§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £900, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of National Service."—[NOTE: £100 has been voted on account.]
§ Colonel ASHLEY
(resuming): When the interruption took place I was giving the Under-Secretary for the National Service Department several instances in which what he declares to be the intention of the Department, to give discharged men twelve months in which to find employment, has been violated. I had only given one, and I must give two or three, just to show that this is not an isolated case. I could give lots more, because it has been carried out on a very considerable scale. A man who has not been overseas and was discharged as totally unfit in August last year has been called up for this month. He did not get the twelve months. A re-enlisted man, previously discharged as medically unfit, sent home from India suffering from 1313 tuberculosis, in January this year—he should not have been called up again at all—was posted to a Labour Corps for work of national importance this month. Another man who has not been overseas, who was discharged as totally unfit in December last, and given a gratuity, was called up for work of national importance on the 1st of April this year. A man with a silver badge, who was discharged as totally unfit in December, 1916, was replaced in Grade 1 and told to rejoin the Army. I shall take the liberty of sending about two dozen of these cases to the hon. Gentleman, from whom I hope they will receive consideration, and I trust that he will see that what he admits to be a breach of the pledge, is not continued.
Take now another pledge that has been broken. I need not go into the technical points. Broadly speaking, the Committee will remember that men who suffer from neurasthenia and other allied diseases were specifically excepted from the Review of Exceptions Act—that is to say, they were all men who were not to be called up again. I understand that in this letter which was received from the Ministry of National Service it is stated that, owing to the new Military Service Act, there are certain classes of men who will not receive that protection, namely, men who have not been overseas; because, under the Act of 1918, protection to shell-shocked men is only given to those who have been overseas, whereas previously, under the much abused Review of Exceptions Act, all men, whether they had been overseas or not, were protected by law and by the statement of the Minister of National Service in the House that all protection given to discharged men would be continued. That is absolutely broken by this new instruction, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman at once to take steps to fulfil the pledges given to these shell-shocked men—there is a considerable number of them—who have not been overseas—men in coast patrols, and so forth. But whether they are few or many, the pledge was given, and we ask to have it carried out. I would urge upon the Ministry of National Service, in the interests of the country as a whole, and also in the interests of discharged men, that tribunals should not be pressed as they are now to make the older men find work of national importance. We have now reached a stage in 1314 which there is a very large body of discharged men in the country. They are increasing by thousands every week, and form a very large source of labour supply, and I would put it to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee whether it is a sound policy to go on dragging up by the roots the businesses of men between forty-three and fifty, taking these men away from their homes and their businesses and compelling them to find work of national importance, when there are so many discharged soldiers who are perfectly well able to perform the job which the tribunals compel these other men to take up, with the alternative of going into the Army.
I will give an instance. I know a man, aged forty, in Grade 2, who was making £400 a year before he was forced to take up work of national importance. He was paying Income Tax. He has now got a clerkship at £2 10s. a week. That clerkship could perfectly well be filled by a discharged soldier, and the country could continue to get Income Tax, which it is now losing, while the man is now losing his profession. Circumstances have changed, and the tribunals have not seen the change. A year or eighteen months ago this would have been all right, but, with the increasing body of men who are available for employment, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to think over the question whether instructions could not be sent to tribunals to be a little more chary about the way in which they impose upon the older men the obligation of finding work of national importance. I think that it may be wrong, but there is undoubtedly deep down in the minds of discharged men and of the nation as a whole the feeling that in spite of the combing out much remains still to be done in that direction. I have had many letters on this subject. One of them was received to-day from Chelmsford, in Essex. It deals with the case of a man who was discharged from the Stirling telephone works at Dagenham owing to slackness of work, while at the same time single men belonging to Grade 1 were being retained. I would ask the hon. Gentleman is he quite sure that he has not got a large number of Grade 1 men in the Ministry of National Service? There is a great number in Woolwich Arsenal. I would ask him to do all he can to expedite the comb, because it does create a great deal of dissatisfaction among ex-Service men.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
We all agree with the last point made by my hon. and gallant Friend. As to the question of putting discharged men to work which is necessary for military purposes which it is easy for them to do and at which they can earn money rather than bringing them back to the Army for purposes for which they are not suitable, I hope that the Ministry of National Service will take note of the matter, because it is very important not merely in the interests of discharged men themselves, but in the national public interest as well. I think that the Committee were very grateful to the Minister of National Service for his very clear, frank statement as to the present system of grading and posting men. None of us who heard that statement can have the slightest doubt of his most earnest desire to avoid any injustice to these older men and to treat them with the utmost fairness and put them in that position in the Army for which their strength fits them. But we cannot disguise from ourselves that in the working of that system great difficulties have arisen, difficulties which have been pointed out by the chairmen of different appeal tribunals, and for which a solution has to be found. It is satisfactory that the Prime Minister has decided to have this conference between the Minister of National Service and the chairmen of tribunals who are Members of this House for the purpose of solving these difficulties. Might I ask my right hon. Friend whether that conference is going to deal with the whole question of calling up and employment and grading these older men, or whether it will consider the question of grading alone? I should imagine that a conference of that sort should be left to discuss any practical question that turns up in regard to the posting and employment, as well as the grading of these men who are now being called up for the first time. I sincerely trust that the result of the conference will be to find a practical workable solution of those difficulties which undoubtedly have arisen.
The system which the right hon. Gentleman has told us of to-day—namely, of grading men not according to their military capacity, but according to their age, undoubtedly was calculated in my judgment to lead to misunderstanding and dissatisfaction. When you have a Grade 1 man aged twenty-five and a Grade 1 man aged forty-five, the natural assumption would be that they were both fit for 1316 general service. The Grade 1 man aged twenty-five is undoubtedly fit for general service, and he is liable to be sent at any moment into the fighting line, but when you come to talk about a Grade 1 man aged forty-five it is a misconception to say that he is fit for general service and should go into the fighting line, but he is called Grade 1 all the same. Therefore the use of the term "Grade 1" according to the present system is misleading. It is used to describe two different things. A Grade 1 man of twenty-five means a fit man of that age, and a Grade 1 man of forty-five means a fit man of that age. Therefore I think that the suggestion thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means might be adopted—that Grade 1 should mean the same thing in all cases, no matter what the man's age. In other words, that it should mean that he is fit for the fighting line; that Grade 2 should mean, whatever the man's age, that he is fit for general non-combatant service; and Grade 3 that he is fit only for Home service. In other words, the grading of men, whatever their age, should be solely and fully dependent on their capacity for military service. I understand that is what is proposed, and it appears to me to be most useful. I would like an assurance that no men of over forty-three now being brought in will be put in Grade 1, and sent to the firing line as part of the fighting units. I do not know whether it is possible to give that assurance, but I should have thought that the number of cases of men between forty-five and fifty-one who are physically fit to endure the strain of the fighting line is extremely small. I should be glad if my hon. Friend who is attending to this matter at the moment will give us some assurance on that point. There are two other matters I want to refer to; one is this: The right hon. Gentleman referred to the instruction which was issued by the Army Council to what he described as the posting boards, namely, the Army boards, which decide to what arm of the Service the men are to be sent. He told us these instructions had not been made public, but went on to say that a portion of them might be made public. I think it would be a great source of satisfaction to the men who have been called on, whatever their age may be, to know the general principles on which they are posted to one or other branch of the Service.
1317 I take note of the assurance of my right hon. Friend that we shall have these instructions published, and I think it will give great satisfaction both to the men involved and to the country as a whole. I should also add that I trust that the men who have been called up will be given the fullest opportunity of knowing what their rights of appeal are. I undertake to say that not one in ten of them who are graded graded 1, 2, or 3, as the case may be, has the slightest idea of his rights. As the right hon. Gentleman told us, those rights are very large, and ought to be an ample protection. That would be satisfactory to the men if they only knew that tinder the instructions they have those rights. I have no doubt that this point will receive careful consideration. The last point on which I wish to touch is this: In common with many other Members of the House, I hear that the men who are being called up to be medically examined are being stripped stark naked, and are kept in that condition for as much as two hours. I dare say hon. Members have the same case in mind as I have, in which a man who was called up was kept stark naked before his turn for examination came. It is quite right that the doctors' time should be economised by somebody being ready for the examination when one has been disposed of, but I submit that there is no necessity for a man being kept so long stark naked while others are being examined.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I do not know whether seven are examined at a time, but I hope that this is a practice which does not prevail generally, though it does prevail to a great extent, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Service will see that the matter is given careful attention. I am well assured that Ministers do not desire such practices as I have described—men kept stark naked for two hours; I think their desire is that the work should be conducted with the greatest fairness and care; still, I do ask the hon. Gentleman to take note of the fact, and issue a definite instruction to medical boards concerned in these examinations to see that these things do not happen. I welcome the conference, because the misunderstandings that have taken place have undoubtedly been the cause of grave dis- 1318 satisfaction, which I hope will now be removed, and that the work of examination will go on more smoothly and with satisfactory results.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
I think it is extremely unfortunate that it should have been necessary to have this Debate on the Medical Services to-day, because it tends to undermine the confidence of the public, not only in the fairness but in the efficiency of the medical examinations, which is very much to be regretted. At the same time, having heard the Debate this afternoon, I do not think anybody can doubt that it has been fully justified. I regret the necessity for the Debate this afternoon on another ground, and that is that the conditions which have been described do not really obtain over the whole country. I have made careful inquiries in the part of the country I come from, and I have failed to hear of any substantial complaint with regard to the conduct of the medical boards. When I tell the Committee that in the county of Northumberland a considerable amount of pressure has lately been brought upon the medical boards in consequence of the comb out of the miners, I think the absence of complaints says a very great deal for the way in which those medical boards are conducted in Northumberland. In other parts, also, in which I have made inquiries I have failed to find any ground for complaint, and, therefore, it does seem to me that it would not be fair to condemn the conduct of these medical examinations over the whole country.
Unfortunately, the condition of London appears to be quite the reverse, and there is abundant evidence that men have been insufficiently examined, and also that unfit men are being passed into the Army in considerable numbers by the medical boards. It is only about twelve months ago that this House set up a Select Committee to inquire into the working of the medical boards at that time, and it will be fresh in the mind of the Committee that certain recommendations were made by that Select Committee, which were adopted by the Government with amazing rapidity. These representations were directed to two main objects—firstly, the elimination of the military element on the medical boards and, secondly, ensuring that every recruit should receive a complete and fair medical examination.
