§ 4.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE rose to call attention to the continued retention by the Service Departments of areas in this country taken over temporarily for the purposes of the late war, thus depriving the inhabitants and the public of the rights and amenities which they formerly enjoyed in those areas; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I make no apology to the House for raising this question again. As your Lordships will remember, just before the House rose for the summer Recess we had a debate on the continued failure of the Service Departments to derequisition land taken over for training purposes during the war. We had an interesting and illuminating discussion. It showed beyond all manner of doubt that the Service Departments are still holding on to numerous areas, although in many cases they have given an absolute undertaking to the inhabitants that these areas would be restored as soon as the emergency was over. And some of these areas are of first importance for the preservation of the amenities of the people of this country.
§ On the occasion of that debate, as the House will remember, the Government spokesman was the then Under-Secretary of State for War, and the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, had a most unenviable task. He did his best. His reply was both full and courteous, and he deserved (and I am sure received) the full sympathy of the House. Yet the fact remains that it was a most unsatisfactory reply—so unsatisfactory, in fact, that I was obliged to warn the noble Lord and the Government at the end of the debate that we should return to the attack at an early date and, if necessary, press the matter to a Division. Since then, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has passed to another sphere, and has handed over this most unattractive baby to his successor, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. I had intended to put down a Motion for a date immediately after the meeting of the House after the Recess, but, very naturally, I was asked by the War Office 284 to hold my hand. The noble Lord will remember that the then Secretary of State for War was, unhappily, ill, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was absent in Canada, so that neither of them had had time to give full attention to all that the question involved. In those circumstances, of course, I agreed immediately to postpone my Motion.
§ In recent weeks, however, I have come to the conclusion that it is not possible for this matter to be neglected any further. Since the last debate, on July 4, nearly six months have passed, and so far as I know there has been very little improvement in the position. Indeed, in some ways the situation has definitely deteriorated. It appears that the Service Departments are now casting covetous eyes over new areas, including some (such as Ashdown Forest) which are among the most beautiful and interesting in England and, what is more, are among the most important for the general population if the amenities of the country are to be preserved. This is not a Party question. It is a national question; it affects all Parties alike, and I think it right that your Lordships should concern yourselves with it before any final decisions are taken.
§ Everyone has his own special area about which he speaks with personal knowledge. As your Lordships know, I have in the past expressed my concern with regard to the west end of the Isle of Purbeck. At some length I have urged reasons why this area should be derequisitioned, and I do not want to weary your Lordships by repeating in different words what I have said before. I would, therefore, remind the House, quite briefly, of two conclusive reasons why (to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan) "this beautiful area should be returned to the purposes for which nature ordained it." The first is a consideration of a general character, which affects all those who have at heart the preservation of our national heritage. By common agreement, Purbeck is one of the most lovely and unspoilt stretches of country in the south of England. It is very small but it is perfect. Before the war, it was visited yearly by many thousands of town dwellers, who there found rest and mental refreshment from their labours.
§ There is evidence that this is no local question, affecting a few hundred people, 285 in the fact that Wareham and Purbeck Rural District Council have the support of the National Trust, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Holiday Fellowship, the Co-operative Holidays Association, the Cyclists Touring Club, the Royal Institute of British Architects and many other national bodies. Nor is it, I would repeat again, in any sense a Party problem. When it fell to my lot last year to lead a deputation to the then Secretary of State for War, one of the most prominent members of the deputation was a noble Lord who now sits on the Government Benches; and I may say that that noble Lord spoke in so forceful and vehement a manner that I was quite nervous of the effect which his remarks would have on the War Office authorities.
There is another aspect of the matter which is, to me at any rate, equally important, if I may say so. That is the undertakings given to local inhabitants. This, too, raises very broad national issues, for it involves the whole good name of the British Government. In this connexion, I should mention that last week I received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who is to reply to the debate do-day. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his courtesy in writing, and even more grateful to him for saying that I might make what use of his letter I wished. This is what his letter says:
I have been looking at the Hansard report of the Motion on July 4 on training areas, and I see that you have mentioned that assurances were given to the people of the Isle of Purbeck that they would be allowed to return after the emergency was over. I find that the War Office is very concerned over all these alleged promises.
I would emphasize the word "alleged."
An examination has been made of the circumstances in which the west end of the Isle of Purbeck was taken over, and I am now informed that no promises whatever were authorized and, to the best of our belief, none were made. The area to which you refer seems to be what we call Studland, the eastern portion of the Island, because, you mention that it was taken over in 1942 and the War Department land agent confirms that definite promises were then made. Studland was afterwards handed over to the Admiralty and it is now awaiting derequisitioning as soon as the blinds have been cleared. East Holme"—
that is the west end of the island—
was requisitioned as an entirely separate transaction a year later, in 1943, and the same War Department land agent, who was again present, and who has produced the orders issued at the time, stated that no promises whatever were made.
I do not in any way blame the noble Lord personally for that letter. He is not responsible for what happened in the past, but I must confess that this seems to be a most extraordinary attitude for the War Office to take up.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD PAKENHAM)
May I interrupt the noble Viscount? I am sure that the noble Viscount will recognize that I take full responsibility for anything done by the War Office.
I recognize that the noble Lord takes responsibility for what is done now. I am going to quote what happened in the past, for which the noble Lord personally does not have any responsibility.
No less than two years ago the Wareham and Purbeck Rural District Council published a document entitled "Isle of Purbeck. Wareham and Purbeck Rural District Council Representations." That document was published for the purposes of propaganda. It was intended that as many people as possible should see it. This document said:The evacuation arrangements were carried out by officials sent by the Regional Commissioner and the Ministry of Health with the help of the officers of the Wareham and Purbeck Rural District Council and volunteers from the local W.V.S. As directed, they explained to the persons evacuated that this was a war emergency measure necessary for the winning of the war.Those words "winning the 'war" were based on a proclamation issued by the Major-General in Charge of Administration, Southern Command, on November 16, 1943. The Rural District Council document went on to say:It was never suggested to any of the evacuees that there was the remotest possibility that they would not be allowed to return to their homes when the war was over and indeed it was explained that in carrying out the necessary military exercises no intentional damage would be done to the buildings by tanks or otherwise.No exception was taken by the War Office or the representatives of the War Office to that statement in subsequent debates.
There is much more to come. Some months later the Wareham and Purbeck Rural District Council issued a further publication which gave the following information: 287All the tenants were informed by the War Department Land Agent that if they so wished, their tenancies would be maintained and the notice served on each of them contained a statement.I have obtained, fortunately, a copy of that statement. It was dated, I should say, November 30, 1943. It had nothing whatever to do with the Studland area requisitioning. It was signed by an officer of the War Department Land Agent's Department at Wareham. It was headed—to make things absolutely clear—"East Holme Training Area," which is the west end of the island. I do not wish to quote the whole letter to the House but I should like to quote the relevant portions:When the War Department has no further use for the property and it is handed back, you have every right to return to the property. It should not be assumed by you that, because the War Department has turned you out, you lose your right of occupying the premises again… If, however, having been moved out, you have no desire to return, you will have the right to disclaim your tenancy or lease under a recent Act of Parliament, which is known as the Landlord and Tenant (Requisitioned Land) Act, 1942… Of course, if you are a service tenant and the house goes with the job, then I am afraid you will have no right to return to the property unless, of course, your previous employer re-employs you when he goes back.Could any of the inhabitants form any conclusion from that letter than that they could expect to go back?
Finally, if I may give one more quotation, in the last debate, on July 4, in answer to an interjection by me the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, then stated specifically—I have already given a portion of this quotation:But I can certainly say to the noble Viscount that we should regard the finding of an alternative site to Purbeck and the return of that beautiful area to the purposes for which nature ordained it, as amongst the first of our priorities.Under those circumstances, what possible use is it for the War Office now to put forward the claim that no undertakings were given to the people of this district? It seems to me so preposterous a suggestion—if the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will forgive my using that word—hat it can only prejudice their position both in this House and in the country. Yet now they come forward with "permanent requirements"—I have seen a copy of these permanent require- 288 ments—as if they had given no assurances at all. I do beg them to face the fact fairly and squarely that these undertakings have been given, and the question I want to ask the noble Lord is: When are these undertakings going to be honoured?
I have dealt particularly with the Isle of Purbeck. I have no doubt that there are other noble Lords in this House who will speak with regard to other areas. I would, however, before I sit down like to say something of the more general issues involved, because, as your Lordships know, my Motion is not confined merely to the Isle of Purbeck. We, in this House, are a responsible body. It would be quite unworthy of us—I freely admit—if we took up an irresponsible attitude. We must clearly recognize the complex problems here, because there are complex problems, which face not only the areas themselves, but the Service Departments, too. They have been given the task of ensuring the defence of our country and of fulfilling our international obligations, and they must, we freely recognize, have somewhere to train their troops. I do not think there is any difference of opinion about that in any part of the House.
