§ (1) Every male British subject who has, at any time since the fourteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and fifteen, been, or who for the time being is, in Great Britain, and who at the date of the passing of this Act has attained the age of eighteen years and has not obtained the age of fifty-one years, or who at any subsequent date attains the age of eighteen years shall, unless he is for the time being within the exceptions set out in the First Schedule to this Act, be deemed, as from the date of the passing of this Act, or as from that subsequent date, or, if having been within those exceptions he subsequently ceases so to be, as from the date on which he so ceases, as the case may be, to have been duly enlisted in His Majesty's Regular Forces for general service with the Colours or in the Reserve for the period of the War, and to have been forthwith transferred to the Reserve:
§ Provided that—
- (a) if it appears to His Majesty at any time that it is necessary so to do for the defence of the realm, His Majesty may by Order in Council declare that the foregoing provision shall, as respects men generally, or as respects any class of men, have effect, as from a date to be specified in the Order, as if any age specified in the Order not exceeding fifty-six years were therein substituted for the age of fifty-one years; and
- (b) as respects any person being a duly qualified medical practitioner, the foregoing provision shall have effect as if the age of fifty-six years were therein substituted for the age of fifty-one years.
§ (2) Where any person, who under this Section is deemed to have been enlisted and transferred to the Reserve, is a man in Holy Orders or a regular minister of any religious denomination, he shall not on being called up for service with the Colours be required, except with his con sent, to perform combatant service.
§ If any question arises as to whether any person is a man in Holy Orders or such a minister as aforesaid, that question shall be referred in the prescribed manner to the Central Tribunal established under the Military Service Act, 1916, whose decision on the question shall be final and conclusive.
(3) The proviso to Section two, and Section eight, of the Military Service Act, 1916 (Session No. 2), shall cease to have effect:
Provided that the foregoing provision shall be without prejudice to any undertaking recognised by His Majesty's Government and for the time being in force, whereby it is provided that any released or exchanged prisoners of war shall not serve in His Majesty's Forces during the present War.
§ (4) All the provisions of the Military Service Acts, 1916 to 1918, as amended by this Act, shall, so far as applicable, extend to men to whom this Section applies in the same manner as to men to whom Section one of the Military Service Act, 1916 (Session 2), applied.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "subject" ["male British subject"] to insert the words "not ordinarily resident in Ireland."
The object of this Amendment is to make—
§ Captain Sir C. BATHURST
On a point of Order. May I inquire whether my Amendment, which precedes that of the hon. Member, will be out of order, or whether it is later proposed to take it?
Under the power which the House has just given to the Chairman of Ways and Means, he can exercise the power of the selection of Amendments. Hence I have selected the one standing in the name of the hon. Member I have just called.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
But the Amendment which I propose to move deals with a totally different subject to that raised 1740 by the hon. Member. Will any opportunity be given to raise my particular subject in some other part of the Bill? It is a matter of considerable concern to many people.
I do not know, of course, what power of selection may be subsequently exercised by the Chairman of Committees, but I am quite sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not wish to challenge the discretion of the Chair. If he will consult the Chairman of Ways and Means, or myself, at a later stage, we shall be very glad to hear what he has to say.
I will endeavour to carry out the Order of the House to the best of my ability. The suggestion I have made to the hon. Member is purely on the question of Order, and it has nothing to do with selection. I have already exercised my discretion by calling upon the hon. Member who is in possession of the Committee.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
The object of the Amendment standing in my name is to bring the proposals of this measure into harmony with previous Military Service Acts. I am sure the two right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the. Treasury Bench are aware of the fact that in the previous Military Service Acts any person not ordinarily resident in Great Britain is exempted from this provision. This provision was introduced to safeguard the rights of Irishmen coming to England or Scotland at the request of the Board of Trade, the War Office, or the Admiralty, to perform work of national importance, and also agricultural work. I have here a letter of the 1st March written on behalf of the Ministry of National Service, and in this letter he deals with the position of those Irishmen who are temporarily resident in Great Britain, and it is made quite clear that they do not come under the Registration Act and are entitled to exemption. As regards the production of registration certificates, before this letter was written the Labour Department of the 1741 Government issued an important notice to Irishmen seeking employment in Great Britain, and to my knowledge those notices, printed on very large posters, were displayed in all the employment agencies of the Board of Trade and the Labour Ministry in Ireland, and by those notices the Government have pledged themselves in the most distinct and definite way in regard to those Irishmen who came to do Government work or agricultural work in this country that they would not be Conscripted, nor would they be bound under the National Registration Act.
I would like to show the Home Secretary those notices, but I feel sure that he will accept it from me that it is on the face of those assurances that thousands of Irish workers have come to take employment at Rosyth and in the munition factories of England and Scotland. I could not imagine any grosser breach of faith to these men than to put them at once under the operation of the Military Service provisions of this new Bill, irrespective of what decisions may be arrived at by the Government in regard to the question of Conscription in Ireland itself. I do not think I am making any large claim on the Government when I ask them to accept this proposal, because substantially its effect, if accepted, will be to place the Irishmen who are temporarily resident in England and Scotland, and who are engaged in work of national importance in munition factories or shipyards, or works of agriculture, in exactly the same position as Irishmen in Ireland. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to recognise the simple justice of keeping the faith and the pledged word of the Government to this fairly numerous calling of Irishmen who would never have engaged in the work of munition factories and shipyards except on the faith of the distinct and definite pledges given by the Minister of National Service and the Labour Department of the Government, and also given when the first Military Service Act was passed through the House of Commons by the then President of the Local Government Board, who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies. I feel satisfied, if the Home Secretary can be convinced that these pledges were given, and I ask him to accept my assurance that they were given, on behalf of the Government, he will be willing to insert the Amendment which I have pro- 1742 posed, which will secure, as far as this class is concerned, that the Government will not be guilty of any breach of faith.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am not in the least at issue with the object which my hon. Friend has in mind. As the Military Service Acts now stand, a man ordinarily resident in Ireland who comes over here for some special purpose is not subject to Conscription. Most of them have certificates or other documents to show their position, and to prevent them being called up for service on similar grounds to those who are resident in this country. I quite agree that the pledges which have been given must be kept, but I think my hon. and learned Friend will see that it will not do to adopt the course which he has suggested. May I point out that it is part of our policy to extend the Military Service Acts to Ireland. If he will assume that that will be done he will find the effect of his Amendment will be that all Irishmen shall be liable to Conscription except those in England, and the Irishmen who axe temporarily in England would under under his words escape service altogether. I suggest that the hon. Member's words should not be pressed now. The Ministry of National Service has sent out instructions that on the passing of this Bill no change shall be made in the treatment of Irishmen ordinarily resident in Ireland, and only resident here for a certain purpose. If this Bill is extended to Great Britain only the Irishmen will be in the same position as they are now. That, of course, is not quite enough, for even if the Act is extended to Ireland these men would be entitled to say, "It is true that we are liable to Conscription wherever we are, but we would rather be made liable in Ireland." In the event of the Act being extended to Ireland further notice will be given so that these men may have the option of returning to Ireland or remaining in this country in the same way as Englishmen are dealt with under the Act.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The Ministry of National Service will give the men notice. I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment, as we cannot accept it as it stands.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put down as an Amendment words to carry out the decision which ho has just expressed?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I shall be glad to consult with my hon. Friend to see whether words can be proposed which will be useful to achieve his purpose.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
In Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 there is the following provision:Provided that the foregoing provision shall be without prejudice to any undertaking recognised by His Majesty's Government, and for the time being in force, whereby it is provided that any released or exchanged prisoners of war shall not serve in His Majesty's Forces during the present War.That deals with released or exchanged prisoners of war, and persons of that category. We were so sensitive about German opinion and German susceptibilities in this matter that we put in a Clause to enable the Kaiser to sleep peacefully in his bed at night, but when a pledge of this kind is given in writing to Irish Nationalists, not Germans, who are ordinary taxpayers, then the right hon. Gentleman says, "You are not Germans, and accordingly we- must leave you to the tender mercies of the Ministry of Munitions." The French used to say, "Give us liberty as in Austria." I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, "Give us the provision made for the Germans." Even the drumhead courts-martial that you are going to set up in Ireland, who will know very little of law, will be disposed to give some recognition to words to that effect.
§ Mr. DILLON
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he will bring up words to the effect that all Irishmen who are now ordinarily resident in Ireland but who are temporarily resident here, in the event of the Bill being applied to Ireland, will get due notice giving them the choice of remaining here and taking their chance or of returning to their own native country and taking their chance there? That is what I understood, and it would meet the point, provided always it is clearly understood that any provisions which interfere with their liberty to return to Ireland are abrogated.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not pledge myself as to the exact words, but if words are required I will undoubtedly propose them on Report.
§ Amendment negatived.1744
The next Amendment that I propose to select is one dealing with the passing of the Act on an appointed date. Perhaps I might point out to the Committee that the question of the appointed date arises in two different places with two slightly different effects. I would suggest that the two points might be discussed on this first Amendment. I am prepared to allow that to be done so as to avoid any repetition.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "at the date of the passing of this Act," and to insert instead thereof the words "on the appointed date."
I imagine that on this point there may be general agreement for, whether we are in favour of extending the age or not, we must all recognise the very serious importance of bringing men of this age under the provisions of the Military Service Acts. It was serious in regard to the men of younger years. It is far more serious in regard to the men who will be affected by the provisions of the present Bill. It seems to me far more necessary that notice should be given now, but, as I read the Bill, men affected by its provisions will come within its terms immediately on the passing of the Act. Consequently, these men, many of whom have taken positions to fill the places of those, possibly their sons, who have gone to the War, without any notice, without any warning whatever, and without being given any proper time for their arrangements, will suddenly find themselves coming within the provisions of this compulsory measure. That is a matter of very serious importance, indeed, and I trust this is one of the points on which the Government will realise that there is an opportunity of meeting those who are very troubled about this measure. The way I propose to do it is by reference to a later Amendment which I have upon the Order Paper, namely, that the appointed date shall be the thirtieth day after the passing of this Act. I am following precedent in using that expression, because in the second Military Service Act of 1916 the words run as follows:The appointed date shall, as respects men who come within the operation of this section on the passing of this Act. be the thirtieth day after the date of the passing of this Act.If it was important to have warning then in regard to the men coining within the provisions of that Act, it is very much more important that the men coming 1745 within the provisions of this Bill should have due warning. I submit that this is a very reasonable and fair suggestion made in the interests of the men involved, and I sincerely hope that the Government will be prepared to accept it.
§ The MINISTER for NATIONAL SERVICE (Sir Auckland Geddes)
The question of the appointed date is one which has given us cause for a great deal of consideration, and we have really tried on this occasion to make a more satisfactory arrangement than the old one. The proposal is that there should be no appointed date mentioned, and, so far as liability for military service is concerned, that it should begin from the day upon which the Royal Assent is received. It is not contemplated, however, that all the men liable for military service under this Bill will be called up at once. They will be called up over a rather prolonged period, as long as possible, and we are proposing to fix the date upon which men should apply to the tribunals, making it so many days after the day upon which they are graded by the medical board. The effect will be that no man will have an appointed date really from the point of view of the tribunals until he has been graded by a medical board. If he is of a low grade, then the tribunal will be in a position to know exactly what is his value to the military forces of the Crown. We hope in that way to get more consideration for the men and much less disturbance of business. You had an appointed date under the Military Service Act, 1916 (Session 2), and you had the very important experience that everybody brought under that Act rushed to the tribunals within so many days of the appointed date. This, as will be within the recollection of Members of this House, caused enormous delay in men finding out what was their position, and many men went to the tribunals in regard to whom there has never been any question to this date of their being called up at all. I therefore suggest that the arrangements which we propose are really more considerate than the arrangements working under an appointed date, such as there were under the Military Service Act. 1916 (Session 2). That is our belief, and that is the reason why in the drafting of this Bill precedents have not been followed. It is really because of the overwhelming and crushing rush of men, many of them quite useless, as T have said, to the tribunals. If I might repeat the proposal, it is that there should be no appointed date 1746 mentioned, but that so far as the liability is concerned it should begin from the day upon which the Royal Assent is received. No man affected by this Act should take any action about receiving exemption from a tribunal until he receives notice.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
No; the notice for medical examination. We propose to give notice in two forms. There will be a notice by Proclamation stating that men, say, of forty-four, giving the year of birth, are going to be called up. That will be published in the Press and by poster. It will explain that the men are going to receive individual notification as to the day on which medical examination will take place. They will then know what is their medical grade, and it may be possible to tell them on the spot that there is no need for them to bother any more. If a man is in Grade 3, then, so far as the present situation exists, it will not be necessary to call him up, because we have got a surplus of Grade 3 men in the younger ages who have not been called up. There are more Grade 3 men than are required. If the man is Grade 3 it will be possible to say, "You will not be disturbed for the time being, and notification will be given before you will be disturbed." We therefore get rid at once of any anxiety in the minds of all the men above forty-four who are Grade 3. I do not say that will be permanent. I am not giving any pledge that Grade 3 men will not be called up. Supposing a man is Grade 1, he will know that within so many days from the day on which he was graded he will require to lodge application to a tribunal, if he wants to apply to a tribunal at all. In the meantime he will receive his calling-up notice for service. If he has applied to a tribunal, that calling-up notice will be without effect until the tribunal decision has been received. If it is a decision of exemption, then, as at present, the calling-up notice will be cancelled, and, of course, there will be exemption. If, on the other hand, he is refused exemption or he does not intend to apply to the tribunal, the calling-up notice will become operative. Under those circumstances, all the men, let us say of forty-four, would know that their turn had come for medical examination, and as soon as they had had medical examination they would be in a position to go to a tribunal, if necessary. That seems to me a very much kinder and very much more considerate way of dealing 1747 with this really difficult problem than the way we dealt with it under the Military Service Act, 1916 (Session 2). That is why there is no appointed date.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will be good enough to say what is the earliest date such a man of forty-four, to whom he refers, can possibly be called up, in view of what he has just stated?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is not in the Bill any more than the present machinery is in the Bill. The procedure under Clause 4 is simply administrative machinery to the Ministry of National Service.
§ Mr. HOLT
So that instead of an appointed day all we have really got is a promise of a certain form of administrative procedure! That is given to us instead of the security of protection given by the existing system. I am not at the moment at all prepared to dispute the view of the right hon. Gentleman that the procedure which he outlines is more desirable than that under the existing Act, but I am bound to say that there have been a great many promises and assurances as to procedure under the Military Service Acts given at various times—not by the right hon. Gentleman, but by the then responsible Ministers—and those promises have not been made good. It is no use shutting our eyes to the fact that everybody in the country views with the greatest possible suspicion and distrust mere promises as to certain procedure being adopted by the Government. We have all found that they do not abide by their promises, and under the pressure of some alleged emergency they will disappear, just as under the last Military Service Act a pledge, equally formal to that given by the right hon. Gentleman, which was given by another right hon. Gentleman, that no person should be called up if he had already attained the age of forty-one before he received 1748 notice, was violated within a month or two. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that if we accept the procedure he has indicated there ought to be. some statutory protection. That protection ought to be based upon the provisions of the Bill, so that it would be something which the subject could bring into Court and say, "That is what the Government promised to do. The House of Commons accepted that procedure, and the Government cannot go back upon it now that it is an Act of Parliament." If we are going to waive the question of the appointed day—and there is a great deal to be said for doing that— the right hon. Gentleman should include the method of procedure in the provisions of the Bill.
