HC Deb 18 January 1918 vol 101 cc609-35

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The great War was scarcely a year old when one of my predecessors in office, who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, obtained the sanction of the House for an Act of Parliament which enables for the first time the compilation of a national register. In introducing that Bill to the House he expressly stated that there was no desire or intention whatever to use that Bill, when it became an Act of Parliament, for any form of industrial conscription, or in any way to coerce labour, but that it was introduced to ascertain accurately and record systematically all the available resources of our country in man-power and woman-power—all its available human capacity and skill, in order that we might in the crisis of our fate take the fullest possible advantage of everybody who could contribute towards the cause of the War. He went on to explain that whilst it was the duty of the nation to give every possible support in the way of munitions and equipment to our armies and navies, it was also the paramount duty of the nation to take every possible step to see to it that the fullest productive capacity of our great agricultural and shipping industries should be developed, and undoubtedly in practice the Bill, which then became an Act of Parliament, which enabled us for the first time to take stock of all the mind and muscle of the nation, has been of very great use towards all kinds of services which have developed in connection with the War. The House is perfectly familiar with the Act for enforcing, so far as it is possible to enforce, the registration of every person, both male and female, between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five; that the Registrar-General, acting under the supervision of the Local Government Board, became the central registration authority; and that the local registration was entrusted to the various town councils and urban and district councils. The Act compelled everybody between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five to state their age, residence, marital conditions, the number of those dependent upon them, the nature of their occupation, the place of their business; and to state whether, in addition to the work they were already performing. they were. skilled in any other work which might be of national importance or service to the nation. It was no party measure. It was in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies, who was then President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Long). It also had upon it the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the St. Rollox Division, who was then Secretary for Scotland (Mr. McKinnon Wood), the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bristol, who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Birrell), and it had the powerful advocacy, in passing through this House, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Barnard Castle Division of Durham (Mr. Henderson). The Bill met, on the whole, with a friendly reception. It was taken in one day. There was a Division on the Second Reading, but that was carried by 253 votes to 30. There was no opposition to the Bill on the Third Reading.

This Act, as I say, has been very beneficial for many purposes. As an Act it undoubtedly had defects. Those defects we seek to remedy by this Bill. If you are to have a national stocktaking, it can only be valuable if it is accurate. The difficulty has not so much been to obtain the registration of all those whose duty it was to register under the Act. The difficulty has been to maintain the register. It is almost impossible to formulate any test by which we can really say how far the register has beer. maintained. It has been undoubtedly well maintained in some places—that is to say, in those places where the folk who were registered have thought it their duty to comply with the Act and notify at once any change in their address. That is really the great difficulty about the Act, the notification of change of addresses. One knows that in this country many people change their addresses pretty frequently, and sometimes their occupation. We want to know about both. Let me give the House one instance of the test to apply to the Act, to see whether or not it has been well maintained. Not long ago, in Bristol, it was necessary to send out 63,000 notices in connection with the National Service Volunteers. Of those 63,000 notices only 1 per cent. was returned through the post owing to the fact that the change of address had not been communicated to the registration officer. That shows that in Bristol, at all events, the register has been very well maintained. It, however, has not been quite so well maintained in other places. It is most desirable. that the defects in the Act should be cured, and that the Act should really give us an accurate national stocktaking of all between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five. I will give my reasons for that presently. The House may, perhaps, like to know the cost of the register. I recollect that it was estimated that the cost of the National Register would not be as great as the cost of the Census. The cost of the latter is £200,000, spread over four years. It cost £47,000 to compile this National Register. It cost £82,000 up to 31st March, 1917, to keep up the register.


In addition to the £47,000?


In addition to the £47,000. Therefore, we may say that the National Register, if it is to be well maintained, will probably cost about £50,000 a year. Although the local authorities have done every single thing they could to maintain this register, there are undoubtedly some faults. It is really very hard for local authorities, who desire to maintain this register, and to do all the other work which the War has constantly cast upon them to do. I know of no body of men who deserve praise more than our town clerks, the clerks of the county councils, and of the various urban and district authorities. They have shown in all these matters a most patriotic spirit. One hardly ever hears of a clerk grumbling or growling, although sometimes they may have said that they really cannot undertake any more work. But the real sealing of this National Register in the country is shown by the fact that 150,000 persons, especially the teachers of our schools, came to the aid of those upon whom was cast the duty of compiling this register. They volunteered to take out the forms, to see that they were properly and accurately filled and tabulated, arranged, and so on, after they had been filled in and returned by the people. I believe that as there was a general manifestation of the desire for a national stocktaking, so now, I believe, if it is known to the people of this country that some such National Register as this will be really useful, not only for military and naval purposes, but also for industrial purposes and other matters connected with the War, the people will gladly fall in with this amending measure, and do everything they can in connection with it, especially to notify their change of address.