Where I have been sceptical and where I remain sceptical is whether this problem has ever been given what I should call balanced consideration, so as to ensure that the most suitable sites should be chosen from the point of view not merely of the Service Departments themselves but of the population of this country as a whole. All Government Departments, we know, are apt to take a departmental point of view. This, I think, is especially true of the Service Departments. They are apt only to consider what is most convenient for them without reference to the needs of the rest of the population. I do not altogether blame them for this. After all, they are bound to put the administration of their own Service first. But it is a fact which the Government and Parliament are bound to bear in mind.
I should like to give an instance of what I mean out of my own experience. During the war I was given for my sins the very invidious job of allocating doctors as between the Services and the civilian population. I must in all fairness say that the War Office on this particular matter were rather more helpful than the 289 other Service Departments, but broadly speaking, the attitude of all of them was exactly the same. They insisted upon the full establishment of doctors not only for the fighting men and for the men who were abroad—and there was no difference of opinion about that in any quarter—but for the young, healthy and well-fed men and women on the home establishments. That meant—I am going to try to give a figure favourable to the Service Departments—that they got about one medical officer for every 300 men or women as against something in the neighbourhood of one doctor to 1,700 among the civilian population, and that included children, old people, pregnant women, and factory workers working often under difficult conditions. The civilian population only got about one to every 1,700, and there were terrible cases where doctors were looking after 4,000 citizens, or were responsible for them. But nothing that could be said to the Service Departments would make them see how unequal that balance was. They were concerned with their own Service and would not look any further.
In view of this and other cases of which have no doubt other noble Lords have heard, I am sure that the House will not be surprised if I feel a little suspicious when I am told that this problem of requisitioning areas has been carefully considered. Has it been considered, I would ask, from the angle of the Services or from every angle? Has the possibility, for instance, been examined of training in Germany, on the Luneberg Heath, which was one of the main training areas for the German Army before the war? Has the possibility been considered of training 'n the Dominions? We were reminded I think by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in a recent debate, that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff made a statement in a speech to a senior officers' school. The quotation is from the issue Of The Times of August 7 of this year. He said:There is no intention—and there never has been—of training British troops in the Dominions. Basic training and such unit exercises as are needed to practice the use of weapons and the co-ordination of services will continue in this country.I would like to ask whether that is a Cabinet decision or whether the C.I.G.S. was merely expressing his personal view. I hope we may have an answer to that question. If it has been decided by the Cabinet that all United Kingdom troops 290 in future are to be trained within the boundaries of the United Kingdom, has full consideration been given by the Government to alternative areas which do not involve moving populations?
I am told there are a great many of the moorland areas—the noble Lord will no doubt confirm this—which are unsuitable for training owing to their boggy nature. We all of us appreciate that difficulty, but has the possibility been explored of moving artillery ranges, which are not affected by the same considerations, from such places as Salisbury Plain to those moorland areas and using Salisbury Plain, where the ground is hard, for tank training? I fully realize that a change of that nature would take time and would involve considerable expense. It would obviously have to be a long-term policy and could not be done in a moment, but has it even been considered?
Then again, take the lank ranges, where I understand the guns fire out to sea. Is it necessary to choose as a foreground places like Purbeck and Harlech, which are famous and accessible beauty spots? And, so far as the sea itself is concerned, is it necessary to choose the most populated parts of the seaboard to the constant danger of fishermen and others? Noble Lords will have read in the newspapers—I think it was in The Times or some other newspaper—the most pathetic story of a man who was bombarded with his small family on a peaceful trip between Weymouth and, I think, Bournemouth. I am told that in the Harlech area the shells very often fall quite close to the beach at Portmadoc. Could not some more remote place be found for tank ranges?
Then there is another point which I would like to put to the noble Lord who is going to reply. Have the Service Departments taken into account considerations of general town and country planning? I am informed by the Standing Committee on National Parks that no less than seven areas which have now been scheduled for training for Service Departments trench on the National Parks recommended by the Dower Report. These areas include in the Lake District 3,000 acres at Martindale. I think your Lordships will probably have read a letter on this subject by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, and the Lord Lieutenant of Westmorland, And there are 15,000 291 acres at Torver near Coniston. I mention these particularly because the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who is unable to be present, asked me to draw attention to this particular aspect of the problem. There are, however, many other areas in various parts of the country of which the same thing could be said.
Lastly, only this morning your Lordships will have seen a letter in the Daily Telegraph from the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, in which he states that a new area in Dorset has been selected by the War Office including Maiden Castle, which, as your Lordships know, is the finest prehistoric camp in the south of England, and probably in the whole of England. I know Maiden Castle, and possibly some of your Lordships know it too. It is not in the middle of a great training area; it is quite close to the town of Dorchester and only a few yards from a great main road. Surely that could be left out of the scheduled area. All these areas which I have mentioned, and many of those with which I have not had time to deal, include some of the loveliest stretches of country and coast line in the whole of Great Britain. As I have said, their preservation was regarded as essential by the Dower Report. They contain, too, in many cases some of the finest monuments. Has this aspect of the matter been considered by the Service Departments? I fully realize that the military must go somewhere, but I cannot help feeling that in these matters the military authorities—I will put it as best I can—are not uninfluenced by considerations of departmental convenience.
If I am not wearying your Lordships, there is one other aspect which should cause concern to your Lordships' House, and that is the legislative method used to acquire these areas for training purposes. As I understand the position—the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will correct me if I am wrong—there are two Statutes under which action can be taken. First of all, there are two very old laws, the Defence Acts of 1842 and 1845; secondly, there is much more modern legislation, the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945. Land can, I understand, be acquired by the Service Departments and by the Ministry of Supply (by an amendment which was introduced in 1945), without public inquiry, without the know 292 ledge of Parliament, and without any vote or control by Parliament.
Under the 1945 Act the procedure is, I understand, as follows: The Minister must publish his intention to acquire; objection can then be laid by anyone with an interest in the land or by the voluntary societies concerned with preserving the countryside or by scientific societies or by the local planning authorities; when such objection is laid, the Minister must refer his proposal to acquire to the War Works Commission, which must either hold a public inquiry or give a hearing otherwise to the objectors. If the Commissioners report adversely on the Minister's proposal, the Minister must either drop his proposal or, if he wishes none the less to proceed with it, must report on it to Parliament, and in that event, if either House passes a Resolution objecting to his wish to override the Commission, his proposal lapses. In the case of commons where these are included in the land proposed to be acquired, they can be acquired by the Minister only after a positive Resolution of both Houses.
The second method under the more modern legislation is, I submit, clearly the better procedure, as it retains the control of Parliament. I understand, however, that the Government are now proceeding under the 1842 and 1845 Acts. Why is this? As I understand it, it was suggested by the Prime Minister in another place on the 6th November of this year that where the 1842 and 1845 Acts are applicable they must be used; but he did concede that there should be consultation through the Ministry of Town and Country Planning with the local authorities and the amenities societies concerned. My information, for what it is worth, is that there is considerable legal doubt about this point, and it is held by very reputable authorities that the two Acts are not exclusive but concurrent, and that they are designed to provide alternative machinery which can be used. I would be grateful if the noble Lord would look into that particular point. Clearly the 1945 machinery is the more satisfactory of the two because, as I have said before, it retains the control of Parliament. If it can be used, I would like an assurance by the noble Lord who replies to this debate that it will be used, and if it cannot be used, surely there are 293 good grounds for some amending legislation, which would be entirely uncontroversial. I would be very grateful if the Government could examine further this point which I have put before them, I can assure them, with every desire to help.
Noble Lords may also have seen a supplementary proposal in the Manchester Guardian to-day. This proposal falls into two parts. The first is—and I think it is a very important point—that the Government should expose both to Parliament and to the country the total needs of the Service Departments. That is a thing we have never known and many of us would like to know. The second is that a Select Committee should be appointed to give informed and unbiased answers before the fate of any particular site is sealed. I think those are excellent proposals and the Government might very properly consider them.
