HC Deb 12 April 1923 vol 162 cc1629-38

(1) In Section seventy-six of the Army Act (which prescribes the limit of original enlistment), the words "or classes of cases" shall be inserted after the word "cases" the words "a boy" shall be substituted for the words "any boy"; and the words "in a particular corps" shall be omitted.

(2) At the end of Sub-section (2) of Section eighty-two of the Army Act (which relates to appointments to corps) the following proviso shall be inserted:

"Provided that in the case of a boy enlisted for general service before attaining the age of eighteen, he need not be appointed to a particular corps until he attains that age."


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words the words 'or classes of cases' shall be inserted after the word 'cases'; the words 'a boy' shall be substituted for the words 'any boy'; and the words 'in a particular corps' shall be omitted, and to insert instead thereof the words there shall be inserted after the word 'person' where that word first occurs the words 'over the age of twenty-one' and the proviso shall be omitted. Briefly, the point of my Amendment is this. As the hon. and gallant Member in charge of the Bill is aware, I have on more than one occasion had to bring to his notice the question of the enlistment of youths of tender years in the Army. It is not generally known, I think, to Members of this House that the age at which boys may be enlisted into the Army without the consent of their parents is not 18, but 17, and the purpose I have in view is to see to it that there shall be an age established in this Act by means of the Amendment which I have suggested, whereby persons of tender years shall not be so enlisted without the consent of their parents. I think everyone will agree it is most undesirable that boys of tender years should be allowed, as the result of the caprice of a moment, or, perhaps, some other cause, to change the course of their career, quite contrary to the anticipations and desires of their parents. That is the pith and purpose of my Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment. I think a large number of Members in this House were under the impression that the age of enlistment in the Army was 18. I found, not long after I became a Member of Parliament, from letters from various constituents of mine regarding their sons, that the age was 17, and when the Secretary of State for War was approached, he refused, even where the boys joined in defiance of the wishes of their parents, to make any allowance for them. It was the general impression, and accepted in this country, that 18 was the age, and I think, therefore, the Government ought to meet this Amendment in the spirit in which it is moved.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

It is quite impossible for the Government to accept the Amendment, for the reason that we do not recruit any considerable proportion of men at or over the age of 21. If we were to accept this Amendment, it would mean a complete standstill in recruiting for the Army. At the present time, more than half our recruits are between the ages of 18 and 19. In addition to that, we must take boys to train them for trades. We cannot hope to fill up the more skilled ranks in the Army if we only get them in at the age of 21.


You are taking boys at 17, and keeping them.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

We take them at 18, and the rule is that if they give a false answer on attestation, and get in younger, we release them if under 17, and they joined without their parents' consent. If they are between 17 and 18, we only release them if there are strong compassionate grounds—the need of the family for the earning powers of the boy, or if the parents repay to the State the out-of-pocket expenses of the training. The cost of the boy getting out varies with the time he has been in the Army, and it would be quite impossible, consistent with reason, to waive this rule. The alternative is to have no one under 21. We cannot help getting these boys if they give a wrong answer, unless we always insist on a birth certificate, and that would make recruiting very difficult indeed. I am sorry I cannot accept this Amendment or make any change in the present practice, which is one of long standing in the Army, and is absolutely necessary.


It seems to me that there is involved here a question of principle. If there be an objection at all to the Army, it is an objection all the time. If there be, as I have always understood, particularly from this side of the House, a strengthening of support of the principle of conscientious objection to the taking of life, it ought to be on the distinct basis of thoroughly discouraging anyone from entering upon an occupation which is admitted to have a deleterious effect on the man joining it. Anyone who knows anything about the occupation of the Army, knows perfectly well that it is not to the interest of any young man to enter upon it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No" and "Yes."] The influences at work in the training applicable to that particular machine are such, that it is considered to be absolutely essential to instil into the young man all the ferocity that the animal instinct can produce. Hon. Members on the other side smile, because they have never realised properly the devastation involved by the sustenance of such a machine, I am going into no Lobby on the question of age. I am going to stand for the principle, which, I maintain, has proved its efficacy in this country and other nations. It unquestionably comes under the scoffs and jeers of those who talk about the necessity of war to end war. The conditions upon which our country is conducted, commercially, economically and otherwise, go to prove that the forces are of a selfish character, and that the young life of this and other nations has been employed for the most sordid purposes that the world has ever known. I stand here to-day, as I stood during the late War, and during the South African War, by the man who goes frankly before a tribunal and declares that he believes this thing to be an evil, a powerful agency for the destruction of mankind, and that there is no other course which can be attempted whereby resistance can be made to these evil agencies, than the courage, perseverance and determination of the individual who says, "I will face the guns, and be shot down, rather than go into such a machine."