There was no provision made in the original Act for those who would attain the age of fifteen after 20th August, 1915. In consequence of that, we estimate that there are something like three-quarters of a million of lads who are not upon the register, whose ages range between fifteen and seventeen and a half. Some may say, "Why are they required on the register? Is it for military purposes?" Not at present, although if the War goes on for another year, or less, many of them will, of course, become liable to military service, because they will have attained the age of eighteen. This House has constantly listened to statements by members of the Government to the effect that they have no intention whatever even of sending to the Front:nose who are under the age of nineteen. So there is no intention here of lowering the military age and including those under the age of eighteen. But obviously lads between fifteen and eighteen are exceedingly useful for industrial purposes. Many of them are doing splendid work of all kinds. When we consider that this Bill is an auxiliary force, a corollary, to the general policy of man-power which my right hon. Friend the Minister for National Service stated, then I think the House will readily understand how necessary it is that we should register these something like three-quarters of a million youths who are between the ages of fifteen and seventeen and a half. Another defect has manifested itself. All those who were serving in any of His Majesty's military and naval forces were exempted from the process of registration; but as the War has gone on hundreds and thousands of men have passed from the Army and have now become discharged. They are not on the register. It may be asked, whether we are asking these men to register because we desire to use them once again for military and naval purposes. Nothing of the kind. The law would have to be altered before we could utilise these discharged soldiers. The House will recollect that under the Military service (Review of Exceptions) Act there is a—Section 1—special exemption from that Act of any man who has left or been discharged from the naval or military service of the Crown in consequence of disablement received in battle …. nervous diseases, etc.

That exception has been very largely developed by the concession of the Government which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office. He said that by that concession the Government had added an additional class of men who are to be treated when they come within Section 1, which I have just received, this additional class consisting of officers and men who have served overseas in the armed forces of the Crown, and have left or been discharged in consequence of disablement or ill-health. So that it is quite clear that those who have served overseas in the armed forces of the Crown, and have left or have been discharged for ill-health, cannot be taken again into the Army without a fresh Act of Parliament. Why do we require these men to be registered I Because it would be singularly incomplete if you left out some hundreds of thousands who have left and who have passed through the Army and been discharged. Those men, although they are incapable of doing any more service in the way of fighting, are not incapable of doing something in the way of industrial occupation; in fact, they are only too anxious to do such work. What the Minister for National Service wants to do is to get a complete record of all the occupations of every male and female with a view to using their services to the fullest possible extent.

It would be a great mistake if we were to leave out of this register discharged soldiers. It is very necessary to register them locally, particularly with a view of assisting them to obtain employment. Every locality ought to know every soldier and sailor living in that locality, the nature of his injury and disease, and what it is possible that that man can do. I believe this Bill is going to be of great assistance to the discharged soldier in his locality. There are other uses for the register. I think the Food Controller may obtain a great deal of very useful information from it, if it is accurate and kept up to date. At present that information is exceedingly inaccurate, because the discharged soldiers are not upon it. I am the chairman of a Committee which was set up for seeing how far we can obtain a better register of the vital statistics of this country. I am not without hope that we may be able to make use of this National Register to collect very valuable material in the nature of vital statistics. The House may recollect that during the passage of the Representation of the People Bill a Clause was put in to the effect that the registration officer and everybody interested in elections should have access to the National Register to obtain information with a view to perfecting electioneering machinery. I do not think these people would like to be left out of that form of register. I cannot believe that there is any suspicion that these discharged soldiers are being put upon the register in order that they may be brought back into the Army after doing their duty in the way of fighting. I hope that suspicion has been entirely removed, and that I have shown cause why these soldiers should find their place upon this register.

The other main provisions of the Bill are intended to tighten up the machinery, cause it to produce a more accurate register, and bring it more up to date. One of the greatest difficulties of maintaining the register after registration is that men and women do not notify to the registration officer their change of address. We thought the twenty-eight days given to notify any change was too long, and under this Bill we are substituting seven days. The original Act only compels those who register to notify their place of residence, but this Bill will compel them to notify, not only their change of residence, but their change of occupation. This information will be exceedingly useful to the Minister of National Service. There are other little Clauses also designed for the same purpose. There is a Clause which compels the employer to ask everybody in his employ whether he is duly registered, and if lie finds that he is not he will notify the registration officer of the men who are not duly registered. There are various other little Clauses of that kind. There is no new cardinal principle in the Bill, and it is a matter of detail Clauses. There is no new principle involved, and I trust that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading, as it did to the Bill of my right hon. Friend yesterday, and look upon this measure as a corollary and an auxiliary to my right hon. Friend's Bill. I hope that my Bill may have the same assent given to it and be passed as a war measure in pursuance of a policy of endeavouring to complete our stocktaking, so as to make the fullest possible use of every man and woman in this crisis of our country.