1319 The Debate this afternoon seems to me to have been particularly directed to the grading of the men. But I would respectfully remind the Committee that there is a condition precedent to the grading of the men, and that is the medical examination, and it is with regard to the medical examination as at present conducted that I desire to make a few observations. As a result of the Report of the Select Committee, within a very short time the question of medical examinations passed out of the hands of the military altogether into the hands of the National Service Ministry, and I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that within a very short time general satisfaction replaced the general discontent throughout the whole country. What is the present position? We have heard this afternoon—I do not think there is any reason to enlarge upon the evidence which has been produced—of the growing discontent at the present moment. To enable the Committee to understand what the present position is, however, I would remind them of the normal constitution of the medical boards as set up by the Minister of National Service when he took over the whole question of recruiting and of the medical boards.
The normal constitution of those boards was to be a chairman with four examiners, and it was specifically laid down in the Instruction issued by the Ministry of National Service that an experienced board constituted in that way might be expected to examine twelve recruits per hour, or sixty recruits per day, in two sessions of two and a half hours each. Comparing that with the constitution of the board as it obtains to-day, I want to omit the chairman, because, under the instructions, the chairman is not encouraged to do any examining himself. On the contrary, he is discouraged from doing so, and that is not to be wondered at, when one remembers that his functions are to record the decisions of the board, to act as referee in doubtful cases, and to do the grading of recruits, on the advice, and according to the findings of the members of the board. Obviously, therefore, he has not very much time to do examination work himself. The board being constituted of the chairman and four examiners they have to deal with sixty recruits in the two sessions, and it follows that each recruit-is examined for five minutes by each of 1320 the four examiners of the board, which gives the recruit a medical examination of twenty minutes. What has happened? That method gave, generally speaking, most excellent results, as the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means has stated on two occasions. What has happened since then? On the 3rd of May, an Order was issued by the Commissioner of Medical Service in the London region which entirely altered the procedure, and that, I suggest to the Committee, is at the bottom of the whole trouble, so far as the London area is concerned. There is a good deal in connection with the Order which in my opinion wants clearing up. In the first place, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions, in replying to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ealing on the 10th June, referred to the Order as the "alleged circular," as if to throw some doubt upon its authenticity. I do not think that was in the mind of my hon. Friend for one moment; I do not think he meant to convey that by the words he used, though they are capable of that construction. What was the position on the 10th June when my hon. Friend made that reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ealing? The actual position was that the Order, or alleged circular, had been under the consideration of the Ministry, and as we learnt on Thursday evening last, had been cancelled within a week of its issue. I do respectfully suggest that it might have been fairer to my hon. and learned Friend if that explanation had been given in reply to his question, rather than the answer which was given.
What did that circular do? It substituted boards with a chairman and two examiners for the board, as formerly constituted of a chairman and four examiners, and at the same time it called upon that reduced board to examine eighty recruits in two sessions of two and a half hours each, as compared with the sixty recruits that the larger board was expected to do under the original National Service Instruction. I am going to assume again that the chairman of that board does no examination himself having regard to his manifold duties, and in that case it amounts to each recruit being examined for 3.75 minutes by each of two examiners, or seven and half minutes as a total, as compared with the twenty minutes of examination as carried out by the normally constituted board. I 1321 suggest to the Committee that we need not look very much further than that for an explanation of the breakdown which has taken place and of the men who have been improperly passed into the Army. I would remind the Committee that these boards were reduced under that order at a time when, I think, it will be generally conceded the type of recruit that was coming forward was far more deserving of, and in fact necessitated, far more careful examination than when recruits were coming forward of a younger age. The right hon. Gentleman informed the House that this order was cancelled within a week of its issue. Might I ask him what part of it was cancelled? Certainly that part of it relating to the reduction of the boards was not cancelled. That portion of it relating to the number of recruits to be examined was not cancelled, because only on the 10th May, which was, I think, directly after the Commissioner of Medical Services had had a conference with the chairmen of the boards in London, the Commissioner for the London region issued a letter in which the following paragraph occurred:I have had minimum boards working as an experimental measure, and it is found that an outturn of eighty recruits a day per board of two examiners and a chairman can be easily obtained.Can be easily obtained! Although in the original instructions the words used were "an experienced board should be able to deal with twelve recruits an hour"—which is sixty a day—now, only a few months later, the Commissioner for the London region says eighty recruits a day can be easily obtained by two examiners and a chairman—This plan practically doubles the output as compared with the ninety examined by the board with three or four members and a chairman.I think ninety is a mistake, because sixty was the figure—There is, of course, no lowering of the standard of the examination.I call attention to that. This board of a chairman and two examiners are to examine eighty a day, compared with sixty with a chairman and four examiners, and there is to be no lowering of the standard of examination—The boards in question have worked to the satisfaction, not only of myself, but of the examiners and examinees.I had the privilege early in this month of witnessing the work of one of these 1322 boards so constituted, and I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman that if he had been there, invisible, he would have heard very different opinions expressed by the examiners, if not by the examinees. I can only say that, from what I was told on that occasion, and from my own personal observation, I came to the conclusion that it was an absolute impossibility for two examiners carefully and conscientiously to examine the number of recruits that they have been called upon to examine in that period. What is the explanation that the right hon. Gentleman gives of the number of unfit men who have been passed into the Army? He says on page 631 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the 20th June:It is an unconscious reaction of the pressure of the German offensive that is making these boards pass men who, under less pressure, they would not pass."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1918, Vol. 633.]I am going to take the liberty of suggesting another explanation which does not seem to me to be quite so far-fetched, if I may say so with all respect. I am going to suggest this as a possible explanation: On the 25th March last there was a telegram sent out from the Ministry of National Service, the first sentence of which read as follows:The output of National Service medical boards must be increased forthwith.On the 22nd April there was a letter sent out—the reference is M2/182—in which chairmen were reminded thatIn case of emergency boards might be reduced to a chairman and one member. Thus existing boards may be duplicated, or even triplicated.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
At first when I had this matter brought to my attention I thought that the Commissioner of Medical Services of the London region was really to be very much blamed for the circular, which has been so often referred to in the course of this Debate, of the 3rd May, but really in face of these Instructions which were sent out by the Minister I think we must respond to the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman and put the blame upon himself.
§ Mr. COCHRANE
There is one other thing I must call attention to, and I do it with very great regret. Before doing so I would associate myself very fully with the observations of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Albion Richardson). I feel myself that the National Service Ministry has been spurring on these medical boards. I do not think you can use a better term than that, and I am obliged to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this fact, which was brought to my notice, that an inspector from the Chief Commissioner's office went round, certainly to one board in the London region, and stood, with watch in hand, checking the number of recruits who were being passed within a given time, and because this reduced board was not getting through them as fast as he thought they should he called their attention to the fact and, to put it mildly, told them they must hurry up. I want the Committee to try and see what is the effect of these reduced boards. What is the examination that is laid down in the National Service instructions? It is as follows:When the board consists of four examiners and a chairman, examiner No. 1 will take the weight, height, and chest measurement, will note the colour of the hair and eyes, complexion, external marks, such as scars, vaccination marks, tattooing, and any indication of venereal disease or enlargement of lymphatic glands.No. 2 will pay attention to the physical development, will test the movement of the joints, will investigate deformities, e.g., knockknee, flat foot, hammer toes, etc., and will inquire into the history of injuries and operations, if any. He will examine the scrotum, testes, abdominal rings, and perineum.Examiner No. 3 will test the vision and hearing and nerve reflexes, especially the reaction of the pupils and the knee jerks, and will examine the eyes, ears, teeth, throat, and thyroid gland.Examiner No. 4 will examine the chest and abdomen, will make inquiries regarding previous illnesses, such as rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, etc., and the mental condition and any circumstances bearing on this, such as a history of fits, or of having been under treatment in an asylum for the insane. The urine, if necessary, will be tested at this stage.…The Board will always consider any documents bearing on his case that a man may bring. Medical certificates from general practitioners or consultants will receive full consideration.I put it to the Committee, is it possible to do that in seven and a half minutes, conscientiously? I take it that all these things ought to be done, or they would not be put down in the Instructions. Is it possible, does any member of the Committee believe, that that can be con- 1324 scientiously done by two examiners in seven and a half minutes? Of course we are taking average times. I know that the right hon. Gentleman called attention the other day to the fact that some men would take less and some more. I should very much like to know what the views of the General Medical Council are on the work that their members are being called upon to undertake under such conditions as these. I do not find the same condition of affairs existing down in the country. I have made investigations in my own district, and I find there that the boards have been reduced from a chairman and four to a chairman and three examiners; but boards consisting of a chairman and three examiners are to-day doing less work than boards in the London area with a chairman and two examiners.