Above all—and this is the last thing I want to say—I would return to my original point. We in this House and the Government must be concerned for the good name of the British Government. I recognize that the rights and liberties of the British people in these days are not quite what they were, but I am sure it will be the desire of noble Lords in all parts of this House that where a promise has been given that promise should be honoured. In many of these cases it is our contention that there have been undertakings to the inhabitants. Not long ago one of the people of West Purbeck wrote to me and in her letter—I am paraphrasing—there was this phrase: "We are being treated as the Germans treated the Poles."It is shameful that it should be possible for such a thing to be said with justice of the British Government's treatment of British people. I hope that this House at any rate will not condone such a breach of faith. We know these people; they are the best that this country produces, and it is up to us to see that at least they get justice. I beg to move.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD FARRER
My Lords, no one who has been lucky enough to listen to debates in your Lordships' House can help feeling nervous the first time it falls to him to address your Lordships. I can only promise to be as brief as possible. In the first place I should like to say how very lucky we are and how grateful we 294 should be that the mover of this Motion is the noble Viscount. It is true that in the course of his survey he made nearly all the points I had hoped to make—and very much better than I could ever hope to do—but I will nevertheless venture to put my two points. The first is that it is not much good trying to have a bath and to turn on the taps unless you can put the plug in the bath first. It is not only the delay in returning land which is worrying us; it is also the fact that land continues to be dented to its proper users—I am talking of common land in particular—nd nothing is found out until it is too late. In particular, the use of the Defence Acts of 1842 and 1845 is a rather unsatisfactory weapon in the year of ungrace 1946. I am not by any means attempting to urge that because an Act of Parliament is old it is necessarily bad, but in this case I think those Acts are bad on their merits. I hope that the legal method of taking away our rights in the use of commons, if you are a commoner, or in the use of your property, if you are a lord of the manor, will be put on a more satisfactory basis.
My second point is this. I believe that this question is important because all sections of opinion feel very strongly indeed about it. If you had stood beside one of the footpaths near my house which was closed during the war and watched the ramblers and other people—the poor tired typists, clerks and so on—turned sorrowfully away by festoons of barbed wire which they were unsuitably clad to overcome, I feel certain you would have been pretty angry. I feel very angry about it myself, but: I have noticed that in controversial matters it is better to try not to let the heart get entire control over what, in my case, passes for the mind. In these days when there is great doubt as to what is good and what is not, if a thing is felt very deeply indeed by our people, who are not vocal, surely that is in itself a sign that the cause is a good one. Therefore I have purposely tried not to introduce any controversial Party political issues into it. I think a word is perhaps necessary about the footpaths which, in common with land and other forms of property, have been quite mercilessly stopped up all over the country. The people's right to walk and to pass freely from place to place is a general thing common to all classes of the population. I therefore hope 295 that attention will be given to the question of removing these frequently illegal obstructions altogether.
I am afraid I have taken up too much of your Lordships' time, but my excuse for speaking is that I happen to be the honorary treasurer of an organization—the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society—which has been trying to fight this evil for a very long time. I need hardly say it has no money; otherwise if would have not have made me its treasurer! May I say that it is like a breath of sea air when people like the noble Viscount who raised this Motion come to our help?
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, I am sure it would be your wish, as it is my pleasant duty, to congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech this afternoon and to say that we wish him the best of luck and hope his voice will be heard here on many occasions in the future. The noble Viscount raised a point with regard to promises given. I am going to quote an example which has occurred since the 10th August when the noble Lord who is sitting opposite, and who was then Under-Secretary of State for War, was kind enough to write to me saying that I was wrong when I said that the tenants in a certain training area of this country had ever been given to understand that they could go back and that the undertaking was that they could go back only if and when the Army no longer required that land. Here it is, in his own handwriting. Yet, within two months, when we take up our local paper we find that the very land we have been asking to have returned to the tenants is to be handed over for use as a cement factory in the near future. I only quote that as an example of what we are going through in our part of the country. I am not insinuating anything against the noble Lord opposite, but, after all, he wrote the letter to me and I must answer him in that way.
We are dealing to-night with the question of requisitioned land. I have had the pleasure of receiving a letter and a message from the noble Lord who is going to reply. For the first time since this Government came into office he, as representing the War Office, is coming down to meet us on our own ground. I 296 can assure him that we are indeed most grateful to him and that we will do everything possible to see that at least he is very well entertained before he goes back to London. I have already given the noble Lord notice that I intend to deal with the aerodrome question at Keevil and Steeple Ashton. Here is a vast area, part of which comes under the Air Ministry and part of which comes under the Ministry of Supply. I raised certain points in the debate on July 4. I stated that this aerodrome was too close to the village. Here, may I say, I have had tremendous co-operation from the noble Lord opposite, Lord Henderson.
I said that the area was one of the worst fog-bound areas in the country, with footpaths that have been stopped, with agricultural land that could be put down to agriculture left lying derelict, and so on. It has been proved that it is the worst fogbound aerodrorme in the country; nevertheless it is still requisitioned. It has been proved that the highway path has been closed. I am so glad that the noble Lord behind me raised the question of highway paths. It has been closed, and we cannot use it. It has been proved that the aerodrome is so close to the village that whilst the pilots under the Air Ministry have been given definite orders that they are to fly at safe heights, nevertheless the Spitfire test pilots—I do not blame them a bit, because it is their job—are allowed to take any risk they like, and of course they must do so if they are to carry out the testing of aircraft. I would point out this fact. One day, because this aerodrome is so close to the village, there will be an accident and then there will be the usual votes of condolence and sympathy and so on. There may be loss of life. If there is no loss of life you will probably lose some of the most beautiful old buildings in the West of England which can never be replaced.
All these facts have been before His Majesty's Government for many, many months. In addition to all those factors, scores of workpeople are brought at the public expense every morning to work in this Spitfire factory and taken back every evening, and yet at the present moment there is a Spitfire assembly factory six miles away in the town, where it could all be done centrally. What I want to ask His Majesty's Government is this: How much longer is this expense going on? We shall probably be told that it is 297 essential and cannot be done away with at the moment. We want an undertaking now from the noble Lord opposite as to exactly what the position is, that is, so far as the Spitfire side, the Ministry of Supply side, of our aerodrome is concerned.
Now let us turn to the aerodrome under the Air Ministry. I pointed out on July 4 that the aerodrome was miles from any decent place for the personnel. It is such a vast aerodrome that the personnel required to look after it—and I do not believe I am exaggerating—would be in the nature of 200 men. I have walked all over it in the last three weeks, and I have seen every inch of it. It is quite impossible for any commanding officer to maintain a grip on that aerodrome unless he has that number of personnel. What has happened? Why, the squatters have got in in one corner. The commanding officer cannot help it, and you cannot blame him. In the other corner of the aerodrome there is nobody at all, and yet all the time this vast area, one of the finest areas in the country, is just lying there requisitioned and none of us know when it is going to be given up, if ever. If it is determined to make it into a permanent aerodrome, then what about it being the worst fog-bound aerodrome in the country? Is that going to be taken into consideration? The noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, has indeed asked for a court of inquiry. I am not going to weary or detain your Lordships at any greater length, except to conclude on this note. I trust that the noble Lord opposite will this time tell us quite definitely that before any decision is taken on these requisitioned aerodromes, or on any other land requisitioned by the Ministry concerned, a court of inquiry will be held at which the local people may give their evidence.
§ 4.55 p.m.
My Lords, the point I would like to stress particularly today is one which has already been touched upon by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, which is the disadvantage of having no procedure whereby local authorities can express any views on the proposals, or indeed any procedure whereby they can learn what is proposed. After all, local authorities have considerable responsibilities nowadays and they are growing. Among these responsibilities is the duty of preparing complicated town-planning schemes, and providing in them 298 for the preservation of amenities and for open spaces. Whatever the legal position may be I am convinced that town planning simply will not work if Government Departments are going to pursue policies regarding land quite independently of the local authorities and, to some extent, independently of each other.
I do not wish to exaggerate this point because I know that some measures of co-ordination have been taken, but it is perfectly true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has said, that the Government last year issued the Dower Report to stimulate thought about national parks. In that document there was no mention of any likelihood of the military or Service Departments requiring any of the areas therein mentioned. But a cynically-minded person might perhaps conclude that the only use to which that Report has been so far put is to help the Service Departments in the choice of training areas. I know that since that Report was issued, the Service Lands Requirements Committee has been set up to co-ordinate the requirements of the Service Departments with the policy of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and I know that conflicts of interest will be settled on a very high level. Therefore, the apparent lack of co-ordination in Whitehall is now, I hope, at an end. But I still maintain that this Committee has not so far evolved any satisfactory procedure for sounding local opinion, and I submit that they ought to do so.
Some mention has been made of Ashdown Forest, about which I happen to know something. That is an area of several thousand acres, a large proportion of which is common land administered by conservators under a private Act of Parliament. Further, it is covered by a town planning agreement under Section 34 of the Town Planning Act t6 protect it as an open space and to preserve it from building. During the war this area was requisitioned and, of course, no kind of objection was made because of the emergency. Moreover, any fears that commoners might have had were largely allayed by a letter from the War Office to the conservators, saying that there was no intention of'claiming it as a permanent training area.