I listened with particular interest to that portion of his speech in which the right lion. Gentleman dealt with the remainder of the position under the Review of Exceptions Act. I referred to this matter last night, but I do not see any reason why I should not ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an explanation of the position now. My object in doing so is that I am not quite sure whether this question should be addressed to the War Office or not. My right hon. Friend has reviewed the whole position of that Act so closely that I think 'he will be able to tell me what I want to know. The Review of Exceptions Act gave the Government power to call back a certain number of men who held certain discharged certificates after service with the Colours. I want to know what remaining categories of these men can be called back to the Colours? It appears to have been narrowed down to something very small. I think most lion. Members will bear me out when I say that discharged men appear to be rather aggrieved that the Act now in force is not being made much use of, and if it is not going to be used it ought not to remain on the Statute Book. A man may hold discharged papers, and he may feel confident if he receives notice that he will not be called back to the Colours, but what is the effect of that upon the practicability of his obtaining permanent civil employment I got a letter from a man in Scotland stating that he had an offer of permanent employment as janitor under some school board or county council, and the difficulty of accepting that position was that he could not assure his prospective employers that he would not be taken back into the Army. So little of this Act is now left in operation that, now the Government are taking power to register these men for other purposes, I think the remains of this Act might very well be dispensed with. If there are any good reasons for keeping the Review of Exceptions Act in operation, I think it would be convenient that a statement should be issued, because many old soldiers feel it to be an unnecessary grievance that they should stand to be shot at in this way.


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

I hope to show why those who believe the Bill to be necessary may yet condemn the method by which the object of the Bill is to be carried out. The right lion. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill did not give an adequate account of what I would venture to call its astounding provisions. I want to remind the House of the method which was adopted in the first Act, of which this is an amending Bill. In the original Act registration was instituted for all persons between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five. It was carried out by the local registration authorities in the form of a census or house-to-house visitation. Forms were left, and subsequently they were collected. How does the new Bill proceed It brings within the purview of the original Act all male persons who have become fifteen since the date of the original Act. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that there would be 750,000 males who should be registered if this Bill is passed. I think be will find that he has underestimated the number affected by the Bill. I think he will find that it will be over 1,000,000. I take as the basis of that figure the last available Census Return. According to it, in any given year, the number of male persons of the age of fifteen in England and Wales is. roughly, about 340,000, and, if you add Scotland, the number of male persons of fifteen in any given year is, roughly, about 400,000. The original Act was passed two and a half years ago, and, roughly speaking, there is at this moment 1,000,000 male persons above the age of fifteen who will be qualified for registration under this Bill. I mention that in order to emphasise what a considerable number of male persons of a very youthful age are affected by the Bill.

How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to register them? Instead of the method of a house-to-house census, he places upon these 1,000,000 children, because the greater number of them are only a little more than fifteen years of age and many of them are still at school, the duty within a few days after the passing of the Act of themselves obtaining a form from the proper authority, of filling it up, and of returning it to the proper authority. That is the proposal of the Bill, and a more unworkable proposal was never presented to this House., Why is it wanted at all? I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, without any fear of contradiction, that the Government has already at this moment. in a far better form, all the information that they can. get by this Bill. The sugar cards have been filled up, not only for children between fifteen and seventeen and for all persons between fifteen and sixty-five years of age, but for every person in this country, and you have on the sugar cards the names and addresses, and not only the age, but the date of birth of every person in this country, whereas, in the original Act, the only information regarding age which had to be filled up was just the number of years—twenty, forty, and so forth. Therefore, at this moment, the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman is a member, have the whole of the information on the sugar cards which they now seek to get by this amazing provision. Not only is the proposal unworkable by putting upon a million children the duty of registering themselves, but it is also unnecessary, because the right hon. Gentleman has all the information that he requires under this Section on the sugar cards. He has the full name, the full address, the sex, and the day and the year of birth. My first objection, and I believe it to be an objection of weight, is that an unworkable method is proposed, even if one believes that the Bill is necessary at all, and I am not one of those who believe that it is necessary. How would the right hon. Gentleman know how many children, through ignorance, and it would be profound, did not register under the Bill? It is a perfectly impossible proposal. There would be no finality to it whatever. If any addition to the original register is required, you can only obtain it by taking a census, and that is unnecessary, because you have already had the information on the sugar cards. There is another very serious feature of this Bill. When the original Act was under discussion, objection was taken to the fact that various penalties were imposed for breaches of the Act. It was pointed out that these penalties would fall upon children as young as fifteen, seeing that registration began at the age of fifteen. If hon. Members will carry their memories back, or will refresh their memories by referring to the original Act, they will find that in the form in which the Bill passed this House the penalties for failure to carry out the provisions of it only fell upon persons who had reached the age of eighteen. No penalties were provided for young persons between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. The right hon. Gentleman in his review of the provisions of this Bill spoke of some other trifling alterations—


I never used the word "trifling."