The answer, I know, which will be given, if the right hon. Gentleman does me the honour of replying to any of the points that I have raised, is that we are in a national emergency. My view of the situation is this: that no national emergency justifies passing unfit men into the Army, and if the emergency does become so pressing that we have to do that, then let us do away with the pretence of medical examinations, and let us say that every man who can shoulder a rifle must shoulder it and go into the trenches. It is neither fair to the medical profession nor to the men that such a system should be continued. I would like to point out that this is a two-edged sword. It is not only a question of passing unfit men into the Army, but it is also a question of keeping some fit men out of the Army, because if you have conscientious boards of medical men working under pressure and examining men in the way that I have ventured to describe, at the end of a long, tiring day they are so exhausted that they cannot trust themselves to determine very fine points in connection with the examination of the heart and lungs, and they favour men who possibly earlier in the day, when they could give a more thorough examination, they would pass into the Army. I have one more point to mention. The right hon. Gentleman, when speaking on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill last Thursday, complained to the House of the treatment that his Department received, and he said:I would appeal to the House at this time when we have the greatest possible difficulty in maintaining the supply of men for the forces 1325 that we should receive all the help of private criticism sent to us, and we will always pay attention to it, before the questions are put down in the House and before statements are made in public, which will be recorded and published throughout the whole country as statements of policy when the statements are in fact based, as we now know for certain, upon a misunderstanding.As far as I myself and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield) are concerned, we have absolutely clear consciences in this matter, because when the facts to which I have ventured to draw attention came to our knowledge we addressed a letter to the right hon. Gentleman, which was courteously acknowledged by his secretary, who stated that the right hon. Gentleman had been on tour and had just come back again and was unable to fix an appointment, but would communicate with us in a few days. We waited for a week, and then wrote to the right hon. Gentleman and informed ham that if he could not see his way to give us an opportunity of bringing the information which had come to our knowledge before him we should put down questions on the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman was unable to give us that appointment, and I do not at all take exception to that, because I am sure he will have been snowed under with work, but at all events we tried to do the courteous thing, and we specifically said in our letter that it was not our desire to have to ventilate this subject on the floor of the House. No Member who sat on the Select Committee appointed by this House twelve months ago to investigate the question of the recruiting medical boards could fail to have been struck and almost horrified by some of the evidence that was placed before us. We did hope that the recommendations that we made, and which were so promptly and so earnestly taken up by the Government, and, may I say, by no one more earnestly than by the right hon. Gentleman himself, would have once and for all put this question of the recruiting medical boards outside of any possible controversy, and it is only because one views with absolute dismay the possibility of the same condition of affairs arising again that I have ventured to intrude myself upon the notice of the Committee.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think all who have listened to the discussion this afternoon will agree that the action of Members in raising this question has been amply justified by the results. My hon. Friend 1326 who has just sat down was one of the first to draw attention to the actions of the Department, which were likely to produce serious results in respect of medical examination, and I well remember some weeks ago that he called together some of his former colleagues on the Select Committee on Medical Examinations, with a view of making joint representation to the Minister for National Service. At that time I was less sanguine than my hon. Friend, and I told him he need not hope that anything would come from private representation. I said the only course to pursue was to raise the subject on the floor of the House. It has been raised on the floor of the House to-day, and for the third time in one week the Prime Minister has favoured us with his presence. You may be always sure when the Prime Minister is here that the storm signal is out. He came down on Monday. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) on Monday suggested a Committee to assist the Government in regard to Russian affairs.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. W. Wilson)
I do not think, on the discussion of a particular Vote in Committee, that the hon. Gentleman should review the week.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was not going to review the week, but to quote a statement of the Prime Minister, which illustrates what has happened to-day. His answer to my hon. and gallant Friend was that the Government only set up a Committee when it was in a difficulty. Well, he has set up a Committee to-day, and it is obvious that it was to relieve himself from a very serious difficulty. But what we want to know is, what exactly is this Committee going to do? Before we leave this subject, it is essential that the Committee should be told something clear and definite. To my mind there is no need of a Committee at all, and if I had not perfect confidence in the good faith of the right hon. Gentleman, the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, I should have been inclined to think it was a put-up job. The issue is a perfectly clear one. It relates to the method of grading the older men. Is Grade 1 for the older men to be the same as Grade 1 for the other men, or is Grade 1 for the older men to be equivalent to Grade 2 for the other men? That was the only question of substance in the issue to-day. That did not need a Committee 1327 at all, and it is simply throwing dust in the eyes of the House to suggest that any Committee is required to decide that. The right hon. Gentleman could tell us now. He could simply say that the old standard of ability for general service was to apply as represented by Grade 1 for the older men as well as for the younger men. If that had been stated, there need have been no further Debate, so far as that question is concerned, and I think if the night hon. Gentleman, before this Debate comes to an end, makes that statement he will be saved the humiliation of having to meet all these hon. Members who preside over tribunals.
There is this further question. The Prime Minister to-day, by admitting the necessity of a Committee, has confessed that there has been a misunderstanding in respect of the administration of medical examination of the older men. But what is to happen to the several thousand older men who have already been posted into the Army under this misunderstanding? That is a very serious matter. Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to tell us what is to happen in respect of those men? Will this Committee of the House, consisting of the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, the hon. and learned Member for Ealing, and several other hon. Members, have the right to see what has happened to these men and to see that they are being rightly used in the Army? I do not believe in all these professions about what will be done in the Army with these men. At the present time there are men being used in the Army for purposes for which their physical condition does not fit them at all. Everybody knows that. In one of the most widely circulated papers of the country there was a statement about a draft going to France which had to be supported by sticks and to have their kits carried by other men. If that was a false statement, the paper ought to be prosecuted. [An HON. MEMBER: "What paper?"] "John Bull." There could be no statement more likely to affect recruiting for the Army and cause unrest in the country than a statement like that. But there was no prosecution. We must assume these things are going on when a statement of that kind is not followed by prosecution. Have we any right to accept any assurances, even from the Prime Minister himself, when we hear of such things going on? We must insist that the position of 1328 the men who are actually passed into the Army should be completely safeguarded. I am not going to continue the point raised by my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I think he has made a complete case with regard to the action of certain medical boards. There is not the slightest doubt in the mind of any hon. Member who listened to him that the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary have been at least disingenuous in their Parliamentary answers relating to the medical service. That circular was not simply the work of Sir Charles—He did not spin it out of his inner consciousness. A letter of the 22nd April is really the inspiration of that circular, and justifies every word in it, and I think it would have been only fair and candid to the House for the Parliamentary representatives of the Department to make the statement and not turn the blame on someone else. It was because of that that I put down a, Motion reducing the salary of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not intend to make any general attack on medical boards. I believe, on the whole, they carry out their instructions as conscientiously as men can, considering the instructions that are given to them. There have been cases where there has been a rushing examination, and wherever you have that you are bound to have many mistakes; but I think in the period from October up to the present rushing, the system of medical examination has been fairly administered by the right hon. Gentleman's Department. At the same time now, when there has been a rush, when we think there has been totally unjustifiable instructions given to these boards, it is our duty to bring the Department to book. It has been brought to book this afternoon, and, having been brought to book, we have reason to think there will be an end to the system.
There is only one other observation I desire to make, and that is in relation to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester. I, of course, accept the revised stop-press edition of that speech which has been given here this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be unfortunate both in his speeches and in his instructions. He need not, however, concern himself very much in defending the tribunals. There is, undoubtedly, all over the country, a good deal of social pull and favouritism not only in respect of the tribunals, but in respect of securing protection in other ways. 1329 These things do exist. I would ask him to look at his own Department. A good deal of the pull comes through the National Service representatives. If the local tribunal gives exemption, it depends upon the National Service representative whether an appeal is taken or no. If an appeal is taken, and the decision of the local tribunal has been given by favouritism, it is possible for the Appeal Tribunal to put it right; but if the National Service representative is not anxious to have an appeal, no appeal is taken. I believe that in a very large number of cases the fact that men are free owing to tribunal action is due to the National Service representative. I know cases where men have been prejudiced because they did not happen to enjoy the favour of the National Service representative. I put a question in this House about a certain case which went even to the Appeal Tribunal of London. That case would never have been appealed against if the National Service representative in that locality had not been anxious to safeguard one man and to press into the Army another. There were cases in the same town where the claims for exemption were not half so strong and no appeal was taken by the National Service representative.
There was a case where local feeling was very intense. Even the town council passed a resolution as to the injustice which was being done. I believe that was entirely due to the National Service representatives. Indeed, in some of these places it is said that it depends a good deal upon the firm of solicitors that you consult when your case is pleaded before the tribunal as to whether or not you are successful. If you are lucky and wise enough to consult one firm of solicitors they are almost sure to succeed with your application; or if you do succeed with your application the National Service representative will not appeal against the decision—that is if you have the right solicitor. Then I have another case which has just come into my possession to-day in which a saddler, who is in an old-established business in an Ayrshire town, has had his case taken before the Appeal Tribunal and has had his exemption withdrawn. There are others over a very large area. One, a naturalised German, has got exemption. Another, a single man, who is younger than my correspondent, has also got exemption, both from the local tribunal, and there has been no appeal from the local tribunals in these cases. The appeal 1330 was taken in the case of my correspondent and the man has been turned down. It is in that form that things are going. It is the right of the National Service representative to decide whether or not an appeal is taken. That is where the pull comes in. It is that I would invite my right hon. Friend to investigate, and when he investigates it and puts it right, it will not be necessary to make any speeches that can possibly be misinterpreted as to the social pull.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
This Debate has been characteristic in this respect, that it is one of the first Debates upon an important subject where the whole stream of criticism has come, not from those whose habitual occupation in the House is to take every opportunity of criticising the Government, but almost exclusively from those who have been practically engaged in the administration of the Military Service Acts, and certainly some of whom would have been the last to say anything in this House damaging to this Government if they could possibly have helped it. I am glad that the Prime Minister, with that characteristic and keen perception of the tone and temper of the House, and of the country as represented in this House, has come down—
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
The Prime Minister has come down to this House and has announced that there has been a misunderstanding, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Director of National Service will see these very practical and loyal critics of the Government, the chairmen of tribunals, in order to see whether that misunderstanding can be removed. As a Member of the House who has not had the privilege of being the chairman of a tribunal, but on this matter feels very keenly, and whose amount of responsibility, if not quite equal to that of a tribunal, still is sufficient to justify him in claiming the right in the House here and now to point out certain things, I would direct the attention of the Director of National Service to what I believe to 1331 be a vital flaw in the existing system of grading men. The tribunals have been set up for the purpose of weighing the relative claims of the Army and of civil life. The Army has not been allowed to take any man. The tribunals were set up to judge upon these two things. I suppose they must expect that the applicant is not always candid, and perhaps sometimes may deceive them. Surely, though, they have the right to expect that the Director of National Service and his servants should put before them all material facts to enable them to come to a decision! It is an unpleasant task, that possibly carries with it issues far greater than the issues which come before, say, a London stipendiary magistrate. What I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is that the tribunal, in grading a man, should know what are the possible uses the Army will make of the man when they get him. Is it, therefore, right in the national interest that we should take him out of civil life and give him to the Army for these purposes? That is the issue we have to try. They used to have certificates of grading. On Thursday last, it will be remembered, the Director of National Service told us that Grade A meant one thing, B meant another, and C meant something else. He has got rid of that system, and he has explained why. He said:I would like to explain to the House what, at all events, would have been one of the reasons for the great doubt which undoubtedly occurred in that old system. It was this: there was linked with the estimation of every man's physical fitness a strategic conception as to how he ought to be employed. That would have been all right with Royal Army Medical Corps officers, with real knowledge of the various classes of work required on service—I mean, if the Regular Army were doing the grading. That categorisation might have been all right under those circumstances. It certainly was not all right when it became necessary to employ large numbers of medical men who knew nothing of the Army or of the type of work that various Army Departments were called upon to perform.What is the use of a certificate given by-doctors whom the right hon. Gentleman says have not the knowledge, and cannot be trusted to say what service that man can render in the Army because they are not Army doctors. What is the use of a certificate by such doctors given to a tribunal to decide what service a man can render to the Army and to decide whether he ought to be allowed to go into 1332 the Army. This seems to me to be a fatal flaw in the right hon. Gentleman's scheme. He may say that the old system was not scientific, but I would like to remind him that the common sense of the country is revolting against the present method. What they say is that if the right hon. Gentleman was recruiting horses for the Army and offered £80 for Grade 1 horses and somebody brought in a twenty-five-year old nag and said, "This is Grade 1," he would probably refuse it, and the reply he would receive would be, "You find a better horse at that age." That is exactly what he is doing. He says "the Army requires Grade 1 men and never mind their age." The result has been that a certain amount of injustice has been done, but a very little seed of injustice in this matter grows into a big tree of public discontent very quickly, and I for one will not be satisfied, whatever arrangements are made, when these right hon. Gentlemen meet the Minister of National Service, unless they come out with a scheme which gives the tribunal the same information as to what the man is to be used for in the Army as is given to the Army authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a man to post these men to their duties, and all he wants is the man's grade and age, and when he knows that he knows by a chart how he is to be posted to the Army. Why cannot the tribunal have that chart and these instructions, and then when they know the man's grade and age they are back in the position they were before and they can decide the real use to which they can put a man. If the posting officer by grade and age can tell whether a man is fit for general service or not, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House at what age a Grade 1 man ceases to be fit for general service. Is a Grade 1 man at forty-seven fit for general service, and is the posting officer going to put him into general service? Why cannot you tell the tribunals, who is responsible for deciding this question? The reason is that the Army does not trust the tribunals, and let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that this distrust is reciprocated very largely, and there is a feeling growing in this country of discontent, and this will go on unless they are shown in some way that they are not to be wasted in the Army. It is all very well to throw the responsibility on the tribunals. You write a letter to the Minister of National Service saying that a man of such a physical condition and 1333 under certain circumstances has been passed by the tribunal into the Army. The right hon. Gentleman answers, "I am very sorry, but we cannot interfere with the discretion of the tribunals." I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in future will see that they do get this data.