§ Sir H. NIELD
On this, occasion I would join with my hon. Friend (Mr. Holt). What he suggests is most necessary, in view of past history. I would say at the outset of the Committee stage of this Bill that the condition of things which has prevailed since the right hon. Gentleman took charge of the Ministry of National Service is very different from what prevailed before under the War Office. We have had a genuine attempt, and a successful attempt, to comply with promises and far more consideration since the right hon. Gentleman took charge of the Ministry than we ever had before. There is absolute justification for the charge that is made with regard to the older authority. Those of us who have had to come between the men on the one hand and the War Office on the other hart; known full well how these promises have been broken. I would suggest that even it we may not be able to amend the Bill in terms by putting in specific statements of this sort, we ought to have it definitely laid down in an Order in Council, and I cannot for the life of me see why that should not be done under Clause 4, which provides in its opening words that all the matters raised can be dealt with by an Order in Council, such as providing for applications for or relating to certificates of exemption. What is the objection to doing that? As I stated on the Second Reading, we ought to have it definitely stated, and the public have a right to know, especially when the age is advanced, as it is now, what are their rights, if they have any. I am speaking with all the traditions of one who supports this Government through thick and thin, but the time has come when we must have it settled. In view of past experience and 1749 of the many pledges given specifically, we cannot concede great powers to the Government and pass over the control of this House by Statute or Order in Council to be laid on the Table without having some knowledge of where the powers of officials begin and where they end, and where the rights of the public begin and where they end. I hope that before the Bill passes we shall make that definite and certain.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I was pleased to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he intends as far as he possibly can to make the calling up of these men of greater age as easy as possible. The statement, so far as it goes, will relieve the minds of men of forty-four. I take it that soon after the Bill has become an Act and received the Royal Assent they will see the Proclamation and receive their individual calls for medical examination. But I do not think that meets the whole of the case. The moment the Bill is on the Statute Book we shall have—in fact, I have had already — correspondence from many people. We shall have all those persons who come within the age stated in the Bill in a state of anxiety as to when they may be called upon to come up under the Bill. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not give us some statement in regard to the people over forty-four years of age, so that they will know that they have some time to continue in their employment or their businesses. I have had correspondence from large employers who have already asked me what they are to do in regard to those in their employment, and whether they are to commence making such arrangements as they can to fill the positions of those men who may be called up. Can the right hon. Gentleman, in his administration of the calling up, make some provision, supposing you start at the age of forty-four, which would allow the employers of the men over that age, and more especially those conducting single-man businesses, to know that they have some time before them before they are called up, so as to enable them to make the necessary arrangements for their business affairs if they come within the higher category after medical examination?
§ Mr. MILLAR
There will be some natural anxiety on the part of a great number of persons outside this House that we should ascertain quite distinctly from the Minister in charge what the period of 1750 notice is to be under this Bill. The Government are now proposing to abolish the thirty days' period which elapsed under the earlier Acts before persons could be deemed to be enlisted in His Majesty's Forces. We want to ascertain from the Government quite distinctly what their proposal is with regard to notice in the place of those thirty days. Under this Sub-section all persons will be deemed to be enlisted from "the passing of this Act," which may be early next week. What is going to happen, immediately after that? Can the Minister of National Service make it quite clear to the Committee whether it is intended within the next few days to publish a Proclamation affecting certain particular classes or not, and, if there is to be a Proclamation, what period of time is to elapse before the calling up notice is to be issued? That is a fair question to put to the Minister, because outside we are going to disturb a great number of business men who will want time to make their arrangements, who are entitled to-that time, and who will naturally inquire, in the, event of the thirty days being rescinded, what period of notice is to be allowed to them to make their arrangements. I understand that the Minister of National Service desires to make this provision as little burdensome as possible to those affected. If that is so, it is desirable he should indicate now to the Committee what is the measure of notice which the individual classes will receive. Is it intended to call up each class by age, with a separate Proclamation for each. class, or to call up individual classes, or is it intended to call up a considerable number of classes all at the same time without separate notice to each? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to make the intention clear to the Committee.
§ Sir C. HENRY
I should like the Minister for National Service to clear up what he said about men being graded in Grade 3 who will not be called up after they have been medically examined. The Committee and the country would like to know whether, as soon as this Bill passes, those men who come within the provisions of the Bill, that is, up to the age of fifty-one years, will forthwith be called upon to present themselves for medical examination, or whether they will have to wait until their particular class of age is called upon? It would be far more convenient 1751 that these men should know as soon as possible where they are, and in which grade they are to be put.
§ Sir W. RUTHERFORD
We are entitled to have a little more clearly from the Government a statement as to how they intend to carry out the procedure which it is quite clear is going to cause an immense amount of difficulties of all kinds to a vast number of people. I am not under cover of saying a few words on this question going to introduce the special subject Which, I understand, is considered as not suitable or not sufficiently important to be discussed here at all, that is, the question of the proprietors of one-man businesses. I understand we are to have no opportunity to discuss that at all. I wish, however, to say that the particular regulation and procedure we are discussing at the present moment will inevitably involve a very serious additional and quite unnecessary amount of anxiety to this particular class of people. They are not unpatriotic. It is not that these people are not willing to serve their country, but the experience, even under the last Conscription Act has been sufficient to show that there are administrative and other proceedings which can be adopted, to which the right hon. Gentleman knows he was very sympathetic, for which the whole class I am concerned with thanks him. We want to know whether this particular class of people who are very largely going to be touched by this Bill, large numbers of whom are engaged in business and have no assistants, will have to sacrifice their stocks if they have not a proper opportunity of realising them or of collecting their debts, and whether their rent and rates will have to be paid. I do not see the slightest indication of any effort or attempt on the part of the Government in this Bill to make any arrangements to give these people any compensation for the sacrifices they are called upon to make. We are entitled to ask for an assurance that some attention should be paid to their special difficulties and some reasonable provision made to prevent their businesses being entirely ruined, their stocks sacrificed, and their places of business summarily closed up, at perhaps two or three days' notice. These are patriotic people who are willing to serve their country, do not wish to shirk, and do not ask for exemption; but they ought to have some 1752 reasonable provision to try to save them from utter ruin and from finding their businesses which they have spent their lives in building up completely gone whilst they are away for two or three months serving their country under circumstances of exceptional hardship and difficulty. Therefore I join with others in pressing upon the Government, in common fairness, the necessity for giving something like an authoritative and reliable measure of time by which these people may know what they will have to face, and will get some reasonable amount of time to realise their small properties, assets, and stock which with so much difficulty they have succeeded in acquiring.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Although I have the greatest sympathy with the point which the hon. Member has raised, I yet think, if it were dealt with now, it would have a narrowing effect. I will call attention once more to the definite question which was put by my hon. Friend (Mr. Holt). I think the Committee was greatly reassured when the right hon. Gentleman gave an account of how the Act is to be put into operation. We have dealt with many other questions since then, and it would clear up matters if we recall what he said. He said that after the Act is passed a notice will appear relating to men of forty-four. No one else need trouble except the men of forty-four till a further notice appears. Secondly, men of forty-four need not trouble except those who receive a notice that they are to be medically examined, and, finally, men in Grade 3 or men whose services may be' dispensed with for other reasons need not trouble, and even those who are passed as fit will have an opportunity of applying to a tribunal and ascertain whether they may obtain exemption or not. All that is very reassuring, and my hon. Friend (Mr. Holt) simply asks whether words will be put into the Act which will secure that that procedure will actually be adopted, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be impatient with us for pressing him on that point. In connection with these Military Service Acts, long before he appeared here, we had a dark and melancholy experience. We had assurances from even higher authorities in Governments than he is about widows' sons and other points, which were not kept afterwards. Will he now tell us that some words will be included, if not now, on the Report stage, to secure that the procedure which he has 1753 described will actually be followed, so that it will rest on a statutory basis and not on the vague promise of a Minister which we have some reason to be doubtful about accepting?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I certainly think there is need for much greater clearness as to what is really going to happen. There is going to be a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty in regard to this matter if the old machinery, with which people were, at least, familiar, is going to be scrapped. If I read Clauses 3 and 4 aright, the Minister of National Service can practically do anything in regard to these Regulations which are going to govern the new recruiting conditions. It is necessary that there should be certain definite guidance as to what is really going to happen and what the procedure is going to be. The right hon. Gentleman said a man of forty-four will see a Proclamation that his Class is going to be called up, and will also receive an individual notice. But what about men of forty-five and forty-six, and so on, who have business interests? They will be most anxious to know whether they ought to be taking steps to wind up their businesses. They will be anxious to know what to do, whether they are medically fit or unfit, and whether they are likely to be called up or not. Pledges which have been given in regard to all sorts of matters have not been well observed in the past, and people have no faith in vague pledges. They want something that is definite. They want something in black and white. They want to know really where they are and what their definite rights are, and the House of Commons is absolutely abrogating its functions if it does not insist upon this. We do not want the mere bureaucratic control even of the Minister of National Service. We know that the past record, or a very large part of the record, of the Ministry of National Service, especially in its earlier days, was not a record of such a character as to secure the complete confidence of the people of this country in regard to its working, and therefore we want to have it definitely laid down, and Parliament ought to help in laying down the conditions which are to govern this thing. If Parliament does not do this it is allowing its functions to be taken out of its hands, and I insist first of all that the Minister of National Service will tell us more clearly what is going to happen; and, secondly, having told us, 1754 that he will take steps to embody it in the Bill, so that everyone will know exactly what his rights are.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
The hon. Member is perfectly right in this matter. I have had some experience of Parliamentary pledges. Over and over again we have had assurances by Ministers and have been told that it did not matter, that arrangements would I be made and that in administration Acts-would be worked in a certain way, and invariably it has turned out that it was. settled by the strict letter of the law, no matter what pledges Ministers had given or what inducements were held out to ensure the passing of the Bill. Especially in a matter of such vital importance as this, where the liberties of an enormous-number of our fellow citizens are at stake, this Committee is perfectly justified in insisting that whatever understandings are given by the Minister should be embodied in the law.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I support very strongly what has been urged by so many hon. Members who have spoken. In Manchester, for example, there is a great deal of doubt as to whether advisory committees are to be continued. I understand the right hon. Gentleman has no intention whatever of interfering with their action. That is a matter of great importance. We want to know exactly what are-the conditions under which men will be called upon. J very strongly urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of dealing with this point.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some definite assurance. It is not unreasonable-for me to press it. It was I who moved the Amendment referred to by my hon. Friend on the previous Bill as to the age of forty-one. An assurance was given me with absolute good faith—I am certain of that— and I withdrew the Amendment. I was sorry afterwards that I did. We want something absolutely definite in the Bill to make it absolutely clear to all concerned that they may know exactly what their position is. I hope the right hon. Gentle- 1755 man will indicate that he will meet us in that respect. Further, will he be good enough to answer the question I put just now: What is the earliest date at which any man can be compelled to serve who comes within the operation of the Bill? It is quite possible, even on his own statement, that it might be only a very few days indeed.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I should like to acknowledge the way in which the discussion on this point has gone on, because it is helpful to realise what the difficulty and misunderstandings are, and if I have delayed in answering for a few moments it was because I wanted to be clear. I perfectly agree to undertake on behalf of the Government that this procedure shall be embodied in an Order in Council, which will make quite plain to everyone what his rights are and what his position is, on the lines which I indicated.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Will the light hon. Gentleman tell us precisely what he proposes? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] There are Members of this House who did not hear the right hon. Gentleman's earlier speech, and I do think we are entitled to ask the Minister what it is he proposes to put into the Order in Council.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Certainly. There are one or two points upon which I wish to give further explanation and, perhaps, it will not bore the House if I repeat what I have already said on this particular subject. The first question which every man affected by this Act when passed will wish to ask is, "When am I going to be medically examined?" My answer to that is this: Beginning with the youngest men brought under the Bill, we will proceed to examine straight through to the oldest. I cannot say the exact number of medical examinations that will be carried out in any one day, but we are arranging for a total number of medical examinations, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 35,000, to be carried out daily. That is about the limit we can go to with the medical boards. We shall begin with the youngest men brought in under the Act, and we shall publish a notice saying that men born in a certain year or years are called up for medical examination. They will thus be made aware that their class is being called up for examination and for service if they pass. They will receive individually calling-up notices for the 1756 medical examination. They will then be examined and graded, and they will be told what their grade is. If they are put in Grade 3, we shall probably tell them, "You will not be called up just now; do not bother." If they are put in Grade 1 or 2, they will be told that they are going to be called up for service and that have so many days—
§ Sir A. GEDDES
That is a matter for the Order in Council. It will be seven days after knowing what their medical grade is. They will have to make their application to the tribunal in that time, and if it is found they have no case they will, of course, be called up.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Much depends on the rate at which the tribunals may do their work. If a man does not go to a tribunal at all, if he does not apply for exemption in any shape or form, he will be liable to report on the eighth day after he has been before the medical board, and there is no reason, so far as I can see, why he should not. If, on the other hand, ho has a claim for exemption, then I cannot say how many days will elapse before he is called up. His case will have to be dealt with by the tribunal. May I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to the speech in which the Prime Minister introduced this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that we did not expect to get a very high percentage of men fit for service freed by the tribunal out of this body of men. I have been asked further: How will the older men know when their turn is coming? My answer is that we will, as far as possible, issue Proclamations calling them up, possibly by two classes at a time for examination. I was asked: How fast are we going to drive these men into the Army? I cannot tell. The position is this. We want to get young men into the forces as far as we can. We are asking under this Bill for certain powers which will enable us to grade rapidly considerable numbers of young men. We are asking for powers which will enable us to act much more drastically, thoroughly, and I hope scientifically, in the matter of the comb-out. If we get those powers, 1757 and if we get the men we expect—and we must have men of some sort—if we get the powers in that form, we can make use of them at once, and if we get young men to come in then it will be possible to go more gently with the older men; but if the powers for dealing with the younger men are made cumbersome, then we shall have to push on more rapidly with the older men. The moment we get the powers extending the age we shall begin the medical examination even if we delay for a time the calling up of the men. It is clearly in their interest that they should know, as soon as possible, what their position is. I will certainly undertake to arrange that there shall be no delay in getting the medical examination of these men pushed on, and we will keep it going as rapidly as we can get a medical examination satisfactory to ourselves. I have also been asked if the Orders in Council will be laid upon the Table of the House. Now, these Orders will be tribunal procedure regulations which do not require to he laid upon the Table, but I will undertake to embody in them the procedure which I have outlined to the House.
I have allowed the Debate to travel a long way from the Amendment, and on the whole we have had a businesslike discussion, but I do not think that these further questions arise here.
