§ (1) Every male British subject who has at any time since the fourteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and fifteen, been, or for the time being is, ordinarily resident in Great Britain, and who has attained the age of eighteen years, and has not attained the age of forty-one years, shall, unless he either is for the time being within the exceptions set out in the First Schedule to the Military Service Act, 1916 (in this Act referred to as the principal Act), as amended by this Act or any subsequent enactment, or has attained the age of forty-one years before the appointed date, be deemed as from the appointed date to have been duly enlisted in His Majesty's regular forces for general service with the Colours or in the reserve for the period of the war, and to have been forthwith transferred to the reserve.
§ The appointed date shall, as respects men who come within the operation of this section on the passing of this Act, be the thirtieth day after the date of the passing of this Act, and, as respects men who come within the operation of this section after the passing of this Act, be the thirtieth day after the date on which they so come within the operation of this section.
§ (2) The principal Act shall be construed as if the foregoing provisions of this section were substituted for subsection (1) of section one of that Act, without prejudice, however, to the operation of that subsection as respects men to whom it applied.
§ (3) Subsection (4) of section one of the principal Act is hereby repealed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member handed in a Motion to postpone Clause 1, but I cannot accept a Motion to postpone the main operative Clause of the Bill.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
You have stated just now that the Clause is the main object of the Bill, but the Bill deals with a number of objects. Clause 1 deals only with the married men, Clause 2 deals with a different class of persons, and so on throughout the Bill. Is it the case that we are not at liberty to drop out any one class of men from compulsion?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is not my point at all. The Committee could negative Clause 1 when I put the question that the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That can only be done when a relevant question is before the Committee. The first Amendment on the Paper, in the names of the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) [to leave out Sub-section (1) to the word "reserve" and to insert instead Sub-section (1) (b) of Section 1 of the principal Act is hereby repealed] is not in order, and it is equivalent to bringing up a new Clause. If the proposal were to be adopted it would get rid of the existing Clause as it stands.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The sole purpose of the Amendment is to raise the question of the enlistment of boys of eighteen, and the reason why I put it on the Paper here is because I thought it was the only effective way in which it could be discussed by the House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It can he dealt with specifically when we reach the word "eighteen" in the first Clause. The next Amendment on the Paper [to leave out the word "British," and insert the word "English"], in the name of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) is out of order, because it is an Amendment not having any legal significance.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "subject" ["every British subject"] to insert the words "not being the son of an alien enemy." It is well known that there are many men in this country, Germans as well as others, who are naturalised and who have sons born in this country. They may have reached the age of eighteen, and the question arises whether such persons ought to be included in this Compulsory 474 Service Bill. I do not know what is their exact legal status, whether they are British citizens or not. Do those who are born of alien parents who have become British citizens come within the scope of this Bill? If they do not, then I think these words ought to be inserted.
§ Mr. LONG
This is really one of the most technical legal questions we could be called upon to decide, that is what constitutes British citizenship. Men who are the sons of aliens and who have been born, in this country are to all intents and purposes British citizens. Under those circumstances they are enjoying the protection of our laws and the hospitality of our shores, and they have every privilege which is shared by the purely British horn subject. As there are precautions taken in administration by the War Office with regard to aliens, as to whom there may be some doubt, I do not think there is any danger in these cases, and I hope my hon. Friend will be satisfied with that.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Does not the right hon. Gentleman see that there is something very important involved in this matter, apart from the legal aspect? There have been quite a number of cases of this sort before the tribunals and some diversity of decision. In some cases the tribunals have been very much exercised in their minds as to the legal position, and have exempted the applicant, and in many cases they have given him non-combatant service. Apart from the legal aspect there is the other important matter as to the desirability of having the sons of alien enemies in the British Army. It may be, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that they are enjoying the hospitality of this country and all the rights of British citizenship, but they have been brought up under influences which are to a large extent, I will not say anti-British, but un-British. I have had communications from a number of these men and they have an objection to fighting, or being called upon to fight, against their own relatives. Therefore, in the interests of discipline in the British Army, I do not think it is desirable that these men should be compelled to serve, and if the hon. Member is prepared to press the Amendment I shall certainly support it.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I hope the Bill will remain as it is. Every British subject ought to be brought under the Bill, and that is what the Bill purports to do. I think it would be really coming to a climax 475 of absurdity if you were to say when you have naturalised a man and given him all the privileges of an Englishman and all the rights to sue in the Courts and carry on business here and everywhere else, that when we went to war we had no right to call upon him to fight.
§ 4.0 P.M.
Mr. T. WILSON
I hope that between now and the Report stage the Government will consider this question further. During the time I was a member of the Committee which visited the German camps we had complaints from a number of Germans interned in those camps. Some of those men said they could not understand why they were interned at all, because they had got sons and brothers fighting in the British Army. Some of those men had been born in Germany, whereas brothers had been born in this country. I suggest to the Government and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University that those men are far and away better outside the British Army than in it. We have heard a great deal about spies in this country. There is every inducement for a man of enemy origin to give information to the enemy if he can possibly get it. Therefore I suggest that it is to the best interests of this country that these men should be kept outside the British Army.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The appeal of the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) appeared to me to be quite contradictory to the policy advocated by hon. Members sitting behind him. We have constantly had demands, especially from the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill), for the internment of these men whom you now propose to compel to join the British Army. If this Amendment is rejected we shall be in this ridiculous position, that the men whom we were told it was unsafe to leave at liberty following their ordinary business, and many of whom, at the request of hon. Members opposite, were placed in internment camps, may under the terms of this Bill legally be fetched out of the internment camps and placed in the British Army. I suggest that that is a ridiculous position, and I warmly support the Amendment.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I am quite willing to leave it to the Government to accept the 476 Amendment or not, but I would point out that there is a great danger in including these people without some searching investigation. It is common knowledge that alien enemies have constantly got their sons into the British Army in order to save themselves from internment. These men are pro-Germans to the finger-tips, and it is necessary that some caution should be exercised.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I think there is more in this question than the right hon. Gentleman seems to think. This is a Compulsion Bill. There is nothing to prevent the children of alien enemies who are naturalised Englishmen, if they sympathise with the cause of this country, from joining the Army. Many of them have done so. But now you are going to compel those who have not done so, and who, you may almost take it, are not very warmly in sympathy with the cause of this country. I do not want particularly to press the Amendment, but I think there is more in it than the right hon. Gentleman seems to think.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I so far agree with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. White-house), that I think there is a great deal of confusion and inconsistency in the way in which we have dealt with aliens and with the sons of naturalised aliens. The whole position is one of great difficulty. If the Amendment had been one to exclude these men from various branches of public life in this country, I would have given it my enthusiastic support. But if there is one thing which I think these men should be compelled to do it is that, after enjoying all the advantages and the hospitality of this country, when the country and its amenities are in danger, they should be called upon to fight for it. It is said that there may be danger in employing these men in the British Army. I am quite alive to the possibility of a certain amount of danger, and I think these men should be closely watched and employed in a manner which would reduce that danger to a minimum. But unless they are included in the present Bill, clearly the only alternative is to take away their liberty. No hon. Member opposite, while suggesting that these men should be released from the liability to serve in the Army, will say that they are to go about at large, dangerous as they are, according to their view. Obviously they must either join the Army or submit to internment. I feel that there has been too much slackness in connection with men of hostile 477 origin or association; many of them ought to have been interned but are still at liberty. Those whom the Government have thought it safe to leave at large have absolutely no case whatever for trying to escape military service.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
One thing which the advocates of this Amendment have seemed studiously to avoid is the statement of the President of the Local Government Board, that everyone of these men can be rejected by the Army. This Amendment seeks to provide that these men shall have the privilege of refusing to go into the Army, and that the Army should not be allowed to take them. That is quite a different thing from saying that the Army may either take them and put them into safe employment or refuse them altogether. Surely we ought not to give these men a privilege above Englishmen.
§ Mr. CECIL HARMSWORTH
During the short time I was at the Home Office I had occasion to consult the War Office as to whether, under any circumstances, they wished alien enemies to secure admission to His Majesty's Army. They sent back a letter stating that they wanted no people of that kind in the Army. In point of fact they had a poor opinion of the German patriotism of any person of that race who wanted in any circumstances to serve in His Majesty's Army. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has put this point specifically to the military authorities?
§ Mr. LONG
Generally speaking, this is not my Bill; it is not a Bill drawn by me; it is the Bill of the Army Council, and I am merely called upon to take charge of it here. But in this particular case, as indeed in many other cases, I put this specific point in regard to this Amendment to the Adjutant-General and other members of the War Office who were in conference with me, and they were perfectly clear as to the reason which I stated just now in opposing it. I may add a further reason, which I think the Committee ought to have in mind. I have received many complaints of the most emphatic character, especially from parts of London, alleging what I have known to be the fact, namely, that whilst Englishmen are being called to the Colours these very men are being left to take their places. Provided you have safeguards such as those referred to by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Sir C. Warner)—and the Adjutant-General 478 assures me that the safeguards are complete and the War Office are fully protected—it is surely right to apply the law as we propose to apply it. It would be wrong under this Bill to take more Englishmen and leave these men to take their places.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I have no desire to press the Amendment to a Division, but I thought there was a point of substance in it or I would not have moved it. Having heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I will withdraw the Amendment if between now and the Report stage he will consider whether there is any substance in it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg to move, In Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "has at any time since," and to insert instead thereof the words "was on."
I move this Amendment in order to obtain an explanation from the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman and his advisers have departed from the drafting of the original Act on this point. The wording as it now appears seems to me to be open to several grave objections. It appears to make any British subject the moment he arrives in this country subject to the Act. It appears also to make subject to the Act any British subject who may have been in this country at some past date but who has left the country at some date subsequent to August, 1915. There are a great number of British subjects who were in this country in August, 1915, who have properly left the country since then on legitimate business. These men, when they return, will immediately come under the operation of the Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because these men have properly left the country for the purposes of trade; they may be here for a few days only; they may be interrupted and interfered with by the military authorities under the terms of the Act. Having properly and legally left the country they have not had the opportunity of availing themselves of the machinery provided for people resident in the country. I suggest that it is unwise to stigmatise as guilty of an offence people who at this moment are properly abroad and to subject them to certain penalties the moment they arrive in this country. The original Act did not proceed on these lines. It also raises the question of British subjects from British 479 Possessions who are here for a temporary purpose only. It may well be that a great number of British subjects who are in the habit of visiting this country on business for a short time will feel reluctant to come while such harsh rules are applied and when they may be interfered with by the military authorities in ignorance of their character and their business. In this way you may defeat the object that you have in view. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will state why he has departed from the wording of the original Act, and that he will see that the proposed wording is open to several practical objections.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir George Cave)
The words that are in the present Bill differ from those of the original existing Act. The purpose of that Act was to limit its operation to the class defined on the 14th August of last year in respect to residence, matter of age, and otherwise. The present Bill is to make everybody who comes within the category for the time being liable to military service. We bring in those who have attained the proper age. So in the matter of residence we bring in everybody who for the time being is ordinarily resident in this country.
§ Sir G. CAVE
It is not the fact that anybody who comes here for a few days comes within the operation of the Bill. He must take up his ordinary residence here, and only then does he come within the operation of the Bill. The effect of the Amendment would be that a man who has come here since last August, made his home here, taken advantage of our laws and shared our trade, shall nevertheless be free from the obligation of military service. That is not the desire of the Government.
§ Sir C. CORY
Instead of a man being liable to the operation of this Act when he arrives in this country, would it not be possible, after the Act is passed, for every British subject of eligible age who is living abroad to have notice sent to him? If he does not respond to that notice and come back at once to serve, could he not be treated as a deserter in the same way as happens in other countries, Germany, for instance, where they have compulsion? I trust a provision to that effect will be put into the Bill.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Some of us were under the impression that this was a full and complete measure of Conscription. It appears, however, from the observations of the last speaker, that there are still some hon. Members of this House who long for more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It is clear that the hon. Member who last spoke is not alone. There are a great many more Oliver Twists here in relation to this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] But the reason I rose was to say that I do not really know what the Govern-mean by the words "ordinarily resident in this country." I would like to ask the exact meaning? There have been a great many cases of hardship since the principal Act became law. I take it that the purpose—
§ The CHAIRMAN
We have not reached that point yet. The question before us is the omission of some words and the insertion of others.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I think the observation I am about to make, Mr. Whitley, will be in order. May I ask whether the man who came to this country before the passing of the previous Act would be regarded as being ordinarily resident in this country? Let me quote a case which I think will be in order and relevant to the Amendment before the House. The hon. Baronet who spoke last wants the men in any part of the Empire to be immediately conscripted. That, as a matter of fact, has been done. I know the case of a business man who, twelve or eighteen months ago, came to this country from New Zealand. I was surprised to receive a letter from him about a couple of months ago. He had paid another visit to this country on a matter of business. He applied to the Foreign Office for a passport to return home. It was refused. He was informed that it would be necessary that he should attest under Lord Derby's scheme before his application for a passport could be considered. In the man's innocence he attested, and then he was called up. It was only after a great deal of trouble, and seeking the aid of the High Commissioner for New Zealand and others, that he was at last released. This is by no means an isolated case. The reason I make these observations is that it appears to be in the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench that there are no restrictions on emigration. But it is next to impossible for a man who comes into this country to get out of it, even if he comes from the United States, from New Zealand, 481 or from any other part of the world. If the words which have been suggested by my right hon. Friend were incorporated in the Bill they would, I think, to some extent remedy that serious grievance and injustice.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what is the exact position of Englishmen who live a good deal of their time abroad, but who nevertheless keep up their homes in this country. Are they under the Bill? I am thinking of the representatives of the great staple trades of the country, of the cotton and woollen trades. Many of our great trades have a certain number of men who travel for them into foreign countries. These are men of trained experience. It would be very injurious to these trades if they had to part with them. They could not very well find substitutes for them. As I understand it all these men come under the Bill. I do not know whether it is the intention to endeavour to fetch them back from the countries where they may happen to be while they are busily engaged in trading. The point is one which, I think, should be cleared up. Even if you do not fetch them back, will they, when they return to their employers in this country in the ordinary course of their business, with a view in the ordinary way to again going abroad in a month or two, be prevented from going abroad; or what process will there be, what arrangements will be made under the Bill, by which they will be able to have their case heard and examined, and, if the case is a proper one, granted exemption?
§ Sir G. CAVE
A man who is ordinarily resident here comes within the Bill, even although he is away from the country from time to time. The question is one of fact, and is one of whether or not he is an ordinary resident here. A man may have an ordinary residence in more than one place. If he has an ordinary residence here he comes within the terms of the Bill. I agree as to the difficulty in fetching him home, but it is his duty to come. When he comes to this country, if the thirty days are up, he comes within the obligations of the Bill, and he ought to report himself to the military authorities. Of course, he will have the chance of obtaining exemption, because there is power under the existing Act for the tribunals to extend the time for the hearing of the case. I am quite sure that if such men as are referred to cannot come home—I will not say "will" not, but "can" not come home—within 482 the thirty days, come home as quickly as they can, and then ask leave, if need be, for exemption, I think no tribunal would refuse to hear them.
§ Mr. JONES
Are there any means provided in the Bill by which the man's employer can say: "This man is abroad doing important business for me; he will not be home before such a date; I ask that he may be allowed to remain until, at any rate, he has completed the particular piece of work he has in hand"?
§ Sir E. CARSON
Instead of dealing with these kind of cases, which will be decided on their merits when they come up, would it not be well for us sometimes to consider the poor women whose husbands and children have already gone, and who are complaining that under this Bill the remnant of their children will have to go? In these cases there will be no question at all. I hope, if there is any doubt about the obligation of the gentleman who can afford to have his traveller abroad, the Bill will be made strong enough to make no doubt whatsoever. I had a letter the other day from one of our own officials in Paris. He tells me that he has noticed a great number of people coming over there lately looking for jobs. He says the French very much resent this, as there would appear to be no doubt they were trying to escape from the operation of this Act. I hope that penalties will be put in the Bill in regard to these men. Let us not get into long discussions as regards exceptional cases when the bulk of our people here are going through special hardship.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
May I ask the Attorney-General whether there is any express provision in this Bill, or will one be inserted, making it perfectly clear that men who are now absent on business in the Colonies and other parts of the world will be entitled, when they do come back, to appear before the tribunals, and not suffer any disadvantage from the fact that they were out of the country during the period which is provided for in the present Bill? It is not a question in the least, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University seems to think, that anybody who attempts to get fair and equitable conditions laid down is in some way endeavouring to defend the shirker. Such a suggestion is sheer nonsense. What we want to have is a perfectly clear and reasonable provision in this Bill, by which a man who, by reason 483 of his business, and by virtue of circumstances over which he has no control, shall not suffer disability because of the fact that the gentleman who drafted the Bill was not acquainted with the circumstances of trade and business, and has not, therefore, made proper provision. All I ask is, not that these should be relieved from their military obligations, if their cases are on all-fours with others who are called upon to serve, but that the Government shall endeavour to understand what is the position of the business and commercial classes; what is, say, the position in the woollen and similar trades of this country who may have representatives in New Zealand, Australia, and the Argentine. These men may spend six months in the Argentine and six months at home, or six months in this country and six months in New Zealand. If it should happen that any of these men are out of the country after the period that this Bill becomes law, they are liable to be regarded almost as deserters when they come back to this country. They may be perfectly willing to serve. We ask that they should have the opportunity to appear before the tribunal, just as an ordinary citizen who all the time has been resident in the country. I would ask the Attorney-General to be good enough to explain whether there is such a provision as I have indicated in the Bill: if there is not that he will give an undertaking that there shall be.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman replies may I ask whether, in the case of the representative of a firm who is an employé, is it not quite open for the employer to make an application on behalf of his employé at once? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] I am only asking whether or not it is the case, whether it is the existing law. If so, you have left only the case of persons abroad on their own account. In regard to these I hope it will be made clear in the Bill, firstly, that they are to be expected to come home without delay, and, secondly, if they do come home without delay that they will be in no worse position than a person here now.
§ Amendment put, and negatived.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
had the following Amendment on the Order Paper: In Sub-section (1) leave out the words "or for the time being is, ordinarily resident in Great Britain, and who has 484 attained the age of eighteen years, and has not attained the age of forty-one years, shall, unless he either is for the time being within the exceptions set out in the First Schedule to the Military Service Act, 1916 (in this Act referred to as the principal Act), as amended by this Act or any subsequent enactment, or has attained the age of forty-one years before the appointed date, be deemed as from the appointed date to have been duly enlisted in His Majesty's Regular Forces for general service with the Colours or in the Reserve for the period of the War, and to have been forthwith transferred to the Reserve," in order to insert the words,
"every male person who has attained the age of eighteen years and has not attained the age of forty-one years, and who is domiciled in the United Kingdom, shall be liable to be called up for military training in order to defend the Empire in any portion of the zone where war is being waged by the Central European Powers.
Men of such forces shall receive the following rates of pay: privates five shillings per day; corporals six shillings per day; sergeants eight shillings per day; and high non-commissioned ranks ten shillings per day; such pay to be in addition To the existing separation allowances.
The pay of men in His Majesty's Navy to be increased accordingly."
§ The CHAIRMAN
This Amendment will not fit in as it at present stands. As to the second part of his proposed Amendment, it involves a charge on the Exchequer and cannot be introduced by way of Amendment to this Bill.
§ Mr. THORNE
I might ask you, Mr. Chairman, whether in the event of my Amendment being put before the House and carried it would not be possible for the Law Officers of the Crown to fit it into the Bill—to fit in this particular paragraph which you say does not read aright? [HON.MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I think so! I think they have common sense enough to do that. Is it not the fact that if the first part of the Amendment be carried it embraces Amendments proposed by the hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House? Surely we are entitled to discuss the Amendment, and the Law Officers, if it is carried, can make arrangements to fit it into the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I cannot answer for the Law Officers. I have myself tried, in the absence of legal knowledge, to fit the Amendment in and I was not able to do so.
§ Sir JOHN LONSDALE
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "in" ["ordinarily resident in Great Britain"], to insert the words "the United Kingdom of."
I move this Amendment for the purpose of affording the Nationalist party an opportunity of reconsidering their attitude in regard to bringing Ireland within the scope of this Bill. We all realise that, unless there is consent to the proposal, there is no possibility of the Amendment being accepted by the Government; but, on the other hand, we know that if the Nationalist party are willing the Government will gladly extend the Bill to Ireland. The rejection or the acceptance of the Amendment, therefore, rests in the hands of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), and I do most earnestly join in the appeal which has been made to him to recognise that, in view of the recent occurrences in Ireland, this operation of military service ought to be applied equally to all parts of the United Kingdom. When, in January last, I urged the inclusion of Ireland in the first Military Service Bill, I ventured to place before the House what I believed to be the overwhelming opinion of the majority of the people of Ulster on the question. I pointed out that Ulster had a right to be heard on this subject, because of the fact that the Province had given more men to the Army and Navy than all the rest of Ireland put together. I was convinced then, and, if anything, I am still more convinced to-day, that the vast majority of the people of Ulster would welcome the opportunity of proving their readiness to make even greater sacrifices in common with what has been done by their fellow citizens in Great Britain. I do not disguise from the House that there is a feeling in Ulster that, so far as Ireland, as a whole, is concerned, there has not been anything like equality of treatment as between Ulster and the other parts of Ireland. This feeling would be greatly allayed if the Nationalist representatives would frankly accept the principle of national service and agree to the inclusion of Ireland in this Bill.
486 It cannot be denied that there is a large number of men in Ireland who are eligible for military service, and who could be well spared from the occupations in which they are now engaged. I believe myself that the number of available men is at least 250,000, but, of course, no one supposes that a quarter of that number would be required at the present time. The military authorities have stated that, in order to keep the Irish regiments up to strength, it would be necessary to obtain 50,000 recruits during the present year. I submit it would be a disgrace to Ireland if those men were not obtained. There is practically no recruiting going on in Ireland at the present time, and information has reached me that in regiment after regiment, all bearing Irish names, all deficiencies in the ranks are being filled by English and Scottish. That is a condition of things which, I venture to say, must be galling to the pride of every Irishman, especially when he knows there are hundreds and thousands of young men in Ireland who ought to be in the Army. We have been told, in connection with the recent deplorable events which have taken place in Ireland, that the vast majority of the Irish people are loyal to the Empire, and on the side of Great Britain in this great struggle for our common liberties. For my part, I am quite willing to accept the protestations of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, but surely it would carry conviction to the minds of everyone if he and his party would agree that Ireland should now take her fair share in the burden of Imperial defence. Ireland was exempted before because of the fear that was entertained that any attempt to apply compulsion to Ireland would stir up amongst a certain section what would practically amount to open rebellion. We have seen that this consideration was utterly futile, utterly impotent to restrain the seditious section from bloodshed and rapine. This rebellion has been suppressed, and surely there is no longer any reason to anticipate that this measure of compulsion, with all the safeguards which are embodied in the Bill, would meet with serious objection in any quarter of Ireland. I am sure that every true Irishman must feel that the occurrences of Easter week have brought shame upon our country, and I venture to urge once more upon my Nationalist fellow-countrymen that by agreeing to this Amendment they will show the whole world that Ireland 487 is indeed at one with Great Britain and our Allies in prosecuting this War to a successful conclusion.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Nothing could have been, if I may venture to say so, more excellent in tone and temper than the speech which the hon. Gentleman has made in support of this Amendment There was nothing whatever with which one can find fault, and I do not in any way quarrel with the manner in which we has presented the case to the House. The fact that the House, by passing the Second Reading of this Bill, has recognised the principle of compulsion as applicable to the inhabitants of Great Britain is undoubtedly a new factor in the situation, and, on strict grounds of logical equality and justice, it may very fairly be said—and the hon. Gentleman has urged that, as we all know, the spirit of Ireland is as keen in the prosecution of the War as that of any other part of the United Kingdom—it may fairly be urged with a great deal of logical force, that when compulsion has been accepted on the part of Great Britain there is a new case made—a case which has not been made before—for its extension to the whole of the United Kingdom. I venture very strongly to deprecate if I may—not that I am complaining of anything the hon. Gentleman said—comparisons between the relative degrees of zeal and patriotism with which different parts of the Kingdom and different sections of each part have applied themselves to the prosecution of the War. Everywhere, thank Heaven, we have seen the same spirit. It has been manifested in Ireland, in north, south, east and west, and I should be very sorry if, on an occasion like this, any of us were to indulge in what I may call competitive comparisons of patriotism.
Having said that, I venture on behalf of the Government to appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to press this Amendment. I do so on very simple grounds which have nothing to do with the merits of the case. I will not argue the question of the merits of compulsion as applicable to Ireland, but I will deal with the practical exigencies which confront us to-day. If this were an Act of agreement—if it could be made an Act of agreement—I should not have a word to say one way or the other. The hon. Gentleman has very properly and 488 fairly said that in the case of Ireland this ought to be a matter of agreement. If it is not a matter of agreements—I am sure it is not—then let me point out two or three strictly practical considerations.
§ Colonel J. CRAIG
Did the right hon. Gentleman make an attempt with the Nationalist leaders to come to an agreement?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am coining to that. Let me proceed with my argument, if I may. I am not going to say anything which is at all controversial. If it is not, as I know it is not, at this moment a matter of agreement, in the first place, the introduction of this topic into this Bill will involve protracted discussion on the Bill. Now, in the view of our military authorities, and in the view of the Government, the immediate passage of this Bill, subject, of course, to due review of details by the House of Commons in Committee, is a matter of urgent national importance, and we should deprecate anything which prolonged the discussion and prevented the passage of the Bill at the earliest possible moment. There, I believe, we shall have the sympathy of everybody in every quarter of the House. Next, I said a moment ago that I felt sure at this moment this was not a matter of agreement. I say so not without reason, because I have taken, as naturally I should have done, such opportunities as presented themselves of ascertaining what was the opinion on this matter of the representatives of Ireland.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not afraid to say. I have consulted the hon. and learned Member for Waterford.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I know the Ulster Members are in favour of it. I assume, though I did not know it, that the hon. Member for Cork is in favour of it also.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. Member knows I never treat him with disrespect, and I should have been only too 489 glad to learn what his opinion was, but I will assume that the hon. Member is also in favour of the application of the Bill to Ireland.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Well, there we are! I know that a very large number—I do not know about a majority or minority—but a very large number of representatives of Ireland are not at this moment prepared to agree to the application of compulsion to Ireland. That being so, whether they are right or wrong I do not inquire. Whether ultimately they may come to an agreement, I do not know, but for the moment that agreement does not exist, and I think the House will agree with me that if there is no such agreement it is most undesirable that at a moment like this we should be plunged ino a controversy undesirable in every way in the interests of this Bill and its speedy passage into law and in the interests of Ireland, which has just been passing through a most terrible ordeal, the result of which I hope and believe will be to Establish the foundations among loyal Irishmen of a larger measure of agreement than has ever been attained before. I cannot help hoping, and I trust I am not transgressing beyond the strict limits of order, that one of the results of this deplorable outbreak may be that Irishmen, who are animated by a patriotic spirit and are loyal supporters of the Empire in all parts of Ireland and have shown how real that sentiment is during this time, may as a result come into closer intercourse and union with one another, and that what appears to have been in itself an evil of terrible and formidable dimensions may prove to the ultimate good both of Ireland and the Empire.
What could be worse than at such a moment the representatives of Ireland should, in regard to a matter like this, be forced into a military controversy one with the other? That, again, is an important factor of the situation. One of the consequences of what has happened has been that the Government are obliged to review, and they are reviewing, with the utmost care and circumspection the military arrangements of Ireland and the whole question of the bearing of arms and the use of arms. All those are matters 490 as to which again I thought we may arrive at some common agreement, but which ought to be treated by themselves and not as part and parcel of a Bill like this, which deals with the immediate military necessities of the country. If what I have said is true, without in any way prejudging the question raised by the hon. Gentleman as to whether or not compulsion, having been applied to the United Kingdom, ought or ought not to be applied to Ireland, I would beg of him in the interests of the progress, of the Bill and the unity we hope to be able to obtain ill Irish opinion, and of the pressing dangers and difficulties in that country which further controversy at this moment or in this House might inflame, I appeal to him and his Friends, without in any way abandoning the position they have taken up, to withdraw this Amendment and allow us to proceed with the Bill in the form in which it is introduced.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I am bound to say that the reasons put forward by the Prime Minister do not in the least appeal to me as the proper reasons for not going on with this Amendment. There is one reason and one reason alone which I shall state before I sit down which has any influence upon me in deciding whether I shall go to a Division on this subject or not. The right hon. Gentleman has based a great deal of his speech upon recent occurrences in Ireland. He knows that I regret them as much as any man or any Irishman can possibly do. [An HON. MEMBER: "Well you may!"] Sir, that is a piece of insolence, from a source which I can well afford to treat with contempt. May I say this as regards the recent incidents in Ireland, and the use made of them by the Prime Minister in his speech? The reason I doubt these being the real reasons, if you will allow me to say so, is that when I moved this same Amendment on the first Bill, and when there were no occurrences in Ireland, I met with exactly the same objections to the Bill from the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), and I know now, as I knew then, that the true reason for objecting to Ireland being included in this Bill is not the recent outbreak or the great hurry now to get on with this Bill, but it is the hon. and learned Member himself, because he is opposed to this Amendment. That, to my mind, is the most operative argument that can be put forward, and let it be put straightly forward, that he, knowing Ireland as he does, says 491 that he cannot allow the Government to pass this Amendment because he believes it would be futile to attempt to carry it out in Ireland. That is the real simple reason, and that is the reason which affects me, but I am bound before the hon. and learned Member makes his speech, putting forward whatever reasons he does, to say that for a considerable time past I have thought the Government of this country have made a grave mistake in their constant exclusion of Ireland from matters of Imperial consequence. I cannot help thinking and believing that the real reason for that is that the representatives of the Government of the United Kingdom and Ireland in Ireland have never been governing Ireland at all, but it has been governed indirectly by men who have not the responsibility of government, but have imposed their will upon those with whom they are connected.
