HL Deb 08 May 1958 vol 209 cc116-30

4.0 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill, which I beg to put before your Lordships to be read a second time, might well be termed a modest Bill, but it has far-reaching effects upon the rights and liberties of the individual. I am sure, therefore, that your Lordships would wish me to go through this Bill as carefully as I may, making a synopsis of the clauses as they come and, with your Lordships' permission, where clauses fulfil the same purpose I will take them together. It is a very technical Bill. Some of the provisions could be argued about by the most learned gentlemen, and I ask your Lordships' indulgence should I trip over some of the effects of this Bill, being but an amateur. But I have now learned the reasons for those officious signs which are put up in manœuvre areas and which say, "Troops—Keep out", just at the time when, in a lull in an exercise, it would be most convenient to obtain some refreshment for oneself.

My Lords, this Bill represents a further step that Her Majesty's Government have taken to revoke certain emergency powers and regulations under which the individual has suffered since the beginning of the Second World War, now nineteen years ago. I would make it perfectly clear that this Bill deals only with the use of land, and not with the acquisition of land, by the Service Departments. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War has already stated in another place—and it is written in the White Paper—that the complex task of revising the Defence Acts will be undertaken as soon as is practicable.

Any measure that seeks to govern the use of private land by Service Departments is bound to be complicated and far-reaching. This Bill, however, has had the personal supervision and attention of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who is temporarily absent from his place upon the Woolsack. I know that your Lordships will be most grateful for the time and the personal care and trouble which my noble and learned friend has put into this Bill. and into the other provisions that will be following in Her Majesty's Government's policy to implement the Franks Committee's recommendations. My task has been made considerably lighter by the publication of Command White Paper No. 352, and by the clear and concise explanation of this Bill by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place (Hansard, February 10, Cols 36 to 46).

Clause 1 of the Bill revokes five Defence Regulations as listed, and this revocation will become effective at December 31, 1958. I am quite certain your Lordships on both sides of the House will agree that the world is still a very long way away from the panacea of peace we all desire. At any time it may be necessary for my right honourable friends and my noble friend the First Lord to exercise their forces in training for their latest tactical rôles. Indeed, those tactical roles are for ever changing as new weapons and techniques are brought into practice. Hitherto it has been possible to hold large-scale exercises only under the provisions of the now out-moded Manœuvres Acts of 1897 and 1911 and under various Defence Regulations. five of which, as I have already stated, this Bill seeks to revoke.

Clauses 2 to 5 of the Bill deal with Manœuvres and the Manœuvres Commission. The Bill will continue in an improved form the power to hold major manœuvres in this country and to set up modern Manœuvres Commissions. The holding of manœuvres will be authorised in each case by Order in Council which will require the approval of both Houses of Parliament. At the same time, the Bill will provide probably the greatest protection for public and private property within the Manœuvres area that has ever been given by any Government in the world. The Commission's directions will include general measures for the avoiding of damage, and may also limit the land over which the troops may go. Their directions must, of course, take account of the military needs for the successful holding of the Manœuvres, already blessed by Parliament, but at the same time safeguarding the interests of owners and occupiers. The arrangement for the Manœuvres held under the Order in Council, and the procedures of the Manœuvres Commission follow closely the recommendations in the Franks Report.

Clause 6 will enable my right honourable friends and my noble friend the First Lord to use certain lands occasionally for the purpose of small-scale exercises and certain specialist training exercises, and for bivouacking in the course of approach marches to existing training areas. The Bill enables such suitable sites to be compulsorily used, previously only possible under Defence Regulation 52. Normally these sites will be most carefully chosen; the least damage and inconvenience will be caused, and in most cases the normal use to which that particular land is being put will be able to continue, perhaps even when the exercise is taking place. Full rights of objection apply, and the right to be heard by an independent person appointed by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. Full compensation will be paid for any proven damage. No buildings or house property may be used, and this is clearly stated in the Acts under which the Order in Council for holding the Manœuvres is made. Due in part to this Clause 6, many sites of minor training areas will be enabled to return to their rightful occupiers, so that they may be maintained and used to the best advantage, which is not always the case at present. My right honourable friend intends to release some 150,000 acres in the course of the next two to three years, and, of course, these minor sites of training areas will contribute towards that figure.