Despite all this, arising from inquiries made by my noble friend Lord De La Warr, it transpired not very long ago that 299 the military authorities had designs on this area as a permanent training area. Naturally there was a good deal of local indignation, and what is now becoming an almost standard routine was adopted. Protests were made by the local authority, letters were written to The Times and deputations were sent to the Ministry concerned. Eventually this agitation did produce some very useful conferences and the possibility of modifications to this scheme were explored, which might be of considerable value to the local people if they were adopted. Naturally, we do not want a scheme at all, but if we are overruled there is still the possibility of improvement. I certainly cannot complain, and neither I think can anybody else, of the lack of co-operation or courtesy either on the part of the military authorities or on the part of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, after this agitation had been started. The fact remains that had it not been for these inquiries made by my noble friend Earl De La Warr, I doubt whether the local people or the local authorities would have heard anything about this until a decision had been taken. I may be wrong, but that is certainly what appears to be the case.
I do feel that this method of doing things is, to say the least, very untidy. My suggestion is that whenever Service Departments or any Government Department want to requisition land, or derequisition land, or do anything that is likely to affect the preparation of a town-planning scheme, the Joint Executive Town Planning Committee should be informed in detail, through the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, of what is proposed. No decision should be taken until their comments have been received. I stress this point because it is possible to requisition land under certain assurances and then change all the conditions under which the assurances have been given.
This procedure would not, I agree, take the place or fulfil all the purposes of a local public inquiry, but it would at least ensure that publicity based on accurate information would be given. It would also ensure that the planning authorities would be relieved of the uncomfortable feeling they now have that only by the exercise of particular vigilance will they learn of developments which may make complete nonsense of everything they are trying to do. Whatever objections may be made 300 to a more elaborate form of public local inquiry, I cannot see what conceivable objections there can be to the suggestion I have made, except possibly in the very rare cases where some security consideration prevents it.
This is only a minor point of procedure, and it will do nothing to solve the major problem. This major problem is how to combine the great extension of military training areas now contemplated with the idea of preserving the country and the idea of national parks. I do feel that something can be done to alleviate the general feeling that, great as these problems are, there is no real reason why they should be solved by methods which may be quite acceptable in times of war but which are certainly not acceptable in times of peace.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, so much has been said on this subject that I think very little remains for me to say. We are all deeply grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for introducing this Motion, and I do not think any evidence is needed that this is entirely a non-Party and non-political Motion. We only had to see the obvious sympathy that was accorded the noble Viscount's speech from the Benches opposite, and certainly by us on this side of the House, to realize the extreme difficulty and complexity of the subject. There is really a very great national problem here before us, and a very great national issue is at stake. The problem is that there is just a steady depletion of the few open spaces that are left to us in accessible areas, and with all of us, whether we are in the Government or not, there does lie an extremely heavy responsibility to see to it that no more of the open spaces are taken without a very, very strong case of national necessity and expediency being made out.
At one time I had the honour of being associated with the Board of Education, and there was there no development we welcomed more than the development of the hiking movement and the youth club movement. This showed that the young of this country were increasingly wanting to take their holidays in the countryside. This country does not lack holiday facilities—holiday camps, seaside resorts, and so on. Some of us like to take our holidays at Blackpool and Margate, others like to go to open spaces. It may be that 301 those who choose the open spaces are very much fewer than the others, but I think we all feel that they are an exceedingly important section of our people.
I want to say a word with particular reference to Ashdown Forest. It has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. I think perhaps I ought first to declare my interest as lord of the manor, though noble Lords who have been lords of the manor of these commons will realize that the income from them is not a very large one to declare. Here -we have an open space that has been common land for over 700 years. During the seventeenth century inroads were made 'upon it, and, as a result of protests in 1693, a Chancery decree was issued stabilizing the amount of land that was to remain common property. This area is very close to London. Motoring down from the West End it is, I suppose, thirty-five miles, but, with the way in which London is stretching out now, it would be more accurate to say it is only fifteen or twenty miles from the boundaries of London to-day. I am afraid I can hardly speak of it at the moment as a beauty spot, such have been the depredations, but it really was inexpressibly beautiful in its natural state.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, has said, there are important' discussions in progress at the moment with representatives of the War Office, and I am glad to say they are hopeful discussions. I certainly would like to say to your Lordships that we could not possibly have had more help or courtesy from the representatives of the War Office in these discussions. They are under orders, of course, but as individual officers they have shown every desire to meet the feelings not only of our local people, for whom we are speaking, but also our feelings as safeguarding a national property in the vicinity of London.
But there are two general points—I think they are general—that I wish to raise. They arise from specific experience in dealing with matters relating to Ashdown Forest. One of them has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. Unless it had happened that at some time in or about, April of this year the noble Lord had mentioned quite casually to me that he thought it might be wise to try to make some inquiries about the intentions of the military authorities with regard to 302 Ashdown Forest, none of us, not even the town and country planning committee of the County Council, of which the noble Lord is Chairman, would have known about this matter. As the result of that casual conversation, I spoke to Lord Nathan in the corridor of this House. I asked him what was happening. His reply was of such a Parliamentary character that I felt it was; better at once to enter into a form of negotiation with him. I wrote him a letter. His reply to that letter was, of course, quite vague except for one or two phrases which were sufficiently definite to be disturbing. As I say, that is the only way in which any of us, including the members of the town and country planning committee of the County Council, got to know anything about what was likely to happen to Ashdown Forest. I said that I thought this was a general point, and I imagine that this is a question relating to the general machinery which would apply to other areas.
On the second general point, I confess that I feel strong doubt. This point also is with regard to Ashdown Forest. I am very hopeful that we are going to be able to come to a reasonable compromise. Certainly we, representing those who live in that area, are anxious to be as helpful and as reasonable as possible. But suppose it is possible to come to terms with the War Office with regard to what I call a limited user of the forest. Shall we say that an undertaking is obtained from the War Office that track vehicles will not leave the main roads and that live ammunition will not be used? Suppose we are able to come to an agreement of that kind; what guarantee are we going to have that in three or four years time when there is, perhaps, another C.I.G.S. or, possibly, other national requirements, the whole arrangement will not be upset? We have been told 'that these age-long rights can be ruthlessly overruled by reference to the Act of 1842. I am rather inclined to question that, and I am going to give the reasons why I do so. But once that has been said by the authorities, that means total destruction of confidence in any form of security whatsoever.
I do not think I am revealing anything confidential when I mention that it was suggested that we might be satisfied by an Army Council letter. But if three Acts of Parliament can be thrown over 303 what is the use of an Army Council letter? Actually, I very much doubt—and I have taken some legal opinion on this—whether in fact the Act of 1842 will give the War Office exactly what they want in regard to Ashdown Forest. It was not until 1885—and that was later confirmed in another Act of 1937—that the public were given their rights of access to this common. I do not profess any legal knowledge at all myself, but I have been told that it is most unlikely that an Act of 1842 can be used to overthrow rights accorded to the public in 1885 and 1937. I have no doubt that the noble Lord who is going to reply on behalf of the Government has legal advice at his disposal, and perhaps he would like a day or two to look into the matter.
But I do not raise this as a legalistic point at all. We are deeply anxious to help the War Office for, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has said, ultimately they are servants of the public and we have entrusted to them the exceedingly onerous job of protecting us. I do want to emphasize, however, that it is no use our entering into agreements with the War Office for limited user if, at any moment, the Government claim full right to take anything they want. Before we can agree, therefore, to any weakening of the position, the Government must state the form of guarantee they can give to us as to the permanent limited user of the forest for these purposes. The rights of the commoners and the rights of the public are, at present, defined by Statute and it is my firm opinion that if there is to be any modification of these rights now and any further protection given in exchange for that modification, it must be in some statutory form. I repeat that we are dealing with an area of land that has been at the disposal of the commoners, and later of the public, for over seven hundred years. We are dealing in centuries. Therefore, I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest that if any concession is made we should make that concession with statutory protection behind us.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than a minute or two because I think that everything which ought to be said has already been said and said with great force. Really I rise 304 only to speak in support of what has fallen from the lips of my noble friend Earl De La Warr, because he and I are interested in the same part of the world. He has much greater interest in it and much greater knowledge of it than I. I am a mere resident, a looker-on, but sometimes, as we know, it is the lookers-on who see most of the game. I will not say anything now about the beauty of the forest, for most people know all about that. I will not say anything about its nearness to London or the way in which it is used by the people of London as a holiday resort, or the great value which the commoners put upon the rights they have on the forest, spurring them almost to illegal acts if anyone attempts to interfere with them, as Earl De La Warr, no doubt, is aware. But I am very acutely aware of what has happened.
