HC Deb 21 April 1926 vol 194 cc1289-96

In Section seventy-six of the Army Act (which relates to the limit of original enlistment), after the word"person," where that word first occurs, there shall be inserted the words"of not less than eighteen years of age," and for the proviso in that Section there shall he substituted the words,"It Shall be the duty of commanding officers to return to their homes all young persons discovered to have enlisted before attaining the age of eighteen years." — [Mr. Johnston]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move,"That the Clause be read a Second time,"

I will not take up the time of the Committee, if the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill to-night will give us at once an indication that he proposes to accept this Clause.

Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS indicated dissent.


I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head in any case, the issues have been so very frequently before the House, that a very few moments will suffice to explain the Clause. As the law stands to-day, I understand, if a boy joins the Army by giving a fictitious age, his parents may secure Ins release at once if his age be under 17. But the boys between 17 and 18 can only secure a free discharge if their pa-cents can prove real necessitous home circumstances. That, I understand, is the technical phrase. I have tried on one or two occasions to secure the release of boys on compassionate grounds of that kind, and it is an exceedingly stiff job. To whose satisfaction are we to prove the necessitous circumstances? Some Army colonel who does not know what necessity is, who simply cannot understand why any boy should want to get away from the high, civilising agency of a job in the British Army. I do not know how many, but in a large number of cases boys run away from home, owing to some quarrel or some momentary disagreement with their parents, or, perhaps, some quarrel with their job or with their fore- man. They take it into their heads that the only method of escape is to join the Army. They run away to the recruiting sergeant, giving a false age, and sometimes the recruiting officers are only too anxious to accept a false age. Then the relatives, in poor circumstances perhaps, apply for the release of the boy, because his, wage is required at home, and it is discovered to be impossible to prove real necessitous home circumstances to the colonel in charge. I have brought cases before the right hon. Gentleman, and he has submitted them to the Army colonel in charge, and invariably they have been turned down on the ground that there is no necessity.

Can a boy of 18 years of age be an asset —a physically fit asset—to the Army? He is not, fully developed, he is not mentally developed, according to the right hon. Gentleman himself, because the right hon. Gentleman will not allow him to have a vote until he is 21. He says he is not fit to be a citizen, he is not fit to have a vote, he is not fit to make the law and to say whether there shall he war or no war. He is outside the realm of citizenship, and yet he is taken into the Army, and he is put to drill. On the medical side, there is proof, voluminous and conclusive, that a boy of 18 years of age cannot, on the average, carry an army pack without its tending to bring on a certain kind of disease which resembles diabetes in later life. At any rate, Sir Auckland Geddes said that was so, and I take his word for it. Is it not a scandal that boys of 18 years of age, not in peace-time but in war-time, should have been shot for alleged dereliction of duty? There was one case, at any rate, of a boy who enlisted and gave a wrong age. He was sent up the line and was in action for 36 hours. At last, he fell asleep at his post, and he was taken out and shot. Hon. Members who represent Manchester know that the Army authorities and the generals have not been popular in Manchester ever since as a result of that tragedy. There is no shortage of applicants for the Army. So long as there is poverty and unemployment you will get plenty. If you want more, you can raise the money appeal. Why take boys, and particularly the sons of widows? Why break up homes in the way you are doing? There is no adequate reason why the British Army and the British Empire and the might and power of this State should depend for its defence upon the acceptance in the ranks of the Army of boys of 18 years of age.


I desire to support the appeal made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) in connection with this matter. I really think that the Government would be doing the right thing if they would make it compulsory that any boy who joined the Army under the age of 18 should be returned to his home when notification of his enlistment has been given. Since I have been a Justice of the Peace for the past six years, I have had, I think, half-a-dozen cases of lads who have joined the Army at various times, and, in many instances, because of some correction that has been meted out to them either by their widowed mother or by an infirm father. They have been corrected about being out late at night and other things, and because they have thought that it was not the duty of the mother or the father to correct them they have joined t he Army. After they have been in the Army for a little while they have found out their mistake. In a case where the boy is the only son of a widow I have had very little difficulty in getting that boy returned, so long as it could be proved that he had employment to go to. That has not always been easy, even though the person concerned has been the employer for whom the lad previously worked. It has sometimes been unsatisfactory.

