§ A person discharged after the passing of this Act shall not be deemed to be re-enlisted under the Military Service Acts, 1916–18.—[Mr. G. Locker-Lampson.]
§ Brought up, and read the first time.270
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
In moving this new Clause, I need hardly say that I am entirely in sympathy with the principle of the Bill, and that I am not moving this with any feeling of hostility towards the Bill. I am simply moving it to enable the military authorities to do a certain thing which they are not able to do at present. The present state of the case, to my mind, is very unsatisfactory. If a man is discharged to-day by the military authorities he does not get a clean discharge. Under Section 1 of the Military Service Act, 1918, if he is discharged to-day he becomes automatically and immediately re-enlisted, and is passed into Class B of the Reserve, and if the military authorities demobilise him he again does not get a clean discharge but is passed immediately into Class Z of the Reserve, so that under the present system the military authorities, even if they want to do so, cannot give a man a clean discharge. It is perfectly clear that the military authorities really do not want these men whom they are demobilising. If they really wanted them I should not propose this Clause. They have lately issued an Army Order, No. 1 of 1919, which says that when these men are demobilised there is nothing to prevent them going abroad, re-settling in civil life, or emigrating to any part of the world, and that the only obligation on these men is that on passing into Class Z of the Reserve they must notify their changes of address to their record offices. I do not in the least know how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is going to enforce this notification. I do not believe for a moment that he will be able to enforce it, and if under this Army Order the military authorities are going to allow these men to emigrate to any part of the world they like, they cannot really say that they want these men for military purposes. Why not, therefore, give them a clean discharge? Why does not my right hon. Friend give himself the power, where he wants to do so, to give these men a clean discharge and rid his hands of them altogether? I should like also to make this point. He creates in this matter a difference between officers and men. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend does not mean to differentiate between men and officers in this respect, but under Army Order 10 of 1919 officers cannot be com- 271 pulsorily put into the Reserve at all. They can either claim full pay while they are on the Active List, or they can be gazetted out altogether. Therefore, why should my right hon. Friend treat an officer differently from a private soldier in this respect? He can give a clean discharge to an officer, but under the present state of the law he cannot give a clean discharge to a private soldier, and, after all, these men have fought just as well and have gone through just as much hardship as the officers, and I am rather surprised that my right hon. Friend should make this difference. I do not think he is doing it intentionally. The present state of the law is rather complicated, and he may not realise that in fact he is able to give a clean discharge to an officer, but not to a private soldier. If the Government do not want to keep the men—and I do not believe they do—why hang a sort of sword of Damocles over their heads, which merely frightens and unsettles them? I can see no reason for it whatever, and I therefore hope the Government will accept this Clause.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I rise, Sir, to move the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh.
§ Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON
On a point of Order, Sir. My hon. Friend beside me (Major Hayward) rose directly I sat down in order to second my Amendment. You may not have noticed him, but he rose directly.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I assure you he did not. I said, "Is that seconded?" and, as nobody rose to second it, I then said, "Sir Donald Maclean." The hon. and gallant Member then rose.
§ Major HAYWARD
Immediately my hon. Friend suggested that I should second his Amendment, I jumped up, and said, "I beg to second it." Then I sat down, and I rose again a second time.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I accept the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Will he make his speech now?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)
My hon. Friend told the House that this Bill creates a difference between officers and men which his Clause will correct.
§ Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON
No, I did not say that. I said the present law created a difference between officers and men.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
At any rate he said his Clause would tend to rectify the difference. I think it would be unfortunate if that impression got abroad. As a matter of fact, officers are being freely discharged from the Army because there are more officers volunteering to stay in the Army than the Army requires, and it would be foolish and unwise to keep officers when we do not require them. On the other hand, so far as the arrangements for demobilisation are concerned, the proportion of men discharged from the Army far exceeds the proportion of officers. Officers are being retained to a much larger extent than men are. Therefore, to try to make out that officers are being favoured at the expense of the men is entirely erroneous, and if it received any credence outside the effect would be mischievous. The principle on which they are proceeding in this Bill is that we do not in any way repeal or alter the obligation of the citizen under the existing Military Service Acts. This obligation remains until the date of the ratification of peace. As we cannot tell at what date the ratification of peace will take place we are preparing this new Bill, which will come into effective operation when the ordinary Military Service Acts lapse. There is no reason, therefore, for differentiating in any way between men who are discharged from the Army before the passing of the new Bill and those who are discharged after the passing of the new Bill. My hon. Friend proposes that men who are discharged after the passing of the new Bill should not be eligible to be called up, whereas men discharged after the passing of the Bill would be so eligible. That would be to introduce a most undesirable distinction between two classes of men on no ground of logic, equity, or public policy that I can see. The principle on which we are acting is perfectly simple. We do not expect that anyone will be called up, but as long as they are liable to be called up under the existing Military Service Acts we do not interfere with that 273 liability. When the existing Military Service Acts do lapse on the ratification of peace men will only be held under the present Bill, and the new Bill has no power to call any man up in any circumstances on remobilisation, and new legislation would be necessary for the purpose. There is really no substance whatever and no real need for the new Clause.
§ Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON
Is it not a fact that an officer now gets a clean discharge and a private soldier does not? That is the point.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The officer is serving under a different contract of service altogether and under different conditions, but the fact remains that men are getting discharged in far greater numbers in proportion than officers are.
§ Question put, and negatived.