§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I desire briefly to call attention to one or two matters relating to the military administration of recruiting, not returning to those matters which I asked the House to consider last week, but dealing with one or two other points to which, it seems to me, it is right that the House of Commons should devote a little time and attention. I wish, first of all, to refer to the case of widows' sons. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board here because he has throughout dealt with this matter in a thoroughly sympathetic way. Everyone who knows him is certain that the assurances that he gives in this House are intended to be acted upon. It is not from any doubt as to the genuineness of the intentions of the Government that I now call attention to the matter. It is a serious and an urgent matter, and one on which a number of people in the country who are entitled to our special sympathy feel very anxious. Let me remind the House what are the declarations that have been made on the subject. When he introduced the Military Service Bill on 5th January, the Prime Minister said:Where there is a single unmarried son left behind it would, of course, be a monstrous thing if the State were to call for military service from a man in that position. He is as much entitled to exemption as any man in the Empire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th January. 1916, col. 956, Vol. LXXVII.]And I remember that that statement of the Prime Minister was received with general cheers—indeed, some hon. Members called out that he was entitled to-more consideration than others. Not only so, but the Prime Minister, as we remember, quoted from an old ballad of the time of Agincourt; and later, in summing up the contents of the Bill, he said:It is a Bill which exempts those who, though unmarried, are the sole support of persons dependent upon them.Of course, that did not mean—no sensible person pretends that it meant—that in a case where the widow was a lady of inde- 924 pendent means, her son, merely because he was the son of a widow, was going to be exempt. Nothing of the kind. No doubt there are cases in which the relationship of son and widow may exist in which it is perfectly right and proper that the son should volunteer, if he will, and under this Act may be compelled if he will not, but the cases that have arisen before the local tribunals are, as it seems to me, cases well within the Prime Minister's declaration. The matter does not stop there. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, dealing with this matter on the Committee stage of the Bill, said:Nobody desires to take the only son of his mother who is a widow, and who looks to her son for maintenance and support, and relies upon him practically for everything in the world.My right hon. Friend pointed out it would be better not to state the exemption in express terms, and it was he who proposed the phrase in the Bill that there should be exemptionon the ground that serious hardship would ensue if a man were called up for Army service owing to his special financial, business, or domestic obligations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 18th January, 1916, cols. 345 and 346, Vol. LXXVIII.]Then, on the Report stage, a rather curious thing happened. My right hon. Friend desired to alter the phrase which he had recommended to us in Committee, and he sought to substitute the word "exceptional" obligations for "special" obligations, and there was some discussion on that. This change was resisted, amongst others, by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell). He quoted the Prime Minister's words, that, it would be monstrous to compel widows' sons, and he asked my right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) whether such persons got exemption under his Amendment. My right hon. Friend replied at once "Certainly." Some hon. Members, I think, were not very well satisfied with the position, and I myself ventured to interpose a little later in the Debate to suggest that the difference in phraseology might be unimportant if the Government expressly stated that widows' sons were intended to be exempt, and I said this, if I may be forgiven for quoting one sentence:This is one of the cases where a clear declaration from the Government as to the sort of standard they were setting up would make a lot of difference. If my right hon. Friend was prepared to say that if you take the only surviving son of a widow, dependent upon her boy's earnings, and regarded that as a case that clearly ought to be exempted, we should be satisfied."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1916, col. 980, Vol. LXXVIII.]925 My hon. Friend at once replied, with the candour and frankness which we are always accustomed to get from him, that I hadaccurately described the view of the Government, for that is precisely the case we intend to cover.On that the opposition was withdrawn, and the proposed change was made in the Bill, the matter went forward, and I think everyone was satisfied. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say just now that he had sent a communication to the central appeal tribunal on this subject. I think I understood him to say he had sent it to the local tribunals.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Long)
made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am making no complaint whatever of the right hon. Gentleman, or any member of the Government at all, but we are all concerned in this House to see that when representations and undertakings are made, they shall in fact be fairly carried out. Do not let me pitch my complaint too high. All I say at present is, that really those representations are not being given due effect to by these local tribunals. I take by way of illustration, and solely by way of illustration, what has happened in one of the tribunals in London, and I take five cases. Case No. 1 is that of a man, the sole support of his widowed mother, aged sixty-five, who suffers from rheumatism. He contributes 25s. a week and lives at home, but there is no other income at home, and he is refused exemption. Case No. 2 is that of a man, the principal support of a paralysed mother. The sister, a typist, contributes 10s. a week to the home, and the man contributes 25s. a week, and pays any necessary doctor's fees for attending his sick mother. He is refused exemption. The third case is that of a man who is the sole support of a widowed mother, and who partially supports two sisters. He is refused exemption. Another man is the sole support of a mother of sixtyeight, crippled with rheumatism. He allows her £l a week, and there are a few shares which bring in the princely income of £9 per annum, and presumably on that ground exemption is refused. The fifth case is that of a son who is the sole support of a very delicate mother aged 926 sixty-five. A sister has to stay at home and look after the mother. He is refused exemption. No one will for a moment contend that those decisions, if correctly reported—and they have been checked with a good deal of care—are in accordance with the intentions of the Government. I do not pause to ask what were the intentions of the Government when the Bill passed, and what are their intentions now. I am sure their great desire is to secure that the declarations which they make shall be fairly carried out. Let me give a single instance from another district in London which came under my personal observation. This is the case of a young man, the only son of a widow, the widow being entirely dependent upon his support, and who had his appeal refused on 20th January. The tribunal did not challenge any of the facts, but suggested, without any real warrant, that this young man's employers would make up any loss in salary. That surely was not the intention of the Government or of the House of Commons when they put those words into the Bill, and this young man writes to me to say:I pointed out that nearly eighty of the staff had enlisted, while a large number had attested, and that it would be obviously impossible for the firm to bear the financial responsibility for this large number. Besides, in the event of my being killed my employers could not, of course, accept financial responsibility.It does seem to me that, as matters stand, these local tribunals are not giving sufficient attention to this class of case. They are to proceed on the assumption that those to whom they refuse exemption will come back alive and well. We all hope they will, but it is not right that the cases should be disposed of as though that would necessarily happen, and the pension which the bereaved mother would get, or the compensation which the man would get if he returned invalided or wounded, by no means compensates for the loss which is suffered by such a home if these refusals are persisted in. I do not say in a time of war it is a good reason for exemption to say that hardship will result if a man is not exempted. Hardship there is in all quarters, and widows' sons, like other people, have to take their share; but I do say it would be a great shame, after the express declarations that were made when this Bill was passed and the assurances offered to the House, if cases such as I have referred to 927 are not promptly and effectively revised. That is the first point to which I wish to draw attention.
The second point is one to which, perhaps, the Under-Secretary of State for War would more properly attend. It has to do with this famous yellow form W3236. I said a week ago that this form, as I was told, was being sent out indiscriminately to people whether they were within the Military Service Act or not. That seems a very improper thing to do. It is no answer to say that the individual who receives this form and is outside the Act has only got to say so. We are dealing with people many of whom do not understand their rights, and many of whom are very much alarmed at anything which looks like military or official direction; indeed, they have some reason to be alarmed, because this yellow form, which requires the person to whom it is addressed to join the Colours in the course of the next few days, contains at the bottom an extract from Section 15 of the Reserve Forces Act, 1882, which reminds the gentleman who receives this particular form that if he does not obey he will be dealt with as deserters are dealt with in time of War. It is no use saying that this is a matter which does not matter much, because this form has gone to hundreds and thousands of people who have no conceivable obligations under the Military Service Act. I called attention to this matter a week ago, and I do not believe that it has since been adjusted in the least degree.
There is a second grave objection to this form. The right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War and the War Office know perfectly well that even if a man is liable to be compelled he is entitled to apply for an exemption, and if he does so, he cannot be required to join the Colours until his exemption is disposed of. This is perfectly well understood by the War Office, and it was intended by the House of Commons, although it is not well understood by those who get this form. There is nothing on this form to give any information of that sort. A young man may be a person who is liable to compulsion under the Military Service Act, but he may have grounds for appealing for an exemption. If so, he is not under any obligation to 928 join the Colours until that matter is disposed of, and yet he is given this yellow form which declares,
"You are hereby warned that you will be required to join for service with the Colours on the 8th of March, 1916. "He is practically told, "If you do not obey the order we are now sending you will be treated as a deserter." You do not need to be a lawyer to understand these things because they are perfectly plain and simple, and if the War Office desires to act fairly and with consideration to people outside this Act, nothing would be easier than to put on this yellow form a plain notice as to this condition. If you do not put that on, in point of fact whether you mean it or not, you are bluffing a great number of people into the Army whom you have no right to force into the Army whatever.
I should have thought that the words of the Act of Parliament were so simple that nobody could misunderstand or misrepresent them. I should have thought they were so simple that the War Office could not misunderstand or misrepresent them. What has happened? My right hon. Friend was instructed at the end of last Session to give a misleading answer to an hon. Friend of mine, and he started on a course of serious mistakes. Everybody in the country who had been rejected under the Derby scheme, and was therefore not liable to be compelled, was told by the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman that he must be re-examined, and the result is that there has been a series of statements and explanations and withdrawals in regard to this matter which has left the whole thing in a muddle. Now there is no reason whatever why there should be a muddle. This is the simplest and plainest thing to state in the world. In the absence of any statement by the War Office I was driven to write to the papers because I was getting so many letters on the subject, and I was afraid that unless something was done in the matter I should be swamped. On this matter I am sure I shall have the sympathy of my right hon. Friend. Whatever the views of my right hon. Friend were last week, I would remind him that the matters I am calling attention to are not some casual occasional slips, but they are occurring systematically all over the country, to the great annoyance and indignation of many honest people. The last state of this ridiculous muddle is this: I complained that 929 the War Office did not announce in every recruiting area by poster or pamphlet what the position of these people was. They never did so, and they allowed the whole thing to be muddled by questions and answers in the House of Commons. At last they thought they would issue a poster, and they issued it yesterday, and this is spite of the fact that here, in Debate, we established that it was not necessary for a man to hold any particular certificate for him to be a rejected man under the Act. The poster announces that:Where a man considers he is exempt from military service on the ground that he has offered himself for enlistment and has been medically rejected from military service since the 14th of August, 1915, he must produce a rejection certificate duly completed and signed, which is recognised as good by the military authorities.There is not a word of truth in that, and really it is about time that the military authorities learned the contents of this Act of Parliament. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether I have been rightly informed that this poster has been withdrawn?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
My attention was only called to this poster to-day, and I have not seen it before. It has not been withdrawn.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Then the country awaits the favour of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope in his graciousness he will be moved to withdraw it, because it entirely contradicts what he himself said in the House of Commons. I certainly understood from the papers, and from what I have been told privately, that it was either withdrawn or about to be withdrawn by the military authorities. My right hon. Friend says he does not know yet, but when he replies, will he tell us who is responsible for that poster? The person who has got to answer for it here is my right hon. Friend. I can well understand that under the pressure of work things may be done of which the right hon. Gentleman has no personal cognisance, but it does surprise me to be told that so recently as yesterday, after all the Debates we have had and all the questions and answers on this subject, that the authorised spokesman of the War Office in this House never heard of that poster until it was stuck upon the wall. The date of it is March 2nd, the appointed day under the Military Service Act. There are posters inviting people who would otherwise be compelled to 930 volunteer, but only yesterday this poster was issued, and it flatly contradicts what the right hon. Gentleman told us a week ago. It flatly contradicts the Act of Parliament. It is a false poster, and I find it almost impossible to believe that a body like the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee or my right hon. Friend could possibly have authorised its issue. The result of it is that people who a week ago were told that they were not necessarily to be compelled because they had not got this certificate, are now, in fact, told by this poster that they will be compelled unless they do have such a certificate. I do not know what will happen if that doctrine is allowed to prevail. I recognise the expediency of the letter which my right hon. Friend read in answer to a question by an hon. Friend of mine. As far as that letter goes, it endeavours to correct very serious mistakes which have been and are being made. I do not in any way wish to quarrel with that, but there are two things about the letter. The first is that that letter was not sent out until last Sunday. We called attention tion to this matter a week ago, and I also called my right hon. Friend's attention to it by letter. Why was it necessary to wait until last Sunday, except perhaps on the principle of "the better the day the better the deed," before you tell the military authorities throughout the country that they are not to go on pretending to people who are outside this Act that they are in it, and threatening them with compulsion unless they come in before 2nd March?
My second observation is that this announcement deals with those persons who have been rejected for the Army since the 14th of August, 1915, and who have been subjected to a second medical examination under a misapprehension. So far, so good, but most of the people who have been illegally dealt with during the last fortnight are people who have not been submitted to any medical examination at all. They were rejected and given certificates of rejection because they were medically unfit, and they have been told by the military authorities that that did not exempt them, and they have now been put into the Army without any further medical examination whatever. Before my right hon. Friend's letter to the different commands in the United Kingdom can be considered satisfactory it will have to deal with two or three other matters. First of all it ought to deal with the 931 destruction or the cancellation or repudiation of the certificate. I am going to give half a dozen examples to show that this is not an imaginary point of mine. I will give a case from Yorkshire. It is that of a young man attested on 9th December, and on the following day he was carefully and adequately examined by a military doctor, who rejected him, so that he received Army Form B 2512a, marked "medically unfit." Nevertheless he received subsequently an order to join the Colours. He went to the recruiting officer, produced his rejection form, which the recruiting officer instantly tore up and threw into the fire, saying, "That is no good now." On the father writing to the War Office he is told that the son was not properly examined on presenting himself for attestation, and that the form was merely given him in order to enable him to obtain an armlet. On writing to my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War he is told by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee that he should reply to the yellow form by proving to the recruiting officer that he has been rejected. How can he do that if the recruiting officer has taken his rejection form and thrown it into the fire? Here is another case from Sheffield of a man who was attested last December and not accepted because he suffered from rupture. This is what he writes:Being led to understand that men not accepted were receiving armlets, I presented myself at the Sheffield Corn Exchange on 15th January and produced my medical form, which was immediately taken from me by the fellow at the door (a civilian), and although I asked for it back he only laughed and pocketed it, saying I was to leave it to him. I was then ushered into an anteroom and made to attest in the usual way, which I had already done the previous month, and was accepted, although I was in the same condition.Here is another case from Sheffield. He offered to attest on 26th November, and was rejected as medically unfit. He was given the Army Form B 2505 a, and on the 29th January he called at the recruiting office to inquire about the armlet, and this is what he said:I was told by the clerk that all rejection papers were being called in and that all would have to attest and then have a medical examination again. My paper, which was an Army Form B 2505a. was taken from me. I asked for another examination, seeing that was being done, and was refused, but I was told to wait until the group was called up and then go before the medical board.Here is another case from Leicester. This man was given the same Army Form, and he went to procure his armlet. When he produced his paper the recruiting sergeant destroyed it and told him to go and get 932 attested. He went, thinking that if he did not he would be classed as a conscript. Subsequently he wrote to his Member of Parliament, who sent on his letter to the War Office, and eventually reached this same recruiting officer at Leicester, who sent for the son of this man and, in the first place, wanted to know why he had gone behind his back in writing to a Member of Parliament. Here is a pretty state of things. This, you observe, is not done by some ignorant recruiting officer, the War Office knowing about it, but the letter is sent to the War Office, the War Office send it back to the recruiting sergeant, and he has the impudence to rebuke somebody who is a civilian and who never ought to have been turned into a soldier because he writes to his Member of Parliament. Here is a case from Hampshire. A man who had been given a medical certificate of rejection as being unfit showed it to the recruiting officer, and asked him if it was any good. The recruiting officer tore it up and said, "That is how much good it is." In another case, from Dewsbury, the recruiting officer tore the medical certificate of rejection up before the man's own eyes, and told him the least he said about it the better it would be for him, and he was passed fit for service.