If there should be any objection to any of these Orders, a full inquiry will be held thereinto, which might mean anything up to three months before the final Order is made. Even then, fourteen days' notice must be given before the land is entered upon by the troops. The temporary use may not exceed seventy-two hours at any one given time, nor occur more than six times in the course of the twelve months when the Order is in force. There must be an interval of at least twenty-one days between each occasion. The safeguards for the individual owner and occupier of land that will be used for temporary occasions are pretty wide.

Clause 7 permits my right honourable friends and, most properly, my noble friend to make by-laws covering sea areas around the coast without actually owning or purchasing the adjacent shore land, as the position is at present.

Clause 8 permits highways to be closed for defence purposes to provide for the safety of the Services and the public alike. When the Supplies and Services (Defence Purposes) Act, 1951, ceases to operate, roads may be closed only if the site is developed: it is not sufficient when it is the aircraft which is developed and not the actual airfield. At present, my noble friends are not able to close a road for the safety of the public or the Services when some new aircraft requires more space for take-off than it has at the present time, or when extra special safety precautions are involved, due to new techniques. This clause, therefore, allows a new road to be built clear of the danger area and at the expense of the Service Department concerned.

Clause 9 enables new roads to be built safely clear of new runways in the cases where old roads have already been closed on account of an aerodrome but where the planned alternative roads, which are now unsafe, have not yet been built. To take an example, if an aerodrome has extended its runways and made one road unsafe, that road would be closed and a new road would have to be planned. If later types of aeroplane make that new planned road unsafe my right honourable friend cannot at present build a new road round the new runway until he has, in fact, built the planned road which is already unsafe. I think your Lordships would agree that this would be a ridiculous position. Therefore, Clause 9 allows a new road to be built where a planned road is already unsafe and has not been built.

Clauses 10 and 11 provide, within a two-miles radius, for the removal or modification of obstruction to runways and also of metal objects which interfere with defence radio or radar equipment. Again, full safeguards apply to owners and occupiers and are provided for in the Second Schedule to the Bill, in accordance with the Franks Committee's recommendations. Full compensation will be paid for expenses incurred and for the disturbance caused, and, if settlement is disputed, by direct recourse to the Lands Tribunal. Clauses 12 to 18 extend the provisions of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts, 1945 and 1948, to enable my noble friend the Minister of Power to acquire land to build oil storage tanks and pipelines, and for Service Ministers to maintain pipelines, for defence purposes. They may also obtain wayleave orders to build and maintain pipelines and associated equipment. Again, in the Second Schedule, based on the Franks Committee Report, full protection is given to owners and occupiers. Full compensation will be payable not only for the pipeline itself, or for the land which is above the pipelines, but also for any damage which is caused to land on either side. Under Clause 15 the Minister responsible is required to keep the pipeline in order at all times. Clauses 19 and 20 give powers subject to the same safeguards, to my right honourable friend the Postmaster General for purposes connected with deep-laid and other defence communications, again for defence purposes only.

Clause 21 gives the power to enter upon and survey land for purposes contained within the Bill. In general, seven days' notice must be given, and twenty-eight days' notice must be given before any form of boring takes place. Clause 21 applies except in cases of emergency with special regard to pipelines. In such cases, notice that entry has been made must be given within seven days, and again full compensation is payable. Clauses 22 to 27 describe the method of serving notices, and the making of regulations and orders, and deal with the application in general with regard to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

With your Lordships' permission, I should now like to direct your Lordships' attention back to the main provisions or highlights of this Bill. I have mentioned the necessity for training our Forces to the latest standards. At present, Manœuvres are carried out under Defence Regulations: in future, they will be carried out, as of old, under Orders in Council. It would be useful if I were to give your Lordships roughly the programme that will obtain, when the Order in Council gets under way, for holding Manœuvres in the future—it is not Manœuvres next year, the year after or any particular Manœuvres: just Manœuvres in the future.

