HL Deb 22 November 1927 vol 69 cc152-72

EARL RUSSELL rose to enquire what are the exact intentions of the War Office with regard to the Surrey commons, and to ask whether their objects cannot be obtained without interfering with these open spaces. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I wish to divert your Lordships' attention for a few moments from the accumulation of dead men's funds for the benefit of the soulless Treasury to the interests of the living, and I hope to elucidate, if I can, from the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Onslow) what the real intentions of the War Office are with regard to the commons in Surrey and places near London. Your Lordships are no doubt aware that this question excites a great deal of interest and, I think I may fairly add, a great deal of apprehension, because there is a feeling that the attitude of the War Office is a little like the attitude of the wolf to Red Riding Hood. People who use and who live near these commons are rather afraid that the commons may be swallowed up and cease to be available for purposes of public recreation.

I have this advantage and this disadvantage in bringing the matter before your Lordships, that I am neither an owner of the commons nor a resident near the commons. I am able to speak merely as one of the general public who recognise that these places of recreation and healthy amusement near London are of immense importance to the health of the people, and those of us who care for such considerations are really very apprehensive as to what is going to happen. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, will join in the debate, and he is infinitely more qualified than I am to speak on the subject. He will, no doubt, be able to give your Lordships many more concrete facts than I can give. I have endeavoured by reading what has appeared in the public Press and in particular what took place when a deputation visited the War Office, to find out exactly what it is the War Office desire to do. As I understand, it is said that this open space is required for the purposes of manœuvring, chiefly, I think I am right in saying, what is called the new mechanical Army.


Not chiefly.


Well, partly at any rate, the new mechanical transport. In that connection a demonstration was given by the War Office which was very fully reported, the other day, in which some tanks appeared to have behaved very respectably on hard ground under observation and as a result of which, for one moment, I was afraid the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Midleton) had been squared by the War Office; but I hope your Lordships will find to-day that that is not so. It was reported that one unfortunate incident took place. A tank was asked to pivot and I think The Times, in describing what took place, made use of the words "disastrous in its results," by which I suppose The Times meant that the tank did completely turn up and destroy the ground round about it. I was not there, but I gather that was what was meant. First of all, no doubt the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, will tell the House why this extension of the War Office powers is necessary, why new powers and new land are necessary for their operations beyond what has sufficed in past years. Secondly, he may be able, though I doubt it, to reassure your Lordships and, what is more important in this connection, the general public as to whether in fact these commons will remain available as places of recreation. The War Office, strange as it will no doubt appear to the noble Earl opposite, is not universally trusted by the public, and its operations, for instance at Lulworth Cove, have not endeared it to the public or made the public feel that they are particularly safe in its hands.

I have seen an instance which has struck me rather forcibly as showing what I might call the mental attitude of the War Office. There is a common—the Portsmouth Road runs through it—called Bramshott Common, which was occupied by a camp during the War. That camp has disappeared for seven or eight years. The whole common has been dismantled, so far as the débris of the camp are concerned, for at least five or six years and that common is speckled with notices signed by the War Department saying no person is to trespass upon this land. It is still in possession of the War Department. They use it for nothing so far as I know. I do not think the noble Earl will be able to say it is being used for anything. You never see any soldiers upon it. There is this open space with a notice or it, which I hope the residents disregard, saying that no one may trespass upon it. What is the explanation of that sort of attitude? If the Surrey commons are to be acquired, I should be glad to know from the noble Earl whether it is suggested there should be complete purchase of the commons and what guarantee have we that the same sort of thing will not take place?


It is the rights of the Lords of the Manor that are to be purchased.


That is the only thing purchasable. But will that include the power to close the commons to the public?




I hope not. I suppose the new Manœuvres Act will enable them to close the commons for the few days of the Army manœuvres. I am sure the House will be glad to learn, and I am quite sure the London and Surrey public who are interested in this question will be very glad to know, to what extent these commons will be available afterwards as places of recreation and to what extent their amenities will be destroyed. The noble Earl will forgive me if I say that general assurances as to the small effect upon their amenities may still leave some people—I should not like to say myself—suspicious as to the state in which these commons will be after this occupation.