I know it has been said over and over again that you passed the Home Rule Bill, and therefore why should you not govern Ireland in accordance with the views of the gentlemen who represent Ireland? It would be far better to let them have the responsibility than to be doing it secondhand and having an English Minister getting up and declaring that he had failed, and an Irish Member, without the responsibility of a Minister, getting up and saying he had contributed to the failure. And, furthermore, I always thought that under the Home Rule Bill all these questions of the Army and the Navy were exclusively reserved for the Imperial Parliament. Let us not be under any delusion as to what we are going to do in relation to this Amendment. May I ask once and for all that if the hon. 'and learned Member for Waterford says he believes it impossible to carry out this Bill in Ireland, however much I differ from him, he must take the responsibility of giving that advice and not me, and I should not for a moment run the risk of having any occurrences in Ireland which would cause a very great weakening in the course of a war of this kind by trying to persist in carrying out this policy, though I myself might personally approve of it. How will Ireland be looked at in England under this Bill? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not exaggerating when I say that I get daily letters of the most insolent and sometimes the most scurrilous character from Englishmen in England calling me a coward 492 because I will not agree to my Irish fellow-countrymen being included in the same dangers and difficulties that they are. I know that the charge against me arises through ignorance, as I have never raised that point, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman and I ask the House this: Is it tolerable for the working classes, above all, who are giving, so many soldiers of the King in the field, to say to the woman who has lost, as I had a letter from a woman the other day, her husband and one child already in the War, to tell her that if she had two more sons she must give those two, although a woman under similar circumstances with her husband and three children in Ireland will not be asked to suffer at all. The Prime Minister does not pretend that there is any argument against the Amendment, but he puts it on the question of expediency. Let the country know that it is a purely political matter of expediency.
Let me take another case, that of the time-expired men, for whom I have the greatest sympathy. I have for a long time been an anxious supporter of this Bill, and do not imagine that I never realised in my heart the heartburnings which would necessarily be caused to these men. Take the time-expired men who have served together in a regiment perhaps for several years. One man goes back to Ireland, another to Scotland, and another to England. They have all gone back to little businesses, spending the little pittance they get when they leave the Army, or the few pounds they have to re-establish themselves in what they may have been torn away from when' the War commenced. You tell the Englishman and the Scotchman, "Out with you and join the Colours again," and you tell, at the same time, the Irishman that he will be able to enjoy his business or his farm, or whatever it may be, in Ireland. I am bound to say that I feel that to be a disgrace to Ireland, and I can hardly believe, unless I am told it by those who know the South and West better than I do, that if these matters were put fairly and squarely by hon. Members from Ireland, who are trusted by their own people, that things of that kind would not bring home to them how unjust was the burden that they were putting upon us to win victory for themselves.
After all, I believe Irishmen are brave men. I believe they very often take up these notions that they ought to be left out 493 of a Bill of this kind from absolute ignorance and from not understanding what others are doing for them. I know what the men are saying in the trenches, certainly the men from the North of Ireland. I saw their general the other day, and he was very much distressed and anxious about recruiting. We all know that recruiting now is over in Ireland and you are going to have no more of it. From what he told me, the men in the trenches were reported to him by the officers as saying: "One thing is certain. We will never again speak or associate with the slackers who stayed behind and would not come out to help us." I do not want to say any more upon a subject which seems so clear to me that there really is no argument against it. The question of expediency, of course, cannot be set aside. The Government tell us, and I suppose the hon. and learned Member for Waterford will tell us, that it would be a fatal thing or a wrong thing to attempt to enforce this Bill in Ireland. Well, if that is so, it has to be. I regret it. But there is one thing against which I must enter a protest here, and that is the way the Government have never taken the slightest step to put down the anti-recruiting campaign that has gone on from the very beginning in Ireland, and which I believe has largely led up to the disastrous results that happened in Dublin the other week. Let me say something more. I think it would be well for Chancellors of the Exchequer and others, before they proceed to give facilities and freedom from taxation to particular bodies—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must allow me to intervene, because I can see that if he pursues that line of argument we shall be opening a discussion on various matters of administration which must be discussed on other occasions and not while we are dealing in Committee with the Clauses of a Bill.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I was merely giving an illustration of a reason why even more than ever in the case of Ireland this compulsory Bill should be made applicable, but, if I am out of order in giving an illustration as to how they encourage non-recruiting, then, of course, I must bow to your ruling.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will perfectly see that I can only admit things which can be answered and replied to and dealt with by other hon. Members. That is my reason for intervening.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I was merely giving an illustration. If you say the illustration is out of order, I must submit to your ruling. Am I in order in suggesting, with a view to recruiting going on in Ireland, that the Government should stop at the public expense doling out land in Ireland to those who are of military age? Is that out of order?
§ The CHAIRMAN
We are dealing here solely with the form in which the Committee will pass legislation, and whatever matters of administration there may be on a parallel with the subject, this is not the occasion for raising them.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I ask this particular thing specifically and very plainly and very clearly. I say that compulsion is all the more necessary in Ireland because of the way the question of recruiting has been handled and managed by the Government. I proceed to show that, and you, Sir, tell me I am out of order. Very well, I will say no more.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
It would not be respectful to the House if I did not say something, but really I have very little to say. I have listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down with some regret. A portion of that speech was highly controversial, but I prefer for my part not to take up the controversy on this occasion, beyond just this one point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, indicating myself and my colleagues, that in the recent government of Ireland we had the power but not the responsibility. We certainly had not the responsibility, and equally certainly we had not the power. I wish to say for myself that certainly since the Coalition Government came into operation and before it, but certainly since then, I have had no power in the government of Ireland. All my opinions have been overborne. My suggestions have been rejected. I say, further, and this is the only thing that might be regarded as controversial which I will say in answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that my profound conviction is that if we had had the power and the responsibility for the government of our country during the past two years, recent occurrences in Ireland would never have occurred. The last time this question was before the House of Commons I dealt with it at some length, and I delivered a more or less reasoned and 495 argumentative speech against the inclusion of Ireland. To-day I do not intend to repeat those arguments. I can claim from every man in this House the admission that I am not animated in opposing the application of Conscription to Ireland by any desire to prevent getting men for the Army, because I have done my best, and I think it would be unfair to leave the impression which the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman would naturally create that Ireland has not done well in this matter of recruiting.
§ Mr. J. REDMOND
She has done well, and she has done well North and South, and East and West—everywhere. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I have got the figures, and I have given them before. It is no use my repeating them and going into a controversy of this kind again. I say that Ireland has done well. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] She has got over 150,000 at present with the Colours. These are the official figures, and I say that the men who are with the Colours have shown a bravery which covers them with glory. It is an ungenerous thing, in my opinion, to attempt to taunt Ireland with not having done her duty in this War. I, at any rate, can claim that in any opposition I make to Conscription it is not from a desire not to get men. On the contrary, I am convinced that the worst way you could attempt to get men would be by enforcing Conscription upon Ireland. This was my position and argument the last time the matter was before the House; but at the present moment, after recent events in Ireland, and in the circumstances of the moment, I have no hesitation in saying that my deliberate opinion is that it would not only be a wrong thing and an unwise thing, but it would be a well-nigh insane thing to attempt to enforce Conscription. That being my deliberate opinion, I am bound to state it to the House of Commons.
I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that in view of an expression of opinion of that kind he would not press this Amendment. That is a right course for him to take. It would be a fearful responsibility. I say to the House of Commons, if, in view of the deliberate opinion we express, they attempted at this moment and under the circumstances of the day to force this 496 measure upon Ireland, and if there were any danger of it occurring I would beseech the House of Commons for the sake of Ireland and for the sake of the Empire as well, because this is not merely an Irish question, not to proceed with this course. I have really nothing more to say. I would like to respond to the spirit in which the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Lonsdale) opened this discussion. He made an appeal to me. Heaven knows, there is no man in this House who would be more anxious to respond to any appeal coming from him or his Friends. I have hoped against hope, and I hope still, even in the dark and miserable circumstances of the moment, that we may yet come together, aye, and before very long. I hope with all my heart that out of these miseries in Ireland we may be able betaking a large and generous view, by taking something like a statesmanlike view and a far-reaching view of the highest interests of the Empire—out of this turmoil and out of this tragedy—to evolve some means of putting an end to these differences so that we may have a united Ireland, and an Ireland where the people themselves will have both the responsibility and the power of government.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
I have almost given up hope of making Englishmen on the other side of this House understand the truth about Ireland, but I feel bound to make some observations in reply to the challenge of the Prime Minister. I gladly admit that the one ray of light during the tragedy which has been haunting us Irishmen night and day during the past weeks has been the sympathy—I desire heartily to acknowledge it—which the great mass of men of generous minds in Great Britain have extended to our unlucky people in the undeserved calamity which has befallen them. For that very reason I must say that to me it is simply astounding that anybody who is not the bitter enemy of Ireland—and I do not at all think the hon. Baronet who proposed this Amendment is that—should put forward this proposal at a moment like this. However good the intention may be, it would simply have the effect of pumping petroleum on fire. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College has challenged us to say why we object to this Amendment. I will reply. Here is a small agricultural country whose population has been diminished by millions within living memory by 497 famine, by migration and by misgovernment, and you are actually expecting us to contribute the same proportion of recruits as a country like England, which is growing enormously every year in population and in wealth.
There is another point which the right hon. Gentleman has taken care to forget, and that is that the recruiting figures for Ireland itself are an utterly fallacious test. We all know that by far the largest number of Irish recruits have come, not from Ireland itself, but from Great Britain and the Overseas Dominions. Why? Simply because the flower of Ireland's population has been banished to those countries oversea for the last two generations. But I claim that Ireland is entitled to the credit for all those recruits, and if it is given to her she will have contributed in this War an army of at least 400,000 or 500,000 men—a force largely exceeding the magnificent contribution which has been made by Canada, with twice the population of Ireland. Under such circumstances is it not monstrous to expect the wasted and enfeebled population left in Ireland to contribute an equal proportion of able-bodied men; indeed, she could not do so unless you condemn the whole country to desolation and depopulation. I do not attempt to disguise the fact that there is another reason for the objection of the Irish people—a reason still more deeply seated. I have never feared to tell the truth in this House, be it popular or unpopular. But Home Rule was to be the basis of the new relations between these two countries, and you really cannot expect young Irishmen nor old Irishmen either—
§ Colonel CRAIG
I beg to ask whether if the hon. Member is allowed to go into this question, we shall retain a right of reply?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have been doing my best to save the Committee from entering upon irrelevant topics, and the hon. Member for Cork will, I am sure, feel what I have indicated, that it is undesirable to enter into these questions and to deal with more than the actual subject before us, because otherwise I must allow a right of reply.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
The object being to ascertain why Ireland should not be included in the Bill, is it not in order to bring forward matters which go to show reasons why she is excluded? For instance, we may take the state of the 498 country. Surely, without raising that special point in view, it does not seem to be possible to discuss the Amendment with justice to the subject.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I was not taking exception myself to what was being said at the moment; I simply indicated my general view.
§ Colonel CRAIG
And it was simply to safeguard our right of reply if the hon. Member goes into this matter that I put the question. I must add there has been no change whatever on our side.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member, while not entitled to discuss the merits of Home Rule, is entitled to speak of the position in Ireland at the moment.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
The question we are discussing is, whether Ireland ought or ought not to be included in this Bill, and I am attempting to offer reasons why the Irish people object. I do not think I shall state any reasons which require any reply from the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because I mean to confine myself to what are notorious facts. I was saying that you must not expect us in Ireland to lose sight of the fact that the Home Rule Bill, such as it is, is not only in a state of suspended animation and has become absolutely unworkable, but it is virtually at the present moment stone dead. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] We cannot forget that the Prime Minister himself, even when he was the Prime Minister of a Home Rule Government, pledged himself in this House that it would be unthinkable that Home Rule should ever be enforced without the consent of Ulster and without amending legislation.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is quite irrelevant to the Amendment. What we have to deal with is simply the position as it is at the moment. The hon. Member must not enter into these controversies.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
I, of course, quite recognise it is of no use attempting to pursue that subject. I am only pointing out what is notorious in every part of Ireland in regard to the reasons why the people object to compulsion under this Bill. I pass from that subject. In spite of all the horrors of the last couple of weeks, I still hold that things have turned out better, so far as the majority of the people of Ireland are concerned, than the most sanguine amongst us could have anticipated, when we 499 remember the unhappy history of Ireland. At all events, I am entitled to say that if recruiting has not been better in Ireland, it is not the fault of my hon. Friends or myself. We, from the very outset of the War, took up our stand, without hesitation or hedging, or waiting to see how the cat jumped. We did so not only in this House, but before our fellow countrymen in public meetings in Ireland. We threw the doors wide open to every class and every section of Irishmen who were willing to join us in a united recruiting campaign and a united campaign for a friendly settlement. One of the conditions of Home Rule was that, unless our people were to surrender all hope of Home Rule, we were bound by every consideration of wisdom and the highest patriotism to throw in our lot straightforwardly with England, by active service in the field. The one result has been that Cork has supplied more recruits than other parts of Ireland, and men from Cork have won four of the seven Victoria Crosses which have been awarded to Irishmen. Cork has, thank God, been free from the scenes which have drenched the streets of Dublin with blood, but our reward has been that which was stated in answer to a question addressed to the Prime Minister to-day—hundreds of men have been flung into gaol without charge stated, they have been treated with the utmost brutality, and a gross outrage has been perpetrated on the one newspaper which has done more than any other newspaper to promote the system of recruiting, and which has protested against the policy of armed volunteers.
It was through no fault of ours that there was no attempt in Ireland to carry out a really united policy there. We urged it again and again; but there has been no such united policy. There has been no attempt to establish that national unity which this War has produced in every other country in Europe. I do not pretend for the moment that the recruiting campaign in Ireland has been managed in the best possible way. I say, on the contrary, that it has been managed in the very worst way, for the King's Army has been split up into hostile divisions, and for more than twelve months of War the mass of the Irish people were left in a miserable state of doubt by suggestions that they should reserve themselves for the defence of the shores of Ireland, a state of affairs which the Sinn Feiners have just brought to its logical conclusion. While I recognise 500 that the absence of any form of united national policy in this War has had most disastrous results on recruiting prospects,. I say that, notwithstanding all these blunders, the response of the people of Ireland in your hour of misery has been a splendid and amazing one, whatever set of politicians, if any, you may have to thank for it. I ask this House to-day to continue, as the Government have wisely done from the beginning, to recognise that they are dealing with a sensitive and sorely tried nation who have sealed their fidelity with their blood, blood that can be badly afforded, and not to victimise us or Ireland because we refuse to shoulder responsibilities in a war which will leave England in a position of unexampled power and splendour for a century to come, whereas we shall have nothing, or next to nothing, in Ireland, except long years of repression and ruinous over-taxation.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I do not suppose that much practical good may come of our Debate this afternoon. But surely this is a great problem which is before us, and it ought not to be left finally after the very inadequate discussion and examination which it has so far received in this Debate. It is a tremendous question, vital in its consequences to Ireland and of the highest possible importance to our military needs. It is a time when men are urgently needed, and from the British and Imperial point of view the desirability of obtaining fresh and extended supplies from Ireland is clear and patent to the minds of everyone. But from an Irish point of view the considerations which were put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) and many others which could be added from the point of view of Irish Home Rulers, the omission of Ireland altogether from this Bill must be a serious and lamentable fact which adds to the difficulties that have obstructed the settlement of that question. Do not let us be content with taking very readily "No" for an answer in these difficult matters. There is much, too much, inclination to say, "Oh! there is a difficulty, therefore we must avoid it." This is a time for trying to overcome difficulties and not for being discouraged or too readily deterred by them. I agree—I imagine everyone has got the feeling in their minds—that in spite of these serious losses to Ireland—
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I am afraid I should be out of order if I were to deal with that matter. In spite of the serious losses to Ireland and the serious losses to Great Britain by the omission of Ireland by this Bill, I agree with the Government that it is not worth while at the present time to court a serious Irish row, with great embarrassment in the House of Commons, if such a thing were possible, and with difficulties in the Government of Ireland. But I agree fully that this is not a question of mere logic or of fairness. It cannot be settled on those lines. I repeat, in the few words I venture to address to the Committee, that we must not be content with the present position in which this question rests. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Mid-Armagh (Sir J. Lonsdale) made an appeal to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), couched in the most courteous language, and an appeal to Nationalist Ireland generally. I could not help feeling that, courteous and considerate as the hon. Baronet was, he did not show in his speech a full appreciation of the difficulties of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, nor an appreciation of other points of view in regard to Irish affairs except those with which he has for so long been associated. Is it not clear that if the Nationalists of Ireland were to be appealed to, to come forward and to make themselves the agents and supporters of making this great, this tremendous further contribution to the Allied cause, and to the common cause, that that effort on their part could only be a part of some more general settlement, founded on the basis of mutual concessions?
After all, I am one of those who think that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford has rendered immense services to the British Empire and to our country in this time of need. The Prime Minister said that the spirit of Ireland is as keen on the War as it is in any other part of the British Empire. I am not quite sure that that is altogether a true statement of the case. There are many different problems in different parts of the British Empire in regard to this War, and the spirit is not the same in every part. There are different ways and different degrees in which help has been given, and with an Empire so variously composed as ours is, it is necessary to recognise that. But we owe a very deep debt of gratitude to the Irish part' for the exertions they have 502 made in the present struggle. It is the first of all our struggles in which Ireland has been a friend, a powerful and valiant friend, and not a foe and a source of weakness to the British Empire. I have always looked upon the position of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, in regard to Ireland, as being very similar to that occupied by General Botha in regard to South Africa. There you have the same tri-partite division of opinion, and I should certainly feel the same sort of difficulty in pressing a question like this against the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, as one would think, for instance, of pressing a South African question against the opinion of General Botha. I am only sorry—I agree with what fell from the hon. and learned Member—that the comparison between Ireland and South Africa cannot be carried further, and that the hon. and learned Gentleman should not have associated with him the power and responsibility necessary for an effective solution of Irish questions. I know there are great dangers in definite statements on this subject, not only dangers from the point of view of order, but of a much wider character, and I am not going to make them, but I heard with the very greatest interest, and I think the Committee was curiously attentive at that moment, the tone of some of the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend who spoke from this bench (Sir E. Carson). The Committee appreciated the significance of those sentiments as to the association of power and responsibility. Can we doubt that the responsibility should be borne by those who have the power. That is true not of this question only, but that observation will not bear useful or practical fruit as long as it is confined to only one question in regard to the government of Ireland.
I feel very strongly that the immediate future of Ireland depends upon two men—the two leaders of Irish parties in this House. Together, there is hardly any difficulty which they cannot surmount. When we are face to face with the imminent perils and vast labours of our situation, it is the supreme duty incumbent upon them to make every effort to face those difficulties together. I know there are those who say that it is no good widening these questions and raising other matters not directly concerned in the prosecution of the War at the present time. I do not agree at all. I believe this is a time when we are much nearer 503 the solution of other questions than is commonly supposed. I believe this is a time when metals are molten and could easily be cast into new shapes and new moulds. The tragic episodes of Dublin have at any rate shown Nationalists and Orangemen that they have opponents whom they can recognise as opponents at home in common, as well as the foes whom they have recognised since the War began as their enemies abroad. I offer these few words to the Committee because I do not want to see this question—the question of the inclusion of Ireland in a Bill of National Service—put aside, as it were, as one out of the range of practical politics, and one for which it is not worth our while to make further efforts. I earnestly hope that some of the language which was used by the hon. and the learned Member for Waterford in his speech to-day, and which, I think, was not out of harmony with the expressions used by the Member for Cork City (Mr. W. O'Brien), may be taken into further consideration, and that efforts will continue to be made on the basis of mutual concessions—mutial concessions means concessions, not merely by Nationalists, but by Unionists—to arrive at a really national policy for Ireland, which shall enable her to take that share in the prosecution of the general War which is of the utmost consequence to us, and will be found to be of permanent advantage to her.
§ Sir CLIFFORD CORY
It is not possible to conceive any greater mistake than that made by the Prime Minister when he said that it would not be wise to extend this measure to Ireland except by agreement. That is an intimation to other parts of the Kingdom that if they object to this Bill they have only to make themselves unpleasant to obtain exemption from its operation. I beg to protest on behalf of the Constituency I represent against the unfairness of this Bill if this Amendment is not accepted. Why should the citizens in my Constituency be called upon to serve when large numbers of men in Ireland, perhaps of much younger age and with nothing like the same responsibilities, are allowed to go free? The hon. and learned member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) said that Ireland had done well. We have heard him make that statement in this House over and over again, but he never differentiates between one part of Ireland and another. I am 504 told that Ulster, with her far less population than the three Nationalist Provinces, has sent far more men into the Army for the War than the three Nationalist Provinces. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford said it would be unsafe to enforce Conscription. I presume by that he suggests that if you attempted to do so you would cause an insurrection in Ireland, but in the deplorable events that have recently occurred there we have seen an insurrction, so that we have nothing further to fear from that cause. The loyalists in Ireland have no objection to this Bill, and are perfectly ready and prepared to serve.
If there is a certain number who are disloyal there they ought to be made to serve. There is no other country in the whole world which would allow a section of its citizens to remain out of a Bill of this sort. Where compulsion was being applied it would be applied to all citizens equally. If their citizens are disloyal they are the very first to be sent to the front to serve. Look at the case of Germany and her Polish subjects. They have been rebels all the time, but that has never been held to be a reason for exempting them from service. On the contrary, Germany has forced them all the same to serve. Then with regard to the Sinn Feiners who caused the rebellion lately, they were in league with Germany. If they have such an admiration for Germany, they must surely be the last section of the community there who can object to the British Government forcing this Bill on them. How can I go to my Constituents and say, "Here you are. Whilst you are receiving nothing like the benefits that the Irish farmers are receiving, you are taxed in order to find the money for the Irish farmers to buy their land with, whereas you have to send your sons, or go yourselves, if of eligible age, to serve, while these men whom you are taxed to find the money for remain at home." I protest as strongly as I possibly can against any section of these Isles being left out of this Bill. How can we justify part of these Isles being forced to serve and inviting distant parts of our Empire to send their men, when Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, keeps out of the Bill?
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
In order to facilitate the progress of this very urgent Bill, I desire to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Leave withheld.505
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I think it is obvious from all we have heard this afternoon that the grounds on which compulsion should be applied to Britain hold equally good as regards Ireland. All the grounds advanced for the initiation of general compulsion in this country hold equally good as regards Ireland, but conversely all the reasons why Conscription should not be imposed in this country also hold good as regards Ireland, and it is because I am opposed to the imposition of compulsion in this country that I am opposed to its imposition as regards Ireland. But we have to seek the reason why compulsion is not to be imposed as regards Ireland. It is not, I think, because the opinion of Ireland differs greatly from the opinion of this country on this matter. It is because I think the representatives of Ireland more honestly reflect the views of the people of Ireland than do many of the representatives of democratic constituencies in this country. It is because democratic opinion in Ireland is better represented, as has been proved during the course of the discussion on this measure, than is the opinion of the democratic part of England, Scotland, and Wales. But I object very much indeed to the grounds—to the wrong grounds, in my view—on which the Government refuses to bring Ireland within the scope of this Bill. When the former Military Service Bill was before the House, the Colonial Secretary, who was in charge of it, said it was not to be imposed as regards Ireland because a considerable amount of force would have to be used. That is a nice message to send forth to the people of this country, to the opponents of Conscription, and there are many of them in this country. The authorised leaders probably represent the views expressed at the great congresses. They say the people of this country—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
The hon. Member is now entering on the general question of compulsory military service. He must confine his remarks specifically to Ireland.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I was dealing with the grounds advanced by the Government for not imposing Conscription upon Ire- 506 land, and I think they are very dangerous grounds to advance. It seems to me that they say that the Irish opponents of Conscription are armed men, and consequently justice will be done to Ireland, and the views of the Irish people will be regarded, because they are liable to exercise force in opposition to the measure. I think the Government is on very dangerous ground in advancing an argument of that kind, and when they advance arguments of that kind, when they show that force is a means of preserving liberty, they can expect to find such conditions arising as have lately arisen in Dublin. The views advanced by Cabinet Ministers and ex-Cabinet Ministers have had a great deal to do with the unfortunate happenings in Dublin. I oppose the imposition of Conscription as regards Ireland because I am opposed to its imposition in this country, but, at the same time, all the grounds for its imposition in this country, and the views of its supporters also, hold good as regards Ireland, and I object to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon) saying, as he did on the last occasion, he hoped that after they had given a vote on the First Reading against the measure, it would be rushed through the House as quickly as possible. If the people of Ireland are so enthusiastic for the War that they are ready to fight to the last Englishman, the last Welshman, and the last Scotsman, but not the last Irishman, their representatives should not take up the attitude stated by the right hon. Gentleman on a former occasion as regards the measure and its imposition on this country.
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
As the Debate is being continued for a few moments longer, I should be false to myself if I did not say a word in support of what the right hon. Gentleman said just now. I do not want to say that the time has actually arrived when Ireland should be forced into this, or that the time never will arrive when she should be forced into any such measure against her will as a whole. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Craig) spoke last week with honesty. I believe in his patriotism as well as I believe in my own. I believe Irishmen of all parties are honourable men—the hon. Member (Mr. W. O'Brien), the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond). I believe in the patriotism of my fellow Members, and I defend it and always have done. We only differ as to means. In the present juncture, when the United Kingdom and the Empire are fighting for their 507 lives, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Colonel Churchill) that we ought not to put on one side as entirely hopeless the opportunity of effecting peace between ourselves and the Irish and between Irish parties. Whatever we may say about the patriotism of the Irish Nationalists, the very Gentlemen who appeal to them, their fellow Members from the North of Ireland, know very well that the only way to bring in the whole of the people of Ireland—to appeal to their patriotism in the interests of the Empire—is to find a modus vivendi for Irishmen to agree among themselves about other things at home that I may not allude to now. They have been alluded to. This great question of difference has been alluded to by name. I will not name it, but it blocks the way. Ireland has blocked the way before over and over again. Real patriots in Ireland care for Ireland, and really care for the Empire, except the Sinn Feiners, and they no doubt are only mistaken, madmen it seems to me. I cannot understand them at all. Surely there is no political common sense behind them. But I implore hon. Members from the North and from every part of Ireland not to give up this hope, but to take the cue that my right hon. Friend (Colonel Churchill) has given Members from the North of Ireland to say, "We will try to put an end to this division of opinion that has been between us and our countrymen in the South, and we will give them a reason for coming in although they hate it," as many of us Liberals hate it. I hate myself, as a freeborn Briton, to be voting for a measure which puts at the mercy of tribunals in different parts of the country the option of shutting up businesses, taking away fathers from their families, and going contrary to our national feelings. I believe we could have had all the soldiers we wanted without compulsion, and I believe it would have been better to have them without compulsion.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I thought that the general question of compulsion, although decided upon the Second Reading of the Bill, was the question we were now discussing as to whether it should be applied to Ireland. I was only using the fact that it is distasteful to some of us, who have to vote on Irish questions in the interests of Ireland and of the Empire, that our natural distaste for compulsion illustrated, at all events in my opinion, the feeling of the people in Ireland. I was endeavouring to show that though it was objectionable, yet Irish Nationalist Members of both Nationalist parties might well advise their friends to give way on this point, as so many English Liberals have done, against their feelings, I will not say against their convictions, because after all these questions are a matter of winning the War, and that is a matter of expediency, as well as of principle. We must win the War, therefore I voted for the Bill. But this is a question for Irishmen to decide, and I would beg the different sections of patriotic Irishmen to see whether there might not be, by agreement on the part of the whole Irish people, an arrangement to come under the Bill. Of course, if this Amendment is withdrawn that does not put an end to it. I very particularly noticed the words of the Prime Minister, "for the present." They do not destroy hope of an agreement on the principle of this Bill, and I do not think we ought to give it up. I hope Irishmen of every party will seize this opportunity on patriotic grounds—Nationalists on grounds of patriotism and Unionists on grounds of patriotism—to see whether they cannot meet each other, so that out of the present terrible circumstances may arise that unity of Ireland that we have all hoped for so long.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I beg to move to leave out the words "the age of eighteen years, and has not attained the age of forty-one years," and insert instead thereof the words "military age".
