§ Mr. HUGH LAW
I beg to move, "That this House do now Adjourn."
I do not propose, so far as I am concerned, to delay the House at any great length, nor do I intend to make any attack upon any individual nor upon any Department, still less do I desire either to excuse or to justify any man liable to military service who seeks to evade his obligation. My case is that a number of people whom Parliament has decided, whether rightly or wrongly I am not concerned, should be exempt from compulsory military service have, during the past few weeks, been subjected to improper pressure culminating in summary arrests and treatment which, I am quite certain, no one in this House will attempt to justify. I ask the House, in the first place, to observe the broad distinction drawn in the Military Service Act between those who are and those who are not within its purview. If hon. Gentlemen will recollect the first Clause of the Military Service Act, it is briefly as follows:
"Every male British subject whoֵ"
and so forth—
"shall unless he either is within the exceptions set out in the First Schedule to this Act or has attuned the age of forty-one years before the appointed date, be deemed as from the appointed date to have been duly enlisted in His Majesty's Regular Forces for general service with the Colours."
"This Section shall apply to any male British subject who since the the 15th day of August, 1915, has become or hereafter becomes ordinarily resident in Great Britain in the same manner as it applies to a male British subject who was ordinarily resident in Great Britain on the 15th day of August, 1915, with the substitution in the case of a man becoming so resident after the appointed date of the thirtieth day after he has become so resident for the appointed date."
The First Schedule of the Act lays down the exceptions, and the first exception is:
"Men ordinarily resident in His Majesty's Dominions abroad or resident in Great Britain for the purpose only of their education or for some other special purpose."
I contend that the men for whom I speak, or the majority of them, at any rate, clearly come within the words I have quoted from the First Schedule, and I claim that no one whatsoever has any legal power to interfere with them, and still less to cause them to be arrested and taken before any Court. The homes of these men for whom I speak are in Ireland, but they are accustomed to visit Great Britain year by year for a special purpose, namely, in order to earn money, sometimes in the harvest, sometimes in other works in towns, arriving here usually in June or July of each year, and returning home in the late autumn. This annual migration has gone on year after year, quite regularly and without interruption or disturbance, for many generations. Their labour is admittedly of value, and I suppose there never was a time when it was of so great value as it is at the present moment. I want the House to realise that I am not suddenly springing upon it something which hon. Members have never heard of before. This is by no means the first occasion when this matter has been before the House. Let me refer to what took place when the Military Service Bill was in Committee upon the 18th of January, 1916. On that occasion the President of the Local Government Board moved to insert the following new Sub-section:
"(4) This Section shall apply to any male British subject who since the 15th day of August, 1915, has become or hereafter becomes resident and employed in Great Britain in the same manner as it applies to a male British subject who 1518 was ordinarily resident in Great Britain on the 15th day of August, 1915, with the substitution of the thirtieth day after he has become so resident and employed for the appointed date."
On that occasion the President of the Local Government Board proposed this new Sub-section in order to cover the case raised on the Second Beading Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), who had pointed out, quite justly, that it would be most improper if Irishmen who were regularly employed in Great Britain should be able to take the place of the men who were called up for military service. On that occasion I myself ventured to raise the point as to the effect of the words "becomes resident and employed," and I contended that those words might be held to cover the case of our migratory labourers. The words I used were as follows:If the effect of the Amendment was only that which has been described by the right hon. Gentleman I do not think I, for my part, would object to it. I would like, however, that it should be made perfectly clear what is the effect of the words 'becomes resident and employed.' So far as I am concerned, if it were really only a question of a man who is an Irishman, and who is ordinarily resident in this country and constantly and continually employed here, then I should see no objection to the Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1916, col. 289, Vol. LXXVIII.]Then I went on to point out the case of the migratory labourers. I had taken the opinion of an eminent King's Counsel, and I was informed that there was no definition of "resident" in the Bill; in fact, that there was no definition known to English law, and I was anxious to be assured that the words of this Sub-section should not be held to apply to migratory labourers. The hon. Member for East Mayo also took up the matter, and he pointed out that the labour of those migratory labourers was essential for the Scottish harvest. He stated that he had himself been approached by the Board of Agriculture, and requested to persuade men to come over as usual, and he asked the President of the Local Government Board to consider whether the effect of the words in the Sub-section could be held to bring these men within the ambit of the Act as soon as they had been in fact resident in Great Britain for thirty days. I think it is important that I should remind the House of what occurred on that occasion because, as a matter of fact, the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo have, I am sorry to say, been only too well justified by events. I should 1519 like the House to note what the President of the Local Government Beard said in reply on that occasion:A question was asked just now whether we meant to include harvest labourers. No, Sir, there is no intention of including men who are only here as birds of passage, who come here for the special purpose, and who return the moment that their work is completed. On the other hand, as both the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member behind him know, there are a large number of Irishmen regularly living in the country, ordinarily resident here, and, I believe, in the strict interpretation of these words, having their employment here, who to all intents and purposes are living amongst us, and it would be an obvious injustice that they should be excluded from the operations of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1916, cols. 293–4, Vol. LXXVIII.]That was a statement with which we were in entire agreement—so much so that I find that at a later stage when the Bill was considered on Report and an Amendment was moved to cut out the Subsection altogether, I myself said:It is not the desire of any of us that it should be possible for a man to come over here from Ireland or elsewhere and take the work of a man who under this Bill is taken for military service. Therefore, I am unable to support this Amendment. At the same time the Sub-section when introduced in Committee was criticised by my hon. Friend for East Mayo and myself on the ground that it might be held to bring in Irish migratory labourers who come over for harvest work—I ask the right hon. Gentleman to note these word, because they are particularly pertinent to the present discussion—and also temporary work such as that at Rosyth. The President of the Local Government Board met our objection in the most courteous manner and promised that he would have the matter reconsidered before Report and see if some words could not be introduced to meet us. He has an Amendment on the Paper.That Amendment was to insert the word "ordinarily" later in the Clause, and I ended by thanking the Government for putting it down. Therefore, on the faith of the assurances given to us by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, we refrained from supporting an Amendment which, if it had been carried, would have had the effect of cutting out altogether the Clause under which the men for whom I am at present speaking have been arrested. That fact is pertinent as showing, if I may say so, our good faith in the matter. I desire to be quite frank with the House. It is quite true that the President of the Local Government Board on that occasion spoke specifically of harvest labourers, because—it is perfectly obvious, if anybody will look up the discussion—that was the question which was at that moment in debate, but after all we have got to look at the words of the Statute itself, and 1520 these make it as plain as possible that any man not ordinarily resident in Great Britain who comes over here for a special purpose has been in fact placed by Parliament—it is not for me to discuss whether rightly or wrongly—outside the Act altogether. I suggest that the test to be applied in any ease is this: Does the individual in question intend to return to his home in Ireland within a reasonable period? It is not a question of the work that he is doing; it is a question of his intention as reasonably construed. The nature of his employment, I submit, is quite irrelevant. The Act is quite silent on the point of the specific employment, and so long as the animus revertendi is present, I submit he is outside the Act, and no one has any right whatsoever to call his case into question.