I have a second branch to my Question in which I have asked whether it is not possible that land for this purpose should be acquired elsewhere. There are many areas in England much less densely populated than this area. I know that negotiations have gone on between those who are represented by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Midleton) and the War Office, but whatever those negotiations may be and however they may result, still they will issue in some interference and perhaps some considerable interference with these commons. I should like to ask why it is necessary that these commons in the Home Counties should be taken when there are large tracts in the eastern part of this country and elsewhere which are thinly populated and in which, surely, suitable areas could be acquired even for the operations of this mechanical Army. Is it absolutely necessary that the whole of our Army should be concentrated at Aldershot and that the whole of their training should take place at Aldershot? Your Lordships will remember that when Aldershot began it was a long way from London comparatively and was not a densely populated area. But those things have changed in the last fifty years. Aldershot is now almost a suburb of London, the area around there is fairly thickly populated and the population is increasing every year. It is a district that is used as a breathing space for London, and is it not time for the War Office to consider whether these larger operations could not be transferred to some other site?

I do put that forward quite seriously, because it is obvious, with the growth of mechanical transport, that there is a necessity for these largo manœuvre areas and that the manœuvres are much more likely to increase than to diminish. Consequently it may very easily be found twenty years hence, after the War Office have taken these commons and spoiled them, that they still will not have all the land they require. They may find also that there are too many buildings about. One would be glad if the War Office would let us know whether they have at all considered the possibility of having these large training operations in some more remote district. I wish, when the noble Earl comes to reply, he would tell your Lordships that that is so. I have only raised this Question because of the great interest that is felt in it by nearly all members of the public and because of their very great apprehensions as to what will happen if the War Office carry out their intention. I share those apprehensions to the full. I am sure that we should all be glad of some reassurance; indeed I would go further and I would say, if the War Office cannot give us some reassurance I think it possible they may find that there is very great opposition, much greater opposition than they understand to these proposals. None of us would wish that the Army for which we have to pay should be hampered in any way in its training. Obviously the Army must be trained and obviously the Army must have training ground; but the conclusion does not follow from those premises that those training grounds must be in Surrey or in the Home Counties. I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name.


My Lords, I was not aware that my noble friend opposite was likely to bring up this Question until a few days ago, and in one sense it is not an opportune moment to do so because we have not yet actually been able to put before the War Office what I may describe as our final terms upon which this question can in our opinion be settled. On the other hand, the interest the public has taken in this question is so great that I feel I ought not to delay in putting before your Lordships and the public what is the present position as nearly as I can state it. The noble Earl said he was very much afraid, speaking as one of the public, that from what he had heard I had been squared by the War Office. It is true the War Office did put a good deal of pressure upon me at my tenderest point. Having been really the first Minister for many years who bought land for the War Office for manœuvres on a large scale there is no question upon which I feel so sensitive. I am bound to say that having regard to the large issues involved, I am like the governor of whom we read who said that as a father he was touched but as a governor he stood firm. I am afraid that I am still unshaken in my view that the first proposal of the War Office was one which could not possibly be considered from the point of view either of the landowners or of the public. I will state as briefly as I can what the position is. The War Office, I believe I am right in saying, own and have complete control of about 30,000 acres in Surrey and parts of Hampshire. Of these 30,000 acres about 12,000 are used for rifle ranges and about 18,000 are available for manœuvring. Of these 18,000 acres Surrey has contributed during my lifetime 8,000 acres by the sacrifice of Chobham and—


Chobham? That belongs to me.


Why, my noble friend's father sold a good deal of it.


It belongs to me, really.


I am afraid I must ask my noble friend to look up the facts. My recollection is that some land which formed part of his traditional acres was sacrificed, let me say, by his predecessor for the good of the country. I was rather hoping he would take the line that he was willing to make a sacrifice which I was not willing to make. Unquestionably Surrey has already made an enormous contribution to the manœuvring area of the troops. The land that remains, on which the Government have put their most unrighteous hand, consists of about 3,000 or 4,000 acres which, as the noble Earl opposite observed, are in a most thickly populated district, which touch upon a number of houses at various points and which are practically the nearest point at which Londoners or people living in the rapidly-increasing towns round about—Guildford, Godalming, Farnham and so forth—can find their recreation.