§ 9.0 P.M.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
The Prime Minister made an appeal to us this afternoon not to raise questions relating to various industries which were being hardly dealt with in the combing out process. What has been said in this Debate this afternoon rather encourages me to disregard the Prime Minister's appeal. We all know what happened this day week when this question of the grading of men was first brought before the House. Then the Minister of National Service was not only vehement, but a little truculent towards hon. Members who had been raising these questions, and he turned upon the hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield) in a most savage manner, and if my hon. and learned Friend had not been a practised advocate and used to the abuse of his opponents I do not expect he would have been able to stand up in his place this afternoon to make the speech he has done after the references which the right hon. Gentleman made about him. The right hon. Gentleman described him as a person who was guilty of discussing on the floor of the House and before the whole country matters which ought to be private with the right hon. Gentleman and his officials. I felt as if a curtain had fallen and there was no more chance of a remedy being forthcoming for the grievances which my hon. and learned Friend had made public. But, lo and behold! what has happened to-day? During the week which has elapsed a great deal must have happened behind the scenes, for this afternoon the Prime Minister made one of his infrequent appearances in this House, and, as one hon. Member said, the Prime Minister never comes down to the House unless there is a time of storm and stress for the Government. The defence which has been put up is quite an adequate one, and the Prime Minister came down in his most suave and charming manner to throw his right hon. Colleague over, not for the first time.
I am encouraged, in spite of the appeal of the Prime Minister not to make any reference to these various classes of industry that have been hardly dealt with 1334 by the comb-out by the fact that I know we have a Prime Minister who, when he is driven into a corner, will give away anything to his opponents and will throw over any colleague, and I am encouraged by that fact and the experience of this afternoon to urge upon the Minister of National Service the necessity of reconsidering the ease of the poor oppressed farmer and especially as I am a Welshman, the case of the farmer in Wales. I do not profess to know anything about the conditions of farming in England, but I do know a great deal about the conditions of farming in Wales. The conditions of the agricultural population in Wales is peculiar and different from that of Scotland or of England. I remember, eleven years ago, when the Small Holdings Bill was before this House, going into the figures of the agricultural population in Wales. I may summarise, in one or two sentences, the conclusions to which I arrived, after very elaborate calculations and a comparison with the various censuses of 1841 to 1901. In 1841 there were 66,000 agricultural labourers in Wales; in 1901 that number had been reduced to exactly half, 33,000. I took, for the purpose of comparison, a certain rural district with which I was acquainted, and I found that the whole of the population in that district was 14,000 in 1841 and only 7,000 in 1901. In my own native parish in 1841 the population was between 1,600 and 1,700, and in 1901 it had been reduced to something like 700, or less than half. To show that the reduction in the agricultural population was permanent and not merely a phase in the development of the country, I may say that I found that the number of inhabited houses in that district, Montgomery, had been reduced by 40 per cent., and in my own native parish I remember counting sixty cottages that had gone down to ruin during the time that I had been a Member.
If you look at the industrial map of Wales you will see that large aggregations of population are to be found in the extreme north and south and that between the extreme north and south there is a large tract of purely agricultural country. The agricultural labourers were attracted from these rural parishes into the industrial districts where the social amenities are greater, where, even if they live in small houses in mean streets, the houses, at all events, afford them shelter from the storms, and where, 1335 instead of earning the small pittance of 13s., 14s., or 15s. per week they earn as colliers, tinplaters, or steelworkers £2, £3, £4, and £5 per week. The result was that long before the War, twenty years ago, the agricultural labourer had disappeared practically entirely from this vast tract of agricultural land between what may be called the extreme north and the extreme south of Wales. As the labour disappeared, naturally the character of the farming changed. In the old days of the Corn Laws, I suppose, a great deal of grain was grown in Wales, but after the Corn Laws had been abolished and after the development of these industrial districts at the very door of the agricultural labourer and the farmer, when the labourer disappeared, naturally the farmer had to change his style of farming, and, instead of arable land, Wales almost generally became a pastoral country. As everybody knows, during the last twenty years the Welsh farmers of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and Glamorganshire in the south, and of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire in the north, have subsisted mainly by selling their milk and their dairy produce and cattle to the industrial districts. That was the condition of things when the War broke out. Agricultural labour was not only scarce, but it was almost non-existent. Then came the call for volunteers, and I venture to say with regard to the part of Wales that I know, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and Cardiganshire—I do not know about the Prime Minister's part of the country—there was no body of men that responded as readily to the call for volunteers as the agricultural labourers and farmers. Therefore, before you introduced Conscription, this land that was suffering from the dearth of agricultural labourers had been further denuded by the patriotism of the people who live there.
Then came Conscription, and, of course, it meant taking away still more of the young men from these sparsely populated districts. Immediately you introduce Conscription into those districts you reduce the agricultural population below the minimum which is required for the production of food. We are told that the production of food is an essential part of the War industry of this country. Farmers were enjoined two years ago to lay more land under cultivation and to grow more bread, because of the menace of the German submarines. We were told 1336 that if the small farmers did their duty in producing more food they would undo the work of the German submarines, and before there was any compulsion put upon the farmers, when there was simply an appeal to their patriotism, those men who were understaffed and had been suffering from the lack of agricultural labourers for years, and who knew that if they ploughed up more land it meant personal exertion on their own part, on the part of men sometimes of fifty and sixty, who would have to go into the fields to work just at the time when they were looting forward to ease and leisure, ploughed up more land, sowed more corn, and did everything they could in their little way to help on this country in her dire need. As I know from my own knowledge, because I know hundreds of the men personally.
Before any compulsion was put upon them, they increased the number of acres under cultivation. Then last year the Government came to them and said: "You must increase the number of acres you cultivate for corn and other crops." Willy-nilly they had to do it. Agricultural committees were set up, and one farmer after another was told—generally, they are small farms; I think the acreage of a Welsh farm is only about 50 acres—"Last year you sowed 20 acres of corn; you must sow 25 or 50 this year." They did it without grumbling. Some of them, it is true, felt that they were asked to do more than they could afford, but once the committee's decision was made, it was loyally abided by, and, so far as I know, there has not been a single prosecution in the whole of Wales from first to last for disobedience to the orders of the agricultural committee.
What do we find? I have a bundle of letters in my pocket. I am inundated with letters every day. I am sure that my hon. Friends who represent other Welsh constituencies are in a like ease. Everyone of us is inundated with letters complaining of a breach of faith on the part of the Government. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman one case. I will hand him, if he likes, the full details at the conclusion of this Debate. This was sent to me by one of the leading farmers in Carmarthenshire. It is not his own case, but that of a neighbour. It is the case of a farm situated a few miles from Carmarthen, of 120 or 130 acres. Before the War, there were four men working on this farm, besides the housewife and the maid servant. To-day the two sons have 1337 gone away, the husband is dead, and the farm is being run by the widow, who is sixty-one years of age, her daughter, who is thirty years of age, a servant girl of fifteen and a Middlesex industrial school boy, who does not know how to handle horses. There are 30 acres under corn, yet there is not a single man on that farm able to gather in the harvest, while agricultural labour is so scarce in the neighbourhood as to be unprocurable. They have spent £70 on seeds this year. All that is going to waste. You do not offer them a substitute. You took away the only young man of twenty-five years of age left on that farm. He is now in the Army. This poor widow is practically ruined by the action of—I suppose my right hon. Friend will say of the tribunal, but I prefer to say of the system which has been set up during the last two or three months. I will not confine myself to a single instance like that. I can give the right hon. Gentleman a great number of similar cases. I will confine myself to two: The case of the county of Cardigan and the case of the county of Denbigh. Take the case of the county of Denbigh. The right hon. Gentleman, or somebody on his behalf—I do not know who it was; I do not pretend to understand the minutiae of the elaborate system he has set up—but somebody or other sent down to the agricultural committee which was set up in the county of Denbigh, to say that the quota which was expected from that county was 450 men. I may say that I got the particulars of this case from a paper called "Y Genedl Gymraig"—the "Welsh Nation"—a paper with which the Prime Minister used to be associated, of which he was once a director, which is still published in his constituency, although whether he has any connection with it now I do not know. If my right hon. Friend would like to see it—it is in Welsh, it is true—I should be very glad to hand it over to him.