During the past few weeks apparently there has been a general outburst of activity on the part of recruiting officers, notably in Scotland, with regard to migratory labourers. It is more than a fortnight ago that I first brought to the notice of the War Office eases of arrests of migratory labourers in Scotland under the Military Service Acts. Inquiry was promised. I am sure it is through no fault of the right hon. Gentleman who represents the War Office in this House, but up to the present no information has been forthcoming. During the last ten days, and particularly during the last week, a great number of men belonging to the Irish migratory class, and very largely coming from my own Constituency, have been arrested in the neighbourhood of Glasgow and have been driven in hordes first to the Sheriff's Court and subsequently to the military barracks. I do not propose to trouble the House with many details, because it is perfectly obvious that we cannot here retry the cases, but, broadly, I am informed that the police, acting presumably under the instructions of the military authorities, have visited huts, lodging houses, and works, have arrested men without any definite charge being made against them, and have marched them handcuffed through the streets, refusing them even when engaged upon night shifts in munition works any opportunity of obtaining breakfast and keeping them in detention and giving them no food until late in the evening. I am further informed that they have been crowded together in cells, five and six in some cases being put into cells intended only for two persons, and—of course I act 1521 on such information as I have got, and I am sorry to think that this can be true—that they have been vilely abused by policemen while in detention. I am further informed that when they were brought up to the Sheriff's Court they were first of all asked what they had to say for themselves. Then, when they attempted an explanation and sought to tell the Court how they had come over to Scotland and had the intention when their work was done of returning to Ireland, they were told that the Court could not hear anything of that sort and that it was a matter which they had better explain at Hamilton Barracks. I can hardly believe that is true, but, if it is true, it is a flagrant violation of the intentions of Parliament and of the plain provisions of the Act. If I understand the matter correctly, it was the intention of Parliament in any doubtful ease that a man should at least have the opportunity of having his case judicially tried in a Civil Court. It was not a matter for the decision of the military authorities. I give the information which reaches me, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland will be able to deny the truth of the allegations I have received. I will not trouble the House, as I stated, with many details, but I will give, if I may, one or two cases. I am told, for example, of the case of a man in my Division. Here is the case of a man, Henry Gallagher, who came to Scotland, to a farm near Edinburgh. He apparently was arrested there, but released. Then later on he came to Glasgow, and a few days later he was again arrested. He was kept three days in a police office, and then taken to the Court, fined £2—why I do not really know—and handed over to the military authorities. He, apparently, was being drafted to an English regiment, when he expressed the wish to join an Irish regiment, and was sent to one. This man, I am told, was three days in a police office at Glasgow; had to lie on the flags at night; no one allowed to speak to him; and when his landlady came with some food it was passed through a hole in the wall after being taken off the plate. My informant says, "As if he were a dangerous lunatic or the worst form of murderer." There are other cases. I have a mass of them here. There have been over fifty arrests at Mossend alone, I am informed, within the past three or four days. Let me mention only one or two more. Peter McCarry, of Clog- 1522 haneely, twenty-one, single, a regular harvester, arrived in April, employed in Messrs. Shanks' Works, Mossend; sole support of father and invalid sister; intended to return at end of harvest; arrested without warning or formulated charge; five in cell; heard policeman calling him and his companions "lousy pigs." He was not asked guilty or not guilty; was asked if he had anything to say; said nothing, because of treatment of others, who were told they could explain to military authorities at Hamilton. Sent to Scottish Rifles. I have a number of other cases, but I will not weary the House with these details.
I take my stand, for my part, upon the broad principle that so long as a man, no matter what work he may take up, belongs to a class which is known to everybody to be in the habit of coming over to this country for work during three, four, or five months every summer, and of returning home, he comes perfectly clearly within the exceptions of the First Schedule of the Military Service Act, and that it is not really within the power of any man, or of any Court, legally to bring him before any tribunal whatever. I take my stand broadly upon that principle, and I say further: I quite frankly admit, of course, that in all these cases there must be some on the border line. There must be difficult cases, and I hope I am the last person to overstate my case, to state my case unfairly, or to impute improper motives to any person; but I do say this in regard to those cases, that even these men, where there is a doubt, are clearly entitled—it is not a question whether you are simply with them or not—to the benefit of the law as it stands, and the law clearly lays down that the decision as to whether or not a man who does not primâ facie come within the exceptions of the Act, a man whose case, primâ facie, is a case which comes within the Act though it may come within the exemptions, is a matter which Parliament has desired should be tried by a Civil Court. I say, again, that if my information is correct, that has not been carried out in these instances, because I am informed that these men are told in the Sheriff's Court that they need not make any explanation, because that is a matter they can explain to the military authorities in the barracks.
I have been longer than I intended, and, so far as I am concerned, I will not go further in the matter than to 1523 say this: This is a matter, and this is partly why I have raised it, which affects my own personal honour. It happens that a very large proportion of the agricultural labourers who visit Scotland every year come from my own Division, and many of these men—I have reason to think some of the men who have actually been arrested—wrote to me within the past two or three months, when the date of the annual migration approached, and asked me, "Do you advise us to go to Scotland as usual this year?" I said "Yes." I said, "I cannot promise you that you will not be subjected to a certain indirect pressure; I cannot promise, in the existing state of things, that you will have a pleasant time, but plainly on the law as it stands, and on the declaration of right hon. Gentlemen, Members of the Cabinet, you are outside the Act, and therefore, if you ask me as to your legal position, I say, 'Yes; no one can touch you; you can go, and you ought to go.'" Why did I say that? In the first place, because in my Division, and the same thing is true of other Divisions in the West of Ireland, the families depend almost entirely on the proceeds of this annual migration. I have another reason, if I may say so, a patriotic reason. It is plain, and I think it will be obvious to everyone whatever view they may take of the exemption of Ireland from the Military Service Act, that once Parliament has decided that Ireland is to be exempted from this Act it is desirable that the labour of these men should be utilized in some other way. If they are not to be in the Army, then surely it is of real national importance that their labour should be utilised, either for the harvest, where it is necessary if ever it was, or else in munitions.
What is the result of what has happened in the past few weeks? Some of the men, a minority no doubt, have been arrested; some, no doubt, have been released; others have been pressed into military service; and I am bound to say that of all forms of compulsory military service the worst is that which results when men are not only pressed, but pressed, as they will undoubtedly think, in direct contravention and defiance of the promises and pledges given by right hon. Gentlemen. That is the least part of it. That affects probably only a minority. A number of 1524 others, I am informed, are returning to Ireland, and a number more, who would ordinarily have come over to work either at the harvest or in the construction of munition factories, will certainly not come unless we can get a perfectly clear and definite assurance from the Government that they will not be interfered with. I submit that this condition of affairs cannot possibly be in the public interest. It cannot be in the public interest that a large body of good, steady, hard-working men should be prevented from coming—that is really what it comes to—through the action of some hot-headed individual—in this matter I entirely acquit the Scottish Office, and I have no reason to blame the War Office either—and that through the hot-headed action of certain subordinates valuable labour should be lost to the country, not only in agriculture, but also directly in the production of munitions of War. I do not know that I have anything to add to what I have stated. I hope I have stated my case temperately, and that I have shown to the House that I am not actuated by any other motive than that of a desire that what I understand to be the plain purpose and intention of Parliament shall be carried out in fact.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I beg to second the Motion.