I hope my noble friend will not mind my saying that while I think the Government scheme was wrong I think their methods were worse. Every effort was made to bring the owners to consent to sell what in my view should not be sold practically under duress. An agent went round to the owners and tried to induce them to sell. He went to one of my neighbours, said: "Lord Midleton has sold and therefore it is no use your standing out," and tendered him a document to sign. He refused. I of course had refused. He then said: "Well, we shall have to take it from you compulsorily, and you may not get so good a price." As regards the question of compulsion, one reason why we have not yet been able to present our full case to my noble friend is that I believe the Government have no power whatever to compel owners to sell for manœuvres. When I was at the War Office it was ruled for me that, though the Act of 1842 was available when the War Office wanted to take sites for ordnance for the defence of the country, it was not available when the War Office wanted to take sites for manœuvring. At the beginning of the War, when the War Office seized upon this common, I went to the officer in charge on the spot and asked: "Under what Statute is this done? I am ready to give up anything to the War Office, but I should like to know under what Statute it is being done." He said: "I admit that under the Statute we cannot do it." But he turned over a page and said: "Under the Defence of the Realm Act anybody who obstructs the Commanding Officer may be removed from the district. Therefore I am afraid you will have a very poor time if you object." I admit that that was a very proper course in the circumstances.

What was it that the Government proposed to do in the present instance? They proposed to keep this land from January 1 to December 31, to encamp troops, to put up what they call tem- porary buildings, cook-houses and so on, trenches for the use of the troops and all the other appurtenances of a camp. These temporary buildings, they said, might be removed during the winter, but of course they scar the whole place so that it would be perfectly useless—all the amenities would be destroyed. Beyond that they proposed to bring there lorries, tanks, artillery, and in fact to make a second Aldershot. I believe that even since this public outcry the Government have by some means induced the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire to sequestrate on their behalf, by some power which a Lord Lieutenant possesses, a very considerable tract of country for the purpose of manœuvres. I am afraid there is no doubt whatever that the intention of the Government was to make this district the sort of Sahara that Aldershot is, with roads in many places a hundred yards wide, with the heather completely destroyed, with the trees pulled down and with all the effect of fires which must take place when you have troops manœuvring, halting for lunch, throwing lighted cigarettes away, and so on. I can tell your Lordships that on the commons with which I am connected, and which have been lent from time immemorial for certain days to the troops, a fire on one occasion lasted a whole day and devastated hundreds of acres. It was fed by nearly three thousand blank cartridges which had fallen out of the men's pouches and ignited as the fire spread. That is the reason why, although we are most anxious to do all we can for the country, we could not contemplate this appropriation by the War Office.

What is the alternative? I have put it before the War Office partially and I should like to say generally what we are prepared to do. Firstly, we take it to be quite reasonable that instead of having to ask each year for the permission which landlords have given in the past, but which any of them might decline to give, there should be a definite period, reasonably short but reasonably long, for the brigade training which is desired, for which the commons should be lent by the landlords to the Government. Secondly, encampments should take place on freehold land which the Government have already bought and where the amenities of the public would not be affected. Thirdly, after the demonstration last Saturday week I am sure that all who saw it were impressed by the extent to which mechanisation is now used in manœuvres—tanks sent first of all to stir up the enemy, tanks following brigades, six-wheelers bringing up troops. We believe that if this is done only in the broad expanses that are really used for the manœuvres and if the spots nearest to the houses, where the greatest damage would be done, are put out of bounds, the manœuvres would not be impeded and less harm would be done to the surface of the commons. We feel also that there should be an appropriate clause as to reinstatement where real damage has been done.

I have spoken only in the most general terms, but I am trying to show your Lordships that we are anxious to give any reasonable facilities that we can for the training of the Aldershot Division. We believe that the considerations urged by the Secretary of State and the Commander-in-Chief at Aldershot are reasonable in this respect, that the troops require fresh ground and that the end of the brigade training ought not to be carried out on the ground on which they have been throughout the year. We will facilitate this by every means in our power, but we are not prepared, for six or eight months in the year, to see the ground occupied by all the Territorials who now come to Aldershot and do not know the ground, while the public are practically debarred, except on Saturdays and Sundays, from the enjoyment of the areas over which they have roamed freely in the past.

