HL Deb 06 July 1906 vol 160 cc336-9

My Lords, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether His Majesty's Government intend to build either a hospital, a church, or recreation rooms at Tidworth Barracks. I think it must have caused some of your Lordships considerable surprise, on reading the Question which stands in my name, to find that in barracks which have so recently been built on the most modern and approved lines there is no church, hospital, or recreation room provided for the men. Your Lordships know the enormous sums that have been spent by the late Government in purchasing Salisbury Plain, in building barracks, and in constructing railways—in fact, in making the place suitable in every way for the manœuvring of troops; and no doubt your Lordships had the comfortable assurance that while all this money was being spent adequate provision was being made in the matter of hospital, church, and recreation room accommodation for the men. I admit that I was among that class until about two months ago, when I went to Salisbury Plain with my Militia. I found that at Tidworth Barracks, which are the headquarters of the Southern Command and also of the Seventh Infantry Brigade, and where four battalions of the Line are stationed, there is no such accommodation as I have referred to. There are other buildings still wanted, such as married quarters for officers and men, but I do not intend to refer to them this evening, as no doubt they will be added later on. But the question of hospital accommodation is, in my opinion, one that should really be looked into. The contractors who built the barracks and constructed the railway line had a stipulation in their contract that in the tin houses erected for the navvies and builders engaged in the work adequate provision should be made in the way of church, hospital, and recreation rooms. But during all the time that the barracks were being built it apparently never occurred that this accommodation was also required for our soldiers.

I should like to take, first, the question of hospitals. No doubt my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War will inform your Lordships that there is ample hospital accommodation at Bulford. Bulford is four miles from Tidworth, and the road is straight over the downs. I think it is very hard that a man who has broken his leg or his arm, or has met with a more serious accident, should be put into an ambulance and jogged across the open plain to Bulford Hospital. Take another case. Take a case in winter of a man suffering from a very bad cold or a bad chill. He is taken first to one small room at Tidworth Barracks which has been fitted up as a kind of receiving hospital, but he cannot be kept there for more than one day. In the event of his developing pneumonia or some still more serious illness, he is at once put into an ambulance wagon and bumped over the plain, possibly in pouring rain. The track may be very slippery and almost a quagmire in places, and sometimes it may be almost impassable through frost or snow. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is not as it should be, and not the way our soldiers should be treated.

Much has been heard lately of bettering the conditions under which our soldiers live, but the reverse has been the policy in connection with Tidworth Barracks. I should like to know whether my noble friend is aware of the number of desertions which have occurred on Salisbury Plain during the last two years. If so, I feel sure he will look into this matter and commence the building of these conveniences for the men as soon as possible. The noble Earl may say that it was the fault of the late Government and that they ought to have erected these buildings. Possibly they ought, but I should like to ask him if, on taking office, he found that there were any contracts for providing this accommodation, and, if so, how soon the work will be begun. I bring forward this question purely in the interest of our troops. I am sure your Lordships will feel that it is a most important matter, and I shall be only too pleased if the noble Earl can give me a satisfactory answer.


My Lords, I quite appreciate the spirit in which my noble friend has brought forward this matter, and in reply to his Question I may tell him that plans for a hospital at Tidworth have been approved and that the necessary funds have just been allocated. We hope, therefore, to proceed with the building at as early a date as possible. Then, as regards the church, it was hoped to include this service in the military works loan programme, but I am sorry to say that that proposal, in common with many others, has suffered in consequence of the general decision of the Government that expenditure under the Works Act should be reduced to a minimum. I can, I fear, hold out no hope that this service will be proceeded with at present, but the Army Council recognises as fully as the noble Earl does its importance, and will not lose sight of it when any money is available.

My noble friend also asks a question about recreation rooms at Tidworth Barracks. With regard to that, I am not quite clear what it is my noble friend alludes to. Tidworth Barracks are quite new and up-to-date, and they are, I am informed, provided with recreation rooms on a liberal scale. It is possible that my noble friend may be thinking of recreation grounds, and I may toll him, in regard to that matter, that in the final loan programme now being considered by the Army Council the sum of £1,500 has been taken up for the provision of recreation grounds for the men at Tidworth Barracks.


My Lords, the answer which has just been given on behalf of the War Office is somewhat indefinite. We feel that we are placed in considerable difficulty in this neighbourhood owing to the presence of troops. I have had my attention called to one special aspect of the difficulty, arising from the occasional death of a soldier. In that event he is buried in the churchyard. I do not know whether this is the case at Tidworth, but the difficulties that are produced among the inhabitants of the parishes concerned are sometimes exceedingly great on account of the extra pressure put upon the accommodation of the churchyard. The request for church accommodation is a very real and a very important one for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and I earnestly trust that the War Office will see its way to make the necessary provision.


My Lords, I should like to endorse what has been said by my right rev. Brother the Bishop of Winchester. When the original arrangements were contemplated and then carried out for so very greatly enlarging the number of troops who were to be in that region on the borders of Hampshire, we understood that there was no question at all that we should see all the necessary accompaniments for the higher well-being of the soldiers speedily carried into effect; and it has been a very great disappointment to those who have the highest interest at heart alike of the soldier and of the inhabitants of the parishes in which they are encamped that no steps more practical have been taken to give effect to what was comtemplated. What seems to have been left to the last is the accommodation which would enable these men to load the best kind of lives, and to have help of a moral and religious sort which is so essential everywhere, and not least in regions where troops are isolated from other opportunities of a helpful and wholesome sort. My noble friend who spoke on behalf of the War Office said that this matter will be attended to when there is money in hand; I hope it will not be left in that somewhat vague and unsatisfactory position, but that we shall before long receive some practical assurance that the buildings are to be proceeded with.


Can the noble Earl the Under-Secretary tell us whether the plans for this hospital as now approved differ very materially in form from the plans that were approved last year?


It is rather difficult for me to answer in detail, but, having seen the plans, my impression is that they do not differ very materially.