The question we are asking the House to consider is whether, in regard to the Military Service Acts and the National Registration Act, those Acts are being carried out in Scotland in accordance with the true spirit and intent of those Acts, and especially in accordance with the declarations made by Ministers of His Majesty's Government when those Acts were being carried through the various stages of the House of Commons. So far as I am concerned, I take up the position with reference to this matter which was stated at an early stage in the discussion by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). It is no purpose of Members of the Nationalist party to plead in any sense on behalf of any men from Ireland who might come over here to snatch the work which has hitherto been performed by men who have patriotically joined the Colours and who are now fighting for their country. When these various measures were in progress through Parliament, the object of Members of the Nationalist party was to protect a class 1525 of people who have habitually left Ireland for certain seasons of the year, who have come to this country and engaged in work with the intention, in the first place, of eking out their subsistence and supplementing the scanty income which they made on their own small holdings in the West of Ireland, in the Constituency of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hugh Law), in my own Constituency, in county Mayo, and in various other parts of the West of Ireland included in what are commonly called the congested districts of Ireland—that is, the class of migratory labourers or harvesters. There is another class of people who were especially invited by the Government and by heads of Departments to come over to this country to take part in industrial work of a temporary kind which is in the nature of war work and work which has been absolutely necessary for the prosecution of the War. I want to make it quite clear to the House that in regard to both of these classes of cases, the migratory labourers or harvesters and a certain number of skilled men through their trade unions, were men asked by the Labour Exchanges in Ireland to come over here for this special class of work, and that the Government have given distinct assurances in regard to those men that their presence here while engaged in such work would not be treated as entitling the military authorities to seek to bring them under the provisions of the Military Service Acts. The hon. Member for West Donegal has quoted what was said by the President of the Local Government Board. May I, in the first place, put in a few sentences the position which the hon. Member for East Mayo took up on behalf of the Nationalist party. He said:Last year, as the representative of nearly three-fourths of the Irish migratory labourers in England, I was approached on behalf of the Board of Agriculture and asked whether I could induce my Constituents to come over earlier and help the English farmers to get in their harvest. This is not a case such as was put by the right hon. Member for Trinity College—of Irishmen coming over to take the place of Englishmen who had gone to serve their country. I thoroughly sympathise with the view then put forward. I think you are bound to guard against Irishmen coming over and grabbing the places of Englishmen who are taken under this Bill. But this is the case of Irish labour which long before the War was exceedingly valuable to English farmers and which in the coming season will probably be of absolutely vital importance. Take care that by this Amendment you are not cutting off a supply of labour which may be of vital necessity to you."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1916, col. 291, Vol. LXXVIII.]That was early in the Committee stage of the first Military Service Bill. The whole of the terms of the Bill had not been com- 1526 pletely adjusted by the draftsman or settled by the President of the Local Government Board, but even then the President of the Local Government Board gave the assurance to the hon. Member for East Mayo as quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal. Later on, as the Bill developed, the assurance was made much clearer. For instance, on 20th January, 1916, with reference to the exemptions Clause of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin (Mr. Byrne) asked the following question:Whether workmen who were sent from their various trade unions in Dublin to this country at the outbreak of the War for the purpose of carrying out war work, if they should be dismissed or complete their contract, will be allowed to return to Ireland; and whether men who have been transferred from Government Departments in Ireland to this country since the outbreak of War will be excluded from the Military Service (No. 2) Bill?The President of the Local Government Board replied as follows:The persons referred to in the question are excepted from the provisions of the Military Service (No. 2) Bill if they were not ordinarily resident in Great Britain on the 15th August last, or if, although resident in Great Britain, they are resident there for some special purpose. If not within the above exceptions, a claim may be made for their exemption on the ground of their being employed on work of national importance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1916, col. 633, Vol. LXXVIII.]There is no reference there to an arbitrary time-limit of thirty days. It is put clearly there. Although resident in Great Britain, if they are resident there for some special purpose, then they do not come within the ambit of the Act. I find that, with reference to agricultural labourers, the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Bathurst) asked the President of the Local Government Board:If Irish agricultural labourers undertaking seasonal or other employment in English farms during the current year, when farmers are likely to be seriously short of labour, will be in any way interfered with in their employment while in England, owing to coming within these limits of age, which, had they been Englishmen, would have rendered them liable to military service?The President of the Local Government Board said:These persons would not, in my opinion, be ordinarily resident in Great Britain and would not, therefore, be within Clause 1 (4) of the Military Service Bill in its present form."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1916, col. 1274, Vol. LXXVIII.]This matter was raised in the House so recently as 6th April last by the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden) in regard not to agricultural labourers but to industrial workers, and he asked this question:If Irishmen sent into Great Britain by the Irish Labour Exchanges for temporary industrial 1527 work are exempt from the Military Service Act, 1916, so long as they remain in the employment to which they have been transferred?The President of the Local Government Board replied:The Military Service Act only applies to persons who are ordinarily resident in Great Britain on 15th August, 1915, or who become ordinarily resident in Great Britain subsequently to that date. It does not apply to persons residing in Great Britain temporarily or for some special purpose.This supplementary question was asked by the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden):Are we to understand from that reply that the answer to my question is in the negative? The point I raised in the question has not been touched at all in the answer.The President of the Local Government Board said:I do not accept the lion. Gentleman's description of my answer. I have given an answer which is accurate, based upon the interpretation of an Act of Parliament. If the hon. Member is referring to the specific case of Irish labourers who come over here to work in one form of industry or another, they do not come within the provisions of the Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1916. col. 1330, Vol. LXXXI.]This is the most definite and explicit statement I can find in any of the discussions which have taken place, either when the Bill was in its stages through the House or at any other time. This refers quite distinctly, specifically, and expressly to work in one form of industry or another.
I want to draw the attention of the House to some of the grievances of which we complain, and which are the immediate occasion of the present Debate. The hon. Member (Mr. Snowden) on Wednesday last asked this question of the President of the Local Government Board:If the Irish Labour Exchanges are inviting Irishmen to volunteer for munition work in Great Britain, if copies of the questions put by the hon. Member for Blackburn to him are being distributed, which assure volunteers that they will not come under the Military Service Act by coming to Great Britain for that purpose, and in view of these facts what action he proposes to take about the case of two Irishmen who, induced by these replies, volunteered for munition work at Clydebank, and being ignorant of the National Registration Act did not register within the required time, and on 3rd August were fined £1 or ten days' imprisonment, and the following day were sent a notice by the military authorities to join the Army?The President of the Local Government Board replied:I have no knowledge of the facts stated in the question and I can only refer to the replies given yesterday by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th August, 1916, col. 1220.]In order to follow this matter up, I refer to what the Financial Secretary to the War 1528 Office said the previous day, and with all respect to him it has no bearing whatever on the case very pertinently raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden).I have taken the opportunity this afternoon to ask the hon. Member for Blackburn if he could supply definite particulars of these men, their names and addresses, and he informs me that he is perfectly willing to supply them to the Secretary for Scotland or the Financial Secretary to the War Office with names and full information to enable him to verify the statements set out in the question.I do not think, in view of the assurance given by the President of the Local Government Board, that there can be any justification for this treatment of men in the position of these two persons engaged in munition work in Clydebank.
I have also here a number of cases, two or three of which I propose to quote, and I think in order that the House may be possessed of the facts sufficiently to form a judgment as to whether the Act is being administered in accordance With the pledges given by members of His Majesty's Government, hon. Members will forgive me for going into this matter in some detail.Three men, all Irish migratory labourers, named Anthony O'Donnell, Hugh Gallagher, and John Gallagher, residing at Derry Beg, county Donegal, came to Scotland towards the end of June and worked as labourers at Moss End. They were arrested by the police at Moss End on the 8th of this month and, on the complaint of the Procurator Fiscal, charged with desertion.Of course, if they were liable to the Military Service Act they would be, within the meaning of the Act, deserters, but how can it be said, if they are migratory labourers who come in June to work for a period of three or four months and then return to their country to the agricultural pursuits from which they came, that they are in any sense men to whom the Act applies?These men on being charged with desertion were convicted and handed over to a military escort, and are all at present in Hamilton Barracks.I have given the names of three individuals, and I have given particulars which will enable the Secretary for Scotland to verify what I have said. It may quite well be said in answer to what I have now stated that if these men are brought before the sheriffs they are given a fair trial, but that is not the way to administer this Act. That is not the spirit in which the President of the Local Gov eminent Board met my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) when the Bill was on its stages in Committee. These men, and the class to which they 1529 belong, are known to be men of the migratory labour class, and they should not be harassed by being arrested and subject to prosecution in a Police Court. Another instance is Patrick McCafferty, Hugh Brady and another, who were on the 10th instant all charged in the Glasgow Police Court with failing to register. McCafferty pleaded guilty and the hearing was adjourned till the 12th instant. Another pleaded not guilty. In the meantime, on the 11th instant, the Procurator Fiscal dropped the complaint of failing to register. All the accused, according to my information, were handed over to the military authorities, in whose custody they are at present. They are not even charged with desertion or brought before the magistrate on any charge except that of failing to register, and that charge is dropped. That is not a fair way in which to administer the Act.
