HL Deb 21 April 1909 vol 1 cc617-20

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is one of those Bills which have to be passed before a certain date. It is necessary that this Bill should become law by the end of the present month, and therefore as time is running rather short, we had to put down the Second Reading without giving what I think the House would consider sufficient notice. I am afraid that the putting down of the Second Reading for to-day must have been rather inconvenient to the House, and therefore I would suggest that this stage should be taken formally, and that such discussion as may be necessary should take place on the Committee stage. I would then, if the House wished, make a general statement on the proposals contained in the Bill. If your Lordships agree, I propose to take the Committee stage on Monday, thereby allowing more time for noble Lords to consider the contents of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read2a (Lord Lucas.)


My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord who represents the War Office made an apology to the House for the shortness of the notice which has been given of the Second Reading of this Bill. I quite understand that, in the circumstances, the War Office should desire to press the Bill forward, but I have no doubt that had it been possible for longer notice to be given the attendance of Peers interested in military matters would have been a great deal larger than it is this afternoon. The Bill is by no means the formal Army (Annual) Bill to which we are used. It contains, as the noble Lord well knows, a considerable number of entirely new proposals, and although the Bill itself is in appearance a short and simple measure it is quite clear, if you look closely at it, that owing to the number of existing provisions which it repeals its effect is much more far-reaching than one would at first suppose. To understand the intricacy of the Bill you have to look at the Memorandum which the War Office has very properly laid upon the Table, in which the repealed provisions of the law are enumerated. That is a Memorandum which covers nearly sixteen pages of closely-printed matter. I am also glad that to the Bill itself is attached a short resume of its principal provisions. Some of them are, at first sight, rather of an alarming character. I mean, for example, the provision from which we learn that the bulk of the powers now enjoyed by the Secretary of State for War are to be transferred to the Army Council; but I understand that what is intended really is to bring the law into conformity with the practice which has arisen, and which, in fact, has prevailed ever since the Army Council came into existence, and that there is no intention of depriving the Secretary of State for War of any part of that full responsibility which now rests upon him for everything that is done at the War Office.


Hear, hear.


I am glad to have obtained the assent of my noble friend to that. With regard to other proposals in the Bill, I have no doubt that the suggestion of the noble Lord the Under-Secretary is one which will be for the convenience of the House, and that we had better discuss the details of the Bill when we go into Committee. There is, I notice, an important provision dealing with billeting. as to which I would only say at present that I can quite understand that, in cases of emergency such as those which the Bill contemplates, it should be necessary to provide the military authorities with powers considerably in excess of any which now belong to them. The same may be said of the clause under which power is taken to impress vehicles of all kinds. As to provisions of that sort, all I will say is that I believe the people of this country are entirely ready to submit to any sacrifice of convenience and to accept any exceptional and abnormal arrangements which may be required in the interests of the efficiency of the military forces of the Crown, provided the circumstances are really circumstances of emergency such as those which the framers of the Bill have in contemplation. I certainly desire to raise no objection to the further progress of the Bill. I hope the noble Lord will not put down the Committee stage until the beginning of next week.


If it will meet the convenience of the House, I propose, as I have said, to put the Committee stage down for Monday next.

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