HL Deb 14 November 1912 vol 12 cc949-56

*THE EARL OF DARTMOUTH rose to move to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House the recruiting areas originally allotted to the various counties for the raising of the Territorial Force should not be affected by any extension of county boundaries not contemplated at the inception of the scheme, in view of the fact that on those areas the proportion of the Force to be raised by each county was calculated, and that in those areas the respective counties have up till now been recruiting."

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this matter arises out of the Act which was passed last year extending the boundaries of Birmingham. That Act has had a considerable effect on the recruiting areas of three counties—Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire. Handsworth, which was in Staffordshire and now goes to Warwickshire, is a very important district, and in that area we raise four units representing three different kinds of arms—one Infantry, two Army Service Corps, and a Field Ambulance. I would remind your Lordships that under the original scheme the country was divided into six principal commands, and within those six commands were ten grouped regimental districts in which various counties were placed. Each of these grouped regimental districts had its full proportion of the various arms—Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery of various sorts, Engineers, Army Service Corps, and so on. To each county, of course, was allotted the proportion of the Force it was supposed to be able to raise; but the passing of the Extension of Birmingham Act and the transfer of Handsworth to Warwickshire has, as I say, considerably affected Staffordshire.

One point to which I should like to call particular attention is the fact that it was from a letter written by Colonel Brade from the War Office on August 21, 1912, we received the first intimation that the various County Associations were to deal with this matter themselves. I think I have reason to complain, because the Royal Assent was given to the Birmingham Act as long ago as June 2, 1911, and realising to the full that we in Staffordshire would be considerably prejudiced by the passing of that Extension Act I went myself to the War Office nearly two years before the Act came into force to call their attention to the fact and to beg them to take some steps to prevent any possible friction between the counties in consequence. In his letter Colonel Brade refers to the fact that a strict adherence to regulations would require the transfer of the administration of the units to the Warwickshire County Association, and in order to avoid unnecessary disturbance he suggested that we should make arrangements with the Warwickshire Association. That was, as I say, the first intimation we received that we would have to deal with the matter.

I would like to ask the representative of the War Office what would have happened supposing there had been strict adherence to the regulations and supposing we, as we would have been perfectly justified in doing, had declined the responsibility of raising four units in another county. Why, our action would have dislocated the whole of this scheme. Because if you look at the position you will find that Staffordshire is in the sixth grouped regimental district. It marches on the west with Salop and Cheshire, which are in the fourth grouped regimental district, and on the south with Warwickshire and Worcestershire, which are in the seventh. Therefore if we had declined the responsibility there would have been four units, representing three separate arms, transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire, which means that the sixth grouped regimental district would have been representatives of three arms short, while in the seventh grouped regimental district these arms would have been duplicated, which would have entirely destroyed the original scheme, and, I gather, would have made it impossible to carry on. I may say that, as far as Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire are concerned, we have arranged our difficulties, but it has given us a considerable amount of labour, and what I wish to avoid in the future is that it should be left to the respective counties, with all the possibilities of friction, to adjust these matters. I ask in my resolution that the War Office should take upon themselves now to say that no future extension of boundaries shall affect the recruiting areas.

I have had a correspondence with the Secretary of State for War, and there are one or two points in the right hon. gentleman's letter on which I would like to dwell. The Secretary of State says that as the boundaries of Warwickshire have been changed by the Act to which I have referred the sphere of the Warwickshire County Association would, if we took no action, be correspondingly increased. That is exactly what I complain of. It is owing to the inaction of the War Office that the Warwickshire area has been increased and that we proportionately suffer. They left action to us. I suggest to your Lordships that it is not our business to re-arrange recruiting areas. Staffordshire and Worcestershire are very much in the position of the children of Israel in the land of Egypt. In the first instance the genial Pharaoh, who now graces the Woolsack, came down to us and said, "Here is your tale of bricks which you have to complete; the straw will be provided for you to complete your tale." We completed our tale; and then the War Office come down and say, "That, is all very well, but you must keep up your tale of bricks, but we will not provide the straw." That is, I submit, putting us in an unfair position.