That is our position. We deprecate the transfer by purchase and we do not support the completely revolutionary proposals of which my noble friend has unfortunately to stand sponsor, and with which, I am quite certain, he is as unwilling to oppress his neighbours as anybody could be. I wish to say here and now that to my mind, after the public feeling that has been shown and, I may add, after the readiness that has been shown by the landowners to try to meet the Government half-way, this proposal to exercise powers which it was never even known that the War Office possessed, and with which I doubt whether Parliament would ever invest them, to take large tracts of country in the middle of the most crowded districts just outside London by compulsion, should not be approved. I hope we shall hear from my noble friend this afternoon that this proposal has been wholly abandoned. I will only add that the people of Surrey and the landowners are anxious to do whatever lies in their power to further the necessary training of His Majesty's Army.


My Lords, I only want to say that the noble Earl who has just spoken seems to me to have made a most reasonable suggestion, and I should be glad if the noble Earl opposite will refrain from giving a "Yes" or "No" to it straight off, but will consider it carefully. I wish to add that the Aldershot Command is in a peculiar position. It has been suggested in the course of this debate that we might take the troops for this mechanical training to some other Command. That is not so. In Aldershot you train two Divisions—not one, as in the other Commands—and there is not building accommodation elsewhere for the troops of two Divisions. Therefore I think you must always look to Aldershot for that perfection of training which is the main element in your Expeditionary Force that you require for efficiency. But that does not apply to the Territorials, and there I would agree with the noble Earl. It is very convenient to take the Territorials to Aldershot, and they like to go there, but there are other Commands in which the Territorials could be trained and, if their training at Aldershot involves the continued use of this land, I should say that it is better to train them elsewhere.

That is all I wish to say. I am well aware of the difficulties, but I am also pretty sure that by a little tact and care on the part of the War Office this very awkward question can be got over. It is for the noble Earl opposite and his advisers to consider whether they cannot meet the case along the lines which the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, has suggested, avoiding the purchase of land, avoiding unnecessary interference and at the same time providing the training for the two Aldershot Divisions that is essential if those Divisions are to be kept in the condition that is desired.


My Lords, I wish very briefly to support the noble Earl who raised this Question and the noble Earl, Lord Midleton. I do so because for many years I represented a constituency in South London, and I doubt very much whether your Lordships know what a very strong feeling exists, more especially amongst the working classes of London, about what is taking place throughout the country, where people are being deprived of those open spaces of which for generations they have been used to avail themselves. I recognise, as an old soldier, the absolute necessity of having manœuvring grounds, but it seems to me that it should be quite possible for the War Office, after careful consideration and without undue haste, to arrange for such manœuvring ground as is absolutely necessary for these new mechanical arrangements which have come into being in the Army.

I quite understand the feeling of the noble Earl as to the need of manœuvring grounds, but surely it is possible to make other arrangements, seeing that everything in the Army is now being changed, that the day of Cavalry has gone by and that we are to have to some extent a mechanised Army. Before many years have elapsed it must become necessary to have a special training ground for these new mechanical operations and my suggestion is that the War Office should take steps as soon as possible to acquire the necessary ground, which can be obtained elewhere at a very much lower price, for that particular purpose, and not to encroach further upon the open spaces in Surrey, Sussex and Hants, which are badly wanted for our ever-increasing population, more especially in London.


My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, and those who have spoken on this Question in defence of these commons. I have known the commons all my life, and I am speaking as a representative of that unhappy class of people who are unable to play golf through lack of skill and cannot take much exercise in other ways. These commons are probably the most suitable for walking exercise anywhere within reasonable distance of London. Those of us who know Surrey well know how many parts of it which at one time were available for walking purposes are now simply cut up by buildings of all kinds. London is steadily spreading and it has now reached the North Downs which are forming some kind of barrier, but we still felt that in South Surrey there were open hills and plains left. Now we understand that the War Office is to attack the Surrey open spaces in another direction. At the present time there are, I believe, only three places in Surrey—I will not mention their names—where it is possible to take a three hours' walk without retracing your steps and without getting on the roads, and one of these walks is on land connected with this Question. I hope, therefore, that Lord Midleton and those who are concerned with this matter will press the War Office strongly until that Department is prepared to recognise the value that people have attached for so long to these open spaces.