I have to put in later on, as a consequential Amendment, the definition of military age, and the definition which I have ventured to suggest is that the military age should be such age as may from time to time be determined by His Majesty in Council. I think that the words I suggest would be an improvement upon the Bill as it stands. 509 First of all, it would be much more elastic. It is impossible for the Government or for anyone else to say at the present moment definitely and up to the end of the War exactly what limit of age will be either sufficient or desirable, because the experience which we have still in front of us may teach us a good many things, I do not think that there need be any misapprehension on the part of anyone that any injustice or harm will be done to any class of men who will come under compulsion by the words which I suggest. We cannot imagine that the Government, who in this matter will be advised by the military authorities, will attempt to draw into the Army men of an age or physique who are not useful for military purposes. Therefore, I think we may in that matter very well trust both the Government and the military authorities. It stands to reason that if this War goes on for a very much longer time—we all hope it may not be very long, and I sincerely hope that we shall not require any men of a greater age than that which is set by the present terms of the Bill—it may turn out, as it has turned out in other countries, that the limit of age put in the Bill is not sufficiently high. Under those circumstances the Government would have to come to the House with a new Bill and have the discussion on the whole of this matter again in order to bring up the age to forty-three, forty-four, or it may be forty-five. I can imagine that in a very extreme case it may be desirable to take men even up to the age of fifty, an age which is proposed in an Amendment by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Birmingham (Captain Amery). I think that that is too excessive an age to put in at the present time, and I would prefer to have the more elastic terms which I suggest.
There is a further consideration which I will press upon the attention of the Government. At a later stage of the War, even though the Government and the country may be reluctant to bring into the combatant ranks men of a greater age than forty-three, forty-four, or possibly forty-five, there may come a time, it is quite conceivable, before the end of the War, when it will be very necessary for the Government to use a compulsion Act to bring into the Army men whom they would not desire to put into the combatant ranks, men who might be too old to be useful soldiers in the trenches but who might be extremely useful for the lines of communication or in connection with 510 the Transport Service in the Army Service Corps, or it may be in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In regard to these auxiliary branches of the Army, it might be very useful at a later stage of the War to put them largely into the hands of men who are too old to stand the strain of the actual combatant ranks. Therefore, it would be very desirable that the Government should take the power, while we are discussing the whole question, to bring in men up to these greater ages if they think it desirable to do so.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I want to leave it entirely to the discretion of the Government, and the military authorities. I should say both ways. I think the country may perfectly well trust the Government and the military authorities that they will not bring in men either too young or too old. It will be very desirable that the Government should have power to bring in youths below the age of eighteen for training. I do not think they are at all likely to send these youths out to fight before they are nineteen, because the Government and the military authorities are just as anxious, in fact more anxious than anybody else in the country, to have the highest possible physique in the men who are fighting. Therefore, I cannot imagine that we should find it necessary to keep too close an eye of jealous watchfulness upon the War Office and the Government in that respect. I cannot understand how the Government can have any objection to my proposal. It is only giving them a greater discretion in the matter than they are asking for themselves. I do not think that a reasonable objection will come from any quarter of the House. Of course, there are a certain number of Members who object to the whole Bill, and who object to the principle of compulsion. They would very likely object to any proposal for making the Bill more elastic or even for making it more useful. I hope the Government will not listen to any argument of that sort, but will make this change in the interests of elasticity and perhaps in the interests of efficiency at a later stage of the War, if the necessity has not arisen already.
§ Captain AMERY
On a point of procedure, Mr. Maclean. Are we to understand that a general discussion as to the limits of age raised in the Amendment 511 standing in my name and in the names of other hon. Members can come upon the Amendment now proposed by my hon. and learned Friend?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It is a matter for the convenience of the Committee. I notice in the name of the hon. and gallant Member one Amendment in which he proposes to change the age from eighteen to seventeen, and then in another Amendment he goes to the other end of the scale and wants the age of forty-one to be changed to fifty. Of course, any discussion on this Amendment will not prevent subsequent Amendments being moved. I am only expressing my own view for what it is worth; but this subject was discussed by the Committee at no very distant date—in fact, within the last two months, and it does seem to me, if the Committee so desires it, that it would save time if we took a general discussion on this Amendment.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That will not be shut out at all. I think the way the hon. Member moved his Amendment really opens the whole question.
§ Captain AMERY
So far as I am concerned I shall be quite willing not to discuss: the Amendment down in my name if I can make a few observations in support of the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend. I think those of us who support this Amendment ought to make quite plain the fact that we do not propose that all men up to the outside age from seventeen to fifty should actually be called up and made to serve. We do not intend that any larger number of men should be made to serve than the Government in any case would decide, having regard to the due balance between the needs of industry, the needs of the Army, and the needs of providing food for our population. All we wish to secure is that the Government should from the outset have the widest field of selection, in order that they may meet the needs of industry, the needs of the food supply, and the needs of the Army as efficiently as possible.
In the course of the next few months we are going to be in a very different position in regard to getting more men. The first combing out will have been accom- 512 plished, and it will be very difficult to find men who are physically fit who are not in some very vital industry. Therefore, I would suggest that the wider you; make your field of selection the easier it will be to field men for the Army and necessary military service without interfering with the necessary industrial work or without taking men who are physically entirely unfit for military service. I would like to say a word about lowering he age. I quite agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. R. McNeill) in regard to this matter. I do not think any man should be sent to the front who is under nineteen years of age. In many cases we have been inclined to send them to the front rather too young. I think it is murder to send hoys of seventeen to the front, but I do think that it might be desirable in the national interests that the Government should have the power to call up boys of seventeen for a short period of training, if the training facilities happen to be available, and then relegate them to a special reserve with an obligation to do a certain amount of training with a volunteer corps, so as to keep themselves fit and be available in the case of a great emergency like an invasion, when it would be of immense advantage to the nation to have a large number of men, even of the youngest, ready trained and available.
In regard to the higher age, I am quite willing to admit that very few men who have led sedentary lives are going to be of use for soldiering after forty. Even after two or three months' training it is very rarely that their constitution will accommodate itself to the severe training of the trenches. But it is also true that men who have lived an open-air life, men of the type of gamekeepers, and men who have lived in the Colonies, are far fitter at forty-five than many men of thirty-five who have led purely sedentary lives in a city. When you remember the numbers of men you can spare from industry are going to be more limited, why should not the War Office have the power to draw upon men, of whom there must be a certain number in this country, who are physically fit, though they are over forty, and who may happen to be in non-essential industries, many of them men of leisure who have been wanting to serve, but have not been taken so far. I have half-a-dozen letters in my pocket, from people saying they are over forty-one, but they hope I will persevere with 513 my Amendment and raise the age because they want the opportunity of serving. In one case a man has come from South Africa in the hope that the age limit will be raised. The Army does require a very considerable number of men who are not actually fit enough to serve at the front. At the present time it is taking a very large number of men, in my opinion, far too large a number of men, who are not fit for any sort of military service, many of whom would be doing much better national work where they were before they were called up for service. Here, again, is a case where a man in a non-essential occupation between forty and forty-five, or even up to the age of fifty, would be better employed as a military clerk or keeping the lines of communication then a younger man taken from a munition factory where he was engaged in skilled work, and who might be of a very low state of physical efficiency.
There is another reason why there is some substance in this Amendment. Under the present Bill men who have served their time, that is, time-expired men, if they are in the Colours now have got to go on serving to the end of the War, whatever their age. A man of forty-four who is with the Colours to-day will have to go on serving, but if he is forty-two and left the Colours last week, under the Bill as it stands he cannot be recalled. It seems to me that it is very unfair that the man who has borne the burden and heat of the day a little longer and is actually older should, because of the accident of the date on which this Bill is passed, be compelled to serve with the Colours, while a younger man over the age limit of forty-one should be completely exempt. It seems to me that once you have accepted this principle of national service you should accept it wholeheartedly. You should no longer try to limit the confines as much as possible, but you should widen the confines as much as possible in order that you can increase the number of men who are actually serving. By that means the process of selection would be more even, without disturbance in point of time, and would be more equitable. It is from that point of view that I strongly urge this Amendment upon the consideration of all Members. I dare say I shall be told that you could at any time introduce a supplementary Bill altering this, if it fails to bring about the result which we desire. The tendency of the 514 War Office would be to exhaust the present class, to drag out of the industries men who ought to be left in the industries, because it is always inconvenient to ask for fresh legislation. Looking back on the past, all Members of the House, whether they opposed compulsion or favoured it, must agree that if we had had it a year ago, the process of selection would have been freer, hardships would have been much fewer, the interests of industry would have been better protected, and we should be having more ships, more munitions, and more men in the field as well. It is from that broad point of view, and not from the desire to push more men into the Army, or from what is called the desire for compulsion, but rather from the desire that if we have compulsion we should have it in its broadest and most workable form, that I suggest that this Amendment of my hon. Friend should receive sympathetic consideration.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
On a point of Order. There is an Amendment in my name to increase the age from fory-one to forty-five. I do not want to have that shut out. The Amendment at present before the Committee is one to leave tire age to the discretion of the Government. I do not agree with that and therefore cannot support it, but I should like to have the opportunity of raising the clean question whether the age in the Bill should be forty-one or forty-five.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member's Amendment is not shut out. The question will be put to the Committee in a limited form, reserving the subsequent Amendment.
§ Mr. EUGENE WASON
I desire to ask my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, as to the position of a boy at school, of the age of eighteen years, who is in an Officers' Training Corps. Would it be competent for him to stay on at school and in the Officers' Training Corps until he reaches the age of nineteen? I have had many letters on this particular subject. Boys naturally want to go when they are really too young to go. What parents feel is, that if the boys remain on a year and go on with their military training they would be more useful men, and more useful in the field at the age of nineteen than they would be if they went now. I desire also to ask about young men of eighteen who want to become doctors. The Army is short of doctors. Is a lad of eighteen who is studying medicine to be taken away from his 515 course of studies? It becomes a very serious thing for the Army and for the country if young men who are anxious to become doctors, and are quite willing to do their bit of service, are not to be allowed to go on for the Medical Service and at the same time do their little bit of training. I do not oppose the age of eighteen at all, but I do think that young men serving in Officers' Training Corps at the present time, and who are studying for their trade, should not be compelled to join now when they are eighteen, but that they might well finish their school career. In the case of young men who are anxious to go on with their studies in the school of medicine, they could also do their bit of training and might also be postponed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is an Amendment on the Paper dealing with this specific point, which will come on later. It is in the name of the hon. Member for Cambridge University.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
May I interrupt my hon. Friend? He overlooks the fact that there is a consequential Amendment which deals with that point later on. If he had done me the honour of being in the House when I introduced my Amendment, he would have understood that.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I was paying the greatest attention to the hon. Member's speech, but I may not have been in at the moment when he was referring to the consequential Amendment. But that does not improve it at all. I am very glad that my attention has been drawn to it. It enables me to avoid waste of time. What is now proposed is really rather worse than I suspected. It does not leave the House of Commons to settle these things, but proposes to have them settled by Order in Council. I am tired of Orders in Council. This is one of the gravest problems which any nation could have to decide. Reference has been made to the laws of other countries. I think it will be found that on the Continent there is always an age limit. No light is thrown on that question, but so far as I am familiar with it, it is 516 so. You would have varying Orders in Council, and you would have this visible matter dealt with by Orders in Council, which might be very dangerous, instead of by this House, and I think that there will be the greatest objection to this mode of proceeding. If my hon. Friend wants to extend the age on one side or the other we have got an Amendment touching those points on the next page. The Debate in which we are engaged at present is not a very businesslike Debate. Considering the limit of time under which we are working, I cannot imagine the Government accepting the Amendment, and I think that in the interests of public business we might get on to the Amendment on the next page.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Some of us who opposed the previous Bill are now loyally supporting this Bill, but I have the very strongest objection to this matter of compulsory military service being left to be determined from time to time by any Order in Council. Of course there are certain detailed advantages in such a proposal. The hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Birmingham put them with lucidity. What is far more important than those particular advantages is to keep the country as a whole generous in their support in a matter of this kind. If people do not know what is going to happen in the future, and do not have the safeguard of a Bill to be brought into Parliament, you will have a much less wide consent and you will have far greater difficulty in bringing home to the public mind any modification which may become necessary because of military requirements. So long as this House is consulted frankly before an age limit is fixed, or if any changes are proposed to be made by the Government in respect of compulsory service, then if the Government tell us that they are acting upon military authority, I believe that they will get adequate support. The temper of the people in this country is such, and I hope that it will always remain such, that they are willing to give to Parliament what they would refuse to the Executive, and in the interests of the Bill itself, and its general acceptance and loyal carrying out in all parts of the country, I oppose this Amendment and hope that the Committee will reject it.
§ Sir E. CARSON
For my own part, I think that it is better for the Bill to lay down a particular age. For myself I do 517 not like eighteen. I think that it is too young. It does not arise on this question. I may make a suggestion. As time goes on we may have to raise the age limit from forty-one. After all, there will be no great hardship in it, because we are keeping on men long after they are forty-one, particularly time-expired men, even men who have done thirteen and fourteen years. These are going to be kept on under this Bill, even against their will. What I suggest to the Government, and to my hon. Friend who has moved this Amendment, is that the Bill should stay as it is, leaving the years eighteen and forty-one, but that the Government should take power in a subsequent part of the Bill by a Resolution of this House to alter the age in this Bill to what may be deemed necessary.
§ Mr. NIELD
I desire to ask information from the right hon. Gentleman in reference to the position of the very large number of persons who, being over the present age limit, are making their arrangements on that basis to carry on. I have here numerous letters of protest, letters from men who would be swept in by a mere Resolution of this House, if such a proposition were carried out. I think that any alteration in the age limit ought to be considered very carefully. I am strongly in favour of expedition in those matters, but the House should have the first opportunity of considering the conditions necessary to protect those people, by even greater protection than is given at the present time.
§ Mr. LONG
I was anxious to hear the voice of the Committee upon the question, which is by no means free from difficulty, but which does not, I am happy to think, raise any real question of controversy. A suggestion has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University in the speech which he delivered a moment or two ago. The Committee is good enough, whatever their individual views might be, to allow me to state the case as clearly as I can. The ages in the Bill are eighteen to forty-one. The Government will resist with all the powers they can command in the House to the extent of a Division any attempt to reduce the age below eighteen. The feeling against that reduction is very strong. I know that the Army Council unanimously and all those soldiers whom I have had the privilege of consulting since I have been associated with this Bill 518 —concur in the view that no military advantage whatever is to be gained by taking compulsory measures to bring in young men below the age of eighteen.
§ Mr. LONG
My hon. Friend's Amendment undoubtedly did, so far as it proposes fixing of ages by Order in Council, because I asked the question when he was making his speech, and he told me he proposed to open the contract below that age. To that part of the suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, for instance, that advantage would come from lowering the age, we offer the most strenuous opposition. We could in no circumstances accept it. We shall adhere to the age of eighteen and forty-one as the age which we believe to be right the age to which the Army Council after the most careful consideration have given their approval, and that is the age which, as they are advised to-day, will give them what they require. The Committee naturally and properly want to know whether, as time goes on, it is not possible that circumstances may so alter as to make a change desirable. We know we cannot control the march of events. Circumstances do alter, and the conditions of the countries involved in the War alter accordingly, and we do not know what our difficulties may be from time to time. My hon. Friend opposite and the right hon. Member for Dublin University asked why we should not have some power by which to avoid the necessity of passing another Act of Parliament. My hon. Friend behind me (Sir Ryland Adkins) spoke with great force when he said that if we are to give effect to a measure of this kind we must carry with us the House of Commons as far as possible, and that we must let the country understand that there is not to be an exercise of power by a mere military tribunal, but that Parliament is to retain control. My right hon. Friend's suggestion is that if there is to be any change in the Bill it should take the form of issuing an Order in Council. The form would have to be an Order in Council, for it is necessary to issue an Order in Council, but, according to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend, that Order in Council would be dependent upon the action of this House. I am not familiar with the technicalities, but I believe the correct form is that the Order in Council 519 would take effect, unless an Address was presented to either House, or in both Houses, in opposition to it.
§ Mr. LONG
My hon. Friend is very vigilant, and I am really not submitting a half proposal to the Committee. I might observe that if I had to make such a suggestion myself, I should say that it should be subject to a Resolution of both Houses; but I am told that would not be correct, and that where you deal with an Order in Council there must be an Address in both Houses. Therefore, if we adopt any suggestion of that kind we shall have to take care that the language is such as to make it clear that no Order in Council could be issued by the Army Council until they had come to the House of Commons to get a Resolution passed to authorise them to take that step. The advantages of such a course would be these: We are all agreed, whether we are for or against compulsion, that we are bound as a nation to press on our War with all possible energy. Most of those who have opposed compulsion have done so because they believe—and I am sure sincerely believe—that compulsion is injurious to the progress of the War. We are all agreed on the object that we have in view; we are all agreed that the prosecution of the War must be as little delayed as may be possible. Once having accepted the principle of compulsion, I do not think it would be unreasonable to adopt the suggestion of my right hon. and learned Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] There will be plenty of opportunities for hon. Members to express their views in a way I can better understand than I do just now. I think there is a good deal to be said for the suggestion of my right hon. and learned Friend, which is made in order to avoid the procedure of a Bill, and to give the House of Commons power to express its views by Resolution. That is really the whole thing. I ask those who oppose it to realise that it only means a difference of two or three days as compared with one day. It would be a single Clause Bill; a few words would do it; therefore the whole thing is a difference between a Resolution as regards one way, and two or three days in regard to the other way.
520 I do not propose, on behalf of the Government, to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment or to make this counter suggestion now. I think the suggestion my right hon. and learned Friend has made is worthy of consideration by the House, and we would have to see whether we can find words to carry out the suggestion, and securing that the House shall have full right over the Army Council to prevent their taking action until this House has been consulted and has had an opportunity of expressing its views. We, however, adhere to the Bill as framed by the Government on the advice of the Army Council. I have been asked several questions by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and Kinross (Mr. Eugene Wason), about young fellows of eighteen years of age. The War Office has already made arrangements under which they will be allowed to remain in the Officers' Training Corps until they have attained the age of nineteen years. At the age of nineteen they pass into the Army automatically, in the ordinary way.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
Is it the intention of the War Office to withdraw the Order which does not allow young men between eighteen and eighteen and a half years of age to have commissions?
§ Mr. LONG
I cannot answer that question offhand. I have here the Order of the War Office which carries out what I have already said, that they are allowed to continue in the Officers' Training Corps until they attain the age of nineteen years. That was issued on the 23rd April, and possibly it might supersede the Order to which my hon. Friend refers. With regard to the question as to medical students, their case will be considered. There are a great many classes of other young men who are preparing for various professions and whose careers must be interfered with. That is one of the hardships of war. I do not think we can make any special provision in their case, but I shall be very willing to consider any suggestion.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
There is a point to which I wish to call the attention of the Solicitor-General on the question of military age. I submit to the Solicitor-General that the words of the Bill as they stand are liable to be construed in the sense that those who arrive at the age of eighteen at the passing of the Bill into an Act of Parliament will come within its 521 purview. If the Solicitor-General will look at the first three lines of the Bill he will find that they refer to ordinary residents who have attained the age of eighteen years. That must mean that they have attained the age of eighteen years at the passing of this Act. I submit to the President of the Local Government Board that that is a point worthy of consideration, because we are now discussing military age. I think it is common ground to all of us that we really want to make the Bill as clear as possible, and we do not want any wrangling afterwards. I would suggest that the words ought to be, "has attained, or hereafter attains," or words to that effect. As to young officers in training corps, I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will again make a representation to the War Office, because I am perfectly confident, from communications which have reached me, that scores of young fellows who went into Officers' Training Corps have been transferred as privates. That really is so. It may seem incredible to the right hon. Gentleman after what he has said, but I do hope he will use his good offices in this respect, because I am quite sure that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction existing among these young fellows, some of whom have come from distant Dominions, who are under eighteen and a half years, and who have been transferred as privates.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Griffith), is raised in an Amendment further down on the Paper standing in the name of the hon. Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield), and if there is the least doubt in the matter we will consider the point and insert words later on. It is a point about which there need be no trouble whatever.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I have listened with extreme surprise to the remarks of the President of the Local Government Board with regard to the proposal to take power in this Bill to alter the ages at at which compulsion would apply by Order in Council.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
On a point or order, Sir. Is it in order for the hon. Member to discuss a suggestion which my right hon. Friend said he would consider. If the right hon. Gentleman does consider it we shall have to discuss it at a later stage. Is it in order to discuss that now on this Amendment?
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
May I remind you, Sir, on a point of order, that the proposal which I wish to discuss was made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and was replied to at length by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. Are we now to be told that this is a subject we are not entitled to further discuss?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member has never found me giving less liberty to private Members than I do to Members on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am very much obliged to you, Sir. I did not intend to suggest that your ruling was unfair; I wanted to enter a protest against the attempt to limit the discussion when a Member opposing this Bill rises to discuss a matter of such extreme importance. I think it is a very surprising fact that so important a decision should be adumbrated without reference to the Cabinet. I think even in a Coalition Cabinet we might expect that before any approval is given of a suggestion of this kind—
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am told that the right hon. Gentleman has asked me—I did not catch his interruption—how I know that he has not consulted the Cabinet. I know that he has not consulted the Cabinet, because he said in his speech that he would consult the Cabinet. If the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to read the report of his speech in Hansard he will find that he promsed to consult his colleagues on this matter. I think it is an amazing thing, when we have this Coalition Government, that approval should be foreshadowed of an important and far-reaching proposal like this, without having first taken a Cabinet decision. I see present the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and I remember that when I had the privilege of listening to him from his place opposite in the earlier months of the War he always stated, or he several times stated, in his place that it was much more necessary to scrutinise the action of the Government in war time than in peace time, and he ridiculed the idea either of any Bill going through without the closest possible scrutiny or any unlimited power being given to the Executive. I should like to call his attention, for he is a great constitutional authority, to the manner in which it is proposed to take power not 523 properly given by this House. What is the proposal to which the President of the Local Government Board states that he will give consideration and will consult his colleagues? It is that if the Government of the day wish to enlarge the present amazing powers of this Bill, under which they conscript boys when they reach the age of eighteen and middle-aged men of forty-one, they will not do it in a constitutional way by bringing in a Bill and passing it through all its stages in this House and the House of Lords, whereby we can have the healthy influence of public opinion expressing itself, but they will come down at any moment and lay upon the Table of this House, without even having read it, an Order in Council.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I ought to have said, after taking a mere majority Resolution of Parliament, and not a Bill. I submit that there is a very great constitutional point at issue here. There is all the difference in the world between bringing in a Bill and passing it through all its stages in both Houses, and the securing after an hour or two of Debate a majority Resolution in this Chamber. It is impossible for public opinion to express itself under those circumstances. Such procedure is arbitrary action, which overrides the liberties of this House and the liberties of the country. It is, to my mind, a pure expression of the autocratic spirit. I notice that the hon. Member for St. Augustine's cheers that remark.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not give this proposal his sympathetic consideration. If the Government desire to obtain larger powers than those which are given them under this Bill, the proper and only course for them to take is to bring a Bill into this House and pass it if they can. I think the proposal that has been made and suggested is a most mischievous proposal, most unconstitutional, and that it should be resisted to the utmost.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. Member must, I think, be singularly lacking in powers of observation. He has been I do not know how many years in Parliament, and it appears that this afternoon is the first occasion on which in all his experience he has ever known of a Minister in charge of 524 a Bill saying in reply to an Amendment that he would consider it before the Bill is brought up on Report stage. I should have thought that that was a very common proceeding. My right hon. Friend has been lectured by the hon. Member, for I do not know what he has done. I think the hon. Member is also singularly lacking in memory. In the discussion of what is now known as the principal Act, the President of the Local Government Board, who was in charge of that Bill also, on several occasions said that he would give careful consideration to proposals that were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon). I cannot recollect that on any single one of those occasions he leaped to his feet with indignation at the way in which my right hon. Friend was exceeding his constitutional powers and giving an example of tyrannous behaviour in this House, because he ventured to say that he would give consideration to some proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I understand the hon. Gentleman to suggest that I remained silent whilst a similar proposal was being made. No such proposal was made.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The complaint of the hon. Member was that my right hon. Friend ventured to say that he would give consideration to a suggestion coming from a Member of the House without consulting the Cabinet.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not wish to pursue the matter further. I need not say I have not the slightest intention of going into the Division Lobby against the Government. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give fair consideration to the proposal of my right hon. Friend, which I think is a very fair one, and which, I agree, after hearing my right hon. Friend, is a much better way of arriving at what I was endeavouring to get than this particular proposal. My right hon. Friend the President told us that the Government would be prepared to resist even by a Division a proposal to enlarge the age in a downward direction. I do not want it to be understood that I ever suggested that there should be a proposal of that nature. I agreed in answer to a question that my Amendment as it stands would certainly have the effect of giving that power, but I 525 thought we were quite secure against that, because it could only be done by the wish of the Government and of the Army Council. Although I am afraid, notwithstanding what has been said by the hon. Member, I do not think I can place any very great reliance upon what my right hon. Friend would be able to do; he has given me the promise, so far as it goes, to consider it, and under those circumstances I must be content with that in the meantime and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Leave withheld.
§ Mr. KING
I think the protest of my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitehouse) was well justified for a good many reasons. Whenever I see the Members of the two Front Benches falling into one another's arms across the Table, I am always suspicious. That is what has happened on this occasion. We have heard from many quarters in this House and outside recently that what the Government wants is responsible and weighty criticism. I am going to do my litte bit in that direction. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite whether before he made his offer just now he consulted the Army Council, and if not, whether the Army Council will be consulted before the Report stage, or whether the whole of this large power which he contemplates adding to this Bill is going to be undertaken apart from any matter of its advisability being put before the Army Council. I think that is very important, because we have been told again and again that this Bill is the result of the advice and demands of the Army Council. Let us keep to that, and unless they want to enlarge the scope of this Bill do not let us begin at this early stage of the Committee offering to enlarge it. If we are going to take powers to enlarge the scope of this Bill by bringing within its purview men up to any age, possibly they will bring in the mature age to which I belong. I can only say that if they do I will not be a conscientious objector. Anxious as I am that the War should satisfactorily finish without that contingency arising, yet, if they do that sort of thing, I am quite ready to take my part.
What is going to happen if elderly men like some of us are going to be conscripted1? There will be not only no men left to carry on industries, but there will be no men left to be fathers of families. The point I put is a most important one. It is this: That the sense of militarism says, "Give us a bit more power to throw 526 everything into the scale, regardless of the financial, commercial, and family considerations, and the whole civilisation of this country with all its interests." Members are so carried away by their military inclinations that they fall into the trap at once. I protest most emphatically against the way in which the President of the Local Government Board has accepted this suggestion, or has been inclined to accept it. I have had during the last few days scores and scores of letters from people all over the country, protesting against this Bill, or some provision of it. I have not had a single letter from any one of my Constituents, or any persoń known or unknown to me, asking me to vote in favour of this Bill, or to enlarge it in any way. I have had at least 200 letters, and there are many scores I have not yet opened, protesting against this Bill, and people apparently write to me because I have had the audacity to put Amendments down to modify the Bill and make it a less terrible and less severe instrument of legislation. I believe, if you were to go to the men of the country, free from any strong; prejudices, conscriptionists or anti-conscriptionists, and if you were to say to the average men, "Do you want this Bill made a more powerful instrument of Conscription, or less powerful?" that the great majority would say, "Modify it, weaken it, and do not strengthen it." [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] That is my belief, from the way in which I have talked to people in public places, and from the remarks I hear everywhere amongst my neighbours, friends, and Constituents. I must, therefore, most emphatically protest on this occasion, and on any other occasion that will be afforded, against proposals, which are taken up far too readily by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, in favour of enlarging the scope of this Bill.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I rise for the purpose of asking where we are in this discussion. Your immediate predecessor in the Chair, Sir, ruled that the whole question of age could be discussed on this Amendment, but I understood you, in conformity with the practice of the Chair, to speak in the direction of confining the discussion to concrete proposals when you said that the Amendments on the Paper would be taken in their turn. I wish to point out that we have no concrete proposal before us at the present moment. We have a suggestion from one Front 527 Bench, and a comment upon it from the other, but it has not yet assumed the form of a concrete proposal. I therefore submit that we are hardly in order in discussing the matter further. I congratulate the President of the Local Government Board upon having declared to the House, once and for all, the policy of the Government on this question of age. We have on the Paper half a dozen Amendments suggesting the ages of fifty, forty-five, thirty-six, and so on. Now that the policy of the Government has been clearly stated, and we know that the Government is able to carry its policy into effect in this House, I would suggest that it is hardly worth while discussing at any length these proposals of specific ages which stand on the Paper.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is perfectly true that the Amendment actually before the Committee does raise the whole question of age, and, in addition, whether any powers of extension beyond those taken in the Bill should be grafted. For that reason I felt it right that the Committee should have a large width of debate allowed. The subsequent Amendments, dealing with specific ages, have not been ruled out, but, in accordance with the custom of the Chair, they cannot be allowed to give rise to a wide debate such as that which the Committee seem now ready to conclude.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
As one who voted for the original Act, and also for this Bill, I wish to enter a strong protest. I think we are all entitled to make a protest after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, that he is going to consider the question of extending the age with regard to future conscripts without consulting Parliament in the form of a Bill. That is a very wide power, and one which many of those who have supported the Government will hesitate about giving. I have supported the Government because I have felt that they were entitled to our support for the purpose of carrying on the War, but I must say I was very much in doubt after reading Lord Derby's speech on Saturday, when his lordship stated that up to March there was no justification on the part of the War Office from the point of view of figures for favouring compulsion. If the Government at the request of the right hon. Member for Dublin University and those who are strongly in favour of Conscription, not because of the War, but be- 528 cause of the principle of Conscription. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Everyone who has listened to these Debates is convinced that we have a large number of Members who are conscriptionists or compulsionists from the point of view of principle. Some of us have supported the Government because we have confidence in the Prime Minister that he would not propose compulsion until there was justification or necessity for it. But if the Government are going to consider the taking of power to alter the age upon a mere formal Resolution of the House of Commons and an Order in Council, I say that that will widen the power of the Government to a degree to which I am certain a large number of Members would not agree. I should like to illustrate that by what took place last night It was suggested—at any rate in the Press—that the change in connection with daylight saving could be effected under the Defence of the Realm Act. We had a remarkable speech from the Member for the University of Oxford, strongly protesting against any power being given to the Government, even to save one hour's daylight, without a formal Bill having been passed through the House. The Home Secretary had to promise, upon the demand, as I understood, of the hon. Member for Oxford University, that the Government would carry out the constitution by bringing in a Bill, and he has introduced that Bill to-day. I am very much surprised that the right hon. Member for Dublin University should make any suggestion of this kind. It is a power which no House of Commons ought to give to the Government, and I am certain that if the Government decide in its favour there will be strong objection on the part of this House.