I do not wish to do the right hon. Gentleman an injustice, and I at once withdraw the word "trifling." The provisions, however, were not of sufficient importance for him even to mention. I want to give the House an account of one of the provisions which the right hon. Gentleman did not name. The policy adopted by this House, after discussion, of not fixing these heavy and continuing penalties upon children of fifteen is reversed in this Bill. The penalties proposed in the original Act are transferred to this Bill, and now fall upon a million children, for, without any straining of language they can be called children, the bulk of whose ages are fifteen and sixteen. In a way which cannot be at once observed, the penalties are transferred to these children by an extraordinary piece of clever draftsmanship in this Bill. If the House will refer to Clause 2 of the Bill they will find that Section 13 of the principal Act, which relates to penalties, shall have effect with regard to forms under this Bill. If the original Act is referred to, it will be seen that any child of fifteen years of age who fails to observe the provisions of the Act will be subject to those penalties which this House deliberately decided should not fall upon any child under the age of eighteen. It is a very serious matter that a policy like that should be adopted and inserted by a very clever piece of draftsmanship in this Bill, and that no mention should have been made of it by the right hon. Gentleman when he moved the Second Reading. I desire to call the especial attention of the House to that, which I regard as a serious blot upon the Bill.

1.0 P.M.

There is another provision of the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman made no reference whatever. It came under those provisions which he waived aside as being not important enough for him to detain the House to deal with them. This Bill, for the first time, gives any policeman in the land, without any special authority, the right of accosting any civilian who is supposed to have reached the age of fifteen and to demand his registration card. If anyone is accosted by a policeman, that policeman having no special authority, he is obliged to produce his registration card to that policeman or to give a satisfactory account of himself and to supply the details as prescribed in this Bill. If he fails to do that, the penalties provided in this Bill fall upon him. I would ask the House to consider what this means. It is a new feature even in the legislation produced by the necessity and passion of the War. The only analogy to it is the provision in the Military Service Act. No such provision with regard to the police was put in the original Registration Act. It is now proposed that every person between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five may be subjected to being stopped by a policeman. whenever the policeman thinks fit, and the civil registration certificate may be demanded by him. I draw the special attention of the House to the fact that it is not necessary for the policeman to have any special authorisation for this purpose. Why do I press this point upon the right hon. Gentleman? It is more serious than at first appears. It would be serious if this arrangement were made with regard to the male population of this country, but the House will find it hard to believe, until they have investigated the matter, that this police arrangement is proposed with regard to female children of the age of fifteen, and that this arrangement may fall upon all females registered or to be registered under this Bill between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five. One of the Clauses to which the right hon. Gentleman called no attention authorises the Director-General of National Service, whenever he thinks fit, to make the whole of the provisions of this Bill, which, as drawn, applies only to males, apply equally to females. The Bill, therefore confers upon the Director-General the power of issuing at any moment an Order in Council making the provisions of this Bill, which affect males only, apply to females. So that we have a Bill brought forward which may give to the police of this country the right, without any special authority, to stop all persons, whether male or female, between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five, and cross-examine them with regard to these,registration matters. This is a Bill alien to our traditions, which should be entitled "the Goose-step Bill," and I venture to think that it will not pass the House in the form in which it has been drafted.

The right hon. Gentleman gave an historical summary with regard to the pledges given by the Government as to what was intended by the original Act. He forgot to state that, among the other pledges that were given in connection with the introduction of the original Bill, that one pledge was given by the Leader of the Government of the day to the effect that it was not intended to use the Bill for any form of military conscription. I remind him of that omission in his historical survey, because he went on to give certain. other promises and expressed certain hopes for the future. When the House is acquainted with the amazing conditions of this Bill, which affects 1,000,000 boys and on the morrow of its passing may affect 1,000,000 girls not registered under the previous Act, and which will affect all the people in this country between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five, I think the House will not be content to allow the Bill to go forth in this form, no matter with what pledges it is accompanied, and will demand its radical amendment. For my own part, I shall vote against the Bill, and I trust it will be rejected by the House.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I have sufficient sympathy with what my hon. Friend has been saying to adopt that course. I agree with the President of the Local Government Board when he said, in moving the Bill, that there was no new cardinal principle in it, and at this time of day, much as I object to all this sort of legislation, I do not think we can be expected to go back upon it, and I very much doubt if the House will be content to defeat it. I object to this Bill on the ground of the method by which it is proposed. to carry out this enlargement of the scope of registration. I was surprised that the President, in bringing it forward, did not make some allusion to the method by which it is intended to make this new extension of registration. Under the original Bill the arrangement was that householders in one way or another were to be supplied with forms which they had to fill up. Of course, an Act of Parliament having been passed, the householders would have no justification for refusing to fill them up, and, as the Act was passed, it was perfectly right that there should be penalties. on householders for not filling up the registration forms with which they were duly presented. This is an entirely different proposal. It is proposed now, as the right hon. Gentleman himself says, to bring 750,000 lads between the ages of fifteen and eighteen under registration. As far as I understand, these lads are not only to do what the householders had to do under the original Bill—to fill up, sign, send or deliver these forms to the local registration authority—but they have to obtain, fill up, sign, etc. Those appear to me to be the important words which differentiate this from the original Bill. Here you have large numbers of very young citizens who do not read Acts of Parliament, and in a very large number of cases their parents do not either, but apparently they will have to go and ask for registration forms and register themselves. That seems to me to be the defect of the Bill. It is a very strong order indeed to say that all these persons shall be liable to a penalty. It is all very well to say that magistrates may be lenient and may take a sensible view of the situation, but such a system ought not to exist. The same with regard to soldiers who have left the Army. The right lion. Gentleman says there may be 1,000,000 of them very soon. Are all these million soldiers to be liable to penalties if they do not register themselves? This is what seems to me to be the fundamental fault of the Bill as it stands, and I hope there may be some explanation given us and some willingness on the part of the President to find some method of getting out of the difficulty, for I really do not think the House might to be expected to pass a Bill which will require all these people to go to some office and get registration forms and fill them up. The parents of many of these boys, and potentially girls, know nothing about this Bill. How is a poor woman in a poor district likely to know about the Bill, her husband perhaps at the War? I really think we ought to have this matter made quite clear to us.