My Lords, I was somewhat horrified to hear from my noble friend opposite that the War Office was regarded with distrust. I had always been under the impression that the War Office was regarded as a most trustworthy Department, and I hope that he is mistaken. He asked me what the exact intentions of the War Office are with regard to the Surrey commons, and whether its objects cannot be attained without interfering with these open spaces. I will try to reply, perhaps at a little length, but I hope that he will accept what I say as as full an explanation as I can give of the matter. With reference to the figures, I think my noble friend behind me is not entirely correct in the figures which he gave. Our land at Aldershot and Bordon does not consist of the acreage which he gave, but of about 26,000 acres, the bulk of which was acquired between 1855 and 1880. A great deal of it, of course, amounting to 7,500 acres, is occupied by buildings, such as the Staff College and surrounding land, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and barracks and other necessary accommodation for troops. In addition to those 7,500 acres, 6,500 acres are rifle ranges, and so we get only 12,000 acres altogether continuously available for field training.

I say continuously available, because, of course, when you are not shooting you can use the rifle ranges to a certain degree. The reason for the necessity of obtaining or wishing to obtain further training ground is due, firstly, to the increased range of weapons, and secondly to the increased mobility of all arms, due, as the noble and learned Viscount opposite said, to mechanism. Then, consequent on the fact of the increased range of weapons and the increased mobility of all arms, you must have wider ground for training the junior officer, because the junior officer is left more to himself and therefore you must have more extended area for training him. As we look back to the time when the area at Aldershot was acquired, in 1855, the practical range of infantry was only about 300 yards—the Brown Bess was the rifle in use; the Enfield had not been invented—and artillery had only a tactical range of about 1,000 yards. My noble friend behind me might say: That is all very well, but since the South African War the tactical range of infantry has not very much increased. That is practically true, but the tactical range of the rifle is now 1,500 yards and of artillery 6,000 yards at the very minimum, and nearer 8,000 yards, and it may be increased shortly to considerably more. That gives very great necessity for an extended area. Another thing which also makes it necessary to increase the size of your areas is the increased size of danger zones consequent upon the increased ranges, and so you reduce the amount available for tactical training.

Then take mobility. Until quite recently the man on a horse was the standard of mobility for the Army. He was the fastest thing there was. Now, of course, the standard is the petrol engine, and so the distance which took you hours perhaps to cover now may take merely minutes. For that reason also further space is required. Then there is another point. It is necessary, obviously, to use different ground during your successive training periods. Obviously it is a farce to carry out unit and brigade training on the same ground as squadron and company training. It was suggested that you could use land elsewhere—that you could go elsewhere for unit and brigade training. That is a very expensive and unsatisfactory system, for if you have a late season and crops are late you cannot get your training carried out at all. This year, for instance, brigade training was carried out away from Aldershot and owing to the late season it could not be carried out properly. You could not carry out any training on non-Government land, used for cultivation in any way, during the months of June and July.

My noble friend opposite, who raised this matter, asked why it was not possible to go somewhere else and acquire land elsewhere. I think the answer to that was given by the noble and learned Viscount opposite, when he said why it is necessary that troops should be trained at Aldershot. The number of troops at Aldershot is in actual numbers, I think, a trifle less than pre-War, but there are more units there now. We have sunk a very large sum of money in Aldershot and it is really impossible to move the troops elsewhere, because the cost would be enormous. There are also military reasons. Aldershot is a very central place, near the ports, and it is impossible to give up the buildings there and leave them derelict and go elsewhere. As noble Lords know, we have incurred large expense at Catterick, which takes the place of the Curragh, and I think your Lordships will see that there are enormous advantages in not removing the troops altogether from Aldershot.

It may be said, again, that the commons have been used in the past by agreement with the landlords, as required. I should like to say, here and now, that there is no desire to minimise the debt of gratitude which His Majesty's Government feel that they owe to the patriotic spirit of those landlords who have afforded military facilities for training; but of course we all know that the ownership of land is a commercial proposition, and it is not reasonable to expect that landlords will be content to forego some source of income from their commons, if they are able to obtain it. This very natural and proper action on the part of the landlords has brought about a progressive contraction of training facilities on non-Government ground in the past. For example, landlords wish to let or preserve the shooting, as on Slab and Warren Commons and Broxhead Common, or they wish to establish golf links, as, for example, on Hankley Common. This restriction of user is bound to continue as the military necessity for an extended area for training purposes increases. As I have explained we feel bound not only to acquire the freehold land available but also to acquire the right to utilise the commons. It is impossible to acquire sufficient freehold land for training purposes, unless, indeed, we were to take up agricultural land, but I do not think your Lordships would wish to do that. So if the proper training is to be carried out at Aldershot, the possibility of training over the commons seems to be the only course which is open. The noble Lord opposite mentioned Bramshott Common and he told me a serious tale. I have taken steps in the course of the debate to make inquiries and find what he says is true. We cannot keep people off Bramshott any more than off any other common and we do not want to. The boards referred to, I think, must be relics of War occupation.