I could go on with endless examples to show that the first thing my right hon. Friend has got to do if he wants, at this late hour, at this eleventh hour, to do something to correct the misbehaviour of his own subordinates, is not to write letters about people who complain that they have been subjected to a second medical examination, but to write saying that people who have been given certificates of rejection and whose certificates have either been repudiated, destroyed, or cancelled are to be given fresh certificates at once. He must also write a letter about many cases in the country in which people who were promised certificates of rejection are now refused them. For instance, in Oxford you will find that they have sent this yellow Army form to men who have been rejected, and that the military authorities on production of the certificate refuse to acknowledge the validity of it, and profess that some other certificate which is not forthcoming ought to be given. Here is a case from Ipswich, where a man who was rejected was told that the certificate of rejection would be sent by post. He did not receive it, and he inquired at the recruiting office, and this is what he says:I was then told nothing could be done, and that I must attest. When his authority (the recruiting 933 officer's authority) was challenged, he said that he had received instructions from the War Office—I invite my right hon. Friend to tell me: Is that true? Is it true that this man had received instructions from the War Office?contained in a certain order, that every man, irrespective of what had taken place previously, was to be grouped and attested.I want to know if that is true, and I have some right to know, because last week I asked my right hon. Friend whether he would produce the instructions sent to these different local authorities, and my right hon. Friend refused.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Well, my right hon. Friend said he thought that it was not necessary. I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon. It is not fair to him to say that he refused. He urged me not to press that request, and I did not press it in view of what he said. Here is a case from Halstead, where a man who offered himself for enlistment was sent by warrant to the depot at Colchester. He was rejected for bad sight, and was promised that a badge and rejection paper should be sent on to him, but he never received them. On 2nd February he applied again at Colchester for his rejection paper, and he was told that he was not rejected unless he went under another examination. He was reexamined and was passed. In a case at Moseley a man, who attested and was rejected, was told that he would receive his rejection certificate by post. He has a note from the doctor, testifying to his rejection, but he has no rejection certificate, and he has received a notice calling him up for 1st March. A man at Briton Ferry, Wales, failed to pass the doctor on account of bad eyesight and tumour on the face. He holds the doctor's signature to this effect:There were no forms of certificate available at the time, they having been all given out. I called twice afterwards, and they said that although they had written several times, none had come from headquarters.I suppose that is War Office economy.Seeing that all certified unfit had to be re-examined, and not wishing to be a conscript, I naturally went up again to be examined.See how hard it is on this man! He saw in the papers my right hon. Friend's incorrect answer, and he did not want to be a conscript. As a matter of fact there was no danger of his being a conscript. He had offered himself, and had been rejected because he was obviously unfit.I naturally went up again to be re-examined. To my surprise they passed me as a clerk, which was ridiculous, and one of the doctors was the one who rejected me in the first instance, and he did not even ask me to strip.934 I complain that this matter might have been corrected long ago. Let me show by two illustrations that this is going on at this late hour. Here is a case from Leicester in which so recently as Sunday, 27th February, a man received a yellow paper, signed by a certain Lieutenant Platt, informing him that he must report himself at such-and-such barracks not later than 9.15 on 3rd March. He went to the Town Hall and inquired for Lieutenant Platt:—When I had entered his room, I put the paper and ticket on the table, saying 'I think there is a mistake as I have been rejected since August.' Picking up the paper, he asked to see my rejection certificate, and when I did show it to him, he said it was no use to him and I must be examined again, which I refused to do.That is as recently as yesterday. I will give another illustration almost equally late in date, and equally bad. This is in the North of London, Harringay. The man has received this paper calling him to the Colours, although he has been rejected as unfit. He went to the recruiting office, Bruce Grove, Tottenham, on Saturday, the 26th inst., and this is what he says:—I was told that my certificate was of no effect, and that everybody would be called upon to serve unless they could produce Army Form B 2505 a or B 2512 a, issued under Lord Derby's recruiting scheme.The right hon. Gentleman told us last week that was not true. Surely he ought to have seen to it between last week and now that every recruiting officer was instructed correctly on these very elementary points. The gravest feature of it is this: The whole thing from beginning to end is not really directed towards strengthening the British Army in the least. The principle on which people are going is that nobody is to be rejected, and I would invite my right hon. Friend to tell me whether I am not right that from headquarters itself orders have been given that practically nobody is to be rejected. When the Derby scheme began it was perfectly fairly and honestly explained that it was a scheme under which everybody might offer and under which people not military fit were to be rejected, and were to be in the honorary position of volunteers who none the less could not serve. That whole scheme has been turned upside down, and whether or not this is a despairing attempt to prove Lord Derby's figures or whatever the reason may be, it is a fact that during the last few weeks nobody in the country has been rejected if he has got as many as two legs or as many as two arms. In order that the House may see what a wasteful, stupid, and uneconomic system it is, let me direct their attention to this letter, the 935 only one I will read after the long number to which I have already referred. Here is a letter from the head of a business in Chancery Lane, and this is what he says:I offered myself for direct enlistment in December, 1915, and was rejected as medically unfit, and hold the Army certificate to that effect. When the Military Service Bill was read in the House. I called at the Mansion House recruiting office to ask if I came within the scope of the Act. I was told that if I did not attest at once, I would be conscripted and would have no right of appeal. Both these statements now appear to be false. I therefore, against my will, attested. The medical officer who examined me said that I am totally unfit for military service of any kind except of a clerical nature, and placed me in Class B 4. …Everybody who is utterly incapable of any other work whatever is put in Class B 4—My group has now been called up, and I have to leave and close up a large business, which I own and manage, where I employ 140 people, and which supports my four sisters, two aunts, and an aged father. This means financial ruin for myself and family, and all the Army gain is a raw recruit for their clerical staff, which position could easily be filled by hundreds of women, or by one of the large number of slightly wounded men whose business is that of a clerk.I have testimony of that sort from all over the country, and that, forsooth, is war economy. It is about time the military authorities realised that if they want to imitate the effectiveness of Germany they have not to imitate her brutality, but her efficiency. There is nothing efficient in being incapable of understanding the plain words of a simple Act of Parliament; there is nothing efficient in being unwilling to tell the recruiting officers what their duty is; and there is nothing efficient in tearing up peoples rejection forms and swindling them into the Army. You are rolling up a great burden upon the backs of the taxpayers without being able to show any proportionate addition to your military strength.
§ Mr. LONG
I think it will be convenient if I deal with the first question raised by my right hon. and learned Friend in his speech, and leave the general case which he has presented to the House to be dealt with by my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Tennant). I hope that I may be forgiven if I say that I cannot help regretting the general tone of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am going to say why. The task placed upon these tribunals is one of tremendous difficulty. They are confronted with the primary duty of securing for the country the men who are essential to the country's position. I am dealing now with the question as it affects the 936 tribunals. I am not dealing with the rest of the case, with which I have nothing to do. My right hon. and learned Friend gave a limited number of cases, and he was good enough to say, what I hope the House will believe to be true, that the views which were expressed, and which it fell to my lot to express during Committee and on Report on behalf of the Government, he felt sure were our views now. There is nothing that I said, speaking for the Government, in any of those Debates from which I seek to depart now. I had had no evidence brought to my notice until I heard my right hon. and learned Friend's speech that these cases were occurring in any large number in any part of the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am stating a fact. I had only heard of one or two cases. What is the remedy? There is no controversy as to what the Government meant and what the House meant when we were discussing these questions. My right hon. and learned Friend has read various passages from various speeches. He will remember, I am sure, that on the Report stage, when we got to the end of this rather difficult discussion, he put this straight question to me:If my right hon. Friend is prepared to say that if you take the only surviving son of a widow dependent upon her boy's earnings and regard that as a case that clearly ought to be exempted, we should be satisfied,to which I replied in the affirmative. There can be no doubt that the Act covers that case, and the regulations and instructions which have been issued, and the letter which my right hon. and learned Friend read, made it perfectly clear that case ought to be dealt with and covered. They go further than that, because, as the House knows, the governing words of the Section are "serious hardship"
"On the ground that serious hardship would ensue, if the man were called up for Army service, owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position."
The real task of the tribunal is to ascertain what is meant by the words "serious hardship." My right hon. and learned Friend said, quite frankly, that in a time of war like the present he would regard that as not being a hardship in time of peace would seem to be a very severe hardship. I do not think I am misrepresenting his words.
§ Mr. LONG
And, therefore, the interpretation of language in cases of this 937 kind must be relative to the situation in which we find ourselves. The imposition of any form of compulsion must be an obvious hardship to those who resist or resent or reject it, and therefore it is impossible to avoid hardship. For these reasons we put in the words which are in the Act—the words "serious hardship." If these tribunals were the sole authority, then I admit the case of my right hon. and learned Friend would be a very grave one. But may I point out to him and to the House the obvious answer to the difficulties, if they really exist—and I am not impugning his statement for a moment—if the facts can be proved, is that not enough to make an allegation that there would be hardship, financial, domestic, or otherwise. The allegations must be established by facts before the tribunals, and if they are so established then I do not hesitate to say, so far as I am entitled to interpret the Act, the people coming under these descriptions are entitled to exemption. Is there no remedy provided by Act of Parliament? My right hon. and learned Friend has given the House some cases. I do not know whether he has had very many similar cases sent to him. This is the first I have heard of them.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to interpose. It is only fair and right to say that I have not on this point had anything like as many cases as those I have read. On other points I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that, and I put this in a perfectly friendly way, whether the cases be few or many they should all receive attention.
§ Mr. LONG
I quite agree the number of cases is not material at all. It is just as great a hardship whether there be one case or whether there be fifty who are intended to be covered by the words of the Statute, but who, in fact, are not released. Parliament, however, has provided a remedy. There is an appeal tribunal, and I do not hesitate to say the proper course to adopt in each one of these instances is to bring the case before the appeal tribunal. I am confident that that tribunal realises fully what are their powers. I do not think there is any misconception as to the intentions of Parliament when it passed this Act of Parliament, and if any of these cases can be established, if the facts can be proved, 938 and if the cases are taken before the appeal tribunal, justice will be done.
As regards the tribunals, I think there is some confusion which perhaps I may be able to remove. There is a body known as the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee discusses the cases with the military representative, and if they are agreed it has been the practice of the local tribunal under what is known as the Derby scheme to accept the decisions arrived at by the military representative and the Advisory Committee and to act upon them without further discussion. In some cases, however, the local tribunals have declined to take this course, and it has, in consequence, been thought that they were an appeal tribunal reversing the decision of the Advisory Committee. But it is nothing of the kind. The appeal tribunal is the only body which has power to act and decide. The Advisory Committee is only a committee—and as such it is accurately described—entrusted with the duty of giving advice in conjunction with the military representative to the local tribunal. The power of the local tribunal is not interfered with. Their position is not in any way altered by the setting up of the Advisory Committee. It was merely thought—and I think it was a good provision—that the Advisory Committees would be able to act in the same way as Grand Juries act in regard to cases coming before the Courts. The Grand Jury clears the list of a certain number of cases by returning what is called a "No Bill." In this case the Advisory Committee agree with the military representative that certain men ought to be given either a postponement or release. These cases go with this joint recommendation to the local tribunal which decides them.
§ Mr. LONG
What the Grand Jury does is to throw out the Bill, thereby declaring that there is no case to go on with. In ninety-nine cases out of one hundred this is exactly what happens in this matter. When the Advisory Committee and the military representative are agreed nothing more is heard of the case. The local tribunal deals with it. There are exceptions, of course, and then the cases go to the appeal tribunal. You 939 have a central tribunal in London, and if there has been injustice done, clearly such cases should be taken to appeal.
§ Mr. LONG
No. Of course, they make inquiries as they have power to do, but they are not a tribunal established by Act of Parliament. They have no power to try cases in the sense that the local tribunal has. The tribunals are charged with absolute powers. The Advisory Committee only advise the tribunals. It is owing to the fact that in some cases the Advisory Committee and the tribunals have differed that the impression has gone abroad that the local tribunal is an appeal body which has reversed the decision of the Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. LONG
It is a body set up by the War Office. It is a body with which, as I frequently stated during the Debates on the Act, we have nothing to do in my Department. It is no part of our local government machinery. It is no part, for instance, of the machinery which we use for enlistment procedure. For that procedure we take advantage of our local authority, and we make the local authority the first tribunal. It was the first tribunal we recognised as set up by Parliament, and, with certain alterations, it became the tribunal under the Military Service Act. But the Advisory Committee was established by the War Office to help the military representative, and if the military representative were satisfied that some of the cases he had put before the Advisory Committee were deserving of relief on their recommendation these cases went forward to the tribunal, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred exemption was granted.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
Is the military adviser invariably present at the meetings of the Advisory Committee?
§ Mr. LONG
I cannot say. The Advisory Committee is a body for which the Government are not responsible. It is not recognised by the Military Service Act. It is not a local authority recognised by us. It is a committee set up by the War Office to help and advise the military representative. I believe it has acted admirably throughout the country. Certainly all the reports I have received 940 go to show that it has done most admirable work. I am informed it is a committee selected by the Recruiting Committees, and the Recruiting Committees are largely representative of the country in many ways. So far as I know, the Advisory Committees have done their work extremely well. They have secured the release of men in many cases which otherwise might have occupied considerable time. I only mention this in order to show the House that there is misapprehension and confusion in the minds of people as to these different tribunals. I am glad to learn that the cases recited by my right hon. and learned Friend are not supported by a great number of instances in his possession. If he will be good enough to let me have a list by which I can identify them, I will take any steps within my power to see that the Act is carried out.
