HC Deb 16 May 1916 vol 82 cc1405-12

During the continuance of the present War, Sub-section (1) of Section eighty-seven of the Army Act, and Sub-section (5) of Section nine of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907 (which relate to prolongation of service in certain cases), shall have effect as if after the words "not exceeding twelve months" where they occur in those Sub-sections respectively there were inserted the words "or in the case of men whose time for discharge occurs before the end of the present War not exceeding the duration of the War provided the man referred to in such Sections is under the age of forty-one."


I feel very strongly about calling back to the Army time-expired men, go I put down a Motion to reject this Clause, and also Clause 3, Sub-section (1). I realise, however, that the matter has been very fully debated in Committee, and also that there are other matters which possibly may be more advantageously taken up. I, therefore, propose neither to move my Amendment on this or the succeeding Clause.


I beg to move to leave out the words "provided the man referred to in such Sections is under the age of forty-one," and to insert instead thereof the words, "provided that this Section shall not apply in the case of men who when their time for discharge occurs have served a period of twelve years or more and have attained the age of forty-one years."

This Amendment gives effect to what was indicated in the Committee stage. The final words of Clause 2, as now framed, were inserted in Committee, and my right hon. Friend said he must consider other words before the Report stage. He also desired to make provision for the case of men who have served more than twelve years. With that view this Amendment has been framed, and the proposal is to omit the proviso and to insert the words I have moved.


I should like an expression of opinion or some intimation from the Solicitor-General regarding the position of time-expired men who have gone back into civil life So far as one can gather those men are by far in a worse position, or will be, under the provisions of this Bill than the men whose time expires whilst they are on service. In some instances—and I should like to direct the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to this matter—men will be called back who are only a few months short of attaining their forty-first year. If all this is not so, I should like to be corrected; but it seems a very hard case if it is so.


That point does not arise on this Clause, which only deals with a prolongation of the service of men in the Service.


Does this Amendment mean that if a man happens to be forty-three or forty-four, and if he has not served his full twelve years, he may be called back? If so, is that intended?

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the words proposed be there inserted."

Captain AMERY

I beg to move, in the proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "not" ["shall not apply in the case of men"], and after the word "apply" to insert the words "as regards home service only."

I have a slightly different Amendment down later on the Order Paper, but I believe in the interests of discussion it would perhaps be better to embody it as an Amendment to the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think the House generally expressed its views sufficiently strongly the other day as regards the hardship involved in keeping these men in the trenches, and I am not prepared to discuss that question any further. But there are certain points, and we must remember that these men whom it is now proposed to discharge, if they are over forty-one, are men of the very greatest value, not so much in the trenches as from the point of the training of the Army. In almost every case the man who has served continuously and has reached the age of over forty-one is a non-commissioned officer, and in a very large proportion indeed a non-commissioned officer who has been on the training staff either of the Regular Army or the Territorial Forces. These men are the very salt of the Army. They are invaluable as a nucleus, or as a part of that very inadequate small nucleus which we have for training our new soldiers. There are plenty of instructors in the Army to-day who went through the old Egyptian campaign of 1882–85. I was told only this morning of an old sergeant-major who has rejoined his battalion and, I believe, is going back to the front in a a week or two who fought at the Battle of Abu-Klea in 1885. He, therefore, is well over fifty. It seems to me a very grave thing if these men are to be allowed to go out of the Army. I would not keep them in the trenches—certainly not! But I would use them for the training of our young soldiers at home. There is no other national interest—consulting national interests first—involved in getting them away from the Army. In practically every case these men are the men who have made the Army their profession.

They are not skilled munitions workers. They are not skilled farmers. They are not producers in any essential industry. If you allow them to go they will start anew in some form of unessential work. One must always remember, in discussing an Amendment like this, that if you allow one man to go you have to fetch another man to take his place. Everyone of these men whom you allow to go from the Army into civil life means some other man called up—some other man less useful for training purposes, less fit, and possibly a man like the men whose cases were discussed yesterday, in connection with whom very grave hardship may be involved. After all, though it may be a hardship that a man who has served his twenty-two years is not allowed to go and open a small shop after his period of service expires, it is not nearly as great a hardship as taking the man who, after years of toil, has been successful in building up a small establishment, and who sees his work sacrificed. These men will not lose anything substantial in being kept back for a year or two from the day on which they will re-enter civil life. There is another question, and one of great gravity, which the House really ought to consider when dealing with these men. My hon. Friend (Mr. Jowett) referred to the very great hardship to men who had been allowed to go into civil life and then are recalled to the Army. In many cases it means that the little sum of money invested in a business is wasted. What is going to happen in the case of those men? They have mostly got a little bit of money saved. They open some sort of business with a view of living contentedly for the rest of their days. That is a most laudable and proper ambition on their part, but what is going to happen to these men?

