HC Deb 14 August 1916 vol 85 cc1397-9
61. Mr. HUGH LAW

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government still adhere to the declaration that the National Registration Act should not be made the ground on which to enforce compulsory military service; whether he is aware that the fact of registration is being taken as sufficient evidence of ordinary residence in Great Britain in the case of Irishmen whose names appear upon the register and that migratory labourers who filled registration forms in Great Britain last year are being served with notices to join the Colours under the Military Service Act and are being treated as deserters if they fail to appear; and what steps it is proposed to take in the matter?


When the question of National Registration was before Parliament, the Government had not come to a decision to introduce compulsory military service, but my hon. Friend will clearly realise that after Parliament has passed Acts enforcing compulsory military service the information provided by the National Register must be used for purposes connected with the administration of these Acts. As my hon. Friend is aware, under the Military Service Acts the question whether a man is ordinarily resident in Great Britain can only be decided in case of dispute by the Civil Courts. Irish labourers who come over to Great Britain as temporary harvest labourers and who do not remain in Great Britain after the harvest period do not come within the provisions of the Military Service Acts, and if such a man gets a notice calling him up he has only to see the recruiting officer upon the matter and satisfy him that he is a temporary harvest labourer.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that numbers of these men who are excepted from the Act and who are undoubtedly entitled to exemption according to law have been arrested within the past few days in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, denied the opportunity of getting food or putting on their clothes, and have been marched down handcuffed through the streets in many cases; and whether I drew attention to the matter a fortnight ago, and that up to the present nothing whatever seems to have beep done?


May I supplement my hon. Friend's question by asking the hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that labour is very deficient, not only in agriculture, but in other industries in this country; whether, at this very moment, some of the manufacturers of munitions are making a serious effort to supplement the deficiency of the staffs at their disposal by importing Irish labour; and whether proceedings like this are calculated to encourage the efforts to bring Irish labour to this country?


I am afraid I cannot carry the matter very much further. I will consult with my Noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State to see what steps can be taken. I hope some satisfactory steps will be taken.


Will the hon. Gentleman at the same time consider whether the Government ought not to apply the Military Service Act to Ireland?


Will the hon. Gentleman also consider whether the best solution of this matter is not to repeal the Military Service Act in this country and give us the same freedom as the Irish have?


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the new position assumed by the authorities at Motherwell is that after twenty-eight days' residence there Irish immigrants are officially regarded as ordinarily resident in Great Britain; and will he take steps to see that the law is carried out in this respect?


I will see that that point is very carefully considered. Speaking off-hand, I cannot imagine that a residence of twenty-eight days only can be taken as bringing a man within the Act.


In view of the unsatisfactory notice of the reply and the great need of clearing up the whole question so that we may know where we are, I beg to give notice that I shall ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House.