Mr. T. WILSON
I wish to say how sorry I am that the right hon. Gentleman should have given a half blessing to the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. If he wishes to raise opposition to the Bill in this House and stronger opposition in the country, he has only to go on accepting or agreeing to consider suggestions of this kind. I can assure the Government that a large number of the Members of the party with which I am connected will have to reconsider their position if the right hon. Gentleman persists in introducing this proposal into the Bill. If he wishes to get the Bill through without undue opposition, I hope he will not listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. He 529 does not often charm wisely. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will listen to Members of Parliament from Great Britain upon this matter. It is the people of Great Britain who are going to be affected by this Bill; therefore I hope he will listen to the advice tendered by Members from England, Scotland and Wales, and not to that given by Members some of whom have very often an ulterior motive in advocating proposals on this kind.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I hope that hon. Members who object to this matter toeing considered by the Government will not close their minds to the merits of the proposal. There are innumerable positions in which men over forty-one can be employed during the course of the War.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
As was said earlier in the Debate, everyone cannot serve at the front, and it is also true that everyone who serves at the front cannot serve in the trenches. One of the sources of supply of men for our Army in the field must be toy moving men of prime fitness up from positions in the rear to take their turn of the most severe work in the front, their places being taken toy other men. Our antagonists have taken to themselves full liberty in this matter of age. The German age, I believe, is now raised to forty-seven. The Allies also have taken liberty in this respect. It is not suggested that the Government should take this liberty, but that they should put in the Bill a power which would enable the House, if it so chose at a later date, to make this further extension. I am quite content with the promise of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that the Government will consider the matter with their military advisers, and I hope that an equal measure of careful consideration and open-mindedness may be extended to it by Members in other parts of the House. There is a great advantage in stating the maximum that you are prepared to do—an advantage from the point of view of the foreign situation, and also in veiling your reserve of men with a certain element of indefiniteness, so that it shall not be possible for the enemy in their calculations to assume that only the men embraced in certain categories will eventually be brought into the fighting line.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has reason to feel very 530 satisfied with what the President of the Local Government Board has said, for the simple and obvious reason that he, in an impromptu speech, not only indicated that he was favourable himself to this suggestion, but, in the view of some of us, gave an invitation for such a proposal to be made. It is because we believe that this is the clearest illustration of the slippery slope that we are opposed to the manner in which it is being done. It is not true to suggest that a Resolution of this House is on all-fours with the introduction of a Bill. No one can say at this moment what the experience of the working of this measure will be. Will anyone suggest that when it is proposed to extend it this House should not have an opportunity of reviewing the whole situation? I submit that if the necessity arises for a reconsideration of this matter, so far as the extension of the age is concerned, the House ought to have an opportunity of reviewing the situation in all its aspects. That clearly cannot be given if the House is simply called upon to pass a Resolution. My hon. Friend says, as a supporter of this Bill, that he will oppose any extension. Nothing in my opinion will surprise the country more than the suggestion that has been made to-day that the Government is to have power ad lib. to conscript everybody. On Saturday we had two contradictory speeches. On Saturday the country heard for the first time that so far as the military authorities were concerned they had not made up their minds until March. But they also heard that other people, who are now saying that the military authorities must determine it, had made up their minds well before March. [An HON. MEMBER: "When?"] I have said long before, in September! Now that it goes to the country that the Government are prepared to take powers to say, "We will raise the age to any limit," that is an invitation for a similar agitation to say, "Let us immediately put it into operation." Where are we going in that direction? You are going to have this difficulty continuously. I would beg the Government not to accede to the suggestion that has already been made, but to remember that if Conscription is going to be accepted it will only be accepted after this House has had a free and full opportunity of debating every aspect of the question.
§ Captain Viscount WOLMER
A great deal has been said on the other side of the House as to the constitutional point of the difference between a Resolution and 531 a Bill. I think hon. Members opposite are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. They seem to attach tremendous importance to this question of age being dealt with by a Bill. I should like to say to them that a great many people in this country are losing their confidence in the Government by what they think is the great waste of time that goes on here. After all, the question of age is a single point, and a single point which can well be dealt with by a single resolution. The advantage of a Bill, or an elaborate proposal, over a Resolution are manifest. You have your Committee and your Report stages; but what Committee or what Report stage do you require to decide whether the age of Conscription shall be forty-one or forty-five? Surely this House will be well advised to give this House, not the Government, power to decide the question of giving the Government power. It is simply a question of giving this House, and the other House, power to put forward a simple and speedy manner of expressing their opinion as to whether the age limit should or should not be raised. It would not be taking one iota away from the rights of this House. On the other hand you would be using a very much simpler method of altering the law than by a Bill. The hon. Member for Derby wants by every Bill on this subject power to review the whole situation. [HON. MEMBEKS: "Hear, hear!" and "Very important!"] But he gets the opportunity every day. The House meets to ask questions as to the administration of any Act. He can always raise the subject in Debate. Does anyone in this House believe that if there were any serious breakdown in any part of this Bill we are now discussing—which is not, likely, because it is largely framed on the principal Act which has been in operation for some months—that the Government would not have to afford facilities for discussion? I think that this point of age is one which could well be decided by Resolution. The hon. Member for Derby asked a further question: "Where," he inquired, "are we going to in this matter? I think the Prime Minister told us that we are going to the last man and to the last sovereign to secure victory!
§ Mr. LONG
I do not want this Debate to proceed any further under what appears to me to be a complete misapprehension as to the position which we have taken up. It has been suggested by at least two 532 speakers that the result of my reply to my right hon. Friend opposite has been to undertake to consider whether the Government would not take to themselves what are described as absolute powers to deal with the ages of men conscripted for service. Anybody who draws that conclusion can either have refused to listen to me, or has entirely misinterpreted what I said. It is, I submit, ridiculous to suggest that anything my right hon. Friend and I have said implies a desire, much less an intention, to take control away from Parliament. Of course, this point has been considered before the suggestion was made by my right hon. Friend. It is quite obvious that it is one of the many considerations raised with the Army Council and with the others who have discussed it. I confess, however, it is an astonishment to me to find that most of those who think as clearly on these questions and understand them as well as those of my hon. Friends who have spoken to-day can really seriously entertain the notion that this proposal, if it were adopted, would materially interfere with the rights of Parliament. One of the advantages which I have considered before in connection with it is this: So far as the Army Council are able to express an opinion to-day—always safeguarded by the condition which must be laid down that they, as our military advisers, they, who are charged with the great responsibility of conducting this War—cannot be asked, and ought to be asked, to commit themselves to any definite opinion to-day as to what may be necessary in six or twelve months' time; so far as it is possible for them to express an opinion at this time they say definitely that the powers in this Bill and the ages in this Bill are sufficient for them. But they go on to say that circumstances may arise six or twelve months hence which may make necessary a still further demand for men. It might be desirable to raise the age by one year. If a power similar to that which we are now discussing were in the Bill that could be done by a Resolution of the House.
Do not, however, let hon. Members run away with the notion that a Resolution of this kind would open up the fullest Debate which would enable them to review the whole situation. A Bill would be the same as a Resolution. A Bill would be proposed, not with a view of altering the age, but of raising the age. Therefore all you could propose would be to raise the age, probably to forty-five or to forty-six. As 533 a matter of fact, and of convenience, it seemed to be better that we should take power to enable you to raise it by one year. All the Government have done has been to consider whether this is a desirable proposal, and one which they ought to consider. That is all that has been said, and any suggestion that we are proposing to take away power from Parliament to enable us to act in regard to a whole lot of men in the country who are not now liable to Conscription, without giving to Parliament the fullest possible power to express its opinion, is to misinterpret our action and what the right hon. Gentleman and I have said. I have no sort of objection to the matter being discussed in the ordinary way on its merits, but I think it is only fair that what I have said should be interpreted in its real sense, and not misinterpreted, as it has been done to-day by more than one speaker. It is purely a question between a Bill and the Resolution. There is no question at issue of depriving Parliament of the power they possess, and of which we have never intended to deprive them.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps the Committee will allow me a word. This proposal which has actually been debated is not the one contained in the Amendment. It arose in an interchange between the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches. I thought it right to permit very full freedom to private Members to express their opinions on the proposal. Therefore, I must now ask the Committee not to go further with the freedom I granted, but to deal with the proposal of this Amendment, and then to get on to the next Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Captain AMERY
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the word "eighteen" ("attained the age of eighteen years"), and to insert instead thereof the word "seventeen."
I have no intention of repeating the arguments already used. The object of this Amendment is not to compel boys of seventeen to serve in the Army, or to go to the front, but to preserve to the War Office the right to call upon them, if necessary, to undergo some short period of training, or to stipulate that they shall join the Volunteers, or take Volunteer training until such time as they are ready to serve the country more fully. The power is one which is possessed by every other country; by our Allies, and by 534 those who are opposed to us. They do not put any man in the field before he is nineteen; but they have the power similar to what I suggest to call upon the youths of seventeen, if necessary, to undergo some preliminary training, or, in case of invasion, to undertake the guarding of the lines of communication. It is simply in order to draw the attention of the House of Commons to the desirability of dealing with this question, rather than with any great hope of getting my Amendment accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, that I formally move it.
§ Mr. LONG
I hope this Amendment will not be pressed. I have already stated the opinion of the Army Council, and what is the attitude of the Government. I respectfully ask my hon. Friend, in the interests of the Bill and the progress that it is desirable that we should make, to consider that we should not discuss an Amendment of this kind, with no certainty of its being accepted, but should devote our time and attention to matters which are really of more importance.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Will the disposal of this Amendment leave mine lower down quite safe? I understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford was going to move his Amendment. My Amendment would raise the age of eighteen to nineteen. If my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, who has said he will not move his Amendment, will withdraw, then, perhaps, my Airiendment will stand?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The position is that I take the Amendments in the order in which they are on the Paper, and I put the Question to the Committee in the usual form, "That the word 'eighteen' stand part of the Clause." When the Committee have decided that, there is an end of it.
§ Captain AMERY
I certainly had not intended to press my Amendment, and would not have moved it if I had not understood that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, who has taken such a keen interest in the question of Volunteer training and the training of boys, wished to make a few remarks to the House. I only did it formally, in order to give him that opportunity, but I am willing to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Colonel YATE
I entirely sympathise with what my right hon. Friend has said. It is better not to put this into a Bill. Eighteen is recognised as the correct age for Home defence, and there are many young men of eighteen and a half who are well-fitted to fight in France. I am delighted to think that they have been brought in. There is one point I would like to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend, and that is the tremendous discontent there is in the country at the present time at the number of young men of eighteen, nineteen, and twenty, who have been left in the works and factories. With regard to young men of sixteen or seventeen I would make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. There are an enormous number of boys now training throughout the country in junior training corps. If the right hon. Gentleman would only give some encouragement to them, either through the Education Department, or some other Department, so that they might be formed into Cadet Corps, the whole country would realise how sadly deficient are our boys in relation to physical training and physical development. They cannot come up to the standard of chest measurement in many cases, and I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to take this into consideration and form Cadet Corps for these young-men of sixteen and seventeen under Government supervision, and so train up these young men to come into line when eighteen; otherwise in large towns they will not come up to the military standard.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
As I feel uncertain whether there will be any opportunity for discussing the matter later, I want to raise one particular point, which can be raised with equal propriety now, and that is the position of certain Cadet Corps. I hope my right hon. Friend, who answered the right hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. E. Wason) in regard to Officers' Training Corps, will of his kindness consider the somewhat curious position which has arisen with regard to Cadet Corps in a number of important schools in this country. There are certain public schools which have Cadet Corps, but not Officers' Training Corps. They applied to have Officers' Training Corps before the War, but the War Office did not then allow it, and they have gone on with their Cadet Corps. The position, therefore, is that if the Bill remains as it is, the effect will be that lads in these Cadet Corps will have to go into the Army at eighteen, and so will be in a 536 worse position than boys in other schools who belong to Officers' Training Corps. What I want my right hon. Friend to consider is whether he will not put lads who are in Cadet Corps at certain public schools in the same position as others in Officers' Training Corps, in order that they may continue their training equally long, and have the same facilities for going into the Army at the end of their training. The matter is one of great importance to many schools.
§ Mr. LONG
Have the cases to which my hon. Friend referred occurred quite recently? Because the Army Council have made arrangements not only for Officers' Training Corps' lads, but also for all those lads who are in public schools and who propose to make the Army their profession. They have all been covered. It is not a matter for legislation, but really for administration, and if there is a case I will look into it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have already pointed out that there is a specific Amendment dealing with that point.
§ Captain AMERY
As I know the hon. Member opposite wishes to raise a question which, I understand, would be shut out by the rejection of my Amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the word "eighteen" and to insert instead thereof the word "nineteen."
I am much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend opposite for the courtesy he has shown in withdrawing his Amendment, and I express my gratitude to him. My Amendment is to leave out "eighteen" and to insert "nineteen," and I was rather encouraged earlier in the Debate to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) say that he considered eighteen too young, and I want to put the case as briefly and as succinctly as I possibly can, because I now think we have reached a position in the Amendments when we may hope to divide the House and know exactly where we are in respect to these various points. I think eighteen is much too young, and that a boy of eighteen is immature. I think, as a matter of fact, it would bear rather hardly against if I may use the distinction—boys coming from the industrial 537 ranks as compared with boys in our public schools. Boys in our public schools are very much better fed and have very much larger opportunities of physical development from what our lads in the industrial ranks have, and, while boys in public schools might stand the training, boys from the industrial ranks would not stand it anything so well. The second reason is this: I feel very much ashamed in having letters from all over the country, especially from one's Constituents, regarding lads who are at present fighting at the Front whose ages range from sixteen—
§ Mr. HOGGE
As low as fourteen sometimes, up to eighteen. The House knows the system upon which the War Office has gone. It does not matter what a lad's age is. If the War Office considers his physique equal to a lad of eighteen and a-half, then they send him out to the front to fight. That is the locus classicusof my right hon. Friend. If the lad is over seventeen, it does not matter what his age is then—it may be seventeen years and three months. If he has got the physique of eighteen and a-half, the War Office send him into the front trenches or any other part of the battlefield. They take the liberty of using him in that way. I do think that is poor for this country. I do not like it, and I do not believe that any hon. Member in the House likes it. Every hon. Member knows the explanation. Many of those lads gave a false age—in fact, all of them did—and the War Office were in a quandary. But the fact remains that a great many boys under eighteen are fighting for us in the trenches. I do not like it, and I hope nobody else likes it.
The next point I want to make is this: Those called up in Derby group I. were not to be used till nineteen years of age. Recently the War Office said, "You can come up at eighteen and a-half, and you can then see whether, after medical examination, you will remain for preliminary training or go back to whatever occupation or situation you happen to be in, and not come up till nineteen." On that, I understand, a number of lads of eighteen and a-half have joined the Colours and are training now, but other lads under the Derby group I. have gone back until nineteen, and cannot be called up. Under this Bill, lads becoming eighteen have one month's grace, whereas lads under the Derby group have a year's grace. I do not like that inequality in a Bill which is try- 538 ing to establish equality of service. I want to make one other point. I want to put the point of the hardship it is to the parents of those boys. I hope the Committee will grip this point, because it is one which really affects the opinion that is going to be behind this Bill. When a lad is eighteen he is usually either leaving school or is in the third or fourth year of his apprenticeship. His apprenticeship is not finished. Now, when he comes before the War Office to get separation allowance for his parents, his mother, sister, or whoever it may be, the War Office take up the point of view that he is not entitled to anything in so far as he cannot establish any pre-war dependants. Now if that lad had not been called up, and had lived another year, he would be in the position of a journeyman helping his parents, who are expending a great deal in order to enable him to go through an apprenticeship. I think it is hard lines that the boy should be taken at that premature age and be put into the Army. I think it is equally hard lines that the parents are unable to get a separation allowance because the mother cannot establish any prewar dependance upon the boy.
I do, therefore, hope my right hon. Friend will consider this question of enrolling lads at eighteen years of age. If it is any inducement to him to give this concession, I may say, along with other Members of Parliament, one gets a very great number of letters when any Bill is in front of the House that intimately touches the family and domestic life of the people of the country, and I may say— probably it is the experience of all Members—that there is no Clause in this Bill which has brought me more letters than this proposal to enrol boys of eighteen. I find in the part of the country I represent a unanimous opinion against this proposal of enlisting men at that immature age, and I therefore hope my right hon. Friend will, at any rate, be willing to consider this request and give some concession. I may say quite frankly, for the convenience of Members, that I shall go to a Division on this point in order to establish what the Committee feels in regard to the age at which this scheme should begin.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I wish to support this Amendment, as I do feel very strongly that lads of this age are quite unripe for the work that they are going to be called upon to do. There will be more resentment in many homes against this than any 539 other Clause of the new measure in making these boys automatically conscript soldiers. We are told there is going to be a month's grace in which they can join, but I entirely share the view that that is a travesty of voluntaryism, and I also share the view expressed, I think, by the Minister of Munitions, that a good deal of what has been called voluntaryism lately was not that at all. But, if it does come to the question of a few weeks' grace, and at the end of that time one automatically becomes a conscript, it is no use regarding that as any sort of a voluntary system. The proposal is that these boys are going to have a month, as I understand, in which they can still enrol, and if they enrol in that month they will be volunteers, but if before the end of that month they do not enrol they will be conscript soldiers. I do say that is a travesty of anything in the way of volunteering. What is going to happen in many cases is this. In one home, perhaps, a father has gone, and perhaps one or two of the other sons have gone as volunteers, and you are going to have the remaining lad made a conscript and placed on a different footing even from his brothers or his father. I also think that automatically making these lads conscripts at this age is tending to fasten Conscription on this country in a more sinister form than any other, and I am afraid it will be far more difficult to get rid of this proposal at the end of the War than any other proposal that has been brought forward. I think we are using up very rapidly the whole future capital of this country in regard to its life when we come to the taking of lads of that age, which the nation will need very much if it is going to recover at all after the War. This nation will be about the slowest of all the nations to recover, for many reasons, after the War, and the using up of unripe, immature human material is going to be a very damaging thing from the standpoint of the future of this country. I do not require to emphasise the point that this War is imposing a more terrible pressure upon those who are undergoing it in the trenches than any previous war. It is breaking down the men physically and mentally, and therefore it takes the very strongest to stand the strain. We have reports of these young lads under all this pressure at the front whose nerves give way. That has happened time and 540 again, and the consequence to those boys may be very serious indeed. All that has to be taken into account. In view of these reasons and many others that might be urged, I say that whatever may be done in this legislation we ought to see to it that no lad of eighteen is going to be taken for this purpose, because it would arrest the life of these boys for industrial work as well as their careers in the schools and universities. I also believe that it would be hurtful to the future of the country.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I want to oppose this Amendment in the strongest possible manner, because it cuts at the root, of the whole Bill. The argument used by the hon. Member who has just sat down might have been useful when the first Bill came before the House, but the age of eighteen was in the first Bill, and both Parliament and the country sanctioned it. Nobody who attempted to go to his constituents as an opponent of the last Bill would have been returned, and no opponent of this Bill would be returned. Is it suggested that young men of eighteen conscripted under the old Bill are to be in a different position to the young men who are just coming in? Are young men of eighteen to be exempted when boys who were eighteen a few months ago have to do their share in the War? The Amendment would create a ridiculous difference between the boy of eighteen when the first Act passed and the boy of eighteen who becomes eighteen as soon as this Bill is passed, or is eighteen now. With regard to what has been said about nerves, I am prepared to say that the men who break down of nerves are not between eighteen, nineteen, and twenty years of age, but men between thirty-five, thirty-six, and thirty-seven. It is the young men who are doing well in this War, and that is the opinion of military and medical experience. We are fighting an enemy who has already called up young men of eighteen and even seventeen, and our Allies are using their men of eighteen. Hon. Members opposite should really get into their minds that we are fighting for our lives and homes and everything we have got, and we must put into the firing line every man who is capable before we can beat Germany, and therefore we must put in the young men as they become eighteen. It is no use hon. Members talking about letters they have received. 541 The hon. Member opposite will receive such letters because he is just the kind of man to whom people who want this Amendment would write. They have not written to me in that way, and I dare say I have as many letters on the subject of this Bill and the War as the hon. Member who moved this Amendment, but they are not that kind of letter. I want to tell the Committee that young men of eighteen have gladly gone, and the young men who are just becoming eighteen are anxiously waiting for the time to come when they can go and do their share.
I would like to give one experience which I think ought to be sufficient to smash this Amendment. There was a young lad at school when the War broke out who was not eighteen, and he immediately went to his father and asked if he might join the Army. He went to Sandhurst and got a commission, and he was out at the front before he was nineteen. He was present at the battle of Loos, and, after those in command had been killed, he was commanding two companies, and the men followed him although he was seriously wounded. He did not mind, and he was only too proud to have done his share, and he was prepared to have given up his life if necessary. There are thousands of hoys like that, and they resent a Debate such as that which is taking place now. I suggest to the hon. Member who moved and the hon. Member who seconded this Amendment that by this course they are doing no good to the boys of eighteen and no good to the nation, but they are rather trying to persuade our enemies that we are shirking the full necessities of the War. If I had been bringing in this measure I should not have done so apologetically, but with glory, and I should have been proud that we are doing everything we can to get, not merely the older men, but also the boys of eighteen.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
When the previous Bill was before this House in January I moved an Amendment that compulsion should not apply except to grown men above twenty-one. I argued that while we might accept the voluntary service of boys, we ought not to compel them to sacrifice their lives even in the cause of the country, and I argued that we ought to bear the responsibilities of grown men ourselves. I was not able to get the Government to accept that principle—but I received a promise—which I 542 believe has been thoroughly carried out—that these young men, at any rate, should not be called up for compulsory training until they were nineteen. That meant that it would take six months at any rate to train them, and therefore they would not be sent to the front until they were nineteen and a half. I hope that in the present Bill the Government will stand by that same principle. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken talked with great vehemence about what our enemies will think if we do not compel military service in the case of boys who are eighteen, and at the same time he said that boys of eighteen are very anxious to undertake it. Very well, let it be made free for those boys to come forward of their own accord if they wish it. Hitherto a boy of eighteen has not been allowed to volunteer unless he made a false declaration of his age.
The hon. Gentleman talked about putting those boys into the firing line, but that is not the proposal of the Government. What we are asking for is that the same rule which has been observed hitherto should be still observed, and that boys should not be taken for compulsory training before they are nineteen, and not put into the firing until they are nineteen and a-half. I associate myself entirely with the arguments used by the mover of this Amendment as to the necessity and the desirability of boys of the industrial classes being allowed to go on with their apprenticeship in order that they may earn the right to have an adequate dependant's allowance for their mothers, sisters, or little brothers who are dependent upon them. If they are allowed to go on for the extra year of their training that will be in the interests of the country, because they will become skilled workers, and they will be far more useful then than if they are put into the Army without that training. If this suggestion is carried out, the young men are not lost to the service of the country. Apparently this is to be a long War, and we are right to prepare for that. I maintain that these young men will come along in due course, and it will only be six months, later, and by that time their stamina will be increased, their training advanced, and they will be far more useful even as soldiers for the country than if you take them at this premature age. Surely it has not come to this that the country is bound to send its mere children forward before they are really fit for the work of 543 fighting. I hope not, and I do not believe it is so. I have done everything in my power to get soldiers for the Army in this War, and I am prepared to continue to do so. I think it is entirely contrary to the true interests of the country to be using up its children before they have come to a proper age to bear the responsibilities of men. They will be valuable later on for military service when, perhaps, men will be more needed. Apart from their own training, they will as apprentices almost put all their time to serving the country industrially.
Do not let us forget that we badly need men to serve us at the present time for industrial purposes. There is a dearth of men in almost all the great industries of this country, and there is a very great danger both of the Army and the civil population running short of the things it is necessary to produce in this country. If you allow these young men to remain at industrial work it will make it possible for you to comb out an equivalent number of the somewhat older men who are now in industrial pursuits. You cannot have it both ways. If you take these young men of eighteen, and you do not allow them to do industrial work, you must leave an equivalent number of older men to do industrial work. I think in this War we have relied too much on our children, and it would have been far more to the honour of this country if we had been more scrupulously careful not to allow our children to go forward to the firing line. I sincerely hope that the Government will not go back on the standard which they laid down when we discussed this matter in January.
§ Sir C. WARNER
I hope the Government will not go back on the standard they have laid down. The standard they laid down was eighteen years of age, and then they did not take them abroad. I know there are many cases of men who have been sent home who have gone out before that age, but that there should be mismanagement in the War Office is nothing new, and there are a certain number of boys under eighteen, but the rule laid down by the Government was that the boys were taken to join the Army at the age of eighteen and they were not to be sent out until they were nineteen.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend he is mistaken. 544 The Government distinctly promised me that boys of eighteen should not be called up until they were nineteen. I know they are in the Derby group, but there was a distinct promise that they were not to be called out for compulsory service until they were nineteen, and that really meant that they could not be sent abroad until they were nineteen and a half.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
I never gave that promise.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
That promise was distinctly given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Bonar Law).
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The promise was that they should not be called up until they were nineteen, and that men under the Military Service Act would be treated in the same way.
§ Sir C. WARNER
In the old days they used to be taken at eighteen for general service, and at seventeen for home service. I think that was rather too young. The Army rule now is that they should enlist at eighteen and should not be sent out until nineteen, except in very exceptional cases. If I had a boy of eighteen, I should be sorry to keep him at home. I may mention one case which perhaps has some interest. I saw a young man of eighteen years of age, and I noticed he looked especially miserable. He was being kept at school by his parents. It was compulsion to stay at home that was making him miserable, and not compulsion to go to the front. That is the trouble. Parents will keep these boys at home when they want to go to the front and fight unless you give the boys power to get away by compelling them to go into the Army. A great deal has been said about using the children of our country. Boys of eighteen are not children; they are very much better able to work in the trenches than 545 men of thirty-five. We have got a house full of soldiers in the house in which I am living, and I see a good many when they come home, and the men who suffer in the trenches are not the boys, as a rule, but the older men, who get rheumatism. The boy of eighteen or nineteen is very much better fitted for trench life than the man of thirty-eight or thirty-seven. You may say that it takes boys away from skilled work at home, but it is much more important to keep the older men on skilled work at home if you want to keep anybody. We want to see the most useful men at the front for Army work and to keep the most useful skilled men at home to do the skilled work. The men who have the most experience of skilled work are the least capable of being spared, and the men who are most useful at the front are the young boys who have had a year's or six months' training and who are nineteen. That is the very best age at which to start soldiering. I hope the Government will stick to the enlistment of these boys at eighteen with the provision that they will not send immature boys out. There are boys of eighteen who are extraordinarily small. I do not think my hon. Friend need worry about the matter. I have not contradicted him, and I do not think he need be anxious about his assertion that nineteen was the age limit.
§ Sir C. WARNER
The most useful time in a man's life for soldiering is between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five, and the most useful man at home is the older man. I hope the Government will stick to their guns and maintain, not what was promised by some Minister who was not responsible for the War Office or even what the Leader of the House at the time said, but what the soldiers have always said and wanted, and that they will take the young men for soldiers and not raise the age so as to make it necessary to call out more older men and fewer young men.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
May I be allowed to read the words?—I would like to point out to my hon. Friend, and other hon. Friends, that the matter is not quite so serious as one would judge from the Bill. As a matter of fact, the War Office do not call up anyone until he is nineteen. That is intended to apply under the Derby scheme, and it will also apply under this Bill. Therefore we have every reason to hope that, as the training only begins at nineteen, the boys will at all events have got on towards the age of twenty before they are called upon to join the fighting line."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January. 1916, col. 87].