My noble friend has not exaggerated in the least the injury which has already been done to the common. Opposite the little house in which I live, there is a main road and just over that main road there is a great tract of the common about 80 or 100 yards wide, I suppose, and 200 or 300 yards long, which has been completely destroyed. Every vestige of vegetation has been torn up by tanks and other heavy vehicles, and instead of it being a beauty spot it has now become an ugly spot—and a very ugly spot at that. That kind of thing is very harassing to those who live down there but during the war we said: "This is a public necessity. The authorities must do what is essential for the defence of the country." We do, however, resent and protest against the war being exploited to enable them to do something which they would not have the slightest chance of doing in normal circumstances, without the ordinary precautions by which private property—and still more common property—is preserved for the people of this country.
I do not want to dwell too much on our grievances but, after all, this is a very serious matter. Anybody of my age, or even a good deal younger, can remember the ferocity with which the great controversy as to the preservation of commons was carried on throughout the nineteenth century. It was one of the great issues that was raised, and was pressed, on the ground that nothing must be done to interfere with the rights of the common people for ventilation, recreation and other things. It was one of the great "war cries" of 305 the Parties of the Left, that they were going to preserve the commons of England for the use of the common people. And very rightly.
Now we have a Government, for which I have a great respect, which belongs to the Left, and they are the people—of all people—who are leading the attack on the common rights of the people of this country. It is really incredible that it should be so! I venture to say that, in the circumstances described by my noble relative, the way in which the attack has been made makes the matter more acute. There are two possible procedures which could be adopted for the Service Departments to carry out their wishes. One is to have a public inquiry, and at any rate some degree of control by Parliament. The other does not require anything other than lettres de cachet signed by the Secretary of State for War. Unfortunately, although no doubt they were advised by their technical advisers to do so, the Department have adopted the second process. I think that is going too far. I. am most anxious, as is everybody in the district where I live, to do nothing which will interfere with legitimate requirements for defence, but before the Government do such an outrageous thing as to deprive the common people of their commons, they ought in each particular instance to establish their case by public inquiry…It should be done with the assent or the approval of Parliament, either by Resolution or Act, as may be thought right. That is really an essential, and I hope we shall hear from my noble friend Lord Pakenham, who is extremely reasonable in this House, that the Government are prepared to make a concession of that nature. Then, so far as I am concerned, I shall have no serious complaint in the matter.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD HARLECH
My Lords, I think it is only right that somebody from Wales should take part in this debate, after a large number of members have spoken for different parts of England, because in Wales the increasing rapacity of the various fighting Services for the beauty spots is now growing far beyond what it ever reached at its peak in the war. We are told that 22,000 acres of the Pembrokeshire coast are to be taken. Only last week, we heard a new proposition, that the whole of the coast from Towyn 306 to the Mawddach estuary, with the slopes of Cader Idris, was to be taken exclusively for training, and that the public were to be excluded.
If make bold to refer to my own neighbourhood, Harlech, may I ask what is the position there? We have had visits from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. I have written long letters to the late Secretary of State but I can get no effective reply. Sometimes the military are there; sometimes they are not. The place is full of rumours. The County Councils of Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire continue to pass resolutions against the continued use of Harlech, and the exclusion of the public from the beach. Rural district councils, societies for the preservation of rural Wales, articles in the Manchester Guardian, have all brought nothing but silence from the War Office. We do not know where we are, but periodically we hear rumours from some local Colonel that they are going on with their schemes, that plans for permanent buildings are being prepared. Every now and again a new party comes down, goes away again, and leaves the place empty; then they start up again.
Our general case is that the authorities ought not to take places like the beauty spots on the coast of Wales without a public inquiry, and without putting their cards on the table before they act. This secretive, grasping policy by the military authorities has really got to be stopped. The case of Harlech raises the whole question of the future of the slate trade, because the continued use of Portmadoc harbour is endangered every time there is firing there. How that problem is to be solved, I do not know. It is most unfortunate that the military authorities, and other Service Departments, wish to take over these coastal areas. Nobody in North Wales has ever complained of the Trawsfynydd artillery range. Nobody would complain of many of the upland, inland areas being used; but do remember that thousands—nay millions—of people go to the Welsh coast during their summer holidays for the superb views of Snowdon and the like. And remember that some of these areas which it is proposed to take are scheduled for inclusion in the Snowdonia National Park, and that the National Trust have been acquiring land in these very areas. Because of the way the Service Departments have proceeded 307 public opinion in Wales is rising against any military occupation. That is undesirable and unfortunately means an absolute clash between the War Office and other Service Departments and local opinion.
It is heart-breaking—this falling back on an Act of 1842, and the way the Departments are ruthlessly taking away land, before local authorities have a chance to know what line of defence to take, and what arguments can be marshalled. I hope that the noble Viscount will press this matter to a Division, unless we are given more satisfaction on this than we have had in the past. I want to appeal to the Government: if the worst comes to the worst, and these places of income parable scenic beauty and pleasure to the civilian masses of the country are taken for permanent military occupation, will the Service Departments do something to prevent the ghastly vandalism of the War Office architects? Look at Aldershot. Look at anything built in the past. The War Office will not employ civilian architects. Buildings are left to some old Sapper Colonel. English barracks in any county town in England are worse than Wormwood Scrubs and Holloway—and rather in the same style. In the past, there has been no attempt to use local materials. The War Office tradition for one hundred years has been to combine the maximum uglification with the minimum of comfort for the soldier.
If you take the beach at Harlech, will you build it of local grey stone or is it to be like Camberley? Are you going to perpetrate the atrocities of military architects, which have too often been perpetrated up and down the country? Because if so, you are going to make permanent eyesores in places which inspired the genius of the great English water-colour painters responsible for several pictures of the finest views of the mountains of North Wales that exist. These pictures are to be found in the National Gallery. I do appeal to the War Office to follow the lead of the Air Ministry who, when they built Cranwell, took the advice of a civilian architect, and did not build a place like Sandhurst. They built a decent building and gave consideration to the comfort and amenities of the people who were to work there. Really, with the War Office tradition in all these matters, if you suggest amenity and architectural beauty you are 308 regarded as namby-pamby by the "Blimps" responsible for the planning of War Office cantonments in this country. It is tragic. The tradition of the War Office in all these matters is one which is rightly feared. The rules with regard to the use of material, planning and layout which apply to other people must apply also to the War Office.
Godspeed to the Minister of Town and Country Planning with his green belts and his beautiful ideas of new towns! Will the War Office ever consult him? Will they, when they build these camps, ever consider that type of question? No. For long ages past, it has been "Hands off and leave it to the sappers." It is tragic. I appeal to the noble Lord who is replying tonight to have some interest and some care for the civilian population of this country, for the historic beauty spots of this country, and not further to exacerbate public opinion, in spite of representations, by proceeding headlong with the demands of the Director of Military Training.
§ 5.35 p.m.
My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in this debate, but after listening to so many ex-Army officers telling us what a mistake the Army Council are making in requisitioning certain areas, I felt, as a naval officer, that I must say something. I have often wondered why it seems so necessary for the Army to cling to the southern fleshpots of the country rather than to carry out their manœuvres and exercises in the north. We of the Navy, when we were required to carry out exercises, were banished to Scapa Flow. Why cannot the Army be banished to Scapa Flow? I understand that the Army have almost given up the Highlands of Scotland—a very lovely part of the country. Just before D-Day, a most important part of our training was done there and it suited us very well indeed. I cannot help feeling that it would be almost a disaster if the Army were to continue to requisition more land on the south coast of England. One area facing the Isle of Wight which is now under consideration is one of the few remaining beauty spots in that district, having no extensive building and a little good agricultural land. It will be a disaster if that area is taken to be used for military training purposes when many other places could 309 be used instead. I hope that before any more land is requisitioned we shall have a public inquiry. Surely these training areas could be situated where they would cause the least inconvenience to the smallest number of people. That would be where there is a sparse population. I hope that the Army Council will reconsider this matter before requisitioning more land, especially on the south coast of England.
§ 5.37 p.m.
My Lords, it is a salutary thing to see oneself as others see one, even to see one's Department as others view it. If I may say so, it is, I suppose, permissible for the cat to look back at the King and to ask one's critics to see themselves for a few minutes as they are seen by those in my Department, and from my own standpoint. I can assure them that I am not now speaking mainly of noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, although in one or two cases I thought their criticisms were somewhat intemperate. I am speaking now of the volume of criticism and the sincere public feeling that has welled up. From our point of view, that criticism is extraordinarily ill-informed. It is perhaps true that in certain cases some hardship might arise as a result of our proposals. I do not say it always is so. But no doubt in many cases there might be hardship. I hope that noble Lords—after all, if we cannot look to this House for support for the Services, I do not know where we can look—will circulate throughout the country the general position in this matter as we are now confronted with it. I hope that even if I cannot deal effectively with all the points raised this afternoon, I shall at least leave a different general impression on the minds of most of your Lordships from the one which you had when you entered this Chamber. If I might first of all reply to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech—although I hesitate to compete with him on any subject, and least of all a knowledge of Wales—I am told that he is quite mistaken in thinking the Army is now seeking to acquire land which it did not hold during the war.
