HL Deb 02 March 1905 vol 142 cc151-9


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, Your Lordships will remember that in 1897 Parliament passed an Act making it possible, under certain conditions, to carry out military manœuvres in this country, and under that Act what I may call the civil side of manœuvres as opposed to the military side is placed in the hands of a Military Manœuvres Commission. That Commission consists of representatives of the local authorities in the district in which the manœuvres are held and of representatives nominated by the Secretary of State for War, but it is provided that the local representatives should be in a majority on the Commission. These Commissions have at various times made Reports to us, and it is upon those Reports that the present Bill is based. It seeks to carry out three important recommendations which these Commissions have made.

Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to modify the provision in the original Act which prevents our using the same locality more than once in five years. Under that Act we can only use a particular part of the country for manœuvres once in five years; that is to say, we can only proclaim that part of the country by Order in Council as a district for manœuvres once in five years. Once the Order in Council has been made proclaiming that district, although we have never held the manœuvres at all in that district, we are still debarred from using it again for five years. Last year we proclaimed the county of Essex, and had the manœuvres not been held last year the county of Essex could not have been used for another five years. We think it is not unreasonable to suggest that where we do not hold manœuvres in the, district proclaimed, we should be allowed to proclaim it, if necessary, from year to year.

We also ask for a further amendment of this provision. Our experience shows us that manœuvres are not unpopular in the particular districts in which they are held, and we therefore ask that we should be allowed to hold manœuvres in a particular district more often than once in five years, provided the county council and the borough council concerned have no objection to our doing so. I think by that provision the rights of the public are amply safeguarded. Clause 1 also seeks to reduce from six to three months the period of notice we are bound to give to the local authorities. The Manœuvres Commission of 1898 recommended this change within a year of the passing of the Act. I think three months is plenty of notice for the local authorities; on the other hand, six months is rather long for us. We do not know till the Army Estimates are presented to Parliament, and even accepted, whether we shall be able to hold manœuvres at all, and if we do not know till March or April whether or not we shall be able to hold manœuvres, waiting six months forces us to wait till the end of the summer before we can carry them out.

I now come to Clause 2, which is obviously the most important clause in the Bill. The Act of 1897 mentions certain lands which we are not permitted to use. We are debarred by Clause 2 of the Act from entering any enclosed wood or plantation. One of the chief things, I may almost say the chief thing, which is instilled in the mind of the soldier at the present moment is the intelligent use of cover, and officers are continually instructing their men in formations particularly suited to the ground over which they are at the moment manœuvring. In company training in the early part of the year men are properly grounded in the intelligent use of cover, yet when we come at the end of the year to the manœuvres, the finishing touch to all their instruction, we have to order our men to avoid what is obviously the best, if not very nearly the only, cover available for them. The result is naturally a lack of reality in the work done, and, therefore, probably lack of interest.

Not only do we have local men as members of the Commission appointed by the local authorities, but we have been fortunate enough to secure the services of local men to represent the War Office, and these Commissions have spoken with no hesitating voice on the matter. The Commission of 1903 said— In this year's manœuvring area there was a considerable proportion of enclosed woods and plantations that were either not preserved at all, or only to a limited extent, and practically no damage would have been done, except to fences, by troops going through them. It would be beneficial if more elasticity could be given in this matter. The Manœuvres Commission of last year went further. In their Report they said— The Commissioners think it is a matter of great importance that troops should be allowed to manœuvre through woods and plantations; and the provisions of the Manœuvres Act should be amended in this respect, subject, of course, to full compensation being granted for damage or loss sustained. I venture to think, first of all, that the damage would not be great. We do not wish our troops to go through woods in the same way as a line of beaters would. All they need do is to march down the sides, and perhaps line the hedges at the end. But if we do any damage we are already under the old Act liable to pay the fullest compensation. I think your Lordships will admit that the system of paying compensation has worked properly, and caused satisfaction to those concerned. In their Report the Commission of 1903, said— The system adopted for the assessment of damage and payment of claims seems to have been satisfactory, for, while allowing for ample compensation, it would appear to have guarded against fraud and the payment of unreasonable claims. If this provision is refused by your Lordships it means that while we are paying a considerable sum of money in certain years for carrying out manœuvres, which are admitted to be of the greatest importance, yet we have to absolutely neglect, as I venture to think, the most important thing that it is necessary to teach the troops. As a practice for actual warfare it cannot be denied that this is a most serious state of affairs.

