HL Deb 23 July 1908 vol 193 cc265-72


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill refers to a not very important matter in relation to the Territorial Forces Act of last year, although it is one which has a certain bearing upon the efficiency of those Forces. The point arises in relation to the presidency of the Associations formed under that Act. Some of your Lordships may remember that when the Bill came up from the House of Commons it was left to the discretion of the Army Council as to whether or not the Lord-Lieutenant of the county should be the president of the Association, the idea being that there might be some cases in which the Lord-Lieutenant would obviously not be the person who ought to take charge of the organisation of the Territorial Forces in a particular county. When the clause came before the House in Committee the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumber land, moved to insert words that the Lord-Lieutenant should not act if he did not assent. That was objected to from this side of the House, and my noble friend Lord Portsmouth moved the insertion of the words which are now in the Act, empowering the appointment of the Lord-Lieutenant, or, failing him, such other person as the Army Council may think fit.

I do not think at that time we were quite certain what the words "failing him" meant, whether they meant exactly the same thing as the noble Duke desired to insert—namely, that the Lord-Lieutenant should always be the president unless he agreed not to act, or whether they meant something different. As a matter of fact, we are now advised that they do mean practically the same thing as the noble Duke's words, and some inconvenience has arisen, and is likely to arise in future cases, owing to the existence of this provision in the Act. Some of your Lordships may have noticed a correspondence which appeared in the newspapers a short time ago between the noble Earl, who I think has not yet taken his seat in your Lordships House, Lord Derby, and my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth, in relation to the cast of Lancashire. That was a correspondence which, both for good taste and good feeling, reflected the highest credit on both parties, but it did draw the attention of the Army Council and of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War to the existence of a possible inconvenience in these cases. That inconvenience arises in this way. Where a man has been acting as chairman of the Association and has become de facto the president, a difficulty may arise if a new Lord-Lieutenant is appointed and becomes ipso facto president of the Association. If such a difficulty should arise your Lordships will see that the Government of the day would be confronted with a dilemma. Either they would feel themselves bound, for the sake of the efficiency of the Territorial Force, to appoint the chairman of the Association Lord-Lieutenant, which is not a reasonable thing to expect—the duties of Lord-Lieutenant are by no means confined to the administration of the County Association, and I think it would be generally agreed that to bind the Government of the day to appoint the chairman of the County Association Lord-Lieutenant, whoever he might be, would not be a desirable thing—or, on the other hand, they would run the risk of possibly losing a very efficient chairman of the Association, and, even if he agreed to remain on, of causing a good deal of unrest and disappointment in the Territorial Force itself, owing to the fact that they would believe that their chairman had been superseded.

I need hardly say that in introducing this Bill, which leaves it open for the Army Council to appoint somebody else than the Lord-Lieutenant president of the association in special cases, no disrespect whatever is intended to that high office. I think that is sufficiently shown by the fact that so many Lords-Lieutenant have undertaken, not merely the duties of an honorary presidency but also those of active chairmanship; and I should hope, therefore, that this Bill will be generally agreed to because the case is not in the position in which it was when the Bill was before the House last year. I think that the noble Duke opposite, in moving his Amendment, may have feared that the Army Council might introduce outsiders, and possibly military officers, who had no special connection with the county, and make them in some cases presidents of Associations; but the Associations are now formed; and even if the Army Council wished to do such a thing, which they certainly do not, it would not be in their power to do it. Therefore this Bill only meets the rare case to which I have referred, where the chairman ought to be allowed to go on being the principal person in relation to the County Association.

It may be asked, What is the particular urgency of this matter? We have had one case in which very marked inconvenience has arisen. In that particular case it was not that Lord Derby felt that his personal position was compromised in any way, but I happen to know for a fact that the general body of the Territorial Association in Lancashire felt very strongly the idea of his being superseded in the principal place, and it caused a considerable degree of unrest in the county which was by no means confined to the political friends of the noble Earl, Lord Derby. Lord Derby certainly acted from no personal motives in the matter, but he was very anxious that, if possible, some steps should be taken to meet future cases. It was on that account, I think, that he acted, and I have no doubt that if he were in the House he would give his warm support to this Bill. These cases might arise in the future. I should be very sorry to discount the expectation of life of anybody, especially of a Lord-Lieutenant, but a vacancy might occur at any moment, and it is conceivably possible that we might be again confronted with the same difficulty. I hope, therefore, your Lordships will agree to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and if you are good enough to do so, allow it to pass so far as this House is concerned before we adjourn for the summer recess.