§ Colonel Sir C. SEELY
I do not quite understand how long a man will have in which to apply to a tribunal. It seems to me possible that if a man appeals and the case is heard and a decision given against him, at once he might be called up within a week of the passing of this Act. In the case of men with small businesses I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish the Act to work in that way. But he has not made it clear what would happen to a man who applied to a tribunal and whose appeal was rejected. This is a most important point, because there are a large number of men whose cases will be very hard because they are the men with small businesses. I support very strongly the appeal made on their behalf by my hon. Friend (Sir W. Rutherford). These men will appeal to the tribunal. They will naturally think they have a very strong case, although the tribunal may not agree with them, and 1758 it is very desirable the right hon. Gentleman should give some guarantee to them that, if their appeal fails, they will have allowed them a reasonable time in which to close up their businesses after the tribunal has reported. The right hon. Gentleman said a good deal depended upon what the young men did, and how many young men he got. The information I have is that the young men am getting him out of his difficulty. I heard from Nottingham to-day that the colliers there had balloted on the basis of supplying 100,000 men from the whole industry. The men who balloted and won in the ballot, and who therefore are not to be called up, are, I am told, walking into the recruiting offices to-day because they know their country wants them. That is the spirit they are displaying, and I am sure the older men will likewise display that spirit. But the older men are not wanted and cannot be wanted in the same hurry as the younger men. They will take a much longer time to train. A young man can really be made available almost immediately, but it will be a serious matter for these older men, and I do not think there is any necessity for calling them up within a week or ten days. Those who have small businesses should be guaranteed a reasonable time, say something like a minimum of one month, in which to make their arrangements. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will sympathetically consider their case.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I should like to endorse the appeal made by the last speaker, and to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that if only an interval of seven day is to be allowed appeals will certainly be lodged, if only with the object of lengthening the period. I think it would be very much better for the right hon. Gentleman to lay down in his Regulations a definite period within which a man will not be called up—say, thirty days— and at the same time he should also make it clear that the appeal must be lodged within seven days. I would like to put this point very strongly, that terrible and almost incredible hardship will be inflicted, particularly on small tradesmen and on men holding subordinate positions in largo businesses, unless they have time to make their personal arrangements or their arrangements with the firm by which they are employed. Those arrangements could not all be made within a period of seven days. We all know how difficult it 1759 is to carry on business at the present moment. Staffs have been depleted, men actuated by patriotism and consideration for the national interest have reduced their staffs to a minimum, and in some professions and businesses it is practically impossible to replace the men. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it will be much better, even in his own interest, if he allows the thirty days from the medical examination, but stipulating that the appeal must be entered shortly.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I should very much like to emphasise the point made by the last speaker. I think he is absolutely right in regard to the tribunals. The right hon. Gentleman will find the tribunals will be choked with appeals unless some definite time is given to these older men to make the necessary arrangements for their businesses. He said in his speech that he hoped to get some of them almost immediately when they were examined, because unless there was a case to go to the tribunal they would be available immediately. That is so, but unless there is time to put their businesses in order—and the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with a class of men who have businesses to put in order—they will appeal, the tribunals will be choked, and there will be much more delay than if the right hon. Gentleman gave a reasonable period to these men to make their arrangements. In the interests of the smooth working of the Act, therefore, and because I am sure he desires to relieve these men as much as he can, both the men who are to go and the men who are to remain, I appeal to him to meet the wishes which have been expressed from all parts of the House by Members who are in communication with their constituents, and who are really terribly anxious at the present time that the Bill should be adopted.
§ Sir C. HENRY
When the Minister last addressed the House he referred to a statement made by the Prime Minister as to the percentage that would be called up tinder this new age limit. The Prime Minister mentioned 7 per cent.
§ Sir C. HENRY
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to continue? The Prime Minister said 7 per cent. Be also added 7 per cent for the fighting forces. That 1760 has created a considerable amount of confusion throughout the country, and as I understand it—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong— when the Prime Minister said 7 per cent. for the fighting forces it is only for the fighting forces that anyone will be called up under this Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think it would be desirable if the Minister would say to what the Prime Minister alluded when he said 7 per cent. for the fighting forces, and whether he meant to say 7 per cent. of the number that will be embodied in the Army, in no matter what capacity, under this extension of the age limit.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
In any case, what I understood the Prime Minister to say was not that 7 per cent. would be called up, but that 7 per cent. would succeed in reaching the Army, although in order to get the 7 per cent. for the Army a very much larger percentage would have to be called up, because of the number of rejections.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
On a point of Order. In view of the limited time we have for the discussion of this Bill, is this discussion really relevant to the matter before the Committee?
I think it has diverted very much. It started very well on the question of the notice to be given, but it really would be more relevant to later stages.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
May I again press my question? I put down the Amendment as one of thirty days. Will the right hon. Gentleman state that no man will be brought into actual service under thirty days after the passing of the Act? If he will do that he will relieve our minds to a very great extent indeed, and I hope sincerely that he can.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I do not want to mislead people into the belief that the time is going to be very short, because for some of them it may be very long, and that would be creating a very great and unnecessary alarm I have tried, there-fare, to avoid giving a short period, because at most that will affect a few individuals. Let us just think what the machine has to do. It has to begin by getting out the notice lists, then the individual notices, then to examine medically, then to call up. These things do not happen in a moment. Supposing I said 1761 we will begin to call up a fortnight after the passing of the Act. "Would not that send a shiver through the whole group of men of these ages, who would say, "We are all going to be called up in a fortnight"? I am quite prepared to say, if that is satisfactory, that we will not begin before a fortnight, because we cannot. The short period stated would really, I think. cause unrest I expect the earliest possible date at which the machinery will be working to be approximately twenty-one days after the passing of the Act, if we force it as hard as we can.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
There was a point pressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. L. Jones) that we should allow a period, as I understood, between medical examination and the calling up for service. The period was suggested of some thirty days, with seven days for notice. Is that reasonable? If you think of the man who has a business of his own, I agree it is—most reasonable; but if you think of something that is much more numerous in the country—the man who has no business at all, but who is either playing golf or is an employed person on a weekly wage—there are a very large number of men who have no homes, who move about the country from place to place, and to talk about giving these men thirty days from the date of their medical examination to the date of their calling up is to talk of giving them exemption for months, because they would vanish into thin air. What we have at present is a system whereby a man goes to a tribunal if he wants time, and the tribunal says no extension if they think not, or, if they do, fifteen, thirty, or sixty days, or whatever it may be, may be given. I think that is better.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I object to the junior Member for the Ministry decrying any further explanation. Is the right hon. Gentleman dealing with the whole class of mankind, or only with the men who are now for the first time, at the age of forty-two or upwards, coming into the purview of this Bill? If he is thinking, as I hope he is, of the men who have never been made subject to the Military Service Acts, and who are now proposed to be brought in, he can give a greater scope, and time, and assurance on these points, 1762 because he has admittedly a large number of young men under the comb-out to occupy the medical authorities and to provide for to begin with. It he has in his mind when he is making these observations the men of over forty-two I have nothing to say except that I wish he could have given a longer time. If he is thinking of the number we shall get in altogether who have hitherto been within the Military Service Acts, but protected by certificates, I think he can give a definite pledge for a longer time to the older men who come in for the first time.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
In view of the assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman. and his promise that they shall be incorporated in the Order in Council, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "fifty-one" ["age of fifty-one years"], and to insert instead thereof the words "forty-eight."
I move this Amendment out of no hostility to the Government, but from a firm conviction that men between the ages of forty-eight and fifty-one can render much more valuable national service in trade and in agriculture than they could possibly do in the Army. The very fact of their advanced age, which has disqualified them from being available for the Army has furnished them with an experience in civil life that is indispensable in training both male and female recruits to fulfil the functions which have hitherto been transacted by the men who will be called up under the Bill. I would point out that certain of these men are owners of single businesses, and it would be extremely serious to take them from those little businesses, when they are not, because of age, fitted for the fighting line. More than that, some of these men have sons at the front at the present moment. They are holding the fort, hoping their boys will come back. Surely, as it is not necessary to have these men for active service, they could be left where they are in the interests of their families, and in the interests, I think, of the maintenance of their little businesses and trade. We have been reminded of the importance of keeping up the food supply. Many of these men are engaged on food production. They are indispensable because of their experience in training women and 1763 others to take the place of younger men who will be taken away under this measure. These men of mature years are indispensable in training recruits to take their places in civil occupations. Again, some of them are wheelwrights, blacksmiths, and harness-makers, and are doing work absolutely necessary in order that the implements of husbandry may be provided to enable farmers to develop to the utmost possible extent the production of food. From every point of view—we heard from the Prime Minister the other day that it was only estimated that some 7 per cent. of the man above the age of forty-two would be required for the fighting line— surely we might very well confine the age to men below forty-eight. There would then be a sufficient number to do the auxiliary work of the Army, and we should leave a considerable number of men. in civil life who are indispensable in carrying on the industries of the country. There is a very strong feeling throughout the country that the age of fifty-one is unnecessarily high, and I do appeal to the Government to accept my Amendment.
On a point of Order. I should like to know, Mr. Whitley, what your ruling is on this Amendment. There arc other Amendments on the Paper dealing with an age less than that in the Amendment now before the Committee. Are we to understand that a decision on this will rule out any age less than that in this Amendment, or do you propose to take each Amendment separately?
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)
The position is this: the first Amendment is to leave out fifty-one in order to insert forty-eight. If the Committee decides against fifty-one, that leaves a blank in the. Bill. The Committee can decide whether it will insert first of all forty-eight, and if that is decided in the negative, then some hon. Member can propose forty-five or some other lower figure.
That is the difficulty. If this Amendment is not carried, according to that ruling, fifty-one is left in the Bill, and that rules out any age less than that.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That only means that the Committee decides the age is to be fifty-one. If the Committee so decides that disposes of the question.
§ Mr. L. JONES
The next Question you would put from the Chair would be, "That forty-eight stand part."
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think not, because it is only a single word. You cannot amend fifty-one by leaving out part of it. I think you must follow the ordinary practice. The Committee, by the by, may discuss the various proposed substitutes on this first Amendment.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Supposing fifty-one does not stand part and something has got to be inserted, and a Member proposes to insert forty-eight, is it not in order to move an Amendment to insert forty-five instead of forty-eight?
§ The CHAIRMANassented.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I rise to support this Amendment and the very moderate appeal just made by the hon. Member opposite. I think, as he has well said, there is a strong feeling in the country and a very strong feeling in the City of London in connection with small businesses which was so powerfully supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), and also emphasised by the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir D. Maclean). We are very glad to see the Prime Minister in his place, and perhaps he has come in to make that concession which we all desire. I am sure this is one of the most important questions in the whole Bill. Perhaps I may quote one or two sentences from the speech of the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means. He said:With regard to men aired thirty-nine to forty-one who have been coming before us lately, we have a most in Variably subjected them, if they have not had any recent medical test, to grading under the new medical system, 1765 and experience has shown that in the large majority of cases these men, Grade A or Grade 2, have come back to Grade 3.… Applying the test of such experience as we have had, I do not think you will get from those men more than 3 per cent. of anything approaching real military value. You will be blocked up, overladen, and crushed down with a fresh avalanche of Grade 3 men, mostly altogether unfit."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1918, col 1491.]I think that evidence, coming from so powerful a quarter—from a man who, I think, is second to none in experience of tribunal work—ought to carry great weight with the Prime Minister and the Government. We know how impartial the right hon. Gentleman has been in his judgments as chairman of that tribunal, and any evidence coming from him must carry great weight indeed. I pass from that point to the point which was touched on by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and that is in reference to men in single businesses I think what he said will be endorsed by many Members who know from actual experience to-day in the City of London, and many great industrial cities, that there are hundreds of cases where men are carrying on these businesses, engaged in export trade or some other trade, who have seen their staffs depleted, have sent their own sons to the War, most of their clerks have gone, and now, under this Bill, many of those men themselves will have to go. What will happen to their wives and families? There is no great military value attached to these men. Many, in addition to attending to their businesses single-handed, are doing the work of special constables at all hours of the night, and I do not believe there are a vast number of men between the ages mentioned in the Bill who are shirking and doing nothing in the service of their country. Many of them, when approaching the age of fifty, hoping to retire from active business, have had single-handed to carry on those businesses which are essential to the commerce of our people.
I will submit a few figures which, I think, should make us pause before we again unduly undermine or cripple in any way the great industrial trade and commerce of this country. Let me just give the figures of our export and import trade taken from the Board of Trade. Return for 1916. They are, briefly, that the import trade in 1916 amounted to some £948,000,000, and the exports to.£603,000,000. I think I am well within the 1766 mark in estimating our Government purchases of munitions and so forth at £150,000,000 from the United States of America We get, then, an excess of imports of nearly £500,000,000 for 1916. What is the position to-day of our trade from which you are going to take away the men who are able to maintain it? Our imports for 1917 amounted to £1,000,000,000. Our exports amounted to only £594,000,000. Again, estimating £150,000,000 for Government purchases, there is an excess of imports of something like £620,000,000 last year. I quite agree that we are in a period of great stress. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the military advantage of taking these men, which is comparatively trivial, outweighs the importance, which he has pointed out in his own speeches, of maintaining our industrial position and our exchange? Does he think it wise unduly to endanger the maintenance of our industrial fabric by taking away this paltry number of men, who are helping to maintain it, in face of those figures which have been accentuated this year and are bound to be accentuated. On this matter of export businesses I may give a humble contribution from my own experience. I happen to be chairman of a great Australian house. We cannot continue our export business this year simply because we cannot get ships. Many others are in the same position. We do not complain because we know that ships are demanded for the American traffic to bring the imports over to this country. Therefore we want to maintain, if we can, those businesses on which our export trade depends, because if you take away the men you deplete your businesses and undermine the fabric of your trade and do something which will yield very little military value, but do great injury to the fabric of trade and industry on which the finance and the carrying on of the War depend.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I want to press this Amendment on the Government with all the force I can command. I think it one of the most important, probably the most important, that can come before the House in the discussion of this Bill. The Prime Minister told us that only 7 per cent. of the men who are being brought in by this Bill would be taken for Army purposes. That I believe to be too high an estimate of what the Government are likely to get. But while only 7 per cent. will be taken, 100 per cent. will have, as it were, the 1767 sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. It is, therefore, exceedingly desirable that you should not bring under this Bill more people than are absolutely necessary. Every year which you add means that you bring more people within the scope of that, uncertainty. There is nothing so bad for business and enterprise as uncertainty. It is not only the men you are going to take out of the businesses who are going to affect industry injuriously. It is the men who are threatened to be taken out and who will not know their fate for a long time. The right hon. Gentleman to-day said that he could only speak for the present situation and therefore all that he could offer is very small security, and every man within the scope of this Clause will feel that he is threatened with the possibility and even the probability, at an early date of having to leave his business. Nothing could be more injurious to the business of the country. I am quite sure that the Government, while they see the necessity for getting the necessary men, want to take those necessary men with as little injury as possible to the business interests of the country, and this Amendment offers a means of limiting that injury without seriously affecting the number of men.
If you fix the age at forty-eight instead of fifty-one the actual number of men you would lose would be very small, because, if only 7 per cent. over the whole range of age from forty-three to fifty-one will be taken, the percentage, as you reach the higher ages, must be very rapidly diminished. I know from bitter experience that, though people may say that they feel no older than when they were thirty, yet, once a man passes forty-eight or forty-nine, his years do find him out in a way that he little anticipated. Indeed, in my judgment, forty-five would be a much better age than forty-eight. I believe that the Government would get the great majority of those whom they will get out of the whole range by fixing such an age as forty-five. If they fix forty-five instead of fifty-one it means that they will relieve in the business community men, who are not anxious to escape from any unpatriotic motive, who would be only willing to serve their country in any capacity, but who, if they are going to be in a state of uncertainty while they remain in civil life, will have their businesses paralysed, which will do 1768 no service to the country. These men between forty-five and fifty-five are the main producers and taxpayers of the country. They are the people who are in charge of the businesses. One-man businesses have been talked about, but they are in charge of important businesses. They are the managers and directors, the men without whom the businesses are going to come to a standstill.
If production falls off, that is a great injury. But there is another great injury. We want a constantly increasing revenue. It is on these men we depend for raising; the revenue. They are our taxpayers. Therefore, if you take any of them one month earlier than is absolutely necessary you are diminishing production and diminishing the taxes which you will receive. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us yesterday that already the revenue is suffering. You are going to have medical examinations of these men, but the medical examinations are very imperfect, especially when you come to deal with the men who are past forty-five. Casual medical inspection by a board, however skilful, is not satisfactory. The powers of the boards are going to be very heavily taxed. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of 35,000 cases a day. Therefore, however careful medical boards are, the weaknesses that find us out in our years after forty-five are not always observable at once by a board which is a stranger to the man who comes before it for medical examination. They want to get the work done. They are being urged by the military authorities. I do not know what experience the right hon. Gentleman has had as yet of the hustling processes of the military authorities, who are anxious for men. The result will be that many men will be passed into the Army who ought not to be passed in. They will be in too high a grade, and that will apply more and more as the age gets, higher, for every year you go up the greater the danger is that more unfit men will be passed into the Army and the greater will be the number of your breakdowns, and, therefore, the greater the burden which will have to be borne on your pension list. The more of these men you take the greater the civil liability they leave behind, and that will throw a further burden upon the State.