May I be permitted to call the attention of the members of the Government who are present to another and perhaps a more serious case, and that is with reference to the labourers employed at the Rosyth and at the Methil Docks? While the Military Service Bill was being discussed in the House the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and myself went to the heads of the Admiralty and interviewed them with reference to these men. There was a feeling amongst them that if they remained at their work they would be held subject to the Military Service Act, and that feeling has been prompted among these men—the men employed at Rosyth Works and also at the Methil Docks—largely through what I consider a very incautious letter written by the Prime Minister's Secretary recently. At the Buckhaven Borough Tribunal a question was raised about these men from Ireland as to whether or not they were subject to the Military Service Acts, and the representative of the War Office said that he could not say. Then the clerk of the tribunal addressed a letter on the subject to the Prime Minister, and the following reply was received from Mr. Bonham Carter:He is instructed to say that the Military Service Act applies to all male British subjects between the ages of eighteen and forty-one years ordinarily resident in Great Britain, if a British subject becomes resident in Great Britain, or any portion of the Empire, he would come within the provisions of the Act within thirty days of his being so resident.The only comment I am forced to make on that is that it does not represent the Act. In point of fact, it is a very non- 1530 sensical statement; it does not represent truly what the Act says; it is a perversion of the terms of the Act.
The President of the Local Government Board did not fix upon an arbitrary point of time like thirty days as determining whether or not a person was ordinarily resident in this country, and I think the test which my hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal (Mr. Hugh Law) proposed to apply is the only test which can answer the question satisfactorily in this case, and that is the test of whether the man in question intends to remain in this country—has he settled in this country, and has he the intention of remaining, or is he here for a temporary purpose, working for a specified purpose or at a certain class of work, the duration of employment in which is necessarily temporary, and has he the intention of remaining here or returning to his domicile in Ireland? If so, then the Act does not apply to him, because he is not a person ordinarily resident in Great Britain. In face of a letter of this kind, supposed to be written on the authority of the Prime Minister, and sent to magistrates and inferior judges in Scotland—I speak with all respect of all classes of judges in Scotland, but if they receive on the presumed authority of the Prime Minister a letter from his Secretary saying that if a man remains in this country for thirty days he is presumed to be under the Military Service Act—I say in face of such a letter it is no wonder that the Act operates with a certain amount of injustice and is badly administered by those civil tribunals which are responsible for its administration. What I expect and what my colleagues expect of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Tennant), and also from the hon. Gentleman who is here to represent and speak for the War Office (Mr. Forster), is that so far as men of the class of agricultural labourers are concerned and the other class of men who have been enticed over by the Local Government Board—
§ Mr. SCANLAN
And the Board of Trade—the men who have been asked by the Labour Exchanges to come over to this country and engage in temporary work of this character—expect that so far as these men are concerned they should not come under the Military Service Act. I am not exaggerating when I say that they 1531 have been sought for and invited to come over. The question of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) which I read, and the answer to it by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Long), have been printed and circulated in Ireland by the Labour Exchanges. This constitutes a definite invitation to skilled Irishmen and to Irish labourers to come over and engage in munition and other industrial work, as well as in farm work, and they have come over on the faith of that promise, made in that reply by the President of the Local Government Board. It seems to me the case is so plain that it only requires to be stated in order to secure from the Secretary for Scotland and from the War Office an assurance that so far as they are concerned the Act will be interpreted in accordance with the pledges given by the President of the Local Government Board when the Act was on its passage through the House of Commons. With regard to the cases which have already arisen, I respectfully ask the Secretary for Scotland to give us to-night an undertaking that he will personally investigate every one which has been brought forward, and if he finds that injustice has been done to these men by handing them over to the military, that he will give instructions that the injustice shall be redressed by the men being discharged from military custody. For these reasons I have much pleasure in supporting nay hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal said he hoped that he had put the case temperately. May I give him an assurance that certainly, in my judgment, he has put his case both temperately and cogently. I make no distinction in that respect between him and his hon. Friend the Member for Sligo, who also did the same. I am glad to think neither of my hon. Friends brings any charge, as I understand them, against the Department which I have the honour to represent, or, I think I may say, against the War Office, and that the feeling is that these regrettable incidents have occurred through what I may call the over-activity of some official. There are two classes of labourers concerned; I think I may distinguish between them. There are those who are associated with agricultural operations and have been so for a considerable period, and there is the other class whom, 1532 I notice, both hon. Gentlemen desire to be considered pari passu with the agricultural labourers—that is, put in the same category—namely, the workers in industrial occupations.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Of course you cannot cut them in half, but I should have thought that they were not the same men. I do not, however, speak with special knowledge, except that one remembers the old Irish labourers who used to come over when one was a boy to help with the haymaking, and that kind of thing. I do not associate them with steel mills, and forges and industrial places of that kind. They are not what I should call "Irishmen ordinarily resident in this country." The men employed in the forges and factories are resident in the town in which those factories are situate, but I only say that from my own knowledge, and I do not want to be dogmatic. But I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal talked about them coming over sometimes for harvest work and sometimes for other work, and proceeded to argue that the promise of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the Local Government Board did include workers at Rosyth as being in the category of persons who were not ordinarily resident in this country, and that therefore they were in the same category as harvesters, and my hon. Friend also quoted the statement that the President of the Local Government Board as to persons who come over only for a short time from Ireland to this country for a special purpose and return as soon as their work is finished. I imagine that there is no difference at all between us as to that class of case, the man who really is ordinarily resident in Ireland and not in Great Britain. There really it is a question of fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Sligo said he would not go into questions of time. He did not think that questions of time entered into the essence of the arrangement. I confess that I entered a caveat to that statement in my own mind, because if time is not of the essence of it, what is?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I may think that I will go some time to live in Australia; am I going to be considered as ordinarily resident in Australia because I have not been there yet? I think that that would be 1533 absurd. If you live for six months of the year in one country and six months in another that is a border-line case, and a very difficult one to decide upon. In that case we would all say, and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and I, I am sure, on dozens of occasion in this House have informed hon. Members in various parts of the House that the proper tribunal to decide whether a man is or is not ordinarily resident in this country is a Civil Court. I want to know how it comes about that none of these cases have been tried in a Civil Court? I will make my Friends an offer. If they will produce a case I will have it tried as a test case. I do not know whether they think that worth while accepting. I do not know how it comes about that no test case, or no case at all as far as I can find, has been tried as to whether the man is or is not ordinarily resident in this country. I think that it is incredible, if I may say so, that a person in a quasi-judicial position, or a completely judicial position, such as a sheriff, should have said to any man, "We will not enter into this question here. You had better go and argue that in Hamilton Barracks." It is really incredible that a sheriff or any Court official should say that. I should want stronger evidence of that than mere hearsay. I should want something a little more in the nature of documentary evidence to establish so absurd and almost fatuous an observation as that which was said to have been made.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I would like to know who the people were who gave this information, because even in Glasgow sometimes two persons may be found who are not wholly accurate. My hon. Friend used a very interesting expression. He said that anyone who has the animus revertendi is considered by the Legislature to be a person who is not ordinarily resident in this country. Though he might be here four, five or eight years, the animus revertendi would be still surging in his bosom, and he would not be considered to be a person ordinarily resident in this country.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not want my hon. Friend to go away with the idea that the animus revertendi merely is sufficient to give 1534 him his case. I agree with the hon. Member for the Scotland Division that that is not the case which has been put forward, though it was mentioned.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman pardon me if I ask him to deal with what what said by the President of the Local Government Board, in answer to the hon. Member for Blackburn.The hon. Member,he said,is referring to the specific case of Irish labourers who come over here to work in one form of industry or another. They do not come within the provisions of the Act.That is the point that I wish dealt with.
§ Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR
Before the right hon. Gentleman again rises might I ask him to consult his legal Friend (Mr. Munro) as to the law of India with regard to the animus revertendi and the animus manendi. There he will find many examples of the case which has been put.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My right hon. Friend informs me that the animus revertendi is certainly considered, but the question of time is no less a consideration in the case which the hon. and learned Member has in mind. I do not think that we need flog that. It seems to me to have been flogged sufficiently. What I think that my hon. Friend really wishes is for me to give him some assurance as to what we can do. I do not think that there is any dispute between us as to what the law is. We all agree that if a man can be proved to be ordinarily resident in this country he is then subject to this Act of Parliament. He comes within its four corners. If, on the other hand, he is not ordinarily resident in this country, then he comes within the exceptions, not the exemptions. That is quite common ground between us. But I think that there are difficult border line cases. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that is so. I do not suggest that the cases that he has in mind necessarily have been all difficult border line cases. I understand that his case is that that is not so, and that they are regular migratory labourers, such as those whom I knew and used to look forward to meeting again and again. In those cases the migratory labourer ought not to be treated in the manner which my hon. Friend has described, and if I can do anything to contribute to that desired result I certainly will take all the steps which I can. For 1535 instance, I imagine that men who are ordinarily migratory labourers are generally fairly well known. They go back to the same place year after year. Presumably the police would know them. In cases where they are known I should certainly feel it not improper for me, and I would certainly feel it my duty, to inform the police that they should inform the military authorities as to who was and who was not a usual migratory labourer whom they knew, whom they could answer for as coming periodically year after year, and in such cases I think that we might avoid a certain amount of this action of which my hon. Friend complains.
