HC Deb 15 February 1917 vol 90 cc914-47

The matter I wish to raise is the scheme of National Service which has been launched by the Director of National Service, Mr. Neville Chamberlain. It is in some ways remarkable that this scheme, which will commit us, perhaps, to an expenditure of public money which may have very far-reaching industrial consequences, has not so far been discussed or been submitted to examination in the House of Commons. It was launched at a very big meeting in the Central Hall, Westminster, and I believe meetings are being held in many parts of the country in support of it now. Forms have also been issued at the various post offices, and in view of this I think it is important that we should examine some of the points and try to get the fullest possible information as to what is really involved in this new scheme. I understand that a Bill is going to be introduced next week, and in view of that fact I will defer reference to some of the wider issues until that time. But there are many matters of immediate practical interest and importance as to which some information should be given, and I hope it will be possible to obtain that information from the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), who represents the Director of National Service in this House. If some of the points are not quite settled, perhaps it will be possible to get a fuller statement when he introduces the Bill next week. At any rate, at the present time a great deal is left vague by the speeches that have been so far made, and I want to examine some of the business aspects rather than to deal with the matter from the standpoint which will be taken outside largely by platform eloquence. There is a journal like the "World," which is not hostile to the Government, and which can have no possible ulterior motives in this matter, and yet in a leading article last week, in dealing with the scheme as outlined by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the "World" said: The details of the scheme tire open to unlimited hostile criticism. The article went on to speak as strongly as this: No doubt Mr. Chamberlain is, sincere in this scheme but we are convinced that he will manage to wreck voluntaryism, and that is perhaps what some of his friends want. As it stands the scheme ought not to succeed, but those who go out to extol its virtues in such unmeasured terms cannot possibly know what they are doing. That is a strong statement coming from that particular quarter. One of the criticisms, so far as this journal is concerned, is that the scheme cannot possibly appeal to the middle-class people, and is not intended to apply to the middle-class people, but that it is a class measure, intended purely for the manual workers, and leaving other sections out of account altogether. The first point I wish to raise is that there is a great deal of uncertainty as to the exact terms and conditions of this new scheme of National Service. I read a letter the other day in the "Manchester Guardian." It was a letter from a trade union secretary, the Secretary of the Hatters' Union. This gentleman was present at the meeting at which the details of the scheme were discussed, and this is what he writes: It was my privilege to hear Mr. Neville Chamberlain's statement on Tuesday on this subject, which I understood him to illustrate as follows—it a workman earning £2 per week ordinarily, registered for National Service, and was consequently transferred to a job where the district rate was 30s. per week, he would be paid £2, and if transferred from a 30s. rate district tie would be paid £2, always receiving the higher rate of the two. The twenty-five shillings minimum he applied to men such as agricultural labourers, who might be earning sixteen shillings a week, but who would not be paid less than twenty-five shillings. I have read Mr. Chamberlain's speech, and I have read the circulars that are being issued and the conditions which applicants are signing, and I am bound to say that neither in the speech nor in the form of the application can I make out that any such terms are involved. I believe that at a time like this every hon. Member will agree that the less luxury work there is the better, and the less employment in luxurious employments the better. That is part of the penalty—we cannot get rid of it in a day, even if the country is at war—of a bad industrial system, which gives us far too much riches on the one hand and far too much poverty on the other. At any time, whether in time of war or in time of peace, the country has got to pay for that, and the country is paying for it now. Everybody will agree that it is wrong that men should be employed on, and that money should be spent upon pearls, jewellery of various kinds, golf courses, and so on. I saw an advertisement in a high-class journal the other day offering strings of pearls at from £4,000 to £10,000, and that after two-and-a-half years of war. I am quite sure that nobody would object to the very strongest possible steps being taken to deal with that particular matter. The question that will arise is whether the immediate dislocation of many of these trades would be in itself a cure. What is wanted is that there should be a transference of labour from less essential to more essential work, and that that might be done from the standpoint of gaining strength both in a military and an economic sense. The scheme of national service had no sooner been launched and its details outlined than it was strongly attacked in certain quarters because of the absence of immediate compulsory powers. It is quite clear that nothing will satisfy some people except a complete scheme of industrial compulsion is brought about.

The reason why I am raising this matter is not because in the ordinary way I should have much to say about the scheme as such, but because the failure of this scheme involves something else, if we are to judge by the hints given by the Prime Minister in this House, and that is that if this scheme that Mr. Neville Chamberlain has inaugurated fails—and I do not know what is the test of failure—we are promised a very large measure of industrial compulsion—so far, at any rate, as the working people are concerned. In view of that, I think it is absolutely essential that we should examine the details of the scheme and see whether they contain within themselves the elements of failure or the elements of success. I gather that everyone, from eighteen to sixty is eligible to enrol, and, having enrolled, is placed at the disposal of the Ministry of National Service to go anywhere and do anything, according as they are asked. I am quite sure that Mr. Chamberlain, as a shrewd, level-headed business man, is not unaware of the difficulties of his scheme. I am quite sure he must be aware that a mere policy of hustle does not always of itself work out well, and does not always bring additional strength to the country. I understand that 3,000,000 forms of application have been issued. The first point I would like information upon is as to how many applications will have to come in before the scheme is considered a success. I think we ought to have some information as to that, because if failure is going to involve complete industrial conscription, we ought to know when the Government will say that the voluntary appeal has succeeded. I do not think that is an unfair or unreasonable request. I understand that a general appeal is going to be made to everybody, whatever he is doing at the present moment. Everybody is going to be invited to volunteer, whatever his occupation. All the miners, all the railwaymen, all the transport workers, all the munitions workers, are to be invited. Is that really necessary in a matter of this kind? It is quite clear that you might get millions of applications from people who cannot possibly be spared from the work they are now doing. That is going to involve enormous clerical labour either locally by means of the Labour Exchanges or centrally in the Ministry of National Service.

On this point the opinion I expressed is backed up by an article in the "Spectator" of last week. The "Spectator" is not the kind of organ that would place any unnecessary difficulties in the path of the Government. It says: Looking at the scheme as a whole, we cannot help feeling anxious as to whether it has been sufficiently thought out. Two matters should hare been defined at the outset. First, the precise class of work that is required for national service. Second, the class of work that is non-essential to the nation. With these two categories clearly defined it would have been relatively easy to take action. At present not only is the whole scheme vague, but it involves as drawn up an enormous amount of labour which will admittedly be useless. Why, for example, should people already engaged in national work be put to the trouble of registering themselves, thus creating this great amount of additional clerical work, on the off-chance that they may have to be moved to some other place than the place in which they are now working I think that that extract helps to drive home that particular point. I believe that in the case of the war munitions workers very large numbers were enrolled. I rather think that the right hon. Gentleman knows far better than I. Round about 96,000 war munitions volunteers were enrolled, but when the figures came to be examined it was found that very large numbers of them were already engaged in work of national importance from which they could not possibly be shifted, and consequently the numbers in the end had to be boiled down very much. If that was true in regard to quite a small radius of trades, how much more would it be true, in a general appeal made to everybody from eighteen to sixty? You are bound to have, a great amount of waste work. This scheme is not going to apply to any extent to younger men between eighteen and forty, because if there is any shifting under this scheme they will go into the Army rather than be sent to any fresh employment. Therefore, in so far as the scheme applies to groups of workers, it would be the men between forty and sixty who would be affected.