No, I am afraid the denunciation both of the Government and of the Prime Minister is so eloquent and is couched in such unparliamentary terms that the Chairman would rule me out of order if I attempted to read it. It is from a report of a meeting held last week at Llanrwst, of the Agricultural Society for North Wales, that I derive the facts—if they be facts—which I com- 1338 mend to the attention of the right hon Gentleman. It is said there that 450 men were required as the quota from the agricultural districts of Denbighshire. It was stated also that before that communication was received the agricultural committee had gone into the case in Denbighshire and found, not that 450 men could be spared, but that they wanted 200 men back from the Army in order to garrison the farms with the proper amount of labour. As one speaker said:If 450 were to be sent according to the dictates of the Ministry of National Service, we shall be 650 short of oar proportion of agricultural labour.So much for Denbigh. By the way. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend how he fixes the quota at 450? Has he gone into the figures of the number of people who have already gone to the War from the county? Does he know how many at first volunteered and went into the Army?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will permit me to tell him that the Ministry of National Service does not fix the quota.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Nor has it anything to do with the fixing of the quota. I thought I would point that out as we are on the Vote for the Ministry of National Service.
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I thought he was far too intelligent a man to have adopted such an unintelligent system as that. But who is it that fixes the quota?
That really goes to the root of the whole matter. I could quite understand it if a Government Department, whatever the Department may be, goes into the circumstances of a county and finds out, first of all, the number of men who have already gone into the Army from that county, the number of men required for agricultural purposes in that county, and, then, having all these considerations before them, make a demand upon that county to find 400 or 450 men for the Army. I could quite understand that that 1339 would be a proper proceeding to adopt, and nobody would cavil at it. But that is not the way this thing is done. Here is a demand for 450 men on the county, and men who know the county best from an agricultural point of view say that so far from being able to find 450 additional men they ought to get 200 men back from the Army. Take the case of Cardiganshire. This is a most mysterious business. I have no doubt my right hon. Friend knows nothing about it. But what has happened in Cardiganshire? I found a deputation waiting for me outside this Chamber this afternoon, and even with their help it was difficult to follow what really has happened. But if it is anything like what they tell me, it is something in the nature of a real scandal. The quota demanded from Cardiganshire was 400. According to the Proclamation which was issued, every man between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three who was requisitioned could demand to have his case investigated and decided by the County Appeal Tribunal if he could get the consent of the agricultural committee. In order to obtain the consent of the agricultural committee certain prescribed forms were distributed, and all the men between eighteen and twenty-three filled in the form and sent it to the agricultural committee. That body went through them all, and consented to the appeals going forward to the County Appeal Tribunal in every one of the cases, with the exception of either thirteen or nineteen, I am not sure which. At any rate, it was an infinitesimal number who were excluded from the consent. When the cases came before the County Appeal Tribunal that body replied that another body had been set up, called the Agricultural Appeal Tribunal, to deal with these matters, and they therefore prepared to hand the cases over to that tribunal. When the cases came before the Agricultural Appeal Tribunal, the personnel of which is exactly the same as that of the agricultural committee, the members decided that they would not go into the matter any further, as they had already investigated it, and found that only about nineteen men should not have exemption. They refused to go into the matter any more, although my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiganshire, who was present, begged of them not to proceed in that way. They disregarded his advice, and said they would not go further into the matter, because they were 1340 sure the men could not be spared from agriculture. Now every one of these young fellows, without a single exception, has been called up to the Army, and they are to report on Saturday.
I suggest that that is a crying scandal. Here you have a county agricultural committee declaring that only nineteen men can be spared. It may be that they were technically at fault in not going into the cases a second time. Yet for that technical fault these 400 young fellows are to report to the military authorities next Saturday. I noticed in the "Times" this morning a paragraph to the effect that my right hon. Friend is going to exempt, until after the harvest, all young men who have not already been called up. Ought he to confine this concession to the men who have not been called up? Should he not include the cases which have occurred since the present Military Service Act came into force? Why should Cardiganshire be penalised because the Agricultural Appeal Tribunal has made a mistake? Why should 400 men be sent from a purely agricultural county, a very sparsely populated county, a county from which the agricultural population was denuded long before the War by industrial and economic pressure; why should 400 men be taken from that county simply because a technical mistake was made by the Agricultural Appeal Tribunal?
I am sorry I have taken up so much of the time of the Committee, but I thought my right hon. Friends would like to know the facts, or some of them, at any rate. I have a great many more which I could put before him, but I will take pity on the patience of the Committee. May I finish my appeal by making a practical suggestion to my right hon. Friend? I know perfectly well how hard-worked he is, how overwhelmed he must be by the multiplicity of detail. I do not hold him responsible in the slightest degree, except so far as he is head of the Department, for what has occurred. I do not at any rate hold him personally responsible for this insensate arrangement. But there has been appointed a Regional Director for Wales. Let the right hon. Gentleman delegate this regional director to go into this matter. The regional director has been for many years a Member of this House. He is universally respected, and his decision would be accepted by every grade of Welshman with absolute confidence. He speaks their own language, he is, too, a 1341 soldier. I differed from him as to the methods of carrying on this War. He is an ardent Conscriptionist. I am not, but there is no man in this House or in the other House who has done more to assist voluntary recruiting. Therefore, he is a man who can be trusted by the Government; indeed, they have shown that by appointing him regional director. He is equally trusted by his own countrymen, and if I may, with great humility, give any advice to my right hon. Friend, it is that he should shift this burden from his own shoulders to those of the regional director. Let the right hon. Gentleman relegate the investigation and the decision of the matter to his regional inspector, and I, for one, shall be perfectly satisfied with the result.
I would ask the indulgence of the Committee, which is always extended to those who intervene in Debates for the first time. For the last two years or more I have spent a very large amount of time in working on an advisory committee, and I am associated with a trade which, I think, along with some others, is subject to rather a particular menace under the terms of Order No. 53 of the Ministry of National Service under the Military Service Act, 1918. Under this Order from a large number of trades exemptions have been withdrawn. Those exemptions took effect on the 22nd of the present month. In the list of trades there are three which are specially indicated as subject to further dealing—the building trade, the printing trade, and the boot and shoe trade, and the note with regard to these that is appended to the Order is as follows:It is intended that another Withdrawal Order should be made shortly which, as regards these industries, will have the effect of decertifying men of higher ages and lower grades and categories than those specified in this Order. It is not, however, intended that this further decertification should affect those who, when the proposed Order is made, are principally and usually engaged in these industries on contracts for Government Departments.My point is that that threat is really another step in the direction of the militarisation of labour, and also of capital. There is a proposal to differentiate between those in these trades who are engaged on Government work and those who are not. I am afraid I must illustrate this from the trade with which I am connected. I believe it is an axiom in this House that it is better to talk about things that you know than about things 1342 that you do not know. The shoe trade is very closely controlled. It is not technically a controlled industry, but almost the whole of its raw material is controlled, and a very large part of its output. Of the output every manufacturer is under requisition to produce a large proportion of what are called war-time boots for civilian purposes, but there are in addition to these manufacturers others who are under requisition from the War Office for the production of boots for the Army. Recently more than 120 of those firms which are producing Army boots have had their requisition withdrawn and been thrown back upon work for civilians. The proposal is that only those workers should be protected in the forthcoming threatened comb-out who are producing Army boots, and that all others shall be subject to the comb; in other words, there is to be differentiation between one and the other. The record of the trade is that they have maintained their output against extraordinary difficulties and there has been a tremendous amount of dilution, both in unskilled labour and in women. The National Union of Shoe Operatives claim that 50 per cent. of their male members have been called up. The output of the whole trade has been to a very great extent requisitioned by the Government for public purposes.
The contention of the workers is that it is not fair to set up a discrimination between those firms which are fortunate enough to be making for the Army, if it is fortunate, and those which are not. The young and strong men have gone from the industry almost without exception. It is only those of low categories and men of higher age who are left. My point with regard to the militarisation of labour is that that discrimination takes away the right of the Ministry of National Service, and of the tribunals, to judge as to the destination of labour and puts it at the mercy of a War Office Department. The Director of Army Contracts, by shutting off his requisition from any firm, can throw its employés into the Army—a step in the direction of the militarisation of labour. Again, if any manufacturer should have the misfortune to come across one of the War Office Departments they have a scourge with which they can, if they wish, scourge him, because there is nothing to prevent their withdrawing the requisition from him and he loses his men at once. It puts both capital and labour practically at the mercy of the military. Again, on 1343 economic grounds I suggest that this proposal is not wise. The Minister of National Service said last week:Where is your money going to come from if you take all the young men engaged in production?From this trade all the young men have already gone. It is only the fitter men of older years that it is now proposed to take. The commercial community are as anxious as anyone in this country to win the War. It is as essential to the commercial community, in some respects more essential, that this War should be won than to any other, and by the commercial community I mean the whole of that part of the community which is directly interested in commerce. I mean not only the employer, but the employed—not only the manufacturer but the worker. We all read with satisfaction the words of the chairman of the Labour Conference yesterday that all our plans for reconstruction, all hope of rebuilding a better social and industrial life after the War depend on one cardinal fact—that is the winning of the War. We should all put our approval on that. I have done my best in and out of season, from the beginning of the War, first in recruiting and then in advisory work, to get men for the Army; but there are limits, economic and social, and limits which are dictated by what I might call Labour policy. I should like to beg the right hon. Gentleman that he will consider, before this suggestion is carried out, before this menace falls on these three trades, whether that proposal might not be withdrawn. If he cannot withdraw it altogether could he not see his way to a conference of the trades concerned, along with himself and the Ministry of Labour, in order that some more satisfactory arrangement might be made and that the menace to labour and industry might be removed?