I think my hon. Friend must not ask me to make use of this in respect of those who are known to evade their obligations. I do not think he will wish me to do so. I do not know that I can add anything else. Each case will have to be considered on its merits. My hon. Friend the Member for Sligo asked me whether I can give an assurance that all these cases shall be inquired into, and that the men will be discharged from the Army. I can not give him an assurance as to that, but I will give him an assurance that the cases he brings to my notice shall be inquired into. Naturally, I cannot give him the assurance that men in the military forces can be discharged. I know of some cases where that could not be done. For instance, a man has come over to work, but said, "I do not care what you say; I am going to join the Army." The man joined the Army voluntarily; there were no Police Court proceedings or anything of the kind; there were no proceedings before the Court. The man went straight to the military authorities and said he would join the Army, and he did join it. That may be rather an exceptional case, and I do not want to say much about it; nor do I want it to be supposed by any hon. Gentleman in any quarter of the House that we are using this power which is undoubtedly in the hands of the civil authorities to hand these men over to the military authorities as a means of coercing them to join the Army voluntarily. My hon. Friend talked of these men getting food through a hole in the wall! If there were a hole in the wall of this House I should be very glad to get food through it now. All I can say is that, having given my hon. Friend this assurance, I hope it will satisfy him.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland has shown his usual courtesy, but I am bound to say he has left me very uneasy, and I cannot honestly state that he has answered satisfactorily. We are dealing not with an Irish grievance only, but with a great English grievance and a great Scottish grievance as well. The harvesters of England would, I think, strongly condemn anything which deprived their fields of the benefit of the Irish labourer, who is in a position to come over and help. As a matter of fact—and here is where my right hon. Friend's explanation is so unsatisfactory—it is not merely in the fields of Scotland and England that Irish labour is wanted; it is largely requested by a good many of the munition works. My hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal (Mr. Hugh Law) said his personal honour was engaged in this matter, because, when he was consulted by the migratory labourers of his Constituency as to whether they should come over here or not, he gave them his personal pledge on the strength of the statement by the President of the Local Government Board, and on the wrords of the Act, that they could come over here in perfect surety that no attempt would be made to drive them into military service. I also have personal knowledge of this. The other day a great employer at one of the biggest munition works in this country, where labour is devoted to the production of shells and munitions for the front, came to me and said that he wanted badly a number of Irish labourers to come to his works and help to produce shells and munitions of war. He told me what the wages were, and they were very good wages. I knew my friend sufficiently well—he is a considerable employer of laboor—to be aware that the men would be treated well, and I was so impressed, first, by the opportunity of giving remunerative employment to many of my fellow countrymen in Ireland, and, secondly, desiring to help the Government in every way to win this War, that I gave letters of introduction to the Lord Mayor of Dublin and to all my friends in Ireland that I could reach, in order to set them to help in getting Irish labour to assist here in producing munitions of war.
What position am I in with my fellow countrymen? [NATIONALIST MEMBERS: "We have all done it; we have all done the same thing!"] What position are we in if, by pledges of that kind on our part, who 1537 are supposed to understand the meaning of Ministers, we induced our fellow-countrymen, with the best of intentions, namely, to help in winning the War, to come over on our persuasion, and on our recommendation, when the first thing that happens to them is that they are insulted, that they are put into these gaols, that they are deprived of their right to test their case before a civil tribunal, and that they are put into the Army, I must say—although I quite understand my right hon. Friend is dealing tenderly and considerately with public officials—that I do think we are entitled to have from him some words of disapprobation of the conduct of these officials who are responsible for these very—I hope I am not bringing any passion into this discussion—disgraceful proceedings Just think of one of these poor agricultural labourers, who has probably come over here for years who has perhaps dangled my right hon. Friend on his knee with the kindly feeling that every Irishman has for a baby—just think of one of these poor men coming over here, as did his father and his grandfather before him, only to find that the first thing which happens to him, though he has come on the strength of the pledges of the Government, is that he finds himself in prison, where he is compelled to lie upon the floor, and where he is denied food! It is a most disgraceful proceeding, and the men responsible for it ought not only to be condemned, but should be dismissed. All those who are acquainted with the Irish migratory labourer will know—so will some of my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches—that in the whole labour world there is no more pathetic figure than that of the Irish migratory labourer.
If you want to know what the Irish migratory labourer suffered in the past—I hope conditions have changed now—read the book of Mr. MacGill, "The Rat-Pit," "which gives the most accurate and true picture of the Irish labourer living in Scotland that has ever been written. He there describes the conditions of life of the Irish labourer at the hands of exploiting middlemen, conditions that would not be given by any Englishman to his dog if he had the ordinary love of a decent man. These men come over here and are put in gaol and are compelled to lie on the floor of a cell, and are starved and deprived of food for two or three days, and insulted as well. My right hon. Friend denies that, but I rely on the statements of my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal which were given 1538 to him by persons in whom I think he had a right to have confidence. I know that Irish labourers have been subjected to insult in days that are past. I ask again, what position are we in? Here is this poor labourer, I call him the most pathetic figure amongst the labourers, men and women—for women as well as men leave Donegal to attend to potato and potato digging. Here are these poor men, they live in miserable cabins in the West of Ireland, they have ten or twelve acres of miserable and infertile land. I hope we shall see the day when not one of them will have to leave the shores of Ireland, but that they will be able to make a livelihood in their own country, but they are not able to do so now. They come over here and they work two or three months. They live in barns, huddled together, very often to their own detriment. I will not say more as to that, though my hon. Friends know what I mean. They save their money, they live on the meanest food that can be bought in order to be able to save enough money to keep their houses over their heads and to keep a grip on the bit of land, which is one of the strongest and, I think, also one of the noblest and most beneficent passions of the Irish heart, and to keep their wives and children there. What is the reward they get for coming over here to give their help?
§ Colonel YATE
If they go into the Army their wives and children will get the separation allowance. That is the thing for them.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
They do not think so, but my hon. and gallant Friend will excuse me for saying that that is not the question now. Apparently my hon. Friend would prefer that they would remain in Ireland instead of coming here to help his countrymen to get the food which will help us through the War, and to make munitions. My hon. Friend has taken me a little away from the subject. As a matter of fact the farmers of England and of Scotland are crying out for this labour, and munition manufacturers in England and in Scotland are also crying out for it. The labour is in Ireland and will gladly come here, but it would not come here if we have not the 1539 assurance that swaggering and over-zealous local militarists will not abuse, and not only abuse but actually violate, the law of the land by pressing these men into the Army against their will and contrary to the pledges of Ministers. I think this is a question on which an Irishman is entitled to feel strongly. I do not want to bring passion into it, but I do feel that a great wrong is being done both to England and to Scotland and to Ireland by these proceedings. That brings me to a point on which my right hon. Friend is quite wrong. He talks about the animus revertendi, and he gave an explanation of the words of my hon. Friend which were not in his mind. No Member of these benches has ever suggested that an Irishman living in England and settled in England should escape his obligation under, the Military Service Act. As a matter of fact our countrymen in England and Scotland would not allow us to make any such plea, and such a plea would be entirely contrary to their wish and, what is much more important, to their act, because I will lay down this proposition, broadly speaking, of the Irish in Great Britain, of whom I am one and in whose name I have some title to speak: I say that there is no race in the whole Empire which has sent a more generous or larger contribution to the righting forces in the field than have the Irish in Great Britain. Thirty thousand of them went from Glasgow alone.