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


My Lords, as this matter arose out of an Amendment of mine, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words. I wish to dissociate myself altogether from any circumstances that have lately arisen. I know nothing about them more than all your Lordships do from the public prints, and I beg that in anything I may say I may not be supposed to be referring to this particular instance at all.

It seems to me that this Bill is a rather more important one than the noble Earl who has just sat down would lead us to believe. The Lord Lieutenant occupies a double position; he is Lord-Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum, and I ask the noble Earl what the duties of a Lord-Lieutenant as such are. By his old duties as Lord-Lieutenant he was head of the Territorial Forces of the county. Under the Cardwell system that was changed, but he still remained the titular head, and when the Government introduced their scheme they very wisely made the Lord-Lieutenant again the head of the forces under the new condition of things. If you take away from him that right, what do you leave him? I believe that you leave him the recommendation of deputy lieutenants, and that is rather a peculiar duty for a Lord-Lieutenant who is not the head of the Territorial Force to perform, because all Lords-Lieutenant have been told that in future the deputy lieutenants are to be chosen from the ranks of those who have done good service in, or in connection with, the Territorial Force. Certainly, by excluding the Lord-Lieutenant from the Associations, you are going to deprive him of the means of judging of their services. I cannot think that that is a good step to take. You will reduce the Lord-Lieutenancy to a mere title.

I do not, I confess, see why the Government have gone back from their intention, very deliberately expressed last year, to make the Lord-Lieutenant the chief head of the new organisation they were creating. We have heard from the noble Earl an account of the particular transaction to which I do not wish to allude further. But what does the noble Earl's argument amount to? It amounts to this. You have a Lord-Lieutenant and you have some one in a subordinate position to him—namely, the chairman of the Association. The chairman of the Association has done such good work that it is for the advantage of the force that he should continue to do that work, and the Lord-Lieutenant has left most of the work to him. In order to get over that difficulty, which I should have thought was a very common difficulty in all relations of life—there are many instances in which a vice-chairman is more active than the chairman—you are going to sweep away the right of the Lord-Lieutenant altogether.

I should have thought that one very simple way of getting over the difficulty, one which I have known in other connections carried out very successfully, would be to hint to the new Lord-Lieutenant the fact that the chairman should continue to take a leading part in the management of the Territorial Force. This Bill removes all duties from the Lord-Lieutenant. Is the case sufficiently common, is it one which is so difficult to get over in the way I have indicated or in some other way, that it is really necessary to disestablish the Lord-Lieutenant? I am particularly glad to hear that the Government did not know what the words "failing him" meant. I thought that was so at the time, and I think I have some ground for complaining, because I Only accepted them on the ground that the Government did know what they meant, and that they meant what they have turned out to mean.


My Lords, I venture to express my, agreement with the noble Duke when he tells the House that this proposal is a rather more important one than the noble Earl in charge of the Bill seems to suppose. I have referred to the report of the debate upon the clause of the Act last year, and I have no doubt that what was present to all our minds on that occasion was that, unless there were very strong reasons to the contrary, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county was the proper person to be at the head of the Territorial Association. May I read from the report of what then took place? I said— What I would rather like to elicit is whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to give a Lord-Lieutenant at any rate the refusal of the honorary presidency, or whether they desire to preserve to themselves the right of refusing even an honorary presidency in certain cases. Thereupon Lord Elgin, who spoke for the Government, said— It was the, intention of the Bill that, the Lord-Lieutenant should be appointed in all cases in which that would be at all practicable, the only reason for putting in the reservation being that there might be cases in which it was inexpedient or inconvenient for the Lord-Lieutenant to act. Obviously if that were so the decision must rest with somebody, and His Majesty's Government thought that, on the whole, this being a scheme for military defence, it was better to put upon the Army Council the responsibility of giving or withholding approval. The end of that discussion was that some words which my noble friend behind me had moved were not accepted, but we did accept the words "failing him"—that is, the Lord-Lieutenant—at the suggestion of Lord Portsmouth, who was then Under-Secretary of State for War. That is the history of the case.