I do not think it necessary to labour these points. They are obvious to everyone of us. They are obvious to everybody 1769 in the country, as our postbags are showing throughout the House, and I want the Government not to fix the age one month higher than is absolutely necessary to get the minimum number of men with which we can do. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday stated that by increasing the age you get greater scope for choice, and, therefore, much less disorganisation. I understand that already lie has urged that view upon a deputation to-day. I quite understand that point of view. But there is a point which, in my opinion, far outweighs the greater liberty of choice he will have, and it is that, in a Bill like this, this almost cruel Bill, the one thing to do, in handling it in this House, is to make its operation certain, clear, and definite, and of keeping the age at the minimum, for by so doing you will relieve the anxiety of other men while you will diminish liabilities, not decrease the revenue, and lessen the injury you would otherwise do to the taxpayer. In that way, from every point of view, you would, in the popular estimation, remove a great deal of the dislike of the Bill which exists, and I do submit to the right hon. Gentleman that the ease which has been made out is a very strong one, and if it is met by concessions it will rapidly relieve the anxiety of the House and the country.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I should like to do my humble part in supporting the reduction of the age. I certainly do not, like my hon. Friend opposite, think forty-eight is the proper age. To me forty-five is the proper age, and I cannot for the life of me imagine how the Government, who, individually, are exceedingly sensible people, can collectively come forward with such a proposal as this. It is against all common sense. Take men of forty-five and forty-six; we know, from our own bodies, what the condition of a man of that age is, and we know how unfitted he is for military service. The only excuse for such a terrible dislocation of home life, the diminution of productive power, and the great social sorrow which this Bill would cause is whether or not it is going to help you to win the War. In what conceivable way is it going to help you to win the War? Only one man in 500, who is over forty-one or over forty-six, is fit to be on the Western Front. You say you will use men of that age by way of substitution of younger men, or for the Home Defence Force in England; but my reply to that is that if you are to have an effec- 1770 tive Home Defence Force, you ought to have a certain number of men able to fight the Germans if they land in this country. It is no use to constitute such a force with men of forty-five to fifty, who would not be sufficient to fight the Germans if they arrive. I am a Tory Member, yet I conceive that this proposal is one which is open to strong objection on the ground of its seeking to gain industrial compulsion by a side wind. It may be right or it may be wrong, or it may necessary, if the country's needs are so. urgent and great, but if that be so, let the Government come forward perfectly plainly and openly, and say that they want men of from forty to forty-five to fight, and men of between forty-five and fifty-five to work for their country as civilians. If the Government would do that we would know where we are, but I strongly object to this proposal, because I think it is not in the interests of the country to get industrial compulsion by a side wind, and, therefore, I shall vote against the Government.
I think the House will generally appreciate the sentiment of the last speaker, if only for one thing more than another, namely, the statement of the Prime Minister that not more than 7 per cent. of these men can be used for fighting purposes, and if they are to be used for industrial purposes why do not the Government straightforwardly say so? I rather want to appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service on the ground of an answer which he gave two weeks ago, in which he positively refused, on military advice and on his own experience—I am using the right hon. Gentleman's own words—and on the instructions of the Cabinet—on all those grounds, he positively refused, a fortnight ago, to agree to men of thirty-five, dilutees, and his reason was that from all the experience he had collected from his military advisers, men over the age of thirty-five were useless for fighting purposes. Those are his words and not mine. And, mark you, it was in connection with an attempt to effect an agreement. He was asked this question, "Surely all dilutees should go; surely men who have been brought into an industry should go before others?" That was the question he was asked. His answer was an impossible one. He said, "This is, from a military point of view, absolutely impossible"; and he gave various reasons which I am not challenging, because I believe they were sound and 1771 good reasons, and I think he will agree they so convinced the great mass of those who listened to him, for they accepted his answer. That took place a fortnight ago, on an occasion when we were dealing with men over thirty-five. Within a fortnight from that time comes the proposal to take men of fifty-one. It is all very well to talk about the position at the front. God knows, we are all aware how serious is the position at the front, and there can be no charge made that we do not understand it. Every man in this House understands it, and those who take part in this discussion cannot be accused of indifference or anything else, But the position is serious from the standpoint of moral at home. Do not forget that the last ounce of stength in this country will not be the military, but the moral of the people at home, and you are destroying that moral by the proposals now before us; you are making people pacifists, and, therefore, I put a further question as to what took place a fortnight ago. The Prime Minister, on the same occasion, met the representatives of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers—I am not giving away any secrets—and several times in the course of the discussions he put the same question as was put by my right hon. Friend, who was present. He said, "Do you say that men of twenty-one, and so on, ought to be left in the factories, and that men of thirty-five, that are not of military value, ought to be taken?" That was the question which he put again and again, clearly indicating—and I do not challenge it—that he was using it as an argument from the common-sense point of view. I think my right hon. Friend said that there were a large number of people who have no occupation and no home. I do not know where those people are. For months I have been looking for those people, ready and anxious and willing to employ them, because out of a staff of 140, 70 per cent. have already gone, and the difficulty is to find anybody to replace them. [An HON. MEMBER: "We all have that difficulty!"] Everybody has that difficulty, and when people say in this House, that there is an unlimited supply of men wandering about the country without jobs and without homes it is absolutely foreign to the experience of anyone who knows anything about business.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
The right hon. Gentleman will pardon my interrupting him, but it is a pity that there should be any mis- 1772 understanding about this. I was not referring to people without occupation, but I referred to the men, of whom the right hon. Gentleman has ample knowledge, who follow occupations which normally are of a migratory kind, men who live in lodging-houses and men of a class who fill the lodging-houses every night. He knows the class to which I refer. I also referred to a class of men who have homes but who are not engaged in work of national importance. We all know those people.
I do not want to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend that the very people he refers to are not the people in lodging-houses. The curious experience of this War is that that type are the navvies and others who have migrated to those places where you have put up munition factories. That is the type that used to be in the lodging-houses, but that is not the type that is about to-day. If the type to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is the type that you are relying upon to save us in this situation, then God help us: The maximum age in France is forty-eight. Whilst we appreciate to the full the magnificent-valour and sacrifice of our friends and comrades, no one will deny that you must not compare the French situation with our own. France is accustomed to the Continental army system. It is her first line of defence. In the second place, she is depending absolutely and completely upon the financial stability of this country. She is depending for various kinds of supplies, all of which are contributed by the very people that yon are now calling upon. That is equally true of Italy. Curiously enough. Italy's age limit is forty-five. Comparing France, Italy, Belgium, or even Germany, has any of those countries contributed a larger military strength than 13½per cent. of its male population? Are any of them doing it? It is no secret. Anyone knows that the basis of a Conscript Army prior to the War was 10 per cent. That was the accepted basis. At this moment we have got 13½ per cent. plus our Navy, plus our financial backings, and the other supplies that we are giving. The time has come when we have to consider very seriously whether this is the best way to win the War. More then eighteen months ago in this House, when we considered the position, I made-my first protest on this question, and I pointed out then that the great failure, 1773 in my judgment, was in not treating the nation as one unit. We had, on the one hand, the munitions people saying that the only thing that mattered was munitions. We had the Army people saying that the only thing that mattered was getting soldiers. We had all these conflicting elements, with the result that there has been no co-ordination from beginning to end. The men you are now dealing with are the men who are working under tremendous difficulties because of their sons and others who have gone into the Army.
I have dealt with the business men, now let us look at the working classes. I should like to see a Return of the number of parcels that are sent to the front every week. I know something of the sacrifice of mothers and fathers in that weekly parcel. I do not know whether the House understands this, but in hundreds of thousands of homes of this country there is a day set apart every week, and that is the day when the parcel for the boy is sent. I know the cost of it. I know the sacrifice of mothers and fathers. That parcel goes as the cheerful comfort which they give to the boy, who accepts it in that spirit. You are now going to take the father. You are now going to take the father from that household, and a pretty fine state of affairs you are going to leave in that household. The moral you are going to create is the feeling that there is no further interest in winning the War. You will be having your men and women saying that, so far as they are concerned, they have lost interest. That is the kind of thing that is likely to happen, and with no military value. If you are only going to get 7 per cent., why dislocate and disturb 100 per cent.? It cannot be justified upon any ground of logic or military efficiency, and I would beg my right hon. Friend to remember that whatever this House may say, there is a feeling in the country of deep and bitter resentment against this. This feeling will grow. You are aggravating it. You are not adding to the efficiency of the military strength of the country, and upon all these grounds I would urge that not fifty-one but forty-five is the maximum age you ought to consider. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to assent to it.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
This is one of the most important Amendments that will be moved against this Bill, and we ought to have a stronger representation of the Gov- 1774 ernment upon the Front Bench. It is not satisfactory that when such an Amendment is being discussed we have the Front Bench as it is now. I do not know whether the Government realise what the calling up of these men means. If it is necessary, it must be done. I voted for the Second Reading of this Bill, and I am prepared to vote for anything if it is necessary to win this War. If it is necessary, these men must be called up, but I do not think it is yet necessary or that it has been proved that they will provide the material that is required. This proposal threatens to paralyse and to ruin endless businesses in this country. You are going to create a feeling throughout this country which, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Thomas) has said, may have widespread effect. We have to keep up the moral of the people of this country. When considering this question you must remember that in Italy, in France, and in Belgium they are fighting with an enemy on their own soil. We are not. We are not physically and personally immediately threatened. We are fighting for high principles. I do not say that they are not, but they, in addition to that, have the enormous pressure of the enemy on their own soil, and it is easier to keep up the moral there than here for a war of this kind. Therefore, you must be careful that in what you do you do not make the position such that it is felt to be intolerable. It is suggested that if the age is high there will be a better choice. I have no faith in this question of choice. Once you give the Government, or those in authority the power to take these men they will take them. Medical examination is no protection. From my own office you have taken men with club feet, men absolutely useless for military purposes. I do not say they ought not to have taken them, but they have taken them and put them into their offices as clerks. The number of men we are going to get out of these higher ages for the military line is admittedly extremely few, but that does not mean that they are not going to take the others. They will take them. We know them too well. They will take them rather than send the young men out of their own offices. They have never cleared their own offices. They have never cleared their own establishments. The clean cuts in the Civil Service is to be up to twenty-five, but the clean cut everywhere else is to be thirty-five.
§ Sir A. GEDDESindicated dissent.1775
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
Oh, yes! Thirty-five in banks and thirty-five in insurance offices. All exemption is to be abolished under those ages. Abolish exemptions under those ages in the Civil Service. Treat the Civil Service in the same way. You speak of inconvenience. We all know what inconvenience means. I happen to be the chairman and managing director of a life insurance company. We have twenty branch managers in charge of great districts. What does this Bill mean to them? With twenty, we shall have three left under this. Medical examination is no protection whatever. These men will be taken, and they will be put into offices to do work of which they have no experience whatever, and which any woman could do. You could get plenty of women to do the work these men will be put to do there. They will be taken away from work where they are vitally important, and will be put into offices to do work that women could do, and you ought to put women there to do that work, because these men will not go to the fighting line, and therefore they will not benefit us in the great struggle in which we are engaged. This question of ages is going to be very difficult. We are not going to have the, protection of the tribunals which we have hitherto had, and it is vastly more important now in connection with these ages under the Bill than with the ages taken before, for every year tells, and I would urge that the age should not be a year later than forty-five. They will be taken away to do trivial work. It is going to wreck the businesses of this country. It is going to create a feeling in a time of stress and trial which it is very undesirable should be created. It is not going to increase the fighting strength of the nation, but it is going to enable the Government to keep a lot of young men in their offices who ought to be sent to the front before you take the older men.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not want to repeat the arguments which have been used with great force by my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, and by many other Members. It seems to me that this question must be answered, "Are you going to do better for the nation as a whole by taking men up to fifty-one, or are you going to do better if you put the age at forty-five?"—which I think is what the age ought to be. It is perfectly clear that a man over forty-five—I believe myself a 1776 man over forty—is no use for the front. I am told that in many cases colonels who are forty or forty-one are. not looked upon with favour by officers in command of divisions. If a colonel at forty or forty-one, who does not have the strenuous exertion which a private has, is too old, or at any rate is not as efficient at forty or forty-one as if he was five or six years younger, how do you suppose that men of forty-five, forty-six, and forty-seven, with no experience or knowledge of military life, are going to be of any use? Not only will they be of no use in the field, but they will not be able to stand the training which is given to private soldiers. I may be met with the argument that the men will be used for other purposes. I say it is not in the interests of the country that you should take men who are now actively engaged in business and transfer them to do office work in some canteen, or in some military office, either in this country or abroad. It is a fact that a large number of businesses at the present moment, without being one-man businesses, are being run by one man, because the partners or directors or managers have already gone to the front, and therefore you are leaving these businesses, or departments of a business, in the hands of one man. If you are going to take that one man away the business falls to the ground. I do not want to go into questions of figures as to exports or imports, but we have got to get the taxes and we have got to get the money. Is it not likely that you will do more harm to the country than good if you take away men who are doing useful work and put them to work which is not useful? I feel very strongly on this point. I do not know whether it is popular, and I do not mind that, but it is what I believe to be right. I sincerely hope that if the age is altered, the age which is inserted will be forty-five and not fifty-one.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
I have put down notice of an Amendment, for the age to be forty-seven, and there are other Amendments for forty-five. We are placed in rather a difficult position by the ruling the Chairman has given, which I do not quarrel with in the least, because I know the difficulties of arriving at any decision when there is a question of alternative figures. I understand the position is that if the Government agrees to drop fifty-one and we are faced with the next Motion that forty-eight be inserted, that will be the only Motion that will be before the 1777 House. We shall have to disagree with forty-eight before we can get a chance of suggesting either forty-seven or forty-five.
§ Sir F, BANBURY
I would suggest that the hon. Member who moves forty-seven or forty-eight can always withdraw.
§ Sir W. DICKINSON
I was just going to say that, and therefore we have got to arrive at a point at which we are called upon to decide on one thing or another. I take it that this discussion will aim at inducing the Government to accept the figure which will have attained the most general expression of assent. I have suggested forty-seven because I thought it was a reasonable compromise between the extreme views, and I hope very much that the Government may see their way to accepting that figure. I do not think it necessary to argue the particular merits of forty-seven against forty-eight, except that forty-seven is rather lower than forty-eight. I agree with all that has been said by the right hon. Baronet opposite, especially with regard to the value of the services of these men when they are transferred to some new business. The older man, the man who has got accustomed to his own particular job, and is able to carry it on with efficiency and perfect satisfaction for ten or fifteen years after he has attained the age of forty or forty-five, is probably quite out of place if he is put to some new job. Therefore, if you are aiming at developing to the utmost the productive power of the male population of this Kingdom you are doing the most foolish thing possible by transferring men of forty-five, forty-six, and forty-seven from the one job which they alone are capable of performing satisfactorily to some job where their energies will probably not be of half the value.