§ Mr. LONG
I am quite sure my hon. Friend would never dream of sending Scottish cases to an English Department. He would confer his favours on my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, who, I am sure, will be prepared to deal with them. I have no power, as Minister, to interfere with the action of the tribunals. I think it must be perfecly clear to all those who took part in the Debates on the Military Service Act that I made it plain that what this tribunal has to do is to interpret and put the Act in force. There is a check upon them, and that is the Central Tribunal, to which all cases can be taken. All I can do is to endeavour to act as amicus curœ and I will do everything I can to assist to getting the matter put right. I am quite confident if injustice has been done, it has been done inadvertently. I have abundant letters which show that the tribunals have laboured hard to do their work honestly and justly, and if there has been, by inadvertence, a failure to interpret the Act rightly, I am confident they will give justice when appealed to. To secure that this shall be done, I shall be only too glad, on behalf of the Government and of my Department, to render any assistance I can.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I regret the right hon. Gentleman has intervened so early in the Debate, because there are other matters arising out of the administration of the Military Service Act by the 941 local tribunals which I, and I believe other Members of the House, are anxious to bring under his notice. I do not propose to deal with the matter put before the House in such a powerful way by the late Home Secretary, but I will briefly bring to the notice of the Local Government Board what appears to me to he instances in which the tribunals are not carrying out the pledges given by the Government during the passage of the Bill through this House. I am sure we all heard with satisfaction the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman's determination to see that those pledges were carried out as far as possible. The first point to which I wish to call attention is the constitution of the tribunals. The President of the Local Government Board, in what I believe was his longest speech during the Committee stage on the Bill, made it quite clear that it was the desire of the Government that there should be adequate labour representation on these local tribunals. I have not a word of complaint to say in regard to the instructions given by his Department to the local tribunals. I think in those instructions every pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman in this House was covered. But I do not know what may be the right hon. Gentleman's idea of adequate labour representation on the tribunals. It is within my knowledge that there are very few of the tribunals which have been set up which have any labour representation whatever. In his instructions the right hon. Gentleman very properly suggests to the local authority responsible for the setting up of the tribunal that where there is a body generally representative of labour that body should be consulted by the local authority in regard to labour representation on its tribunal.
I take it that by that the right hon. Gentleman meant such a body as a local trades council. May I give one instance out of a great many? It is the case of my own Constituency. I doubt if there be a constituency in the country where, in proportion to the population, there are more organised trade unionists than in the borough of Blackburn. There are nearly 30,000 trade unionists affiliated to the local trades council. The local trades council was not consulted at all by the corporation in regard to the constitution of the local tribunal. That is in a borough with a population of about 130,000. The 942 minimum number of members has been appointed to the tribunal—that is, five—and of those five members three are employers of labour, one a brewer, one a lawyer, and the fifth is a working man. I suppose he was appointed by the corporation to fulfil that part of the instructions which requires that there shall be adequate labour representation on the tribunal. This man in no sense represents organised labour in Blackburn. Indeed, he has very often been censured by the trades council for what he has done as a member of the local town council, and only a few months ago he handed in his resignation to the labour body in the constituency, and a resolution was passed accepting it with pleasure. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman cannot say that a tribunal constituted like that fulfils his promise that there should be adequate labour representation upon the tribunal. I know a great many cases throughout the country where there is no working man representative at all. I had down on the Paper last week a question to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the constitution of the local tribunal in the rural district of Pickering, in Yorkshire. Eight members have been appointed to the tribunal, and every one of them is a farmer. It will be within the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman that on the Committee stage of the Bill I moved an Amendment making it a statutory obligation to appoint a woman or women to the local tribunal. I have followed, as far as I could possibly do, the constitution of the tribunals all through the country, but I have never yet met with one case where a woman has been appointed to the tribunal, although I am told there are two or three such cases.
I want to say a word with regard to the position of the military representative on these tribunals. I can best put forward the point I want to make by bringing before the House the report of a meeting of the Bristol Tribunal, which took place on the 16th February. The military representative was addressing the meeting and, as reported in the "Western Daily Press" on 19th February, he appeared to advise the committee on all questions of procedure and with regard to the interpretation of the Act. He laid before the tribunal a statement which had been prepared by the military authorities, which he referred to as a military instruction. I would ask the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War to that point, 943 because I want to know what are the instructions which have been given to the military representatives who appear before these tribunals? I think it was generally understood when the Bill was before the House that the position of the military representative in regard to the tribunal was not that of an advisor to the tribunal, but, if I may so put it, counsel for the prosecution.
§ Mr. LONG
Well, they still exist. They are going on, as it were, side by side. The tribunal constituted by the Act is a different one, and the military representative is not a member of that tribunal. He can appear before it as the representative of the War Office in that neighbourhood, but he is not a member of the tribunal. In some cases where it has fallen to my lot to appoint military representatives I have suggested that if they accepted office on the tribunal they would, of course, resign office as military representatives.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am very glad to hear that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, because it greatly strengthens the point I am trying to make, that these military representatives are not members of the tribunals, and that they have no right there except as the representatives of the War Office. I take it that their right as to interference is limited to putting pertinent questions which bring our relative facts which may influence the decision of the tribunal. My point here is, that this military representative at Bristol—I know the same thing is happening in different parts of the country—dominates the tribunal, directs the tribunal, and assumes rights which are altogether beyond those stated by the right hon. Gentleman just now. I hope that when the Under-Secretary for War replies he will deal with my point as to the secret military instructions which have been issued.
My next point is one for the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow spoke at length about a certain yellow form. I want to call attention to another yellow form, issued by the Local Government Board. 944 It is numbered "R. 54," and this form was sent only a few days ago to a young farmer in the Skipton rural district. He wrote to the tribunal for a form of exemption, and this is what he received. It is Form "R. 54," which saysWith reference to the above-mentioned application, I beg to inform you that new instructions have now been issued to the local tribunals and that further proceedings can only be taken upon the application if the man concerned has been voluntarily attested. If he has been so attested, the local tribunal should be informed accordingly within three days. They can then proceed to deal with the case and, subject to the right of appeal, may grant such exemption, if any, as seems to them suited to the case.Something else followed, winch makes confusion far worse confounded:If the man has not been voluntarily attested no further proceedings will be taken on the application. If he comes under the Military Service Act and wishes to apply for a certificate of exemption, he must do so on the prescribed form which may be obtained at the office of the local tribunal or of the recruiting office. The application must be made before the 2nd March.What is the impression a letter like that is going to have upon a young farmer? The only impression it made on the mind of the young farmer who sent this letter to me was that he must be attested, and that until he was attested his claim for exemption under the Military Service Act could not be heard.
I want to deal with a matter which occupied a considerable part of the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, namely, the Advisory Committees. I protest altogether against the interference of these Advisory Committees with the working of the Military Service Act, because the right hon. Gentleman himself said they have no statutory position whatever and have no right whatever to consider the case of a man who claims exemption under the Military Service Act. May I put another aspect of the question, quite different from that which was painted by the right hon. Gentleman? This is what happened a day or two ago at Camberwell. I have a letter here which says:It might interest you to have the following information. Mr. So-and-so, of So-and-so, informed me that he had appeared before the Camberwell Tribunal on Monday, at 2.30. I was rather surprised and asked what the tribunal was like. He said there were three gentlemen who sat at a table in the Guardians' Office and one military officer. They asked him various questions, such as: 'What would you do if the Germans came here?'.…Not a very original question—'Would you take stretcher-bearing? Would you become a special constable? How much money do you earn? He said he refused all and said he wanted total exemption. I did not believe he had been before the tribunal and requested that he should bring his summons to me. He did so on 945 Friday last and it appears to be an ordinary postcard written as follows: 'Recruiting Offices, Guardians, Camberwell.—You are requested to attend at the above address on Monday, 14th February, at 2.30, to support your claim.—W. Bushby, Military Representative.' This. claim was sent in on Wednesday, 9th February, and he received the above summons by hand on Sunday, 13th February, before 12 noon, a plain clothes man delivering the same; be has now received (on Saturday, 19th February) an official summons signed by the clerk to the tribunal to appear before the tribunal on Tuesday next at 10.45. The same case applies to another man and both of them were under the impression that it was the tribunal they had appeared before. Is this fair that they should get a man's case before he appears?It is quite evident from that that the clerk to the local tribunal, on the receipt of the claim for exemption, sends a notification to this non-statutory Advisory Committee, and that the man is summoned to appear in secret before this Advisory Committee, which, as the President of the Local Government Board says, is a War Office Committee.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It does not alter the seriousness of the point I am now making, which is that the Advisory Committee becomes acquainted with the fact that the man has applied for exemption under the Military Service Act and that he gets a postcard summoning him to appear before this body, which has no standing whatever, which has no right to summons him and no right to question him. It is quite clear, as this letter shows, to what it comes. It is done so that the military representative, who is at the meeting of this Advisory Committee, may be primed in a man's case before the case is heard by the tribunal. We demand that a stop should be put to that.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
We are not asking for a favour. It is a perfectly illegal thing to do, and we demand that it should be stopped at once. We refuse to recognise the authority of the Advisory Committee in any shape or form. I have not very much more to say except in regard to the Government pledges. I think we may infer, from what the President of the Local 946 Government Board said to-day in regard to his ignorance of the number of such cases as those put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, that he does not read the newspapers. If he did he would know that such cases as these are not confined to units nor tens, but can be numbered in hundreds. The newspapers are full of similar cases every day.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes, widows' sons. The tribunals are refusing to be bound by pledges which were given in this House. Here is a case, for instance, at Lewisham, where a dairyman and shopkeeper claimed exemption, and he put forward a pledge which had been given in this House by the Prime Minister, that the case of the widow with an only son should have consideration. A member of the tribunal said, "But he did not put it in the Act." There is a further case in regard to an application made on 22nd February, where a man applied on the ground of conscientious objection, whereupon the tribunal refused to consider any such suggestion, and on the applicant's referring to the speech of the Home Secretary with reference to this point during the passing of the Military Service Bill, informed him that they had no time to read speeches and that the tribunal was not a debating society. I think we are justified in asking that the President of the Local Government Board shall remind the tribunals that the honour of Ministers and of Parliament is involved in their recognising that these pledges have been made and should be kept.
The only other point I want to bring before the House is in regard to the conscientious objector. I have followed in a great many newspapers the proceedings of these tribunals, and so far as I have been able to learn there has been no case yet where an absolute exemption has been given on the ground of conscientious objection. When I was speaking in the Committee stage of the Bill I asked how a tribunal was going to discover whether a man had a conscience or not. There is a case here to which I particularly want to draw the attention of the Ministers. It is reported in the "Times" last Saturday. It is the ease of an application which was made by a colliery lampman at Ebbw 947 Vale, and here is what appears to be a fairly full report of the catechism to which he was subjected by the military representative of the tribunal:A case which on Saturday came before the Ebbw Vale Tribunal and in which the claim was refused, is perhaps an exception in that respect. The applicant (a collier lampman) said his conscience would not permit him to take the oath of allegiance. The military representative: Do you object to save life?No, I would endeavour to save life, even at the risk of my own.Would you object to being a mine-sweeper?No, if I were allowed to sweep all mines—our own, as well as the enemies.Would you object to serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps?Yes, it would not be proper, in accordance with my convictions, to heal the wound of one man in order that he may inflict wounds on another.Do you consider that the 4,000,000 men now with Army are heathens, or wholly indifferent to the teachings of the Bible?I hold no brief for any other man's conscience.Then comes the usual question:If you had a mother and someone attempted to kill her, what would you do?Stand loyal to my principles. I would place myself between the aggressor and the object of the assault.But suppose he had a revolver and you placed yourself between them, what would happen?I would not sacrifice my principles.You enjoy a scrap?I do not think that point arises. It does not embrace the taking of life.If someone struck you on the face, would you turn the other side to him?We are talking now of taking life. If a man deserves a good thrashing, that is another matter, but I object to the taking of life.I have not yet said what was the decision of the tribunal, but surely, if any man can have a conscientious objection to fighting, that man had, and he had the intelligence to put his case before the tribunal, and yet the tribunal refused to grant exemption; so I want to know what would satisfy a tribunal that the man had a conscientious objection. This case is reported in the "Manchester Guardian" this morning, where four brothers applied at Birkenhead yesterday for exemption on conscientious grounds. They attended a Strict Baptist chapel, the members of which held that the War was contrary to the teaching of Christ, and would have nothing to do with the taking or saving of life in connection with it. All four claims for exemption were rejected. Was it intended, when Parliament inserted the Conscientious Objection Clause, that men who had a conscientious objection should be exempted or not? Judging by the way in which the tribunals are administering the Act, that Clause is a dead letter. I want to ask the Local Government Board, therefore, if they are going to be content to see the 948 Regulations which they have issued set at defiance by the local authorities. The only thing the right hon. Gentleman could say this afternoon, to get over this difficulty, was that there was a Court of Appeal and a Central Court of Appeal; but he knows quite well that an applicant has not a right to go to the highest Court of Appeal unless he gets permission from the middle Court.