The Parliamentary Secretary will reply to that point. I think it will be more convenient to the hon. Member and to other hon. Members if these points are replied to in a speech rather than by way of interruption.


I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have put my point, which seems to me to be a serious one, and unless it can be met, I think my hon. Friend will be justified in continuing to oppose the Bill.


In so far as this is an effort to bring registration more upto-date and into line, I do not think there can be any very serious opposition to it. The principle was accepted long ago, and there can be no objection merely to bringing it into line or revising it. But there are a number of practical points which I think ought to be answered by those who represent the Government. The hon. Member (Mr. Trevelyan) has raised one of them. When the first Registration Bill was brought in the forms for registration were taken round the. houses, and consequently the duty of registering became easier to that extent, that the matter was actually brought to the personal attention of all, and they were told the forms would have to be filled up in a day or two, and someone would call back and take them away. Now you are adopting this entirely new principle that boys of fifteen are supposed to find out when they ought to register, and the onus of registration is thrown wholly upon the applicant, with penalties attached. They have got, according to Clause 2, to obtain, to sign, to send or deliver to the local registration authority a form containing various particulars. Therefore, a boy and, in some cases perhaps a girl as well, has to understand the law. I can imagine a boy of fifteen reading this Clause in order to ascertain the date at which he is liable to be registered:

"The appointed date for the purposes of this Section shall, as respects persons who come within the operation of this Section on the date of the passing of this Act, or within 14 days thereafter, be the 28th day after that date, and in the case of any other persons be the 14th day after the date on which they come within the operation of this Section."

Perhaps the hon. Member will tell us if he understands quite what that means, because I am not at all clear in my own mind, and I can easily understand the difficulty in the case of a young boy of fifteen.

It seems to me that again and again people will be in danger of having to apply for fresh registration cards. If anyone changes his address, changes his job in any way, or loses his registration card the whole process of registration has to be gone through again. It seems to me that in some cases people will spend a very large part of their time in filling up these forms and getting the various matters put right. I was interested in noticing the importance which the right hon. Gentleman attached to the occupational side of this matter. There was not a great deal of importance attached, I think, at the start to the occupational side. It was rather to get a register of all people between certain ages, and it was really the age which was important in regard to the initial steps. When the Bill was first introduced there were doubts as to whether it was going to be used for purposes of military compulsion, and very definite assurances were given that it would not be so used. Can we have a definite assurance that, just as the last Bill was used for purposes of military compulsion, so this Bill is not going to be used in any way by the Director of National Service from the standpoint of introducing any kind of occupational or industrial compulsion? It is important that that should be done.

There is one Clause I should like to understand the meaning of. Clause 5 compels an employer, under penalties, to compel anyone whom he takes into his employment to produce his registration card within seven days of taking him into his employment. It is already his duty to compel a man to produce his military papers to show that he is clear, so far as the military authorities are concerned, before he can find employment. Otherwise the employer makes himself liable for taking someone into his employment who under the Military Service Acts should be elsewhere. What is the new purpose in compelling an employer also to act as a kind of additional policeman in regard to the man's registration card? That is done under Clause 5, subject to penalties, and I would like to know the precise meaning of that Clause and the precise purpose for which it is put forward. Many employers, especially employers who are taking on fresh workpeople every day, are getting a little bit restive over the additional duties which the Government is constantly piling upon them. They say they have not the clerical staff to do all the work which the Government are asking them to do, and unless there is a very urgent reason why this particular duty, which is really a national duty, should be put upon em- ployers, it should not be put upon them. These are some points which require clearing up. I would suggest to the representatives of the Government that there is a danger of going to extreme lengths of mere red-tape registration. Get all the information you really need, but bring it down to the minimum, and avoid the irritation of policemen being authorised, or this person or that person being authorised, to accost people in the street. The less of that kind of Prussianism you get the better. I think you ought to bring it down to the minimum of what is necessary, and as far as possible avoid' friction and irritation in regard to this thing.