The Secretary of State referred to the fact that it would not be fair to Warwickshire to issue orders that they were not to recruit in what was strictly their own area "until we have heard their views." With regard to hearing their views, I suggest that the time to consult the various localities is when the areas are first allotted. There would have been no unfairness to Warwickshire in this instance if that had been done, for Warwickshire and Staffordshire were the first two counties in the whole of the country to complete their establishment. I suggest that the unfairness is not to the county which acquires extra recruiting ground, but to the county which loses it. Another point which was made by the War Office was that they were often attacked for issuing orders without consulting the wishes of the local authorities. There, again, the same argument applies. The time to consult the local authorities was when the original scheme was first introduced.

I urge the noble Lord who represents the War Office to meet me in this matter. I would point out the great tendency there is for the extension of large centres of population. It is happening all over the country, and it is very possible that before long in Staffordshire there will be another question of the extension of an area which may affect the county boundaries, and very possibly it may occur in a locality where there is no room for two Associations. But if the War Office will undertake to do what I suggest there will be no feeling of injury to any one. The trouble comes when you have two neighbouring counties competing for an area where there is not room for both to recruit. This is easily avoidable if a settlement is made before the difficulty arises. We accepted certain responsibilities under certain conditions, and it is not fair to ask us to carry out those responsibilities when the conditions are entirely changed. I beg to make the Motion standing in my name on the Paper.


My Lords, in the first place I should like to express regret that the noble Earl who has just spoken should feel himself aggrieved in this matter, and I should like to say, on behalf of the Secretary of State, that nothing could possibly be further either from the desires or from the intentions of the War Office than to cause any grievance to one who has worked so whole-heartedly and in so disinterested a way for the furtherance of the interests of the Territorial Army. I hope, therefore, that if there may appear to have been a disagreement the noble Earl will not think that the services he has rendered have been in any way lost sight of. Before dealing with the specific questions which are before the House, I may also say that it is the earnest desire of the War Office to avoid causing any unnecessary friction between County Associations. That is an object which they would always have in view.

On the general question, as the noble Earl has stated, the legal position is quite clear, and is as follows. Under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act an Association may be formed for any county, and a county for territorial purposes coincides with the administrative county; and by an Order in Council of March 19, 1908, Section 59 of the Local Government Act of 1888 was applied to the Territorial Force, thus providing that any changes in county boundaries authorised in pursuance of that Act would be recognised for Territorial Force purposes. Accordingly the area within which an Association is appointed to exercise its powers legally alters with any alteration of the county boundaries, and the reasons for this are not far to seek. The whole basis of the territorial organisation being by counties, and Associations being appointed to represent county interests, it is quite obvious that any wide divergence between the areas of County Associations and the areas of administrative counties would tend to confusion and overlapping, not only between neighbouring Associations, but also between the Associations and the civil county authorities. But while legally the County Association area follows the civil boundary of the county, it is at the same time open to the War Office to direct, on administrative grounds, that particular functions of the Association should be exercised over an area which does not coincide with the county boundaries. In particular the War Office may issue directions as to the areas in which Associations should be allowed to recruit, but these directions are matters of administrative convenience and do not affect the legal position.

The recruiting areas allotted to Associations being co-extensive with counties, when a change of county boundaries takes place it is then for the Army Council to decide how the units and detachments of units in the affected areas are to be raised—that is to say, whether they shall remain under the administration of the Association out of whose area they have passed or whether they shall be transferred to the Association into whose area they have passed. It is the view of the War Office that each case where there is a disturbance of county boundaries the case must be considered on its merits, for while, on the one hand, it is obviously necessary to preserve as far as possible a county basis of organisation, at the same time it is inexpedient to disturb existing conditions where such disturbance can be avoided. Such cases as these involve an infinity of local considerations of convenience, of prestige, of local sympathies. Therefore before giving a decision in such matters the War Office hold that it is absolutely essential that the views and wishes of the Associations concerned should be ascertained. They do not consider that it would be possible to lay down in advance a general rule for all future cases of change of county boundaries. That is to say, a general rule which would give no consideration to changes of population or of local conditions.