Mr. EDMUND HARVEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman enlighten the Committee on this point? If he could state the intention of the Government on this point, it would save a great deal of time.
§ Sir C. WARNER
I remember the Debate very well. At that time the War Office were not taking boys of eighteen.
§ Mr. LONG
I think this particular point can very easily be cleared up without my introducing the OFFICIAL REPORT, although I have sent for it. These statements were made in regard to the lads of eighteen under the Derby scheme and those lads who were brought in under the Military Service Act. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, stated what was the practice at the time. If hon. Gentlemen will be good enough to look at his final remark they will see that he made it perfectly clear— I think he said in so many words—that the conditions of war altered, and that although that was the practice then it must not be held to bind us with regard to the future.As to the necessity for it, I would point out tha our Allies are taking boys. I hope, tinder the circum stances, the hon. Member will see that considering the-difficulties we have in getting the men necessary to fill our Army it is really impossible for the Government to accept this Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1916, col. 87.]Those are not the words I want, but I was sitting near him at the time, I heard him, and there was no question about it, because he consulted me beforehand, and I was a party to what he said. He safeguarded himself at the end by saying what surely must be obvious to everybody, that so far as our present practice was concerned we were not doing this, that, or the other. Are we seriously to be told today—this question must be answered by the critics of the Government—if in the opinion of the Army Council and of our 547 military advisers, to whom we look for the conduct of the War, it is desirable and necessary to take these lads of eighteen and train them in order that they may be ready to take their places in the ranks of the Army when nineteen, that because six months ago we were prepared to have certain limitations we are to adhere to them now when we believe them to be wrong? War does not stand still, and the enemy will not wait while we are making our fresh preparations. We have got to deal with circumstances as they arise. Nobody wants to take boys before it is necessary, but a great deal of what has been said to-day is quite beside the mark. We are told that these lads are immature. I can speak with some personal knowledge of the effect of their first six months' training upon recruits. I do not know a better thing for a lad than to come under the regular life, training, feeding, and general conditions which obtain in regard to these recruits. In six months' time their own fathers and mothers would hardly know them, so much muscle have they developed so much do they widen across the chest and generally assume stronger physical proportions. Therefore, on the ground of their immaturity, there is no argument at all.
The argument that they do not get proper separation allowance is a very interesting one. Why do not they? The hon. Gentleman said they could not get proper separation allowance because they could not show that they were giving grants to their dependants. If they are not giving grants to their dependants, why should they get separation allowance? There is no hardship there on anybody. Surely it is better in their own interests that we should take them before they begin to earn money. If you take them just as they are earning money you cause greater inconvenience. There is really no argument on the separation allowance question. It is said that these lads do not want to go. That criticism is killed by those who make it, because the very same critics who urge this view tell us with considerable indignation that there are lads, as we have heard to-day, of seventeen, sixteen, and fifteen in the Army. There are, but how have they got there? They have got there—all honour to them; I honour them more than I can describe— because they are full of zeal and patriotism and desire to serve their country, and in order to join the Colours they misrepresent their age. It is not fair to say that 548 the War Office send them deliberately. These lads are found with regiments at the front—I can answer for it, because I have been into many cases myself—and infinite trouble is taken by the Army Council here, by the Adjutant-General and his Department, and by the officers commanding in France to find these lads. If they are immature and unfit for service they are sent back. This imposes a very heavy burden upon both the Army Council here and our commanders in the field. [An HON. MEMBER: "They all look eighteen!"] A great many people would not believe-that they were their actual age. Many of them look far more fit for service than others who are older.
§ Mr. MORTON
Would my right hon. Friend, while talking about the age, be good enough to say why the War Office insists upon taking the boy's description of his age, and when fathers send recruiting officers the birth certificate they refuse to take it and say right openly they will not take it. They will take the untruthful age given by the boys.
§ Mr. LONG
I pass away from that minor aspect of the case to the question of principle. We have been really to-day arguing a question definitely settled by the Act of Parliament passed six months ago. That Act of Parliament laid it down that the ages should be eighteen to forty-one. That was decided, and what we are doing 549 now is to extend the application of that Act in somewhat different words, and to bring in the married men. But all these lads of eighteen were brought in under that Act. Certain statements have been made as to their employment. I have referred to what was said by the Colonial Secretary. It is admitted there were certain statements on the question as to the calling of these lads up. I think there was some mistake as to the difference between calling them to the Colours and calling them up for training. But the position now is clear. I have gone into it carefully with the Adjutant-General, who feels just as strongly as I do in regard to the treatment of these lads. The position is this: In order that these lads may have a thoroughly good training in every stage, they will be called up on attaining the proper age. They will be given a full training not only in military arts, but a physical training, and, when they come to the age of nineteen, they will be available for service. They will then be ten times more fit to take their place in the ranks than they could otherwise be. The Army Council cannot really bind themselves as to what they will do beyond that. They do not want to call any man up before he is required, and it is only when they reach the age of nineteen that the young fellows will be liable to be sent on foreign service. The call to the Colours is a different thing altogether. If a man is summoned to his regiment, it is for the purpose of undergoing training. To these ages the Government must adhere. They have been adopted after careful consideration with our military advisers. They have been the subject of long debates. The ages of eighteen to forty-one have been affirmed in Division after Division. They have also been decided upon by the House, without a Division being challenged. Under these circumstances, I appeal to the Committee to accept the Bill as it stands.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I am very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman has announced the intention of the Government to resist the Amendment. If it were necessary to point out the absolute absurdity of many of the arguments brought forward, it could be done by referring to the speech of the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Williams). The hon. Gentleman, when referring to these young men as entering the Army, called them children, but when he referred to them as people who could be of real value in industry he called them young 550 men. Yet they were of the same age, and he was, in fact, referring to exactly the same people. I would like to know what our Allies would think of us if we accepted this Amendment. Is there a single one of our Allies that does not apply Conscription at a much earlier age than that fixed in this Bill? If we are to make such a wide divergence between our own practice and that of our Allies, could there be anything more disheartening to our Allies, or anything more calculated to bring disgrace on this country?
Hon. Members have given us some of their personal experiences. I should like to add one or two of my own. For years I have sat on the Selection Board for Officers. Over and over again young fellows have come forward for commissions. They have been too young, and we have told them so. We have rejected them, and told them to come again in six months' time. They have pressed us, urged us, almost beseeched us to take them. That is not a single experience. It has occurred over and over again. I have had before me something like 300 to 400 of these young men. It is difficult sometimes to resist their appeals. They are well-developed, they are keen upon work, and, instead of accepting them, you are going against their wishes. I know of a mother whose son, a well-developed young fellow, nearly 6 ft. high, managed to get into the Army by concealing the fact that he had not quite reached the proper age. His mother was recommended to go to the War Office and try to get him released. She told me she had refused to do so, because she knew that her son would be ashamed of her if she did. She knew he was keen on going out, and she repudiated the suggestion of friends that she should apply for his release. He is now in Mesopotamia doing good work.
Unlike one hon. Member who has spoken, I have not been without letters of appeal from parents to get their sons released from the Service on account of age. In one case I replied to the parent that before I could send in any application to the War Office for the release of his son I must have a letter from the son himself. I said to the parent, "Do you realise what responsibility you are taking in the eyes of your son? It is not a responsibility I would care to take in the case of my own son. Do you think, if you summon him home, and he is sent away from his comrades in the trenches, he will ever get over it in later life, or that he will ever forgive you 551 for what you have done?" I had a letter in reply, almost immediately, to the effect that I had put the matter in quite another aspect, and the parent did not wish that his application should be pressed any further. I am perfectly certain that that is the feeling of many parents, and I am proud of it. I am still more sure that it represents the feeling of these young fellows, who do not wish to be treated in the contemptuous fashion which the hon. Member for West Durham apparently desires—they do not wish to be treated as children, misled or misguided, who have been forced into the occupation. They are keen to serve their country, and they are proud of an opportunity to do it.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The President of the Local Government Board is an experienced Parliamentarian, and it must be a very weak case indeed when he is driven to put before the Committee such a defence as he has now advanced against this Amendment. He tells us that these boys are all extremely anxious to join, and he asks why should it be necessary to alter the age. Then he dealt with the question of apprentices. It is not always at the age of twenty-one that an apprentice becomes able to earn a journeyman's wages. As a matter of fact, the apprenticeship very often ends before that time, and there must be a very great number of cases of lads who are going to be conscripted who, if they were allowed to remain at their work a few months longer, would be in receipt of very much higher wages, and would then be in a position to help their parents. In such cases as these the parents do undoubtedly suffer a real financial hardship by the withdrawal of their boys, but the local pension committees, with the approval of the War Office, refuse to recognise the prospective earnings of a boy, even if those prospective earnings are going to mature in a few weeks' time.
The third point of the right hon. Gentleman was with regard to the very definite pledge given by the Secretary of State for the Colonies when a similar Amendment to this was under discussion last January. I believe it was that Amendment which called forth the memorable declaration of Lord Kitchener, which was quoted by the President of the Local Government Board, that that Bill would give the Army Council all the men they required. Then it suited the purposes of the Government to use the 552 opinion of the Army Council to support the position they took up. To-day, driven by the Conscriptionists, they are asking the House of Commons to give them more, and again they apply to the Army Council, and the Army Council appears to be just as ready to give its extra-opinion in support of what the Government want to defend as they were to give a directly opposite opinion three or four months ago in order to give the Government strength to defend a very different proposition. The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the point raised in the course of this Debate as to the unwisdom of calling immature lads to the Colours. I am not at all convinced by what was said by the right hon. Gentleman himself or by the learned University don who has just sat down. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Craik) is aware of the fact that he was speaking not of 99 per cent, of the lads who are going to be conscripted under this Bill, but of the class of lads who come before the Selection Board of which he spoke. They do not belong to the working classes; they come from the public schools and are lads who, from the date of their birth, have never known what it was to lack ample nutrition. He must be aware of the fact, from his educational experience, that the stature of these lads of four inches higher on the average and their weight twelve pounds more than the average weight of lads of the working classes. I would like to point out to him the different circumstances that exist today as compared with the circumstances that existed when these lads were anxious to enter the Army. They did not enter to engage immediately in a war; therefore one could quite well understand—
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It does not materially affect my point. His experience is derived from a class of lads quite different from the class of lads who, in the main, are going to be conscripted under this Bill. Hon. Members opposite must have had cases brought to their notice of the very serious effects, both physical and mental, which the experience of trench warfare has had upon these young lads. These 553 young lads are much more impressionable than are older men. I have a case here, to which some public attention has already been directed, of a lad who enlisted in the East End of London at the age of eighteen and a half years. After a comparatively short training he was sent to the front. I have here copies of quite a considerable number of letters the lad wrote home to his mother at various dates from July of last year down to the end of January of this year. They are the letters not of a man, but of a boy. I do not know what the boy was physically, but every line in these letters indicates that they were written by a person whose mind was quite immature. What has happened to this boy? On 15th January, 1916, his mother received a letter from the Infantry Record Office, Hounslow, as follows:—I regret to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect that—11th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, G.S., is ill at 38th Field Ambulance, France, suffering from wounds and shock (mine explosion).Letters were written to the mother asking her not to worry about him. It appears that this lad proved to be well enough, in the opinion of the military authorities, to go back to the trenches. The letters began again. The last letter from the lad is dated 26th January—that is, not less than a month after the mother had been notified by the Army authorities that he was in hospital suffering from nerve shock due to a mine explosion. There was dead silence for some weeks, and then this letter came to the father:Sir,—I am directed to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect that No.—Private—of the 11th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, G.S., was sentenced after trial by court-martial to suffer death by being shot 'for desertion,' and the sentence was duly executed on the 20th March, 1916.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant (signed) P. G. Hendley, 2nd Lieut.-Col. I.C., Infantry Records, Hounslow, 8th April, 1916.I have been repeatedly told from the Treasury Bench that no lad under twenty-one years of age is shot. This lad was shot, although the evidence goes to prove that his physical condition, and probably his mental condition, had been so much affected by the experiences through which he had passed that he was incapable of standing the continued strain of his military duties. It is to this that you are exposing these lads of eighteen. I have had brought to my notice quite a number of cases where lads of eighteen have deserted because they were not sufficiently developed—physically and mentally—to stand the terrific strain of the conditions of modern warfare. Many of the hon. 554 Members who have taken part in the Debate upon this Amendment have said that our Allies and Germany are calling to the Colours and sending to active service boys of eighteen. I would expect hon. Members opposite to be more up-to-date in their facts, especially the readers of the "Times" newspaper, and even more especially never to miss what the military expert of the "Times" writes. There was an extremely interesting article by that gentleman published in the "Times" yesterday. He was dealing with the question of the proposed conscription of boys of eighteen. He gave practically no support to it. What he said, in effect, was that it could only be justified under extreme military necessity. I mention that article because he said that not one prisoner taken from the Germans had been found to be under twenty-one years of age. That is in flat contradiction of the statement, which has been so often repeated in the course of this Debate, that lads of seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen are fighting in the enemy forces.
So much for some of the arguments which have been advanced. The previous Military Service Bill was justified on the ground that the Prime Minister had made a promise that if there remained more than a negligible number of single men as shirkers compulsion should be applied to them. On what ground is this Bill justified? We know the agitation of the attested married men, and we know that the burden of their cry has been, "There are married shirkers still unattested, therefore conscript them," and it is in order to carry out that demand that this Bill has in the main been introduced, to get in the married shirkers, to get in the outstanding shirkers, men, mainly of military age, who have been given the opportunity either of volunteering or of coming under the Derby scheme and have not done so. But by no conceivable use of the term can lads who have only just reached the age of eighteen be called shirkers, and yet this Bill is going to place these lads in the same position as those to whom this opprobrious epithet of shirkers has been applied. Axe these boys needed on the ground of military necessity? We have been told more than once—I am betraying no secret of the Secret Session when I mention—that there are supposed to be something like 1,200,000 unattested married men, and the present advice of the Army Council is that they need but 200,000 more to carry them on for some- 555 thing like six months, and therefore there will remain 1,000,000 of the unattested married men still not called to the Colours. Why should it be necessary, therefore, to conscript what has been called the new crop of military age while you are leaving something like 1,000,000 men between the ages of nineteen and forty-one? On that ground the proposal of the Government to start the age so low as eighteen cannot for a single moment be defended.
There are a good many other reasons. I, like all Members of the House, have had letters in regard to this Bill, and it was the hon. Member (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), who left the House immediately after he had made his speech, who taunted those who are in oposition to the Bill with not representing the views of the constituencies for which they sit. I do represent the views of my Constituency on this question, and I have done what many supporters of this Bill have not yet had the courage to do. I have gone down to public meetings in my Constituency to speak upon this question, and I have never had one letter or one postcard from the Constituency protesting against my opposition. I have never had one letter, one postcard or one Resolution in support of the Bill. Therefore, if any man can speak with the authority of his Constituency upon this question I can. This Bill has been received throughout the country with consternation in regard to many of its proposals, but no proposal has created such a feeling of horror as that to conscript the boy-life of the country. What does that very respectable organ of Toryism, the "Morning Post," say about this? This proposal appears to be even too much for the "Morning Post." It had a leading article a day or two ago on the various proposals of the measure, and in dealing with this proposal to take boys of eighteen it said:The fourth proposal is to apply compulsion to youths of eighteen. It seems that the War is to be fought by striplings, while their elders stay at home.That is precisely what the Bill proposes to do. The proposal of the Government is to leave the 1,200,000 unattested married men and to call these lads to the Colours at once, and these lads are to be conscripted by their leaders here. I never in my life saw a spectacle which appeared to me to be so contemptible as that of men here in this House, some barely over military age, talking with great vigour and a great show of patriotism, as the hon. Mem- 556 ber did, about conscripting other people to do the fighting for them. The "Morning Post" goes on:If by this time the Government do not understand that boys of nineteen with a year's training are not fit for modern warfare they must be blind indeed. But lads of eighteen, like the time-expired man, have no vote.There is just one other aspect of the question to which I should like to refer. Partial reference has already been made to it. I think in the conduct of this War we are apt to sacrifice the future for the present. We shall have to live as a nation after this War. Certain members of the Government are already advocating a continuation of war with Germany after the present war is over. It has to be carried into the field of industry. How are you going to continue that war unless you have the men prepared to carry it on? I do not approve of it, but you are not training men now, if you are going to take away lads of eighteen, to be fit to carry on the commercial competition which will be necessary after the War. We might copy some things from Germany, and I think this is one of them. I had a letter the other day from a man who seemed to be well informed upon the matter about which he wrote. I do not know whether it is accurate or not, but from what we know of Germany it is not unlikely to be true. He said that all the lads who had been engaged in preparation for a scientific career before the war broke out had been recalled from the Army and put back in the schools and colleges. It is not at all unlikely that Germany is doing that. That has been done, I understand, since the announcement was made by the Government that we were going to continue the economic war after the present War is over. I had a very peculiar case bearing upon this matter submitted to me the other day. This was the son of a working man. He was a very brilliant boy He had worked his way up from the board school, through the grammar school to the Manchester University, and he produced testimonials from the professors and teachers of the university speaking of his ability in the highest possible terms. This lad was a little over eighteen years of age. He appealed to the local tribunal for exemption under the provision of the Act which enables tribunals to give exemption in order that the educational course may be completed. That lad might have been, had he been permitted to continue his education, of enormous service to the country in the near future. But was that tribunal 557 as wise as Germany is said to be just now? No. The tribunal decided that it would be better in the national interests that that lad should be taken away from his scientific training and made a conscript soldier. That is by no means an isolated case. A great many of these lads would be far better employed if they were allowed to continue their industrial, their professional, or their technical courses of education than if they are to be taken as conscripts into the Army. After all, their number is not very large. The number you are going to get by maintaining this provision in the Bill cannot in any conceivable circumstances make the dfference between victory and defeat. For all these reasons I heartily support the Amendment which is before the Committee, and I shall have the greatest possible pleasure in registering my vote in the Division Lobby in support of it.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I desire very earnestly to support the Amendment which has been moved, and which has been supported in so powerful a speech by the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden), who, I think, profoundly moved the Committee in many passages of a very notable contribution to the Debates on this Bill. I was amazed at one argument which was used with great vigour by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Glasgow University (Sir H. Craik) and there was an echo of the same argument in other speeches. What was that argument? It was that because boys of eighteen or less than eighteen years of age were eager and willing to fight that we were doing great injustice to them, and casting a slur upon them, even in venturing to discuss this question in the House of Commons. I never heard an argument that appeared to me to be more preposterous. English boys—boys all over the world—are brave, adventurous, and chivalrous. Nothing appeals to them so much as the opportunity for adventure, but because a boy is adventurous, chivalrous and brave the suggestion that we should be willing to assent to whatever these lads wish and not consider what is best for them and what is best for the nation, is, I think, a policy worthy of Bedlam and a policy which embodies the economics of Bedlam. It is a principle of very great magnitude that is involved. I have not heard in any speeches I have listened to any reference to the extent of the principle involved. If hon. Members who support the Bill as it stands will take 558 the trouble to refer to the last Census Returns taken in 1911, they will find that each year about 380,000 boys in this Kingdom attain the age of eighteen, or more than 1,000 boys every day on an average. When it is remembered how enormous these figures are, the seriousness and the gravity of the problem becomes much greater, because these 380,000 boys are feeding the whole industrial as well as the professional life of the entire nation. Yet you are cutting off in a drastic, automatic, arbitrary manner the spring which alone can keep the main stream of national life in this country in a healthy and vigorous condition. At one end of the social scale you take boys of eighteen who are still at school preparing for expert occupations in life, preparing to become doctors and preparing for the other highly skilled occupations of life, and at the other end of the social scale you take the boys who are already engaged in skilled industries, and who are in the way of becoming expert workmen. Therefore, you automatically destroy both aspects of the national life of the nation, those occupations requiring men of expert training and those occupations requiring skilled manual and mechanical training.
This is a most serious problem. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for India is going to make any further reply on behalf of the Government to the arguments that have been set forth since the President of the Local Government Board spoke, but if he does it will be no good for him to tell us that all these considerations will be taken into account by the tribunals which have been set up under the previous Act, because we now have an ample experience as to how these tribunals work. We know that they are unsatisfactory, prejudiced, partial, ignorant, and in no sense judicial bodies. They are a disgrace to this country, and when the War is over they will stink in the nostrils of the nation. I could give the Government many instances of the way they have acted in this connection. I have made it my business to be present at the sittings of these tribunals. I have heard chairmen and members of tribunals tell applicants that their business is not to listen to them, but to get men for the Army, and these are judicial bodies appointed to carry out the provisions of an Act of Parliament. I have heard applications made to these tribunals on the very grounds that were set forth to-night—
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I will endeavour not to transgress your ruling. We are told in justification of this age limit of eighteen, that there is a provision in the principal Act that each tribunal may grant exemption on the ground that a youth of eighteen is engaged following his education, in preparation for some profession, and that it is better for the nation that he should continue his education. Cases have been put on those grounds. I myself heard a case put in which a lad a little over eighteen, who was actually at the university, who was preparing for his final examination in order to enter into the profession of education, and who was also certified by the Army Medical Board to be unfit for general service and fit only for light clerical work—I heard that application put directly on this point to a certain tribunal. The chairman of that tribunal said that these things did not interest him or the tribunal, that their business was to get men for the Army; and the application on those grounds was refused. So it will be of no use for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India to tell us that we are protected by the tribunals and that the tribunals will weigh these considerations, because we know that the tribunals will do no such thing, for, as they are the same men now as they were when the original Act was passed, we can expect no improvement.
The case for this Amendment has been made out in the national interest. It has also been made out in the interest of the boys themselves. To me, if one part of this Bill could be more repulsive than another—the whole of it is repulsive to me, and I do not seek to hide my desire to kill it by every means in my power—but if one part of this Bill is more repulsive to me than another, is more horrible than another, it is this proposal to take each year these 380,000 children and send them into the Army. I believe that that is not only wrong in itself, that it is not only wrong for aged Members of Parliament to send these children to be killed at the War, but I believe that it is something which the State has no right to do. I believe that this provision, if it remains in the Bill, though it may receive legal sanction, will have no manner of moral sanction behind it. I believe that it is resented bitterly throughout the length and breadth 560 of this country, and I believe that the policy for which it stands will be attended by great disaster.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NIELD
We have listened to two very violent speeches, and if it were not for the fact that one knows intimately the workings of some of the Appeal Tribunals, I should not have attempted to interfere in this Debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "We know yours, too!"] The hon. Member for Blackburn says that he knows mine. Would it surprise him to be told that the very educational cases which he has just dealt with have been dealt with by me, and exemptions have been given for the purpose of completing the education, but that when the case was taken to the Appeal Tribunal, the Central Tribunal of all, the decision has been reversed? Is it a Daniel come to judgment, that the Member for Blackburn and the Member for Lanark should sit here and talk about the tribunals in the way they have done? They "stink," I heard the Member for Lanark say. I consider the expression a highly desirable Parliamentary one. As regards the hon. Member for Lanark, possibly as he has just attained the age of forty-one—
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg your pardon. You need not be inaccurate in your reference to me. That statement is untrue.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I do not care where the hon. Member takes it from; I tell him that it is untrue. I suppose that I ought to know.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member who is now in possession of the Committee must accept this statement of the hon. Member for Lanark.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I tell the hon. Member that it is untrue. Does he suppose that if the reference were true, that if I were twenty or thirty, it would make the slightest difference in my action in this House?
§ Mr. NIELD
Except that you would not be here. However, I do not propose to go further into this except to say that if the two hon. Members who have referred to the tribunal in the terms which they have used would just take a little pains themselves in the public interest to investigate these cases for four or five hours night after night, let me tell them that without exception, so far as I have seen, in the application for leave to appeal the would be appellants have been kind enough to state they, have all received a courteous and full consideration at the hands of the tribunal over which I have the honour to preside.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
I have allowed the hon. and learned Member to make these references, as I have let in some references to the tribunals that I ought not to have done, but this must be taken as closing the references to the tribunals on this Amendment.
§ Mr. NIELD
Most willingly I accept your ruling. It is a very distasteful subject, and I leave it—distasteful because of the gross misrepresentations which have been indulged in in reference to them. I feel that the instance given by the Member for Blackburn is a very serious one. I feel that it has very considerably affected me—
§ Mr. NIELD
That a lad of eighteen should be called upon to face a firing party for desertion, and still more so in the case of an admitted shock due to a mine explosion. I am bound to say that that is a thing which ought never to have occurred, and I hope sincerely that the military authorities will have such an investigation into the circumstances as to make it absolutely impossible for anything of the sort to happen again. When one remembers that that penalty is only exacted for the most atrocious crime in civil life and the most serious crime in civil life, I venture to think that the case ought to be fully investigated and that we ought never in any circumstances to have a repetition of it. I feel that the age limit which has been arrived at by the Government and imposed by the Act passed in 562 March ought not to be altered. But I think that no young lad of eighteen ought to be sent into the firing line; he ought to be kept in training and his military proficiency should be advanced during those months in order that if he does come, either at the age of nineteen or shortly afterwards, into the field, he should be able to do his duty much more effectively. I feel that I cannot oppose the Resolution come to by the Government fixing this age, especially having regard to the ages which are prevalent among the other armies, but I should hope sincerely that no attempt will be made to utilise those men until they have had a prolonged period of training and that, at any rate, they should be nineteen before they are called on to face the enemy.
§ Colonel GREIG
In regard to the remarks which have fallen from the hon. Member for Blackburn, I think it was a deplorable incident to which he referred; but it is only fair to the military authorities to say—not because I am connected with them in any way except being an officer who has something to do with training depots to which these lads come—to state what are the facts. We have had a good deal of exaggerated language coming from Members below the Gangway about these lads. I only wish I could take the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) to see some of these "children," as he called them, and he would soon discover, if he tried his strength against them, that they were anything but children. What has been the history of the advent of these youths into the Army and their use at the front? When the War broke out in 1914—I take the Territorial Force as an instance because it is very much more typical of what did occur at that time as the age of enlistment in that force was seventeen years, and there were large numbers of lads in the force being trained at the moment the War broke out—certain units were appealed to as to undertaking Imperial service obligations, and they honourably undertook that service, a large number of them going abroad at that time, she effect of that was seen very soon. There were many cases of deplorable breakdowns in health; their strength could not stand it. The authorities did not close their eyes to the fact, and, as soon as it became apparent what was taking place, an order was issued by the War Office, and the officers in charge of drafting units are the people who see that it is executed.
563 I can assure the House that there has been no more anxious work than that of dealing with these lads. We found that large numbers of them had come in and described themselves as over the age though they were under age, and it was frequently discovered that they had done this with the connivance of their parents. I have myself known such cases, and I have given them in the House on a previous occasion. In many cases the entrance of these boys into the Army relieves the parents of their maintenance, as the lads get an income much earlier than they would otherwise have done. What happened? The order issued by the War Office was that commanding officers, in drafting out men, should be extremely careful not to draft them out until they were nineteen, and I can assure the House that all those responsible for the administration of that order have done everything they can to see it carried out. The boys are put into the drafts, their age being unknown to the commanding officer, except the age of enlistment. Then at the last moment a letter may come from the parents of a boy —perhaps recoiling from their own connivance—stating that he is under age. What does the commanding officer do? He asks every boy who comes before him his age, and in nearly every instance the lad owns up.
§ Colonel GREIG
The War Office does not send the lads. What the War Office does is to say that a draft is to be got ready to go to the front. The commanding officer wires that there are so many men available and ready, and then comes the order to send them to the front. If the commanding officer has done his duty, he has had these lads before him, and he eliminates the men who are under nineteen years of age. What harm is there in that? What harm can there be to boys of eighteen? These boys of eighteen, after their training, really turn out to be the finest soldiers, even finer than older men, who are frequently sent to the front after a short training. These boys who come in at eighteen are trained until they are nineteen, and thus they become the finest soldiers that the country can have. There is talk about these 350,000 boys. Supposing 350,000 boys were of the age this year, and were cut out of 564 the Bill, they would not be ready to take the field until late in 1917, when we hope the War will be over. If they come in now they will be available somewhere about nineteen. The hon. Member for Blackburn said something about drawing a distinction between boys coming from the better class and boys coming from the poorer class. My own experience is that the boys coming from the lower social classes benefit immeasurably from the training they get. The change which takes place in some of these lad after constant exercise in the open air, with proper feeding and physical training, is remarkable, and their being brought under this Bill at the age of eighteen will do them no harm whatever. We all regret, of course, that we have got to do this, but in my opinion no harm will arise from taking the boys at this age, especially if we are careful to see that the Regulation is conformed to, and if it is impressed upon commanding officers that boys should not be sent out until they have got to the age of nineteen. I am perfectly certain that the country will be better off if the boys are dealt with in this way.