The rights of property owners are still further safeguarded under the old Act. Under Clause 5 of that Act the Military Manœuvres Commission may make orders for determining what lands, roads, and sources of water are to be authorised lands, roads, and sources within the meaning of the Act, which amounts in working to this, that any landowner can object to land of any sort being used for the purpose of manœuvres. If he lodges his objection the Manœuvres Commission holds a sitting and hears his objection, and they are paramount in deciding whether or not that particular land shall be used for manœuvres. Therefore, I say, seeing that we pay full compensation and that an owner of land has absolute power of presenting his views to the Military Manœuvres Commission, and, if he has a reasonable objection, of getting his land not used for manœuvre purposes, I do not think your Lordships will be injuring anybody in giving us this general power to enter woods and plantations when manœuvres are in progress.

Clause 3 deals with the closing of roads. The old Act gave certain powers for closing roads; they were not exactly the powers we wanted, and they are not even the powers people think we have got. We were authorised to close roads, but we had to obtain leave to do so from petty sessions and give seven days notice. That is not what we require. What we require is to be able to close a road for, say, a couple of hours while a flank attack or something similar is being delivered, and petty sessions have been willing to give us general powers to close a road now and again for a couple of hours, provided, naturally, that we give proper facilities for traffic in some other direction. But high legal authority has been obtained to the effect that petty sessions have no right to give that general power, and therefore we now ask in this Bill that they shall be given power to authorise us to close roads for not more than a couple of hours at a time whilst giving reasonable facilities for traffic. That is practically the whole of the Bill which is now submitted to your Lordships. The Reports of the Military Manœuvres Commission have been very satisfactory to us. I am glad to say that they prove that the manœuvres have been very popular in the districts in which they have been carried out, and they also bear the strongest possible witness to the exemplary conduct of the troops whilst manœuvres have been going on. I therefore venture to think your Lordships will not be endangering the comfort of any individual in giving this Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I entirely sympathise with the noble Earl and the objects he has in view. I think he has made out a very excellent case for his first amendment of the law, which is, that if a locality has no objection to manœuvres taking place more than once in five years, the War Office shall be at liberty to so hold them. I do not think there can be any question that that would be advantageous, but I have some little doubt about the six months notice, and for this reason. It appears to me that the period of six months was put in the Act of 1897 for the express purpose of giving the county council power of deciding whether or not they approved of the Draft Order before it was advertised in the local Press. Whilst six months notice must be given to the county council only three months notice need be given in the local newspapers. It was pointed out in the debates in the House of Commons that county councils sometimes do not meet more than once in three months; and the period of six months was inserted, no doubt, to make certain that every county council should have an opportunity of considering the Draft Order before it was advertised. It appears to me that there was some sense in that view, and I should like the noble Earl to consider it. The proposed alteration with regard to woods and plantations is an important one, and I should like to remind the House that the provision exempting enclosed woods and plantations was in the Bill of 1896, which did not pass the House of Commons because it was too stringent. This Bill is certainly very much less stringent in the powers it gives to the military, and it does seem rather going back to suggest that limitations of powers which were put into a Bill of 1896 should be taken out of this Bill in 1905. But I think the noble Earl has given fair reasons why we should at all events consider the proposal. With regard to the closing of roads, I think the noble Earl has made out a very good case for some change in the law, but he will observe that in his Bill it is within the power of a subaltern, of the youngest second-lieutenant, to give an order to close a road for a couple of hours. I am not at all sure that it ought to go down quite so low as that, and I am inclined to think that some slight modification of that power would be advisable. Subject to these observations, so far as I am concerned I welcome the Bill and support the Second Reading.