§ Mr. LONG
No, it is not so. We are talking of two different things. I was talking to-day of cases which have arisen under the Derby scheme up to the present, which is voluntary enlistment. These cases of which complaint has been made have not arisen under the new Act, and come before the new tribunals. They are only now coming into existence. The Appeal Courts are not in existence yet. Therefore I was dealing with the original cases, some of which have been heard some time ago.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am exceedingly sorry for this misunderstanding, but the cases we have been putting before the House are cases under the Military Service Act. They are not cases of attested men. The cases of these conscientious objectors cannot go to the highest Court of Appeal unless they get the permission of the middle Court.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes, and they can go there; but we know nothing about the constitution of the Appeal Court. A question was put to the President of the Local Government Board on the matter this afternoon, but he gave no reply; and if these Appeal Courts are going to be constituted of the same class of men who compose the tribunals, precisely the same thing is going to happen in the Appeal Court. I am quite sure there is not a Member in the House who has a shadow of doubt in his mind that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to see this Act administered in the fairest way possible, and that wherever a man establishes a case under the Act he shall have his rights conceded. Therefore I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might issue a circular to these tribunals and say that complaints have been made in regard to the administration of the Act, citing instances, and so on, and calling the attention of the tribunals to the instructions and regulations. If he were to do that it would have a very beneficial effect.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
I want to come back to the cases of men who have had certificates of medical rejection and then have been treated in a way which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman representing the War Office will not for a moment attempt to justify. I also think they have been so treated under an entire misapprehension of the position by the recruiting authorities. But these cases are numerous, they are widespread, and they are very serious. If they had been done deliberately and intentionally they would be discreditable and disgraceful to those concerned. When a man has had a certificate of medical examination and the recruiting officer takes the form and tears it up, that is an unpardonable thing. That has been done again and again.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree that that would be so. But there are other cases where the men still retain that certificate of exemption. They went to the recruiting authorities and were told that the certificates had been cancelled. I do not suggest that the recruiting authorities did not honestly think they had been cancelled, but, as a matter of fact, they had not been cancelled. These men were told they had been cancelled, and it follows from that that if they were to escape the stigma of being known as conscripts they had to attest. These men have attested since then. They were trapped and tricked into attesting, because they were told that their certificate of exemption for physical defects was cancelled, and then when they had got them attested they called them up. What are you going to do in such cases? It will be discreditable to the War Office and dishonourable to this country if these men are held to their attestation, when they have been tricked into it by being told that their certificate of physical defect had been cancelled. As a matter of fact it had not been cancelled. Therefore I feel sure the right hon. Gentleman, when he has these cases brought before him, will feel it his duty to take steps to put that matter right. These men have been put into a false position entirely, and now the recruiting officer is taking them for clerks. There is a great difficulty in getting these clerks. Why will they not use the wounded men? Why will they not 950 use unqualified men above military age? Why do they want to take these men from their work and from their other duties? There is a feeling, and I think there is some justification for it, that the idea of exemption has been very much tangled up indeed. We have seen on the contents bills of London newspapers, "Too many exemptions." They wanted to justify the figures put forward by the War Office, but the results of the exemptions and the work of the tribunals show that criticism of the figures was justified, instead of the figures being justified. Then we get an outcry from these papers, "Too many exemptions." Pressure has been put upon the tribunals not to grant these exemptions, and thus people are finding themselves in this critical position. I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman will not justify that kind of thing. We want him to take action to rectify what has been done, because some of these men have been most unfairly placed in a very difficult position through having misinformation given to them and being told that their certificates of medical unfitness were cancelled, and as the result they have attested and are now being called up. I shall listen with a good deal of care and attention and interest to what I am sure my right hon. Friend will say, that he does not support that kind of thing.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I think it was fortunate in some ways that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) intervened in the Debate so early. He brought forward the case of the tribunals, and on the whole, though I attach the greatest importance to these cases where men have been medically rejected and are being called up, I think it is the tribunals that are causing the greatest interest in the country. What did the President of the Local Government Board say in regard to them? I am sorry to quote in his absence, but he used a sentence something like this: He said the tribunals had a duty of extreme difficulty to perform. They had the duty thrown upon them of getting the men that the War Office requires. I think those were the words that the right hon. Gentleman used. It seems to me that that is an entire misunderstanding of the position. It is not the business, at any rate it is not the first business of the tribunals to get the men the country require. On the contrary, it is the business of the tribunals to administer the Act of Parliament, and I believe, and I 951 regret to say that my belief in this matter has been confirmed by the speech of my right hon. Friend, that these tribunals in many places, and one in particular to which I am going to call attention, are acting under an entire misapprehension. They are making themselves recruiting sergeants instead of fair tribunals to administer the Act of Parliament. In fact, I hardly go too far if I say that instead of being tribunals they are more like the old press gangs that existed in this country, and which pressed men into the Navy whether the men would have it or not.
If we look at the Act we may see what is the duty placed upon the tribunals. It is dealt with in Clause 2, which relates to certificates of exemption, and it is there stated that,the local tribunal, if they consider the grounds of the application established, shall grant such a certificate.Will the House note that if the grounds of the application arc established in accordance with the Act of Parliament, then the tribunals must grant the exemption. The tribunals are doing nothing of the kind. They are finding every reason for refusing exemptions. I will only call one case to the attention of the House, because it will be fresh in everyone's minds. It is the case of the Bank of England, which applied at the City tribunal for the exemption of 199 of its clerks. How was the Bank treated? It was badgered and bullied toy the head of the tribunal as though it had made an unreasonable application. I think this is really more a matter for the Local Government Board than for my right hon. Friend representing the War Office. In this particular case the military representative, Major Rothschild, came forward and said they had considered the Bank's application and that the Bank was really doing war work. Major Rothschild further said that he would take up the matter with the military authorities, and in the meantime he would suggest to the tribunal that a three months' postponement should be granted right away. That was what Major Rothschild, the military representative, recommended to the tribunal. No doubt in saying that he was representing the opinion of the Advisory Committee. That is the grand jury that we heard of, and that was why I interrupted my right hon. Friend and suggested that the analogy 952 was not correct, because in this case if the Advisory Committee and the military representative could have given the exemption they would have given it, and there would have been no need to go to the tribunal at all. What took place at the tribunal? Instead of allowing the application of the Bank, which was put forward by the military representative, the chairman of the tribunal (Sir Vezey Strong) commenced a tirade, and said that was so large an order the tribunal should hesitate very much to grant it. I do not think it was a large order at all. These things are relative.
These tribunals in many cases, I regret to say, and this one in the City of London is among the number, seem entirely incapable of realising the immense interests with which they have got to deal in the discharge of this important work. If this War is to be carried to a successful conclusion the economic welfare of this country must be maintained, and I say the Bank of England has up to the present, and is at the present time, doing as much to carry the War to a successful conclusion as any Army in the field. They are patriotic servants of the State. Hundreds of their men have already joined the Army and the 199 for whom applications for exemption were made are only a mere bagatelle amongst their staff. It was a most reasonable and modest application. The chairman asked why could not they get women labour, and immediately the military representative said they had got it, and that they had 600 women clerks. He was met with the remark, "Let them get a good deal more."
§ Mr. LOUGH
Hon. Members may think so. Of course, that is a matter of opinion. The chairman added that anything should be done rather than interfere with the advantage of so large a number of young men going to the front. I say that that was a most extraordinary pronouncement to make. It shows that Sir Vezey Strong, the chairman of this tribunal, has a wrong idea about his duties. His duty was to consider the application, once the hardship was made out, and certainly the Bank had made out its case of hardship. It had shown that women clerks had been got, and that it had gone as far as possible, and now it made this modest application on behalf of these men. I think that my right hon. Friend ought to call the attention of these tribunals to what is their 953 duty. It may be said, "Suppose the country does not get all the men required. What then?" Well, it is not for Sir Vezey Strong and these tribunals to deal with that emergency. This House should deal with it. In the meantime, what these tribunals ought to do is to carry out the constitutional duty which this House has laid upon their shoulders, and that duty is not to become a Press gang. It is not their duty to hustle men into the Army. Their duty is to grant the exemptions in accordance with the Act of Parliament. I ought not to have to argue this point at all.
§ Mr. LOUGH
There is not much difference between my hon. and gallant Friend and myself. If he will look at Clause 2 he will see that it is the granting of exemptions that these tribunals have been brought into existence to discharge. That is the one duty they have been given to discharge. They are not doing that duty at all; they are acting as if they were recruiting sergeants and as if their business was to refuse exemptions. I will give one case, and it is that of a business man in Chancery Lane, who held a medical certificate that he is totally unfit for service, but they have refused him exemption, and they made a clerk of him. Does my hon. and gallant Friend approve of that?
§ Mr. LOUGH
I am amazed. An old man or a wounded soldier could do this work, but instead this man is taken from the head of a business to be made to do clerk's work. Will hon. Members consider the wording of the Act? It says "if serious hardship is caused." Surely that is serious hardship—a business to be closed which employs 140 people! It may be that when these exemptions are granted there will not be enough men, but it is for this House to deal with that, and that is the point I am trying to put now. Let the House see that the Act that it has passed is properly administered. The business of these tribunals is to administer the Act and not to set up a law for themselves. I maintain that the case which came before the City of London Tribunal yesterday in regard to the Bank of England ought to be taken as a typical case. I do not believe that business houses are 954 making anything but the most moderate applications. Numbers of them have sent most of their men of military age to the front, and they make applications on behalf of a few others, and then they are refused in a very arbitrary manner. I do not believe that that was intended when this Act was passed. The President of the Local Government Board is in a state of blissful ignorance as to what is taking place. He says there are very few of these cases. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Tennant) will not say that. A week ago we gave him dozens of cases, and he told us in an answer to a question that every day there were about a trolleyful of them, and he had to bundle them over to the Recruiting Committee to answer. That does not mean that there are only a few cases. There are a very great number of cases, and it is bringing the Act into disrepute, and it is a great pity that we should have the Act brought into disrepute at this time. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that there were very few cases of widows' sons being compelled to serve. I have had a case brought before me of a poor widow over seventy years of age, who is bedridden. This poor woman has two sons, one of whom has been killed in the War, and the remaining son, her sole support—and there is a sister who is also dependent—cannot get exemption. He was only postponed, when he made his application, to Class 21, and now Class 21 has been called up. There are thousands of these cases of widows' sons who have been refused exemption, and where promises made from the Government Bench have remained unfulfilled. I admit that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Tennant) is trying to deal with the question of certificates. I have given one case in regard to a certificate where a man has been rejected four times. Conscription is being put into force, not for soldiers but for clerks. That is not necessary. At any rate, in regard to clerks, men who cannot serve at the front, they might get the benefit of Clause 2 of the Act. My point is that the tribunals do not seem to know what their duties are. They are setting up a law unto themselves. They are recruiting sergeants, or they are Pressgangs, if you like to so call them, instead of granting exemptions in accordance with Clause 2 of the Act, which is the duty which has been entrusted to their hands by the House. I think their attention ought to be called to it.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I have listened to all the speeches made in this Debate, and 955 I confess that I should have no right to speak if I had not those very near to me serving in the War. I have been greatly surprised at the tone of some of the speeches. There was excellent tone in the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). It was judicial, calm, and put the points of the working man in a way in which I think they deserve presentation in this House. On the other hand, I was amazed at the tone of the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon). He gloated over every blunder of the War Office. That the War Office deserve criticism at times nobody will deny. Certainly, I have never been sorry to see the War Office criticised if there have been blunders in the field, but I think there is one Member of this House who is not entitled to criticise the War Office in the spirit in which it has been criticised, and he is the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir J. Simon). I cast my mind back to the beginning of this War and I say to myself, "Is it true what I read in the papers yesterday from General Lloyd, I think his name is, who said that the Germans are thundering at the gates of Verdun, and if they succeed in penetrating the French lines, not only is Paris in danger, but London is in danger?" That is the statement made by the general who has the interests of this great Metropolis in his hands, and on the following day I come down to this House, and while this terrible conflict is in progress at Verdun what are we doing? We hear one of the Ministers who made the War, one of the Ministers, one word from whom a week before the 4th August, 1914, would have intimidated Germany from declaring war, one of the Ministers, upon the faith of whose genius I and others supported this Government right through for eighteen months until he left the Cabinet, one of the Ministers who for ten years was a member of the Cabinet and a member of the Government that was responsible for all the unpreparedness of which we have been hearing so much, and we find that member resigning his seat—I am far from saying that he had not good grounds for his resignation—when he objected to compulsory service. But I think that there was one thing from which he might have taken example—and I say this with regret, because there was not a single member of that Ministry for whom I had more respect, I might even say more affec- 956 tion, than for himself—but he might well have taken example from the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea (Mr. Burns).
The Member for Battersea resigned his seat in the Cabinet, and since then, so far as I have heard, not one word of criticism has fallen from his lips as against his former colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow remained in this Cabinet for eighteen months. He supported them in every act of war, and now because of some criticism that he has to make upon a poster issued yesterday he comes down to this House and in a temper which might well perhaps befit some of those who disbelieve in war, who have conscientious objections to it, he makes an attack on the Government in a spirit which certainly is new to me in this House in connection with this War. If we had turned on the right hon. Gentleman and his administration for the past eighteen months, while he was a member of the Cabinet, if we had criticised the indiscretions of the Home Office and its blunders as he has criticised the blunders of the War Office, is it to be supposed that we could not have made out a good case against the first Defence of the Realm Act, for which he was responsible? That Act was hardly upon the Statute Book when, without any law or the pretence of it, except the Defence of the Realm Act, they suppressed in Ireland a number of public-houses. There was no authority for it. There was no Statute for the suppression of these houses, and for six months you did not come to this House and obtain sanction for it. Some of those who are interested in this matter are my Constituents. Did we come to this House and say, "Oh, you blundering Home Office! You passed a Defence of the Realm Act, and now you come and by the military authority suppress property amounting to thousands and thousands of pounds"!
§ Mr. HEALY
The hon. Gentleman can distinguish himself later on. I cannot answer him at the moment, but I will deal with him before I have done. What did we do? It was a great blunder in the Defence of the Realm Act. It was a great blunder of the military authorities to shut these houses up, and if we wanted to prevent recruiting in Ireland, all we had got to do was to say, "Oh, this is another Ninety-eight over again. They are taking 957 your property. No man's property is safe. There is not a single one of you upon whom they may not come down to stop your business or suppress your industry if they choose to do so." We held our tongues. We pointed out the blunders of the Home Office, with the result that six months later the House was got to pass the Statute giving the powers which had been already exercised. The right hon. Gentleman would have thought it very unfriendly of me if I had criticised him at that time in the same spirit as that in which he has criticised the Government. The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle) says that we took the first Division after the War. Yes, we did. And what was the result? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Minister of Munitions (Mr. Lloyd George) left his office and dropped his proposals because we objected, he said, to a particular thing which would hit Ireland—namely, the Spirit Duties—harder than England, and we said, "We will not have politics and philanthropy mixed up." We did not believe in the proposals of the Minister of Munitions. He had already put a heavy tax on these commodities, and the proof that we were right was this: that the proposals were dropped with the unanimous assent of the House, including the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, who in one of his temperance reviews said that a more mischievous proposal had never been made than the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So we had all the teetotalers behind us in our action. Really, if there was one man in this House who I thought would have welcomed a little criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, it is the hon. Member for Lanark, because when he was raising the case of the "Globe" he said that the right hon. Member for Walthamstow had committed the almost indecent act of supplying the Member for Cork with materials for his speech.