§ LORD HARLECH
May I get this right? Are you saying that the land you 310 are seeking to acquire in Pembrokeshire was occupied by the military during the war, and that in Harlech you are not going to take another acre of land which you did not use during the war?
Well, too many indications about the future have been given in the past. I am speaking only of the immediate position. I can assure the House that I am informed that neither in Wales, nor in any part of the United Kingdom, are we seeking to acquire lands which were not held by the Services during the war. I hope that the noble Lord will feel reassured on that point. If I may further reply to the noble Lord's strictures on the War Office during the last one hundred years, I would point out that I have not been that time at the War Office, and my noble friends have not been that time in any way responsible for the government of this country. Therefore, I think that those strictures on the War Office should be directed perhaps rather to the extremely doughty champion of the War Office in the past, the noble Lord, Lord Altrinoharm, whom we see to-day on the Opposition Front Bench. I can only say that I have not yet discovered a "Blimp" in the War Office, and have no reason to suppose that I ever shall.
§ LORD HARLECH
May I point out that the "Blimps" are not in the War Office. They are the chaps responsible for those awful buildings. They have never seen the War Office in their lives. They are some Army contractors away in the provinces who build so horribly.
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
Since the noble Lord has referred to me, I must say that I have frequently expressed the same opinion as Lord Harlech about War Office buildings.
Well, we shall always listen to guidance on aesthetic matters from both the noble Lords who have spoken. I can assure noble Lords that, in my recent experience, in discussing this matter with soldiers at the present time, no one resents more than the ordinary Army officer the suggestion that he is a vandal. I say that deliberately from this House. A good deal of resentment has been caused, and in my opinion, rightly caused, among regular Army officers, who in a great many cases were 311 brought up in the country, at the suggestion that they are blind to the beauties of the countryside. I think it is only right to make that statement.
May I turn to the extremely thoughtful speech of the noble Viscount who initiated the discussion? There are a number of general questions which it seemed to me ran through his mind and through the minds of other noble Lords. If I may, I will deal with them in the main body of my remarks. I should like to reassure the noble Viscount on one most important point, and I am sure he will regard this as very comforting and heartening. There is no intention at the present time of allowing these important decisions of principle and detail to be taken finally by the military authorities acting alone. They will be taken by Ministers in their corporate capacity, after what seems to us to be the most careful inquiry possible.
Is it the intention that the decisions should be referred to Parliament, or that they should be taken by Ministers without reference to Parliament?
That would be a matter for the Ministers, but of course the Ministers' decisions would always be subject to Parliament, as is habitual under the Constitution. But they would be taken on the authority of Ministers after the most careful and expert inquiry open to us.
I am afraid I cannot give a guarantee as to the precise form in which they will be presented to Parliament, but I should be immensely surprised if decisions of this character taken by Ministers were not debated very soon by both Houses.
It is rather an important point whether Parliament is to know anything about it before or only after the decisions have been taken. If a decision had been taken and Parliament was then informed it would be very nice to know about it, but it would not really be constitutional.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
When the noble Lord says that the Ministers would present their proposals to Parliament, does he mean that they would not proceed under the Act of 1842 but only under the more recent Act of 1945?
I am coming to the Act of 1842. When I was indicating the precise way in which Ministers would act I was relying rather on my general knowledge of the Constitution. What I can assure noble Lords is that decisions will be taken by Ministers on expert advice, and it will be for Parliament to insist on getting the discussion it requires.
I wonder whether the noble Lord can explain if this committee of Ministers will be a permanent committee, or is it going to decide only questions which are now being put by noble Lords in regard to the areas to be immediately acquired?
Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to proceed a little further, because I think I can enlighten them about our attitude more easily that way. The question of a public inquiry has been raised. I am not in a position to-day to announce a final decision of the Government on that matter, but everything that has been said to-day will be most carefully studied by the Government and no doubt a decision will be forthcoming before long. I would like to suggest to noble Lords that the problem is by no means easy. It is not desirable, as I am sure noble Lords will recognize, and hardly practicable, that you should have a public inquiry in every one of the thousand cases where the War Office are seeking to acquire some land or other.
We are being pressed by noble Lords to-day, and we were pressed on the last occasion, for speed. We are told that it is essential to arrive at a decision before too long. A thousand public inquiries, if they were felt to be necessary, would hold us up indefinitely. I doubt if many noble Lords would seriously suggest that the full machinery of what is called a, public inquiry would be necessary in every single case. As regards the major and what we might call the controversial areas, the areas which appear to interest your Lordships most keenly, the matter is under 313 urgent consideration at the highest level, and while, of course, the interests of security must be preserved, because you could not in every case allow the full Service requirements and the full arguments for the Service position to be stated in public, the Government undoubtedly are far from unsympathetic to the kind of viewpoint which has been expressed by noble Lords to-day. Perhaps I might respectfully suggest to noble Lords that it is more useful to have had this debate to-day before a final decision of the Government on this particular point of a public inquiry is reached. Noble Lords might otherwise have told me that they were faced with a fait accompli. I can assure them that everything that has been said will be studied with particular care while the whole matter is in its transitional stage. I would like to repeat, as some noble Lords may not have heard what I said, that the more elaborate the machinery the longer the whole business takes. One has to balance in this matter, against civilian needs, not only security but also the arguments for elaboration and the fullest kind of hearing, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the arguments for getting a decision before too long a time has elapsed.
May I now try to present a reply to the critics in this form, because I personally have no apology whatever to make for the attitude taken by the Services. I say that, knowing that it might appeal to your Lordships more if I stood here in a white sheet, but quite frankly I believe it would be cowardly of me, knowing what I do, to come here and give the impression that I thought on the whole the House was right in its attitude and the War Office was wrong. I do not think any such thing, and I should be a coward if I stood before your Lordships and tried to put the blame on my military advisers. It seems to me that there are five grounds on which the War Office is being criticized so widely in this House and outside. First of all, it is said that we do not know what we want. I am speaking primarily for the War Office, because the War Office has been mainly under fire this afternoon, but my remarks apply mutatis mutandis to the other Services. We know exactly what we want. We submitted some months ago a detailed schedule of our requirements of land for training purposes, showing the 225 training areas required. If noble Lords ask why we have not 314 reached a decision, the answer is plain from what I said earlier. The questions of principle and detail raised by these requirements are being intensively studied by the Government both at Ministerial and at official levels. While I am not casting the blame on some other Department, I am making it plain that the reason why it has taken some time is because the matter is not being studied merely departmentally, as the noble Viscount feared, but is being studied in the most complete way open to the Government.
The second criticism is that the total of our requirements is too large. I wonder if any noble Lord believes that the total of our requirements is much too large at the present time. Noble Lords may say that they have not got full information, and that it is very difficult to say. That, I am afraid, is true. When the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked why the full Service requirements could not be placed before Parliament at the present time he was raising a most pertinent point. The answer is simply this, and the noble Viscount with his great practical knowledge of the working of the Constitution will appreciate it: These requirements have not been accepted by the Government, and it would be a most unusual thing to have an arrangement under which the requirements of three Departments were placed before Parliament before they had been accepted by the Government as a whole. That is the constitutional hitch, and it is obviously rather a serious one.
Does any noble Lord really believe that we can manage with places in this country, for training areas, of the same order and magnitude as we possessed before the war? I do not suppose there is one noble Lord here who would care to stand up in his place and say that the problem could be settled in that way. I need not tell noble Lords, some of whom saw this much more closely than I did, that thousands of lives are now admitted to have been lost because our training before the war was so unrealistic. It would amount to treachery on the part of the Government if, knowing what they do and with all that advice before them, they took the easy course at the present time and, in deference to public sentiment, in many cases misinformed, allowed the impression to get about that we could somehow scramble through with 315 training areas on the same scale. We require battle training involving the use of live ammunition and we need areas where all arms of all three Services can co-operate. I think everyone will agree that the pre-war mistake, of failure to get off the roads, must never be repeated. The noble Lord, Lord Croft, and the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, and other noble Lords who were responsible in the past for the administration of the War Office will, I am sure, be among the first to accept that point.
These changes do involve a considerably larger area for training than we possessed before the war. That should go out to the country as a whole because it is not a fact which the country as a whole has yet accepted, and until the country has accepted it—as I think most noble Lords accept it in their hearts now—we cannot really begin to discuss this matter seriously in an enlightened atmosphere. I am quite ready to believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, appreciates the points I have just been making. He comes forward with the suggestion that much more training should be conducted abroad than we intend to conduct at present. Of course, as noble Lords are aware, a proportion of the Army will remain abroad and train abroad, but it is at present intended that eventually a considerable part of the Army will train here, and it is on that assumption that these requirements have been drawn up.