How could we, in face of such a splendid tribute of our countrymen of Great Britain to the fighting forces in the field, be supposed to come before this House and make a demand in their name that they should be exempt from the same law as their English fellow citizens by their side? No, Sir, that is not our position at all. Now here is where my right hon. Friend seems, if I may say so with great respect, not to be quite up-to-date. Does he or does he not know that at least, according to the pledges of Ministers, an Irishman who comes over here temporarily, even though he may stop for some months to work in a munitions factory and to help in making munitions, is promised exemption from military service. Does anybody suppose that I would advise them to come here if that pledge was not made and if I thought it would not be kept? Would I not be acting a treacherous part and a dishonest part if I helped my friend, a manufacturer of shells in Sheffield, to get Irishmen over here to go into his munitions factory if I 1540 knew at the same time that when they came they would be brought before a military tribunal and driven into the Army whether they liked it or not. My right hon. Friend says that he cannot release the men sent into the Army. I say it is his business to release them, and to see that they are released. Surely my right hon. Friend does not think that we want him to force out of the ranks an Irishman who wants to remain there. Our case is that if a labourer comes over here on the strength of the law of the land, and of the pledges of Ministers, that migratory labourers are exempt from this Act, that that pledge should be kept and the law should be observed, and that if the pledge has been broken, and the law broken, and that if the men have been Press-ganged, for that is what it is, into the Army, that they shall be given the option of remaining in the Army or leaving the Army. That would be justice and fair play. I do hope that before this Debate closes we shall have some more satisfactory assurance. I see the Financial Secretary present—
§ Mr. TENNANT
I have nothing to do with the War Office now, and therefore I am not able to give pledges on behalf of the War Office.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
My right hon. Friend is too previous. I was referring to the Financial Secretary to the War Office.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
That is the way all these Government things are managed, and that is the reason we were compelled to initiate this Debate. Heaven knows we did not want to do it, or to do anything that interferes in any way with the business of our colleagues in this House, and the very serious business it has to do. But the reason we had to do it was this: You go to one Department and you are told, "Your case is very good, but it is not my Department; better go to the War Office." You go to the War Office, and you are told, "It is a very strong case for interference, but you had better go to the Secretary for Scotland," and if you go to him you are told to go to the Board of Trade, and if you go to the Board of Trade you are told to go to the Local Government Board, and between all those Departments—
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Well, it is true and it is not funny. It is not funny! The story of Mesopotamia will show what this conflict between different Departments has created. I am surprised that my right hon. Friend should think I was trying to make fun of a matter like this. I am stating what everybody in the House knows to be true, namely, that when you bring forward a grievance of this kind you are driven from one Department to another, and that as the result you get no redress unless you bring it before the House of Commons. I hope the Financial Secretary to the War Office will give us a satisfactory assurance on this question. I am sure he will if he can. There is no more courteous Minister in this House. First, is the law going to be obeyed and the pledge of the Government kept? In connection with that, will the men who have been guilty of lawlessness be brought to account? Soldiers are naturally lawless. Inter arma silent leges—which means that you have only to put khaki on some men's backs, especially "dug-outs" or "found-outs," to find them riding, or trying to ride, rough-shod over the law. It ought not to be permitted, especially by the War Office, because for soldiers to break the law is to destroy that spirit of discipline which is the very soul of the Army. Secondly, we want to know whether this exemption applies not merely to men in agricultural pursuits, but to men who come over here temporarily on munitions work. I assure the House that I want to help the Government in this matter. We all want to help the Government. We want to get them as much labour as we can for the food supply and for the shell supply of the country. Certainly we will not be able to take any such steps with our countrymen unless we know that the rights which were supposed to be secured to them by the pledges of the Government and by the letter of the law are maintained to their full extent.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. H. W. Forster)
I think my hon. Friend was a little severe in his observations with regard to an interjection made a few moments ago. I dare say unwittingly he addressed an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland to see that these men who had been taken improperly into military service should be released. My right hon. Friend pointed out that he was no 1542 longer connected with the War Office, and that he could not give that pledge. Of course, he cannot give the pledge. My hon. Friend now appeals to me to give such a pledge. Let us see what is the pledge for which my hon. Friend asks. The case which has been made to-night is that of the migratory labourers—a class of men who are well known—a class of men who can be identified—a class of men who can practically be certified by the police. These are the men we had in mind when the Military Service Act was passed. These are the men of whom the agricultural population stand in urgent need. I have not heard anything to-night to show that any one of these men has been pressed into the Army. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have heard allegations that other men working in munition factories have been brought under the operation of the Military Service Act—improperly, it is alleged.
§ Mr. FORSTER
That is the first I have heard of any agricultural labourer having been brought under the operation of the Military Service Act.
May I call the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Debate on the 1st August, when the hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Doris) and myself brought forward three or four cases of which, if necessary, I can remind him later on to-night. We have had no satisfaction whatever, although they were cases of agricultural labourers from the West of Ireland.
§ Mr. FORSTER
What I said was that that was the first I had heard of it—the hon. Gentleman's offer to send me cases. Let the House remember the position of affairs in which the military officers have to act. It has been laid down that it is their duty to see that everyone of military age upon the National Register is, so to speak, brought to book. A certain number of these migratory Irish labourers are included in the National Register. The military authorities do not know—they have no means of knowing—who are migratory labourers and who are not. In pursuance of their duty they have to call 1543 up all the men of military age on the National Register who have not already joined the Colours.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think everybody knows what the present practise is. The point that arises for decision when these men are called up is whether or not they are exempt under the terms of the Military Service Act. Are they or are they not ordinarily resident in Great Britain? If they are, they are subject to the Military Service Act. If they are not, they are not subject to the Military Service Act. That question of fact has to be, determined, and it has to be determined by the Civil Court. The Civil Court is the only authority that can decide it. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) wanted to know whether I could give him a pledge that the men who have been wrongly taken into the Army under this system would be released. Obviously I cannot give the pledge offhand; but what I can promise is that the cases of these men who are well known and can be certified by the police—I will not put it as high as that—who can be proved to belong to the class on behalf of whom the hon. Member spoke, the recognised Irish migratory labourers, shall be looked into, and if it can be shown that the men were improperly taken under the Military Service Act, I have little or no doubt that they will be given an opportunity of obtaining their discharge. I do not think I can promise on broader or fairer lines than in the way I have met these cases.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I want to deal with one or two points. I think that in some respects the speech of the hon. Gentleman is hardly satisfactory. He has given a promise that the Irish migratory agricultural, labourers who may have been illegally arrested and put into the Army-shall be considered. My attention was, in the first place, called to this matter, and my interest enlisted, on account of a different class of men. My attention was 1544 directed to this matter by persons in Belfast who were being invited by the Labour Exchanges there to volunteer for skilled work of an industrial character in this country. Many were invited to volunteer for work in the new munitions establishment at Gretna. They had considerable doubts as to whether they would be exempt from the provisions of the Military Service Act if they volunteered. I have since learnt that in some cases the pledge which has been given to them has been violated, and they have had notices served upon them to enlist in the Army. It seems to me, after the speech of the hon. Member, that the position of the migratory agricultural labourer is in future secured—we hope so, at any rate. But I want equal consideration to this other case. I think the case is quite entitled to that consideration; not only on its own account, but in the interests, as the hon. Member who has just spoken has said, of England and of Scotland. I do not think that anybody for a single moment would contend that these men are ordinarily resident in Scotland. The Secretary for Scotland said the element of time entered into the matter. I do not think the element of time does enter into this case. If the element of time entered at all it is for the period of the War.