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY/

Then why were you not here all night?


My answer to that is that I have been discharging services in connection with this House in ways which are not, perhaps, so open to publicity. I have been undergoing experiences which are undermining my health. It is not a question of entitlement to the Victoria Cross, because you happen to stay here and sleep during the night. If absent during the night, I am all the more fresh for tackling you this morning. To be on the ground does not settle anything. It is a question of how determined you are in pursuit of your principles. I submit that if we are going to have a real issue of pacifism, we must declare ourselves prepared to stand for it.


The hon. Member is now travelling away from the Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

He is too fresh.


On this question it seems to me that you determine an age after which a thing, which is objectionable, becomes acceptable. I say age is no determining factor in this at all. The representative of the Government says, quite rightly from their standpoint, that they take the boys in at the earliest possible age. I have known cases where parents have had a desperate struggle to get their loved ones out of the clutches of the Army fiends. I know that this is a question which has not yet had a fair chance. During the War there was difficulty in getting fair consideration for it. But things are different now. For parents and young men there is only one Commandment, "Thou shall not kill." That is the Commandment in the Book from which the chaplain reads every day. If there is any realistic meaning in the Book, let us prove ourselves to be honourable Members of this House and stand by the principle.


Some of us, at least, have never agreed that there is a possibility of peace merely by shouting "peace." I am prepared to fight for the principles in which I believe. If anybody stands in the way of the realisation of the objects that we have in view, I, for one, am prepared to fight. I object to the kind of silent manslaughter that is taking place to-day. Thousands of the children of my class are being murdered every day under peace conditions. So far as this Amendment enables parents to have some control over the lives of their children, I agree with it, but anybody who gets up in this House and talks about universal peace knows as well as I do that he is talking through the back of his neck. What I cannot understand is that the man who objects to military service, at the same time believes in compulsion when it is a matter of individual habit. You cannot eat your cake and have it. If you are to have compulsion in one direction, you must have it in another. Will the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) say that, in the event of this country being attacked, supposing that a Labour Government, or even a Prohibition Government, were in power, he would put forward the pacifist plea, and would not defend the country? I am not arguing for one kind of Government as

against another. Every country has the right to go to hell in its own way.

What we ask is that at least there should be an age limit for Army service, a recognition of the principle that a boy shall not be allowed to join the Army, even of his own volition, at too early an age, and a recognition of parental control up to a certain point. I am in favour of peace; I want peace. Everybody wants peace except the professional soldier. We have nothing to gain by war; we have lost everything through it. We are not responsible for the Bible being on the Table. The chaplain reads from it every day and draws a salary for so doing. But the principle contained in that Book is not being acted upon. That is not our fault. We hope that when we get the opportunity the principles in that Book will be acted upon. In the meantime we have to face the music, and the music is that we are discussing a Bill which allows boys to join the Army, even without their parents' consent, which allows them to become trained for purposes altogether foreign to the moral principles which we pretend to advocate. Nobody objects to a boy wanting a career. We regret that such careers are necessary or desirable or possible. We want to protect the boy against himself. We have children of our own and we know how they might be led away by the man who waves the Union Jack in the face of the Union Jackasses. I say that quite deliberately.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 222; Noes, 98.