From the time the initial draft Order is laid before Parliament some twelve months at least will elapse before the beginning of the Manœuvres—I will call it "M-Day", to save a lot of words. The draft Order will designate the areas that the Manœuvres will cover. Buildings and farms are out of bounds in any case. At the same time, copies (with map descriptions) will be sent to all local authorities and bodies concerned in the proposed Manœuvres area, and a notice of intention to hold the manœuvres will also be published in the local newspapers. Two months will elapse before the Order will be discussed for approval by both Houses of Parliament. This will give ample time for objections to be lodged, and no doubt members of the public would bring their objections before your Lordships and in another place. From the time of the Order being made, at least nine months must elapse before M-Day.

Meanwhile, the Manœuvres Commission will have been appointed, and will be working upon the draft directions to minimise damage and interference, partly from its local knowledge of the area and partly on account of the objections that it will he receiving all this time from people in the area of the manœuvres. After hearing public and private objections, the Commission will then publish its draft manœuvres directions in all areas that are concerned. At least one public inquiry must be held by the Commission before the draft manœuvres directions, with amendments, if necessary, are submitted to the Secretary of State. There must still be four months to go before M-Day when the manœuvres begin. Should your Lordships have any doubt about these Orders in Council I think that there will be ample time from the submission to your Lordships of the draft Order, or from the decision of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, to the actual start of the manœuvres, so that all may object and state their cases. If my right honourable friend should be dissatisfied with any of the Commission's draft directions (which is unlikely, but nevertheless possible) he will have the power to amend them, but only so far as to ensure that the purposes of the manœuvres are not frustrated. He must lay a copy of his amendments before Parliament, and then the Commission will publish the final manœuvres directions at least three months before M-Day.

My Lords, I will now refer to the new Manœuvres Commission itself. The purpose the new Manœuvres Commission will fulfil is exactly the same as that which the old Commissions have served so well in previous times under the Acts of 1897 and 1911—namely, the prevention of damage to private and public property by Service Departments in the course of military manœuvres. The old Commissions were made up of representatives of local authorities on the scale of two for each county council and one for each county borough in the manœuvres area. Then, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State—or, rather, his predecessors—appointed representatives from private property owners living in the manœuvres area. These Commissions worked excellently in the days when manœuvres covered, say, a county or less. The last large-scale manœuvres in this country were held, as your Lordships may remember, in 1951, and they covered six counties or an area of 3,500 square miles. Such a large representative body as would be required under the old Acts for a Manœuvres Commission would, of course, be quite impracticable—in fact, the last manœuvres were held under the Defence Regulations only and without a Manœuvres Commission. Therefore, the new Manœuvres Commission has been given what might be termed a "new look," in line with the Franks Committee's recommendations, and this has the approval of my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack.

The Commission will be able to cope with to-day's manœuvres problems in the fairest and quickest way possible. It will consist of twelve members, and an independent chairman will be appointed by my noble and learned friend. Four representatives will be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, one of whom will be an expert in agriculture. Another will be an expert in forestry, and I am sure that all noble Lords will be pleased that this particular safeguard has been included. Another member will be a representative of land-owning interests and a fourth will be a representative of farming interests.

Four more representatives will be appointed by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Of those, three will be appointed from representatives of local authorities, and one of them will be an expert in amenity matters. The fourth representative, who will be appointed by my right honourable friend, will be nominated by the National Parks Commission, whose land may happen to be in the area affected by the manœvre. Finally, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War will appoint three military representatives. Subsection (3) of Clause 3 enables my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to make payment of fees or expenses to members of the Commission, should this prove necessary.