I ask in all seriousness as a business proposition, and, apart from the eloquence of the platform, how many men between forty and sixty, family men with family responsibilities who are doing something that they know all about at any rate, are expected to enrol themselves for work about which they know nothing at all, and in respect of which they may be sent to a job at 25s. a week minimum? One very important point arises. In the case of these older men you get a man who is about fifty who has been in a certain employment all his life. You ask him in the interests of national service to throw up his job and enlist himself for something quite undefined. One matter which will come to the minds of many such men is this: "Suppose the War comes to an end six months from now, where shall I be? Then they will not want me in my new job, because I know very little about it, and is it certain that a man of my age is going to get back to his old job?" Therefore, the man is going to fall in all likelihood between two stools. He will not be wanted in the new job, and will have the utmost difficulty in getting back to his old job in competition with the millions of men coming back from the War at that particular time. What security is offered to men between forty and sixty who are going to be enrolled under this new scheme? If you are convinced that we have still a large number of non-essential trades in this country why do you not publish a list of these trades? It would be a great guidance to men to know whether the work they are doing is essential or nonessential.

If that is so, the first step in my opinion which the Director of National Service ought to have taken was to have told us what the non-essential trades are. If he had done that every workman in both trades would have felt in all likelihood that it was his duty to enrol. Do you want those trades wiped out, or closed down? Already, so far as the less essential trades are concerned, they have been very much depleted by labour enlistment, and by the operations of the Military Service Act, and I believe personally that any further interference with them—I do not say that it is a wrong thing—would mean closing them down. I believe you will have to look at that from the standpoint certainly of the financial credit of the country, and where a trade of that kind is closed down, is there to be any compensation at all to an employer or to a workman who is not suitable for another occupation? I am quite sure that you can have a great deal of fuss and upset without adding very much more strength so far as the economic position is concerned. Take that he can perform a certain thing and offers to undertake certain work, and that man is tried and then it is found that lie cannot do the job. What is going to happen in that case? I understand, according to the promise now made, that if it were actually to happen, a man would be enttiled to receive 3s. 6d. a day for a period of four weeks. The important matter arises—who is to decide what a workman is fit for? What Committee can decide what a man can do, seeing that he has never done it before, and indeed if one might take the case of what is actually now happening, you are going to have a repetition of hundreds and hundreds of cases similar to that, a report of which I now hold in my hand, where a tribunal anticipating this new scheme of national service has acted in the following way at Grange-on-Sands, the Vicar of Grange, as the chairman of the tribunal, where they have told a widower who only lost his wife a few weeks ago, and who was left with nine children, one child, I think, only a few weeks old, and many of the children quite young, that he must either find other work of some sort or else must be eligible for enlistment in the Army.

I am going to read a short extract from the Grange paper dealing with the case:— Grange is…. respectable and patriotic. It is not easily agitated. It has however, this week been at least mildly scandalised by a decision of the local tribunal. The case was that of a widower aged 40 who had just lost his wife, and is left with nine children whose ages range between five weeks and fifteen years. He could not plead that his business as a curio dealer is work of national importance, but he asked for consideration on the ground of his extraordinary domestic responsibility, the care for and supervision of nine young children, without a mother's help. By some tribunals that might have been regarded as a work of national importance, for a man of forty, but to take a man and enrol him under such conditions, I hope the time is past when that sort of thing is possible in this country. Are we going to have as the great determining factor of what a man is going to be, and where he is going to be sent, the Labour Exchanges and the Labour officials? If so, I wish to draw attention to what the Minister of Labour has recently been saying about those particular officials to whom you are now going to entrust the destinies of the people. The Minister of Labour has been making many speeches recently in this country, and covering a wide variety of topics. One does not quite see what the steel industry and the work of the steel worker has to do with the immediate matters now before the country. There is invoked at the present time something in the nature of a political truce between parties represented on the Front Ministerial Bench. Apparently that truce does not appeal much to the Minister of Labour; indeed, the questions he has been talking about were so irrelevant from matters now before the country that one is reminded of nothing so much as a verse from "Alice in Wonderland": The time has come, the Walrus said. To talk of many things, And why the sea is boiling hot And whether pigs have wings. I believe the Minister of Labour must be rather a political walrus. He said in regard to these officials, first of all, that these men or officials are from a "refrigerating chamber," then he said these officials in Labour Exchanges "were wooden images," and then he said, again, they were walking round "like Lord Tom Noddies." Are these the people who are going to decide what a barrister is going to do, or what a banker is going to do, or what anybody is going to do; or are they to be sent to work they are not fit for? I want to know what is the real position. I am not accepting the Minister of Labour's description of these officials; I think it is wrong on the part of a Minister to make a public comment of that kind on people under him, and who are not able to reply to him. To come to a question of wages, what is going to happen in the case of men who enrol under this scheme, and are sent from one district where the standard wage for the work is 40s. to a district where the standard wage for the same work is 30s.? Mr. Neville Chamberlain said, speaking on the 7th February: The War Munition volunteer gets either his own rate or the rate of the job to which he goes, whichever is higher. He is in a different position from the National volunteer. The War Munition volunteer does not change his trade, and there is no change in the rate if there is a small difference between the two districts and between the two trades. The National volunteer is going to change history, and might easily have to work side by aide with the shopkeeper, a labourer, a miner, or various others, and it will be quite impossible for them to have their own rates of pay. There is only one rate they can expect, and that is the rate of the job they go to. It may be higher or it may be lower than the one to which we are accustomed. Another part of the same speech Mr. Neville Chamberlain states that a man belonging to a trade may be sent to a different part of the country. He said: There will lie many men among our volunteers who are already engaged in work of national importance, and I want to make it clear, that our only reason for asking them to enrol is that we may want them to do the same or similar work in some other part of the country. That is a clear contradiction of what he said in another part. The question of what a man is going to be paid, for the same work in another district, seems to be settled by the terms and conditions of service: The rate of charges which I shall receive whilst I am in such employment shall be the rate current for the job on which I am to be employed. If that be true, it means that you are sending workmen from a 40s. district to a district where the employer is paying 30s.—perhaps a sweated wage—and, in order to enforce national service upon the workman, you are giving the employer a man 10s. cheaper than the amount he got for the job he had left. If that is not the case, is the alternative that he could get 40s., which is the higher rate, when he is going to work alongside a man who is getting 30s.? Is that going to be done in a large number of cases, and if it is done in a large number of cases, do you hope to promote industrial harmony by that means? The war munition volunteers are comparatively few in number, and probably no great complication would arise in their case; but if there is going to be any big movement of men, you will have to face the matter by levelling up the rate of wages and compelling the employers to do that. I come to the question of agriculture. I understand that the pay is going to be 25s. per week for agricultural work, and that is going to be paid to men who have never been employed on the land before and know little or nothing about agricultural work. I would point out that the wage of 25s. in times of present prices is not worth more than 15s., and I think that those who are concerned in national service, members of the Government, who are getting £80 or £100 a week for doing national service, will have some hesitation in asking them to work for a wage worth about 15s. a week. The wages of many agricultural labourers are less than 25s., and in some districts are 18s. or 19s. a week. Are you going to allow these men to enrol and go to the next county where they get 25s., or are you going to have agricultural labourers who get 18s. a week to superintend men who have never seen the land before and are to get 25s. a week? Do you believe that to be a possible working arrangement, or, indeed, a fair one? I do not believe that work on these lines is going to be good from the standpoint of national economy. Is a complete novice who has never seen work before going to be paid the full wages of the district for doing work he has never previously undertaken? Are these men who are sent in this way and who may in some cases be asked to give up a great deal—you may have men not engaged in essential work getting incomes of from £200 to £500 a year which they are sacrificing in order to undertake this job—are they only to get the guaranteed minimum of 25s.? And if people do make a sacrifice like that, are we going to allow the private fanner or employer to reap a profit out of their sacrifice? That is a matter of very great consequence indeed. We hear a good deal about sacrifice, and if you speak to some men about it they only look at it from the point of view of somebody else's sacrifice. When Sidney Smith was told by his doctor that he ought to take a walk every morning on an empty stomach he replied, "Yes, but whose empty stomach?" Very often, indeed, it is rather in the direction of somebody else than ourselves that the plea is made in regard to sacrifice. The pledge which a man is asked to undertake is in the following terms: I hereby agree, by my signature, to attend when summoned for an interview at a national service office near my home, and, it' required, to receive seven days' notice to undertake whole-time work of national importance in the employment of any Government Department or other employment named by the Director-General of National Service, and to remain in such employment during the War, or for such shorter period as may be required of me, in accordance with the foregoing conditions. Two questions arise out of that. The first is, if a workman is dissatisfied can he leave his work, having signed that undertaking? And if the answer is "No," then I ask if the employer is dissatisfied with the man he gets, can he get rid of him? I venture to think the answer to the first question is "No," and to the second "Yes." And if that is the case then there is something wrong about the matter, and it ought to be inquired into. There are a great many questions in regard to substitution. The idea that any man can do any other man's job seems to me a most extraordinary fallacy, because many of these jobs, especially agricultural work, are absolutely skilled occupations, and it is only people who have been long years on the land, for instance, who really know it. I am sure it will be generally agreed that the Army scheme of substitution up to the present time has not been a brilliant success. No one would claim that it has. And that has largely been due to the fact that you have tried to put a square peg into a round hole. We are driven from one step to another until we are on the brink of complete industrial conscription, and the reason is, that the Government have always failed to take an all-round view of its obligations and requirements, and have never been able to reconcile the conflicting claims of agriculture, shipping, food supply, and Army and Navy requirements. We have been stampeded first by one newspaper and then by another, first in one direction, and then when we have found we are on the wrong path, we have had to retrace our steps. The position of the Government in this matter reminds me of Luther's drunken peasant, who was only saved from falling on one side by tumbling down on the other.