No, the boards did not appear until three years after the Armistice.


Then I think they are a work of supererogation. Anyhow I can give an undertaking that they will be removed. Perhaps they ought not to have been there. Perhaps they were put there by a very zealous person, and if they were put to warn the public off I think we can say that they will be removed. I am glad the noble Earl has drawn attention to them. The commons that would be affected by the present proposals are Thursley, Witley, Royal, Ockley, Hankley and Frensham—these are in Surrey—and also Passfield and Broxhead in Hampshire. The manorial rights in Kingsley, Shortheath and Slab, in Hampshire, are already in the hands of the War Department.


Can the noble Earl give the total area?


I am afraid I have not the figure. Does the noble Earl mean the freehold land plus the commons?


Yes, the total area of the whole proposed to be acquired.


I think it is between 3,000 and 4,000 acres. That is the figure given to us.


I will try to find out. I have not the figure here. Now I come to the question of the periods of training. From March to May squadron, battery and compay training takes place, when the troops train close to barracks. June and July are the training periods for Cavalry regiments, Artillery brigades, Infantry battalions and brigades. That is the time when it would be most necessary to have a change of area, and when the commons would be most useful. In August the areas are very little used, as the troops are engaged in shooting, and there is not much training done. In September the Aldershot troops are as a rule absent in other training areas. That is the time for divisional and inter-divisional training, and they would probably be away. In winter there is no training of troops, but parties of officers and non-commissioned officers carry out tactical training without troops.

Your Lordships have heard to-day from the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, the proposals which he is going to put forward. They were new to me when he stated them. As your Lordships are aware, the whole thing has been matter for consideration by a Committee. As a result of the deputation headed by the noble Earl that Committee was appointed, representing all the interests, the landlords' interest, the lords of the manor, various public bodies, like the National Trust, and the War Office. At the present moment I cannot give any information as to the result of its deliberations, because no result has yet been arrived at. Indeed, what we heard from the noble Earl was the first concrete intimation which has reached us. The noble and learned Viscount advised me not to give a definite answer, and I shall not be able to do so anyhow, but I should like to say in general words that we are prepared to enter into suitable covenants to use the commons in such a manner as will not destroy their natural amenities, not to cut down trees, not to dig permanent trenches, not to erect buildings other than temporary shelters, and to give the public access to the commons when they are not being used for military purposes. That is what we are ready to do. Having discussed the matter fully with the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, and the other interests represented on this Committee, we will, of course, give the most careful consideration to the proposal put before your Lordships to-day.

Mention has been made of a demonstration which took place on land at Aldershot which was selected as being as similar as possible to the commons. That land at Aldershot was dry; we do not often get it so at this time of year.


There were 14 degrees of frost overnight.


The noble Earl must really excuse me; we did not control the weather and, although the Meteorological Department of the Air Ministry is extremely good, I can say there was no hanky-panky about it. We did not consult the weather; we chose a Saturday, as a matter of fact, for the convenience of noble Lords and Members of Parliament. On that occasion, as the noble Earl has told your Lordships, manœuvres were carried out by one-man tanks, light tanks, heavy tanks, and infantry in six-wheeled lorries. Both the heavy tanks and the six-wheeled lorries went over a plantation of young trees (it was out of bounds, but this was an experiment) and I was very much surprised to see how very little damage was done. Then the noble Lord opposite referred to the tanks turning. What happened was this. A tank is not allowed to turn in that manner. That is forbidden; but, as an experiment, one of the heavy tanks turned on its own axis twice round—what is called waltzing—and it did, as a matter of fact, scrape up the heather. There was a round place, and naturally you could see it. But I think everybody will agree that it is very extraordinary what little damage the track vehicles do, and I believe the pressure to the square inch from the track is only about 7 lbs. If you had a horse limber it would do very much more damage, although it is very much lighter. I do not want to lay too much stress upon this, but, as the matter has been mentioned, I thought I would tell your Lordships what occurred.