§ Mr. MOUNT
I want to raise a point rather different from that raised by the hon. Member who has just done, and that is the question of the quota which has been asked from the agricultural districts and also the method by which that quota was arrived at. I am not at all sure that the young Scottish intellect of the Minister of National Service did not carry the day against the President of the Board of Agriculture in a way of which agriculturists do not quite approve. I should like to point out that the number 1344 of 30,000, so far as one can gather from what has been said in answers to questions in this House, was arrived at by consideration of the agricultural conditions prevailing in each county. I should like to know whether, in taking into consideration the agricultural conditions prevailing in each county, which is a fairly wide term, the number of Grade 1 men left in agriculture was taken into account. It seems to me that that is an extremely important point which should have been taken into account, but so far as I can gather from my experience in the county where I have had the privilege of serving on the war executive agricultural committee, was not taken into consideration in arriving at the quota which we were asked to furnish. I am not sure that criticism of the past is always useful in this House, and I would not have ventured to intervene if I did not feel that I might be able to offer some suggestion of help in the future calling up of agriculturists which might be of some use, apart from the destructive criticism as to how the quota was arrived at.
I would like to make two suggestions to the Minister of National Service. An announcement appeared in the Press today that the issue of calling-up notices was to be postponed until after harvest. That is, to some extent perhaps, a little concession, but, when you come to look at it, it is an illusory concession. You have, in the majority of counties, war agricultural executive committees who have endeavoured loyally to do their duty in the performance of a most unpleasant and difficult task, namely, to go through the lists of men whose exemptions have been cancelled, and to consider once again whether they can be released for military service, and when you consider that the war agricultural executive committees have, in almost every case, loyally endeavoured to carry out their duties, that they were required to find these men by the 30th June, and that in almost every case the calling-up notices have already been issued, the concession which has been granted is absolutely illusory. Speaking for my own county, where I was to-day, I am told that practically all the calling-up notices have already gone out. We have been sitting, at great inconvenience to ourselves, almost continuously day by day in order to get this work done in time and we are to be penalised because we have done it. I would urge the Minister of 1345 National Service to see whether some concession could not be made to those counties which have done their best to do what they were asked to do and to get these men by the 30th June.
There is another point which I desire to raise. Each county, as the Committee knows, was given a certain quota of men to find. As I have said, I believe that the majority of the counties have done their best loyally to find that quota. Speaking for my own county, I can say that we have gone to the very utmost limit in calling on men whose being taken for military service is bound to prejudice the production of food and the carrying on of agriculture on the farms from which they have been taken. We have been able to find the exact quota asked for, but we have been only able to find that quota for calling up. Many of the men on examination will be found not to be Grade 1 men, and will have to be graded down. The result will be that so far as the number of men posted is concerned we shall not get the actual quota which has been asked for. Under these circumstances I ask the Minister of National Service whether he will not be satisfied with what has been done by the counties who have loyally endeavoured to carry out his request, and if we have been able to get posted to the Colours within 10 or 15 per cent. of the quota, will he not be satisfied to allow that number to stand? It is a very small thing that we ask. I am quite certain that if the actual quota is demanded, great damage will be done to the production of food in this country by the calling up of these men. I do not blame the authorities, because you have to choose between men and food, and I suppose you have chosen to put your money upon the men and let the food go. I ask you to go no further, and to avoid making it impossible to carry on many a farm which is struggling under great difficulties at the present time.
§ Sir WATSON CHEYNE
I desire to say a few words in regard to the medical profession. I know that the answer to any appeal one makes will be that you must not single out one profession or business for special treatment. But there are two points which, I think, establish the claim on behalf of the medical profession. In the first place, a doctor seldom begins to earn a living until he is getting on in years. Until he reaches the age of twenty-six or twenty-eight it is very seldom that a medical man 1346 has begun to attempt to earn a living. The result is that when he comes to the age of over forty, or getting on to fifty, he is only beginning for the first time to attempt to make some little provision for his family and dependants. Therefore he is really in a worse position than most persons engaged in professions or trades—with the exception, perhaps, of lawyers. There is the great expense of his education before he commences to earn money. A second point is that the doctors require special consideration because, as regards them alone, you have raised the age from fifty to fifty-five. That is a matter which requires further consideration. Since the passing of the Act I have had a great many letters on this subject. I get them every day, giving all sorts of opinions, some of them abusing me, and many of them giving advice. The reason I was abused was because I was foolish enough to attempt to make a joke in this House. I said that it was very interesting to notice that the Government in raising the age of the medical men to fifty-five, seemed to think that they were the only people with brains and physique sufficient to be of use to the nation after the age of fifty, and that, perhaps, they thought they were doing the doctors an honour in selecting them for this exceptional treatment. I should have known that one should never make a joke in an assembly which was not an assembly of Scotsmen, and I must try never to make a joke again in this House, as I have suffered very severely for this.
I have received a number of letters asking that I should represent various points to be right hon. Gentleman. The point everyone makes is: "Is it really necessary that I should be Conscripted? The Army has Conscripted the greater part of the medical profession, and the great majority of the younger men. Is it really necessary that I should leave my practice, where I am doing a very large amount of work and go abroad or elsewhere to meet the needs of the Army? Because reports come from the Army that many men are abroad who are idle or very nearly idle, men who have volunteered and have left very busy practices in which they were of great use to the nation, and they are now eating their hearts out because they have thrown away these practices and are doing no good to the nation." I would ask the Minister of National Service, has he made himself certain that there is not this waste of 1347 medical man-power which there is said to be? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some simple definite reply and not the mere reply of a statesman. He can ascertain what the facts are, because only about a year ago there was a great agitation on this subject, and in Parliament, and a Commission was appointed to go to France and investigate this very matter. That Coin-mission reported in December. It was appointed at the instigation of the House of Commons but its Report has never been presented to the House of Commons. The delay in the publication of that Report is giving rise to a great deal of trouble among the doctors. They say that either the Report contains something which it is bad for the public to know, or something which reflects on the Army. I do not think that it is either of those. I cannot tell what is in the Report, but I would suggest that possibly the reason why the Report has not been published is that those who made it think that it is so very feeble that they are ashamed that it should be published. Whatever the explanation, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has satisfied himself by a consideration of that Report that it is necessary to call on those gentlemen to leave their practices. Has he seen that Report and considered it? If not, will he do so, and will he get it published so that the doctors and people interested in it may know what it contains. Another statement made to me is that doctors, certainly over fifty years of age, object very strongly to anything like industrial Conscription. They point out that other businesses, trades and professions have successfully resisted anything of the kind, and they are filled with anxiety lest they should be asked to leave their practices, which would mean absolute ruin to them, and go away and take up other practices, such as, for instance, a practice in a mining district. At that age they are not, in many cases, physically strong enough to carry on a practice of that kind. On the other hand, they profess their readiness to take a commission in the Army and do work in base hospitals, and in other ways, so as to allow the younger men to be sent abroad. One suggestion, which has been already made elsewhere, and is made by some correspondents, is that they are strongly impressed with the severe strain imposed upon medical men at home in the winter months during the 1348 War, and in view of the further call made on medical officers, they suggest that temporary employment in the Royal Army Medical Corps should be offered for temporary periods to enable them to take heavy work abroad during the summer months and return to work in the winter, when there is less demand at the front and they are more urgently required at home. That is a most excellent suggestion. It has already been made, and the Army authorities in France seem to think that it ought to be acceded to to a certain extent.
There is one other suggestion which I make with a certain amount of diffidence, seeing the Prime Minister whom we have. Still, there is a certain number of men who object very strongly to panel work. One of the statements is that they absolutely decline to be conscripted to take the place of panel doctors. There is a certain number of them who feel extremely strongly on this point, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind. My own solution is that at that age a man should not be asked to leave his practice, that as far as possible he should be given part-time work in the immediate neighbourhood, so that he could give a few hours a day to national work, and may be allowed to carry on his own practice, which, after all, is a national work, that of attending to the needs of the civilian population, and considering that so many doctors are away just now everyone who remains in practice is doing more work than formerly. I might mention the statistics regarding a particular neighbourhood, in which, before the War, there were 156 medical men. Of these eighty-four are now in camp, and of these eighty-four no less than eighty-two volunteered before Conscription came into operation. That is a high average. The remaining seventy odd members of the medical profession in that neighbourhood—I need not give its name—have been looking after the practices of their professional brethren under a voluntary self-denying ordinance, by which they are to hand the practice back to the medical man on his return, or his successor, and also to hand over to him or his representatives half the fees received from the patients. No members of the community have made greater sacrifices for the nation than have the doctors, and I think it is asking a great deal of a medical practitioner, at the age of fifty-five, to give up his practice at the very 1349 time when he hopes to make some little preparation for his old age, and to take the risk of losing everything, and having the chance of being compelled to begin life again. An ordinary shopkeeper who is called up may have his business carried on by his wife, but in the case of a doctor, unless he marries a lady doctor, he has not that advantage, for his is a purely personal association and he must himself make and attend to his practice. This is a very serious problem. I cannot help thinking that the authorities have been a little rash in raising the age in this way, and I hope that means will be taken to mitigate the hardships involved, so far as possible.
§ Sir C. HENRY
I think members of the Committee will agree with the remarks of the hon. Baronet who has just sat down in regard to what the doctor has done in this War. Those remarks, I think, are thoroughly justified, for the medical profession have played a noble part from the beginning of the War. I hope that the suggestions and recommendations which the hon. Baronet has made will receive the consideration and careful attention of the Ministry of National Service. I think Members in all quarters of the House will be relieved at the statement made by the Prime Minister. I do not disguise the fact that I was very much afraid of the attitude which was adopted in regard to the grading of the men, but I believe, now that the Minister of National Service has agreed to consult with the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, and the chairmen of tribunals, that a satisfactory solution will be arrived at. The Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means: also suggested that the Conference should include the hon. Baronet who has just spoken, and the hon. Member for Derby. I understand that is agreeable to my right hop. Friend the Minister of National Service, and that he will be glad to have the cooperation of these gentlemen. My right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service said that the men over forty-three would be in the second fighting line.