I should like to inquire also whether women are going to come inside this scheme. The impression created by Mr. Chamberlain's first speech was that they are not wanted, and we had the usual flaunting bills all over London: "Women not wanted under new scheme." They have been offering themselves readily for various sorts of work. Two million women applied to the Labour Exchanges last year; not more than 800,000 found jobs, so that there was a very large margin left unemployed. I am told that in many cases farmers are not very enthusiastic about securing women workers. I saw the other day that the Army had applied for about 1,000 women cooks. I am told that 50,000 women are required for various forms of Army service, cooking and so on in France. I think personally it is an excellent thing for women to act as cooks. I believe that whereas there is very often plenty of food in the Army, it is served in a very un-appetising form, and if it were properly cooked it would then be of real benefit to the Army. But if you are going to undertake a large scheme of this kind, if you are going to send 50,000 women to France as cooks, there ought to be adequate arrangements made for their comfort and protection, and I assume that this will be done.

In regard to women in agriculture, are they to have the same minimum as is paid to the men? Apparently they arc. My view is, generally speaking, that women should be paid sixpence an hour for at any rate a minimum number of hours in view of the liability to broken time. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman, in discussing this matter with the Director of National Service and others, to see to it that the Government do not yield to mere newspaper clamour. There has been a great deal of dislocation of home life in this country already. I am sure nobody would be in favour of any further needless dislocation of home life which might be involved by pressing this matter forward.

I would not have raised this matter at all but for the fact that the failure of this scheme, we are told, is going to involve a general scheme in the nature of forced labour. We believed we had adequate safeguards and protection against schemes of industrial conscription. I remember a meeting addressed by the late Prime Minister when the right hon. Gentleman was trying, not without success, to induce the Labour leaders of this country to agree to military compulsion. A fear was then expressed that military compulsion would be the first stepping-stone towards industrial compulsion, and the late Prime Minister said: I am not in favour of compulsion in regard to industrial work. I see no reason for it, and I shall absolutely resist it to the last. Yes, but we had a speech made the other day by the new Prime Minister in this House, and this is what he said in regard to industrial compulsion: We shall begin by inviting the enrolment of volunteers, but if it is found impossible to get the numbers we require by that means—I hope it may be possible—we shall not hesitate to come to Parliament to ask Parliament to release us from pledges given in other circumstances to obtain the necessary power for rendering our plans fully effective. So that a pledge is not a pledge when it was given in other circumstances, and if that is true, then I would not attach much importance to all the other trade union pledges that have been given during the War, because they were all given in other circumstances. But, indeed, the change in the circumstances has been brought about by the Government itself, and the Government then proceeds to say that the change releases them from all obligations in regard to their promises. This is an extract from the "Saturday Review" as to whether the scheme is voluntaryism or compulsion: The scheme is not confessedly voluntaryism in the simple and obvious sense of the word, for voluntaryism means 'I am willing,' 'I wish,' and implies no threat whatever. It is voluntaryism in a kind of adjusted sense. 'We ask you,' says the State, 'to come in of your own free will, but mind, if you do not come in, we will fetch you.' That is the idea. It is a sort of voluntary compulsion or compulsory voluntaryism. It lies on the penumbral zone which is between voluntaryism and compulsion, or one might style it a No Man's Land in the battle front of principles. I am not going to enter now into that wider question beyond saying that I do not believe you will ever get good service out of unwilling and compelled workpeople, and by that I stand very firmly indeed. If you want to go forward, give good conditions. Why should you send industrial conscripts on to the land and not compel farmers to pay just wages to their labourers? Farmers are well able at the present time to pay just wages, and they were never better able to attract free labour than they are now. I believe, also, if you wish to get rid of luxuries as you ought to you should get rid of the pearl trade, and the expensive lace trade, and the jewellery trade, and the like; but I believe that you can best do it by imposing such a substantial taxation upon the people of this country that they will have nothing left for these luxuries. If equality of sacrifice means anything, I contend that it means something in the nature of equality of income, and I would urge very strongly upon the Government not to pursue merely a rake's progress toward wider and wider measures of compulsion, but to take the whole circumstances into the case and appeal far more than they have done to the voluntary spirit of the people.