I know that to many noble Lords this is the crux of the matter; they wish to be satisfied on this point more than on any other. I have taken every means open to me to study it and to obtain the best possible advice. I would like to offer respectfully to your Lordships, some of whom are far more expert on these matters than I am, the conclusions which are not just conclusions that I have swallowed intact without understanding them, but which I am convinced represent the gist of the matter. It is suggested as a possibility—and it is certainly one that should be considered—that we should train a much larger proportion of the Army abroad. The first suggestion is that we should train or continue to train in Germany. That, on the face of it, is in all ways a very sensible suggestion as far as the immediate future is concerned. But we must look to the time when the Army returns from Germany, and when that 316 time arrives we should be in a far worse position and we should have wasted far more time and money if we had surrendered these lands than if we had retained them. I do not suppose that any noble Lord will seriously suggest that these areas should be handed back and restored to civilian use and that then, a few years hence when the Army returns from Germany, we should try to get them back from civilian use and turn them over to the military again. Obviously that would be a farcical way of proceeding. If we are going to need these areas when the Army comes back from Germany, we had better plan against that eventuality now.
It may be said that, taking the long view, even after a few years have passed we should still continue to train abroad. There are certain forms of training, however, which clearly cannot be conducted abroad. No one will suggest that the Territorial Army should be trained abroad. Exactly how much training they will do in a year has not been published yet, but we all know that it will be a very short period and that it would be inconceivable that they should be sent abroad for their annual training. No one, I think, suggests either that the Army Schools and connected establishments, in many cases involving research, should be transferred abroad. They are the very nerve centre of the Army and it would be hopeless in the event of an emergency to find that all our Army schools and research establishments were abroad.
I think the problem reduces itself very early in the day to the question of whether or not you could send abroad, on the one hand, recruits and, on the other hand, the Regular Army. I am sure the House will forgive me for going into a certain amount of detail, but it does seem to me that the crux of the matter is this question of whether or not training could be conducted abroad. I hope I carry the House with me in saying that a very much larger area than before the war will be needed for training somewhere. The recruit will first of all do his primary training, which will take him about six weeks. It is quite clear that during that period he cannot be sent abroad. After that, he will have four months further training. If he were sent abroad, to say nothing of the great expenditure of money, difficulties of transport and many other technical factors, it would take up to a month to do so, if 317 you count the whole period involved. I think very few noble Lords again would seriously believe that we should send troops abroad and bring them back during their period of recruit training.
So we come to the Regular Army itself. There are two ways in which it would be possible to train the Regular Army abroad. We could station the whole Regular Army abroad and keep it there the whole time. We would then have to send recruits out every fortnight, which again would involve us in great technical difficulties. But on strategic grounds we are not prepared to accept the responsibility for stationing the Regular Army permanently abroad; we believe it would be most unsound strategically. We are bound, therefore, humanly speaking, to rule that out as a permanent arrangement. There is a second way of doing it—namely, to send the Regular Army abroad for a short period of training each year. The difficulty about that—and it is a very considerable one—is that the Regular Army is responsible for training the Militia as they flow into the ranks of the Regular Forces, and as the Militia only serve with the Regular Army for something less than a year after they have completed their training, what would happen in practice would be that the only serious training the militiaman would get during the whole of his period in the Forces would be in the short period when he was abroad with the Regular Army. That is, in our view, an almost insuperable objection. I am not going to pretend that a short expose of this kind can convince all noble Lords.
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
The noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, but he made a statement which seemed to me to be of very great importance. Did I understand him to tell the House that the whole of the Regular Army, that: is to say the Strategic Reserve of this country, will in future be stationed in this country?
I said that we could not accept a position in which the whole of the Regular Army was stationed abroad: I did not go to the other extreme and say it would all have to be here, but I did say that in the long, run a substantial part of it would have to be here.
I hope I have said enough to show noble Lords that this matter has been considered with more than usual care. It has not 318 been approached in any spirit of antagonistic presupposition or prejudice. I hope noble Lords will, therefore, at any rate recognize that the problems are very great. I can only record my own view that they are insuperable. It would not be true to say that the Government have reached an absolutely final decision on this matter, but the difficulties are those I have described and I should be misleading the House if I held out any great hope of any large reduction in the training ground, needed in this country as a result of sending abroad forces which it is now intended to retain here.
Under that same heading—which could perhaps be summed up as the reply to the question "Why cannot the Army go, somewhere else to train?"—one would have to deal with the possibility of going elsewhere in this country. Now noble Lords must believe me when I say that the country has been thoroughly combed. This matter has been under discussion for something like a year, and we have been open to every possible suggestion. Many noble Lords are extremely intimate with different parts of the country, and yet as far as I know few, if any, constructive suggestions have come forward. If noble Lords, with their intimate knowledge of the country, can suggest particular places which are preferable to those which have been selected, the War Office will be only too happy. Apart from the expense involved in moving—and it is a cost which is not negligible—it would be most desirable in every way if we could comply with the wishes of the local population without sacrificing military efficiency. But I am bound to say that the search for this alternative, which has been conducted not only by soldiers and other members of the Services but by the highly expert officials of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, has so far failed to improve substantially on the areas which have been mentioned to your Lordships.
A few weeks ago people said to me: "Why do you not go to Dartmoor? It is a fine place." It might sound to the layman that Dartmoor was a home of criminals, a great bleak expanse where, if I remember rightly, Sherlock Holmes "did his stuff," and it might sound the ideal place. But we are told that we are vandals for going near Dartmoor. No doubt if we go to Colney Hatch the same 319 thing will be said. It is not an easy problem, and I do hope that noble Lords, having let off steam in the most noble and eloquent way, will come to our side and join us in the search—because that is where we need them—and also join us in the process of educating the public.
Now I come to two other questions which I will take together, and I will not detain your Lordships' House very much longer. People say we have been too slow, and at the same time they say we are being too precipitate. The two arguments more or less cancel one another out. They are not absolutely opposed, but it is very close to a contradiction. I do not honestly know which way noble Lords would rather have it, whether they would be glad to be able to approach some of these decisions without all the processes of consultations being gone through, or whether they would wish a great deal of further time to be spent. The question of a public inquiry in certain cases is under consideration. I will not say more about that, but I think it is fair to describe to the House in a little detail the actual machinery which is in force at the moment. The House will recall that as soon as the war came to an end investigations were set on foot within the Service Departments to decide the minimum amount of land required for training purposes. The results of those inquiries were correlated within the Services and sent forward to an Inter-Departmental Committee. This Inter-Departmental Committee, which I think has been touched on to-day but which has not been fully explained to noble Lords, is an Inter-Departmental Committee of officials which is presided over by officials of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. That is the headquarters of the official committee which is studying these matters.
Now this committee on the one hand has the requirements of the Service Departments co-ordinated, as I have explained, and on the other hand it has reports from all the Regional Planning Officers of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning arrived at in consultation with their regional colleagues of the other Departments in order to make sure that all aspects of the case are taken into account. Therefore, on the official side you have an inquiry at the regional level and then, presiding over that, you have 320 the Inter-Departmental Committee which is sitting in London and which receives reports from these inquiries which are taking place on the spot. Now noble Lords may wish to know where the public come in. An opportunity is being given to the local authorities and amenity societies concerned to come forward and state their case to the various bodies which are studying this matter. There will be opportunity of consultation in every case where there are proposals to take over commons or public open spaces, and arrangements for the hearing of views are already being made. The first of the meetings for this purpose is to be held to-morrow to discuss the proposed War Department acquisitions on the Welsh coast, namely, Harlech and Castle Martin. Bodies which have been given the opportunity to send representatives include the Joint Planning Committees and the local authorities concerned with these two areas, the individual local authorities within whose boundaries the areas are situated. There is also the National Farmers' Union. The Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales and the Commons, Footpaths and Open Spaces Preservation Society have also been asked to arrange for a deputation covering the various recreational interests. The first of these meetings is taking place to-morrow.
I am pleased to think that I shall be able to carry the noble Lord with me into the Division Lobby should a Division take place. I should also explain that further meetings are being arranged at the regional level so that local authorities may have every opportunity of consultation.