In order to work this procedure of Orders in Council and the Commission which I have just described, it will be necessary to amend No. 216 of your Lordships' Standing Orders relative to Private Bills. This Order provides that a private person may petition your Lordships against an Order in Council requiring an Affirmative Resolution, unless such Order be a measure under the Church of England Assembly Powers Act, 1919, a regulation under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, or an Order made under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932. As I have described, the Manœuvres Commission is being set up to deal with objections of exactly the kind which might lead to petitions in your Lordships' House against the Bill. It will not therefore be necessary for every farmer or landowner involved to come to London to petition your Lordships with complaints, as their complaints will already have been heard and considered by the Commission. I would therefore ask that your Lordships might allow my noble friend Lord Merthyr, the Lord Chairman of Committees, to consider this procedural matter and, if he sees fit, to ask your Lordships in due course to approve an amendment to the Standing Orders which will allow the provisions of this Bill to be added to the list of exceptions to the right to petition in your Lordships' House.

I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time. I am fully aware that I have made but an inadequate explanation of this modest but highly technical Bill. I will endeavour to do my best to answer any questions your Lordships may wish to raise. Perhaps I cannot do better than to re-direct your Lordships' attention to the masterpiece of explanation of this Bill which my right honourable friend gave in another place on February 10. This Bill will be of great benefit to the Services and to their reputation over training matters with the general public, and I am certain that it will give the greatest possible protection and indemnity to the private individual and his property should controversy arise out of the limited amount of field defence exercises which this Bill envisages. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Bathurst.)

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I believe we should all welcome, in the first place, a measure which at one fell swoop does away with five Defence Regulations; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, has explained very clearly, this Bill is going to facilitate the task of the Service Ministers in carrying out their duties. I would start by saying that the concluding passages of the noble Earl's speech raised an altogether new point of which I had not been aware and one which seems to need some consideration; that is, the proposal to give this Bill, when it becomes an Act, an immunity from petition under the Standing Orders of this House. I feel that that is a matter which needs rather serious consideration, because in fact we are reducing the rights of the individual in the matter of the powers of Defence Departments. I should not like straight away to express, on behalf of my noble friends, our agreement with that provision, for I believe that we should like to look at it very closely.

The Bill covers a number of activities in the field of defence. I believe we shall all welcome the statement that in the course of the next few years the Service Ministers hope to be able to release 150,000 acres of land which they now hold. It is all to the good that so large an area of land should be released by the War Office. We welcome, too, Clause 6, which, from the Army's point of view, seems a most valuable measure and one that will permit small local exercises to be held frequently and at comparatively short notice. In my opinion that is certainly the form of training most suited to conditions in these Islands, and, moreover, most useful for the officers and men of the Army.

Coming to the Manœuvres provisions, I would remark that the noble Earl has explained that ample time will be allowed for objections to any proposal to apply an Order in Council for Army manœuvres on a big scale. We note the composition of the Manœuvres Commission, which will be thoroughly representative of all interests. Incidentally, I have not seen it explained very clearly why a new Commission of different composition is now required. The idea that before 1951 all Army Manœuvres could be confined within the boundaries of one county is not quite accurate. Army Manœuvres were held at interevals between the wars and they certainly covered larger areas. The Military Manœuvres Act, as it was then, was certainly applied to areas of three or four counties or more, so I do not quite see why the former Commission, which apparently dealt adequately with those situations, is no longer suitable for, admittedly, the larger Manœuvres that are necessary now.

I should like to say a word more about the question of land forces Manœuvres in this country. The mere fact that it is considered necessary to have such an elaborate procedure, covering so much time, before you can carry out Army Manœuvres surely shows that this country is no longer a suitable place for exercising Armies under modern conditions. The fact that you have to give twelve months' notice, nine months' notice and so on, in order to ensure that everybody who might be prejudiced can object, and to make your arrangements for compensation and avoidance of damage and so on, merely brings into focus the fact that this Island is so closely inhabited and so highly developed agriculturally that to exercise troops in accordance with the latest tactical ideas is bound to cause damage; and to confine the troops within such conditions and restrictions as will avoid or minimise damage is only going to make the training thoroughly unreal.