Division No. 98] AYES [11.40 a.m.
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Boyd-Carpenter, Major A. Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.
Alexander, Col. M. (Southwark) Brass, Captain W. Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S Brassey, Sir Leonard Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale
Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin Briant, Frank Cope, Major William
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W. Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Cotts, Sir William Dingwall Mitchall
Astor, J. J. (Kent, Dover) Brittain, Sir Harry Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.
Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury) Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Brown, J. W. (Middlesbrough, E.) Crook, C. W. (East Ham, North)
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G. Bruford, R. Curzon, Captain Viscount
Banks, Mitchell Bruton, Sir James Dalziel, Sir D. (Lambeth, Brixton)
Barlow, Rt. Hon. Sir Montague Buckingham, Sir H. Darbishire, C. W.
Barnett, Major Richard W. Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A. Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)
Barnston, Major Harry Burn, Colonel Sir Charles Rosdew Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)
Becker, Harry Butler, H. M. (Leeds, North) Davies, S. C. (Denbigh, Denbigh)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Cadogan, Major Edward Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)
Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks) Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R. Dawson, Sir Philip
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Doyle, N. Grattan
Berkeley, Captain Reginald Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Dudgeon, Major C. H.
Berry, Sir George Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Edmondson, Major A. J.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)
Blades, Sir George Rowland Chapple, W. A. Ellis, R. G.
Bowdler, w. A. Clayton, G. C. England, Lieut.-Colonel A.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Cobb, Sir Cyril Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) King, Captain Henry Douglas Roberts. Rt. Hon. Sir S. (Ecclesall)
Erskine-Bolst, Captain C. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Robertson, J. D. (Islington, W.)
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M. Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.) Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Falcon, Captain Michael Lloyd Greame, Rt. Hon, Sir Philip Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godlray Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Russell, William (Bolton)
Fawkes, Major F. H. Lorimer, H. D. Russell-Wells, Sir Sydney
Foot, Isaac Loyd, Arthur Thomas (Abingdon) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Ford, Patrick Johnston Lumley, L. R. Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.
Foreman, Sir Henry McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury) Sanderson, Sir Frank B.
Forestier-Walker. L. Maddocks, Henry Sandon, Lord
Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.) Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)
Frece, Sir Walter de Manville, Edward Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Furness, G. J. Margesson, H. D. R. Shepperson, E. W.
Ganzoni, Sir John Millar, J. D. Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Garland, C. S. Milne, J. S. Wardlaw Simpson, J. Hope
Gates, Percy Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Smith, Sir Allan M. (Cloydon, South)
Goff, Sir R. Park Molson, Major John Elsdale Smith, Sir Harold (Wavertree)
Gould, James C. Moreing, Captain Algernon H. Somerville. A. A. (Windsor)
Gray, Frank (Oxford) Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honlton) Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.
Gray, Harold (Cambridge) Murchison, C. K. Stanley, Lord
Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hackn'y, N.) Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley) Steel, Major S. Strang
Greenwood, William (Stockport) Newman, Sir R. H. S. O. L. (Exeter) Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H.
Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E. Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Gwynne, Rupert S. Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster) Sturrock, J. Leng
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W. (Li'p'l,W.D"by) Mold, Sir Herbert Sutcliffe, T.
Haistead, Major D. Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)
Hamilton, Sir George C (Altrincham) O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)
Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Thornton, M.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Paget, T. G. Titchfield, Marquess of
Harbord, Arthur Parker, Owen (Kettering) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Banner, Sir John S. Harmood- Pease, William Edwin Tubbs, S. W.
Harrison, F. C. Pennefather, De Fonblanque Turton, Edmund Russborough
Henn, Sir Sydney H. Penny, Frederick George Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Perkins, Colonel E. K. Waring, Major Walter
Herbert, S. (Scarborough) Perring, William George Watts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)
Hiley, Sir Ernest Phillipps, Vivian Wells, S. R.
Hoare, Lt.-Col. Bt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Philipson, Hilton Weston, Colonel John Wakefield
Hogg, Rt. Hon.Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Pielou, D. P. Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.
Hohier, Gerald Fitzroy Preston, Sir W. S. White, Col. G D. (Southport)
Hood, Sir Joseph Pringle, W. M. R. Winterton, Earl
Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.) Raeburn, Sir William H. Wise, Frederick
Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K. Raine, W. Wolmer, Viscount
Hudson, Capt. A. Rankin, Captain James Stuart Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Hughes, Collingwood Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel Wood, Maj. Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Hume, G. H. Rawson, Lieut.-Com. A. C. Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Hurst, Lt.-Col. Gerald Berkeley Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington) Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Hutchison, G. A. C (Midlothian, N.) Rentoul, G. S. Yerburgh, R. D. T.
Jarrett, G. W. S. Reynolds, W. G. W. Young, Rt. Hon. E. K. (Norwich)
Jodrell. Sir Neville Paul Rhodes, Lieut.-Col. J. P.
Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartiepools) Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford) Colonel Leslie Wilson and Colonel Gibbs.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) March, S.
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hancock, John George Maxton, James
Bonn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Hardie, George O. Morrison, R. C. (Tottennum, N.)
Broad, F. A. Harris, Percy A. Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)
Bromfield, William Hayday, Arthur Newbold. I. T. W.
Brotherton, J. Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill) Oliver, George Harold
Buchanan, G. Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (N'castle, E.) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Buckle, J. Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Potts, John S.
Burgess, S. Harriotts, J. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Buxton, Charles (Accrington) Hirst, G. H. Robertson, J.- (Lanark, Bothwell)
Cape, Thomas Irving, Dan Robinson, W. C. (York, Elland)
Charleton, H. C. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Saklatvala, S.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. John, William (Rhondda, West) Salter, Dr. A.
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Sexton, James
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Shaw, Thomas (Preston)
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East) Shinwell, Emanuel
Duffy, T. Gavan Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Dunnico, H. Kenyon, Barnet Sitch, Charles H.
Ede, James Chuter Kirkwood, D. Smith, T. (Pontefract)
Edmonds, G. Lansbury, George Snell, Harry
Gosling, Harry Lawson, John James Spencer, George A, (Broxtowe)
Greenall, T. Leach, W. Stephen, Campbell
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Lee, F. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Linfield, F. C. Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Lunn, William Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Groves, T. MacDonald, J. R. (Aberavon) Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Grundy T W. M'Entee, V. L. Tout, W. J.
Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth) McLaren, Andrew Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)
Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda) Whiteley, W. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Webb, Sidney Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)
Welsh, J. C. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Westwood, J. Wilson, R. I. (Jarrow) Mr. Morgan Jones and Mr. Ammon.
White, Charles F. (Derby, Western) Wright, W.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