We ought to he grateful to the President of the Local Government Board for the tone in which he introduced this Bill. I recognise that he was reasonable, and I hope that he will be reasonable and ready to listen to us when he gets into Committee, because there are some of the provisions of this Bill which cause grave doubt and suspicion. If we can go into Committee with a feeling that these doubts and suspicions are going to be fairly met, I am sure it will be all to the good. I will not refer to the ways in which the country was defrauded, in some senses, over the original Registration Bill. Although the original Bill in some senses has been used for purposes which were never contemplated, it has been and may still be useful. Why is such a wholesale and sweeping extension necessary at the present time? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some justification for the sweeping inclusion all at once of over 1,000,000 children. The President admitted 750,000 Taking into account the fact that. 350,000 boys become fifteen every year in England and Wales, and that if you add Scotland you get over 420,000, you have over 1,000,000 when you multiply the figure by two and a half times at least. I cannot understand the estimate of 750,000. It. seems to me to be easily over 1,000,000 who will immediately become liable to registration. If some fine day, owing to some. sudden decision of the War Cabinet, we have an Order in Council issued without. warning that all the girls have to be registered, that will mean another 1,000,000. I suggest that there should be a very serious modification in the way in which the registration would come into force, and that. you should give one month to those who, have been two years fifteen years of age, two to three months to those who have been one year fifteen years of age, and six months to those who are only now just fifteen. I believe that by so doing you will get your information, but you will get it gradually brought in. Instead of overloading the officials and causing an immense amount of work to be suddenly dumped upon the local authorities, you will get it spread over a period of time. We shall be able to bring forward suggestions to that effect in Committee, and if we 'could feel that such a proposal will be considered when we get into Committee it will do a great deal to relieve my mind and, I believe, to relieve the local administration of this Bill. I understand that £50,000 has been given as the estimated cost.


The estimate I gave was derived from the cost of compiling the National Register, which was £47,000. The cost of maintaining the register up to 31st March, 1917, was £82,000.


I want to find out how much this Bill will cost to be put into force. I believe it will be greatly increased if it is put into force within a few days of its passing into law. The officers will have to get extra assistance, which will have to be paid overtime. There will also be an enormous amount of difficulty in getting the printing done. Then there is the great cost of paper and cards. A great strain will also be put upon the Post Office. Everybody knows that at the present time the Post Office is working under delays, difficulties, and mistakes such as we have never had before. You are going to increase that by suddenly dumping a huge block of business upon the Post Office. I suggest, therefore, that the gradual bringing into operation of the Bill will greatly facilitate matters. There are several points which require to be -looked into. Under Clause 9 any offence -under this Bill is made a continuing offence. I earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to drop that Clause. To make an offence of this kind a continuing offence is very unreasonable and will work very hardly, because at the present time the spirit of certain Courts of summary jurisdiction is such that they -will pile on the fines in a most unreasonable, cruel, and harsh manner. Take the case of a boy of fifteen who defers registration for three weeks. That is a continuing offence liable to a £5 penalty for twenty days. The boy who commits this offence of not registering and not going, perhaps, four or five miles for the purpose—a boy in the place where I live would have to write through the post, or go at least five miles and lose a day's work —will under this Clause be liable to a penalty of £100 for deferring his registration for three weeks. This is most unreasonable and absurd, and the hon. Member should not be laughing at it.


If the hon. Member were correct in his statement, it would not be a laughing matter at all. It is because he is so incorrect in his statement that it is a laughing matter.


We will see whether that is so. The Clause is an irritating, unnecessary, and suspicious Clause, and I hope that it will not be pressed. I object also to Clause 7 as to the possibility of bringing into the Bill all females of from fifteen to eighteen. I put it to my hon. Friend whether the information that can be obtained from the sugar card is not sufficient. Before passing this we should have some information as to its purpose and as to what possible use may be made of it. The Ministry of National Service has not been a brilliant success. It is very unpopular, I believe, even with the other Departments, and this cannot work without a considerable amount of friction. Give the Ministry of National Service a. fair chance, but, with its record of mistakes behind it, I object to giving it great and vague powers such as these in which I see possibility of great misuse. Coming to Clause 6, as to the power of police. One class of people who will object strongly to it are the policemen themselves. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman thinks me such a bad character that I am afraid to talk to policemen, or that I have bad relations with them. I find policemen most interesting and delightful men to talk to, and I talk to them frequently, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that at present they have so many duties and so many orders to carry out, and have to call to so many houses with warnings, notices, forms, and so on, that it is undesirable to put on them any more work than is absolutely necessary. If you are appealing now to the patriotism, determination, and devotion of the people, do not do it with the threat of police con- stables stopping every man in the street. The whole of Clause 6 might very well be dropped. If it is found in any district or at any time necessary to use police for this purpose, you have got the Defence of the Realm Act. The employment of police in any Court of inquiry or for obtaining information ought to be resorted to only in some local or partial or specially urgent conditions, and you should not take these powers, giving a vague authority to the police to stop anybody anywhere and ask them questions.