It is now desired to alter the law, and to alter it in such manner as to dissolve the intimate relation which we desired to see between the Lord-Lieutenant and the presidency of the Territorial Association. That is, I think, a very considerable change, and my only doubt is whether the change which His Majesty's Government propose is not really one which goes beyond the necessities of the case. There was, as we all know, a leading case which attracted a good deal of attention the other day, and of which I venture to say, concurring with the noble Lord opposite, that the manner in which it was conducted, between the two parties was entirely creditable to both of them. A solution of the difficulty has been found, and now it is desired to prevent a recurrence of a similar difficulty. The noble Earl admitted that these cases were likely to be extremely rare, and I would put to him whether, in order to provide for cases so rare, it as desirable to strike what looks like a blow at the connection between the Lords-Lieutenant and the County Associations.

The Lord-Lieutenant is responsible for the recommendation of deputy lieutenants, and I believe that quite lately—I shall be corrected by some of my noble friends if I am wrortg—the Lords-Lieutenant received a circular in which it Was put to them in very unambiguous terms that in future all deputy lieutenants were to hold office because they were persons likely to have special opportunities of promoting the success of the Territorial Associations. This shows to my mind how necessary it is that the Lord-Lieutenant and the president of the Territorial Association shall be one and the same person. The noble Duke suggested that the difficulty might be met in some other manner, and the suggestion which I venture to make to noble Lords opposite is that as this cannot really be such an extremely urgent matter, the discussion of the Bill might be allowed to stand over and be resumed after we have had time to consider at our leisure the effects of the proposal put forward by the noble Earl.


My Lords, of course if the noble Marquess opposite makes that appeal we are really not in a position to resist it, and therefore we must give way, although I know my right hon. friend was anxious to have this matter settled. The noble Duke suggested that it might be possible to make it a condition of the appointment of a Lord-Lieutenant in certain cases that he should not act as president of the County Association. That seems to me to place a very invidious duty upon the Government of the day. It had occurred to us whether that course could be taken instead of the one we have adopted, but it certainly does seem to me that to exact from a Lord-Lieutenant on his appointment a promise that he will fail to act under the Ace of Parliament is a rather anomalous and inconvenient course to take. Of course, it is possible to do that, but it seems to me to place both the Government of the day and the man to whom the office is offered in an invidious and disagreeable position. It is perfectly true, of course, that these cases may not be very numerous, but when they do occur they are extremely important; and in the particular Lancashire case to which reference has been made the effect upon the Territorial Force there, connected with one of the most successful of County Associations, would have been, I am informed, very great indeed. I understand that there would have been something like a general resignation of all the people concerned in the promotion of the Territorial Force there, and that is a prospect which naturally my right hon. friend, however great his respect may be for Lords-Lieutenant, could not regard with equanimity.


Does the noble Earl mean that this consequence would follow the fact that the Lord-Lieutenant became president, or the fact that as president he would take an active and leading part in the management of the Association?


If a Lord-Lieutenant is appointed and is president of the County Association, what part he will take will be within his discretion, unless the expedient suggested by the noble Duke were adopted of, as a preliminary, exacting from the Lord-Lieutenant an honourable obligation that he would fail to act.


Not fail to be president, but fail to act; that is all.


If the noble Duke will look at the Act he will see that it is assumed all through that in ordinary cases the Lord-Lieutenant will be the president. Obviously it could not be to the interest of the Army Council to appoint any person other than the one to whom, in the particular circumstances, the duties ought to be entrusted. It is hardly to be supposed that the Army Council would go out of their way to appoint someone else to make the scheme a failure. In the great majority of cases I have no doubt that the Lord-Lieutenant would be the active chairman of the Association. However, I do not know that it is worth while labouring the matter further. If the noble Marquess desires to have it postponed, postponed of course it must be.


To put myself in order I move the adjournment of the debate.

Moved, that the debate be adjourned—(The Marquess of Lansdowne).

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned sine die.