That was a point which was beginning to be appreciated before the last war, when it was often a criticism of Army training that the troops had been so conditioned in England to avoid breaking through fences, or had been so conditioned to avoid damage, that when war came they would be at a serious disadvantage compared with their enemy. More than ever now, when armies are entirely mechanised and operations involve great dispersal and quick movement, it cannot be realistic to exercise armies in the close country of this Island. Indeed, the only possible theatre of war that resembles this Island is north-west Europe. We believe that the most probable role of the Army overseas is in tropical or semi-tropical countries, fighting guerrilla or semi-guerrilla wars; and what could be more unsuitable as a training area in the preparation for that kind of war than the English countryside?

So the more one thinks of it the more it seems that large-scale Army Manœuvres ought never to take place in this country again. Oversea training areas can be found, and with air transport making movement of troops so rapid and comparatively so cheap, and indeed part of the training itself, I would suggest that the higher-formation training of the Army ought to take place overseas and not in this country. Moreover, I speak as one who has, so to speak, changed sides in the contest between the Services and the civilian population, because it was at one time one of my military duties to find suitable areas for training and to circumvent those local interests who would have tried to stop it. Since then I have changed sides, and I realise that this Island is too precious to be allowed to be used for Service purposes except where absolutely necessary.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, if the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, will allow me, I should like to congratulate him upon the lucid and compact manner in which he explained a lengthy and a very complicated Bill. I feel that it is essentially a Bill which will have to be debated and threshed out in Committee, and that there is a limit to what can be usefully said on it in a Second Reading debate. I am particularly interested in it because I have for some time served on the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, although this afternoon I am speaking entirely on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Committee; but I feel it very likely indeed that the Council will have a good deal to say on the matter when we reach the Committee stage.

This question of the acquisition of land by the Services is one which comes up before us with unfailing regularity at every meeting of the Council. My own view, for what it is worth, is that while I fully recognise that training and experiment must go on they must go on in the interests of the safety and the security of this country—there are times when the Service representatives who handle these matters are a little bit impatient of any considerations than those which actuate their own requirements. I must say, as against that, however, that I was immensely impressed by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, in our debate yesterday, when he happened to mention this question of acquisition of land by the Services; and it was impossible to doubt his sincerity when he spoke of the anxiety it caused him and of the great care which, when he was Secretary of State for Air, he always gave to the matter. However, I think that the noble Earl will agree that, while the Council for the Preservation of Rural England may be tiresome at times in their opposition to certain proposals, yet this country would perhaps not be even as beautiful a place as it is to-day but for the work and solicitude of that Council in endeavouring to preserve as much of the beauty spots of this country as is possible.

I have only one other matter to mention—I am not sure that it is entirely relevant to this Bill, but I think that if it is not absolutely relevant at any rate it is related to it. The Services not only take over land, but on occasion give up land. They give up land when they no longer require it—they give up camps, bases and stations. I would ask the noble Earl whether he would impress upon his noble and right honourable friends who are concerned with this matter that, when they do that, they might give a great deal more attention than they do to clearing up afterwards. The state in which they leave land for which they have no further use really causes very great indignation and resentment on the part of people concerned in the neighbourhood.