In a very few months you are going to raise the age of service—there can be no question about that! The Committee the other day did not, I know, accept the Amendment. The Committee did not wish to raise the age. These questions, however, do not depend upon the wishes or the desires of this House. They depend upon the inexorable course of the War. This House did not wish for compulsory service. It did not wish to extend the service to married men or boys when they become eighteen. Stern necessity intervened. The Bill was passed. Those things were looked at from the position of the War at the front, and the reasonable prospects of it. We can be certain, whatever our wishes may be, that before many months are up we shall be compelled to raise the age of service. In that case can there be anything harder than calling back these men, because they not only will lose that quiet life and probably the little capital which they put into their new business? In this case there can be no greater injustice than to follow the dictates of sentiment instead of clearly and squarely facing the necessities of the situation. Therefore, I do submit that what I propose as an Amendment to the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment does not inflict any hardship upon these men. On the contrary, it is likely to save them very great hardship in the near future. From the point of view that must dominate everything, the needs of the Army and the safety of the country, it is very desirable that these men, be they only 5,000 or 6,000 in number, should be kept in the Army and not discharged into ordinary civil life.

Colonel YATE

I will heartily second the Amendment. As it happens, I have had put in my hand a letter from a company sergeant-major at the front, urging the very same consideration that has been urged by the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment. All these old non-commissioned officers of the Regular Army say that they cannot hold their own with the young men at the front, but that they do wish to come home and do their duty in training the new recruits, and I do hope that every effort will be made to keep those men on in the Service for the express purpose of training those young men.


I confess that I am rather sorry that this Amendment has been moved, because the other day we came to what I regarded as a general arrangement. I expressed, on behalf of the Government, what certainly was the general feeling of the House, namely, that these were the men whose compulsory re-engagement was regarded with greater regret than any other part of this necessary Bill, and I entirely disagree with the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment, when he drew a comparison between the hardship on the man now in business and the hardship on the man brought home from the front. The man in business has made no contribution as yet to this great War, having borne no share of the fighting or suffered, whereas these men very often have been in the trenches from the beginning of the War, and many have suffered severely, having been wounded more than once. Everyone feels that they have done their duty, and done it splendidly, and those men know that the day they come home, if they choose to take it up, civil occupation of a remunerative and suitable character awaits them. The hon. and gallant Member who supported the Amendment did so on the ground that many of those men wish to be given service at home. Those men can re-engage for Home Service, to-morrow if they choose. There is nothing to prevent them. They can all re-engage for Home Service, and I have no doubt, if they wish to do so, they can re-engage for Foreign Service. At present the War Office have not been taking re-engagement for Home Service, because they do not want, if they can help it, to add to the complication which arises by having two branches for the Army, one for general service, and one only available for home defence. But I have not the smallest doubt that if any of those men really wish to rejoin, then arrangements will be made for them to do it. I can answer for a man who joined the Army only the other day, a man who came under my own personal knowledge. I know nothing about how he did it, but I know his age. Wild horses will not drag his age out of me, but he comes within the description of my hon. Friend.

It is not a question of voluntary re-engagement. The question the House has got to decide is, are they going back upon the arrangement made the other day? There was a very general feeling in the House, not confined to one quarter, that there ought to be some compromise over this question of men who have attained a certain age and have served a certain number of years. The Amendment I accepted was with the full knowledge, concurrence, and approval of the Adjutant-General himself. The Adjutant-General is a member of the Army Council who is directly responsible for advising the country on these important questions. The arrangement I accepted is one which he entirely approved, and he approves of it still. Everything my hon. and gallant Friend said is no doubt true. You cannot foretell what may happen in war. He is very confident that this House is going to raise the age; he says in two or three months. I hope he will turn out to be a false prophet. That is all I can say, but, however that may be, I prefer to take the advice of a distinguished soldier who is in the important and responsible position of Adjutant-General of His-Majesty's forces. He is the man upon whose advice we rely, and to whom we are entitled to look for guidance. He is satisfied with the position the Government are taking up. We are not taking it up in opposition to him. Do not think there has been political pressure. I notice that things are said, but there is no foundation whatever for them. There is no difference between us. We came the other day to an arrangement, and I must ask the House to adhere to it, and not to bring up a new proposal which would not, in my humble opinion, be in keeping with what has been said.


I must say that I very much sympathise with the Amendment, and I feel strongly inclined to support it as much as I can. It seems to me this is the class of man which, if we could keep in the Army, we should keep in the Army, because these men have long experience of military service and of discipline in the Army. The one thing we have to teach most seriously to the newly-joined men is the principle of discipline, and it is the older soldiers who can instil that into new soldiers better than anyone else. The right hon. Gentleman, in replying just now, spoke about the fact that any man can enlist for Home service. I cannot help thinking he is misinformed there, because I do not know of any possible means of such enlistment at the present time.


I did not say that any man could enlist for Home service. That is exactly contrary to the fact. What I said was that if these old soldiers coming home were anxious to enlist for Home service, I am perfectly certain that that could be arranged. That is quite a different thing.


I think if that could be arranged it would be an advantage, but, even so, it would not quite meet the point whereby these men's services could be retained for the country, and I strongly support the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend.

Colonel YATE

Will the right hon. Gentleman give them a bounty to re-engage?


Yes, I should think any man who re-engages would come within the bounty, of course. That, no doubt, would have to be arranged with the War Office. There would have to be a special arrangement. I cannot answer for that now.

Words, "Provided that this Section shall not apply in the case of men who when their time for discharge occurs have served a period of twelve years or more and have attained the age of forty-one years," there inserted.