The point seems to me to be this: These men have been induced to come to this country for a specific purpose, and when that specific purpose no longer exists then their period of residence in this country naturally comes to an end. They have never severed their home ties in Ireland. I take it the reason why this Debate has been raised this afternoon is because men of this class have been quite unjustly brought within the operation of the Military Service Act. I rose at the same time as the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool mainly to put a point which ho put very effectively. I have had a good deal of experience of the War Office. I know quite well what I, at any rate, believe to be illegal acts on the part of recruiting officers. In hardly a single case have I got satisfaction. I have very often put a phrase something like this into the peroration of the question I have addressed to the War Office: "If the facts are found to be as stated, will strong action be taken against the officer responsible?" There is no other way of putting an end to this. The military officers responsible for illegal acts must be punished. An example must be made of 1545 them. It is only by doing that that others will be prevented from doing similar things. I had one ease, however, where the War Office did take action. The officer who was guilty of a grossly illegal act was superseded in his command. Notwithstanding that, that Front Bench did everything it possibly could to shield the man, and when I endeavoured to make the fact public that he had been superseded on account of his illegal conduct, the representative of the War Office practically denied that that had been the case. I support most strongly the plea that has been made by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, that, if these recruiting officers are found to have been guilty of illegal acts, that proper disciplinary measures should be taken against them. I rise to put these two points not merely because of those who are migratory agricultural labourers, but because of those who have been brought over to this country for temporary purposes and are being employed in some kind of munitions work. I hope the hon. Member will consider the matter worthy of his attention.
We on these benches, I think, have made it perfectly clear to the House that we make no charges whatever against either the Scottish Department or the War Office for direct responsibility for what has taken place in these cases to which we have drawn attention. We do say, however, that there is an indirect responsibility upon both of these Departments where it can be shown that subordinates, either in the police, or in the recruiting Departments, have acted harshly or unjustly, when it is the duty of their superiors to protect these unfortunate people, and see that such abuses do not occur. We are quite ready to admit, I think, that both the Financial Secretary to the War Office and the Secretary for Scotland have shown a sympathetic disposition in regard to what we have put forward this evening. I do not think, however, either of the hon. Gentlemen have gone quite far enough to meet our case. I think that the Secretary for Scotland must recognise that while, in the main, the case is the case of the migratory agricultural labourer, there is also a strong case in connection with the munition workers who have been enticed over from Ireland to specific undertakings, in response to special appeals by Government organisations and Government Departments in this country, and who have 1546 been assured by Irish Members of Parliament, in response to those appeals, they were perfectly safe under the law, and that there need be no fear of their being pressed into the Army against their wishes. All these difficulties were foreseen at the time the Military Service Act was passing through. My hon. Friend who made this Motion to-night quoted chapter and verse to show that we tried our best on that occasion to safeguard against such incidents such as these. We were given assurances by Ministers. I cannot help thinking that it would have been far better for us, and for our people, not to have relied so much upon these assurances, but rather to have made the Act more stringent and specific. It seems undoubtedly the case that there does exist a very extraordinary difference of opinion in dealing with these cases that have arisen in Glasgow as to what is the meaning of the words in the Act, "ordinarily resident in Great Britain." I mentioned it at Question Time to-day. I will read to the House a portion of a letter from a prominent gentleman in Glasgow with regard to that question. He writes:The new position assumed by the authorities at Motherwell is that after twenty-eight days residence the Irish immigrants are officially regarded as ordinarily resident in Great Britain. Such an interpretation and application of the law is, we contend, a breach of the assurances given to Irish Members when the Military Service Act was passed.There are just two points to which I want to draw the attention of the House. The first is, we want the position cleared up with regard to the future, and we want to ensure that any injustice that has been done will be set right. The Secretary for Scotland has given us an assurance that he will approach the police in Scotland upon this matter. What we really would like to see him do is to give instructions that, until the position is clearly defined as to what ordinary residence means, he should instruct the police in Glasgow to stop the campaign against these Irish migrants, which undoubtedly has been organised by the police—on whose authority I do not know—within the last couple of weeks. Some hon. Members on these benches and myself as long ago as the first of this month drew attention to this matter in this House. We gave the Secretary of State for War specific cases. Let me read one or two cases presented to him by the hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Doris):The first is that of Michael Nolan, from my Constituency. He came to England in April last 1547 as an agricultural labourer, and was shortly afterwards seized by the Military at Molesworth, prosecuted, convicted, and forced into the Army. … In this case the registration paper was left at his lodging, and as the man was illiterate it was filled up by an English lady there, and no mention was made of his home address. So that when the paper was returned to the authorities they went and searched for the man, and took him for a defaulter.There was a perfectly genuine case in which a mistake had been made. Has that man been released from the Army, if he desires to be released? I will only quote one other case:Another case is that of Thomas McHale, in the same district. … He was arrested on a farm in Cheshire. He was never ordinarily resident in England. He spent only a few months here every year.And then my hon. Friend went on to quote other cases. I hope the future attitude of the War Office on these matters is to be different from what it has been, because not only the hon. Member for West Mayo but I myself wrote to the Under-Secretary for War on this question, and the only answer we got was that:Whether or no a man is ordinarily resident in Great Britain within the meaning of the Military Service Act is a question which can only be decided by a Civil Court.In connection with the case that. I brought forward from my Constituency, that of a man of the name of Miles Cosgrave, that was the reply I got from the Under-Secretary for War. I have asked for a sworn statement to be taken from this man, and, although he was pressed into the Army by a civil tribunal, I will ask the War Office to reconsider that case, if it can be shown there is clear evidence that there was a wrong decision, and that this man ought not to have been pressed into the Army. I hope the assurance we have received from the Financial Secretary to the War Office this evening means that cases such as those, if pressed upon their attention, will receive fair consideration, and I have only to say that this is a matter which, it seems to me, concerns not only the War Office or the Scottish Office, but the Irish Office as well. I see one representative of the Irish Government on the Treasury Bench, and I hope he will represent to the Irish Government that, until these questions are cleared up, and the position of these men is secured, the police in Ireland will be requested at every police barracks to notify these men that they are not safe in coming over unless they are prepared to be pressed into the Army. I do not wish to pursue that further than to say that I think it is a matter on which the Irish Office and 1548 the Irish Government ought to show some concern for these people, because, whatever views we may have with regard to whether or no the Military Service Act should apply to Ireland, I say it is not a chivalrous thing, nor is it a very creditable thing, for a great Empire through its subordinates, or upholding its subordinates, to use unfair means of this nature to press Irishmen into the Army.
§ Sir W. BYLES
I know I am only an Englishman, but I hope I may be allowed, as one who has been deeply interested in Irish life, Irish social conditions, and Irish political aspirations for many years, to add a few sentences in this Debate. I do not know whether many Members of this House realise what a wide question this is, and how very far the population of the West of Ireland takes part in our harvesting operations here. It was my business many years ago—I suppose thirty years ago—to go frequently to Ireland. At that time there was a great appetite in this country for facts concerning Irish life, and, having access to a great Northern paper, I made it my business to acquire in Ireland and to portray, as far as I could, the conditions of Irish life. That brought me a good deal into connection with this question of migratory labour, and I was astonished in passing through Mayo and Roscommon, and other places, to find how widely it was prevalent in Ireland. I remember that I visited, at that time, the Island of Achill, where I made a systematic inquiry, and I found that nearly the whole male population of Achill came over to this country for our harvest, and a good deal of the female population went to the mills around Glasgow, going home in the autumn with as much of their wages as they had been able to save. I was much impressed with the peasant population of Ireland and the small farmers, who had always great difficulty in paying their rents. The men who came over to work in our farms—and I have met with farmers in the North of England who have given them the very highest character for good conduct and good work—remained here for some months. I made close inquiries as to what they would earn in this country, what they would save out of their earnings, and what was the rent of their farms, and I remember at this moment the result I arrived at, namely, that out of the earnings of those men here during one summer they would be able to pay for the entire rent of the Island of Achill in one 1549 year. I would be very glad if that statement, which sounds rather startling, is tested by anyone else, and I believe it will be found to be fairly accurate.
The Military Service Act, for some reason or other—probably a good reason—was not made applicable to Ireland; therefore Irishmen ought surely to be exempt unless they become resident in this country. But these residents in county Mayo and the Isle of Achill are in no sense residents in this country, because they have their little farms, of which they know every inch, and they long to get back home with any shillings they can get out of the English farmers. I think it would be very hard indeed if, when they came over here, they were pressed into the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I think the Military Service, Act brings very great hardship on many many individuals in this country, and I do not want these poor Irish labourers, who were never included under the Act, to be made amenable to it. I really did think that the Achill case would be of some interest to the House, and I hope, my poor Irish friends, so industrious, so pious, and so well-behaved, will not be brought under the domination of the military machine of this country.