My Lords, I agree entirely with what has fallen from the noble Lord who has just sat down, but I do not think, in passing this Bill, we ought to lose sight of the fact that considerable sacrifice is going to be imposed on the inhabitants of these localities. It is right and proper that that sacrifice should be imposed, because if manœuvres are to be held the greatest facilities should be given to the troops for carrying them out. At the same time I do not think we should forget that we are imposing considerable sacrifices on the landowners and inhabitants of the localities where the manœuvres are to take place. With regard to the question of six months notice, it seems to me that the provision introduced in this Bill, that in future the Government will be able to propose that manœuvres should take place within five years in districts in which they have been announced but have not been carried out—it seems to me that that provision to a great extent removes the necessity for reducing the notice to three months, because, though you may give your six months notice that you are going to carry out manœuvres, you are in no way prevented from selecting that locality the next year if for any reason the manœuvres are not held. The War Office would be in a position six months beforehand to form an opinion that there would probably be manœuvres, and they might give notice six months in advance. If that notice was not followed up by action the War Office is not prevented from using that locality again, say, the following year.

Then with regard to the question of woods, I should like to express my full concurrence with what the noble Lord said as to the desirability of troops being allowed to use woods for manœuvres. I have myself seen the training of Regular troops carried out largely inside woods; the training has been very successful and has done a great deal of good. There is no doubt, however, that considerable damage will be done to the woods used. The noble Lord spoke in rather a light and airy way of the amount of damage that is going to be done. I think the risk of damage should be incurred, but the War Office must not try to hide from themselves that a considerable amount of damage will be done to those woods and plantations. I trust that the greatest possible care will be taken that the damage shall be as small as possible. The noble Earl said the troops would not manœuvre through woods as if they were a row of beaters. I am rather inclined to say, from what I have seen myself of that sort of work within woods, that it does amount very much to that. They proceed in open order very much as beaters do. There are many woods in which little harm would be done, but even the breaking down of fences will not be a small thing, and from time to time damage may be done to trees and underwood over and above that done to game. Therefore I hope that when the Bill gets into Committee this aspect of the question will not be lost sight of, and that the War Office will consider whether they cannot introduce some further safeguards to secure the interests of owners.

My noble friend, Lord Monkswell, seemed to entertain some fear with regard to the power given in the Bill for stopping up lootways. The idea is simply that it may be necessary to stop for a couple of hours a footpath going through a wood, and I do not think it can be contended that that would be doing any great amount of harm. Still, I do think that any such closing should, if carried out under the orders of a commissioned officer of low rank, be with the concurrence of his own superior officer, or the captain of the company or squadron, or the field officer in charge. With these few suggestions I shall be very pleased to give my support to the Second Reading.


My Lords, I merely rise to suggest whether some modification should not be introduced in Clause 2 with regard to newly-planted woods and plantations. In a plantation that had only been planted two or three years before, any body of troops, however anxious not to do damage, would be bound to cause great damage. I therefore hope the noble Earl will see some way of modifying that clause. Even if compensation were given to the owner it would mean that two or three years would have been lost.


I am glad to notice that the criticisms which have been offered on the Bill are of an entirely friendly character, and are in no way directed against its principles. It would be most unfair for want of proper precautions to expose the owners of valuable woods and plantations to the risk of having their property damaged. But under the present law military manœuvres, to which we all attach such importance, are deprived of a great part of their utility because the troops are denied the use of the only cover available to them. We have to bear in mind that under the existing law, as we propose to amend it by this Bill, these questions are relegated to the Manœuvres Commission, which is constituted with the express purpose of securing not only an adequate representation of local opinion but a preponderance of local opinion; and if there are any particular woods, such as new plantations, liable to damage, it will be easy for the proprietor to apply to the Manœuvres Commission to have them exempted from the area used by the troops. As to other woodlands, no doubt some damage may be done, but I cannot bring myself to believe that it will be of such a character as to be incapable of compensation by pecuniary means. As a resident in a county in which manœuvres have taken place for many years, I have never heard but one opinion of the excellence of the War Office as a paymaster. I have never heard that anybody has complained that where harm has been done of any kind compensation has not been forthcoming. I think, therefore, that, though we may have to consider these criticisms on the Committee stage, your Lordships may pass the Second Reading without any misgiving.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.