I have in mind two instances. When I have been able to show myself by the word of the employer or by a note from him to the effect that work is waiting for the boy there has been no trouble in getting the boy hack again, but, if I have not known the full circumstances of the case, and if I have not known the character of the boy—I know a great many of the boys in my division, but I do not know them all—I have not been prepared to go to the employer and give a guarantee that the boy who is coming out is of good character. The result has been that in such a ease, although the boy may have been a widow's son, he has not been returned. I consider that when it can be shown by a birth certificate that something has occurred to force the boy to rush into the. Army that should be sufficient if the mother wants the boy back again. We want to avoid the hardship that is meted out to parents in these eases, and the way we can avoid it is by getting it laid down by declaration that no boy shall be forced to remain in the Army against the parents' wish until they have reached the age of 18.

Captain KING

I think the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) who has just sat down rather misunderstands the wording and the intention of this proposed new Clause. It is not that a boy under the age of 18 should be released on request, but it is putting a duty on the commanding officer to dismiss the boy and to send him home whether he wishes to go or not.


I nave tried to make it clear that by regulation no boy should be allowed in the Army under the age of 18.

Captain KING

I am afraid the closing remarks of the hon. Member did not quite give me that impression, but, even in that case, there is still a further misunderstanding in dealing with only one class of case. The class of ease that has been put forward is that of a boy who has joined the Army without the consent or wish of his parents. We are thankful to know that in this country there are families who have a tradition of the Army, who have military service as one of their family traditions, and hose boys go into the Army at the earliest possible age they can induce the recruiting sergeant to take them. Many of the boys enter under the age of 18, misstating their age, and misstating it with the full knowledge and consent of their parents, who wish their boys to go into the Army and who would be very annoyed indeed if this Clause were passed and these boys were returned.

Compassionate grounds are very carefully considered. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) wanted to know who the hard-hearted people were. My right hon. Friend (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) and myself have to consider these cases, and, so long as there are corn passionate grounds and it can be proved that the boy has a job of work to go to, he is released.

Viscountess ASTOR

I have got boys back myself.

Captain KING

Many hon. Members opposite have communicated with me, and I have authorised the discharge on compassionate grounds of a, number of boys whose cases were put forward. The question is carefully considered, and under the arrangement made last year it is now possible for a boy to make an allotment to his parents. The boy who takes advantage of that and allots money to his parents is better off than the boy who goes into the labour market on discharge without a chance of a job. There is another point which I think has been overlooked. When this Clause was

moved last year it was pointed out to the Committee that, apart from these boys misstating their age and coming into the Army under the age of 18, we do take in a considerable number of boys under that age for the purpose of training them as musicians and as skilled mechanics. The need for skilled mechanics is so great that it its only by training our boys in our own training establishments that we can meet that need. These boys are trained under a system of apprenticeship, and I do not think that hon. Members opposite would desire to deprive such boys of the training that we can give them. For those reasons, I regret that the Government cannot accept this new Clause.

Question put,"That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 114; Noes, 266.

