HC Deb 10 January 1916 vol 77 cc1264-5

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if he will say why men selected for munitions work from the ranks of the Army are retained with their units for long periods; and whether he will consider the advisability of discharging them immediately after they are selected so that they may go to the work for which they are required or, if not wanted at once, to their civilian occupations until such time as they are needed?


It is only desired to release soldiers for work in munition factories who are skilled in occupations in which there is a shortage of labour. It was, therefore, necessary to examine carefully the qualifications of soldiers who had represented themselves to be skilled workers and had volunteered to return to work in munition factories, both as regards the skill possessed by them and the particular occupation for which they were suitable. This examination necessarily occupied some time. Of the total numbers of soldiers examined, nearly 60 per cent, were found not to possess the necessary skill, and the War Office have been informed that their release from the Colours will not be required. A very large number have been released and sent to the firms who were considered to need their services most urgently, and the outstanding balance are being dealt with as rapidly as possible. The arrangements between the Ministry and the War Office are that soldiers are not discharged from the Army, but are temporarily released for service in the production of munitions of war. Under the present arrangements they cannot be released for other purposes, and they do not leave their units until their prospective employers have signified their readiness to absorb them.


My question referred to those men who have been actually selected for work as munition makers owing to their skill or qualifications in that trade. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these men continue to be kept as soldiers, although, it has been decided that they are not to be soldiers, and have sometimes even been disarmed, and will he try to accelerate their discharge after they have actually been selected?


The hon. Member will be aware that we have to take the whole of the British Army in this country at the same time with a view to future requirements, and we must of necessity keep a considerable number of men in reserve as the national factories are becoming completed. It is for that reason that many of them have not yet been called up. The other part of the hon. Member's question is dealt with in our arrangements with the War Office, with which no doubt he is familiar.


In the event of skilled artisans being brought from the ranks and put in munition works, are they under military law or under the ordinary civil law?


The men themselves volunteer to go and work in munition works. They are sent to munition works, in which they work as ordinary citizens, and they return to the Colours when they are not wanted for the work on munitions.


The point I wish to emphasise is whether, when working in the factories or workshops, they are under military law or under the ordinary civil law?


That is not so. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is not so?"] But if the hon. Member will put a question on the Paper, I will give a specific reply.


Is it not the case that these men remain soldiers, draw separation allowances, and are under the orders of military officers even to the extent of drawing their clothes as their old ones wear out?


They remain soldiers—that is to say, they are on the strength of their units; but they are not under military law when working in munition factories.


May I ask—


None of these questions really arise out of the hon. Member's reply.