With regard to the particular case of the Birmingham area, in 1910 the Local Government Board made a Provisional Order for the enlargement of the boundaries of the borough of Birmingham, and as that borough is reckoned within the county of Warwick the effect was to transfer certain districts from Staffordshire and from Worcestershire to Warwickshire. The Bill was passed in June of last year, and the first communication, I believe, that was received direct from an Association by the War Office was in the middle of December of last year. A considerable delay then occurred owing to certain difficulties in collecting the necessary facts, and also the War Office were of opinion that, while it was obviously necessary that a decision should be come to in due course, it was not specially necessary for hurried intervention so long as no difficulties arose between the Associations. But having collected these facts it became evident that the general principle hitherto followed, that Associations should administer all the operations of units within their own county areas, was contravened in several instances, and that such contravention was likely to lead to confusion in administration generally and particularly in recruiting. Difficulties were also foreseen to be possible through the overlapping of civil representatives of Associations on the question of police jurisdiction, nursing committees, National Reserve registration, and other points, all of which points, in the opinion of the War Office, would be much more obvious to those actually concerned in the local administration than they would be to the War Office. Therefore, before deciding whether any transfer of units should or should not be made, a letter was sent to the three Associations concerned pointing out the position under the Act, and asking them to confer and to recommend a solution which would be mutually satisfactory. This solution, I understand, has actually been arrived at in the present case. But as regards the whole position of the matter the point of view of the War Office is that in these questions the local conditions can only really be properly ascertained by obtaining the views of the various Associations concerned, and it is, therefore, essential that the Associations concerned should in the first instance consider and discuss the matter to see whether any arrangement could not be come to. Obviously if no arrangement could be come to then the War Office must take such measures as appear necessary, but at the same time they would assist in every way the County Associations in arriving at some conclusion.

With regard to the actual Motion on the Paper, the War Office feel that they cannot tie their hands for the future, but must preserve the right to decide a matter of administration in accordance with the merits of each case. While it is only logical to preserve as far as possible a close co-relation between the county areas and the recruiting areas, as the whole organisation of the Territorial Force is based on counties, at the same time practical considerations of administration may make it undesirable in special cases to interfere with pre-existing recruiting arrangements. I fear that the Government are unable to accept the Motion of the noble Earl as it stands on the Paper, and I venture to think that possibly your Lordships may hesitate in accepting the Motion in view of the fact that you would thereby be binding yourselves to retain indefinitely the same recruiting areas as were instituted, in the original Act. I do not know whether j the noble Earl might think it worth while to alter his Resolution and with the object of placing on record the protest which he has made. If it would meet his views to alter it by omitting all the words after "scheme," and inserting the words "without consultation with the County Associations concerned," then the Government would be quite prepared to accept that amended Resolution. But as it stands the Government would have to resist the Motion.


I hope my noble friend will allow me to thank him for the full and clear explanation he has given, and I hope he does not think that I merely raised this question on personal grounds. I raised it because it is a matter which affects the Territorial Force generally. I own that the announcement which the noble Lord has made that the Territorial Force Act was put under the Local Government Act, 1888, does alter the circumstances, and I do not know that I should have raised the question at all if I had been aware of that. I endeavoured as far as I could to find out what Acts did affect the Territorial Force, and that is one which was overlooked. Therefore I am quite willing to adopt the noble Lord's suggestion and omit all the words after the word "scheme" and accept the words which he proposes in their place. I make the Motion in that form.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the recruiting areas originally allotted to the various counties for the raising of the Territorial Force should not be affected by any extension of county boundaries not contemplated at the inception of the scheme without consultation with the County Associations concerned.—(The Earl of Dartmouth.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.