I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield has taken this opportunity of raising this whole question of what is now known as "National Service." I have again to protest as a Member of this House against the practice which is now almost becoming a regular practice of Ministers, not only announcing but adumbrating their whole policy outside the walls of this Chamber. I do not think that it leads at all to that co-operation which we are so frequently asked to give and which in general we have never refused, to have those schemes which affect all our constituents, not only the working men but the business men in our constituencies, before we, the Members of the House of Commons, have had any opportunity at all of expressing our views on what is proposed. I do not know whether it is the exigencies of the situation or any other reason that suggests this method to Ministers, but it is the practice, and as I have said it is now becoming the regular practice, to announce these policies outside the House of Commons. The arrangement that obtains now, for instance, in the House of Commons, by which we have a Leader of the House who keeps the Prime Minister imprisoned somewhere outside the House and stands as a barrier between the Prime Minister and the Members of the House, is a bad practice. I have been cudgelling my own brains to know, for instance, what question a private Member of this House can now put down to the Prime Minister and get an answer to from the Prime Minister. Not that I do not think the Leader of the House can give as good an answer—I think sometimes he gives a much more direct and plain answer than the Prime Minister can give, but it is a fact that a private Member of this House cannot get at the Prime Minister unless he throttles the sentry, and the life of my right hon. Friend is much too valuable to try that experiment upon, at this stage at all events.

Having made that protest, which I renew on every occasion on which this is done—and I do it because the Leader of the House taught me to do it when he sat on that bench opposite at the beginning of the War, and protested so frequently on the same lines—I am concerned to know where all this policy is leading us. We began by the voluntary enlistment of soldiers and sailors for the purposes of this War. That drifted very quickly into compulsion, and we have now reached the stage when, as a national policy, we have conscripted life. This policy, which I will examine in a moment, seems to me to be taking us towards the conscription of labour, and while we have conscripted life, and while we are likely to conscript labour, we are to-day guaranteeing a 5 per cent, interest on capital, which is the other constituent that makes up the wealth of the nation. You have life, labour, and capital. The Government has taken life, the Government, proposes to take labour, and yet the Government guarantees by a series of methods that the money which is lent to the country for carrying on the War shall, at any rate, be sufficiently and adequately protected. I quite agree with my hon. Friend opposite that there is no such thing in this War as equality of sacrifice. There never has been, and I am certain that it would be difficult to get equality of sacrifice, and I do not make, therefore, too much of that point; but there has been a great deal of cant talked about equality of sacrifice, and a great deal of cant talked about doing our bit this way and another way. The only people who are left out of the advantages of the present Loan are the people who invested in the first Loan. The people who came to the rescue of the State in the first Loan get no advantages at all in regard to the present Loan; and if they do not subscribe to this Loan they do not get their names in the papers, and they do not have it said that so much is converted and so much is new money; and they do not get that kind of distinction which seems to come from being able to lend the State money at a better and higher rate of interest and more secure than you can get it in any other way. That is why I think we are entitled to know now, before we proceed further with the business of this Session, what is the real intention of the Government in regard to this matter. Let me put this point while I am on the question of the consent of the House of Commons. When his scheme was originally set up we were told that there was to be two sides to it. There was to be a civilian side and there was to be a military side. The civilian side of the work, the whole organisation of which is controlled at the moment by General Geddes at the War Office, was to be transferred to the Directorship of Mr. Neville Chamberlain. I should like to know how far that has been abandoned? I saw in the newspapers, which are the only source of information one has now on these questions, that while that was the original intention it has since been abandoned and that the conscripting of life was still in the hands of General Geddes. I should like to know how the matter stands. May I remind the House that the one reason we are discussing this subject tonight is really, first of all, because we have never settled yet, even up to this period of the continuance of the War, what is our policy! We have lived from hand to mouth. We have never known with any certainty what the next day was going to bring forth except on one point. We knew every day of the week would bring forth a, new controller of one kind or another. Beyond that there is nothing certain in the political world in regard to the War.

10 P.M.

I am not going to repeat arguments which have been used this afternoon in regard to other subjects, but I must mention them in order to show what I mean by this point of policy. One may say what one likes or hold what opinion one likes about our operations in the East, but whatever our opinions may be the certain fact is that they have taken away from other parts of our fighting line men, materials, and ships which could have been used in other ways. That point has been argued at great length, and I only state now that it has resulted in a certain stringency of food supplies. That matter has been argued this afternoon at great length. One of the reasons why it has been brought forward is, if possible, to make certain that a food supply will be available in this country. It is a vicious circle—the result of a policy which has not been thought out. I do not blame this Government any more than I blame the previous Government for this lack of policy. Each Government had and has its good and bad qualities, though I think in both of them the bad qualities predominate. That, however, is only a personal opinion which may not be shared by others. At any rate, that policy has resulted in the fact that we are face to face with the necessity of the moment in regard to food. Let me go on to what seems to me to be a question which is more urgent than these rearrangements of men between the ages of forty-one and upwards. It is this: Has the Government yet really taken in hand the combing out of the Army of men who are in the Army and who have no right to be there? Mark you, the House of Commons has never come to any decision upon it. We have not even had the Bill introduced which is going to set up the machinery which we are supposed to be paying for now. We will pass that Vote of Credit, and the money that is going to finance this experiment, this office of director and staff, without the House of Commons ever having been asked to say whether or not it is desirable. When the House of Commons has the knowledge that inside the Army there are men who are no use to the Army and who would be of great use to industry if they could be got out of the Army, why are these men kept in the Army? Everyone of us knows some of these men personally. I do not reed to give any statistics. I will quote one example. I am very friendly with a man who is now in the Army. That man has been on parade five days during the period he has been in the Army. The rest of the time, covering a period of many months, he has either been in hospital or on light duty. He ought never to have been passed by any medical board for admission to the Army. He is a married man. His wife knows how to take care of him by arranging his food, and mothering him, so to speak, and so keep him at the industrial work in which he was engaged as an ordinary citizen. The Army took that man, and in the last letter I had from him—he is a personal friend of my own—he told me he was engaged in picking up waste paper in the camp of the unit to which he belonged. That man could be earning a good wage in the city of Edinburgh, and be doing useful work; but I cannot get him out of the Army. I am told that depends upon a medical board. We are feeding, clothing, and housing that man in the Army. He will never fight the Germans, he could not possibly physically do it. But he could be filling a post now in which he would be useful to the nation. Another friend of mine at the moment has been put into category C2, I think. He is a professional man who might be engaged in useful civilian work, being an expert ledger clerk. He is cleaning out stables in a Cavalry depot, not five miles from Edinburgh. He cannot clean out stables. It is work which is breaking down ids constitution; he has suggested that he could do useful work outside the Army. But the Army prefers that this man should muck out stables. That is what is known as scientific organisation. That is what we are asked to bow down and worship.