Now I come to a subject on which I ventured to have a slight difference of opinion with my noble friend behind me. That is the question of Chobham Common. It is true my father sold a small portion of Chobham Common. I wish he had sold the whole; but he did not, and at present the arrangement is that the Brigade of Guards go there and use the common. I asked my noble friend, who is not in his place at the present moment, whether he had used vehicles there, but he has not, so I cannot speak as to that. I dare say many of your Lordships are familiar with Chobham Common. Except at Queen's Clump, there are practically no trees, and it is mostly open heather, so that, of coarse, the question of trees does not arise. But there is the question of fire, which was referred to by my noble friend behind me. I have several other commons round Chobham, and we have a great deal of trouble with fires, but I can safely say that, when fires do occur, it is not the fault of the troops, and I would very much rather that fires occurred on Chobham Common when the troops are there than when they are not, because they break off what they are doing and set to work to beat out the fires. It is part of the arrangement. So the enormous numbers of troops on Chobham Common—I am speaking from my own experience—are far less dangerous than the mildest-looking nurses and children, especially at tea-time. As far as fires are concerned, the troops are an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

The Army Council recognise that any encroachment, however small, on open spaces is to be deprecated, but what are we to do when we live in a small country with an increasing population, and a population whose mobility is constantly increasing as well? The right rev. Prelate referred to the fact that he likes to go out of London and to enjoy a walk in the country on days when he is not overwhelmed with business at home; but the right rev. Prelate, I should imagine, goes by motor transport. So does everybody who wishes to enjoy the commons and open spaces round London. They could not have done that a few years ago. Whereas the people now go to Witley and Thursley or to the New Forest, they would have gone a few years ago to Hampstead Heath and could not have gone further. So as the population increases its mobility increases, and the desirability of preserving all these amenities increases as well, and at the same time, with the mechanisation of the Army, there is the consequent necessity of an extended area for the training of troops. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, I am glad to see, fully concurred that there must be an extended area for such training. What happens is that the Island is small and people want to use more parts of it than they did before. The alternative to utilising the commons is that we must either not train the Army—and I think nobody would suggest that—or we must utilise common land or buy agricultural land. Those are the only three alternatives, and I think the utilisation of common land is probably the least expensive.


The right to buy common land?


The right to go on it. I do not think I ever suggested anything more than that right. I do not want to prejudice that because my noble friend has made certain suggestions, and I am sure your Lordships will all agree that it would be more suitable that he should argue them before the Committee appointed for the purpose than in your Lordships' House. I agree that every possible safeguard should be introduced to ensure that the military user of the land should interfere as little as possible with the public amenities and the public welfare. I should like to quote the case of Frensham. The land there has been used for many years and I do not think the amenities are unduly affected.

I am very much obliged to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for raising this Question because it is not one that can be settled without publicity. A deputation was received by my right hon. friend, who told them very much what I have just said to your Lordships, and the publicity given to the matter by the Question of the noble Earl, the remarks of my noble friend behind me and other noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships, will be most valuable. The considerations put forward by my noble friend Lord Midleton will be placed by him before the Committee which has been set up. If the noble Earl, Lord Russell, wishes for further details and will put a Question on the Paper at a later date, I shall be glad to give them to him; but I am sure that he will not ask me to discuss the pros and cons of the matter at greater length at the present time.

The noble Earl also asked me a question that I am able to answer regarding the area of the land which it is proposed to acquire for additional training grounds. The area is 5,600 acres, of which 4,400 acres is common land and 1,200 acres is freehold land. Of that area 1,100 acres of common land and 200 acres of freehold land are in Hampshire, while 3,300 acres of common land and 1,000 acres of freehold land are in Surrey. Those are the figures regarding the land proposed to be obtained for further training facilities. The figures I gave in opening my observations are of the land already held. I think that is really all that I can tell your Lordships at the present time. I believe that I mentioned that the other training centres, Salisbury, for example, and Catterick, are already occupied.


My Lords, before we leave this subject I ought to thank the noble Earl opposite for his very full and frank reply. I hope it will be some satisfaction to him to know that after hearing what he has said and what the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, has said, I shall leave this question with some hope that a good and successful agreement may be come to on this matter.

House adjourned at a quarter before six o'clock.