Early this morning I stated to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House that the Opposition had decided to take the unusual course of not exercising their rights on a Bill of this kind, but of endeavouring to help the Government in the latter part of the week out of some of their difficulties. You, Sir, have now put from the Chair the Question that this Bill be read the Third time. There are on these benches dozens of Members who feel an obligation to their constituents, and who feel that on the Third Reading of this Bill they would be sadly lacking in their duty if they did not inform the House of their true feelings on the matter. But we started with a view to being conciliatory and helping the Government. Further, it has been in many respects a unique Debate. We have not only no complaint, but we had nothing but thanks and appreciation for the courtesy and good temper displayed all round. You, Mr. Speaker, have been absent and are unaware that there have been two incidents. One was the loss of one of my colleagues, who is now restored. A more serious point is that at 12 o'clock last night an Amendment was moved with a view to doing justice to officers of the British Army. We profoundly disagree in many things with the gentlemen who moved and seconded the Amendment, but we felt that here was an occasion when they were right. We continued the Debate. We pleaded their cause. At 1.30 this morning we divided. From that moment until an hour ago we lost all trace of the gentlemen who moved that Amendment. Knowing the long and distinguished military career of the seconder we were naturally apprehensive. We said, as a soldier, he would never desert his post. The Mover is more to be excused, because he has not had a long military experience. We are pained beyond words that the great tradition and example of the British Army of sticking to your guns was not maintained in this case, but we are relieved beyond measure to know that at least no harm has befallen him.


The right hon. Gentleman has made some remarks about myself. I should like to explain that I should not have been away had I not been paired. Further, many millions of working people in Lancashire who have been waiting for the Cotton Industry Bill to be debated to-day will know how much they have to thank the Labour Party.