I do not blame the medical boards who have been responsible in many respects for this. Some of these medical boards have acted under the duress of the War Office. Some of these medical men are personal friends of mine, men with whom I was at the University, and whose attainments I know, men who would not have passed these other men into the Army had there not been instructions from the War Office that there were too many exemptions in certain Commands, and that these exemptions must stop. That is why you have to get men out of industry and out of civilian life into the Army, where they are useless, not only to the nation, but where they are a hindrance to the training of the men who have got to do the fighting. They ought to have been retained in civil life, carrying on very well work which is now going to be interfered with artificially by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, with the support, as I suppose, of the Cabinet, and as I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, with the support of the Labour party in the Cabinet. I know the answer we shall get. The platitude answer that is given us in all these discussions—we are at war!—as if we did not know that by this time. Everything is covered by that excuse. If the Government want the time of the House for any subject they want it because we are at war! If they want us to agree to a course which is against ordinary constitutional practice we have got to agree to it—because we are at war' Everything is to be done because of that platitude.

Why do not the Government sometimes appeal to their own common sense? Why do not they test this by their own knowledge of the conditions? I defy any man on the Front Bench to stand up and say that he is absolutely ignorant of the fact that there are friends of his own in the Army to-day who would have been doing better work outside, and who ought not to have been in the Army. That is a fair test out of a dozen representative men. I do urge, before you enter upon this scheme, that you clean out your own stables. I do not like to say it, because it may be regarded as personal, but there are men in this present Administration who ought to be in the Army—men of military age, men who have been trained to the Army and are officers, but who are here in the House of Commons filling one of those three benches. It does not lie in the mouth of the Government which contains those men to say these things about other people. I think that ought to be plainly stated when the lives of the working people of this country are at stake, and other people are being combed out of essential industries. Why, we have had talk of combing men out of the shipyards of this country, combing men out of the industries of this country in such a way that, if it be carried out, you would put an obstacle in the way of the successful issue of the War!

Somebody inside the Government ought to take control of this continual demand for men. I believe three, if not four, of the big Departments of the Government to-day are quarrelling amongst themselves with regard to the supply of men. The Ministry of Munitions is at loggerheads with the War Office, The War Office and the Ministry of Munitions are at loggerheads with the Admiralty. Mr. Neville Chamberlain is at loggerheads with the three combined with regard to the supply of labour. The Ministry of Munitions would tell you, if their representative cared to stand up from that bench, that they cannot spare the skilled men for the Army that the Army wants. The Army would tell the Munitions Ministry that they should give these men, irrespective of other considerations. There is a type of mind in this country which does not seem to co-relate the whole effort that it is known ought to be put forth to win this War, and then on the top of that you get this outside, artificial scheme which is going to interfere with other people. Do not the Government appreciate the fact that nine-tenths of the businesses of this country have already given every possible man they can give to the national efforts that is being made if they are to carry on their business at all? The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that many men are even now holding back with regard to subscriptions to the War Loan until they know what is going to be done with the men they have got left. I know business men in Scotland who could contribute to the War Loan, and who want to do so, but who have surrendered every possible man they can if they are to maintain their business, and are not prepared to make their contribution until they know what Mr. Neville Chamberlain and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson) are going to do with the rest of the labour that they have.

Surely we must know that the success, after all, of our strength in this fight is the industrial strength that is left to us to maintain our financial position. And, therefore, I say that the Government, first of all, ought to walk warily before they introduce a scheme outside this House of Commons which interferes with every part of our national life, which, as sure as we are debating this question tonight, is on the road not to a voluntary national service, but to a compulsory national service. We have conscripted life. This, if Ministers would tell the honest truth, means compulsory labour service by the people of this country. If they are going to do it let us do the thing properly. Let us conscript life, let us conscript labour, but let us also conscript wealth.


We have listened to two speeches, and I hope that both the hon. Members who have spoken will pardon me if I say—and I say it in spite of the suggestion made by the last speaker, with regard to having the repetition of a parrot cry—that neither of them seem to me quite to have realised that we are in a war. I am a little at a loss to know whether it is that they are more anxious to make it necessary for us to bring in the compulsion, in referring to which they have both taken up a good part of their speeches, than to do anything to assist the success of this scheme outlined by the Director-General of National Service, I do not propose, however, to follow them in the statements that have been made and the questions that they have submitted, especially with regard to many of the details of that scheme. Earlier this afternoon I introduced a Bill, and the Leader of the House intimated that the Second Reading of that Bill would be taken on Tuesday next. I hope to have then what I believe will be a much more favourable opportunity of going into the details of the measure, and answering many of the objections that have been raised. I want to thank the hon. Member for Attercliffe for bringing to my notice some of the details of the scheme, and some points which I shall be able to show are no part of the scheme.

I want to-night to reply more to the general observations that fell from both of the speakers. Both the hon. Member for Attercliffe and the hon. Member for Edinburgh complained that the scheme had been adumbrated outside the House. I think all of us who have been Members of this House for any length of time are most anxious under ordinary circumstances, at any rate, to have any part of the Government policy first of all explained and expounded to the Members of this House. But I do appeal to my hon. Friends to try to realise that there may be occasions when to wait until you get a Parliamentary opportunity may mean running unnecessary risks. I want to remind the House that we have had five Parliamentary days. The first two, I see, were occupied with the Address. Then we had what everybody, I think, will admit, a very important—in fact a gigantic—Vote of Credit. Those necessarily have to be disposed of in the early days of the new Session. All that there is included so far in the scheme of the Director of National Service is a plan for enrolling volunteers, and as I listened to the speeches delivered it seemed that both the speakers had come to the conclusion that the scheme involved a great measure of compulsion. I hope to be able to show, when I bring in the Bill next week, that that is an entirely mistaken idea. In view of the fact that we wanted volunteers, and that we wanted them as speedily as possible, surely to announce a scheme of that description to a great public meeting consisting of representatives of both employers and workmen's associations—I hope that will not be questioned, because employers were invited from all over the country, and it was a great meeting of the representatives of employers and trade union associations, and workmen were represented from all parts of the country—to bring such a scheme before them under the Parliamentary circumstances that exist, the urgency, the magnitude, and the need, I think was entirely justifiable on the part of the Government. Many references have been made to the question of compulsion, and also to the pledges of Ministers. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and I think the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson), both reminded us of those pledges—


I did not.


At any rate, we had a quotation made by the hon. Member for Attercliffe from a speech of the old Prime Minister and another from the present Prime Minister.


The indispensable one.


It appears that because those pledges were made under a certain set of circumstances they are, before any attempt has been made to break them, to be hurled across the floor of the House without regard to the new factors in the case. I myself was one of those who made some pledges. [An HON. MEMBER: "Plenty of them!"] I am reminded that I made plenty of pledges, and I am prepared to say to the House—that when the time comes, if ever it does come, when the needs of the nation, in my view, necessitate my breaking a pledge, or at any rate doing everything in my power to get release from any pledge I have given on this subject, I am quite prepared to take every means at my disposal to secure that release. If we are going to be bound by pledges made under circumstances entirely different, and if we are going to be so bound that we must totally ignore new factors in the case in a great national and international crisis, then it seems to me that our position becomes absolutely impossible.


Then you do not object to the German invasion of Belgium?