There is another argument which I think ought to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, and it is this—and it is of great importance. It is clear that as this War goes on the commerce and the whole success of this country will depend upon the proper extent to which we can make use of women's labour. Everyone knows that in almost all businesses women have been taken in to do a very great portion of the work, but in almost all these cases they depend very much indeed upon the direction of men who are accustomed to do the work, and know really the ropes which it is necessary to pull in order to 1778 carry through that particular job. There are hundreds of businesses where, if you take away the man of forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, and forty-eight, who is now directing, say, a score or thirty or forty women, that business will have the greatest difficulty to carry on and work satisfactorily, although they have the female labour; because they will have had to give up the male direction which is absolutely essential to that rather novel kind of labour which is now really saving the country. Therefore, these two arguments I put forward for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope, I feel sure, that, having listened to this Debate, the Government will have come to the conclusion that they ought to accept some figure lower than fifty-one. I venture to submit to them that the figure I have given, forty-seven—
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I do not want to traverse ground which has already been traversed, but I want to make a particular point to the Minister of National Service. The theory upon which, I understand, the Government has selected this very high figure of fifty, with power to go to fifty-six, is that they may have the largest possible area from which to make their selection. Their doctrine is that, by having such an area from which to make their selection, they will do the less amount of injury to particular businesses. There is something to be said for that theory. I venture, however, to submit another argument which, I think, is much more important than that particular one, and it is this: the supreme importance to the business community knowing at once what is the maximum age at which men should be selected. Unless you can give them that, unless you can limit as soon as possible the age from which men are to be selected, you will absolutely paralyse all business arrangements that have to be made in advance and upon which so much depends. I suggest that it would be very much better to take a lower age, even if that means calling up a much larger proportion of men. If you take a high age, it is obvious that you can only call up a small proportion. That means the largest amount of business unsettlement and the greatest amount of paralysis in business 1779 and in business arrangements. Therefore, I respectfully submit to the Minister of National Service that he should take an age that fairly represents that period of life which he may reasonably expect to obtain a large proportion of men, and I think that forty-five years is the maximum age at which it is reasonable to expect any considerable proportion of men. I speak quite dispassionately upon this question, because I have the misfortune to have passed fifty-two years; therefore, it does not matter to me personally which particular age is selected. I look back at by own figure of physical evolution, and I am quite satisfied that at the age of forty-four, possibly forty-five, I might have been able to stand a military training, but though I believe my intellectual powers are considerably developed, so far as my physical powers are concerned they have been steadily deteriorating since I was about forty-four. If I could not stand the strain of military service at forty-seven or forty-eight, I imagine that nobody else could. No one who has got beyond the age of forty-five, or forty-six at the outside, can possibly stand the strain of the physical exercises necessary to develop and equip a man for a soldier. That is the point I want respectfully to suggest to the Minister of National Service, that though a man at forty-five, forty-six or forty-seven may appear to his own satisfaction to be physically sound and fit when no extra special or peculiar strain is placed upon him, yet if the man who is past those ages is called upon constantly to perform all kinds of new physical exertions, then some vital organ or some muscle or some part of his body will give way under the strain, and the result will be that you will have disaster and physical wrecks. Not many men who can render and are rendering excellent service in commercial life would be other than quite useless for any kind of military service, and it seems to me to be an entirely foolish and a fatal thing to run the risk of sacrificing these men who cannot be of any particular use in the Army, but who ought to be, and can be, of considerable use in civil life.
A point that touches me very closely in connection with that great commercial city of Sheffield, which I partly represent, is this: I know in how many cases of partnerships careful arrangements have been made by which older men have taken upon themselves the entire burden of the 1780 businesses for the purpose of releasing partners for the Army. These are men who would possibly now be taking life very easy; yet they have taken upon themselves the full burden of large business responsibilities from patriotic motives so that there might be set free for active service at the front either their junior partners or their own sons. It would be a very ill-return to make for their patriotic sacrifices if you were to call them up now for military service. It would mean that all their efforts had been in vain, and that they had failed to retain business connections that they have made so many sacrifices to retain, not so much for their own personal profit, but because of their importance to the nation at large. Therefore, I must urgently and respectfully submit to the Minister of National Service forthwith to declare what is to be the maximum age, and that there should be no idea of leaving a margin of higher age from which a few might be selected; that he should select a maximum age, and that the principal reasons for the selection of that maximum age should be that that particular age is the one at which we might expect to obtain the largest proportion of men for military service. To go beyond the age at which such large proportion of men can be obtained will mean a sacrifice to the community out of all proportion to the benefits attained. I put forty-seven as a maximum age, as absolutely the maximum ago, at which any reasonable proportion of men can be made reasonably fit for military service. I put forty-five as a reasonable age, and I believe if we fixed it at that age, although it would mean many sacrifices, the people would willingly and gladly make them. It. is not a question of giving the least we can give. I am satisfied that we are all prepared to give the most, but we want to be satisfied that the sacrifices we make bear some adequate proportion to the results obtained. We do not want to make sacrifices in vain. I hope in what I am going to say, lastly, that the Minister of National Service will not misunderstand me because I have always been filled with great admiration by his work, but I do not want to withdraw men from one kind of business for which they are fitted and leave it to the discretion of the Minister of National Service to find them some other occupation which they may not be fitted for, although I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman will exercise the greatest possible care and discrimination, and no effort will be spared 1781 on his part to use the men to the best advantage. Nevertheless, I believe that these men are better employed in the trade in which they have been trained than in any position to which the right lion. Gentleman can transfer them. For these reasons I ask him to fix at once the age as near forty-five as he can.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment and thereby whittle down the powers which the War Cabinet, after considerable consideration, have determined upon as necessary if the Government is to place this country in a state of safety. To reduce the powers which the Government now ask for simply means that Britain will have a smaller number of men available in July or August to put on the Western Front or any other theatre of war where they may be required. The hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear) and others who followed him urged this Amendment on the grounds that our export business to Australia must be maintained, and that we must consider the carrying on of business generally, the raising of taxes, and so on. What is the good of business or money or export trade if we are going to lose the War? We can only be guided by the opinion of the Government on this matter, whether it is good or bad. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] At any rate, at the present time I have more confidence in them than I have in the opinions of hon. Members of this House. What is the good of trying to maintain business and export trade unless we give the Government all the powers they ask for to carry out the responsibilities which have been placed on their shoulders? Almost every hon. Member who has spoken in favour of this Amendment has proceeded on the assumption that the Government are going to ruthlessly take men up to fifty-one and put them into the Army. That is not my understanding of these proposals. I favour the age being maintained at fifty-one in order that the Government may have the widest possible number who can be reasonably spared from their present occupations to use as substitutes in order to free men of thirty-five or forty-one who may be fit for military service.
There is another reason why I want to see the age kept at fifty-one. It is because if the. Government take this step and follow it up by a very much improved system of the Volunteer Force in this country they are going to have an oppor- 1782 tunity of using men in this country who will be allowed part time to look after their businesses and part time to train,, and in a few months they will become capable of serving for Home defence, and. in this way free some of the men whom the Government have now to maintain in this country. There are one or two other points which I would like to mention which. I know will give hon. Members who favour this Amendment a certain amount of argument. It is no use hiding the fact that there is a wide feeling amongst hon. Members that hitherto the Government have not taken the steps which they ought to have taken to make proper use of the men they have got. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) spoke very strongly about the number of men who still remain in Government Departments, and I beg the Government to go much further than they have done in combing out those Departments. It has been my privilege to work in different Departments during the War, and I do not hesitate to say that there are there a number of men of military age who are doing good work I admit, but to suggest that they cannot be replaced is ridiculous, and much more ought to be done in this direction.
There is another point in regard to-which the public at large do feel a certain amount of dissatisfaction. We know in every corner of the country how wasteful have been the mistakes of the medical boards in putting men into the Army whenever were fit. I mention this point because I want the Government to stick to their proposals, but I do want them to' take very special care to see that in this direction justice is done not only to the individuals, but to the nation at large. I do not believe it is right, as some hon. Members have suggested, that public opinion in this country is overwhelmingly against the age limit being fifty-one. My experience, so far as I have been able to gather it in so short a time, is that people feel delighted to find that the Government are showing some backbone and strength, and are taking a bold line and doing what they believe to be right in the interests of the country. I beg the Government not to move one iota from taking the steps which they have suggested.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I have listened with great interest to the discussion of this very important point of the age. I quite agree that it is an extremely important 1783 point upon which to arrive at a wise decision. There is no more important point in the Bill than this question of the age that we should fix as the military age. A good many months ago this question came under the direct consideration of my Department, and we had to decide what steps we would recommend to the Cabinet if certain eventualities arose. There are a large number of possibilities. You can lower the age, but I do not think there would be any enthusiasm in this House for lowering the age. You can ruthlessly seize men of the present military age, and there are in the country at the present moment quite a large number of men of the present military age of whom only a small number are physically fit. Still, they are there, and they could be seized. If we go very much further than we are planning to go with the taking of the men of the present military age, we shall certainly do a lot of damage that will seriously hamper us in our war efforts, because there is no very large number of fit men you can take of the present military age without absolutely crippling your war effort. That is the central fact.
The next thing is this: We have no guarantee that this is the last battle. We have no guarantee that the War is going to be over to-morrow, the next day, or the next month. Supposing we said, "Yes, we are going to take all the men of the present military age," and we could do it under existing powers by pressure upon the tribunals, that would be only one of the hundred-and-one ways of losing the War for certain. You can lose the War by doing that just as easily as you like. Supposing we said, "Yes, we will take all the men that we want from those of the present military age and put them into the Army," and then the pressure came, the next thing you would have to do would be to move all the men you had just taken into the Army. You would have already hampered civilian work unnecessarily, and you would have to do a reshuffle in the Army. You would have all the waste, all the chaos, and all the difficulties which we have been trying to get rid of from the very first. I implore this Committee to consider what really we are dealing with. We are dealing with a most complicated problem that does not end with the passage of this Bill. The Bill has got to be administered and worked over and prayed over to keep this thing from going wrong. After the most 1784 mature consideration of all the facts involved—I may be right and I may be wrong, but I have had the services of the best brains that I could command or get to help in working out this problem—I assure you that it is my sincere and absolute belief that it is much wiser now to go up to fifty than it would be to stop at forty-five. I assure you that it is not a light-hearted decision. It is wiser for this reason: We are coining, as we all know, to the age periods where you have men of the greatest value from the commercial, from the financial, and from the social fabric points of view, but you really cannot persuade me—it is impossible for anyone to persuade me—that men increase in value, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, and so on. It is not so. There is no difference in business value, and there is no difference in scientific value, unless it be a slight deterioration between the ages of forty-one and fifty.
I am sure that every hon. Member of this House who has had a medical training will agree with me when I say that the actual tail of a man's years does not determine his age. It is quite wrong to think of the man of fifty as necessarily older than the man of forty-four or forty-five. It is really a perfect mistake to think that the tail of a man's years determines his age or his power of resistance. There are men of fifty at the present moment in this country—you will find them in the North and in Scotland, on the hills—who are absolutely fit. You will find men in Yorkshire just as fit at fifty as any man for the sort of work for which these older men are wanted in the forces. You have got to realise that, after all, we are proposing to take only a small percentage of the men between these age periods. The Prime Minister the other day said 7 per cent. for this year. That means that 93 per cent. will remain in civil life. Cut off three years or four years from the block on which the Military Service Act operates and you will get, believe me, the same number of men taken from civil life, but they will be less fit physically on the average than if you take the longer block. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is really so. We will get the more physically fit men by taking the whole length of the block, and I assure you that you will do less damage to those very things which we all wish to conserve. We have gone into this, and we have worked at it, and I can assure the Committee that what they are recommending is, in fact, unsound from the 1785 point of view of the nation and unsound from the point of view of the stability of industry and of finance, and so forth. If the Committee were to cut the whole thing down and to say that one year or two years only are to be added to the military age, I should probably be able to raise as many men as will be raised out of the whole period, but if I allowed the machine to do it it would smash things in a way that you will not do if you take the longer period.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
That is the one argument against the full age. It is the one argument that matters from the point of view of winning the War. The uncertainty created and the diminishing of the moral of the country is the real thing against raising the age, and it is the thing that one has to weigh so carefully. I believe, by the arrangements that we are making for medically examining these men and by the announcements that we shall make with regard to men of certain trades who will not be touched at all, and who will not have to be examined—where we are clean cutting at a much lower age in an occupation we shall announce that the older men in that occupation are not to move; there will be no compulsion upon their staying there, but so far as we are concerned they are not to take any action—we shall be able to let them know very rapidly how these various blocks stand. For instance, where we have an order for a clean cut upon occupational grounds some year below the year of birth which under the Bill will become operative, those men will be unaffected for the time being.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I welcome that interruption, because I want to get at the mental state which exists. It is static, just as static as that box. The war is dynamic; it is moving all the time, and the whole time it is a problem of balancing between the civil side and the war side. It is a problem of watching the Armies and of adjustment all the time. And we have there the static mind. "We know what happened before." If it were possible to conceive of the whole thing as standing still, if it were possible to conceive of finality in the administration of recruiting which is going on, thousands of men every 1786 day affected; if it were possible to have the whole thing standing still, the whole problem would be different. But you cannot. It is moving, it is balance, it is adjustment all the time. I can assure every member of this Committee that from the sent mental point of view, though it is. nicer to think of no man over forty-eight going, and although from the point of view of moral there is something, indeed, a good deal, to be said, still I would assure them that I believe it is wise to face facts as they are, and to say that this position is best dealt with by giving the widest range of freedom for choice, because we have got always various sides of the problem under the watch and under the control to some extent, at all events, of the Government, and the whole balance is being maintained. Look at what is happening at the present moment for proof of that! Here we are combing out from the munition factories. I would like at this moment, although it is hardly on the point, to acknowledge the position now adopted by the engineers in munition factories. It is most satisfactory that while this combing out is going on, and the men are streaming to the Colours, production, I understand, is rising. That shows adjustment right back through the whole chain of processes; which are linked up.
It is utterly misleading to suggest that these other interests of the State, which are as great in their own place as the actual fighting, are overlooked. That is not so. There is no break. It might easily be produced A single day's folly in the central control of the Recruiting Department might produce a crises. There is no great difficulty in producing crises, but, somehow or other, we have managed so far to avoid having that particular type of crisis. That has been done by watching over, by balancing all the problems, as. they came along. I wonder if this Committee realises the number of men who are at the present moment in civil life who-have got nothing standing between them-and walking into the nearest military depot except the balanced judgment of the-staff of the National Service Department. There are over 2,000,000 men whose position in civil life is retained because-they are required for civil life, but they hold no exemption, there is no tribunal coming in, and there is nothing to keep them in civil life except the judgment and the arrangements of the Minister responsible for this work. [An HON- 1787 MEMBER: "Are they fit men?"]. These are not fit men; at any rate, they are not fit for Grade 1, but there are very large numbers of them fit for Grade 2. They are kept in civil life, in munition factories, and so on. It is because we have had the experience of the control of this large number of men and this large number of war interests, and because that experience has shown that it is possible to regulate it that we are doing it all the time, and we are doing it so that the essential men are left behind and the non-essential men or the less essential men are taken. I admit individual mistakes, but I am speaking of broad results. It is because one knows that it can be done now that I urge the Committee to agree to the extension of the military age to fifty.