§ Mr. WING
I have listened with great interest to this Debate, and it seems to me that among some Members below the Gangway we have had the commencement of a new method by which to destroy the whole Bill. The Member for Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) let the cat out of the bag, for he said he not only hated this part of the Bill but he hated the whole Bill, and he would do his best to kill it. When those hon. Members deal with the time-expired service man they say, "Oh, they have done their time"; when they come to the lads they say, "Oh, they are children"; when they come to the married men they say, "Oh, they are too old"; and the final result will be that when we have no Army in the field they will make an appeal to Germany and say, "We have done our very best in the field, and we are tired of the War." In every argument they have used against the Bill they endeavour to show that everything depends upon the youth of eighteen, and every argument they have used in regard to the education and physical point of view applied to boys of eighteen equally applies to boys of nineteen. I submit that the Government had better stand by the age of eighteen as embodied in the Bill, rather than allow those who are determined to destroy this Bill an opportunity to do so piecemeal.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I wish to enter my protest against what has been said by the hon. Member who has just sat down. I, for one, do not deserve the taunt that I desire to destroy the Bill, and leave us without an Army against Germany. I repudiate with some indignation the insinuation made against me.
§ Mr. ESSLEMONT
I have had probably a larger experience than most Members of this House in regard to questions affecting some of the lads who have enlisted under misstatements of their age. In some cases they were under nineteen years of age when they were sent to the front. The first instance to which I wish to refer was that of a lad who was only sixteen years of age, and who had made a misstatement of his age. His father wrote to the commanding officer forwarding him the lad's birth certificate, and he got no satisfactory reply. He appealed to me. I was acting on behalf of the hon. Member for Kincardineshire (Captain Murray), and I wrote to the commanding officer calling his attention to the King's Regulation in which it is clearly set out that immediately a birth certificate is produced by the parent or guardian showing that the boy is under seventeen it is the duty of the commanding officer to immediately proceed to have him discharged. The reply I received from the commanding officer was to the effect that probably he would be discharged. One would have expected that the commanding officer would really know the King's Regulation, that it was his duty to immediately have the boy discharged.
My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Greig), who I am sure as a commanding officer has acted conscientiously, told us just now that boys who are under military age are not sent to the front. I will give him an instance of an important case in which I will not mention names. It was that of a company formed in connection with a public school and which included boys of sixteen and seventeen. My hon. and gallant Friend said that it was the habit in the Territorial Force to accept lads of seventeen for Home service. I went to visit some of these boys when they were in the South of England. I took the opportunity of having an interview with the commanding officer. I referred to the case of these lads and expressed the view that they should not have been mobilised at all, but allowed to continue their educational and other work 566 and required to devote part of their time to military training. The commanding officer said that those boys would not be sent away. The next thing I heard, only a few days afterwards, was that the commanding officer paraded the whole battalion, delivered a speech, quite a patriotic speech, and invited all the men and boys in the battalion to volunteer for foreign service. I would have no cause for complaint if in making that appeal he had clearly and distinctly said that it must be understood that he did not expect any lad under nineteen years of age to make application for foreign service. He did nothing of the sort. He asked those willing to volunteer to slope arms, and of course the majority of the boys sloped arms along with the older men. I thought this was rather an extraordinary thing after the representations I had made and the assurances he had given me. I wrote respectfully calling attention to the matter, and asked him how it had come about. He said, "I acted on instructions from Headquarters."
I think if such cases as those happen we may be excused if we have a feeling of distrust, or, at all events, of uneasiness regarding the assurances which are given in this House by the military authorities. When this Bill was introduced the other day a Member of the Government assured the House that although these lads were being called up at the age of eighteen they would, under no circumstances, be asked to undertake foreign service until they reached the age of nineteen. Probably I have had more experience of these cases than most Members, because I have been looking after the interests of two other constituencies in addition to my own, in consequence of the Members for those constituencies being engaged on military work. If I call attention to the matters and produce birth certificates and send them to the War Office and point out that a mistake has been made, what answer will I get? They will say that the matter is out of their hands, and that the lad is abroad on foreign service. I am bound to say that I have not received the satisfaction which I think I was entitled to demand with regard to these boys. I protest against the action of the military authorities in regard to this matter.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
On a point of order. May I ask whether the administration of the War Office has anything to do with this Amendment?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It is rather difficult to draw the line, but I take it that the intention of the hon. Member's remarks is to show that lads of eighteen should not be conscripted for the purpose of the Army. I think I am justified in directing the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he really is going rather deeply into the question of War Office administration, which should be dealt with either by question and answer or by discussion on the Army Estimates.
I am sure I am the last man who would wish to introduce any subject that was irrelevant, or out of order. It does seem to me that the remarks which I addressed to the House were very pertinent. The only reason why I have risen is that I thought in regard to these immature lads we ought really to have some specific assurance from the Government, and particularly from those connected with the War Office, that commanding officers would be informed that they were on no account to have these lads sent on foreign service, and that if they did so it would be regarded as a breach of the Order.
I express regret if I have trespassed in any way against the rules of order. My position is this, that unless we have some more definite assurance from the War Office that lads of eighteen who are brought in under this Bill will not on any account be sent abroad until they reach nineteen, I must support the Amendment.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I do not propose to reply in detail to all the arguments to which I have listened in the course of the last hour. I rise to give the assurance that has been asked for by my hon. Friend who has just sat down. The Army Council do not want lads under nineteen to go abroad. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Greig) has given the Committee some idea of the way in which various commanding officers approach the difficult question as to whether men are of the right age or not. He has pointed out that it lies within the discretion of the commanding officer to take those steps which will enable him to 568 decide how the orders of the Army Council may best be carried out. The orders of the Army Council on this matter are explicit. They do not want lads under nineteen to go abroad. It rests with the commanding officers to take the necessary steps to see that these orders are carried out. Many of them do so. [An HON. MEMBER: "What if they do not?"] Who says "They do not"?
§ Mr. L. JONES
We have had many cases brought to our notice where these young men have been sent abroad. We are constantly getting letters from parents and others. What steps do the Army Council take in the event of the commanding officers not seeing to this matter?
§ Mr. FORSTER
In many instances, as my hon. Friend knows perfectly well, it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain what a boy's real age is. You have the statement that the boy makes on enlistment; you have his physical appearance and development. When I was seventeen it would have been a puzzle to a great many people to say that I was not of proper military age.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I quite grant that cases have occurred in which birth certificates have been produced, and it has been proved that boys were under age. My hon. Friend asks why, under those circumstances, such a boy has not been discharged.
§ Mr. FORSTER
It has been explained over and over and over again by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then what is my hon. Friend going to do? Because he is not satisfied in a minority of cases he is going to insist upon the lower limit of age being raised from eighteen to nineteen. If he had seen the development of the boys who are taken into the Army at eighteen, and even younger, as they have been during the past two years, I do not think he would advocate the course that he is pursuing now. What my hon. Friend the Member for the Mansfield Division wants, I understand, is an assurance that, as far as the 569 Army Council are able to secure it, although boys are taken into the Service at eighteen, they shall not be sent abroad before they are nineteen.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I never said anything of the kind. All that I have asked for from the commencement is that boys should not be sent abroad until they reach the age of eighteen. What I object to is sending to the front boys of fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then I gather that my hon. Friend does not support the Amendment before the Committee. What I rose to do was to endeavour to satisfy the Committee that, as far as the Army Council are concerned, their wish is that boys should not be sent out of the country until they are nineteen, and that they will take all the steps necessary to secure that end.
§ Mr. RADFORD
The Financial Secretary has given an explanation and made an official justification of the acts of the Army Council and of the commanding officers. I do not deny that there is intelligence, good feeling, and humanity, on the part of commanding officers and of the Financial Secretary, but I assert that those good qualities do not extend to the extremities or produce good results. I would like to cite a case within my own knowledge—I could give many, but I will give only one—a case concerning one of my own Constituents. It is that of a boy who enlisted at the age of sixteen. I am afraid that he made a false statement in doing so, and I do not exonerate him for that. He was called to the Colours, sent to the front, went into action, and was shot dead before he attained the age of seventeen. That is the kind of thing that happens under the present system.
§ Mr. RADFORD
He enlisted. I do not say that the boy was not to blame for making a false statement, but I do say that that sort of thing ought not to occur. It is a matter for the Army Council and the Regulations to prevent.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)
On a point of Order. The hon. Member's case is that of a boy not within the purview of this Bill who volunteered and was accepted wrongly. How can that be germane to the Question before the Committee?
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Before you give your ruling, Sir, are you aware that these boys were deliberately asked by the recruiting sergeants to come back the following day and make a false statement as to their age?
§ Sir J. SIMON
If in support of the Bill as it stands it is argued that it is safe to rely on an assurance given in the name of the Army Council, is it not relevant for hon. Members to cite instances which go to show that such an assurance was not sufficient?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It depends on the way in which the hon. Member uses his illustration as an argument against the proposal of the Bill. I must watch as well as I can how far that argument develops into criticism of War Office administration as distinguished from argument against the Bill.
§ Mr. RADFORD
My instance was intended to show that as the law stands it frequently happens—probably every hon. Member knows it from his own experience and correspondence—that boys not of military age are sent to the front, and when an Amendment is before the Committee with the object of putting an end to such distressing, deplorable, and infamous cases as that which I have cited, I regard such an instance as an argument in favour of raising the age so as to make it more difficult for these cases to recur. The Financial Secretary told us that the military authorities will give us this, that, and the other assurance, that boys will not be sent abroad until they are nineteen. With all respect to the Army Council and the Army authorities, I do not attach any importance to that undertaking. In view of what is happening daily we have no guarantee whatever that that assurance will be carried out in practice. We have grave reason to doubt whether it will ever be carried out. We have grave reason to suppose that these atrocious cases will occur again and again. For my part I will be no party to any such business, and I shall support the Amendment whatever happens.
§ Colonel CHALONER
As one who was a member of the military forces of this country at the age of eighteen, forty-two years ago, and who still holds a commission in the Army, I want to say a word on this question. As far as I can make out, the argument of hon. Members below the Gangway entirely rest upon exceptions. On the other hand, my hon. and gallant 571 Friend spoke from practical experience, and I can bear out his practical experience to an even greater extent. He said that in his regiment they asked the age of every single individual, and unless they were assured that a man was at least nineteen he was not allowed to go to the front. In my regiment they go further still. Every lad joining that regiment is asked by the commanding officer personally, or whoever is acting for him, what is his age, and unless he assures us that he is twenty years of age he is not allowed to go on the list for a draft. These are practical examples. What is done in that regiment I am quite certain is done in others. I admit there are cases. I know one myself in my own regiment where the age was put down as a great deal less than it really was. These are the exceptions. The general rule is that no lad is allowed, as I have said, in the case of my own regiment, to go until he is twenty. If, however, there was any doubt in the mind of any hon. Member of this House upon the question, what was said by the hon. Member for Blackburn must have dispersed that doubt. He made a statement, and gave figures, showing that the sons of working men were so many inches shorter in stature and so many pounds less in weight on an average than the sons of well-to-do and, therefore, better-nurtured parents. That is the strongest argument in favour of this age of eighteen, because it means that the very men who, according to the hon. Member for Blackburn, are lower in stature, less in weight, and are not so well nurtured, will have a whole year in which these defects may be made good, so that by the age of nineteen they may be developed into fine stalwart men fitted to go out and take their place amongst their fellow men.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I served for some considerable period providing drafts to send out to France. I should like to describe what happens. Undoubtedly, in the earlier days of the War, there was less care taken, and the exceptions, which had been made so much of by supporters of the present Amendment, occurred frequently. But the orders of the Army Council now are absolutely explicit. No man, whatever his physical development may be, has to go out until he is nineteen years of age. Those orders are carried out in this way: Every man taken out for a draft has to pass a physical and a medical examination. The medical officer who con- 572 ducts that examination is ordered to put on one side the young man who has any doubt about his age. When the man is passed he is sent for for the examination of the commanding officer. If that examination be passed, the man has to be passed and approved by the General Officer who commands the formation of which the unit is a part. In the case of the unit in which I was concerned the examination was carried out according to these orders, and any man about whose age there was any doubt at all was required to produce a birth certificate. I can guarantee that during the time I was connected with that formation no man under the age limit went forward. There is a very good reason for this. Nobody at the front wants unfit men. They are simply an encumbrance to the Army. They go sick, lumber up the lines of communication, fill up the hospitals, and then have to be sent home. So there is a special inducement from every point of view to avoid sending out men who are not physically developed and who cannot stand the stress of the campaign. I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that if men of the character they suggest are sent to the front in any considerable numbers they come back very quickly, and complaints are raised by the commanding officers, and those responsible at home get to hear of the matter from, those in authority. Every care is taken now to see that things are right. I do not think there is any reason under present circumstances to increase the age in the way this Amendment proposes. The physical development of these young men seems much better after the Army training that has been referred to than that which they acquire in their civil occupations.
§ Mr. RENDALL
The hon. Member for Blackburn made a speech which moved a great many of us. But he rather made his speech on his general objection not only to this War, but to all wars. Of course, war is very terrible to anybody who may have to risk losing his life in it. But it has been decided that we require the men for the defence of this country, and I am bound to say, listening as I did with my usual admiration to the hon. Member for Blackburn, I did not see any strong argument which he used which at all differentiated the young man of eighteen from the young man of nineteen. So far as the educational question is concerned, I think it is pretty clear that if a 573 boy is leaving school either for college or for professional training you will not do more injury to him if you break into his educational career at eighteen than if you break into it at nineteen. I do not think that on that ground there is very much to be said in favour of the Amendment. It is certainly rather a miserable position to have men of over forty deciding about the employment of men of youthful age for the War. The ideal method of waging a war would be that a treaty should be made between all the nations of the earth that no man under forty should be allowed to wear military clothes. If you had war waged by that method you would probably not have war at all. Certainly we cannot have that, and we have to make the best of a rather bad world. Personally, with a Coalition Government which has, I think, the support and confidence of the great majority of the people of this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—I think it has. With a Coalition Government or a Committee of National Safety of twenty-three—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—Hon. Members may laugh, but it is a Committee of National Safety, and I believe the country thinks it is. When that Committee of National Safety comes to us and says: "We require further soldiers, and we must take boys of this age," I do not see how we in this House, or the people in the country, have any alternative except to turn out that Coalition Government or to accept its proposals. That is why I, although deeply regretting we should have to make use of boys of this age, do so. When the Government says it is necessary, as a loyal supporter I shall support them.
§ Mr. LONG
I do not rise to deal with the arguments about the various ages, because I said all I desire to say for the Government in the speech I made earlier in the evening. But I desire to point out that a great deal of the argument which has been addressed to the Committee is not really relevant to what we are debating, namely, the extension of compulsion as contained in this Bill. A previous Act of Parliament decided that lads of eighteen should be available, and that the military age should be forty-one That is a matter that Parliament has already decided. I respectfully submit to the Committee that if we are to debate at this length questions already decided that we shall not get on. This Bill, which is urgent, contains certain proposals which 574 have not been decided by Parliament. Some of them are novel. Parliament objected to the proposal which the Government made in the first instance. That was a proposal under which we postponed the taking of compulsory powers up to a fixed date; with this proviso: that during the interval—whilst, for instance, we were debating the new Bill in Parliament—we should have been recruiting, as we hoped, by voluntary methods, a certain number of men. Therefore the pressure was not so great as it is now. As has been said by many Members holding different views, the introduction of a compulsory Bill does of itself interfere with direct enlistment. We are now making definite proposals, which, as the hon. Member who spoke just now said in a speech with which I entirely agree, if I may be allowed to say so, not only have the support of the Coalition Ministry, not only are they endorsed by the unanimous opinion as strongly expressed as possible in the Army Council, but they have the double emphasis of Parliamentary sanction, because Parliament rejected a compromise, and passed by an overwhelming majority the Second Beading of this Bill, the fundamental principle of which is the adoption of the previous Act, and the application of it with our extended provisions.
I do earnestly ask the Committee to come to a decision. This Debate has run to a great length, and a great part of it has been devoted not to discussing our proposals, but the administrative action of the War Office. Cases have been given. I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn, but I know the case to which he referred naturally aroused the sympathies of the Committee, and will arouse the sympathies of the country. It is very easy to condemn the Army Council and the War Office. Nothing is simpler than to say the War Office do this and do that, and that they are wrong. Of course, they make mistakes; how can they do otherwise? Let the Committee remember, in justice to the War Office, what they are doing. Having been responsible for an Army of 300,000 or 400,000, they are now administering an Army counted by millions. They have their recruiting officers, and their commanding officers at depots spread all over the country. Many men have come into the Army who have been long out of it, or who were never in it before, and everybody is doing his best to do his duty to get men to the Colours and get them trained; and if mistakes are made, some of which result in tragedies 575 such as the hon. Member for Blackburn described, they may, and they ought, to serve as indications to us that there must be alterations in administration here or there, but they do not justify the wholesale condemnation of the Army Council or of the methods of the War Office.
Every effort is being made—I can answer for it—and will be made by the Adjutant-General, who is the member of the Army (Council mainly responsible for this branch of the War Office administration. Every effort is being made by him to stop these abuses, to prevent their recurrence, and to deal with injustice. He considers every case brought before him, and let the Committee remember they number sometimes hundreds. Many of these on investigation prove to be without real foundation. He cannot act unless he is satisfied they are well founded. He is doing, and his officials are doing, everything they can to administer the law with justice and see that these unfortunate occurrences do not take place. I earnestly beg the Committee to come to a decision upon this question. Everything has, I think, been said now for and against. Those who hold strong views on either side are not likely to convince each other. May we proceed to a Division now in order that we may get on with this Bill? Because we must get through Clause 1 if we are to place this Bill on the Statute Book in any reasonable time. The Army Council wants it. Every day it is postponed means a loss in the number of men we are getting and training for service. We want it for the prosecution of the War, and I do beg the Committee to come to a decision on this point.
§ Mr. MORTON
I am sorry to interfere at all with the arrangements of the President of the Local Government Board, but I have risen for a certain purpose, and if he had been courteous enough to me an hour or two back and had at once replied to the question I put to him I should not have needed to take up any time now. I am not going to reargue in any way the question of age. I am inclined to think nineteen is the wisest and safest age, and if there is a Division I shall vote for the Amendment; but I have risen to get some explanation and to settle the question about the refusal to take birth certificates, and even to look at them, as evidence as to the age of boys. I have had several cases where fathers have claimed that their sons should be sent home. They 576 have sent to me not only letters, but official birth certificates to prove the age of the boy concerned. But the authorities refuse to take them, and the only reason that has been given to me for not taking them is that they say they want to punish the boys for telling an untruth. Now that is an extraordinary state of things. If you are going to punish everybody connected with the Army for telling untruths, you will have a good deal to do. Now I do want to get this matter settled. It was the President of the Local Government Board who mentioned first to-night about the certificate not proving the age, otherwise I should not have intervened. In all business arrangements in this country, where it is necessary to prove age or anything of that sort, the production of an official certificate, for which you have to pay, settles the whole question as to the dates. Can I have an undertaking from the Government that they will put a stop to this practice of refusing to take the certificate, the only official evidence one can get? It ought certainly not to be any reason for punishing the boy for telling an untruth.
I myself have not occupied unnecessary time, and I think the President of the Local Government Board was very unwise, and very unfair, to-night when he refused to allow me to intervene and get the question answered at once. For the last twenty or twenty-one months I have endeavoured to act in a better spirit towards the Government. I have refrained from putting questions practically, or making speeches, because I was determined to support the Government, not because I liked the Government, but because they were the Government, and the Coalition Government, and I determined to support them to put an end to the War, and I carried that out as honestly as possible. I should like the President of the Local Government Board to act as near as he possibly can to that spirit. He got up just now to make an appeal to us to get on with the business, but if he did not take up so much time himself, there would be more time left for me. I do not know whether he is going to answer this question, or whether it will be answered, but I do say it is a question which ought to be cleared up, and the officials who are concerned in the matter ought to be informed that when an official certificate is produced, that is the best evidence you can get as to what the age of the person concerned is. I do not want to interfere unnecessarily with the officials, and I have 577 always done my best to settle these questions without coming to this House, but I want a matter of this sort settled, because it is impossible to answer the parents properly, and I am asking to have it settled in the only place in which I have a chance of doing so.
§ Mr. HOLT
Before the Committee goes to a Division I should like to draw attention to a rather important misrepresentation which the President of the Local Government Board has just made, I am sure quite unintentionally. He told us that, with regard to the previous Bill, Parliament had settled the military age at eighteen years, but that is quite inaccurate. What Parliament settled was that it was to apply to persons who were eighteen previous to the 14th of August before the Act was passed. The Act was passed in January, and therefore those persons at that time were only eighteen years and five months old, and the Act did not come into force until March. By the first Act no person could be brought into military service who was less than eighteen years and six months old, but under this Bill a person can be subjected to military service when he is eighteen years and one month old. I do not think anybody can dispute that statement. Under this Bill the age for military service is lowered by six months. I am quite sure that my right ton. Friend did not mean to misrepresent the facts to the House, but I do think that lie did so when he said that Parliament had settled that eighteen years was the minimum age, because that was what had not been settled in the previous Bill. I think the House will quite easily realise that bringing in these boys under military service at eighteen is one of the worst features of this Bill. The Committee ought to refuse to admit this lowering of the age, and, if we cannot have nineteen, let us have at least the same law as we had in the last Bill.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I rise to draw attention to the very point which has been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt). I think there is general agreement in the House that boys should not be sent abroad until they are nineteen years of age. I cannot see why the Government do not accept eighteen and a half years which was the age in the previous Act, because that would permit the boys to be ready for service after six months' training at the age of nineteen. [An HON. MEMBER: 'That is not 578 enough!"] I think it would meet the case, and it would have the great advantage of keeping the boys at work for another six months. It is the worst possible course to lower the age, and take these immature boys for military service. I think it would meet the general feelings of the House and what the Government requires if you take these boys at eighteen and a-half years. Hon. Members have spoken of the boys who have already joined before they were eighteen or nineteen. Of course, all boys are eager to join the Army and to get the opportunity, and it is not true that the boys are hanging back. I would like to point out, however, that the boys of seventeen and under who have gone are well-developed boys, but now that you are going in for compulsion it is much more important that you should begin at a higher age than under the voluntary system. You ought not to take boys by compulsion before they are at least eighteen and a-half years of age.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
For many months now I have brought this matter before the attention of the War Office, and let me make it clear that I have never asked in this House that any boys should be prevented from going to the front before he was eighteen years of age. The Secretary for War has probably received some hundreds of letters from me on this subject. I asked a question on the subject in this House, and I received letters from all over the country, asking me one question after another, and this avalanche of letters continued. My right hon. Friend knows that, in spite of all the official assurances he has given, and even the assurance he gave to me last week, that boys were not being sent to the front below the legal age, I have, nevertheless, received many letters, and I will send him next week quite a number of cases where parents have written me, saying that even after they had sent certificates of their boys to the Army doctor, and after they had an assurance that the boys would not be sent, nevertheless, they have been sent under the age of eighteen. On the tape this evening I notice a statement that the German Government have called to the Colours all boys up to the age of seventeen, and therefore it would be unwise for us to limit the number of men and reduce our numbers by some 300,000 annually, as would be the case if this Amendment were accepted. Therefore I 579 think the House will do well to reject this proposal, and on this occasion I shall vote with the Government.
What I wish to say to the Under-Secretary for War is that time after time the War Office have sent to the parents a lie. They write back and say the official age is nineteen, because that was the age given at the time the boy was attested or enlisted. Although they know that the official age of the boy when they had the birth certificate is only sixteen or seventeen, the War Office writes back saying his official age is nineteen, and the application cannot be acceded to. When this Bill passes we all want to get the maximum number of men for the Army. It may be that we shall have to follow the German practice and reduce the age to seventeen, but be that as it may, I can send numerous instances to my right hon. Friend where boys of fifteen and sixteen have been sent to the front. I ask the House to reject this Amendment, because we want these boys, seeing that Germany has reduced the age to seventeen, and the least the House of Commons can do is to take these boys of eighteen and see that they go to the front at the proper time. There is one further question which I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman: Do the restrictions he mentioned in his speech with regard to boys in the Officers' Training Corps also refer to boys in the Public Schools Training Corps?
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Member's question does not appear to me to deal with the men who are brought in under this Bill, but to be a matter of administration, referring to those who voluntarily attested. He had better put down a question and get an answer in that manner.
§ Mr. LONG
I did not deny the hon. Member's statement, nor did I deny him the opportunity of asking his question. On the contrary, I answered two questions of his. He repeated them a second time, but I did not think it was necessary to answer him a second time. I told him it was a question of administration, and, if these things occurred and he would communicate with me, I would convey the facts to the Adjutant-General and make it my business to see that the certificate of birth was taken as the official age. He wants something more. He wants these boys to be followed and recovered. That may be impossible.
§ Mr. MORTON
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. It was not my question about following these youths and recovering them.
§ Question put, "That the word 'eighteen' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 213; Noes, 52.581
|Division No. 6.]||AYES.||[10.8 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyne||Brunner, John F. L.||Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Bryce, John Annan||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Bull, Sir William James||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Burdett-Coutts, William||Denniss, E. R. B.|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Carew, C. R. S.||Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.|
|Astor, Hon. Waldorf||Cassel, Felix||Dixon, Charles Harvey|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Cator, John||Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Cautley, Henry Strother||Du Cros, Arthur Philip|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Edge, Captain William|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Fell, Arthur|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Clive, Captain Percy Archer||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson|
|Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.)||Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Finney, Samuel|
|Bathurst, Capt. C. (Wilts, Wilton)||Coats, Sir Stewart A. (Wimbledon)||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Fletcher, John Samuel|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||Forster, Henry William|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Foster, Philip Staveley|
|Bigland, Alfred||Coote, William||Galbraith, Samuel|
|Bowden, Major G. R. Harland||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Gilbert, J. D.|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford.|
|Boyton, James||Cory, James H. (Cardiff)||Grant, J. A.|
|Brace, William||Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Greig, Colonel James William|
|Brookes, Warwick||Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Gretton, John|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Craik, Sir Henry||Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones|
|Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Mackinder, Halford J.||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S.E.)||Macmaster, Donald||Rowlands, James|
|Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Rutherford, Sir John (Darwen)|
|Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Macpherson, James Ian||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)||Meysey-Thompson, Major E. C.||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Middlebrook, Sir William||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Haslam, Lewis||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Shortt, Edward|
|Hayward, Evan||Millar, James Duncan||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Liverpool)|
|Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Mills, Lieut. Arthur R.||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, W.R.)|
|Henderson, Lt.-Col. Hon. H. (Ab'don)||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Henry, Sir Charles||Money, S. L. G. Chiozza||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Morgan, George Hay||Steel-Maitland, A. D.|
|Hibbert, Sir Henry||Morison, Hector||Stewart, Gershom|
|Higham, John Sharp||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)|
|Hinds, John||Needham, Christopher T.||Sutherland, John E.|
|Hodge, John||Newdegate, F. A.||Swann, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E.|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Nield, Herbert||Sykes, Col. A. J. (Ches., Knutsford)|
|Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian)||Norman, Sir Henry||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Houston, Robert Paterson||Norton-Griffiths, J.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John|
|Hudson, Walter||Paget, Almeric Hugh||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Hume-Williams, William Ellis||Parker, James (Halifax)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Hunt, Major Rowland||Parry, Thomas H.||Tickler, T. G.|
|Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Touche, George Alexander|
|Illingnorth, Albert H.||Perkins, Walter Frank||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Ingleby, Holcombe||Pollard, Sir George H.||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Pollock, Ernest Murray||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Pratt, J. W.||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Watson, Hon. W.|
|Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Prothero, Rowland Edmund||Weston, John W.|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Larmor, Sir J.||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wiles, Thomas|
|Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Randles, Sir John S.||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H.||Worthington-Evans, Major L.|
|Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Rendall, Athelstan||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Colonel A. R.||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Younger, Sir George|
|Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Lowe. Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|M'Callum, Sir John M.||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Robinson, Sidney||Gulland and Mr. Bridgman.|
|Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Abraham, Rt. Hon. W.||Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Arnold, Sydney||Jowett, Frederick William||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Kenyon, Barnet||Snowden, Philip|
|Bliss, Joseph||King, Joseph||Sutton, John E.|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Lamb, Sir Ernest Henry||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Buxton, Noel||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Thomas, James Henry|
|Byles. Sir William Pollard||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Tootill, Robert|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Lundon, Thomas||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Devlin, Joseph||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Wardle, George J.|
|Dillon, John||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Esslemont, George Birnie||Morrell, Philip||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Glanville, Harold James||Outhwaite, R. L.||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Goldstone, Frank||Pringle, William M. R.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Radford, G. H.||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Harvey. T. E. (Leeds, West)||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|Hazleton, Richard||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Runciman, Sir Walter (Hartlepool)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Scanlan, Thomas||Hogge and Mr. Anderson.|
|John, Edward Thomas|
§ Mr. NIELD
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "years" ["eighteen years"], to insert the words "or who shall subsequently attain such age at any time during the continuance of the War."