§ Mr. HEALY
I am not fond of red herrings. I think they are more of a Scottish diet than an Irish diet. In Ireland you are continually sending men to gaol for so-called interference with recruiting, not once but dozens of times. The smallest comment in an Irish Sinn Fein paper is seized upon by the Government: and I would ask which is likely to do more 958 harm to the cause of recruiting—the action of some Connemara editor, whose paper has probably only 300 of a circulation or the criticism of an ex-Cabinet Minister, who has for eighteen months maintained the Government in every one of these acts of suppressing newspapers, who has suppressed them himself on the grounds that these things interfere with recruiting? Am I not entitled to say, though from a family point of view I am deeply interested in the result, that at all events what the War Office are doing is this: They may have made blunders? I do not know whether they have made many. But what the late Home Secretary, a man of high legal training, has done is this: He interferes in cases which may be sub judice. I heard the Prime Minister deliver his well-known speech in connection with the Conscription Act, and he made a point which struck me as one of great value. He said that we have no fewer than, I think he said, four different appeals. If it be true, as my right hon. Friend has said, that these blunders are being made, what have these people to do but to take an appeal to the next tribunal? I heard this attack on these tribunals for having blundered. Every morning I read what is going on in these tribunals, so far as the newspapers print it. I think that the criticism against them by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington is really unjust. I think that if the country be in that peril in which for eighteen months we were told it was by Ministers like the late Home Secretary it would be a right and reasonable thing that members of these tribunals should address paternal remonstrances to men who come up before them. I quite agree that cases of hardship perhaps have not been sufficiently dealt with, but as the Prime Minister pointed out there are three more tribunals to which they can be taken.
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) referred to the claim of the Bank of England to have its men exempted, and he told us that the Bank of England had rendered great service to the country on the 4th of August, 1914. I do not believe that they did. I believe that they did a most mischievous series of things in connection with finance, and that it will cost the country millions of money to retrieve that mischief. And when I hear this praise of the Bank of England for its services I am much more concerned with the widows' sons, and those people who have dependants upon them, and I think that if the 959 Bank of England and all this system had been swept away two years ago we should have found a much better substitute for it. Therefore I am not greatly impressed with the statements that this gentleman, Sir Vezey Strong, has not been very tender for the Bank of England. I think that he has shown pluck in dealing with the Bank of England. I think that he gave a good example to tribunals elsewhere, so that it can be said that when the Bank of England asked for exemption an Alderman of the City of London was found sufficiently plucky to give this example. That I think would be the result of a decision of this kind. I have only intervened in this discussion because I think from the tone of the speeches that have been made that the Government have not had that support in their action which they deserve in the present crisis. It is upon that ground that I have risen to make the few remarks that I have made. The Government have been exposed all through in my opinion to a just criticism, and I was very glad when it was administered to them. They have been at other times the victims of unjust criticism, and I must say for myself that any other Member of the House could better have made the speech to which we have listened than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, who is the last man who should be entitled to make criticism of the kind.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Owing to circumstances outside my control, I have been unable during the last few months to take any part in the discussion on the Military Service Bill. May I ask the indulgence of the House in saying that had I been present I should most certainly have cast my vote on behalf of that Bill. Unfortunately I was unable to give a vote on this solitary occasion on behalf of the Government. I should like to direct the attention of the House to another issue which has not been dealt with by any of the speakers to-day. I should like to say a few words with regard to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough). He complained that the City Tribunal had improperly carried out their duties, and that exemption had been refused to 190 clerks from the Bank of England. What would have been the effect throughout the country if the contrary view had been taken? Every company with large numbers of clerks would have claimed exemption and pointed to the 960 fact that the Bank of England had been granted this exemption. What are all these clerks doing in the Bank of England? The Bank of England has in its service men over military age who could do the work, for all that these men have to do is to carry out certain clerical duties which could be as well carried out by women. If you are going to lay down that 190 clerks in the Bank of England are to be exempted, then the whole system of military compulsion goes to the wall. I think that Sir Vezey Strong has shown much common sense, in the exercise of a very unpopular duty, in taking the course he has. I think all are agreed that the first duty of the Government is to carry out, in the spirit and letter, the Act of Parliament which was passed last month. I read the Debates very carefully, and I saw that certain pledges were given; and I am sure that, so far as the Government and so far as my right hon. Friend are concerned, they wish to carry out the pledges which have been given. In the criticisms heard in the past few months, I think my right hon. Friend (Mr. Tennant) has been a very hardly used man in having to apologise for the statements made by the representatives of other Departments, and in having to take the whole weight and burden of their action upon himself, making him responsible for all the organisation which the Government, in a time of national stress, has had to bring together.
My own view in regard to these Debates is that the greatest injustice has been done and the greatest unfairness shown respecting the action of the various tribunals. I think it was unfortunate that the tribunals were local tribunals, because it will be within the knowledge of the House, in many cases, that favouritism has been shown by some of them to men who ought to be serving and who ought not to be exempted. What is happening to-day on a very wide scale, and this is what I want my right hon. Friend to deal with? Large numbers of men of military age have joined reserved occupations and are thereby escaping military service. An enormous number of men, within my own knowledge, have gone into the coal mines of this country, coal mining feeing a reserved occupation. These men immediately claim exemption from military service. At the munition works throughout the country also a number of single 961 men have left their former places to obtain employment, even as labourers, in those works in order to escape their military obligations. Of course, liberty is a priceless possession, which we all value. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] My hon. Friend cheers that statement, but he and those who think with him must remember that we are living in a time of great national danger, and that it is only on that ground that the Government very rightly, I think, came down to this House, which gave them the powers for which they asked. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend this question, whether, in regard to these single men who have gone into the reserve occupations, and thereby escape their military obligations, he will give us an assurance that the married men who attested under the Derby scheme and who are not in reserved occupations but who could take the places of those single men, shall be put in those places, and that they shall not be called upon before those single men have been called out. It is a point which might require legislation, and it is one on which, I think, the Government ought to carry out the pledge which was given to married men.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I am referring to the married men who have attested under Lord Derby's scheme, and who are now in what are called non-essential trades. What I pointed out was that a number of single men had left non-essential trades and gone into essential or reserved trades to escape military obligations, and what I ask is that the married men who attested under Lord Derby's scheme, and are employed in non-essential trades, shall be put in the place of those single men who have sought to avoid their military obligations by entering essential trades so that the married men may do their work, and those single men may be called upon for military service before that can be done in the case of the married men. This is a very large issue. A pledge certainly was given by Lord Derby to young married men that they would not be taken until single .men had been called upon, and it does seem to me that where you have married men who can perform the Work of essential trades, whether in munition works or elsewhere, those married men who have attested ought to have 962 the preference, and should be allowed to go into those essential trades, setting free the single men liable to military service. Cases have been brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), the ex-Home Secretary, who in his blundering administration of his own office seemed to show favouritism, perhaps that is hardly the word to use, but leniency to the enemy in his action, and I think it hardly lies with him, who was in the Government eighteen months after the outbreak of the War, to deal with the cases he brought forward. It should be remembered that we are dealing here with hundreds of thousands of cases, and there is bound to be, in connection with the tribunals, action which is unwise on their part, but which can be dealt with by the Court of Appeal which the President of the Local Government Board has told us will be set up. I think the Government ought certainly to carry out the pledges they have given, and if they want more power they should come to the House of Commons and say what they require. If it is necessary to amend the Act which was passed last month, I am sure if the Government ask the House of Commons and the country for powers, Parliament will grant those powers which are only refused and opposed by a very small minority in this House and outside.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am sure we all welcome the return of the hon. Member (Sir A. Markham) and we are delighted to know that he has recovered from what we all feel was a breakdown due to his strenuous Parliamentary duties. Nevertheless, I feel that it is hardly fair, and certainly the circumstances do not justify the attack which he has made, though the ex-Home Secretary is perfectly capable of defending himself. It is significant that the late Home Secretary's action, both to-day and on previous occasions, has been directed to mistakes which have been made, and which have been clearly admitted by the War Office. It is quite true, as the hon. Member for Cork said, that we are in a very critical position, but I put it to him that the persons to deal with these tribunals are the Government. If the men whom the tribunals are dealing with are so essential in this emergency, surely it ought to be the duty of the Government to deal with the situation, and not to leave it to the tribunals to come to decisions which vary from day to day. Therefore, I do desire to emphasise what the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned in regard to the Under-Secretary for War. My right hon. Friend 963 seems to have to bear in this House the brunt of every mistake that is made, and it does appear to some of us that there are deliberate attempts to ignore, to misrepresent, and to treat with defiance any pledge that is given in this House. The suggestion was made a week ago that a mistake may have been made in issuing the yellow form to those who hold what is called the "medical reject certificate." The right hon. Gentleman frankly got up and said that in his opinion a mistake had been made; it was a mistake that would undoubtedly bear hardly upon certain individuals, and so far as he was concerned he would do all he could to rectify the mistake. Now everyone-who took part in the Debate accepted that assurance from him.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has said, but may I correct one little misapprehension which may arise from what he has said? It is a mistake to say that the yellow form was only for those who had not been rejected, because in many cases no list was kept, and therefore it was delivered to those who had received a certificate of medical rejection and those who had not.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Yes, in some cases; but large numbers ought not to have been included among those to whom the form was sent, and a week ago the right hon. Gentleman said that, so far as he was concerned, every effort would be made to rectify this matter. I am going to submit that these forms were issued indiscriminately, but in a given district these yellow forms have been issued during the past week to men who hold the blue reject certificate, and I submit that surely the time and money spent by the people who are doing this work would be better employed in doing something useful, if some proper system was in operation. But that is really not the most serious matter. There is another which shows that the War Office themselves have no clear method or system of dealing with these matters. One of the railway men brought to me a blue form, which I have here, and also a yellow form. This was on Thursday. I thought, "Well, now I will see exactly who is responsible for this," and I wrote the following letter to the captain who had signed the yellow form:Alfred Mann, a railway man, has just shown me Army Form W3236, which he has received from you, intimating that he must present himself at the White City for service on 8th March. I have also 964 seen the Army Form which was given him after he had attested under the Derby Scheme. I would like to know whether this Notice has been issued to this man in error, or whether you have not been made acquainted with the terms of the Military Service Act, which expressly excepts men in this position. I may say that I have informed Mann that he is not to take any notice of this Order, and I write accordingly.6.0 P.M.
I endeavoured by that letter to ascertain whether the promise made a few days ago by the right hon, Gentleman was known to the War Office authorities, and how they were acting upon it. This was the reply:Recruiting Office, Kensington Town Hall: Sir.—We note your letter of the 23rd inst. re Alfred Mann, and have cancelled the form on your statement that you have seen Form 2512 a.I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that is a method of doing business that could not possibly be justified in any business concern, and one that is very serious. Although they had not seen the form, yet because someone else draws their attention to it, they accept it. Here is a more important case, of a yellow form sent to a man. That form says:You are hereby warned that you will be required to join the Service with the Colours on Friday, 10th March.My point in this case is that there is neither care nor consideration taken. The man who received that form has been in the Army since November. The form is W3236, and the man's name is Oliver, of 60, Pragnall Street, New Cross. He is a married man and his wife has received separation allowance since November. That shows an entire lack of business method, and one that is very serious from the point of view of these people, who really do not understand what they have got to do.
The next point I wish to mention is with regard to the question of the widow's son. I assure the President of the Local Government Board that, whilst my right hon. Friend only mentioned a few, I could mention scores and scores of cases where the tribunals have refused to exempt the only sons of widows. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Prime Minister himself, in introducing the Bill, expressly mentioned that as being the case and that I had drawn his private attention to that fact. I rather gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that the real solution of these cases is the appeal to the central tribunal, because it is clearly evident that there is not only an absence of uniformity in the decisions, but that many tribunals are not 965 giving effect to the Prime Minister's pledge. I do hope he will follow up his remarks by making it clear to the central tribunal that the only son who, as he himself said, is the sole or main support of a widowed mother is clearly entitled to exemption under the provisions of the Act. I wish to refer also to the question of labour representation on the tribunals. There, again, the right hon. Gentleman gave a very definite promise and one with which I feel sure the House generally would agree, namely, that labour was entitled to be heard and should have representation on all tribunals. Clearly there would only be one body to say who those labour representatives should be, and that body would be the recognised trades council in the town or district. That is the body to which trade unions are affiliated, and it should be the body to nominate who the labour representatives should be. From all parts of the country, including Liverpool and North Wales, the complaints that we receive are that labour is either entirely ignored or where a working man is put on the tribunal no consideration is being given to the local trades council's representations, and that such men invariably are nominees of the employer or somebody else. Having regard to the fact that the Act comes into operation in two days' time, I submit that the right hon. Gentleman might issue a very definite instruction to the authorities.
I have no defence to offer for the people who have gone into the mines or munition factories to escape their responsibilities. Incidentally I may say, from some of the cases of which we hear, they very often happen to be directors' or managers' sons, who are brought from professional occupations to escape their responsibilities. In any case we offer no defence for them, and would like to see an investigation made on this point, to see how much substance there is in it. As a matter of fact, when the railway companies themselves were employing men of military age to take the place of other men who were released and enlisted, I immediately took up the question and said that the railway companies had no right to do so. I do submit that that is a matter for the employer himself. No employer ought to employ men of military age for the purpose of releasing other men who have volunteered and who are prepared to do their duty. At all events no excuse will or can be offered by those of us who opposed this measure on those grounds. 966 I do press both the right hon. Gentlemen representing the Local Government Board and the War Office to keep clearly in mind that there has been no attempt up to now to give effect to the promise made on the First, Second, and Third Readings of the Bill, and to give real and genuine effect to the provision of the Bill, and this is the only means, namely, debate in the House, by which the question can be rectified.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
With regard to the last portion of the speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Thomas), in a question I put to the Minister of Munitions to-day I endeavoured to raise the question of undue preference to single men in munition works. I referred in that question to a notorious example in the West of Scotland, and the only sympathy which I received in the reply was a statement to the effect that the Ministry of Munitions had no information on the matter. I think that the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby will convince the Government that there are many Members of this House who will insist upon the Government having information on the matter, and on seeing that no unfair preference is given to single men in respect of employment in munition works for the purpose of escaping service in the Army. I wish to deal with the question which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), and in which he had the luxury of an attack from the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy), a luxury in which I also shared and which I duly appreciate. I maintain a position of complete impartiality as between the two hon. and learned Members. On the last occasion in which we were in conflict the hon. and learned Member for Cork was defending the then Home Secretary, and I was then attacking him. On that occasion, however, the hon. and learned Member for Cork performed an operation which he does so often and so skillfully in this House, and which he has done once again this afternoon, namely, he mobilised all his vituperative eloquence. That is more pleasant than a reference to a common or garden red herring. The hon. and learned Member in his gravest tones told us how he read a statement in a Sunday paper, in which General Lloyd said that the Germans are thundering at the gates of Verdun, and yet, said 967 the hon. and learned Member, the late Home Secretary raises this point. Apparently because the Germans are thundering at the gates of Verdun, therefore, all the medically unfit are to be swept into the Army. That appears to be the only relevance of that statement to the question we are discussing.
