Swiss Government. With regard to the case of London, I do not think my noble friend at all overstated the urgency of the need of the London Volunteers for range accommodation, and it certainly cannot be made a subject of complaint against the War Office that they have not attempted to provide that accommodation. Two extremely promising schemes have, one after the other, broken down at the last moment, one because the land was required for a great water supply project, the other on account of a regrettable difference of opinion, which I cannot help hoping may prove to have been due, to some extent, to misapprehensions, which we would, I am sure, all of us be heartily glad to see removed.


The London County Council have not dropped the question. The last step they took was to suspend further action. The Rifle-Range Committee are ready to take action again if the Volunteer commanding officers approach them.


If the door is still open I trust that some means will be found to enable those most interested to pass through it. The Winchester case was a very unfortunate one, and I can assure your Lordships that if Dr. Fearon and the friends of the college were disappointed, the War Office was equally disappointed. The story is a simple one. Dr. Fearon thought he-would provide range accommodation for the school on favourable terms. We cordially wished to co-operate with him, and to widen the scheme in such a way as to make it available for the Volunteers of the neighbourhood. Then came negotiations, references to the valuer, finally a long controversy between the military authorities and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and all this ended in a demand for a sum which we regarded as exorbitant, and which would certainly have absorbed so large a part of the money available for these purposes that we, not unnaturally, did not consider it desirable to carry the transactions through. But if there was delay the delay was not all due to the military authorities, but in great measure to the causes which I have mentioned.

We have been asked why we did not set in motion compulsory powers in connection with the Winchester ease. Our experience of compulsory purchase is not a favourable one, and we were advised, on what we believed to be good advice, not to use them in that particular ease. My noble friend Lord North-brook referred to the subject, which was frequently debated in this House last year, of giving facilities to local authorities for acquiring ranges for Volunteers. The noble Earl only did me justice when he said that I used my best endeavours in this House to carry a Bill for that purpose, and I did it in the face of a certain amount of criticism, of which I do not in the least complain, because I think that some of it was probably well founded. I did succeed in carrying the Bill through this House, but in the stormy weather which prevails in Parliament towards the end of the session, the clause in which the noble Earl is interested bad. like other good clauses, to be thrown overboard, and nobody regretted its disappearance more than I did. If the noble Earl will lay a Bill on the Table of the House, I feel confident that it will be discussed by your Lordships in a benevolent spirit. One word with regard to what was said by my noble friend opposite. I will not follow him in the interesting remarks he made upon the subject of musketry instruction in the British Army. I dare say it may be the case that in many respects the system requires to be reviewed, and I have no doubt that that is one of the lessons of the South African War which is not likely to be lost sight of. But I do wish to express the pleasure with which I heard what fell from him with regard to the rifle now in the hands of our soldiers. I can very well remember the time when we were constantly told that the rifle, like everything which we supplied to the troops, was of an inferior character, far inferior to that in the hands of the Boers, and so forth. I am relieved to find that the complaint my noble friend makes is not that the rifle is bad, but that it is a great deal too good.


The shooting is excellent, but the mechanism might be greatly improved.


My noble friend thinks, at all events, that it is too good to put in the hands of a man who habitually uses it. All I need say in sitting down is that I feel quite sure the War Department will keep this subject constantly in view, and do its utmost year by year to meet the requirements of the Volunteer force.

House adjourned at half-past Six of the clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten of the clock.