There was a strong point made by the Tight hon. Gentleman who spoke about the position of the Civil Service and said that the Government was not combing out but was keeping unjustifiably in its offices a large number of young fit men in the Civil Service. I do not think he quite realised what the Civil Service has done and is doing. The Prime Minister, speaking the other day, spoke of the "clean cut of-twenty-five," and it was promptly assumed apparently that all others of above twenty-five were still there and retained. For months and months, even years, the Civil Service has been combed and combed and combed, and it has produced an extraordinarily high proportion of men for the Service. It has on its shoulders at the present time a load of responsibility which no other class of population of equal numerical strength is carrying, and yet it is giving men steadily to the forces. It is true it is receiving men who have served and who are no longer fit for service, but it is giving men steadily to the forces, and it is going on. It seems to be the general impression, not only in this House but throughout the country, that the whole of the Civil Service is a law unto itself as to which shall go and which shall stay. It is true that a great deal of power and responsibility has been left in the hands of the departmental chiefs of the Civil Service throughout, but there is and has been now for many weeks and months in existence a combing-out tribunal working through the Government offices, dealing with the cases that arise. I am sure the Committee will be interested to know the names of the two gentlemen who represent the Ministry of National Service on that 1788 combing-out Committee. They are Mr. Honoratus Lloyd, whose name is very familiar to the Committee, and Mr. Bettesworth Piggot, whose experience of tribunal work as deputy-chairman of the London Tribunal has, of course, been great. Those are the two members who are in an independent position on that tribunal. We also have arrangements for working with the Government Departments concerned about the taking on of individuals into Government offices. These arrangements and rules are very strict to see that men who are really fit for service do not get taken on. I will tell you the sort of baseless story that circulates about people in the Civil Service. Only within the last few hours I was told about an individual who was said to be hiding in a Government Department—I will not say which one—a man young and fit for service, a man who ought to go to the front at once, who bad never done anything for his country. He was one of eight brothers, seven of whom had gone overseas with the forces and of whom two at least were dead. He himself had never been fit for service and is permanently unfit. He has given up his ordinary civil avocation, where he was making a good income, and is receiving comparatively small pay in a Government office, and that is a man who is being held up by a Member of this House as an outstanding example of a shirker and a representative of a family of shirkers. That is the sort of tale that grows and grows. The way the Civil Service is spoken of is most unfair. I know no body of men who are more anxious to go, who claim more regularly day by day, "Let us go," and they have to be told, "No, you cannot go; your place is there," and in war-time that is the only position which a man should occupy.
I have spoken rather strongly about the Civil Service because T felt they required defence and they have not been defended properly. The things which are being said about them are utterly cruel and they are doing harm throughout the country. They are making people who do not know-any better believe that the Government is protecting large numbers of young men. It is not so. There are, of course, in the Post Office, among postmen and so on, young, fit men still who are being got out, and you have got men in the Customs and Excise around the coast. You have men outside who are still young and fit and are being drawn on, as other important industries are being drawn on, and the 1789 figures for these offices, which are big employing Departments, are got hold of and quoted as referring to clerks in Government offices. I have been led on to saying this because of the direct attack which was made upon the Civil Service across the Table this evening. I would beg of the Committee to realise that this question of the level at which they are going to place the age is not a thing to be decided on sentimental grounds. It has to be decided after the most careful study and consideration of all the factors involved. I do not make any claim to superior wisdom or knowledge but, after considering the thing in every way and from every point of view, the decision of the Government was that the best age to fix was fifty, and to work it so that a certain number of men were withdrawn from civil life up to that age, and that decision is based not upon military considerations alone but upon the widest possible consideration being given to all the factors involved. A right hon. Gentleman who spoke from behind quoted me as saying not long ago that it was absurd to take men at thirty-five when there were men of twenty-one and twenty-two available. That is absolutely absurd when you have the younger men available in the same industry, but when you have to raise a certain number of men and you have not got enough young men to take out without leading to collapse you have, even against your will, to go further and further in order to get the men you can get, and it then becomes a matter of administration to see that the older men are used in the capacity for which they are at least, so far as possible, suitable.
§ Mr. SUTTON
I think the Committee will regret very much the speech we have just heard from the Minister of National Service. Some of us were hoping that he had consulted some of his colleagues and that the Government was prepared to reduce the age to something like a reason able figure. He has not suggested even one year's reduction. Therefore, I think many of us will regret it. I feel very strongly indeed upon this matter. I have supported the Government from the beginning of the War for all I have been worth. I have supported Conscription and have many times brought trouble upon my head from my own friends, and even from some members of the association to which I belong. But I must say honestly That I am not prepared to vote for this maximum which is proposed by the 1790 Government. I have had some little experience as a member of the Special Committee on lie-examinations and I know the way many people have been treated in the past by the medical boards, and while I recognise that for some time now there has been a great improvement in the medical boards of this country I still believe they are far from perfect in their examinations. I can give a case that I had three weeks ago in Manchester of a man weighing 6 stone, 27 inches round the chest, aged forty-two years and four months. He produced a doctor's note that he had been suffering for fifteen years from a very bad disease. He had been rejected many times in the past. He was put Grade 3 and was called up within a few weeks. I intervened and fortunately the man was over military age. I said to the military authorities that if men like this were to be taken and the enemy were on our doorsteps they would be of no use in preventing them from entering the door. This makes one doubtful as to what many medical boards would do with the older men. I shall strongly vote against this Clause. I voted against the Second Reading last night on account of the age that is proposed.
Let me give another instance. Every Member of the House has cases of men who have lost one, two and three sons in this War. I will give a case that I have now with the pension authorities. A man had two sons, twins, twenty-three years of age. They were killed two years ago. The result was a shock to the mother which brought on paralysis, and the poor woman was in bed for twelve months. She is now being wheeled about in a bath-chair, a doctor is attending her still, and she has to have a woman to wait upon her. She is given 4s. a week as pension in respect of one of her sons. In regard to the other she gets nothing at all, and that is the kind of thing which is going on all over the place. The father is of military age. Imagine taking him into the Army when the mother is crippled in the way she is! This applies to thousands of cases all over the country. I have several others in my own Constituency, although they may not be quite as bad. Where a man has lost two or three sons, although he is still of military age, I do not think he ought to be liable to be called up. I trust the House will reject the proposal of the Government. It is not very often that I speak in these Debates, but I do want the Government to be reasonable, 1791 if only in their own interests. We are anxious that this War should be won, but I am afraid that the course the Government are adopting is not going to assist in bringing about that end. The arguments on medical grounds which we have just had addressed to us appear to me to be very illogical indeed. As I go about the streets I see men who to my mind are fit for service. One cannot tell, of course, and we have just had related to us the case of a young man in the Civil Service in which appearances were not justified by the facts. But I see young men riding about in Government motor cars who, I think, ought to be in khaki; and there are even some Members in this House, who are supporting the proposal that the age should be fifty-one, who, in my opinion, ought also to be in khaki. But, of course, they can be passed over. I venture to suggest that men of this age would be of no service whatever in helping to win this War, and I hope, therefore, that the House will insist on a lower age being fixed—say, forty-five years.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
This Amendment in some of its aspects is probably the most critical we shall have to deal with in connection with this Bill. There are only two questions which it is necessary for the House to ask and for the Government to answer. The first is, "What is the measure of the military value of men over, shall we say, forty-eight years of age and up to the age of fifty?" Secondly, "What is the measure of the disturbance in commercial and industrial life which will be occasioned by taking these men away from the ordinary industrial life of the country?" Yesterday we had a speech made by the hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), who, it is admitted, has probably more information and more experience in the examination of men by tribunals than any other Member of this House, or, perhaps, any other man in this country. I am referring, of course, to the Deputy-Chairman of Committees, who distinctly told us that, as a result of his experience, he had come to the conclusion that men over forty-eight years of age were of no military value, or of exceptionally little value, for military purposes. That view was confirmed by one or two who subsequently spoke, not members of military tribunals, but officers serving either in this country or abroad. There was not one of these who came back, especially from France, to 1792 take part in this Debate but was of opinion that these elderly men were not of any military value in France at all. The Minister of National Service told the House that he had consulted all the best authorities before he came to the decision which he has announced. I do not complain of his absence from the House at this moment. He has been in attendance for a very long time, and we cannot expect him to be continuously present. But it is a great pity there is not somebody here who can say definitely whether among the persons consulted by the Minister of National Service were any large number of chairmen of large tribunals, whose experience has been directed to this subject. I do not say the right hon. Gentleman has not consulted them, but I think if he had done so he would have quoted their view. I should like to be assured upon this most critical point, that the opinions of persons of authority and experience have been prayed in aid of the views pronounced here. I believe the civil authorities almost unanimously condemn the employment on military service of men over forty-eight years of age, and you have, in support of that, the testimony of officers who have themselves been engaged at the front. As against that you ought to have something more than the theories of a Department to support the arguments which have been produced in this House. You must have some actual practice to support those theories before you decide to enforce the proposal to fix the age as suggested in the Bill. So much for the military point of view. Let me turn to the civil aspect. The men who you propose to withdraw from civil life for the purpose of recruiting into the active branches of the Army are, so far as many of them are concerned, actual managers and directors of what are sometimes called one-man businesses, they are associated, too, with businesses extending over great areas, both geographical and financial. We are told the Government are only going to take 7 per cent. of them in the first year. But there was a statement made by the Minister which led me to think that that 7 per cent. in the first year may possibly be followed by another 7 per cent. in the second year, should the War unfortunately last so long. What will be the result? You will withdraw from industry men of no military value, but of great commercial value, whose experience has only been formed after many years of 1793 commercial and industrial experience, and who are irreplaceable, so far as their services are concerned. The whole country is already alarmed at this proposal, because it thinks business will be paralysed in many centres of industry, and it is within the knowledge of every Member of this House that that alarm exists. I think to take the age of forty-five would be too low. I understand that no age is actually before the Committee owing to the way in which the Amendment is put to the Committee, but what we are really discussing is forty-eight. To go below forty-eight, I think, would be unreasonable, and to go above forty-eight would be equally unreasonable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Forty-five!"] Not forty-five; I think that is too low, and, as far as I am concerned, if the Government would give us forty-eight it would get rid of a great deal of apprehension. I do not believe it would deprive them of a single man of appreciable military value, but that it would do much to reduce the dislike and apprehension with which this measure is viewed.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I only want to say one word to the Committee, because I was a member of the War Cabinet during a great many of the discussions on this subject. I should like to say that in all my experience in office I never came across a more careful or a more conscientious member of a Government or of any Department than the Minister of National Service, who has just addressed the Committee. We had very many discussions upon this subject, and the statistics which lie had collated and the knowledge that he had shown, impressed me almost more than anything else while I was in office. The Committee must not imagine that a Government, bad and all as they may be do not go into the kind of considerations that have been argued at large by the House this evening. No Government is anxious to disturb trade and business, which is so essential for raising the necessary revenue to carry on the War if it can possibly be avoided. No Government, if they could help it, would desire to add on one single year for the simple reason that they know they are doing a most unpopular act when they do that, and I can assure the Committee that all these questions of trade, all these questions of substitution, all these questions of one-man businesses are all matters that were thrashed out for hours and hours and gone 1794 into not in the kind of way in which we go into them here in Committee, but with the most careful statistics and with the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House. For my own part, while I know that there is a great deal to be said which is popular, and which is, indeed, reasonable, as regards the disturbance to trade, I certainly would urge the Committee, unless they feel very much convinced upon the point, not to go against the well-weighed scheme which has been put forward in this crisis of the country. It does not at all follow that because a man is over forty-eight that he may not be, for the particular purposes for which he is required, just as good as a man of forty-six—not for going into the trenches, not for going out for fighting purposes, but for strict military purposes. Nor does it follow that if you limit the age to forty-eight you will thereby less disturb trade than if you make it fifty. Not at all, and for this reason. The larger the area you have to select from the better you will be able to regulate the different businesses that are considered essential or non-essential for the War. —[HON. MEMBERS: "Make it seventy!"]—Well, I do not mind, because I know perfectly well that over a certain age none of those would be taken. It stands to reason that the larger the area you have the less, instead of the greater, upset there will be to the trade of the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—I am giving my view.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I consider that it is a serious thing at this moment to give a vote against this thoroughly worked-out and calculated scheme of His Majesty's Government. They have come here at a time when everyone's heart is nearly broken at the news that we receive from moment to moment as regards this War, and, as far as I am concerned, I certainly will not take upon myself the responsibility of voting against them.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I think we have listened to an extraordinary speech. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) has asked us to believe that the Government, and this Government especially—I will include, if you like, the Government that preceded it—are very reluctant to interfere with trade. That was the whole 1795 burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Why, the chief danger to which this country is exposed at this moment is through the reckless way in which the Government has interfered with all the trade in the country.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Well, I venture to say that one of the reasons why we do so badly in the War is that these Government Departments, without the slightest reason, have plunged in the most reckless way into the management of complicated businesses of which they know nothing and in which they are wasting the money of the country and of the unfortunate taxpayers in the most ruthless and reckless manner. I venture to appeal to the Committee whether that is not the belief of everybody. The subject was inquired into by the Commercial Committee upstairs, and there was a unanimous finding that the trades had been very injuriously interfered with. I must not follow my right hon. Friend any further into that matter except just to say that I believe myself most emphatically that it is this interference with trade, which the Government are aggravating by taking this large area of men who are profitably employed in the interests of the nation at the present time, and putting them into some work of no importance whatever, that is exposing the country to so much risk and danger. We have had a most extraordinary Debate. Before the right hon. Baronet, who was the only one to support the proposition of the Bill, from all parts of the House, from every political party, from the Conservatives, from the Labour Benches, from the Liberals—every one in this Committee expressed the opinion that the figure now in the Bill was too high. What effect has that produced on 1796 the Government? Not the slightest. The Government does not care about the opinion of Parliament. The Government comes here with a Bill and will not be induced to alter it one whit by anything Parliament says. Let me call attention to one feature of the speech of my right hon. Friend. We all admire the sincerity of the Minister for National Service, but did the Committee notice that he said that fifty was the age? The word fifty does not occur in the Bill at all.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I do not think it does. You will not find fifty or fifty-five in the Bill. The Bill says fifty-one and fifty-six. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I only draw attention to the fact that the Bill is not correctly described, and I say it would be much better to follow the view urged on the Government from every section of the House than to take this stereotyped Bill, which, after all, does not proceed from the Government themselves. We know where it proceeds from. The whole Bill appeared in the newspapers a week or ten days before we saw it here. The whole thing was probably manufactured in a newspaper office. My right hon. Friend assured the House that any man who was not fit would not be taken. It might interest the Committee if I read a quotation from a letter. This poor fellow, who is not of an age with which we are dealing in the Bill, but is only twenty-four years old, was sent before the medical assessor at 1, Wimpole Street, and that address ought to assure the Committee that this doctor's opinion can be relied on. He says that, although he has been rejected three times, "I was now immediately passed in Grade 2. I am twenty-four years of age. I am 5 ft. 2 ins. in height; my weight is 6 stone 6 lbs.; my chest measurement is 27 ins." [HON. MEMBERS: "Name"] His name is Clarkson. It is a most notorious case. He says he has had a discharge from one of his ears since birth. He is suffering from a tuberculous complaint of the lung, and was ruptured. I say, in face of such evidence as this, we cannot rely on the security which medical examination gives. I would appeal to the Government to listen to the advice that has come from political parties in all parts of the House. I would appeal to the Committee and to the Government at this last moment to consider the opinion that has been expressed here. The Government may not listen to it now, 1797 but one day the opinion of this House will be able to make itself felt even on the Treasury Bench.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I rise to support this Amendment. I am largely inspired to do so after listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson). The right hon. Gentleman has laid down the extraordinary doctrine that the reason the age ought to be extended to fifty is that you have a larger man area to draw from. I would imagine that you could extend that doctrine and take away the age limit altogether, because I am quite certain that there are many men of seventy just as vigorous as some men of thirty. Let me give a case in point. The right hon. Gentleman, I believe, is something like sixty-six years of age. I hope I do him no injustice.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Let us say sixty-two. The right hon. Gentleman was able to organise a rebellion in Ulster. Why, under these circumstances, should the Empire in its moment of Imperial peril lose the mighty and valiant services of the right hon. Gentleman? This is a business proposition as well as a humanitarian one. It is a humanitarian one, because there are men of fifty years of age who have sent all their sons to the War, and who are now to be. conscripted themselves, and their businesses left to take charge of themselves. Therefore, I say it is a business proposition, and business men ought to be the best judges of it. It is humanitarian, because I think it is a. disgraceful thing to drag in men of fifty years of age, men who can render practically no service. I have heard from these benches repeated speeches, especially from the Prime Minister, that the one great cause of anxiety for the Government at this moment was the shortage of doctors to deal with the casualties as they are now. If you are going to bring in men up to fifty years of age, how are you going medically to deal with them? You are going to fill your hospitals and infirmaries and add to your financial responsibilities, and this great burden is being imposed upon you by the military authorities. But I do not discuss this thing from a business or a humanitarian point of view. I discuss it from the military point of view, and, therefore, I say that there is every justification for extending the age if for no other reason than to secure the ser- 1798 vices of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. He has been a member of successive war Cabinets. He has gone in, and he has gone out. He felt as a civilian adviser of military authorities that he had neither the capacity nor the power, and he left the Cabinet. Why should not ho go over and take charge of the War? We know all the troubles and all the difficulties that have arisen at the front have not been caused by lack of courage on the part of the citizen soldiers who constitute your Army to-day. We know that for undying fidelity to this cause, or simple patriotism, for uncomplaining sacrifice there is no more magnificent manifestation of the patriotism of the people. They have uncomplainingly given everything that they had, and yet we have had blunder following blunder in this War until the war is in the critical position in which it is today. We all know the cause of it. The cause of it lies not with the rank and file, not with the regimental officers, not with the great Army of civilians who are fighting for the cause of liberty, but with those generals who spent their time not in equipping themselves in military efficiency for a great Imperial quarrel, but in delivering Unionist speeches in the drawing-rooms of London. Therefore, I say I will agree to take away the age altogether and let the people secure the services of such mighty warriors as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
As the Mover of the Amendment, I wish to express my keen regret that the Government have not seen their way to accept it, or at any rate that they have not shown a spirit of conciliation by dealing with the almost universal expression of opinion from all sides of the House. It must not be thought for a moment that those who believe that forty-eight should be the maximum age are less anxious to make the necessary sacrifices to win this War than the Government or anyone who supports it, but we believe that by the acceptance of the Amendment we are more likely to win the War than by the position which the Government takes up. I appeal to the Home Secretary to allow this matter to stand over until the Report stage. We are all anxious to support the Government. I have supported this and the late Government, through thick and thin. In moving the Amendment, I am actuated only by the interests of my country, and the expres- 1799 sion of opinion on all sides of this House is entitled to respect from the Government. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to allow me to withdraw the Amendment, under his promise that the matter shall be considered and a decision given on the Report stage. We want to be relieved from the pain of voting against the Government, and, having regard to the expression of opinion on all sides of the House, we wish to support this Bill and place it on the Statute Book with the greatest possible amount of unanimity. We are entitled at the hands of the Government to further consideration of this matter, and to ask that the final decision shall be given on the Report stage. I make that appeal to the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. T. WILSON
I altogether agree with the remarks of the last speaker, and with his appeal to the Government to make a concession, in view of the expression of opinion of Members in all parts of this House. I submit to the Government that they should leave this matter to the judgment of the House. I am sure that no Government with any self-respect at all, after the expression of opinion which we have heard on all sides, would refuse to take off the Government Whips. I desire to refer to one or two matters which have been raised in the course of the Debate. It is only a very few days ago that we were told by a responsible member of the Government that we had a greater number of men, man for man, than the Germans, and that as far as big guns are concerned, and artillery generally, there, again, we have the ascendancy; while as regards munitions, we have more than the Germans have. That was only a few days ago, remember. According to the reports we have received there have been far more casualties among the German forces than among our own troops; therefore we are still stronger than the Germans in numbers of men. It seems to me that this Bill is a little bit of panic legislation on the part of the Government, and I hope that, after further consideration of the proposal, the Government will lower the age. I have an Amendment down to make the age forty-seven, which would really mean forty-eight. [An HON. MEMBER: "No"!] Yes; at forty-seven you take them up to forty-eight; at any rate, this is a point that I want to put to the House: Only yesterday two great committees representing the great labour 1800 forces of this country made a recommendation to the Labour party to move an Amendment to lower the age to forty-five. This was carried unanimously by the committees representing the Trades Union Congress and the Labour party of this country. I suggest that a recommendation of that kind cannot be ignored, and I say it cannot be ignored for one particular reason. The Government ought to know by now that the men working in the munition works and shipyards are very, very sensitive, and if they think steps are being taken by the Government in the direction of the conscription of labour you can rest satisfied that you will do a great deal more harm to the cause of the Allies by passing this Bill than if you never passed it at all. I say that anything which is likely to cause unrest, discontent, and dissatisfaction in the controlled establishments, the shipyards, and Government works, ought to be avoided by the Government. If the men in these works find that their fathers are being compelled to join the Army while young men are left out, you can rest assured that there will be a cessation of work.