The irrelevance of the hon. and learned Member for Cork was a long attack upon the past record of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow. I am not concerned to defend the ex-Home Secretary. I think there were many things which he did as Home Secretary which are worse than what the War Office is doing at the present time. I stated so in the House at the time, and the hon. and learned Member for Cork defended him. As long as the Government keep their hands off Irish whisky, there is nothing the hon. and learned Member for Cork would not be ready to sacrifice. I quite agree that there were many worse things done by the Government in the days of the ex-Home Secretary. I attacked them then, and I am attacking this question now. I think if my hon. and learned Friend—and I still call him so—had taken the trouble to understand the facts, we would have been saved from the very amusing, but very uninstructive incursion which he made in this Debate. What are the facts? This House has passed an Act of Parliament which has given certain rights to certain people. It states that certain people are excepted from the operation of the Act. The sixth paragraph of the First Schedule reads as follows:
"Men who hold a certificate of exemption under this Act for the time being in force (other than a certificate of exemption from combatant service only), or who have offered themselves for enlistment and been rejected since the fourteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and fifteen."
That does not even say "medically rejected," but simply says "rejected." Our complaint is that since the day the Act passed there has been a consistent and deliberate attempt to secure men who came within that exception for the Army. I think the cases that have been proved, and not only those read out to-day by my right hon. Friend, but the cases on other occasions which were quoted, and all the illustrations which have been read, and the thousands of letters which have been 968 sent to the War Office, not from one district, but from the South and West of England and from Scotland, every part of it, all those cases prove that the action taken is not isolated action, and is not the capricious action of individual recruiting officers, but that it is a plan universally and deliberately adopted, which would only have been initiated on instructions, and definite instructions, given by the War Office. I do not want to inflict letters upon the House, although I have many of them. As the result of my last speech I had something like sixty letters all dealing with this matter. I have a very instructive one from the Prime Minister's Constituency, and I suggested to the writer that he should write to the Prime Minister. This is the letter:With reference to the controversy in the House yesterday I take the liberty of writing you to say that in this district rejected men have been tricked wholesale into the Army.That is Cupar, Fife.I myself am a case in point. Rejected on the 8th December last, I was called upon on 5th February to re-present myself for attestation, which I did. Afterwards, on reading Sir John Simon's disclosures in the Press, I communicated with the recruiting officer (Cupar, Fife) pointing out that he had exceeded his duty, and in replying he shifted the responsibility for his action on to his superior in Perth. I can send you copies of our correspondence if it would be of use to you, and you would then see that so far I have received no real satisfaction. Might I add that a brother of mine in Inverness who was rejected last November has been asked to report at barracks.Therefore you have cases both in Fife and in Inverness.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I have not the reply; but I have another correspondence which shows the admirable tone, temper and courtesy of the War Office recruiting officials, so that I hope the reply in this ease will satisfy my right hon. Friend. This gentleman had offered himself and been rejected. The date is 22nd February. This is from the Recruiting Office, Richmond, to W. R.—There is no "Mr." about it:Unless certificate is dated after 9th January signed and cause of rejection thereon, it is now invalid, and notice (enclosed) paper (which you ought to have received) holds good, unless you attest and come up for re-examination.This gentleman wrote to the captain by whom that reply was signed, as follows:—Dear Sir,It is quite civil.In reply to your memorandum of the 22nd inst. I cannot understand your statement that unless the Certificate is dated after the 9th January it is 969 now invalid. The Military Service Act clearly states among those exempted are 'men who have offered to enlist and have been rejected since' 14th August, 1915.' To make a statement such as you have done, even in error, is a very serious matter, especially in view of what has been said this week in the House of Commons, and I must therefore ask you to kindly afford me an explanation by return, as I shall not be content to allow the matter to rest as it is.In the reply to this there is no "Dear Sir." It is undated, but is marked as having been received at 7.20 p.m. on 24th February:I give no explanations for my statements"—The War Office has the true "Zabernian" ring about it—except that I carry out War Office orders. Since writing you, however, orders have been issued that if the certificate is signed and dated after 14th August it is now valid. So your case is settled.I think we should have some further information. We ought to know what were the original instructions. Obviously there have been instructions to the recruiting authorities. I do not suggest that my right hon. Friend knew anything about them. I do not believe he did. At the same time he has given a number of answers to questions in this House as the responsible Minister here, and it is due to the House in the first place that the actual instructions issued after the passing of the Act should be given, and in the second place that the revised instructions which apparently reached this gentleman in Richmond between the 22nd and the 23rd February should also be issued. Even as the situation is at present, we can hardly accept it as satisfactory. What is the position? My hon. and learned Friend made a great point of the poster. After all, the poster affects the rights of a large number of people in this country. There are thousands of men affected by it. There are thousands of men who were assured both by the Minister and by their understanding of the Act of Parliament that they were exempt from military service, and many of them have undertaken civil obligations because they knew that they were now exempted from military service. Therefore, it is a matter of the greatest concern that a poster issued by the War Office defining their legal position should be absolutely accurate. What is this poster? I saw it for the first time on the walls of the War Office, or of a building adjoining the War Office, yesterday:When a man considers he is exempt from the Military Service Act—"exempt" is not the accurate term; it should be "excepted"; but the War 970 Office seem to know nothing about the Act—on the ground that he has offered himself for enlistment, and been medically rejected—That, again, is not in accordance with the Act—for military service since 14th August, 1915, he must produce the Rejection Certificate, duly completed and signed, which is recognised by the military authorities.But on the 21st February my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow put this question to the Under-Secretary:Whether the military authorities are claiming to regard persons who have offered themselves for enlistment and been rejected since 14th August last, as within the provisions of the Military Service Act, 1916, and as liable to be compelled to serve unless they can produce a specified form of certificate of rejection?To that question we had this answer, obviously supplied to the right hon. Gentleman by the Department which issued the poster:I have made inquiries, and I am informed that the claim mentioned is not being made by the military authorities.According to the information supplied to this House on the 21st February the claim was not being made, yet there is issued for the first time yesterday a poster which makes that claim. We cannot put it down to a blunder. That is too charitable. It is true we have sufficient evidence of what the War Office can do in that direction, but a condition of things like this must be put down to a deliberate policy. Is it not that the recruiting authorities at the War Office know that they cannot get the numbers represented in the Derby Report, and in order to make up the numbers they have to sweep in the maimed, the halt, and the blind; they have to get some figures to justify Lord Derby's bogus prospectus? That is the situation. It is the only explanation that will fit the facts.
Then we come to the letter of Sunday. "For greater accuracy," as Mr. Speaker says on a certain occasion, I have obtained a copy of the letter read by my right hon. Friend in reply to a question of mine this afternoon. The first point one naturally puts is, Why has it been so long delayed? On the 27th January a written answer was given to a question by the hon. Member for Derby, in which my right hon. Friend stated categorically that every man had to submit himself to re-examination. That was not a mistake made by a recruiting officer. This reply went forth to the country. It was published in all the papers. I have letters from men stating that on the faith of that statement they went to submit themselves for re-examination. What 971 happened? My right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow immediately called the attention of the War Office to the matter, and the correspondence which passed appeared in the Press. Apparently my right hon. Friend believed that the appearance of that correspondence in the Press was all that was required; because, in answer to a question put by me last week, he said that he had not issued any special instructions in the matter. Why should he not have issued special instruction when there had been issued false instructions in the first place?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The right hon. Gentleman gave an answer in the House of Commons which indicated that such instructions had been given. Either that answer was in accordance with the instructions or it was not. Are we to understand that the answer given by my right hon. Friend did not represent any instructions given by the War Office?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
And that every recruiting officer in every part of the country, by a system of thought-reading, arrived at the same conclusion—that it was the wish of the War Office that medically unfit men should be re-examined? It is extremely difficult to understand. The instructions may not have gone from the Director of Recruiting, but they must have gone from somebody. There must have been some instructions, because there are letters over and over again in which the recruiting officers refer to instructions. I do not know where they came from. By a coincidence the answer given by my right hon. Friend in this House agrees to the letter with the instructions which these recruiting officers allege that they have received. I do not know what inference to draw. But no instructions were given. Recruiting officers continued their old practice up to the 23rd or 24th February, and I am told by my hon. Friend near me that they are doing it still. I certainly received some letters by this morning's post calling attention to the same thing still going on. We had a Debate in this House on the 21st February, and yet no instructions were issued. In fact, throughout there has been a studied ambiguity about every expression which has passed from the War Office, as if it were their settled intention to lay their hands upon 972 the medically unfit wherever they possibly could. I cannot explain the action on any other system. At last we have this belated epistle of Sunday:I am directed to forward the attached list giving names and particulars of men who state that they have been rejected for the Army since 14th August, 1915, and have been subjected to a second medical examination under a misapprehension.That does not cover the cases, because a great majority of these men have never been submitted to a second medical examination at all. The authorities have not taken the trouble to do it. The men have been grouped and passed into the Army without any examination at all. The real way to describe these men is as men who have been in the past medically rejected and have since been attested. The letter continues:I am therefore to request that each individual case may at once be inquired into, and if it is found that any of these men have been misled through action taken on behalf of the recruiting authorities their attestations, if they so desire, must at once be cancelled and their former rejection allowed to stand.I do not quarrel with the result of that. What I want to know is what is the meaning of this: "If it is found that any of these men have been misled.—"Who had to find it out? This letter is addressed to the generals commanding in the different divisional commands throughout England. Who are to decide these cases, for, after all, it is not a simple matter? Where a man has some written evidence it is easy to decide that he has been medically rejected, but we know there are large numbers of cases where men have had their medical certificates destroyed. Who is to decide on the secondary evidence as to the existence of these medical certificates? Obviously it is necessary that somebody ought to be specially appointed to deal with such cases. Then we are told they have been misled by action taken on behalf of the recruiting authorities. Surely at this time of day the question of their having been misled might be set aside! After all, they have had the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the Member for Derby in this House. Can there be any question that after that answer was given many of these men must have been misled, and thought that they did not need to bring forward any evidence about the statement' of the recruiting officers? When you have a published statement which is misleading—admittedly misleading—surely it is unnecessary to place the onus of proof upon the man who is now appealing to be excepted! Then it says:It should be explained to them by the recruiting officer that the second examination undertaken 973 at their own request for the purpose of securing an armlet, disclosed their eligibility for certain classes of military service for which recruits had not previously been specially enlisted.I think really to use the armlet as a means of getting round an Act of Parliament is unworthy of the Government. These men were told at the beginning of the Derby scheme that every man rejected would be entitled to an armlet. It is true that while the scheme was being worked, just as the authorities had not enough forms to be going on with, so they had not enough armlets. They were too busy laying a trap for the Prime Minister to look after these details. Not having enough armlets, they had to advise the applicants to apply later for armlets. When they went back they were told they would certainly be required to undergo another examination for the armlet, as the previous examination did not stand good for the purpose of excepting them from military service. If the War Office are wise, and wish to restore their reputation with the people of this country, they will throw aside this petty point about armlets, and say to the men, "You have been submitted to re-examination under a misapprehension; if you think you have been deceived we will let you go, but we desire you to stay." I think a large number of men would have willingly stayed if they had been honestly asked; because, after all, the great majority of these men had offered themselves not on one occasion only, but on several occasions, and had been rejected as unfit. The fact that these men had offered themselves so frequently proved their patriotism, and if the War Office, instead of getting them in in this way, had said, "It is true that under the Act we cannot take you, but if you are willing to come, there are certain forms of service for which you will still be useful, and for which we desire your service," I believe they would have got these men. If they were to do as I suggest even now, I believe they would get the men. Why do they not? I cannot understand it.
There is another point. Why are these men desired? We are told it is for clerical work. There was an interruption in the earlier part of the Debate by an hon. Member on the opposite side when my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington was speaking. My right hon. Friend was arguing that old men and wounded and discharged soldiers could do this work. The hon. Member who interrupted said, "Oh, but you cannot get them under this Act." In other words, you cannot compel 974 them. You would otherwise have to pay them the market wage. The difference between the two positions is that under this Act you can get these medically unfit men for Is. 2d. a day, and without any cost for their dependants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Yes, that is so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] What is the meaning of the interruption? I have fought this question of compulsory labour in the House since it was first raised, and I believe that here is compulsory labour!
§ Mr. PRINGLE
These men are being taken for clerical work under compulsory conditions. It is compulsory labour.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That is the regular pay in the Army. They are not going to pay these men more than they give in the Army. That is the object of the whole thing. It is quite obvious. There is no concealment about it. You cannot get the old men or the wounded or discharged soldier to do it. No, you would have to pay these men the market wage! But you can get these other men under this Act at Is. 2d. a day.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
Can the hon. Member state what is the clerical work for which these men are being employed at 1s. 2d. a day?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Army clerical work. It is in the Pay Department, and other work of that kind—what are termed sedentary occupations.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not dispute that for a moment. I am dealing with the ordinary military pay. The military authorities are getting these men for military pay, whereas for the old men and for wounded and discharged soldiers they would have to pay at the present time the market rate of wages.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We are dealing with single men, and consequently there are practically no dependants. There are no 975 pensions, or practically no pensions, and I say that this is simply a means of obtaining compulsory labour. Yes, that is what it means.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary foresaw it, but it does amount to compulsory labour. On the Second Reading of this Bill the Prime Minister stated in this House that it was the intention of the Government not to use this Bill for the purpose of compulsory labour.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think it has, and that it means compulsory labour. You are taking men in who are medically unfit for military service, or that has been de scribed as military service—[An HON. MEMBER: "Foreign service!"] I did not say foreign service, I said military service. It is really a means of obtaining the work at military rates. .On that account I suggest that it is a breach of the undertaking given by the Prime Minister on the Second Reading of the Bill. There is a further point: The whole question of pensions and allowances is intimately bound up with this other question. We had a discussion on the Address initiated by the hon. Member for West Ham, dealing with the liability both of the War Office and the Admiralty for pensions to men who were discharged from the Army. In this it was alleged that the disease which had rendered such men unfit was not directly attributable to their Army service. The War Office laid down the rule that if a man is discharged through disease not directly attributable to Army service he is entitled to no pension. Here, however, is the War Office deliberately taking men into the Army who are medically unfit—men whom they know to be suffering from different kinds of disease. Are they going to maintain the rule to which I have just referred in face of the fact that you are allowing men in under no sort of medical examination at all? Because it is interesting to find in the City Tribunal that that is the practice to-day. I wish my right hon. Friend would listen to this point. I am quoting from the "Times" of today:A somewhat startling decision was given in the case of a clerk employed by a firm of distillers. He 976 had offered himself for enlistment in the Territorials three times, and on each occasion he had been rejected for defective eyesight. He had tried again last month and had been attested. The following conversation took place:The Chairman: There is some statement I have seen where a man who has been refused on medical grounds after a given date is outside the scheme.The Military Representative: But he has been attested since. You see, unfortunately, between August and the present date the medical examination has been altered. It has become less and less severe for various reasons, and that lets in a lot of men who formerly were not allowed to attest. If he has attested he comes under the Derby scheme.There are various reasons—it does not matter what they are.It has become less and less severe for various reasons.Note further:The Chairman: Having attested, he is liable under a contract?The Applicant: I have a certificate here dated 5th November.The Military Representative: That is no use. It is Territorial.The Chairman: You must have an Army certificate.These are quotations from the military representative who evidently has not received the letter of my right hon. Friend, or has even, seen the blue poster. He said:That is no use. It is Territorial.He had been rejected for the Territorials on three different occasions, and therefore he was no use. That is what it means obviously, but having attested he is liable!