The object of the Amendment is really only to make perfectly clear what the Government have stated over and over again to be their intention. I carefully 582 considered the point before I put down the Amendment, and my view was confirmed by what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) earlier in the afternoon, when he called attention to the fact that some such provision as this was necessary. I venture to submit that the Bill as it stands does not in fact cover this point, and I beg, therefore, to move my Amendment.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman would not deal effectively with the point he wishes to raise, because it applies only to the age of eighteen, whereas both the ages of eighteen and forty-one are intended to be covered. I hope, under the circumstances, the Amendment will not be pressed, and I can assure my hon. Friend we will deal with the point on the Report stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "forty-one," in order to insert instead thereof the words "forty-five."
I really hesitate to move the Amendment, but I will put its object before the Committee in a very few words. When the principal Bill was before the House I moved an Amendment of a like nature, and was told, in answer, that no increase of age could be accepted, in view of the pledge which had been given. Now the ground is cleared at any rate of this embarrassment, and we have the very simple question whether or not a man should be called upon to serve his country up to forty-five years, or whether, after forty-one years of age, he should be exempt. I am going to suggest that up to forty-five a man is not only fit to serve his country, but in some respects he is at his most useful age from that point of view. First of all, we have the fact that all our Allies and our enemies recruit from an age above forty-one. In every Allied Army and in the Army of the enemy people up to forty-five are taking their share and are fighting at the present time, and if we define our age at forty-one we stand alone among the Allies in excusing from service in the field those between forty-one and, I believe, forty-seven and forty-eight.
The next point is one that has been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench. It is an abundantly clear one, namely, that it is not everybody who goes into the trenches at the front. You need men at the bases in France. At Rouen or Havre there are shipments to be cleared and munitions to fee sent to the front. Then, when a regiment goes into the trenches, there are men who must remain behind at the base in connection with all the feeding and administrative 584 work of the regiment. Men between forty-one and forty-five can very well do that. It has this extra advantage, that if you employ those men for that work you free the younger men to go into the trenches. We all know, of course, that a man between forty-one and forty-five—an age which appears to fee about the prime of life—has not got the endurance to go into the trenches which you find in men of twenty or thirty, but then you need not send a man of forty-five to remain in the trenches for four or even three days. He can take his turn from time to time. Every day the man of forty-five goes into the trenches he relieves a man of younger age and enables him to go back to the base and get twenty-four hours' much-needed rest. It is idle to suggest that men of forty-one to forty-five are of no use in this War. They are of use, and I suggest that while we are at it, now is the time to include them.
I do not often find myself not in entire accord with anything that falls from my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), but I confess that I did not quite follow the suggestion he made to the Committee in connection with this question of raising the age, that you might introduce into this Bill a Clause providing that the age might, when necessity arises, be increased by a Resolution of the House. What is the advantage of that? What is the difference between a short Bill of a single Clause and a Resolution of the House? Both of them take about the same time. If the necessity does arise in the future, it can be dealt with equally well by a Bill of one Clause or a Resolution, but the result of it would be to give further delay, further consideration and a further accumulation of figures before such Resolution or Bill is ultimately passed. If it is a good thing, now is the time to accept it, not to postpone it to some future date, when either by Bill or Resolution the House is asked to consider the question.
There are still more men in the country, virile, active men, who ought to be at the front, and who, even under this Bill, will escape, a class of men not confined, I am afraid, to the boys of the country, who still find their most strenuous exercise in watching others play football, and reach their finest intellectual effort in following the comic pictures of the cinema. These are a class of men whom you ought relentlessly to bring in under your Bill. The more you extend 585 it in a wise direction the better for the purposes of the country. The need for these men is great. Of course, we shall be told the Army Council have decided that they want men only up to forty-one at present. Yes, but have not the Army Council stated only the bare necessities of the case. Cannot we go further than that? If we have them now they can go into the Special Reserve and will be trained, so that when the time comes they may be at the service of the country. If we are going to get them at all do not let us be for ever postponing. Do not let us wait for some future Bill or Resolution. Let us get them now, and let us leave it to the Army to determine what work they can do, when and up to what particular age they may be sent to the trenches or employed elsewhere. There is need for them. They will require training just as much as the boys of eighteen. No one can say men of forty-one to forty-five are not competent. The only objection I can see to this suggestion is that, if passed, it would deprive us in our Debates of some of our most promising young politicians who would have to go to the front and see for themselves instead of making speeches on the subject in this House. It would also, perhaps, deplete some of our London clubs of that large army of critics who love to sit in armchairs and conduct the War. Give those men of over forty-one and under forty-five the opportunity of getting a little practical experience of the things which they are talking about, and of going to the front to see whether the criticisms which they so freely offer to appreciative audiences have any substance in part and can be carried out in practice. For these reasons I submit this question is worth the attention of the Government, and I think it ought to be settled now.
§ Mr. LONG
I hope my hon. and learned Friend will not press this Amendment. I am very sorry he moved it. I have tried to explain what the attitude of the Government and the Army Council is. The Army Council agree as to this Bill, but I am not going to adopt the course he suggests. He talked as if the only thing we have to think of is men for the Army. He entirely ignores what this country has to think of before all our Allies, work which is at least as important as military service. No one can dispute what he says as to the eligibility of certain men over the age of forty-one for service at the front. On the other 586 hand, I do not care to whom he applies, whether it be to a general officer, an officer of lower rank, or a private, if he goes to any one of these men who have had experience of this great War, he will find that without, so far as I know, a single difference of opinion, the men they want are the men between eighteen and thirty-five. They are the men who stand this trench work best. How are we to get these men? We have got them by the voluntary method, which has been a tremendous success, and by the compulsory method which has been adopted as a necessity of many months of war. But we get them also in other ways. We get them by calling upon single young men to go to fight while the older men of the age which he wishes to bring into this Bill take their places in the factories and in the various classes of work that have to be done here. If you are going to diminish the supply of men for the work here you are not going to help us to get more and more suitable men for the Army. As time goes on, as I said this afternoon, in six months or twelve months, the condition of this country and of our forces in the field may be very different from what it is now. We are not driven, thank God, to our last man, nor anything like it. We are not driven to our last shilling. But we have said, and we mean what we say, that we will find our last man and our last shilling before we give in, and if that time ever comes—I do not think it will—I am confident that this House and the country will respond to the request of the Government. That time has not come now. This recommendation is made on the authority of the Government and on the authority of the Army Council, and it is one which is based not only upon our military requirements, but also upon what we believe to be our powers, subject to the demands upon us for all other purposes.
I was very sorry to hear my hon. and learned Friend talk as he did at the end of his speech about critics in the clubs and elsewhere who would be caught by his Amendment. I probably have as much experience of criticism as he has, and it struck me when, towards the end of his speech, he referred to critics that most of his speech was a criticism of the Army Council. I do not know that there are many men of forty-five, to whatever class they belong, who are to be found to-day sitting in armchairs doing nothing 587 but criticise. The vast majority of men are doing something. Most of them are serving in one way or another, either as regular soldiers, as recruiting officers, in our reserve training battalions, or in munition works, or in some other ways. I say, and I have had some opportunity of judging, that the vast majority of the men and women of this country are doing their utmost in the War, and are not indulging in the sort of criticism which my hon. and learned Friend rightly condemns. I do hope he will not press his Amendment, because I can assure him that he has no support for it either from the Government, who have to look at the whole question, or from the Army Council, who have to consider the military requirements.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I am sure the Committee has listened with much interest to the very splendid speech we have just had from the right hon. Gentleman. I confess that I listened to it with the utmost pleasure, because I hope the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to accept the Amendment standing in my name, which will reduce the age from forty-one to thirty-six. I took down the words used by the right hon. Gentleman in which he said that all the military authorities are agreed that the men they want at the front are the men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I took down the actual words. He said, "The men they want are the men between eighteen and thirty-five."
§ Mr. MORRELL
I apologise if I am wrong, but I understood him to say the men they want are the men between eighteen and thirty-five.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I thought it better to discuss my Amendment now and save time, rather than have it discussed later on.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Are we in order now in discussing a subsequent Amendment which does not arise on this Amendment?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question before the Committee is that forty-one stand part of the Clause. On that point the hon. Member is out of order.
§ Mr. MORRELL
If it is the wish of the Committee, I will discuss the question of forty-one now, rather than move another Amendment later. I would like to say why it seems to me that there are good reasons for, if anything, reducing the age rather than extending it. The hardship caused to the individual and the injury caused to the trade by including these older ones is out of all proportion to the military advantage. In the case of single men, the men over thirty-five years of age are of very little use for military purposes, and large numbers of them gain exemption on medical grounds; others gain exemption on domestic or financial grounds. In the case of married men, the number able to gain exemption from the tribunals will be much larger, so that if the age is reduced the Government scheme would not be interfered with seriously. On the other hand, if it is retained as it is, and these older men are sent out to the trenches, you will be rousing in this country a sense of great hardship and a grievance which is going to do damage rather than help to win the War. For these reasons I hope sincerely that the Government will not think of extending the age as suggested, and I think that the Government would do well to consider proposals in the case of these older men, to see that they are protected from the hardships in the Bill as it now stands.
§ Captain AMERY
I hope that my hon. Friend will persist in his Amendment, more particularly as I think that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board did not do justice to him in the rather angry reply which he gave. I do not think that my hon. Friend in the least ignored the needs of industry or wished to make every man join. The force of the argument for extending the age is not to drag more men to the Colours, but to get an enlarged field of selection. It will be very hard before long to find men of good physique, or even tolerable physique, not for the trenches 589 alone, but for the second line, for defence work at home, who could also be spared from industry. No one will deny for a moment that between the ages of forty-one and forty-five there is a certain number of men of sound physique, who live open-air lives, and are fit for home defence, and who also happen not to be engaged in any vital industry. If there are those men and you do not take them, then you are bound to take other men of younger age who are of inferior physique or are more urgently wanted in industries. Therefore, in the interests of the industries of the country and of the Army it is far better to begin with a wider area of selection than to take a narrow area, and squeeze it too much by taking men who might be required for other work. For that reason I suggest that my hon. Friend's Amendment is preferable to the suggestion of a Resolution extending the age afterwards, because if they have the Resolution afterwards you will be compelled now to squeeze to the very utmost the younger classes and leave on one side eligible men between the ages of forty-one and forty-five, whereas if you are able to review the whole field now, you will take exactly the men you want-not all men between forty-one and forty-five, but some limited number of them. In regard to the time-expired men, at present if a man's time expires at the age of forty-four or forty-five he has got to go on serving, but if his time expired three weeks ago, and he left over forty-one, he cannot be called back. It is an absolutely absurd anomaly that one man who has served until forty-four should be compelled to serve on, and another man of forty-two cannot be called back if he left two or three weeks ago. The Army ought to be empowered to have some call upon these men between forty-one and forty-five, even if they are not included at once. It would be much better to make one bite of the cherry than to come back again, as I am very sure we shall have to do. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the men of eighteen would never be wanted, and I had the audacity to say that they would be wanted in three months, and they were wanted almost to the day. I believe that just the same will happen with regard to the men of forty-five. Before long some right hon. Gentleman will come down and tell us that these men are most urgently wanted, only they will be taken in a manner less advantageous to industry, 590 whereas if we leave the whole field open now and pick the men carefully, it will be best for the Army and best for industry.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Amery) has made a reference to industry. What does he know about it, or what does his hon. and learned Friend who moved the Amendment know about it? Does he know that during the first three months of this year the imports exceeded the exports by £35,000,000? The hon. and learned Member talked as if there were an unlimited number of men to draw upon. He spoke of the enormous number who were capable of serving in the Army, but the President of the Local Government Board very ably pointed out that these men do not exist. Perhaps I am not as well acquainted with clubs as the hon. and learned Member, but I have had some experience of them, and I do not see a great number of men loitering about, and I do not find the great number of shirkers to whom he referred. If you go to the docks you find a shortage of labour, and if you go into the City of London you find no surplus there. I met in the City a leading banker and a Conservative, who regarded the Bill as insanity. He said there were firms to-day on the Stock Exchange who were building up our credit, but a great number of these firms would have to retire from business as the result of this Bill. These are the men we are to draw upon. When I listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member and the hon. and gallant Member—
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
I also said we would lose the advantage of some promising young politicians in this House.
§ Mr. MASON
You cannot build up an Army from promising politicians. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about lawyers?"] I assume that the hon. and learned Gentleman who proposed this Amendment did so seriously. It is really incredible that we should have these interminable discussions about adding to this Bill when any sane man knows the position which was referred to by the hon. Members who moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. NIELD
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "years" ["forty-one years"], to insert the words "before the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and fifteen."
591 I desire to point out that the Bill as it stands will prejudicially affect the attested married men by exempting the unattested married man who becomes forty-one before the thirtieth day after the appointed day under this Bill. There is a breach there which will allow a number of men to escape. You have got the unmarried men from 15th August and the attested married man counts from the time of attestation, and although he may be forty-one, say, a month ago he will be obliged to serve. The conscripted married man will escape, even though he was forty-one on the same date, because you do not count the time until thirty days after the passing of this Bill. I hope the Government will look into it. In equal fairness it is inevitable that you should make such an alteration as my Amendment foreshadows. I move in order to obtain an explanation.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The effect of this Amendment would be to bring within the compulsory Clauses of this Bill the man who, although not forty-one on 15th August last, attains forty-one before the appointed day under the Bill. It would really raise the age from forty-one to forty-one and a half. The existing Act has this effect on single men, that if they attain the age of forty-one before the appointed day, which is, I think, the 2nd March last, they are excluded from the Act. The effect of the Amendment is to bring in the married men who were under forty-one last August, but who have attained forty-one since. In other words, the hon. Member treats married men under this Bill quite differently from the way in which single men were treated under the Act of January last. We propose to follow the same principle as in the existing Act. I think we ought to follow the same principle in the two measures. The attested married man is really not concerned in this. We are dealing entirely with the conscripted class, and we ought to treat them exactly as we treated the men under the earlier Act.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "date" ["has attained the age of forty-one years 592 before the appointed date"], to insert the words, "or being under the age of nineteen, has been certified by the War Office to be undergoing sufficient training for the purpose of becoming an officer in His Majesty's Army."
Some such words as these are needed, I think, to carry out the intention of the Government, because as the Bill stands anybody over the age of eighteen is liable to be taken, and that, we know, is not the intention of the Government. The people I wish to protect are, first, the cadets at Sandhurst, who would come under the Bill as it stands. The cadets at Woolwich are in a similar position. No doubt the Government will bring in words to exclude them. Secondly, there are the youths in recognised Officers' Training Corps at certain public schools. They are training to be officers, and as they would not be accepted as officers under eighteen and a half, it would be a monstrous thing to take them away at eighteen, when they had nearly completed their training. Then there are the cadet corps at secondary schools, which in many cases are doing excellent work. They are carrying on the same class of education as that given in the Officers' Training Corps, and it would be a great hardship if the same privileges were not granted to them. It may be suggested that since the War the Officers' Training Corps and the Cadet Corps have not been doing the same good work as before. If that is so, it would possibly be because in certain instances adjutants have had to leave the corps. I hope the War Office will see their way to restore to the corps in many instances soldier adjutants from those who return from the front. Further, the inspection I that used to take place with some regularity before the War should be restored as far as possible. That is only by the way. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it is better that I these words should be in than that the War Office, by order, should carry out the desired intention.
§ Mr. TENNANT
As was stated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and, indeed, as is the case, there are two classes of those who are undergoing training for the commissioned ranks. It is perfectly true that it is undesirable to disturb these young men, and there is no intention of doing anything of the kind. That which the hon. and learned Gentleman desires should be done by statute is already a fact. Therefore, I do not see the need for 593 the insertion of these words, and I feel quite confident there is none. The instruction issued last month to the Services says that members of the Officers' Training Corps will be allowed to continue their training until they are nineteen—under the specified conditions—whilst other lads who are in schools and who are bonâ-fide candidates for commissions in the Regular Army through the Royal Academy, the Royal Military College or the Indian Cadet College, who have attained the age of eighteen, shall be exempt from military service in the ranks—that is the point raised by the Amendment—if each candidate should have attested and should have been furnished with a certificate by the headmaster saying that it is his bonâfide intention and he has a reasonable prospect of going successfully through the necessary instruction.
§ Mr. RENDALL
Is it not the fact that the difference between the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman and the practice of the War Office is, that if the Amendment is passed, the War Office will have no power over these young men until they are nineteen? If not passed, it will be in the power of the War Office to take out certain of these young men—not yet selected as cadets—and make privates of them, as the War Office have done recently?
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
It is a desirable thing to relieve the cadet units of some young men to make room for others—those, that is to say, who are not likely to make efficient officers. From that point of view I think my hon. Friend is right. It is desirable that we should have that amount of latitude in administration, and not be bound by a cast-iron rule. From that point of view I think it is much more desirable to do what the hon. and learned Gentleman desires by administration rather than by Statute, and I would ask him not to press this Amendment.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I have, and have always had, a certain amount of sympathy with the judgments of the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to put this point to the Committee. I do not know whether the actual words of the Amendment entirely meet the case. What one wants is that there should be absolutely fair play as between the fortunate schoolboys who belong to the Officers' Training Corps and the less fortunate schoolboys who, belonging to a secondary 594 school with lower fees and less social status, are at present at a disadvantage, because, unless they are treated in exactly the same way they have to leave their education earlier, they are put at a disadvantage for educational purposes, while they are actually being trained for the Army on the same lines, with the same intentions, and with the same support of their masters and their parents as in the case of the more fortunate boys in the more leading public schools. I am, therefore, anxious that there should be undoubtedly fair play between them. The objection to leavings it purely to administrative action is that administrative action may easily change from month to month, and, when you are dealing with a considerable number of lads whose parents are making great sacrifices for their education, it is highly desirable that their status should be secured in an Act of Parliament, so far as it is possible to do so. Therefore, while I do not necessarily support this Amendment in its ipsissima verba, I do ask my right hon. Friend—and I know of no member of the Government who would be more sympathetic to the view I have tried to present—whether it may not be desirable to insert some words on Report in order to get this equality of treatment, and to promote educational efficiency at the same time that you are facilitating these lads, being of service in the Army.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
There is a third class—I do not think it can be very considerable—and that is the class of boy who, for example, left school last term and is now reading with a tutor for examination or some other purpose, and, being only a month or so over eighteen, cannot have a commission under the War Office rule until eighteen and a half. That is not perhaps a very large class, but I happen to know three young fellows in that position. Their cases have been brought before me by their parents, and I think the right hon. Gentleman must consider such cases in dealing with the whole matter. I hope he will see that they are provided for in some way or other. I do not see why they should not get their commissions now if they are capable.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I shall be certainly most willing to consider the cases put by my hon. Friend. I think, in fact, they are covered by the notice I have read, but if not I will take care to see they are. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins), I really do not 595 think anything further is required, but I will give the undertaking he asks for that it will be considered.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
I think the reply of the Under-Secretary for War is not at all satisfactory. He thinks nothing more is required in reply to the hon. Member for Middleton. In my view a good deal more is required. As a matter of fact, under the Amendment a municipal secondary school, which is not of that class which can run an Officers' Training Corps, is ignored entirely under this Amendment.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
No. I said I was not content with the Order the War Office issued applying only to Officers' Training Corps, but I spoke on behalf of secondary schools, who have asked me to speak on their behalf.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
I am sorry I misunderstood the hon. and learned Member, and I apologise to him. What I gather now is that be is entirely in sympathy with the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Middleton. If that is so, I wish to give him my whole-hearted support, in contradistinction to what has been said by the Under-Secretary for War, who seems to think the position of the municipal secondary school, which cannot afford to run its own Officers' Training Corps, is to be completely ignored. The case is one which cannot be so lightly set aside.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give the matter consideration, and a great deal of consideration is required. These boys are coming from a type of school that seldom have their own Officers' Training Corps. They are the best type of schoolboy from the secondary schools, and they are the cream of the better type of the artisan class. This class ought to receive their commissions equally with those who go to our public schools. They are boys of fine physique, strong character, and great determination, and to set them aside and allow others possibly of superior financial resources but of less intellect to become officers, while those other boys are forced into training as privates is not dealing with the case as it deserves. I hope this class distinction—because that is what it amounts to—will not be persisted in, and that an oppor- 596 tunity will be given to a boy who has won his way by scholarships into the secondary school to have his chance with the other boys of getting a commission. The qualities of these boys are fully appreciated by those who know them best. Do not let us have this type of school ignored while most of the commissions are lavished upon schools of other types.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sure that everybody who takes an interest in this subject will see that even-handed justice is done as between the boys of whom my hon. Friend was speaking and any other class or kind of boys. I do not desire the public school boy to be treated any worst, neither do I desire him to be treated any better than the other boys. I really think that the Under-Secretary for War has a little misunderstood what is the proposal made by my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Rawlinson), and why it is necessary to make it. My right hon. Friend says that the War Office will grant exemptions or make orders.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I dare say they have done so under the voluntary system, but they have no right to make Orders under a compulsory Act of Parliament. The policeman is bound to fetch everybody as soon as he reaches the age of eighteen, and the fact that they exhibit a War Office Order, or the fact that the Under-Secretary for War says that proper arrangements will be made has nothing to do with it. Such persons are either inside or outside this Act of Parliament. I understood my hon. and learned Friend's argument was that you must make provision for this case in the Act. It is not a question of the War Office graciously excusing A or B, because he is inside the Act of Parliament, and it is a penal offence if he does not do what is provided in the Act. In view of the promise that it will be looked into, I think it should be considered from that point of view.
§ Sir J. DOUGHERTY
I wish to call attention to a class of boys not mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend. I refer to those who are not at this moment attending public schools, but who are in cadet training corps, and are preparing for their examination at Sandhurst or Woolwich. Anything which would interrupt the studies of these young men is much to be deprecated, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also give their case consideration.
§ Mr. LONG
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) did not do justice to my right hon Friend beside me (Mr. Tennant). His statement was absolutely accurate and really covered the case. We are all agreed as to what we want. There is no intention on the part of the War Office to draw any invidious distinctions between the boys in one school and the boys in another. The object of the War Office is to make provision that those boys who are preparing for commissions shall not be called to the ranks under this Bill until they have completed their training and have had an opportunity of obtaining their commissions. The words proposed, while they emphasise our intentions, do not clear away the difficulty, because, as the hon. and learned Member himself has told us, they propose to hand over to the War Office the duty of certifying certain forms of education as being sufficient. What my right hon. Friend has said is that we accept all that has been said by my hon. and learned Friend and by speakers on this side of the House who have represented the claims of other schools. I do not think that these words will do—I doubt if they are necessary—but it is quite clear that this is not to be left to the will of any particular Army Council at the moment, and, if necessary, words shall be brought up and added on Report.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
This Amendment is a very insidious one, and I am very much surprised at the speeches of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone) and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), because they are both opponents of this Bill. I have supported this Bill because I thought that every class in the country was going to be treated alike. Now we have had application from four different members pleading for four different classes. If a boy is a student in a public or secondary school and belongs to an Officers' Training Corps or to a cadet corps there is a possibility of his exemption from Conscription.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
If they are under training they are not to be conscripted. Let us have a clear understanding of the Amendment. I understood that the hon. and learned Gentleman was anxious to obtain exemption for these young men. 598 [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If they come within the scope of the Bill and are not to be exempted, that is all we want. We say that every young man, whether the son of a wealthy man or a working man, should be treated alike under this Bill. That is what I plead for and what I understood, but if you are going to give a particular exemption to one type or class and not to others because they are not fortunate enough to attend public schools, then I think this Bill will become very unpopular with the working classes.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
After the very satisfactory explanation of the President of the Local Government Board, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, only again expressing my hope that it will be put into the Act of Parliament.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I beg to move in Subsection (1), after the word "date" ["appointed date"], to insert the words "or unless an application has been made by or in respect of him under Section two of the principal Act and such application has not been finally disposed of."
I must say I prefer the words of the Amendment on the Paper of the hon. Member for Ealing to the one I am proposing, and my only object in moving this is to raise a discussion and get an assurance from the Government as to whether or not this point is covered in the Bill. It is very difficult when you are dealing with a Bill which is supplemental to a principal Act to know how far the Clauses of the principal Act apply to the Supplemental Bill. I want to know from the Solicitor-General whether it is quite clear that all those who are enlisted under this Act are to get all the benefits of the principal Act. Will they have the benefit of applying to the local tribunals for exemption, and will they also have the benefit more particularly mentioned in the Clause that they shall not be recruited until their claim for exemption has been finally disposed of. If it is so, I suggest it would be better to have some words inserted making it quite clear that the tribunals which may be dealing with the cases which come before them under the Act are bound to allow them to claim exemptions and to make it plain that the authorities cannot touch them until the application has been finally disposed of. That is the only point I wish to urge on the Government.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The hon. Member, I understand, wants an assurance that those who come into the military service under this Act will have the same right to claim exemption as those who are covered by the principal Act. I think it is quite clear that that is so. If my hon. Friend will look at Sub-section (2) of this Clause he will find that the principal Act "shall be construed as if the foregoing provisions of this section were substituted for Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Act."
§ Mr. MORRELL
But I would point out that the privileges spoken of occur in Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the principal Act.
§ Sir G. CAVE
That is the point I am coming to. It is plain that it will equally apply to them. It is very undesirable to refer to one Sub-section only, when the whole Act, except the parts specifically repealed, is intended to apply.
§ Mr. NIELD
I am the author of the next Amendment on the Paper, which goes further still, and I must say I listened with amazement to the remarks of the Solicitor-General. Section (1) of the principal Act provides:—
"That every male British subject shall … unless he either is within the exceptions set out in the first schedule of this Act, or has attained the age of forty-one years before the appointed date, be deemed as from the appointed date to have been duly enlisted."
And then it goes on to say that the question whether a man is under this section to be enlisted is a purely Army question. There is no reference at all in Section 1 to a tribunal. The Sub-section says:—
"The principal Act shall be construed as if the foregoing provisions of this Section were substituted for Sub-section (1) of Section one of that Act."
I submit there is absolutely no justification for saying that that incorporates Sections 2 and 3, which are the operative Sections. I am not at all sure that I am wise in calling attention to this matter, because it puts more work on these much-abused tribunals, but perhaps it would be just as well that persons who come under this Bill should be exempted entirely from the operations of these objectionable tribunals. It should be definitely stated that Sections 2 and 3 of the principal Act should be equally applicable to this Bill. That point was not covered by the casual reference of the Solicitor-General.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I should like to support what I may call the general argument of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Nield) as distinguished from the particular words he suggests. It is very important that the tribunals should have their duties made as simple as possible, and these references and cross-references, although they become of sheer necessity more or less familiar to lawyers, are not familiar to ordinary members of these tribunals. Speaking as one who has been sitting for several days a week for many weeks past on one of these tribunals, I say it would be the greatest help to the smooth working of this Bill if its words are made as simple as possible, and if there is the least possible scope for differences of opinion or delay or adjournment or reference to legal advisers. I therefore support the general argument and hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to contrive a form of words less complicated and involving less cross-references than the Bill as it stands at present.
§ Sir J. SIMON
When the Solicitor-General tells us that he is satisfied I am very much inclined to agree with him, but I find it very difficult to follow him in this instance. If he looks at the words, it seems that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Nield) is quite right. This particular Clause gives a list of the persons who are to be deemed, as from the appointed date, to have been duly enlisted. It is true they do not include every male subject between eighteen and forty-one, but the exceptions are set out. What are those exceptions? The exceptions are, first of all, those that you find in the First Schedule to the Military Service Act as amended, and, secondly, there is the exception that a man may have attained the age of forty-one years before the appointed date. Those are all the exceptions. It appears to be necessary as well as clearer to say that a man who has applied for exemption, and whose application has not been disposed of, is also, until it is disposed of, outside the Clause. That is the point of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Nield). Is not that quite right?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think so, but as the right hon. Gentleman supports the view that it ought to be considered, we will consider whether there is any point to be met.
§ Mr. MORRELL
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman says, that it will be 601 considered before the Report stage I understand, and if necessary some words will be inserted to make it quite clear, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Leave withheld.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I wish to make an appeal to the Solicitor-General to consider also the question put by my right hon. Friend, whether, for the sake of the tribunals and the recruiting authorities knowing what they are about, it might not be very clearly stated on the face of the Act, and without any reference to the legal question, on which I express no opinion, as to whether it is necessary or not that this Clause shall be put into such a shape that even a tribunal, though a fool, may not err.
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
There is great force in the argument, because tribunals are not all composed of lawyers.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The CHAIRMAN
There are two Amendments on the Paper, one in the name of the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden) which, I think, in form would be rather contradictory to what we have already passed, and the other in manuscript by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon) on the same point and, I think, in better form.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am quite willing, even if my Amendment were in order, that it should be withdrawn in favour of that of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ The CHAIRMAN
With regard to the manuscript Amendment it deals with what has been the subject of debate for the greater part of the day, and while I do not say it is out of order, debate must be very limited because it is raising the identical point on which we have spent three hours.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I beg to move, after the word "reserve" ["transferred to the reserve"], to insert the words "Provided that no man who comes within the operation of this or the principal Act shall be sent to serve abroad before he reaches the age of nineteen."