§ Colonel YATE
I should like to thank the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) for the courteous manner in which he received my slight interruption in his speech. I should also like to join with him in all that he said about the splendid soldiers we get from Irishmen who are resident in England. We all know the Irish soldier. The hon. Member described him as lawless. The Irishman may be a little wild, but when it comes to the day of battle you do not want a flock of sheep to drive in front of you but a line of dare-devils, who will follow wherever you are willing to lead them, and of such is the Irish soldier. The Irishmen in England make good soldiers, but we want the Irishmen in Ireland to join as well; and, if they did, then I am sure they would be like the man we were told of, who, once he got into the Army, would not leave it on any account. If the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool would only persuade his colleagues to apply the Military Service Act to Ireland and bring in all Irishmen of military age, drill them in England, and send them to the War, he would do more for Ireland than has been accomplished for generations. He would not only 1550 secure money in the shape of separation allowances for the wives, but when those men go back after the War they will go back wiser and better men, and I am sure once they have joined with us in this War there will be very few of us, when Irishmen have proved their sincerity, who will not be ready to join in giving them the national assembly that they are asking for.
§ Mr. BARNES
The hon. Member who has just spoken has entirely lost sight of the matter at issue. It is not a question as to whether it is desirable for Irishmen to make common cause with us in this country, but as to whether Irishmen temporarily resident in this country are legally taken into the Army. I rose to make common cause with the Irishmen, and I do so, not on the ground put forward by my hon. Friend, who, as I understand him, pleaded that it was a hard thing for Irishmen to be taken into the Army. I am not concerned whether the taking into the Army of an Irishman is a hard thing. I speak as a Scottish Member, and I want to emphasise the point put by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) that it is desirable that these Irishmen should come over here and that the Irishmen who have not come should have a feeling of confidence that they can come and be secure under the shield of the law. I speak as one with some special knowledge of the need of Scotland at the present moment for these agriculturists from Ireland. It has been my lot—I was going to say good fortune, but it has not really been a good fortune—for the last few months to have to sit upon the Central Tribunal which has dealt with these applications for exemption from military service, and in the course of our proceedings we have had many applications from Scottish agriculturists. The appeal was responded to by Scotland perhaps more liberally than by any other part of the country. Men from Scotland went into the Army in great numbers. Thirty thousand, as has been said, went from Glasgow, including, as I know, many Irishmen and many of my own Constituents. My Constituency is largely composed of Irishmen, and I have it on good authority that it contributed more per head of population to the Army than any other constituency, even in Glasgow. The industries of Scotland have been denuded of men. That is particularly true of agriculture. In the course of our examination into this matter 1551 and of our consideration of applications for exemption we frequently send to the Board of Agriculture for advice, and we are constantly in touch with that Board with regard to the number of men now in Scotland relative to the needs of Scotland and the number of men now in the agricultural districts of Scotland relative to the prospective needs of Scotland for the harvest. We are, therefore, in touch with the Board of Agriculture on all aspects of this question, and I can say, as a matter of fact, that in Scotland we are dependent upon the usual incursion of men from Ireland to get in this year's harvest. Therefore, from, the point of view of Scottish agriculturists, it is most important that this year, above all years, we should have the usual number of men from Ireland to get in the produce for the Scottish people and for the British Empire. I want to say a word or two as to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Forster). He certainly went a good deal in advance of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Tennant) in his interpretation of the Act. Yet I think he gave rather a narrow interpretation of the Act. He said that the Act was primarily intended for the agriculturist. I suppose it was, but the wording of the Act covers more than the agriculturist. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would have inquiries made into some particular cases, and that if they are agriculturists he will give them the benefit of the Act—
§ Mr. FORSTER
No, no! I did not intend to apply that to cases of agriculturists only. I said that the question really is: Is a man ordinarily resident or is he not? That is a question which can only be finally decided by a Civil Court. What I said was that in cases where it could be established that a man was a migratory labourer, and it could be proved that he was, then I would do my best to see that he was given an opportunity of staying in his occupation. I should like to carry it one stage further, and say that when that is established then, as a matter of course, under the terms of the Act, he will be exempted from military service.
§ Mr. BARNES
That being so, I need say little more on this point, but I may say what I was driving at, and it is this: It must be made manifest that not only the agriculturists are going to have the benefit of 1552 the Act, but that other people are going to have the benefit. There was something said as to the Secretary for Scotland giving certain directions to the police to do certain things in Glasgow. I think that would be rather stepping outside the Secretary for Scotland's duty, because the police of Glasgow are under the jurisdiction of the Glasgow municipal authorities. There seems to me no used to give directions to the police of Glasgow if the military authorities did their duty. We may take it for granted that the Scottish police would not act unless they get instructions from somebody. Who has given them these istructions? I take it that these instructions have come from the military authorities, and if the military authorities have given instructions contrary to the law, creating that feeling of lack of confidence in the law on the part of these people whose labour we need, then I say that these people are properly asking—and here I agree with the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool—that they should be dealt with as they ought to be dealt with.
I have never had the very smallest sympathy with the exception of the Irish agricultural labourer from the provisions of the Military Service Act. I am bound to say that I think he must in many cases be sensible of the inestimable privilege which most of his fellows in other parts of the United Kingdom are enjoying in fighting for their country in existing circumstances. The question which has to be decided, however, is this: "Is that labourer really excepted from the provisions of the Act or is he not?" If he is excepted, I think the interpretation of the somewhat vague words ought to be such as to indicate not merely to his mind, but particularly to the minds of all those who usually employ him in agricultural operations in this country, that it is safe for him to come over, and that he will be employed if he does come over. I put a question on behalf of the Central Chamber of Agriculture about a year ago to the President of the Local Government Board, asking him point blank whether in the event of these men coming over, as they had been wont to come over for many years, to engage in harvesting or other seasonal operations on farms they would or would not be in any way interfered with; and the personal opinion of the President of the Local Government Board was that they would not be interfered with.
1553 I happen to know that in many districts where these men in past years have been in the habit, of coming over, they have not come at all, or not in the same numbers as formerly. That very seriously disorganises the work of those farmers where their work is exceptionally valuable at the present time. All I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentlemen concerned is that they should make it perfectly clear not merely to the men themselves, but to the farmers of this country who have been in the habit of employing them upon this seasonal work, that they will be allowed to come, that, if they do come, their employers may depend upon their remaining to carry through their harvest operations, and that they will be in no way interfered with by the military authorities if they do. It is not only fair to the men themselves, whatever views we may have as to their patriotism or otherwise, but it is also most important from the point of view of agricultural operations in this country.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I do not rise with the object of prolonging the discussion, but in order to make a suggestion to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, whose courtesy throughout this Debate, as in all other matters, those who have come in contact with him freely recognise. The Secretary for Scotland has stated that he will give instructions to the police authorities in Scotland to prevent any mistake or misunderstanding in the future so far as they are concerned in the application of the Act. I suggest to the Financial Secretary to the War Office that he should issue similar instructions from the War Office to the military authorities in England and in Scotland, telling them what the law is upon the question, putting it beyond a shadow of doubt, and instructing them how they are to construe this Section of the Military Service Act. If he will do that, there will be an end to all controversy or misunderstanding on the subject, and it will make it impossible for any misunderstanding or disagreeable criticism to occur in future. It is not an unreasonable request that he should make it perfectly clear, as he has done to-night, and that he should convey this clear understanding to the military authorities all over the country, whose understandings, I am sorry to think, are not always as clear as that of the hon. Gentleman himself. I hope this suggestion will appeal to him, and that he will be able to tell us that the authorities will issue this clear definition of what is the law upon the subject.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
In view of the assurances given by the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen representing the Government, and the courteous manner in which they have met us, I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Adjournment, by leave, withdrawn.