The Applicant: I have a certificate here dated 5th November.The Military Representative: That is no use. It is Territorial.The Chairman: You must have an Army certificate.There you have the whole system of misrepresentation still going on within the City of London, in spite of the answer of my right hon. Friend who believed that his answer in the House was sufficient to dispel any misapprehension that arose out of his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby. Here is his answer on 21st February to my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow:82. Sir J. SIMON asked whether unmarried men who have offered themselves for enlistment in the Territorial Force and have been rejected since 14th August last are regarded as falling within the provisions of the Military Service Act, 1916; and, if so, whether, inasmuch as that Act excepts from its provisions all who have offered themselves for enlistment and have been rejected since that date, there is any justification for disregarding the Act in this particular?Mr. TENNANT: The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative, and the second part does not, therefore, arise.[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 191G, col. 418.]977 Consequently the answer to the first part was that a certificate was granted in connection with a man offering himself for the Territorial Force was as good as an Army certificate. Exactly seven days later from 21st February the military representative of the City—who is a Member of this House—says, "That is no use; it is Territorial." I know it is very hard for my right hon. Friend to have to give a defence for all these people. I sympathise with him. But my point is this: Long ago, when he knew that these practices were going on, he should have insisted that clear and definite instructions were issued to every recruiting office in the country, so that no further mistakes could possibly be made, and that no man in any part of the country would ever be able to say he had been deceived by the War Office. It lies with the War Office from the point of view of its own reputation to do that.
There are the other points upon which I have ventured to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should give a clear answer. He should state what is to be the position of those men who have no written evidence now on account of their certificates being destroyed by recruiting officers. What evidence is to be accepted as a means of their securing the exceptions to which the Act entitles them? We also ask that no further stress should be laid upon the inducement to attest by the granting of armlets. Surely it is better to leave it to the man himself whether he wishes to attest under the new conditions rather than to get him by what is something like a subterfuge. And, in the third place, we should have a security that this Act is not to be used for the purposes of compulsory labour. After all, the War Office is discharging every day as unfit men who could well do these clerical duties. Why are they not keeping those men? Is it for any other reason than to swell the numbers under the Derby scheme? There can be no other explanation. Then, in the last place, it must surely be obvious that, now you are relaxing your medical examination to such an extent that it is practically a mockery, it is absolutely essential for the War Office to modify its rule in regard to the granting of pensions to men who are discharged as unfit. If a man is now discharged as unfit, why raise the question as to whether it is directly attributable to service when you know yourselves you are taking men who are admittedly unfit. Men with 978 weak lungs, men with dilated hearts, men with ruptures, men with all sorts of diseases, will have service in the Army. If the exposure to which they are subjected aggravates those diseases, surely it is your duty to take responsibility for it. Then I think in this House we must insist that the practice which has been adopted in the Army in the past, which has already led to thousands of men being discharged and who are now without any provision whatever, but whose numbers will be swollen to far larger proportions under this new system of enlistment, must be relaxed, and that every man discharged for a disease not due to his own misconduct shall be entitled to absolute rights of pension from the authorities.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I would ask the indulgence of the House while I endeavour to reply to the criticisms levelled against my Department, partly on the ground that I have to reply to a great many subjects and partly on the ground that I have to reply for a considerable number of people. It would probably be simplest if I were first of all to bring before the House what action I myself have taken since my right hon. and learned Friend first raised this subject in this House on 21st February, I think it was. I made a speech that day, and I think the following day, in .answer to some questions raised by several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Middleton Division of Lancashire (Sir Ryland Adkins), and I undertook to take a certain course and to issue certain instructions. I issued on the 24th, although I think it did not actually come out until the 25th, the following notice, which appeared under the heading "Press Bureau" in the papers:The Secretary of the War Office makes the following announcement: In sending out notices under the Military Service Act the recruiting authorities will work on the military register. Notices will be sent to all men whose names are on the register, except those who have been attested and classified in a group, and except also those whom the authorities can identify as excepted or exempted from the Act.Upon that I would say that in many recruiting offices no lists at all were kept of men who had been rejected for one cause or another. Therefore, it was absolutely impossible for the authorities to know who were or who were not the people who should receive those notices. Therefore, the forms went out, as I think my right hon. Friend said, indiscriminately 979 to those who were of military age, irrespective of the fact that they might have endeavoured to enlist and had been rejected.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not know anything about that. I do not want to be diverted from my argument by my right hon. and learned Friend. I really do not see what relevance that has. The notice went on to say:Notice papers may be sent to any of the following categories—men who have been (first) discharged from the Army, time expired, or on medical grounds; or (secondly), who have offered themselves for service since 14th August, 1915, but who have been medically rejected; or (thirdly), who are for any other reason exempted or excepted from the Act, but in any such cases the recipient should immediately return the paper to the recruiting authorities who issued it, together with a statement as to the documents he has in his possession to show why he should not be called up. If these are in order the notice paper will be cancelled.This is the point on which a good deal of stress has been laid by hon. Members in the course of this Debate, for they say the man who has no documentary evidence is in a plight because he can do nothing. But what I want to lay stress upon is that we have asked any man who has not documentary evidence supporting his claim that he:should state the date and place of his rejection and any other circumstances relating thereto. Pending consideration of his case he should retain his notice paper.I think that notice covers nearly the whole of the points. There was a further point which I dealt with in a letter I read to the House, and from which the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) has also read passages, which dealt with the case of a man who had been medically examined the second time under false pretences—the man who, I considered, was a victim of what was called trickery and cajolery. I maintain that those two documents which have been issued really do cover nearly 99 per cent. of the cases which have been brought to our notice. But it has been said, "You do not deal with the man who has seen your answer to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas)." I took the earliest possible means I could of correcting that most unhappy answer. I did it through the instrumentality of correspondence with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow. Of course, people attach value, but I do not know how much circulation a written answer to a question has among the 980 public. It is represented to me that, because I made this one unfortunate mistake—and I answered 3,000 questions in the last Session of Parliament—every man and woman's son in this country is burning with indignation, or is suffering great injustice because of this one great error. I am bound to say I do not think answers to questions, particularly written answers, have so wide a circulation as that. Of course I regret it very much, and I do not minimise it in the least, but I cannot think that it can have had quite such a great boom as has been given to it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am quite aware of the fact that a great many people in this country are looking for blunders at the War Office, and nothing pleases them better than when they can find them. Coming to the poster, here is a thing which has been issued, I really cannot tell how, and I do not know how. I only got it at luncheon time. If my right hon. and learned Friend is interested in the psychology of the poster, I would say this to him, that I think it probable that the order for it was given before his speeches or my speeches in this House last week. I have to take responsibility for it, because I believe nobody else can be responsible. My right hon. and learned Friend will understand that I would much rather it were a foundling. I have become an almost ubiquitous and a universal parent, and as such I have to take that amount of responsibility. But I will give my right hon. and learned Friend and the House the assurance that that poster shall be corrected. It is not all wrong. Like the curate's egg, it is good in parts. The parts which are bad shall be excised, and we will endeavour to make it correct. I hope that will satisfy my right hon. and learned Friend. I will come, I hope in a spirit of good nature, to the strictures of my right hon. and learned Friend, and I would say this, that clear instructions have been issued to all recruiting authorities that no man with regard to whom an appeal has been made is to be called up until the appeal has been disallowed. My right hon. and learned Friend will remember a point that in the yellow form there was no mention of the appeal. I hope that that is a sufficient answer.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I do not want to interrupt unnecessarily. The right hon. Gentleman has been helpful, and I should be glad if he could assure us that steps will be taken in each recruiting office and each recruiting area to inform those who may be affected by notices that this is the position. It is one thing to inform a recruiting officer, but it is quite a different thing to inform an individual. I hope he will see that in each area the best is done to advertise what he is now saying, so that people may know what their rights are.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I recognise it is very difficult to make everyone informed of the correct thing; but the real criticism levelled against us is not that we have not shown the public what their rights are, because there have been the Debates in this House and the Act of Parliament, but that we have not given right instructions to the recruiting officers. I am telling my right hon. Friend what has been done in the case of recruiting officers on the point of appeal. I am informed that instructions have been issued that no man with regard to whom an appeal has been made is to be called up until the appeal has been disallowed. This will be brought to their notice by posters and leaflets, and it is not thought to be necessary to refer to it on the form. I am afraid it is too late to alter the yellow form, but there is one other point I will deal with in this connection. I have been asked how it came about that my letter on this question was not issued until Sunday. I do not know if the House realises the amount of time I have at my disposal to draft letters. I had Monday and Tuesday to make speeches, I spoke again on Thursday, and on Friday I got this letter. On Saturday we agreed to it, and it was issued on Sunday. I really cannot do things quicker than that. On Thursday I had over 2,000 letters. I have been most happy to get the assistance of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, and if I had not done that all these unfortunate persons would have received no instructions as to what their position was. These are now being referred to each command in order that every individual case may at once be inquired into. When I am taken to task on this matter by saying that it deals only with appeals of men who have been subject to a medical examination under a misapprehension, my reply is that that is only an instruction on that particular point. With regard to other cases which have reached me, we are asking the 982 command to make an individual examination of the case and to report upon it. The letter only deals with that particular class of case, but all the cases will be eventually examined and reported upon, and I think that is the main thing which my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) wishes to have done. My right hon. and learned Friend asked me in regard to an instruction which he thought had been issued that everybody, irrespective of any medical examination, should now be called up. I may say that there is no such instruction and there never has been. I have ascertained that. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) spoke about the military representative and asked me certain questions. I think the best answer to the argument that the military representative dominates the proceedings of the tribunal was to listen to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough), who brought to our notice the action of the military representative on the City of London tribunal.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I was not aware of that fact until my hon. and learned Friend announced it the other day. I do not say that that has no bearing upon it, but I will forbear making any further criticisms on this point. The military representative in this case did not consider that all those persons should join the Army, and he thought some of them should be exempted, but the tribunal insisted on them all going. I was rather surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington say that the duty of the tribunals was to grant exemptions. That is not their duty; neither is it their duty to insist upon military service where it would not be proper. They have to decide specific cases brought before them, and pronounce upon them. This fact is sufficiently well known, and to argue that the only duty of the tribunals is to grant exemptions is to pervert the duties prescribed by Parliament. Now I come to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham), who asked what are we going to do about reserved occupations. I can assure the hon. Baronet that this matter is engaging the urgent attention of the Government, and a system is being considered for the readmission of reserved occupations. It is now in a very forward state, although it has not reached absolute completion. With regard to the men 983 who have attested, and whom my hon. Friend considers should not be allowed to serve while there are a certain number of young unmarried men in reserved occupations who could be spared, that is one of the matters upon which I can give an assurance that we shall endeavour to carry out what is suggested. I wish to appeal not only to my hon. Friend, but also to other employers and persons in authority throughout the community, to extend to us and to the military authorities their cooperation in trying to bring about these exchanges between the younger unmarried men of military age who are now in a starred occupation, in order to get them to join the Army before the married men.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Will the right hon. Gentleman not require Parliamentary powers to enable him to carry out that proposal?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not desire to be dogmatic about that, but I am told that further powers are not necessary. I hope I shall not appeal in vain for the co-operation of the community generally in trying to trace these cases. I am sure the hon. Member for Mansfield knows how difficult it is to trace removals in all parts of the country, because the Register does not demonstrate where these men are. Whether the machinery used by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee will enable these removals to he traced or not I do not know, but this is a matter which I commend to the attention of the Financial Secretary. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) referred to labour representation on the tribunals. I am informed by the President of the Local Government Board that in nearly all cases a satisfactory arrangement has been come to on that point. I think it may fairly he claimed that the tribunals have been quite representative in the majority of cases. It would toe difficult to alter them now, and I am assured that the Local Government Board is now dealing with the question of labour representation on the tribunals. It has been stated that as the medical test becomes less severe, more persons will be taken in by a subsequent examination.
The House must understand that we at the War Office want men for the Army. The Army is in need, and we cannot win this War unless we get a sufficient quantity of men. When the Military Service Bill 984 was passing through this House it came to our notice that a certain number of men—not a large number, tout sufficient to make it necessary to take some steps to combat their action—were claiming that they were not able to see, and were depending upon the eye test for exemption. It was said that this applied to men who prior to the introduction of the Military Service Bill had enjoyed quite normal eyesight, and it was rather singular that the passing of the Military Service Bill should have synchronised with their defective eyesight. Consequently orders were given to the recruiting officers that the eyesight test would no longer be considered a bar to men being considered medically fit to join the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "Home service? "] This condition applied to any service, and I think it was a good step to take in order to find out who were and who were not genuine in regard to eyesight. Of course, if you get a man who is really defective in his eyesight, you cannot make a soldier of him fit to go to the front, but you may take his service for other things, such as garrison duty, although you cannot take him for fighting in the ordinary Infantry of the Line. I want to reassure the hon. Member for Lanarkshire in regard to industrial compulsion, for he was very insistent, almost like King Charles' head. I hope my hon. Friend will believe me when I say that not only is there no industrial compulsion by the means which he described, but there has been no endeavour to impose industrial compulsion upon a reluctant world.