Now with regard to employers. The duties put upon employers now are very onerous indeed. The employment of casual labour, through agents or bailiffs, is constantly taking place in agriculture at the present time. During the coming summer I hope that we shall get in agricultural districts men discharged from the Army, men from Ireland, and men from different parts of the country, who will come in for seasonal occupation—harvesting, haymaking, and so forth. They will be employed from a farm in one district to another, following up the areas in which the crops are got in. In every one of those cases you are imposing by this Bill a great amount of writing, inquiring, and filling up cards. You are going to get up against the farmer. In most cases the forms will be neglected and the inquiries will not be made, but if a man is conscientious and patriotic he will try to do what lie is asked, and he will try to no purpose. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider what he is doing by putting these obligations upon employers. It is most unreasonable and impracticable, and, comparatively speaking, quite valueless. Clause 4 deals with the reduction of the period of notifying changes from twenty-eight days to seven and fourteen days. This is going to cause more difficulty arid create a great deal more work. Take the very common case of a domestic servant who leaves her employment and goes home for a week. If she stays at borne over a week she must register at her home. She may then go to an employment to oblige some family for another week. She must register there. She may be intending all the time at the end of a month to go to another permanent place, and yet her whereabouts are always known, and she may carry out her original intention. Instead of one change in connection with the registration, there will have to be four. In cases like that there is going to be an immense amount of trouble, and this is going to be caused particularly in those cases where people are most conscientious, and where you could always find them, whereas, if you leave it as it is, there will be only one alteration to be made. There are a number of other points that will be brought out in the course of the Committee stage, and I do appeal, with no desire to be unreasonable, to the right hon. Gentleman that we ought to have a very different Bill, and one which will show very considerable concessions.


I do not think we can complain at all of the general tone of the observations which have been made upon this Bill. The real point, after all, is that which was put by my right hon. Friend, that the register, once it leas been agreed to by this House, ought to be made as accurate as possible. Really I do not think the common sense of the country would permit it to give a negative to that proposition. If the register is to be made plain, it must be taken in a way that will, as reasonably as possible, achieve accuracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) spoke of the astounding provisions of the Bill. What are the astounding provisions? He emphasised his point by saying that one of the provisions would require at least 1,000,000 young people between fifteen and eighteen years of age, and my hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) said about 750,000. Would the nation be justified in taking the register of people at a particular time, and allow the young life of the ration to be regarded in no way from the 15th August, 1915, until the present time, and take no further step? If the Government acceded to taking these steps at very short intervals, it would cause immeasurably more friction than would be occasioned by the period of three years. That period, I think, might very well be shortened, but we could not possibly he taking it every three months, or, indeed, I think, every six months. But with the period of three years you would have the young people of fifteen, or shortly to become fifteen years of age, or who are practically fifteen years of age to-day. It is of the highest social importance that in a case of this kind the register should be maintained at a reasonable standard of accuracy. Surely it is the duty of the nation to approximate to us as great a degree of accuracy as can be attained. What is the proposal of the Bill? My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe, (Mr. Anderson) raised a point which certainly, on the surface, seems to be a fresh one—namely, that at the beginning, in 1915, every householder was served. That is so. It was a perfectly new thing, and everybody between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five were required to register. It was the only way of imposing an entirely new obligation, and of having that obligation properly discharged. The only way was to supply each householder. I do not know, for the moment, how many householders there are, but I certainly think I am right in saying that there were about 8,000,000 householders. Is it seriously suggested that that should be gone all over again?


I said in my argument that you could not expect schoolboys of fifteen years of age to fill up these forms.


I will deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend. The head of the household already knows the process, and he also knows what age his boy is. We have arranged that the only thing that has to be done is for a young person to go to the nearest post office, where he will be supplied with the form, under a particular class, and that form he has to fill up. I submit that this is as easy and reasonable as anything possibly can be. We have endeavoured strictly to keep out anything that might be held to be of an invidious nature, against which the parents of the boys or the boys themselves might rebel. The Post Office is a national institution, deeply rooted in the life and affections of the people; it is easy of access, and it performs so many functions in our social life that no person should feel the slightest difficulty about securing a form and filling it up.


What I want to know is, how 750,000 boys or their parents are to ascertain that they have to go to the Post Office?