I have always deplored any strike or threat of strike. I do not think a strike in these circumstances could be justified; but when I admit, and freely admit, that the workers of the country are responsible to the country, that they owe a duty to the country, the Government must recognise that it owes a duty to the men to whom I refer. If the Government does not recognise their feelings in this matter, it can rest satisfied that it will have trouble in the labour world. No one wants to see trouble in the labour world. I have done all I possibly could during the whole time of the War to prevent strikes. I have helped to settle quite a large number, and I have taken action when strikes have been threatened to prevent them. I know the difficulties I have had to get the men to listen to what I thought was reasonable, and therefore I hope the Government has not said its last word in this matter. I do hope the Home Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer will get up now and say they freely accept the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, even if they will not accept mine. They can rest satisfied that if matters get worse later on, and they want to raise the age, Parliament and the country will be with them. But if the country is not with 1801 them on this Bill they can rest satisfied that the position will be worse in the future than it is now.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I regret that it is not possible for the Government to accept the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. T. Wilson) to leave this matter to the decision of the House without the use of the Government Whips. We are sincerely anxious to defer to the opinion of any substantial body of Members of the House on any matter which we do not consider vital to the Bill, and I am sure that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister for National Service convinced all the Members who heard it, and they were a large number, that he had given his careful consideration—indeed, we all of us had, even before this Debate, given our consideration—to the arguments, the weighty arguments I agree, which have
§ been brought forward in this Debate by Members of the House. But after weighing all the arguments, the arguments, which they have used and the military arguments too, we came to the definite decision, all of us, that we were bound to ask the House to accept the figure which is in the Bill. After the speech of my right hon. Friend, and in view of the arguments which he used, I am sure the House feels that it is impossible for us to give way on this point. We have several other questions of great importance to be dealt with on this Clause, and I hope, after what I have said, that the Committee will now consent to come to a decision.
§ Question put, "That the words 'fifty-one' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 262; Noes, 152.1805
|Division No. 13.]||AYES.||10.35 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Hall, Lt.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Hamoro, Angus Valdemar|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Hamersley, Lt.-Col. Alfred St. George|
|Amery, Capt. L. C. M. S.||Colvin, Col. Richard Beale.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Lieut.-Col. William||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.|
|Archdale, Lieut E. M.||Coote, Colin R. (Wisbech)||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Coote, William (Tyrone, S.)||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Harmood-Banner, Sir J. S.|
|Baker, Maj. Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)||Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Harmswoth, Cecil (Luton, Beds.)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Cory, James H. (Cardiff)||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.)||Courthope, Major George Loyd||Harris, Rt Hon. F. L. (Worcester, E.)|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, South)||Cowan, Sir W. H.||Harris, Sir Henry p. (Paddington, S.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Haslam, Lewis|
|Barnett, Capt. R. W.||Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, E.)||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)||Hayward, Major Evan|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Henry, Sir Charles (Shropshire)|
|Barrie, H. T.||Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Hermon-Hodge Sir R. T.|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Denison-Pender, Capt. J. C.||Hewins, William Albert Samuel|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Denniss, E. R. B.||Higham, John Sharp|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Dixon, C. H.||Hills, Major John Waller|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John|
|Bird, Alfred||Du Pre, Major W. Baring||Hohler, G. F.|
|Blair, Reginald||Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.)||Hope, Harry (Bute)|
|Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue||Edwards, Sir. Francis (Radnor)||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Hope, Lieut-Col. J. A. (Midlothian)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith||Faber, Col. W. V. (Hants, W.)||Horne, Edgar|
|Bowden, Major G. R. Harland||Falle, Sir Bertram Godfray||Hume-Williams, William Ellis|
|Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid)||Fell, Sir Arthur||Hunter, Major Sir Charles Rodk.|
|Boyton, Sir James||Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Ingleby, Holcombe|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Jardine, E. (Somerset, E.)|
|Brookes, Warwick||Fletcher, John Samuel||Jessel, Col, Sir H. M.|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Forster, Rt. Hon. Henry William||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Foster, Philip Staveley||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)|
|Bull, Sir William James||Ganzoni, Francis John C.||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Gardner, Ernest||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Geddes, Sir A. C. (Hants, North)||kellaway, Frederick George|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Kerry, Lieut.-Col. Earl of|
|Carnegie, Lieut. Col. D. G.||Gilmour, Lieut. Col. John||Keswick, Henry|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Goldman, C. S.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Cator, John||Goldsmith, Frank||Knight, Captain E. A.|
|Cautley, H. S.||Grant, J. A.||Larmor, Sir J.|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Greene, Lieut.-Col. Walter Raymond||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh (Oxford U.)||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Layland-Barratt, Sir F.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Robert (Herts, Hitchin)||Greig, Col. James William||Lee, Sir Arthur Hamilton|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Gretton, Colonel John||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Cheyne, Sir W. W.||Haddock, George Bahr||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert|
|Lindsay, William Arthur||Parker, Rt. Hon. Sir G. (Gravesend)||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Lloyd, Capt. G. A. (Stafford, W.)||Parkers, Sir. Edward E.||Sykes, Col. Sir Alan John (Knutsford)|
|Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)||Terrell, G. (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbt. Pike (Darlington)||Terrell, Major Henry (Gloucester)|
|Lonsdale, James R.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||[...]-Stanford, Charles|
|Lowe, Sir F. W||Peto, Basil Edward||Tickler, T. G.|
|Loyd Archie Kirkman||Philipps, Sir Owen (Chester)||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|M'Calmont, Brig-Gen. Robert C. A.||Pollock. Sir Ernest Murray||Turton, Edmund Russoorough|
|MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Mackinder, Halford J.||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Macleod, John M.||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.||Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)|
|Macmaster, Donald||Quilter, Major Sir Cuthbert||Ward, W Dudley (Southampton)|
|McMicking, Major Gilbert||Randles, Sir John S.||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Raphael, Major Sir Herbert H.||Waring, Major Walter|
|Macpherson, James Ian||Ratcliff, Lieut.-Col. R. F.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Magnus, Sir Philip||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvon, Arfon)||Watson, Hon. W. (Lanark, S.)|
|Maitland, Sir A. D. Steel-||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)||Webb, Lieut.-Col. Sir H.|
|Malcolm, Ian||Remnant, Col. Sir James Farquharson||Weston, Colonel J. W.|
|Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Roberts, Rt. Hon. George H. (Norwich)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)||Whiteley, Sir H. J.|
|Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Meysey-Thompson, Colonel E. C.||Rothschild, Major Lionel de||Williamson, Sir Archibald|
|Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Royds, Major Edmund||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Mills, Lieut. Hon. Arthur Robert||Rutherford, Col. Sir J. (Lancs., Darwen)||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Mitchell-Thomson, W.||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)||Wilson, Col. Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Morrison-Bell, Col. E. F. (Ashburton)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Mount, William Arthur||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Sl'arman Crawford, Colonel R. G.||Wood, Sir John (Stalybridge)|
|Murray, Major Hon. Arthur C||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)||Wood, S. Hill- (Derbyshire)|
|Neville, Reginald J. N.||Smith Harold (Warrington)||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Newman, Major John R. P.||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville||Wright, Capt. Henry Fitzherbert|
|Newton, Major Harry Kottingham||Stanley. Rt. Hon. Sir A. H. (A-u-Lyne)||Younger, Sir George|
|Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Starkey, Capt. John R.||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Nield, Sir Herbert||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord E. Talbot and Captain Guest.|
|Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.||Stoker, Rob. B.|
|Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Anderson, W. C.||Fitzgibbon, John||Maden, Sir John Henry|
|Arnold, Sydney||Fitzpatrick, John Lalor||Mallalieu, Frederick William|
|Baker, Joseph Alien (Finsbury, E.)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Marks, Sir George Croydon|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Galoraith Samuel||Marshall, Arthur Harold|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Gilbert, J. D.||Meagher, Michael|
|Barton, Sir William||Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Bethell, Sir John Henry||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix.)|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Hackett, John||Millar, James Duncan|
|Boland, John Pius||Harbison, T. J. S.||Molloy, Michael|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Molteno, Percy Alport|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Hayden, John Patrick||Morgan, George Hay|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Morison, Hector (Hackney, S.)|
|Buxton, Noel||Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, N.E.)||Morrell, Philip|
|Byrne, Alfred||Hearn, M. L.||Muldoon, John|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Needham, Christopher T.|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Durham)||Nolan, Joseph|
|Clough, William||Hinds, John||Nugent, J. D. (College Green)|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H.||Nuttall, Harry|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Hogge, James M.||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Cosgrave, James||Holt, Richard Durning||O'Doherty, Phillip|
|Crean, Eugene||Hudson, Walter||O'Donnell, Thomas|
|Crumley, Patrick||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||O'Dowd, John|
|Cullinan, John||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushclifie)||O'Leary, Daniel|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Jowett, Frederick William||O'Malley, William|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Joyce, Michael||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Keating, Matthew||O'Shee, James John|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Kelly, Edward||O'Sullivan, Timothy|
|Devlin, Joseph||Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Outhwaite, R. L.|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H.||Kilbride, Denis||Partington, Hon. Oswald|
|Dillon, John||Kiley, James Daniel||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||King, Joseph||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Donovan, John Thomas||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Donnelly, Patrick||Lardner, James C. R.||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Doris, William||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Esmonde, Capt. John (Tipperary, N.)||Lundon, Thomas||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Lynch, A. A.||Reddy, Michael|
|Farrell, James Patrick||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Redmond, Capt. W. A.|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||McGhee, Richard||Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.|
|Ffrench, Peter||M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leics.)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Field, William||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Finney, Samuel||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Rowlands James|
|Rutherford, Sir W. (L'pool, W. Derby)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|Scanlan, Thomas||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Sheehy, David||Tootill, Robert||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Smallwood, Edward||Toulmin, Sir George||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Smith, Capt. Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Snowden, Philip||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Colonel Ashley and Mr. D. Mason.|
|Spear, Sir John Ward||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Sutton John E.||Rt. Hon. Thomas|
§ The CHAIRMAN
The next Amendment I call upon is that of the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire, although I am not quite sure whether the Schedule would not be the most appropriate place to move it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "this Act" ["First Schedule to this Act"], and to insert instead thereof the words "the Military Service Act, 1916."
In this Bill there is a new Schedule of Exceptions which limits the exceptions from the operation of this Act to men who are at the present time either in the naval or military service of the Crown or in the military service of the forces of our Dominions. As a result of these exceptions, every man discharged from the naval or military service immediately goes into the Reserve. Therefore there arises this result—that no matter how long he has served, no matter what the nature of the wounds he has received or the disability from which he suffers, can escape from the military forces of the Crown as a result of the form in which the present Clause is drawn. I propose to substitute the Schedule of the original Act which secures, among other things that the men who have been discharged from the military or naval service of the Crown on the ground of disability, because they are unfit for any form of military service in future should have absolute protection, and that they should know for certain that they shall neither be called up for medical re-examination nor shall they be recalled to the Colours. I do not wish to argue this matter at any length now. We had a long controversy upon it more than twelve months ago when the Review of Exceptions Act was passed, and on that occasion a certain amount of statutory protection was introduced on behalf of the discharged; men. For example there was a special Clause which excepted any man discharged on account of wounds received abroad or who was suffering from neurasthenia. These were statutory exceptions, but, in j addition to that, during the controversy in the country, and in particular in a 1806 by-election in which the electoral fortunes of the son of the Secretary of State for War were affected, a Ministerial pledge, was given that no man who had served abroad at all and who had been discharged as permanently unfit for military service would ever be recalled to the Colours. I think that this is a suitable opportunity to ascertain from the Government whether they adhere to these pledges, and, secondly, in what statutory form they are j going to put these pledges before this Bill passes into law. It is important that we should have these pledges given statutory form, because that is the only form in which pledges are worth anything in this House.