I notice to-night that a certain section of the House has been pursuing a line all in support of a policy entirely contrary, in my judgment, to the interests of this nation. Their interruptions and their interjections have all gone in that direction. If my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) can see no difference between what I did and what I said I would do, and that what Germany did, because Germany did not resort to the proper means to get release from her pledges—she overrode her pledges, whereas what I said I would do,—and surely my hon. Friend will give me credit for speaking sincerely—was that I would take every means open to me to get release from my pledges, and if I made my pledges, first of all, to the representatives of the great Labour movement with which I have been so long connected I will go to them; if I made my pledges to my constituents I will go to my Constituency and ask them for release—if my hon. Friend can see no difference in the line of what I conceive to be honourable conduct and the dishonourable conduct of the German nation in violating its pledges with regard to helpless Belgium, then I cannot understand his outlook. Are there no new factors in the situation? And is the policy of this country always dictated either by ourselves or our Allies? Surely hon. Members are prepared to recognise that the running, as we sometimes say, is made not by us, but by our enemies. The challenge is thrown down. Are we to take it up? I do not mind saying in passing, after some of the interjections which I have heard to-night: that if those hon. Members had been half as enthusiastic in assisting us to take up Germany's challenge it is just possible that we should have been through with this War now. I repeat: The running is not made by us; it is made by them. The challenge is thrown down, and we must take it up. It appears to me that if ever there were a time when every section of the community, and certainly all sections of this House, should unite it is now, in spite of the mistakes that have been made. We all admit that there have been mistakes. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh in the closing part of his speech referred to some of the mistakes that have been made. He gave one or two isolated instances of men picking up paper in the Army.


Not isolated.


I say that they are isolated cases, having regard to the millions of men that have been enlisted under the most exceptional circumstances in which any Government was ever placed.


There are thousands of them.


I repeat that they are exceptional; but supposing there are thousands, is it to be wondered at, having regard to the circumstances under which that vast New Army was enlisted during the closing months of 1914 and nearly the whole of 1915? It is a well-known fact that many men were admitted into the Army who ought never to have been admitted at all. The medical boards or the medical officers at the time of their enlistment, either through overwork or some other reason, passed these men into the Army, we admit, and we know there have been mistakes made, but is that any reason for our not adopting some voluntary scheme for securing men from nonessential for essential industries at an almost fatal moment in the history of the nation, or why we should have the time of the House taken up and the Government criticised with no stronger argument than that a man is going about picking up paper who ought never to have been in the Army? I will venture to say that such criticism and such arguments as have been advanced against this scheme to-night will not merit the approval of the majority of the constituents of either of the Members who have offered those criticisms.

I said a moment or two ago that, having regard to the fact that I will introduce a Bill dealing with the subject, that I was not going into detailed criticisms on questions that have been submitted, but there is one particular point that I must answer, because I think the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson) attaches very great importance to it, and that is a question of wages. He seemed to think that the result of the operation of this scheme was going to have a prejudicial effect on wages, and he invited the Government, if they wanted labour, to offer inducements. He put to me the question as to whether a skilled man, I understood him to say, who might be working in a district at 40s. per week, was transferred to another district where the rate was 30s. per week, would that skilled man be employed at 30s. and not at 40s.? I want to make it perfectly clear, and I shall have to return to this subject in connection with the Bill, that the Director-General of National Service is working under two schemes, both of them run on voluntary lines. There has been in existence for many months now what is known as the War Munitions Volunteer Scheme. I had something to do with setting it up, and, so far as I know, it has been a very great satisfaction with the skilled workmen that have been enrolled and have been transferred under that scheme. The principle of that scheme was that if a man moved from a high-paid district to a lower-paid district, he carried his rate with him, and if he moved from a lower-paid district to a higher-paid district, he received the higher rate in the new district. Surely that is not a bad scheme under which to transfer a volunteer workman; but, as well as obtaining the higher rate if he was taken away from his family and had to maintain what we sometimes call "a second home" and to go into lodgings, in those cases, in addition to obtaining the higher rate, he receives what we call a subsistence allowance of 2s. 6d. per day, or 17s. 6d. per week. Though I have been Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on output during the whole time that this scheme has been in operation, I must say on the whole very, very few criticisms have been offered by the workmen, and, in fact, I think the scheme has worked generally with great satisfaction. That scheme is going to continue to operate, and, as I will show on the Second Reading of the Bill, it is going to continue to operate exactly in the same way and, if needs be, the list of the classes of trades under it can be given to the House, and the list of trades is larger to-day, considerably larger to-day, than it was when the scheme was first set up. In fact, there are very few, if any, skilled trades engaged in essential war work that are not covered by this scheme. Therefore the advantages of it, to which I have just referred, will apply to any workmen in those classes who enrol under the appeal of the Director-General of National Service.

Then there is his own scheme, a scheme he is just putting into operation. The House ought to recognise—I hope both my hon. Friends will recognise this—that it is one thing to set up a scheme for your skilled men, most of whom are working in kindred trades, where there is not such a great difference between the highest trade union rate and the lowest trade union rate. When you come to deal with all the miscellaneous and multifarious classes of trades that must be included necessarily—I should say trades and no trades—in a universal scheme, then the problem presents very serious difficulties of an entirely different character. I need not take up the time of the House in reciting a number of the classes of what might be called nonessential trades or non-essential classes of employment in a great war. The jewellery trade has been thrown over the floor of the House by more than one interjection. There are such classes of workmen as gardeners and butlers. I believe there is a considerable number of employés, both men and women, in connection with what is called the entertainment trade—theatres, music halls, and cinemas—a vast number of people from one end of the country to the other providing entertainment night after night that cannot be considered essential in a crisis like this. I am not saying that we are dealing with those trades; I am merely giving the House one or two instances. There is a vast number of agents of one kind or another who, I believe, would be only too glad to be transferred to a more satisfactory form of employment—I mean more satisfactory in the sense that they are now working on commission, and in many cases working on commission to-day, when the expenses, especially travelling expenses, are exceedingly high, and I believe many of them would be quite prepared to respond to the appeal of the Director-General and to take from him some form of new employment.