As a matter of fact, under the Bill itself the duty is placed on the local registration authority, and my hon. Friend knows that the local registration authority is the urban district council or the council in most cases, and those bodies are really very close to the people's life. They will take the initiative of informing the heads of households, or the boys themselves, as to the particular duty that is now imposed upon them by this Bill. That informa- tion having been given by elective authorities, who stand close to the people's life, to the heads of families and to the boys themselves, the process will be the easiest thing in the world to obtain this form from the local post office. There is a difference between this proposal and the former one, under which notice w as served on every householder; and I really think, with the obligation now imposed upon the local registration authority to give information to the young people as to obtaining forms, and where they are to be obtained, that it is a very simple duty to ask the young people to discharge, and I cannot imagine anything more easy than this small obligation which we propose to impose upon them. There was a very serious statement made about the penalties, but the penalties are in no sense different from those imposed under the original Act. My hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset pictured an alarming state of things as to what would happen if a child between fifteen and eighteen years of age failed to register within the prescribed time. The penalty for that is in no sense different from that imposed by the original Act of Parliament. The penalty did not exist in the case of people who we-re under the age of eighteen years. That is the original Act. It says:

"if any person over eighteen years. of age required to register himself"..

and so on, and that Section and Subsections remain unaltered. So that there is no penalty at all imposed upon the young people who fail to register, but it is none the less a continuing obligation. The mere fact of their failure to register themselves does not absolve them from the duty.


I am sorry to interrupt, but that is a most important point. I am obliged for the hon. Member's courtesy, but do I understand him to say that the penalties provided in the original Act upon persons of eighteen years of age and upwards do not now fall upon persons under eighteen who have to register under the new Bill?


I am speaking now of registration, and in the event. of their failing to register and their being under eighteen years of age, I cannot see a single ward in the Bill that carries a penalty or that alters the penalty by one jot or tittle. In any case. I promise this After all, this is a Committee point. My three hon. Friends have made an admission to us that they do agree in principle broadly. I think my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Attercliffe said that, the nation having once resolved upon the compilation of a register such as this, there was no substantial principle involved; but we do say that we will give the fullest consideration in Committee to the points raised. I think there was some thing in the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset about the great number of casual hands engaged in farm labour in the harvest time, and we have no desire to make any irritating use of this arrangement in any case. I can assure the House that the Gentlemen who sat round a table in the drafting of this Bill all agreed that it should be made as little vexatious or irritating as it possibly could, and that is the reason why we have kept out of it so far as we could every agency that would irritate or be vexatious. In the case of the policemen, I think we all agree with our hon. Friend that the police as a whole perform their duties in a most admirable manner, and that, consistent with the preservation of the peace, in the complicated duties which they have to perform, they do their utmost to give the very minimum of trouble to the general public.

What is it that the police will be called upon to do? A policeman can call upon a person to produce his registration certificate, or give particulars as to his name, address, age, and occupation. Really, what a frightful thing that is!—that if a young fellow between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, or anybody else, is stopped by a policeman, admittedly doing his work in an admirable manner, admittedly not irritating the general public, and admittedly performing duties which are very comprehensive, clearly he will not be vexatiously interfered with. But, supposing he were, what could the policeman do except ask him to give particulars as to his name, address, age, and occupation? Really, I think we need not be afraid of such a small modicum of interference with the liberty of which we are all so proud and cherish—such a small modicum of interference as we have here. We are very anxious to make this register, and I think the whole of the vital statistics of the nations have never been sufficiently tabulated. This is not the fault of the Departments—the nation itself has never sufficiently comprehended the overwhelming necessity of these vital statistics being properly compiled and kept up to date. There are a thousand ranges of social life in which it is overwhelmingly necessary to have your statistics recompiled, and this is surely one of the things we should insist upon doing from time to time whether in time of war or of peace, so that in the explorations which are made for the good of the whole nation the Government shall be able to place its hands upon data which does carry the stamp of accuracy upon it. Hon. Members have agreed that there is no cardinal principle introduced, and I do hope, with my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, that the House will give a unanimous Second Reading to this Bill.


Will the hon. Gentleman say something about the Females' Clause. I pressed him in my speech to do so, and there is also the sugar card.


Really, you do not want us to go through I do not know how many millions of sugar cards! After all, the register is in the possession of the local registration authorities, and it simply wants bringing up to date. The process is known, and can there be anything genuine in the belief that we should examine the sugar registers to obtain this information? With regard to females, that is a point to which we will give the fullest consideration, but it can only be brought in, as my hon. Friends knows, by an Order in Council. At any rate, we will give the fullest consideration to that point in the Committee stage.


Will the hon. Member say something regarding the Review of Exceptions Act and what is left of it?


That really is a point which affects the War Office and upon which the War Office can speak with a more perfect knowledge, but if you will raise it in Committee we will have it explored and answered there.


Thank you!

Amendment negatived.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a, Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday next. — [Mr. Parker.]