§ Sir C. HENRY
I beg pardon, the second Infantry line. As I understand a certain number of men in Grade 1 will be passed into the Army for service in India, but I am very doubtful whether that principle ought to be adopted, and I think it would be far 1350 better that these men should be retained for other services. Another point has reference to the masters of private schools, and I should like to know what is being done in their case. There is considerable uneasiness about these schools, and it is hoped that they will not be denuded of teachers to a greater extent than they are at present. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Service will do what he can in that direction. I believe it is the fact that unless these schools are provided with adequate staffs it will be impossible to carry on many of them.
The main object of my rising was to draw the attention of the Committee to the career of the Ministry of National Service. The object for which it was formed has never been fulfilled. The Prime Minister when he announced his intention to establish a Ministry of National Service, stated that there was no intention of making any change in recruiting for military service, but that the Department was to deal mainly with essential industries, and to enrol volunteers for industrial work in the national service. Mr. Neville Chamberlain directed his best efforts to carry out what the Prime Minister stated, but it was an impossible task, and in the results it could not be continued. The expenditure on that phase of national service was £223,000, and 19,950 men volunteered for industrial purposes. I feel very strongly that there has been up to the present time overlapping between the Ministry of National Service and other Departments. I had the privilege of sitting on a Committee with the Paymaster-General and Lord Middleton, and it was recommended that the Ministry of National Service should be merged in the Ministry of Labour. I believe if that recommendation had been adopted we would have had far more satisfactory results than we have had under the Ministry of National Service. That Department has now undertaken recruiting, which I submit should have been left in the hands of the War Office. The medical examination of recruits should be left to the War Office, and should not have been put under the Ministry of National Service. In my view that is not a satisfactory arrangement, and I think the military authority is the best able to gauge the condition of men fit for military service. I believe it was a mistake to transfer recruiting from the War Office to the Ministry of National 1351 Service, tout I am quite certain that any Department other than the Labour Department dealing with questions of labour must be prejudicial and lead to unhappy results. In fact, I go so far to say that it involves unnecessary expenditure, as well as the employment of an additional staff. The National Service Department, after Mr. Neville Chamberlain had resigned, went into liquidation. It left its premises and went to other premises. It was reconstructed with a new Director and a new staff. What has been the result of that reconstruction? I have here a return which was issued on the 17th June in answer to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel), giving the staff of the Ministry for National Service in February last. That staff consisted of 14,510, at an annual expenditure of close on £1,600,000. That is not all, because it is stated thatThe statement of cost is incomplete, as a considerable proportion of the clerical staff of the recruiting offices were still paid for from Army funds at the date of the Return, and their cost is not shown fully in the Return.My right hon. Friend, at the opening of his speech to-day, dealt with the subject of the staff. I think the Committee is entitled to know whether since February that staff has been expanded; if so, to what extent, and whether any of the staff is now being paid by Army funds? This question of cost is one of considerable importance, and again, I say, it could be considerably reduced if there were greater co-ordination and the work done by the National Service Department were undertaken by the Ministry of Labour and the War Office. I will not detain the Committee longer, because I know there are other Members who wish to speak, but I thought I was justified in bringing these conditions to the attention of the Committee. I would like to say, in conclusion, that the general result of the Military Service Act of this year has been disappointing. In fact, I might say on the whole the Act has failed to fulfil its purpose, and I think that at this juncture the right hon. Gentleman might consider whether, now that Ireland is allowed to conscript voluntarily, there could not be some voluntary system adopted for men beyond the age of forty-three. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to adopt that suggestion, but I do say that under the conditions now existing it should not be forgotten that 1352 it was one of the reasons urged that if we allowed the men over forty-three to be enlisted Ireland would be compelled to have Conscription.
§ Sir C. HENRY
It was one of the reasons, and, in these circumstances, the greatest degree of leniency with regard to medical examinations and other conditions should be applied to these older men.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I have no intention of following the hon. Member (Sir C. Henry) into the history of the National Service Department, though, if there were time, it would be exceedingly interesting to do so. I do, however, wish to remind the Committee that when the last Military Service Act was passed it was pointed out that that Act conferred the widest possible powers upon the Minister for National Service and practically made him a kind of dictator with regard to recruiting. Some of us, at any rate, very vigorously protested that we were giving away far too much of the power of Parliament to control these proceedings, and that protest was made again and again on the floor of this House. I would only say this now to the Minister of National Service, that it is just in proportion as he himself has got away from the control of the House of Commons that he gets himself into difficulties, and that more and more, in so far as he removes himself from the House of Commons, and attempts to carry out policies apart from the House of Commons, he will continue to get into difficulties. I am very sorry that the Minister of National Service never seems at home in this House, never seems as if he cared to be here, but I am bound to say this to him, that dictators in these days will not do. We have got popular government in this country, and it is only by acting in the spirit of popular government that we shall get rid of the difficulties that confront us and get on with the work in hand.
I wish to ask the representative of the Ministry of National Service if there is now any policy at all with regard to the only sons or the last sons of widows. Promises have been made from time to time in this House, and I have myself been asking questions recently. I see constantly decisions of tribunals that are conflicting in regard to this matter. One 1353 of the last decisions of all is this, apparently, that the son of the widow who has been so often referred to in this House must be the last surviving son, and that all the other sons must have been killed off before anything can be done in respect to that son. It was always the view hitherto that if the other sons were in the Army special consideration ought to be shown to the last one remaining in civilian life. I would like to ask whether there is even now any policy in regard to that matter, and, if so, what is the policy? If I had time, I would have gone into the question of the different decisions given by the tribunals. The Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means to-day pointed out that his own tribunal was taking a certain line, that it was assumed that Grade 1 men under the new conditions were really Grade 2 men, and that other tribunals were following his lead; but other tribunals still are not following his lead, and all over the country to-day one tribunal is taking one line of policy and another is taking an entirely different line of policy. That is absolutely unfair to the applicant, because it depends upon the tribunal before which he goes as to the result of his case, and I say it is essential that the Ministry of National Service should give us a uniform policy, and that that policy should be fair to all and equally fair to all.
The only point which I wish specially to press home is the question of the policy of the Department in regard to what has often been called industrial compulsion. That was a matter that was raised again and again during the Debates. The hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool (Colonel Ashley) took part in several of those Debates, and I think his argument was that though he did not object necessarily to industrial compulsion, yet he did at least think that the matter ought to be honestly brought on the floor of this House and settled by this House, and not brought in by a side door. I am going to argue that this question of industrial compulsion is more and more being brought in by a side door, and Labour at this moment is exceedingly suspicious of what is going on. It is assumed, first of all, that men are being graded Grade 1 who ought not to be in Grade 1. That has been the argument brought forward again and again in these discussions, that these men, although they are put in Grade 1, are not intended for the front trenches at all, and the Prime Minister told us to-day that 1354 there was no intention of putting these Grade 1 men into the front firing line. When did we know that before? When were these men told that before, in regard to where they were going to go?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
But these Grade 1 men believe that, although they are old and unfit in many cases, they are going to be sent into the firing line, and that, side by side with that, an announcement is made to them that if they will at once place themselves in the Government's hands in regard to industrial employment before their calling-up notice comes they will be exempted from the Army if they are ready to go where the Government send them, and to do exactly what the Government want them to do. I say that it is playing a trick with these men to make an arrangement of that kind; that you are really persuading them that you are going to send them somewhere where you do not mean apparently to send them, and, on the strength of that, you are getting these men to place themselves absolutely in the hands of the Ministry of National Service to be sent anywhere to do anything. I could read again and again declarations made by the Minister himself when we brought this matter forward when the last Bill was going through. I think I must read two quotations from the Minister of National Service himself. Speaking in this House on 13th April in these Debates, he said[...]Others who are not there (he was referring to men in munition work) but in other walks of civil life, will be taken for the Army or the Air Force; but there is no power under this Act to take a man out of one position in civil life and put him into another similar position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1918, col. 2054, Vol. 104.]Again and again he laid down exactly the same thing. Speaking later on, he said:There is no trick or catch in this measure, and there is no trying to get a large number of men for civil work. It is a direct, honest, open measure to get the men by raising the age who will be useful for military purposes, and who are required. I want to assure the hon. Member for Attercliffe, and those for whom he speaks, that there is no hidden trick, no catch.I contend there is a catch in regard to what he is doing as to these older men. It would not be so bad if we knew that the men were going to be used like pawns in a game for some higher purpose, but 1355 this will happen, as the Committee will discover sooner or later; any number of these men, believing they are going to be sent into the firing line, though old, and in some cases obviously unfit, will enrol themselves, will be taken away from work they can do, and where they are producing money and adding to the taxes and economic power of the country, and will be sent to some jobs where they art; absolutely useless.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Yes, that is what is actually taking place. It justifies up to the hilt what we urged during the Committee stage of the last Military Service Act. I do, therefore, urge strongly that the matter should be gone into, and do ask under what conditions these men are going into industry? I will read a quotation from a newspaper that is very friendly to the Government and the Prime Minister, the "Daily Chronicle." This is what was said in a short leading article in that paper on 22nd June:While we are glad to see that opportunities are to be given to men over forty-five to enrol themselves for other forms of national service than that of the Army, we must say the eon-cession gives colour to the charge that the last Military Service Act was an expedient for introducing industrial conscription.That is the charge made by a newspaper like the "Daily Chronicle." Some will not take that view, but, at any rate, that is a view, and it is a matter about which we ought to have a far clearer explanation than we have yet had as to what the intention and what the policy of the Ministry is in this matter, because there are undoubtedly deep-rooted suspicions that there is a policy of industrial conscription being brought in, not openly on the floor of this House, to be debated in this House, but by a side-wind involved in the policy of the Ministry itself.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of NATIONAL SERVICE (Mr. Beck)
The hon. Member for Attercliffe has made one of his usual speeches—
§ Mr. BECK
—brilliant in argument but not very useful in the crisis in which we find ourselves. It is really difficult to meet the sort of argument he uses. 1356 Every effort is made by this House to save the older men in civil life from the Army, but when the Ministry of National Service brings in a perfectly bonâ fide scheme by which these older men, and the men in the lower medical categories, can be fitted into civil jobs "urgently needed to be filled," the only encouragement we get from the hon. Member is a statement that this is industrial conscription.