Division No. 190.] AYES. [7.59 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hartshorn. Rt. Hon. Vernon Smillie, Robert
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Hayday, Arthur Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hayes, John Henry Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)
Barr, J. Hirst, G. H. Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Batey, Joseph Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Spencer, G. A. (Broxtowe)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hudson, J. H. Huddersfield Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles
Broad, F. A. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Stamford, T. W.
Bromley, J. Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Stephen, Campbell
Brown, James (Ayr and Burte) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Buchanan, G. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sullivan, Joseph
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Kelly, W. T. Sutton, J. E.
Cape, Thomas Kennedy, T. Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Charleton, H. C. Kenyon, Barnet Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)
Clowes, S. Kirkwood, D. Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Close, W. S. Lee, F. Thurtle, E.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Livingstone, A. M. Tinker. John Joseph
Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock) Lowth, T. Townend, A. E.
Connolly, M. Lunn, William Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Cove, W. G. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Viant, S. P.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) MacNeill-Weir, L. Wallhead, Richard C.
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) March, S. Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Montague, Frederick Warne, G. H.
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Watson. W. M. (Dunfermline)
Dennison, R. Murnin, H. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Duncan, C. Naylor, T. E. Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) Owen, Major G. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Fenby, T. D. Palin, John Henry Whiteley, W.
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Paling, W. Williams, David (Swansea. East)
Gillett, George M. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Gosling, Harry Potts, John S. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Riley, Ben Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Grenfell, D, R. (Glamorgan) Ritson, J, Windsor, Walter
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Saklatvata, Shapurji Wright, W.
Groves, T. Salter, Dr. Alfred Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Grundy, T. W. Sexton, James
Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth) Shiels, Dr. Drummond TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Mr. T. Henderson and Mr. A. Barnes.
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Sitch, Charles H.
Hall, G H. (Merthyr Tydvll) Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Astor, Viscountess Barnett, Major Sir Richard
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Atkinson, C. Barnston, Major Sir Harry
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Beamish, Captain T. P. H.
Applin, Colonel B. V. K. Balfour, George (Hampstead) Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Balniel, Lord Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Banks, Reginald Mitchell Bethel, A.
Astor, Mai. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Betterton, Henry B.
Blundell, F. N. Hammersley, S. S. Pennefather, Sir John
Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Penny, Frederick George
Brassey, Sir Leonard Harland, A. Perring, Sir William George
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent) Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Briggs, J. Harold Harrison, G. J. C. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Briscoe, Richard George Hartington, Marquess of Pilditch, Sir Philip
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Power, Sir John Cecil
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assneton
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Haslam, Henry C. Preston, William
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y) Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle) Price, Major C. W. M.
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Raine, W.
Bullock, Captain M. Henn, Sir Sydney H. Rawson, Sir Alfred Cooper
Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)
Burman, J. B. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Rice, Sir Frederick
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hills, Major John Waller Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Hilton, Cecil Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stretford)
Butt, Sir Alfred Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Ropner, Major L.
Campbell, E. T. Holland, Sir Arthur Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.
Cassels, J. D. Holt, Capt. H. P. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Rye, F. G.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth,S.) Hopkins, J. W, W. Salmon, Major I.
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Chapman, Sir S. Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N). Sandeman, A. Stewart
Christie, J. A. Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n) Sanders, Sir Robert A.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Hume, Sir G. H. Sanderson, Sir Frank
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Hurd, Percy A. Sandon, Lord
Clarry, Reginald George Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Clayton, G. C. Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Savery, S. S.
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. F. S. Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew. W)
Conway, Sir W. Martin Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)
Couper, J. B. Jephcott, A. R. Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.) Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William Skelton, A. N.
Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Kennedy, A. R. (Preston). Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Kindersley, Major Guy M. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) King, Captain Henry Douglas Smithers, Waldron
Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Sprot, Sir Alexander
Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Knox Sir Alfred Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)
Curtis-Bennett. Sir Henry Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Leigh, sir John (Clapham) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Dalkeith, Earl of Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Steel, Major Samuel Strang
Davidson. J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd) Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Storry-Deans, R.
Davidson, Major-General Sir John H. Loder, J. de V. Strickland, Sir Gerald
Davies, Dr. Vernon Looker, Herbert William Stuart, Crichton, Lord C.
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Lord, Walter Greaves- Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Lougher, L. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Dawson, Sir Philip Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Dixey, A. C. Lumley, L. R. Tasker, Major R. Inigo
Drewe, C. Lynn, Sir Robert J. Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Duckworth John MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Edmondson, Major A. J. Macdonald. Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Thomson, F. C (Aberdeen, S.)
Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Ellis, R. G. Macmillan, Captain H. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Elveden, Viscount Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
England, Colonel A. McNeill. Rt. Hon. Ronald John Waddington, R.
Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith Macquisten, F. A. Wallace, Captain D. E.
Everard, W. Lindsay Mac Robert, Alexander M. Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Fairfax, Captain J. G. Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel- Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Faile, Sir Bertram G. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Watson, at. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Fermoy, Lord Malone, Major P. B. Watts, Dr. T.
Fielden, E. B. Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Wells, S. R.
Ford, Sir P. J. Margesson, Captain D. White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple
Forrest, W. Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Fraser, Captain Ian Meller, R. J. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Merriman, F. B. Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony Meyer, Sir Frank Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)
Galbraith, J. F. W. Milne, J. S. Wardlaw- Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Gates, Percy Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Winby, Colonel L. P.
Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Windsor-Clive. Lieut.-Colonel George
Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Wise, Sir Fredric
Glyn, Major R. G. C. Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Withers, John James
Goff, Sir Park Murchison, C. K. Wolmer, Viscount
Gower, Sir Robert Nail, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Womersley, W. J.
Grant, J. A. Neville, R. J. Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)
Greene, W. P. Crawford Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Gretton, Colonel John Nicholson, O (Westminster) Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Gunston, Captain D. W. Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hon. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Nuttall, Ellis TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Oakley, T. Major Cope and Captain Bowyer.
Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) O'Connor, T. J, (Bedford, Luton)