The hon. Member for Attercliffe dwelt a good deal on the 25s. minimum wage that is suggested in the Director-General's new scheme. I am quite prepared to recognise that in these days of high prices 25s. might be what he described as a sweating wage. Even to-day, in spite of the advances in wages that have been given and the higher wages that obtain in certain well-organised trades', I am inclined to think that in this country there is still a very large number of men whose wages do not yet reach 25s. In agriculture, although there has been a great improvement, I am happy to say, in the rates of wages for agricultural labourers during the past twelve months, it may be said that there are still many who are working under rather than over the 25s. margin. If that is the case, take the position of the agricultural labourer. I am not sure that there is going to be much opening for transfer of the agricultural labourer, but if he is to be transferred at 25s., and, if he is taken away from his home, he receives an additional weekly allowance of 17s. 6d., whatever may be said of the economic position of a man with 25s., and my Friends know how for a good number of years I have been struggling to improve the economic position of all classes of workmen, it seems to me that, in spite of the high prices many agricultural labourers, if they have to move at all, will feel that they are certainly in no worse position in responding to the nation's need. But is is only a minimum. Supposing there are agricultural labourers to-day getting 30s. a week, as I hope there are—I believe in London some labourers in connection with local authorities get something like 30s. a week—and if one of these men leave his employment and goes into the Army and a man is brought in to take his place from a lower-paid district he does not get 25s. a week, but 30s. He never can get less than 25s., and I believe in the majority of cases which are removed the movement will be upward rather than downward. I am quite prepared to admit that if you are going to have professional men offering themselves under this scheme for two or three months, in their case there is going to be a tremendous sacrifice. I believe some of them—I will not say many, but some—are prepared to make the sacrifice. I believe some of them realise the national need to be so great and the supply of men for the Army, munitions factories, shipyards, and other places so limited that they would be prepared, could they be satisfied there was no other way whereby the need could be met, to make the greatest possible sacrifice and even to go on the minimum rate of 25s. to get a mere existence out of it, if he could assist in successfully to prosecute the War.

There is only one other point I want to refer to. The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) I thought was a little hard upon the Government. I was not surprised. I have been sufficiently long in the House with the hon. Member to know that when I find him praising the Government, the Government is in a very treacherous and dangerous position. Therefore if he had spoken well of the Government I should have thought it had begun its life exposed to very serious danger. He asked whether the Government have any settled policy in regard to the War. I think I can tell him that the policy of the Government is to do everything which in its wisdom it believes will assist in the successful prosecution of the War. I do not know that I can put it on any clearer ground than that, and I think we may appeal for assistance from quarters from which we do not get it. I think we might especially appeal at this juncture. I have had the responsibility of being in the Government for something like 20 months, and I do not know—I say it in all sincerity, and I think the Leader of the House has already tried to impress the House with the same view—that there has ever been during the whole of those 20 months a period more critical in the interests of the nation and in the interests of the Allied cause than the present period. We have seen the application of the submarine policy to an extent that exceeds anything we have experienced since the War began. We have seen that during the last few days, and the Government was called upon to face that new factor, or, at any rate, an aggravation of the submarine policy to a greater extent than ever before. We were compelled from the very earliest days of the Government to face that situation, and the facing of that situation has a very important bearing upon the policy of national service. I can assure the House that the need for men in essential industries has not become less during the last few weeks. It has considerably increased. We have had to take into consideration the question of shipping, a considerable increase in the mercantile marine, and we have not been able to ignore the requirements of the Navy. We have had to take into consideration that which is absolutely essential for coping with the submarine policy as we now know it. We cannot have these new factors in the situation without making more urgent the call for men in industry, and I do hope that hon. Members will assist us during the next few weeks, even if they are dissatisfied with the Government from some standpoint, to get such an enrolment as will enable us to secure, not only the men we need for our essential industries, but also the men that are as necessary to keep our Armies in the field. I can promise both speakers and other hon. Members that there is no member of the Government, and I do not think there was any member of the old Government, who desires, or desired, to take a single step for compulsion in connection with industry if either the old Government or the present Government could be satisfied that we could meet the national need on voluntary lines. I shall try to show on the Second Beading of the Bill that there are advantages in our proceeding on the voluntary lines on which we are now travelling, and I think I have a right to say that though both the hon. Members who have spoken are opposed, probably more strongly than even the members of the Government or myself, to the application of the principle of compulsion, there is imposed upon them and upon all of us the obligation, if we are opposed to compulsion, to do everything we possibly can to make the voluntary scheme of the Director-General of National Service such a success that there will be no need to resort to powers of compulsion. But for myself, I make it absolutely plain that unless it can be so secured, I shall take the course I indicate by appealing to all those to whom I am responsible to release me from my pledges, in order that we may get the men by the second method rather than by the first, believing it to be essential that we should do so in order to win the War.


I feel quite sure that the vast majority of Members of this House, and the public at large outside, will respond with the utmost cordiality to the appeal of my right hon. Friend, and if in the course of events—I trust it may not be the case—he may find it necessary to come to this House, and to go to his friends outside the House and ask to be released from certain undertakings, I have no doubt that at this crisis in the fate of our country he will find that relief which he is entitled to seek. After all, as he said in his concluding remarks, it lies very much with us in this House who have got influence on the platform in the country to see that compulsion in regard to industrial employment does not become necessary. We in this country are a body of talking men, whose chief value—I speak in regard to those of us who are not performing military duties—to the State is that we command certain influence in the country, and I say that it is up to us, it lies with us very largely to see that it is not necessary for my right hon. Friend to resort to compulsion in the matter of industrial employment. He knows—who knows better in this House than he?—how excessively difficult compulsion would be in regard to industrial employment, not as difficult as compulsion in regard to military service, but ten times more difficult.

I really feel that, in regard to some of the new Departments, it is our duty in this House to show them as much sympathy and indulgence as we can. Here is Mr. Neville Chamberlain, a man of brilliant attainments, charged with what I venture to say is the most difficult position in the Government, difficult if only for this reason, that it is an entirely new Government position, without any charts, or plans to guide him in his course. Our business is to help him if we can, and I think myself that, having regard to the immensely difficult task that confronts, him, he has made an admirable start. There is one branch of his work in regard to which I may claim to have some exceptional knowledge—that is the women's, part of the scheme. I have been engaged on Committees appointed by my right hon. Friends who sat with me on this bench a year and a half ago to consider the whole question of women's employment. In that respect, if in no other, the late Government cannot be accused of having been too late, for in regard to the question of women employment the late Government was at least a year or more in advance of any sort of public opinion. Mr. Neville Chamberlain has made an admirable movement in that respect. He has appointed as directors of women's employment during the week the two most able ladies in this country engaged in public work—Mrs. Tennant and Miss Violet Mark-ham. I know these two ladies and the excellent work they have done, and, although I may not be sufficiently competent to criticise the greater part of Mr. Neville Chamberlain's scheme, if it is only done as well as that part of it which relates to women workers, we may hope that neither he nor the leaders of his Government will have any risk of compulsion during this War. I very much hope that you will not have to resort to compulsion, for I see infinite difficulties in its path, but if it be found necessary to resort to it, I, at least, as a humble Member of this House, will heartily support it.