§ Mr. BECK
I maintain that it is a pleasant method of conditional exemption from military service. This House of Commons has passed an Act which places on the shoulders of men up to the age of fifty-one the duty of military service. There is urgent work of great national importance to be done. There is a shortage of men to do this work. I shall say a few words presently about that, but we have had the agricultural position explained to-us the labour deficiency, the difficulties under which the farmers are labouring at the present moment, and their anxieties about the harvest. We bring forward a policy which enables men to enrol themselves as war agricultural volunteers, and the only thanks we get from the hon. Member for Attercliffe is to be told that these men are being industrially conscripted, and that there is some great attack being made upon their individual liberties.
§ Mr. BECK
We have had along Debate, in which a great number of points have been raised. Working a little backwards brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellington. I think his main point was that we have too large a staff, and that we had to do work which others could very well do. He, of course, I quite agree, was logically justified, because he went contrary to the opinions of almost the entire House in saying that he believed that it was a great 1357 mistake to transfer recruiting from the Army to a civilian Department. If that be granted there may be a good deal to be said for what my hon. Friend contends, but, as he knows, there was the most intense criticism of the fact that almost alone amongst the nations of Europe, in Britain the War Office was allowed to recruit men for the Army without any particular regard to civilian needs. Granted, however, that a civilian Department should recruit for the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, is it really contended that that can be done without a substantial and widely diversified staff? Why to-day in this very Debate the subjects raised have gone to Wales, Scotland, London, to county after county. Individual names have been brought forward in which hardship has been alleged as every hon. Member knows, and I hope they will allow me, in justice to the staff, to say that I hope that they will admit what I am going to say that every one of these cases has to be carefully investigated by men on the spot. We are often dealing with people who are illiterate, who cannot read long forms or fill them in, who have to be seen personally by responsible officials who are capable of pointing out to them what their position is under the various Acts which they administer. I am not asking for any praise for my right hon. Friend or myself, but I do think, in justice to the staff of the Ministry of National Service, that many hon. Members in this House will admit that of the thousands of cases which they bring to us the great majority are dealt with promptly, and that although they may not often agree with our decisions, they do get a reasoned answer showing that we have most carefully investigated the facts brought to our notice.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wellington was talking of a day before the present Ministry of National Service was constituted, a day when I had the honour for a few short weeks to serve under Mr. Neville Chamberlain. No one denies that that experiment was not entirely successful, but I do not believe there is any hon. Member who to-day will come and investigate what we do, who will ask the traders of this country or the men called to the Colours, or any body of substantial men they like to choose, but who will admit that the machine which my right hon. Friend has created is working marvellously considering that it was started in the midst of a 1358 great War, and that we are trying to do at high pressure what countries like Germany have been doing for the last thirty years. We are really not afraid of any criticism, but we welcome it, because we realise to the full, and it rests upon our shoulders day and night, that it is our difficult duty to deal with the lives of men and women. On our carefulness, and on our sense of justice, depends the future of thousands of homes in this country, and I can only say that we may make mistakes; we must make mistakes; we do-not deny that we make mistakes, but I do say that my right hon. Friend has driven into every member of his staff that he can reach—of course he cannot reach every one of them—that their duty is to spare themselves not at all, but to do their utmost to see that every case which is brought before them is investigated and dealt with as promptly as possible, and that we must try and hold the balance fairly as this great crisis allows between our recruiting side and the great commercial life of this country, which is also entrusted in part to our charge. I will not try to deal with the question of the doctors raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities (Sir W. Cheyne), because I really have very litle knowledge on the subject, and I am sure that a conversation between the hon. Member and my right hon. Friend was an interchange of those Scotch jokes, which both I and the Reporters' Gallery fail to understand, will do more than anything I can say, but of course the suggestions that he makes will be most carefully considered. The position with regard to the agricultural quota, to which the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Mount) and others-referred, is this. The gross figure of 30,000 Grade 1 men under thirty-one was fixed after consultation between the various Government Departments concerned. No one, of course, would think that the President of the Board of Agriculture was pleased to spare 30,000 men from the land at the present moment, but it was agreed that agriculture ought to be able to spare that number of young fighting men, so urgently wanted, because, as I have said before, these are the very type of young men that are so urgently wanted in the Army, and for the lack of which that pressure upon the older men, which this House so regrets, has become necessary. This quota was fixed by agreement between the Board of Agricul- 1359 ture, ourselves, the War Office, and the other Departments concerned, but the individual county quotas were arranged by the Board of Agriculture. The position taken up, and I think logically taken up, was this: "If we have to find 30,000, at any rate, do not you come butting in, to use a classic expression. Leave it to us and to our advisers who are responsible for the food production of the country to raise the quota in the way that seems best."
§ Mr. ROCH
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us—it is a matter of great interest to agricultural people—on what basis the county quota was fixed? Was it fixed on acreage or population? We say that it was not fixed on any intelligent basis that we can understand. I may point out that we can only raise this matter on this Vote.
§ Mr. BECK
As regards the second point, the percentage taken was four. Certainly the gross quota would be arrived at on the basis of the number of men still employed in agriculture and on the land. As regards the county quotas, I wish I could inform my hon. Friend, but, to tell the truth, I do not know how they were arrived at. It has not been the duty of the Ministry of National Service to know this. It may be that some of our officials know, but I do not personally know in the least how the quota was arrived at. I am perfectly certain that the Board of Agriculture would be able to inform my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. ROCH
I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman, but the whole basis of our contention and criticism of the disastrous policy you are following is that this quota was not fixed on a proper basis. You have taken population, or acreage, or something which is an arbitrary rule, but which cannot work fairly. I really think that on this Vote, which is the only Vote on which we can raise the question, we are entitled to know. You are calling the men up.
§ Mr. MOUNT
May I point out that what has happened is that the vouchers which were granted before the National Service Act have all been withdrawn?
§ Mr. MOUNT
And the power of the war agricultural committees is to renew the vouchers of those men whom they think should be kept on the farms. The rest of them are called up under the National Service Act.
§ Mr. BECK
I dare say that is so, but the result is that there is a column of names left on one side of those who go into the Army, and a column of names left on the other side of those who are to stay upon the land. All I am trying to show is that the Ministry of National Service does not decide into which of these columns a particular agricultural labourer goes.
§ Sir B. STANIER
Yes; but the number of people who go into the column on the other side is settled by your Department.
§ Mr. BECK
Yes; they do. There is really no doubt about this point. There may have been local negotiations; but there is no doubt about the broad policy as regards England and Wales being that the quota of 30,000 was decided upon, and 1361 the Board of Agriculture allocated that quota among the counties of England and Wales according to what it considered the capacity of those counties to find the men. It is now admitted that some counties cannot at the moment find their quotas. Therefore it has been decided that no more calling-up notices shall be issued until the harvest is completed.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Does that apply to notices that were issued before yesterday? A good many notices are running, the persons being called on to present themselves next Saturday or next Monday. I should like to know whether the calling-up of these individuals will also be postponed until after harvest? That would mean a very important addition to the little concession that has been made to-day, and it is only just.
§ Mr. BECK
I think it is a great concession. But still, as a matter of fact, I may tell my hon. Friend that this concession is confined exclusively to men not yet called up. Those who are called up must join up. I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Sir B. Stanier) that this policy will undoubtedly work hardly in the case of certain counties which have made great exertions to find their quota. Now I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Somervell), to whom I am sure we all listened with great interest, as he was dealing with a subject with which he was extremely familiar. I will only say that, as a matter of fact, a conference was held at the Ministry of National Service with employers and operatives in the boot trade, and an agreement satisfactory to all was reached. I imagine that the House does not wish me to say anything as to the medical boards. That matter has been so fully debated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service, by the Prime Minister, and others that it would be rather absurd for me to enter into it. That brings me finally to the point raised by the hon. Member for Blackpool (Colonel Ashley). Indeed, he raised three points, and very kindly gave me notice of his intention to do so. As regards the first point, the concession to men discharged time-expired, I understand that his contention is that all these men are not covered by the present Schedule of the Military Service Act, 1898. It will be remembered, of course, that that Schedule was one which was accepted by 1362 the Government and was a concession 10 the hon. Member for Lanarkshire and other hon. Members.
§ Mr. BECK
I understand that my hon. Friend's point is that the concession of October is whittled away in the Military Service Act of last spring.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
No. My contention is that that concession is whittled away by the pronouncement made by the Minister of National Service, and I want to know on what ground it is done.
§ Mr. BECK
On the ground of the legal position. May I just say this, as regards those men who were examined before the 5th April, 1917, there can be but a very small number of them. Whatever the legal position may be, the actual position must be that but a handful of men can be affected, and if any hon. Member will let me have any such cases as do arise I can assure them that by administrative action we will treat them with the greatest possible sympathy.
§ Mr. BECK
As regards the second point, I had better say plainly that it has been definitely decided that discharged men shall have a full twelve months in which to find work of national importance, and I am disappointed to hear that there are some cases in which these men are being worried by being called up. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will let me have them I will see that the matter is put right. We have endeavoured to adopt a policy of the utmost liberality in regard to discharged and disabled men, especially in regard to work of national importance. Not only do we interpret in the most liberal way what is or is not work of national importance, but we have recently decided that any man, whatever his occupation, who has been paid allowances during his service in the Army shall be allowed to return to his position with his former employer, and that position shall be looked upon as equivalent to work of national importance. The same thing has been applied to the one-man business man who is returning to the Army. I will take a careful note of the suggestions about using discharged men on work of national importance, but the concession which is made leaves a certain gap during which those men should not be worried. 1363 We who are concerned with National Service realise that our task is impossible without the co-operation of Members of this House. We are well aware that we must fall short of the standard that is necessary to work a really satisfactory Ministry of National Service. I do not think anybody is more aware of the shortcomings in that respect than my right hon. Friend, because I can assure hon. Members that, though they may be unsparing critics of the Department, my right hon. Friend's ideals are so high that the rest of us have the greatest difficulty in living up to them. I would appeal to every member of the Committee to realise that, however mistaken they may think us, we will do our utmost to investigate every case of hardship that is brought to us, and we are doing our very best to hold that most difficult balance made more difficult than ever by these grim days, between the demands of the fighting Services and those of the great trades of this country.
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir D. Maclean), pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."