I was very much impressed by the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, who is such a master of these subjects. What he has to say requires special consideration and I must say I do hope that we shall be able—I will not say to satisfy him on the particular points he raised, but perhaps to convince him that we all want the same thing in this matter. I have tried to show your Lordships that the machinery has been carefully worked out, but that we are still in one respect at a transitional stage. The House should at any rate carry away two impressions 321 to-day: on the one hand that all those who are in the best position to judge are convinced that far more land will have to be devoted to training in this country, if this country is to be properly defended in the future; on the other hand, that the fullest kind of investigation is being conducted, with the final decision where it belongs, on the Ministerial level, the Ministers, of course, in their turn being subject to Parliament. I have not alluded to promises. I agree that I wrote to the noble Viscount in the terms he quoted, but he has brought forward further statements to-day which I shall of course consider with special care because they come from one who speaks on all points of honour with a note of authority.
Now I hope that no one will carry away the idea that we in the Government are blind to the beauties of the countryside or careless of the liberties of the people. There is a tremendous problem before this country, the problem of making sure that not only is the Army trained properly, but that it is equipped properly and gets a fair chance with the public. I implore all of you to bring home to the people of this country, even more than you have been able to do in the past, that there are consequences of this tragic world situation winch confront us to-day,, and that some of those consequences may involve most unpalatable developments which are unavoidable if we are to preserve this country in the future.
§ 6.10 p.m.
My Lords, we have all listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, with the greatest possible interest and I think we should all like to congratulate him upon the diplomatic skill he showed in his reply. He was, as always, courteous, and he was, as always, persuasive, and, personally, I genuinely believe he is anxious to do his best for the point of view we have expressed. I cannot pretend that I think his answer was satisfactory, and I do not think he expected me to say I did. I am afraid there was a good deal in what he said which sounded to me like a departmental brief.
The noble Viscount is well aware that any Minister who does not take the trouble to equip himself with the assistance of his advisers 322 is not worthy of a Ministerial positon. If the noble Viscount is suggesting, and I am sure he is not, that I am not thoroughly convinced, myself, of the truth of everything I say, that would be very unlike him.
I of course accept that the noble Lord was convinced. But I repeat that I was not convinced, and I believe there was a great number of noble Lords in the House who were not convinced either. The noble Lord said that criticism on this side of the House was ill-informed. I think, indeed, there may be a measure of truth in that, for we have never been told. Again and again we have had debates on this subject, but the facts have always been held back from us. We have extracted a little more information this time, but there are a great many more facts needed. There is the question of the use of the Act of 1842 and the Act of 1945—a very important point mentioned in practically all the speeches in the debate. We have not had a reply at all about this—not one word. I think there are a great many who would like to know which Act is being applied.
I apologize to the noble Viscount and the House. I did not wish to detain the House longer than was necessary. It is quite true that there were many points raised to which I did not reply, although I spoke for some forty minutes. The position is that the 1842 Act is the co-related Act because the part of the 1945 Act to which the noble Lord refers is, according to my information, inapplicable where you are acquiring land for defence purposes; it is only applicable where land is being acquired for economic purposes. The noble Viscount assured us at the beginning that he had had legal advice which suggested a different conclusion and, of course, we shall study it again in the light of any legal opinion, he offers us.
If it turns out that the noble Lord's view is correct, and I think it is quite possible it is, would the Government consider bringing, in some supplementary legislation to make the 1945 Act the commonly used instrument in cases of Service Departments acquiring land? What worries this House—and the noble Lord will, I am sure, appreciate that it is quite natural—is that under the 323 1842 Act there is no reference to Parliament. It is old legislation, and it was passed at a time when Service Departments took over only very minute areas. Parliament probably was not very much concerned about it. But now that these great areas are being taken over, I should have thought that the machinery of the 1945 Act was far more appropriate. If it is in fact true that the Government, with the best will in the world, cannot use the 1945 Act, can they introduce some legislation to make that possible? I am only asking them to consider it.
Then there is this question of promises. To me, at any rate, and perhaps to other noble Lords, this matter is very important. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, devoted one or two sentences to this question of promises. He said about the Isle of Purbeck that he would take into account anything I said and look into the matter again. I think the case I put was perfectly conclusive and I think the House thought so. Did not the Leader of the House think an undertaking was given to these people?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
I received the impression that the case applied to that particular area, but I have no knowledge of the details. I received the impression that Lord Pakenham said he would go into the case in view of the information. I think that is as far as we are asked to do.
Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will forgive me. I express no opinion because my own apprehension is never quick enough when a statement is read to enable me to grasp the full implication until I have myself read its terms. Anything that convinces the noble Viscount on a point of honour is likely to convince me. I am bound to say that, to the best of my belief, one of the passages read by the noble Viscount 324 consisted of a general form of words used throughout the country, and not one which had any particular or special reference to the Isle of Purbeck.
That only makes me feel that the undertaking was given for the whole country. On the last occasion we discussed this subject I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who said that every promise was a factor which had to be taken into consideration. To me, and I hope to every member of the House, a promise is much more than that. Even if it is inconvenient to the Government, where the promise is given it should be honoured. Therefore, I say that if it turns out, in regard to the Isle of Purbeck or any other area, that a definite promise has been given, this House should expect the promise to be honoured, even if it means inconvenience to the Government. I want to make that clear, and I am sure it represents the view of other noble Lords on this side of the House.
Then there was a point with regard to the total requirements of the Service Departments. I think that was in answer to a point that I raised. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said they could not be given to Parliament until they had been agreed to by the Government. I think everybody absolutely agrees with that; but when the Government have come to their decision I should think that information might be given to Parliament. After all, we do not want secret information as to the exact purpose for which these areas are going to be used. All we want to know is what areas are going to be taken. That is a matter I hope the Government will also consider. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said, with some satisfaction I thought, that they were not taking any more for the peace period than they had taken during the war. That, I thought, was rather discouraging.
I will explain myself. I said they were not taking any places which had not been taken during the war period.
I am greatly relieved to hear that. I had been the most perturbed to hear that there were no less than 1,000 cases coming under consideration. But perhaps some are small.
325 Then the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, announced that the decision in future would be by Ministers and not merely by the Services. That is certainly a great improvement. What we have always wanted was a balanced decision, and I think this is a distinct move in the direction of a balanced decision. I still personally feel that when it comes to a final decision about these areas there ought to be some reference to Parliament, either in the form of a negative Resolution or whatever it might be. Here we come again to the issue of the 1842 Act and the 1945 Act. I hope the Government will consider that point, because I think it is very important. These are decisions which affect very large numbers of the common people of this country, and the only protector of the common people is Parliament. Therefore, I think we ought to have a chance of approving or disapproving decisions that vitally concern them.
As to the question of giving training `abroad, that, I know, is a very technical matter and it is probably one which cannot be fully discussed in this House today. But I hope that the Service Departments will not take up what I might call a too rigid or old-fashioned an attitude in regard to this. I remember a good deal about the scheme for air training overseas which was adopted at the beginning of the war. The need was no doubt much greater for intensive training then, of course, but the difficulties of getting trainees to the various parts of the world where they were to be trained was equally very much greater than it is now. I hope that the authorities will bear in mind the possibility of giving men part of their training, possibly the early part of it, in Empire areas overseas.
May I break in here with apologies to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. During the war the greatest number of air trainees sent overseas in one year was 20,000. If we took recruits now we should be having, it is anticipated, more than 100,000 coming forward every year for the Army alone.
I appreciate that, but I suggest that it might be possible to train one type of soldier overseas and one type of soldier here. It might be possible, for example, that training for ser- 326 vice with the tanks could be given better in some part of the Empire than here. I do not want to dogmatize on this subject. But so far as the value of overseas training to the young men themselves is concerned, I must say that I think that would be enormous. I have known a number of young men who went overseas under the Empire Air Training Scheme and there can be no question about the benefit which they received. Their point of view was entirely altered and their whole outlook was broadened. As I say, I do hope that the Government will seriously consider the possibility of overseas training.
May I say in conclusion that I was not satisfied by the speech made in reply to my Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. I did not expect to be. All of us, however, recognize the very great difficulties with which the Government are faced, and I do feel, at any rate, that by our agitation we have jogged the Government into some activity. We have brought in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, who were not consulted before—certainly in the case I knew of—and we have got this subject brought up to the highest level. As far as I can make out it has been brought to the notice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. I beg the noble Lord to take notice of and consider all that has been said here this afternoon and to convey it to his colleagues. It has been said in very good faith and with a real desire to serve the interests of this country.
I would ask, too, that it should be considered with an open mind. It is clear that the Government are giving the matter very serious consideration, and, in the circumstances, I do not think that noble Lords on this side of the House would wish me—and I should not wish myself—to press this Motion to a Division. An announcement has been made of the Government's decision to set up an Inter—Departmental Committee, and we have been given some satisfactory indication; of the kind of bodies which are to be consulted in connexion with that committee, I, therefore do not propose to carry the matter any farther now: but I hope that it will be possible for us to have another debate as soon as the Inter-Departmental Committee has reached its conclusions. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.