§ Mr. TENNANT
To get compulsory labour! Then there is a distinction in my hon. Friend's opinion between industrial compulsion and compulsory labour. I know my hon. Friend is always very precise. If compulsory labour is desired, surely it is always put upon new work. Supposing, for instance, you wanted to take a soldier and make him do something which has never been done by soldiers before. That might be described as compulsory labour, but here we have work which has always been undertaken by soldiers—work at the Pay Office, keeping 985 the books, the Army Service Corps duties, the services of the Quartermaster-General, all the Ordnance work. All this work has always been conducted by soldiers enlisted and by men who have joined the Colours. It was represented to us that some of those duties might be undertaken by men who are less physically fit than the Regular soldier of the Line fighting in the trenches, and surely it is not improper for the War Office to say, "We should like to have grouped in such-and-such a class a certain number of men who are not so fit as the really efficient soldier of the Line, but who may undertake these less arduous and rigorous duties. It is very difficult, I know, to convince my hon. Friend, but I should like to convince him, and I hope he will listen to what I have to say, and that he will really believe there is no intention whatever of doing something which we are afraid to own up to or which we are ashamed to confess. There is no such intention whatsoever. That being so, I trust he will allow that particular argument of his to lapse into the limbo in which I think it really deserves to remain.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I have told my hon. Friend exactly what are the intentions of the Government and the War Office, and, if there is anything to be ashamed of in that, I really do not understand the morals of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend also asked me if I would do something to alter the conditions under which we grant the armlet. I really am not very much inclined to make a change. It is some little means of getting home to persons who may be quite efficient for certain parts of the work which I have just described, and I do not think that I could recommend anyone who is concerned to alter the conditions under which the armlet is issued. They have now been issued for nearly three months. I do not think that they have worked badly, and I trust that my hon. Friend will not think it necessary to press me on that subject. Finally, my hon. Friend referred to the question of pensions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) has given notice to bring that matter up on the Motion that you, Mr. Speaker, do leave the Chair on going into Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates, and, that being so, I should like to be allowed to leave the matter to that more convenient opportunity, when I hope to be able to deal with it more comprehensively. 986 My right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) spoke to me on the same lines as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waltham-stow (Sir J. Simon). I would only say to him that we have taken such action to rectify what has been done as we could in the time at our disposal. I have undertaken to take further action in the alteration of the poster. I do not think that I have undertaken to do anything else, because I am really uncertain what the House would desire me to do. I do realise that mistakes have been made and that blunders have been made, but I hope that they are not nearly so numerous as hon. Gentlemen seem to think. A great number of the letters—I will not say most of them—that I have received have been questions asking me what is the position of my correspondent. They have not been complaints altogether. I do not say that there have been no complaints, on the contrary, there have been complaints, but I understand that a great number of the letters are queries as to the category in which these gentlemen stand. I would repeat that the action of tearing up certificates of exemption is reprehensible. I have said that before, and I will endeavour to see that is never done again.
§ Mr. TENNANT
There is only one other point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), respecting the conscientious objector. I have stated, in answer to questions in this House, that the conscientious objector who has attested under Lord Derby's scheme must be rather a rare animal. I cannot help thinking that he is, but I have undertaken to have his case examined into where there is reason to suppose that it is genuine, though I think everybody must admit that primâ facie a man who has attested and agreed to join the fighting Forces of the Crown cannot really be said to have any conscientious objection.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Is my right hon. Friend aware these men have been told by the recruiting officers that they cannot claim exemption until they have attested? That is being done throughout the country.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think those of whom the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) is speaking are different people. They are men who have already attested.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I take one case. Some men went into a recruiting office and asked for exemption forms. They were told that they could not have them, and could not claim exemption until they had attested. Then, having attested, they were told that they could not be given exemption.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My hon. Friend is confusing the group system with the compulsory system under the Act.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The hon. Gentleman must realise the absurdity of any conscientious objector being able to go into a recruiting office and to say, "I am a conscientious objector and must have a form of exemption." What he has to do is to show to some competent authority that he has a conscientious objection, and it is for the tribunal to decide whether he is really a conscientious objector or not.
§ Mr. TENNANT
It seems to me quite absurd to allow any man to walk into a recruiting office and say, "I am a conscientious objector, and therefore you must give me a form of exemption."
§ Mr. TENNANT
Oh, an application form. If he wants to have an application form to put before the tribunal under the Act, I think he has a right to get one.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I suspect the man said, "I want to be exempted" from something else, from carrying out his oath in his attestation form under the Derby scheme. I suspect that is really what occurred.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I want to say one word on the Advisory Committees. The hon. Member for Blackburn asked me what use the Advisory Committee was. It has been of the greatest value, and it has been much more the friend of those who have 988 some right to be exempted or excepted than of the military authorities. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will bear me out in that statement. The Advisory Committee has great local knowledge of the requirements of the particular industry in the locality and of any local facts of that kind, and can advise the military authority as to whether a man's case should be fought or not. In a great number of cases the Advisory Committee's military representative came to the conclusion that the case need not really be contested and the man has been exempted at once. Therefore, so far from blaming the Advisory Committee, really the hon. Gentleman ought to be very grateful to it for the work which it has done I hope that any hon. Member who has heard what I have said will represent to the hon. Member for Blackburn that he need not take this kind of action or hold this kind of view with regard to the Advisory Committee, but he may look upon it as the friend of those who are genuinely desirous, for good reasons, to be exempted or excepted from the operations of the Act. I am informed that there is a notice in today's paper making it quite clear that men are entitled to the application form of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) spoke. There is a notice in to-day's papers saying that they are entitled to obtain these forms.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I wish to call the attention of the House to the fact that this question of medical rejection has been argued upon very narrow lines. It has monopolised nearly every speech that has been made this afternoon, and the main object of the speakers seems to have been to find out some flaw in the machinery of the War Office, or some diversity between an answer of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and some notice issued by the War Office. That is a very easy task from my experience of the War Office, and I expect every Member of the House is armed with a great number of facts on the basis of which he could make serious complaints against the machinery of the War Office. There is a much wider consideration to be borne in mind with regard to this laxity of medical examination. I could give instances, if I wished to argue the thing on the personal consideration, of men who have perhaps been badly treated or deceived. I could give the House an instance of a man who was 989 examined and who was rejected five times. His main anxiety was not to become what he called a "Conscript," and it was the moral compulsion of the approaching Compulsory Bill which induced him to go a sixth time, when he was passed. I happen to know that, in that case, and in a great many other cases which have formed the subject of complaint this afternoon on other grounds than those which I am going to urge, the passing of these men simply means adding to the Army a very large number of useless recruits. I expect every Member of this House has had this subject under observation, but I do not know whether it has sunk into their minds in the proportion which it has really assumed with regard to the expense to the State, the waste to the Army, and the necessary abandonment of hopes which are created when you see large numbers joining the Army.
All this laxity and carelessness of medical examination contribute to a waste which was estimated by an experienced medical authority to have amounted over a year ago to something like two millions sterling in respect of men who have joined the Army, a great many of whom—I do not by any means say the whole of them—would not have joined if the medical examination had been sufficiently strict. That sum of two millions sterling must have grown, and I cannot say by how many times the figure may be multiplied if this goes on. These men, wasters, as they are called, hang about the Army; and an experienced authority, writing to the papers three months ago, stated that only those who come to close quarters with the inside of the Army have any conception of the number of men hobbling about the barracks, doing no work, perpetually going sick in and out of hospitals, and generally helping to make up the sum of £150 or £200 which, according to the Prime Minister, it takes to clothe, feed, and train as a soldier. While I quite admit that personal injustice is a very important consideration, and that the keeping of faith on the part of Ministers is also important, yet, to my mind, the real gravamen of the matter consists in the fact that the acceptance of men who have been rejected, and for whose rejection there must have been some reason, and the growing laxity of the medical examination can only lead to disappointment, waste, and unnecessary expenditure.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
The hon. Member who has just spoken raised a very important point which has not previously been mentioned in this Debate, and that is the amount of waste that goes on from both an industrial and a financial point of view because of the great reluctance of the Army authorities to discharge anybody from the Army once he has been enlisted. I have personally come across quite a considerable number of cases of this kind. Not long ago one of my Constituents informed me that, although he was anxious to obtain his discharge from the Army and to go into a munition factory, and although he had been on sick leave off and on for about nine months, doing no useful work either for the country or for himself, yet he could not get his discharge. That class of case exists to a much greater extent than is realised, and it has two bad effects. One is that a large number of these people could go back to civil employment, and pro tanto release an equal number of other people military fit. The second bad effect is the large amount of useless expenditure which is incurred. I have never been able to understand where the difficulty originates or why it exists. I have been informed it is due to some extraordinary organisation in the War Office, by means of which the gentleman who acts as a final authority as to whether a man is fit and should remain in the Army, never sees the man at all. The man may have been sat upon by two or three medical boards which have declared him to be unfit, but the ultimate tribunal which directs that he shall remain in the Army never, in fact, sees the patient. I can scarcely believe that to be the case. But, at any rate, there must be something wrong about the system.
§ Sir A. MOND
I am very glad to hear that. I think a little unfairness has been done on this question, and the people who enlisted on lower standards have been made to suffer since the passing of the Military Service Act. Prior to the passing of that Act, the War Office had to get men as best it could, and it was not in a position to pick and choose. A great part of our discussion this afternoon has arisen from the fact that we have hitherto been working under a kind of mixed voluntary and compulsory system—the Derby scheme—which has 991 led to hopeless confusion. Everybody seems to be rather hard on the poor recruiting officers, who every morning get different sets of instructions under different schemes. Anyone who has been in their offices, as I have been, and has seen these men, who are neither lawyers nor politicians, struggling to master the intricate documents which reached them daily must feel sympathy for them in trying to do their duty under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and it does seem remarkable that hon. Members of this House, who have for months opposed a proper regularised system of national service in this country which would have solved three-fourths of the difficulties, come forward to-day with criticisms of War Office administration.
Let me take a point raised by the hon. Members for Mid-Lanark and Derby, in connection with the fact that a large number of men who ought apparently to have been enlisted have gone into munition works and reserved industries. It is felt it would be a very difficult matter now to get these men into the Army. I agree with the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman has made to employers, but I should like to ask him one question. The employers, of course, to a very large extent have always been ready to release their men as far as possible for the purposes of the War. But one of their great difficulties has been that they could get no guarantee from any Department that, if they allowed the unmarried men to go, they would be replaced by married men. For instance, if an employer allowed 400 of his single men to go into the Army, he could get no guarantee that he would be allowed to get married men from any part of the country to replace them. The difficulty is an obvious one. You cannot allow unmarried men to go who are engaged in important Government work unless you are certain that those men will be automatically replaced. Under the system under which we are working I do not see how that guarantee can be given. Our difficulties are enormous as compared with those of our Ally—France. I was recently talking to a French munitions maker and I asked him how he got over the labour difficulty. He said, "We have none. When we want men the Government simply send them to us." But in this country you cannot get that, and that is one of the difficulties which undoubtedly has to be faced. It is no use, after all the money we 992 have spent on our munition factories, to disorganise them simply in order to change the system under which we are working.
There is one other matter to which I want to refer. The President of the Local Government Board, in reply to a question, gave some indication that the Government were considering a very important question, which I have raised before, namely, the contractual liabilities of the men now compulsorily joining the Colours, as well as of a great many who have voluntarily joined. I am glad the Government are thinking of doing something in that direction. Time is very short, and the necessity is very urgent. It is obviously necessary, and I do not think the point need be laboured; you cannot ask a man to perform impossibilities. Take a case of a man who has a five years' lease at £60 a year. You take him into the Army and give him 1s. 2d. a day. You compel him to join the Army—he has no option. How is that man to pay that rent? He cannot pay it. What is to happen? Is it suggested that the landlord is to be allowed to seize his furniture or whatever other goods he may have, to sell him up and to practically make him a bankrupt and thereby disgrace him in this country because the State has insisted on his doing something which makes it impossible for him to meet his contractual liabilities? Something must be done to meet that case, as it has had to be done in every other country.
As long as you had a purely voluntary system you might argue, although unfairly, that a man could please himself whether he would put himself into financial difficulties. But as soon as you got a compulsory system you could not argue on those grounds, and some steps must therefore be taken in order to protect this man. As a matter of fact, those steps ought to have been taken long ago. We must cover the large class of married men who have already gone, as well as those who are coming into the Army, under whatever scheme they may come, and you must put these people into a position to break contracts entered into under circumstances which were never contemplated. In this country we have, very rightly, a great regard for the sanctity of contracts. But surely that is carried much too far when you are going to make a tenant responsible for the maintenance of a lease under circumstances which neither party have contemplated or could have contemplated before the War broke 993 out. If war was a normal or current form of human occupation you would find in every lease, or every contract, a clause that, if war broke out and if the individual were called to the Colours, he should be relieved from his obligations. Such a clause is not usual in British contracts, but I believe you will find it in a great many contracts on the Continent where compulsory service obtains. The fact that each man has to serve his country has led lawyers there to foresee, to some extent, these difficulties, but because the English citizen, in ordinary time, has not foreseen the difficulty is it really right, without any regard to the present condition of the nation, to do nothing for him? Is it right to saddle somebody with the payment of rent, probably for several years, which he cannot possibly pay and which would be a burden to him if he ever comes back, or a burden to his family? It cannot be right.
The suggestions which I have made are mild to a degree. I do not go the length of suggesting what is done in France, Germany, or Italy, where neither the soldier nor his family, under any circumstances, are asked to pay any rent. What I propose is that if any man has a contract which he can produce to a judicial tribunal and shows that because he is fighting for his country the contract cannot be carried out, the Court should be empowered to make any order they think reasonable. A more mild proposal than that, one less liable to cause damage, hardship, or injustice to those who seem to think the right of property more important than the lives of human beings, it would be difficult for anybody to suggest. I hope that at any rate this elementary justice will be done. If it is, the minds of a vast number of people will be relieved. It is heartbreaking the kind of letters one receives continuously on this subject from people whose only desire is to go and die for their country. They only ask that coupled with that great sacrifice they should not be asked to beggar themselves and their families. One would have thought that such a proposition would have met with universal acceptance. I am sure it would if people could only transport themselves for a short space of time to any part of the firing line in France, which I have recently seen, where there are whole villages in which not a single house remains standing, where practically every house is reduced to ruins. I can quite understand a French soldier saying to the landlord, "You will 994 be a very happy man if after this War you have a house left to let at all, and I am not going to bother about any interest you get on the house during the War." That is pretty obvious, because if the soldier does not defend the house it would disappear. You have only to translate that point of view, for after all our soldiers are fighting in France to defend our property in this country just as much as the French soldier is fighting to defend property in France.
You ask a man to sacrifice his life, health, and private income, and at the same time you tax him because of a liability entered into under entirely different conditions. The injustice of that must be obvious even to those to whom contracts assume a kind of sacrosanct position, which personally I cannot see, and which they ought not to have in this connection. I do hope that this question is going to be met in a satisfactory manner. I do not say that the proposals I have suggested are the best ways of meeting it, or that there may not be better or more effective means of dealing with it, but the matter should be dealt with, and that without delay. It ought to have been dealt with earlier. There can be no doubt that there is a growing volume of opinion with regard to it, particularly as you are getting near the date of the Military Service Act coming into operation, which must have convinced the right hon. Gentleman that any further delay would cause a great deal of disappointment and heartburnings among the men who really deserve the best their country can give them.