Last night the Minister of National Service in his speech made two statements. The first was, "We do not intend in any way to qualify the pledges that we have given." That is a statement of intention which, in the light of past experience, I regard as valueless. It is not even a scrap of paper. But there is a second point. He said that there was statutory protection for certain men and that statutory protection was not repealed. That statutory protection is repealed in the second Schedule to this Act. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement which is not true. It is not in accordance with the facts. I have got the OFFICIAL REPORT here. It is a very important passage. [Interruption.] It is all right! There are seven minutes left still. I wish to make it perfectly clear that there is some suspicion and some unrest among these men as to what their position will be. I have stated the points in issue. I understand now from the Home Secretary that he is going to deal with the point, and, as he is going to deal with it, I am not going to detain the Committee. I, therefore, beg to move this Amendment, with a view to ascertaining the intention of the Government, so that these men, who have deserved well of their country, may know exactly where they stand.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Last night, in speaking of this class of men, I used words which were, I think, slightly different from those now quoted by the hon. Member.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Slightly different from these, not quoted, but now suggested, by the hon. Member. I said that we seek no legal power to touch these men. We do not, in fact, seek to touch these men, who have deserved well of their country, and, in order to meet the point which has been raised, we will be prepared, when we come to the consideration of the Schedule of exceptions, which seems to be the most suitable place, to put in words to cover the class of men affected by the pledges.
§ Mr. HOGGE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question, as on this point we may as well get right down to the facts at once? The three exceptions are—first, all men who have served overseas, and who are suffering from any disability; secondly, all men who have been on Home service, who have been discharged for disability, and who are entitled to claim, alternatively, work of national importance; and, thirdly, time-expired men who have been wounded. I ask this one specific question of my right hon. Friend: Will he deal with all those three exceptions in the Schedule, and make it plain that the pledge which he has given is continued to these three classes of men?
§ Mr. HOLT
That is not the only matter which arises out of this Amendment. The Amendment also raises the question of the ministers of religion. The question also arises on the Schedule, but with the guillotine Closure there is no possibility of discussing the Schedule, and we must take this opportunity of discussing the matter. We ought to be told what is the reason why it is proposed to withdraw an exemption which was deliberately debated several times in this House and adopted. So far we have had no explanation. It was said at the time that there was no reason why a minister of religion should be exempted from the operation of a military service measure.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is clear that that point does not come in here. I arranged with the hon. Member for North-West Lanark, although I had not intended to elect this Amendment, that he should raise the discharged soldiers point here and that it should be disposed of. The other question should properly come on a later Sub-section or on the Schedule.
§ Mr. HOLT
May I draw your attention. Mr. Whitley, to Sub-section (2) of this Clause, which says:Where any person, who under this Section is deemed to have been enlisted and transferred to the Reserve, is a man in holy orders or a regular minister of any religious denomination, he shall not on being called up for service with the Colours be required, except with his consent, to perform combatant service.I submit it is most necessary, in order to discuss that Sub-section, to discuss the prior question whether he is to be liable for combatant service at all. It is essential to the proper discussion of Subsection (2) that we should first of all determine what is to be in this or the other Schedule.
§ Mr. HEALY
On a point of Order. Without challenging your decision at all, may I ask if there is anything in the new Rule which gives the Chairman a discretion as to whether a matter plainly covered by the Amendment can be raised? I suggest that a discrimination exercised by the Chair in that direction will give the new Rule a stringency nobody thought of when it was passed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I did not presume to give a ruling of that kind. I was intimating what was my view and why I had selected this Amendment. However, we cannot deal with that matter to-night.
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. HOGGE
This afternoon a question was put to the Leader of the House in the following terms:—To ask the Prime Minister if he will state who is the General Officer representing the British Army on the Council at Versailles.The Leader of the House gave the name of the general, but was unable in a supplementary question to give information as to the relationship of General Foch to the Council at Versailles. I gave notice that I 1809 should raise this on the Adjournment. General Foch was appointed during the Easter Recess. I know nothing at all about him and I am quite prepared to believe that he is a very excellent and well equipped and efficient Generalissimo. But the Prime Minister submitted a scheme to the House in which the conduct of the War was handed over to this Council. It is because we ought to be kept in touch as closely as possible with the grave circumstances which are happening that I think we are entitled to know what is the new arrangement. For instance, the Prime Minister in his two hours' speech in introducing the Bill we have just been considering referred to the fact that General Foch had been appointed Generalissimo. I should like to know whether that means that the whole of the British staff, such as it is, has been put under the control of General Foch? I do not say whether that is a good or a bad arrangement. I am not able to form an opinion upon that. But a Generalissimo means that he is in supreme command and naturally may have something to do with the dismissal or promotion of British generals and officers in charge of British troops. I am not going to express any opinion about our own General Staff at the front. I am an amateur. Their business is the military business, and I am not able to express any opinion on that one way or the other. But I do submit to the Leader of the House that in view of what may happen, the House ought to understand precisely what is the new arrangement, and whether both the General Staff, which existed previously in the French Army, and the British General Staff, which existed in the British Army, are now under the direct control of General Foch, and also what is the relationship of the British War Cabinet to the position which General Foch holds? Is it in direct touch with him, or is it in indirect touch with General Foch through General Haig? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will believe me when I say I do not want to embarrass him, and that I am only sincerely asking for information. Changes lately have been so rapid and so many, that I am certain the right hon. Gentleman will agree that those of us who are supremely interested in the fortunes of our country have a right to this information. After all, a great deal has been forgotten with regard to the fortunes of our country in this War. If I had 1810 had an opportunity of speaking on the introduction or Second Heading, of the Bill which we have been discussing to-night I would have given reasons why I believe the present Government and the present War Cabinet should continue in. office. I think the primary thing we ought to discuss is not a Man-Power Bill at all,. but whether the men who have control of the fortunes of this country at present and have had it for over sixteen months, who came into office to win this War, and have made speeches full of misrepresentations and untruths with regard to the situation—whether this set of men ought not to be brought to the bar of judgment in this House. They are responsible primarily for the position in which this country finds itself to-day. We ought to be concentrating our attention on getting rid of the most incompetent set of men which has ever-attempted to govern this country. One thing which indicates their incompetence is that after sixteen months they have surrendered the full control of the British Army to a Generalissimo. I think, apart from any views I have, the Leader of the House is entitled to let us know what is the new position—whether the Versailles Council still exists, and if so what are its powers, what is its relationship to the British War Cabinet, and what is the relationship of the British War Cabinet to General Foch?
§ Mr. DEVLIN
At Question Time we had an announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) that one of the most indefensible acts which the present Government has committed was committed-yesterday in Belfast—namely, the seizure of the "Belfast Evening Telegraph." Now, this paper is, journalistically, the greatest pillar of the Empire to-day. It has inflamed the national spirit; it has aroused Northern enthusiasm; it beat the drum for the right hon. Gentleman through all his revolutionary vagaries; yet the moment he leaves the Cabinet and assumes the position of a private Member, with less responsibility, this Coalition Government which consults him, and oft many larger matters is guided by his advice, goes and suppresses this paper and seizes the property of the owners. I stand for the liberty of the Press, and, although the right hon. Gentleman from that bench to-day threatened to expose in all its nakedness this iniquity against human liberty, when the moment arrives-for him to discharge that duty to those 1811 who stood by his side in his revolutionary rebel days he leaves the House of Commons, he refuses to defend the defence-less, and he puts on my humble shoulders and in my incompetent hands the duty of defending the liberty of the Press even in the City of Belfast. I have risen here for another purpose. I want to know why this paper was suppressed, and why this property was seized? I understand that there is a growing violence in Ulster against Conscription which probably has found expression in the "Belfast Evening Telegraph." I do not know whether it is because the "Belfast Evening Telegraph" has published a report of the Irish Convention. One never knows what may happen in Ireland in these days—no in England either—under a Coalition Government, and, therefore, I am in blank ignorance as to what the cause of this transaction was. If it is because the "Belfast Evening Telegraph"—which has been the articulate expression of the will of Unionist Ulster—has come to see that Ulster shortly will be in a flame against Conscription, we ought to know it. If it is because it has published the proceedings of the Convention, why, it has done that—and other papers in Ulster—for the last six months! Why this moment should be selected I do not know, unless the Government knew it was going to embark on a wild and wicked campaign of oppression in Ulster, and wanted to prevent the voice of the North of Ireland being heard, as it has prevented the voice of the South of Ireland being heard, by the seizure of other newspapers. I do not want to press the matter beyond saying that I hope the Chief Secretary will be able, with all that lucidity and simplicity which he always brings to bear on complex and difficult questions of this character, to give to the House of Commons such an explanation as will be adequate and satisfactory.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
Although I am afraid the speech of the hon. Member was largely facetious, I am bound to explain to the House, simply and frankly, what the transgression of the "Belfast Evening Telegraph" was, in respect of which it has incurred this penalty. The Report of the Convention which has been sitting in Ireland was completed last Friday. It could not have been properly published until it was published under the authority of the Chairman of the Convention, 1812 because at the outset of the proceedings of the Convention it was determined by the Government to be in the public interest in the times in which we are that the matter should be dealt with under the Defence of the Realm Regulations and that unauthorised reports of the proceedings of the Convention could not be published. The Convention having arrived at reports last Friday it was public knowledge—and care was taken that it should be public knowledge—that until the Report had been presented to His Majesty's Government and had been laid on the Table of the House there was no authority in any person to disregard that Regulation. Although there have been some comparatively slight infringements of the Regulation from time to time while the proceedings of the Convention have been going on, the Press of Ireland generally has. recognised the propriety of the rule which had been made. On either Monday or Tuesday this Belfast paper published what purported to be the Report of the Convention. That was, apparently, a flagrant and deliberate violation of the law. Now in various parts of Ireland it is quite true, as the hon. Member has said, newspapers have been dealt with for violation of the law of another kind. Here was what was regarded as a flagrant and deliberate violation of the law, and in those circumstances, the matter having been brought to the attention of the Government, there was no alternative on the part of the officer, whose business it was to deal with such a matter, but to direct the application of the same class of penalty which has been employed in every case to the director of the newspaper in question.
§ Mr. DUKE
I have not seen the Order, but I gather from what has been said that the effect of the Order was sufficiently disagreeable to the persons concerned. At any rate, that was the explanation of what was done. It is open to the proprietor of this paper, as it is to the proprietors of other papers in Ireland, to make it clear that they intend to obey the law. When there is for the protection of the public interest a Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act, it is my business to see that it is enforced, and that is what has been done in this case.
§ Mr. HEALY
I was curious to see whether the right lion, and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College would persist in his complaint. He does not. And as yet we are not in a position to know what has happened. I suspect that what has happened is that a few rags in the shape of halfpenny newspapers—
§ Mr. HEALY
Is it a penny? It was originally a halfpenny paper. It has blossomed into a penny paper! It is published in Belfast and does not circulate further south than Dundalk. I must say that it is an excellent newspaper. By the time it could reach Dublin it would be the day afterwards. By the time it would reach the Castle I should say it would be the afternoon of the day afterwards. If you only seized the few papers then available, the day afterwards it would, of course, only have the effect of advertising the paper.
§ Mr. HEALY
We are getting on. I asked what the order was. In all the other cases you have seized the presses, you have sent in engineers who have broken up the presses, you have seized the type, you have sent military tumbrils to the office, and you have carted away the machinery, the type, and the fudge box—because I suppose even a Tory paper has got a fudge box. You adopted this process against the "Westmeath Independent," and Chapman, the man who out of three sons has two fighting for you at the front. You seize his little paper, but you also destroy his printing business, employing 100 printers, who are supporting three or four hundred people. If you have not stopped everything connected with the Belfast paper the same as you have done in Athlone, we shall want to know the reason why. It is the same in Kilkenny. You seized the "Kilkenny People." You sent in the military. It was also on the eve of an election. The right hon. Gentleman has escaped criticism. We have not been keen to criticise. The point of view we have taken about all these papers is this: I do not know what these people are writing. I never even heard the name of some of these papers, but I think I know fairly well what is going on. It was not the stoppage of these papers, 1814 but it was the dislocation of the accompanying business, which had nothing to do with the cause of complaint, and if in the case of the Belfast paper you have not seized everything in the office, as you have done in the case of Athlone and the other paper, we shall want to know the reason why.
I now come to a very important topic and a very grave topic. I do not think that we should inquire about General Foch so much as about this point—who took over the twenty miles of line which the British Army was induced to take over in addition to what they had already taken over? I think that we ought to know this—was there any particular portion of the French line handed over to the British where the French peasants were growing potatoes, broccoli, and all the spring vegetables, when they should have been growing barbed wire? Was this line taken over by a particular British general? Who was the British general who took over the line in that condition? Who ordered it to be taken over, and was it at that particular point of the line that the Germans broke through? I suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the inconvenience of raising this Irish business is that now we are bound to defend the lives of our children. So long as a man is a volunteer he must take his risks—bad generalship and good generalship. He is there, and has got to put up with it. But the moment you take a man forcibly and put him under duffers—that is what it amounts to—then we are entitled to know what are the facts when a great reverse has been sustained. That is what makes me suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, whose ability we all recognise, that this is a very much larger question than the question of a generalissimo. This House let the question of the "Goeben" and the "Breslau "pass without inquiry, and all the disasters that have occurred since then have been because this House did not take a firm stand on that matter. Some of us have now our tongues freed, and I think we will inquire. I would suggest to the hon. Member that he should not press his inquiry with regard to the individual, but find out at what date this particular unprotected belt of line was handed over by the French authorities to the British authorities, and ask was it at that point that the Germans broke through? I respectfully think that in a matter of this kind the Government ought to know that 1815 we have to protect ourselves as far as we can. I recognise that the position is a very difficult one in a matter of this kind when great events are taking place, but it is a matter which I submit ought to be probed to the bottom.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I was not aware that there was a "fudge box" in the printing office, but I have since discovered that there is one, and I should like to see some similar institution in the House of Commons, where occasionally it might be useful.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is quite obvious that it would not be right, and I do not think that any Member of the House would think it right, that at this stage we should attempt to apportion blame or praise in regard to the events to which the hon. Member has called attention. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh has put the case as represented by the Prime Minister entirely in the wrong light. The Prime Minister definitely said that General Foch was not in the position of Generalissimo. One of the reasons why such a position is very difficult, if not impossible, is precisely the reason mentioned by the hon. Member, that it would be very difficult to induce any nation to allow the displacement of officers to be in the hands of a General of another nation, even an ally. The actual position—I think it is right as 1816 far as possible to tell what the situation is—is this. The Versailles Council, so far as the working out of plans and details-is concerned, is still going on. General Foch, who was chairman of that Council, has been taken of necessity for other work. He is not doing that work, but the subordinate work, if one may say so—the making of plans and examination of questions—is going on at Versailles. As-regards the position of General Foch, it is precisely as stated by the Prime Minister. He has been appointed not only with the full approval of the Governments concerned, but with the full approval of the Generals concerned, to conduct the strategy of both Armies. That does not mean that he is in a different position as regards the British Army from what he is in as regards the French Army. In each case the removal of officers depends upon the Commander-in-Chief. What has been achieved is that for the present, at all events, whatever happens afterwards, General Foch is exercising the powers of General-in Chief. He is directly the strategy of this fight, and I do not think there is anyone in this House or out of it who is not thankful that that is the position, and who does not hope that, as a result of it, there will be closer co-ordination than has been possible hitherto.
§ It being half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock till to-morrow (Friday), pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.