I never intended to make a long speech about this or to invite a long debate about it. It is not the same point. It flows really from the declaration of the Government and the obvious intention of the Committee earlier in the Debate. All I propose is this: It having been decided, after a Division, that as soon as a young man is of the age of eighteen he should come 602 within the compulsory provisions of this Clause, it is desirable to add these words, which will not, I trust, produce any conflict, because they merely express the assurance of the Government as to their fixed intentions. It is exactly what my right hon. Friend has told us he directs the War Office to do, and it is what they desired to do before he put it into the Bill. I hope we shall all agree to it.
§ Mr. LONG
I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to press this Amendment. It is impossible to accept it for a very excellent reason. We have said quite distinctly what the policy of the War Office is. I have given the most definite assurances on the part of the Adjutant-General and the Army Council. What you are seeking to do is simply to make it illegal. In other words, I assume—I am not a lawyer—that the effect of this is to enable you to proceed against a person, whoever the person may be, whether he be the Adjutant-General or a commanding officer, who by some means or other allows one of these men to go to the front. We have given the most definite assurances that there is no desire on the part of the Army Council to send these men to the front, but they have occasionally got there. Great efforts are made to get them back. Immense labours are taken by the Army Council and by commanding officers at the front to get them back. Every effort is made by the Army Council to act up to the assurances given here. I submit in the first place that it is unnecessary to put these words in the Bill. In the second place the only possible result can be to create a legal right of action against those who may be responsible for these men going to the front, not through any fault of their own, but perhaps through pressure of work at the time or some other cause. When it does occur, and the cases are brought to our notice, we do the best we can to recover them and bring them back. To make this an offence, as you are practically doing by this Amendment, is very unfair to the Army Council and wholly unnecessary.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I do not think that the answer of my right hon. Friend is quite satisfactory. I do not see why it should be left to the discretion of any commanding officer or to the Army Council or anybody else to make this mistake. My right hon. and learned Friend's Amendment does not propose any penalty; it only makes quite certain the rights of 603 a citizen. I think it would be a dreadful thing and a very sad thing that a great number of men in this House who, in my opinion, are capable of serving should make the boyhood of the country bear the brunt of this War. It ought to be fought by the manhood and not the boyhood of the country. I have thought all along that while I am anxious that everybody should serve who can serve, you should not be entitled to send to the front for actual warfare any boy under nineteen years of age. As a citizen he is entitled to have this right provided for him in the Act. He has a right just as the man of forty-one. If you take a man of forty-one and by mistake send him out he can claim that you have made a mistake and get exemption. Why should not a lad of eighteen or eighteen and a half years when he is asked to go to the front be able to say to his commanding officer, "I am not entitled to go to the front, because I am under nineteen"?
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Volunteers! That is another thing altogether. What I object to is giving discretionary power. You assure us there is no intention of sending out any boy under nineteen, and I think that is quite right. Then why should not he have a statutory protection? I do not like giving discretionary power to officers or anybody else. If a man is entitled to protection why not let him have it?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I agree that we covered a great deal of this subject on a previous amendment, but some of us are a good deal wiser than we were three months ago. We had a good many assurances during the Committee stage of the earlier Bill that certain points we urged would be considered by the Government. We were led to believe that the promises that were given from the Government bench would have in practice all the effect of law. We know the tribunals have treated those promises as if they were mere scraps of paper. We have made appeals to the President of the Local Government Board to incorporate these promises in the Regulations so that they would have the effect of an Act of Parliament. That he refused to do. Now we come to the War Office and its efforts. The locus classicus which I drew from the right hon. Gentleman some time last November is to the effect that no boy will be sent abroad unless he has attained the age of 604 eighteen and a half years, or has the physique of a boy of eighteen and a half years, and also a boy under seventeen years of age shall not be retained in the Army. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is able to bring his recollection to several cases that I submitted to him, but this is the type of reply which I get when I make application for the discharge of a boy under seventeen—"the case shall be submitted to the authorities over sea, and if the authorities over sea decide to release the boy, then the boy will be sent home." That is not the sort—
§ Mr. TENNANT
This is a very serious matter. My hon. Friend is bringing a charge against the Army Council of breach of faith. This I absolutely deny. My statement was this, that a boy who says when he joins that his age is nineteen is considered nineteen. That is true. But if it is discovered that he is under that age and is in this country, and if it is proved that he is under seventeen, he is discharged. If he should happen to be abroad then the matter must rest with the General Officer Commanding, and it has always done so. I have always stated so, and it must be the case. It is open to me to convey to the General Officer Commanding that the lad is of the age stated by my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member, and to ask him whether he is willing to release him or not. But to say that I have misled the hon. Member is not really speaking the truth.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I did not intend to say that the right hon. Gentleman himself had misled me, but what has been said simply confirms every charge that I have made. I would point out that the commanding officer of the Home Forces sends not printed but cyclostyle circulars in reply to applications made by parents for the discharge of boys under seventeen, and I have had a great many cases like this. The right hon. Gentleman must know. I have sent many letters to him. When the parent sends a birth certificate to the officer commanding the regiment in which the son is serving, showing that he is under seventeen years of age, he gets back one of these cyclostyle letters, which says, "According to Army records your boy is nineteen years 3/12." And the birth certificate showing that the lad is under seventeen years of age is actually returned in a letter like that. That is not the action of the Army Council, though I suppose that the Army Council is responsible. We might be able to trust the Army Council; 605 but as regards these commanding officers, who are really the executive authority in such matters, in nine cases out of ten the parents take no further action. It is only when they send on the letter to a Member of Parliament, and he takes up the matter, that justice is done. Therefore, we do not want to leave it to any commanding officer. We do not want to leave it with the Army Council. The Government say that they are not going to send out boys under nineteen. If that is so why not say so? That is all that we are asking. The reluctance of the Government to say so naturally arouses suspicion that, however good their intention may be, others who have not the responsibility will seek means of overriding it.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I do not associate myself with all that the hon. Member for Blackburn has said, but I am supporting his contention in this particular, or rather the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, because I really think that it would have the very best effect upon the parents of young men who are improperly acting as soldiers if this amendment were embodied in the Bill. I am blaming no one, but I do say that with the enormous number of officials and officers and subordinates, which must rightly exist in so important an Army of ours, it is very easy indeed for mistakes to be made and for the statements of my right hon. Friend not to be adhered to in every detail by subordinates, if the matter is not to be in the Act of Parliament. I am blaming no one; I see that these mistakes are inevitable; but if you put this provision into the Act of Parliament, it will be a very great assurance and a very great help to parents exceedingly anxious that their sons should not go abroad until they are nineteen. If that be the policy of the Government, as we are told it is, then it is precisely one of those points of policy which will be more effective both in its actual operation and in the result it will have upon the opinion and feelings of the public if it is specifically put in a clause of the Act of Parliament, and, if it is to help to make obedience to this measure more cheerful and universal, then I do earnestly ask the Government to accept this Amendment, that there may be no shadow of mistake, and that those of us who are doing all we know to help the Government may be able to point to this provision in the Act when we meet with parents who feel strongly on the subject.
§ Sir FREDERICK CAWLEY
There is no question of want of confidence in the right hon. Gentleman or in the Army Council, but why on earth this Amendment should not be put in the Bill I do not know. If it is illegal to send a boy out of the country under the age of nineteen, why not let the country know it by putting it in the Act?
§ Mr. POLLOCK
The Committee should remember that this is not an Education, Bill; we are not considering whether or not parents should send their boys to school at a certain age. The Committee ought to consider, in dealing with this, point, what are the difficulties which fall upon commanding officers in construing and dealing with Clauses in the Act of Parliament. One has to look at it partly from the point of view of the lad of eighteen, but one has also to put to oneself that if we insert this proviso in the Clause it will lay a very heavy burden indeed upon commanding officers. You are going to make some action illegal, with some consequences to follow, and you are going to put commanding officers into this difficulty that they will have to extract from unwilling young men, who very much want to go to the front, the exact facts as to the date of their birth, and so on. In the interests of the military units with which, they are serving, in the interests of the country, and in the interests of reluctant parents who are anxious to prevent their sons from going if they possibly can because they are a month or two short of a particular age, I do not think it is possible to lay a burden of that kind upon com-manding officers at the very moment when they have to consider and meet all the military necessities and duties which are imposed upon the units under their command. It is very easy to say in a domestic measure, in time of peace, that if a certain thing is desirable they make it clear by putting it in the Bill, but in the present conditions we must take into account the extreme difficulties which are laid upon those who have to administer the clauses of an Act of Parliament. I think the Committee may well go back and deal with the real actual facts, and accept the assurance which has been given. If by any means the young man escapes the vigilance of his commanding officer, then there ought to be no penalty and no breach of duty laid on the commanding officer. He has done his best, and we have the assurances which have been given, and which I have no doubt will be 607 adhered to. If the Committee will only look at the actual circumstances under which such words would have to be construed and put into operation, I believe they will see that it is perfectly fair not to put words into the Statute itself, but to rely on the assurances which the right hon. Gentleman has given.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I join issue with the speech we have just heard. What does the hon. and learned Gentleman suggest? He says that if this provision is put into the Bill it will place an invidious task on the commanding officer. I think it will have a precisely opposite effect. It is an extremely invidious task for a commanding officer to have thrown upon his discretion whether a young man under nineteen ought to go or not. If it is clearly stated in the Act that until he reaches nineteen he should not go, there is no invidious task on him at all, and his duty is quite plain. With respect to the commanding officer having to search the records to find out the age, surely that is an entire misunderstanding of the facts. When the young man joins his age is given. The records are available at once, and the commanding officer would not be held responsible if a false age is given. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Certainly not. If a false age is given, and that age is not corrected, and a certificate sent in to prove it is false, that is the age on which the commanding officer relies. Surely that is common sense. The young man has given a certain age, and that age has been accepted, and if the commanding officer acts upon that age as being correct he complies with the terms of the Act. If before any steps have been taken to send the young man abroad proof has been adduced that the age has been incorrectly given, then presumably that age will be amended and made correct, and the commanding officer will act on the amended age. If that is not the way, it ought to be. If the Army Council or the commanding officer cannot keep books in that simple method, either upon the statement of the man joining or upon the certificate, then I am sorry for them, and it is time a drastic change was made.
The reluctance of hon. Members and of the Government to comply with a simple request of this kind only shows the difficulties we have to contend with in dealing with people up and down the country who are labouring under real or imaginary grievances. Hon. Members 608 know of the innumerable letters we receive about difficulties and grievances that ought never to arise. One wants to speak with perfect respect not only of the influential and important Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench but also of the Army Council and commanding officers; but much of the confusion and difficulty arises simply because they will not accept the ordinary methods of clear and definite regulations but will preserve so much discretion and depart from the ordinary way of doing business. This is my principal point. It seems to be regarded by tribunals and by other persons administering this Act that it is quite the fit and proper thing to jeer at any promise made by Ministers in this House. We find that in the Law Courts just the same. If anybody ventures to quote what a Minister said in introducing a Bill he is laughed at. It is suggested outside the House that Cabinet Ministers do not mean what they say, and that they simply make statements in order to get their Bills passed. We in this House know that that is not the case. We know that Ministers intend and are most anxious to carry out their promises. As far as I am concerned, both at the War Office and at the Local Government Board, I have always found a most earnest desire, not only to treat one courteously, but, if possible, to accede to any request that one may make. I make no reflection of any kind upon Members of the Government or upon commanding officers, except that they think that any request made by a Member of Parliament must necessarily be pernicious and unsatisfactory. The very fact that a Member of Parliament takes up the case of an individual prejudices that individual in the eyes of a commanding officer. I join earnestly with those who desire to have this matter clearly in the Bill. Unless it is put in the Bill the impression left upon my mind will certainly be that the Government do not want to carry it out.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I was on the point of intervening. As I indicated I had considerable doubt whether I ought to allow this Amendment to be moved, because it clearly opened the way to a revival of the earlier debate. It has certainly tended in that direction. I hope hon. Members will not abuse the liberty I have given. These points were all discussed, but I thought the Committee were entitled to a decision, I though not to a fresh debate.
§ Mr. LONG
I desired to appeal to the Committee, because really this Amendment would not have the effect imagined by the hon. Member (Sir Tudor Walters). The Orders are in the most direct terms now, and you will not make those Orders more direct because you accompany them by an Act of Parliament. The hon. Member described the contempt which commanding officers have for Members of Parliament and all their works. Therefore, merely to put these words into the Act of Parliament would not make much difference to them. What it would do would be to give an opportunity to everybody who desired to punish a commanding officer—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. Certainly it would give them an opportunity. Whether they would succeed is another matter. If you make it illegal to do a certain thing, it is obvious that there are plenty of people who would take advantage of the Act of Parliament to bring
§ actions against commanding officers. In any case the Amendment has been fully debated, and I hope the Committee will now decide upon it.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 46; Noes, 124.611
|Division No. 8.]||AYES.||[11.55 p.m.|
|Anderson, W. C.||Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Bliss, Joseph||Jowett, Frederick William||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Kenyon, Barnet||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Bryce, J. Annan||King, Joseph||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Snowden, Philip|
|Finney, Samuel||Macdonald. J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Sutton, John E.|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Taylor, Theodore (Radcliffe)|
|Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Morison, Hector||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Haslam, Lewis||Morrell, Philip||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Needham, Christopher T.||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Hogge, James Myles||Outhwaite, R. L.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Parry, Thomas H.||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|Hudson, Walter||Pratt, J. W.|
|Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Radford, George Heynes||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Robinson, Sydney||F. Cawley and Sir R. Adkins.|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Hunt, Major Rowland|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Illingworth, Albert H.|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Larmor, Sir Joseph|
|Amery, Captain Leopold C. M. S.||Craik, Sir Henry||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Dalrymple, Hon. Hew Hamilton||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Dixon Charles Harvey||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Edge, Captain William||Mackinder, Halford J.|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||M'Laren, H. D. (Leices, Bosworth)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Fletcher, John Samuel||Macmaster, Donald|
|Bigland, Alfred||Forster, Henry William||M'Neill, Ronald (St. Augustine's)|
|Bird, Alfred||Foster, Philip Staveley||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Bowden, Major George R. H.||Galbraith, Samuel||Maitland, A. D. Steele-|
|Boyton, James||Goldman, Charles Sydney||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil|
|Brace, William||Grant, James Augustus||Meux, Hon. Sir Hedworth|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Greig, Colonel James William||Millar, James Duncan|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Gretton, John||Mills, Lieut. Arthur Robert|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Guest, Major Hon. C. H. (Pembroke)||Morgan, George Hay|
|Bull, Sir William James||Gulland, John William||Nield, Herbert|
|Carew, Charles Robert S.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. J.|
|Cassel, Captain Felix||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Cator, John||Harmsworth, C. B. (Beds, Luton)||O'Sullivan, Timothy|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Harris, Henry P. (Paddington, S.)||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. H. (Berks)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Henry, Sir Charles||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Clive, Captain Percy Archer||Hope, Lieut.-Col. J. (Midlothian)||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Prothero, Rowland Edmund||Stanton, Charles Butt||Weston, John Wakefield|
|Pryce-Jones, Col. Edward||Stewart, Gershom||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Randles, Sir John S.||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Talbot, Lord Edmund||Whiteley, Herbert J.|
|Rendall, Athelstan||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)||Worthington Evans, Major L.|
|Rothschild, Lionel de||Tickler, T. G.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Rowlands, James||Tryon, Captain George Clement||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)||Turton, Edmund Russborough||Younger, Sir George|
|Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Shortt, Edward||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.— Mr.|
|Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Liverpool)||Watson, Hon. W.||G. Howard and Mr. J. Hope.|
|Spear, Sir John Ward|
Question, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Before I move the Amendment standing in my name on the Paper, I venture to ask your permission, Mr. Maclean, to inquire of the Government whether we may now have an adjournment of the Debate? May I move in order to obtain a statement from the Government?
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg to move, "That you, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member moves his own Amendment, I dare say he can then ask the question he desires.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg to move in Sub-section (1), second paragraph, to leave out the word "thirtieth" ["the thirtieth day after the date of the passing of this Act"] and to insert instead thereof the word "sixtieth."
I will state in a word or two what appears to me to be the reasons which justify this Amendment being inserted. The Bill provides that the appointed day shall be the thirtieth day after the date of the passing of this Act, and I submit that thirty days is an insufficient time, to allow for appeals to be lodged and for all the new liabilities under, which so many thousands of men will now come to become generally known. It will lead to a great congestion of the work before the tribunals, but the most important reason is that such a limited time for an appeal which affects so great a number of people will lead to many cases of injustice and hardship, and I trust that the President of the Local Government Board will not think it unreasonable if a longer interval is given before the Bill operates in these cases. May I take this opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he is now prepared to move the adjournment of the Debate. We have now sat continuously for eight and a-half hours, and I do not think this claim is unreasonable having regard to the business already done, and the importance 612 of the Debates that have taken place. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of the Prime Minister's promise that there would not be a late sitting to-night, and I trust he will not think me unreasonable in making this inquiry.
§ Mr. L. JONES
My question to the Prime Minister was whether he intended to sit late, and his answer was, "Oh, no!"
§ Mr. LONG
The Eleven o'Clock Rule is suspended, and when we talk about not sitting late we mean not long after twelve o'clock, say one or two o'clock. I have no desire to keep the Committee sitting late, and all this is very much in the hands of hon. Members. We have taken more than three hours to-day discussing a single question which was discussed on the previous Act of Parliament, and was settled by that Act. Then we were asked to debate practically the same question in another form a second time, and therefore I do not think it is unreasonable that we should ask the House to finish this Clause before we adjourn. There is very little left to discuss, and most of the Amendments to Clause 1 on the Paper are either out of order or will have to appear as new Clauses. I believe that there are only three left that will receive the approval of the Chairman for discussion, and I am sure that with the good will of hon. Members we could quite reasonably finish them tonight. Every subject has been already debated either this evening or on the Clause in the present Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This Clause only extends the powers of the original Act to married men—that is all this Clause does—so it is no use contradicting me or saying that what I say is not true; it is true. We debated all these matters on the previous Act of Parliament; we debated the principle of extending compulsion to unattested married men on the Second Reading 613 and carried it by an overwhelming majority, and I do submit that we might quite reasonably finish this Clause tonight. If hon. Members desire, I would suggest that they should move their Amendments and take the opinion of the Committee upon them. With regard to the suggestion that we should double the time allowed in the Bill, I must ask the Committee to reject the proposal. There is ample time given. There is not a man or woman or child in the country who does not know what is going on. It is universally known that we are dealing with this subject, and a month is surely ample time in which to make their appeal. We really cannot extend the time. It would mean a postponement which we cannot afford.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I desire to ask whether, under the terms of this Amendment, I may raise a point in regard to the position of the attested married men. I put it as a point of Order whether I may use this opportunity to appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to use his good offices to see that the attested married men shall have as good opportunities before the tribunals as the men hailed before them under this Bill.
§ Mr. THORNE
I was told by the Chairman that this was the opportunity, but if I shall have another opportunity I agree.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
This Amendment is necessary because of the previous decision of the Committee confirming the application of the Bill to boys on attaining the age of eighteen, many thousands of whom are in our schools and know nothing whatever of the provisions of this Bill. I think on that ground alone a longer time than thirty days is necessary, and that is why I feel compelled to divide on the question.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I beg to move in Subsection (1), second paragraph, to leave out the word "thirtieth" [thirtieth day after the date on which"].
The result of the adoption of this Amendment would be that for men who come within, the operation of this Section after the passing of this Act the appointed date would be the day after the date on 614 which they so come within the operation of the Section. It would, in fact, remove the month which, if the Bill passes as now printed, would be given to these men to enable them to come in as volunteer recruits. When the Bill was being discussed on the Second Reading the Prime Minister referred to this and stated there would be a great advantage in giving that month to the men to come in voluntarily. I ventured then and there to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman as to what the advantage would be. I did not get a reply. I hope, however, I may be able now to get an answer. The reason why I think the month should be taken away is this. The very fact of giving a month in which recruits may come in voluntarily implies that there is some sort of slur upon those who are brought in by compulsion. It is very often heard in the course of these Debates the idea that the man who comes into the Army under a Compulsion Bill is in an inferior position, and is an inferior being altogether to the voluntary recruit. I think that is a very objectionable idea to get abroad at a time when we are about to very largely recruit our Army by compulsory means. It is an entirely undeserved slur.
Another consideration which I think should weigh with us is that the very idea of supposing that a voluntary recruit is a superior being in a superior position would seem to be an insult to the nations with whom we are allied in this War, as their armies are entirely built up on the compulsory system. Of course, it is quite true we have from time to time admitted that compulsion is to some extent required to bring into the Army men whom we have called shirkers and slackers. There are a certain number of such no doubt, but there are also a great number of men whose delay in coming into the Army, or whose neglect of the duty of joining is absolutely justified on account of their position. There, are men—I myself have met some, as I am sure other hon. Members have—who have admitted quite plainly that they would be ready and glad to serve in the Army if it was not that they had other duties which seemed to override the duty of enlisting, and they would be only too pleased if the Government would come forward and insist on their joining up. Another reason why I am anxious that this idea should be got rid of is that under the Bill, even as it stands, it is idle and absurd to state that there is any true voluntaryism 615 in those who will come in during that month. And here I would claim for my Amendment the support of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson) who to-day put forward in very forcible terms exactly the idea I have in my mind when he said it was farcical to suppose there was real voluntaryism in those who came in under these circumstances. A man who, when this Bill becomes law voluntarily enlists during the month that is allowed under this Clause, is really no more a voluntary recruit than a man may be said to pay his debts voluntarily if he knows that the bailiff is knocking at his door. He has the compulsion of this Clause hanging over him for a month ahead and it is nothing else than cant and hypocrisy to suppose there is any voluntarism in it. I protest against embodying cant and hypocrisy in an Act of Parliament. We are passing this Bill in order to make it obligatory on all men of military age to serve their country in this great crisis. Let us do it in a plain, straightforward manner, and not let the suggestion go forth to the world outside that the man who, in this month of grace, under the compulsion that is hanging over his head for a month, gives in his name, is any more virtuous and in any better position than the man who comes in under the Bill. The granting of the month in this particular way is hypocritical. There is no real advantage in it, and it is only put into the Bill in order to throw dust in the eyes of the public and of the recruits themselves. It is demoralising to put in such a provision and is only wasting time. It is very necessary to get these men in, consequently there is no reason whatever why every man, the moment he comes to the military age and becomes liable to serve, should not go through the necessary steps to obtain the military training he has to undergo. I hope the Government will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. LONG
I hope my hon. Friend will not misunderstand me when I say, knowing him to be a very strong advocate of the Bill and one very anxious to see it passed, that he would help us better to get it passed if he would not press upon us an Amendment of this kind. His speech dealt with something which is not in the Bill at all. He was really replying to some remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in a speech he made the other day, in which he dealt with the case of voluntaryism.
§ Mr. LONG
If that is not so, then my hon. Friend showed less than his usual acuteness in his speech in support of the Amendment, because the month is not for the purpose he imagines it to be. It is not to enable these men to become voluntaryists; it is to enable them to make any applications they may have to make to the tribunals. We deal in this Clause with those who come under the Bill now, that is to say, those who are resident or eighteen. They have a month's notice from the date of the passing of the Bill. Then we have to deal with those who-become resident or eighteen subsequently. They have a month's notice from the date they become resident or eighteen. In both cases we give them time to make their applications to the tribunals.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (2).
I have already spoken to Mr. Whitley on the subject, and he told me this was the proper place for me to draw attention to a very important point, which I attempted to bring before the Committee previously. It is that we shall have to leave out this Sub-section if we want to have any sense or proper cohesion left in the Clause at all when we come to the end of it. According to this Sub-section the principal Act shall be construed as if the foregoing provisions of this Section were in Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of that Act, which means that this Sub-section which we are just entering upon will make the whole of the first Sub-section, which we have just done with, read as part of the principal Act. By Sub-section (2) we have, as it were, to place the first Sub-section in inverted commas in the principal Act. In other words, we have to look at the first Sub-section as already existing, not in this Act, but in the Act which we passed in January. If that is so, how can you have in what is part of the principal Act such an expression as you find in line ten—
"The First Schedule to the Military Service Act, 1916 (in this Act referred to as the principal Act), as amended by this Act or any subsequent enactment."
It has absolutely no sense or reason at all. Moreover, in lines nineteen and twenty the words "the passing of this 617 Act" must mean the passing of the principal Act, and that was on some day in January, and, therefore, the people who are now being conscripted by this Act will already have been conscripted since January. It is perfectly obvious that this Clause cannot stand at all. We must either drop the whole of Sub-section (2) or else we get the most ridiculous and laugh able result in the first Sub-section which we put into the principal Act. I attempted at the beginning of this sitting, before we ever spent eight and a half hours in discussing this matter, to get the Chairman to withdraw this Clause, and let us proceed with Clause 2, when we should not have been in the ridiculous position we are now in of passing a Clause which really cannot be interpreted and has no sense at all. When we come to the question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," I shall have the right to say you ought not to put the question at all here, it would make nonsense of both this Act and the Act we have passed.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The effect of omitting Sub-section (2) would be that no part of the principal Act would apply to men coming under this Bill. They would have no right to apply for exemption, and would lose the privileges under the principal Act. I have already said, on the discussion on a previous Amendment, that I would consider whether there ought to be some reference in Sub-section (1) of this new Bill to the section of the principal Act, and if it is done I think the hon. Gentleman's whole point will have been met. I hope he will not insist on the matter being dealt with now. It will be far better that the question should be considered carefully.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I remember the hon. Gentleman meeting me in the Lobby, and that he said he had certain Amendments to move and hoped I would consider them. I said I would, but I did not know what they were.
§ Mr. KING
I think we got a little further than that. However, I will accept 618 what the right hon. Gentleman says. He evidently did not understand the full importance of my remarks. I have thought this matter out, and I have arranged for subsequent Amendments which will put the matter entirely right. I still believe my solution is the right one, and I still think we ought to reject Subsection (2). I have arranged to introduce Amendments later, and also a Special Clause, which I think it will be found is the first new Clause on the Order Paper, which will put the whole thing in order. I really do ask, on behalf of those people who will have to administer the Act, and in order to save legal difficulties and confusion which I am certain must arise if this Clause stands in its present form—I do, without any desire to be obstructive, ask that this Amendment should be accepted and that we should drop this Sub-section.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Captain AMERY
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (3).
I move this Amendment simply in order to ascertain from the Solicitor-General exactly what the position is; to what extent the second paragraph of Sub-section (1) of the Clause completely covers Sub-section (4) of Sub-section (1) of the principal Act which is being omitted; and also how far the change now introduced affects the definition of residence or domicile. I understood, at the time of the passing of the principal Act, that the period of thirty days was taken as the standard test of residence in this country. It is only in order to get the position made quite clear that I put down this Amendment.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Having regard to the wide words in the new Sub-section (1), Sub-section (4) of the old Section (1) is really no longer required.
Mr. E. HARVEY
There is one other point on this Amendment. I put it down with the rather different object of ascertaining whether or not any man returning to this country will, under the Act, unless this Section is retained in the principal Act, have the right of applying, within thirty days, to the tribunal, and of showing valid reasons why he should be exempted. It is admitted that a number of persons at present absent from the country are absent for valid reasons, and that the moment they return they are ready to show good cause to the tribunal why they should be exempted. I think it very important that the right should be retained for those who 619 have proper reasons, and that it should be made clear by the Government. I think it is made very uncertain if the sub-section of the principal Act is omitted. May I have an explanation on that point?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think the effect is, as has been said, that if a man is out of the United Kingdom at the time of the passing of the Act it is his duty to come home as soon as he can. If he comes home in due time to make an application it can be made by him or on his behalf. If, owing to distance, he cannot get home in time, no one would blame him for it. He can apply for exemption, but he might have to join in the meantime.
In the meantime, I think, he would be enlisted—as a soldier. That is a most unsatisfactory position. He might make an application, and the tribunal might be ready to accede to it, yet he might be enlisted—as a soldier—and put in an extremely awkward position. I do not think the Government have given any reason why the Sub-section of the original Act should be omitted. It merely gives a statutory right of thirty days to a man coming back to the country. It is not an undue period. If it is too long there would be no objection to modifying it or shortening it to fourteen or fifteen days, but there ought to be some definite period, however short, after he sets foot on the shores of this country during which he is not a soldier but a civilian, and during which he can claim his exemption. It ought not to be the fact that he is a soldier the moment he lands. If you allow him however short a time he can make his claim, and then under the terms of the principal Act after his claim has been properly made, until it is disposed of, he is not a soldier. If there is an intermediate period—
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think the Sub-section ought to go out because, as it stands, it puts a premium on staying abroad. But I appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman has made, and we will consider it before the Report stage.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want an unreasonable delay, but only a short one in order to give a man the right for which I ask.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The next Amendment, in the name of the hon. 620 Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt)—to add to Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 the words: "Provided always that whenever two hundred thousand married men have been enlisted under the provisions of this Section of the Act this Section shall cease to apply to any married man"—is not in order. This was settled on Second Reading, and is dealt with in the last two lines of paragraph (1), Subsection (1) of this Bill.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The point has been very carefully considered by the Chairman and myself, and we both agree that this Amendment is not in order.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow (Wednesday).