11 P.M.


I think the right hon. Gentleman was somewhat unfortunate in the view he took of the motives of the hon. Gentleman who instituted the discussion, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh. The right hon. Gentleman began by immediately imputing to those Members the motive of desiring to force compulsion rather than assist in the promotion of the voluntary scheme. I think his defence of the scheme would have been better without the opening imputation. He failed, however, in his speech to deal with practically any of the points made by my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh took exception, and I think justifiably, to the method of announcing the scheme at a large public meeting outside. The right hon. Gentleman said they could not delay the question until Parliament met, and that the matter was far too urgent and important to admit of such delay as would have been involved in laying it before Parliament. There was the delay of only a single day. If they had wanted a single day it would have been possible to have taken the counsel of Parliament on this matter. We only sat for half a day on the first day we met, and that half day might very well have been occupied in the consideration of this scheme; and the Government might have obtained assistance from the wisdom of the House of Commons. The real question is whether this scheme of Mr. Neville Chamberlain is designed and calculated to prevent forced labour in this country. That is the question to which the right hon. Gentleman was asked to address his mind, and it was the one question he evaded throughout. He never attempted to enter into details, and he said he would do that on the Second Reading of the Bill, which it is doubtful would be in order on that occasion. We have the best ground for doubting whether this is really intended to avoid compulsion. The right hon. Gentleman made professions which we have often heard before from that bench, about the reluctance of any Member, either of this Government or the late Government, to adopt compulsion. In view of the declarations of his own colleagues the right hon. Gentleman might have saved himself the effrontery of making that statement to-night. Does he not remember a very famous speech of the late Prime-Minister on the 3rd June, 1915, at Manchester, in which he said he desired compulsion—not for military service, but for Labour. And now at this time of day, twenty months afterwards, twenty months in which he has been a colleague of and has collaborated in the schemes of the Prime Minister, he asks this House to believe that not one of his colleagues in this or in the late Government desires compulsion. It is preposterous and absurd. We know it was difficulties in regard to this that led to the fall of the late Government—the fall of the Government of the indispensable Prime Minister the right hon. Gentle- man the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). We should not have had a Ministerial crisis, and we should not have had this voluntary scheme had it not been deemed necessary to secure certain people who, in co-operation with the Government, were regarded as essential. For that reason we are told there is no immediate intention to resort to compulsion. That is why we have this pseudo-scheme. We have had this experience before. We had the Derby scheme and the pledges in regard to it. It was not compulsion. We were still to have a purely voluntary system of military service even then. But everybody knows, looking back at the history of that scheme, that that was really the first step to compulsion. And when we look back at this scheme in the light of that experience, it is almost an insult to our intelligence to expect us to believe that the new scheme can have any other result. No; the less we hear about pledges the better. Pledges stink in our nostrils. We have had the pledges to the widow's son, we have had the pledges to the man who is the single head of a business, we have had the pledges to the medically rejected, we have had the pledges to the men discharged from the Army, we have had pledges innumerable, and everyone of them broken without the slightest compunction. The right hon. Gentleman is going to those whose votes he obtained in the past by means of these pledges to ask them for a release from them on the ground that the circumstances have changed. Circumstances, of course, are always changing. He made some remarks as to the relations of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Anderson) and the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) with their constituents. He was perfectly sure my hon. Friend would not dare to submit his speech to his constituents. My hon. Friend will look after his own constituency, and if the right hon. Gentleman will go to Edinburgh to-morrow and meet him in the biggest hall in the city he will soon see who will come out on top. The right hon. Gentleman indulged in a complete misrepresentation of my hon. Friend's speech. He represented it as an attack not on the whole scheme, but on certain isolated instances of mistaken methods in the Army. But everybody knows that these are not isolated instances. I have a relation in a battalion on the East Coast who a few weeks ago informed me that in that battalion there were 150 men who could not go on a route inarch and were never likely to. These are all men who, before they were called up and passed by these so-called medical boards, were doing useful work for the country, were producing, were doing, many of them, work of considerable national importance. There were 150 in one battalion, and if you multiplied the battalions by that amount you would have a sufficient reinforcement to dispense with this paltry and rotten scheme altogether. Let me take another example. Fifty thousand men who were accepted as medically fit have been discharged without pensions. What does that mean? I think it is a matter in which the right hon. Gentleman will agree that I am not dealing with isolated instances because he had some acquaintance with the working of the Pensions Department, and he knows that these 50,000 were discharged without pensions although every one of them was taken into the Army as medically fit. Yet he has the effrontery to accuse my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) of quoting these as isolated examples. In fact, we know that at the present time he is a member of a Government Committee which is dealing with a Royal Warrant which is to make special provision for these cases. I hope that we shall now hear no more of "isolated cases." In fact, when we find a scheme of this kind that has to be bolstered up by arguments so thin and so futile, then we have very good ground for regarding it as a mockery and a sham. I believe it is so. I do not criticise my hon. Friend opposite for wishing it well, and taking the view that he will accept compulsion if it should be compulsion. Personally, I believe it is bound to be. It is an ill-digested and ill-thought-out scheme, launched forth before they have an organisation to dealt with it. We were told that the Labour Exchanges were to have nothing to do with it. And what happens? This is the method of concealing the fact that the Labour Exchanges have anything to do. The people who sign the agreements have to sign them "O.H.M.S.," addressed to the Director-General of National Service, St. Ermin's Hotel, Westminster, S.W. Then they are all packed in sacks, bundled into vans, and carted away to the office of the Labour Exchanges at Kew. That is scientific organisation. In these days, when you cannot get horses and vans to take coal to the poor people, these necessary vehicles are used to cart loads of these agreements from the St. Ermin's Hotel to the Labour Exchanges at Kew. Anything more ridiculous it is hardly possible to conceive.


War economy!


Then the right hon. Gentleman said that this is simply an extension of the scheme of munition volunteers. He said it was a very valuable scheme, but so far as I can gather it has not been working much of late. I quoted yesterday in this House a letter which I received from a man whom, one would have thought, would be regarded as desirable from that point of view. He was a skilled engineer, and a man who for years had worked on the Clyde. He is at this moment an engineer in a non-essential industry, that of an ice factory. He went to one of the Labour Exchanges to offer his services as a marine engineer. The superintendent of the Labour Exchange said, "We do not want men like you; we are training them for that job now." He was sent away. He then applied to the Ministry of Munitions, and they wrote regretting that there was no vacancy. I do not know whether this was the first step in the extension of the munitions volunteers' scheme in connection with this new scheme of national service. The one thing which was most depressing about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the conclusion. I am not referring to his remark about the critical situation in which we are placed—remarks, by the way, which contrast very strangely with those recorded in the interview with Sir Douglas Haig, published in to-day's papers. He told us for the first time that we are face to face with a new menace and with new conditions with regard to the submarine. He has been in the Government for twenty months and yet he talks of a new situation! If that is the wisdom, foresight, and knowledge of the War Cabinet, God help the country! If the right hon. Gentleman had even paid attention to the Debates in this House he would have learnt something. Why, twelve months ago the whole situation in regard to submarines were forecasted with the most complete accuracy, and the Government shut its eyes to it. The Financial Secretary to the Admiralty made a speech earlier in the day very like that which the right hon. Gentleman has given us to-night. He told us that war is war! That was all the answer that we got. The speeches of a year ago to which I referred were censored in the Press. Not only would the Government not give any answer in this House, but they prevented the publication of the facts by which they might have been brought to book. That went on for months. They knew all about it. It is true that the submarine then was not apparently a serious thing. But in view of the way our shipping was being wasted and in other ways, it was calculated to be a serious thing. The Government were told all this, and now the right hon. Gentleman, after twelve months' discussion of it, comes forward to-night and says, "We are face to face with a new situation." If that is the wisdom by which we are governed, if that is what we are to expect from the new War Cabinet, I think it will be well if they adopt the counsel which is now commonly attributed to them, and that is to have a General Election. They may win the General Election; they will never win the War!

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.