I would mention only one case which has come under my own notice, and I agree that it is some time back now. During the war the Royal Air Force had many stations on the coast of Pembroke-shire, and when the time came for them to go—and they were warmly thanked for what they had done for the country while they were there—they simply hove all the rubbish and wreckage straight over the cliffs, defiling and disfiguring some of the most beautiful scenery to be found on the shores of this country. It is on that account that I venture to ask the noble Earl whether he would call attention to the necessity of cleaning up decently and properly after the Services give up land.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I should like to support the plea made by my noble friends, Lord Lucan and Lord Winster, that the Government will insist that Service Departments throughly satisfy themselves that the land they take over is necessary for them. Last summer I had the privilege of going down to the R.A.C. School at Bovington which, as your Lordships will know, is one of the most beautiful spots in our countryside and a holiday centre—and we have not so many holiday centres in this country. I should have thought that a school of this sort could well have been located in Scotland, where there are considerable areas of barren land of no use to anybody other than a few sheep. Therefore, I would ask the Government whether the Army and the Royal Air Force would fully satisfy themselves that the land they require is necessary and that it is in the most suitable place.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, for directing attention to the serious matter of petitioning which I have brought before your Lordships to-day. I had asked my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees how this question could best be approached. It is to the credit of my noble friend and his staff that the existence of this question should have been noticed at all, and I am most grateful to them. I beg your Lordships to accept the proposal which I made, because I feel that ample protection is given through the Manœuvres Commission and the measures which my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack has taken to cover this controversial question.


My Lords, I take it that there will be ample opportunity for us not only to discuss this matter but to inform ourselves of the justification for a change in Standing Orders.


My Lords, perhaps we could ask my noble friend to explain this matter in detail at a more convenient time. The noble Earl has given me an opportunity to inform your Lordships of the amount of damage incurred. I think that it is small when the scope of the Manœuvres is considered. The large-scale Manœuvres in 1951 covered 3,500 square miles. Two infantry divisions and an armoured division, comprising 35,000 men, took part. In spite of the enormous area and number of troops, the total compensation for damage to land and property was only £100,000—£62,000 for roads, paid to local authorities, and the remainder of £37,000 paid to private landowners and occupiers. In the main, this latter kind of damage was clue to minor incidents such as gate posts being knocked down.

I should like to draw attention to the fact that the Manœuvres were held under Defence Regulations and that no Commission was appointed. The Army looked after this by seeing to it that damage repair squads were available on the site immediately any damage had been done. I know from my personal knowledge what a great help these squads were, and they were greatly appreciated by local owners. The last large-scale Manœuvres to be held in this country under the old Act took place in 1936 and, of course, nothing like an area of 3,500 square miles was involved. A Commission was appointed for those manœuvres. Since 1939, when the enormous war-time exercises were held, manœuvres have been held under the Defence Regulations.

I am grateful for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, with regard to amenity. I only wish that I could tell him that this Bill dealt with acquisition and handing back of property in the hands of the Services. I think I have made it clear that it does not and that I have made it clear also that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War intends to do something about the Defence Acts, as stated in the White Paper. I will collect my copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning, put a red line along the noble Lord's remarks and see that it goes to my right honourable friend.

With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said about Bovington Heath, I would agree that that is an eyesore in the most beautiful part of the country. But Bovington Camp has been established for some forty years and it would be almost impossible to move the vast amount of equipment, installations and housing into the wilds of Scotland. In any case, my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, sitting beside me, tells me that his part of Scotland would not be suitable for manœuvres as it is very boggy. I should say that the Bovington training area can be covered in the space of five minutes in a modern tank, so that in these days it is not so large as it would appear to be.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, since my name has been mentioned during the course of the debate, perhaps I may intervene for a moment to say that, as I understand it, the present position is that any landowner or farmer who is aggrieved in any way in connection with manœuvres is entitled to come to your Lordships' House and to appear before the Special Orders Committee and make a protest against an Order which is about to come before the House. That is the current procedure. However, it is now thought that under Clause 5 of this Bill a more easy way of making a protest is provided. It is thought that this duplication of that procedure is unnecessary. Therefore it is suggested that an Amendment should be made to the Standing Orders of the House to exempt from Standing Order No. 216 matters connected with manœuvres, in the same way as matters connected with the Sunday Entertainments Act are exempted. Naturally, nothing will be done until this Bill becomes law. In that event, no doubt a Motion will be put down in your Lordships' House to amend the Standing Orders. If and when that is done it will be open to the House to debate the Motion that the Standing Order be altered in that way.

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