HC Deb 26 March 1929 vol 226 cc2321-8

The following proviso shall be added at the end of Section 76 of the Army Act (which relates to the limit of original enlistment): Provided also that a boy is enlisted before attaining the age of 18 he shall be discharged upon a request to this effect being made by a parent or guardian."—[Mr. Shepherd.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

There are few hon. Members who would not feel great relief if it were made impossible, either by the terms of this new Clause or by any other means, to prevent the recruitment of boys under false pretences. There is no hon. Member who has not at some time or other been troubled with most distressing cases, where they have tried to get out of the Army boys who were under age and whose home circles were such that their parents had made requests for their redease. I, with other Members of Parliament, wish to say how very sympathetically we are always met by the Secretary of State for War in connection with these cases, showing quite plainly that he recognises that there is something wrong with a system which allows the entrance of boys into the Army under false pretences. The right hon. Gentleman says that boys enter of their own free-will, but on reconsideration he must know that that is not so. It is generally a case of economic pressure, where the home circles are such that, if they are unemployed, they feel they are a drag upon their family. Therefore, they take one of the few roads out by joining the Army, either with or without the consent of their parents. To oppose this new Clause on the ground that these boys enter the Army of their own free-will is to act upon a false assumption.

I am much surprised that the Army itself does not look at this question properly. It cheapens the Army very much that recruits should be allowed to enter under false pretences. As long as the majority of the people of this country decide to have an Army, that Army should be made the most honourable occupation or profession possible. In no other walk of life would any entrant to any profession or employment be allowed to get in under false pretences. It would be a perfectly simple matter, although I know that there are objections to the suggestion, that every recruit for the Army should be required to produce a birth certificate. The right hon. Gentleman has considered this point, and I realise that there are some objections, but the trouble which inevitably arises through allowing recruits to enter without a birth certificate are far worse than would otherwise be the case.

This subject is somewhat of a hardy annual and is threadbare as far as argument is concerned; therefore, I will refer only to one further point, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned on the last occasion. He said that it was not right that we should release these boys easily; that we should make the penalty as severe as possible, up to a limit of £20, because of the cost of their training. If the right hon. Gentleman would consider that these boys, as a rule, cost far more than £20 to the Army, because of the great trouble they are in the Army and because of their immaturity, he would not use that argument again. In my own experience, I know that the boys we had in my particular lot were a tremendous nuisance. They were enthusiastic on joining, but when it came to a long route march or a very arduous task, it was generally found that they had to come home on a wagon. One boy, whom I looked upon as a great friend of mine, and whose Army service lasted nine months, joined at the age of 16½ years, although he looked much older. Out of his nine months service he spent seven months in hospital in consequence of an overstrained heart. He was never lacking in any job that was to be done, and when any route march had to be undertaken he was always there and never gave in, with the result that he overstrained his heart. To argue that this is a question of expense and to talk about the great cost of training, is a very false assumption. The cost of keeping a boy in the Army is much greater than would be the case if he were the proper age and able to undertake the tasks which the Army demands.

The proposed new Clause asks that where a boy enlists before attaining the age of 18 he shall be discharged upon a request to this effect being made by a parent or guardian. I do not want to make it too easy. If the coy has enlisted with a full knowledge of the circumstances of the case, and of his own free will and not through any pressure of any sort, it is a different matter. The right hon. Gentleman admitted in the Debate last year that the vast majority of the cases were boys who enlisted because of great hardship at home, and, therefore, I think that when such cases can be proved there should be no difficulty at all about releasing them on the request of the parents.


The hon. Member has said that the sympathy which the War Office and my right hon. Friend have always shown towards the hard cases brought to their notice proves that we are conscious that the law as it stands is not correct. I do not accept that argument for a moment. We think that the law as it stands is perfectly correct, as long as it is administered in the way which the hon. Member admits it is administered; that is with a broad mind and sympathetic outlook on such cases as are brought to our notice, He accuses the War Office of enlisting people under false pretences. The false pretences are not ours; it is on the part of those who come to us and get enlisted under false pretences. It must be remembered that the class of boy for whom the hon. Member is demanding this relief is very small. Our recruiting agents have direct and strict instructions not to accept anybody unless he appears to be 18 years or over, and no one, except in the case of a well-developed and well-grown boy who looks more than 18 years of age, is likely to be accepted. If any boy is accepted and is under the age of 17, he can get release on the production of proof that he is under 17 years of age. Therefore, the only people that the Clause affects, the only people who may be suffering hardship by retention, are those boys who appear to be over 18 years of age when they actually join and who are over 17 years of age. That limits very much the number of boys with whom we are dealing.

The hon. Member admits that in those cases where it can be proved that real hardship is being inflicted on the boy or his family we are prepared to release him on compassionate grounds. I agree that many of these cases are brought to our notice; and many of them are released. A great many of them are not released. I go into them all myself, and I am always prepared to take the compassionate points of view. But in the case of the boy between 17 and 18 years of age, who wishes to be released, and who produces a certificate of employment from towns in places like South Wales, I feel it much easier to harden my heart because I feel confident—and

I am sure the hon. Member who knows a lot about the training of these boys will agree—that in 99 cases out of 100 a lad of 17 to 18 is far better off, from; his own point view, in the Army, where he is leading a healthy life, obtaining sufficient food, and a certain regular pay than he would be if thrown into the labour market in these distressed districts, or in any part of the country. Therefore, we cannot accept the new Clause. We do not believe that the majority of those who join the Army today would desire us to adopt the suggestion that we should insist on the production of a birth certificate. The hon. Member knows the reason why we have turned down that proposal time after time. There are many difficulties, it would entail delay, and in many cases hardship on the boy himself or his, parents. I can assure him that we shall always consider every application for relief on compassionate grounds with the greatest possible sympathy, but I cannot hold out any hope that we shall alter the law in the direction he suggests.


Can the hon. Member give me the latest figures: the number of recruits under 18, the number who have been released, and the number who have been refused?


I have not the figures with me, but I will communicate them to the hon. Member.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes, 109; Noes, 169.

Division No. 277.] AYES. [6.37 p.m.
Adamton, W. M. (Staff. Cannock) Dunnico, H. Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Fenby, T. D. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)
Ammon, Charles George Gardner, J. P. Kelly, W. T.
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Garro-Jonts, Captain G. M. Kennedy, T.
Benn, Wedgwood Gibbins, Joseph Lansbury, George
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Gillett, George M. Lawrence, Susan
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Gosling, Harry Lawson, John James
Broad, F. A. Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Lee, F.
Bromfield, William Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Lee, Jennie (Lanark, N.)
Bromley, J. Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Lindley, F. W.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Griffith, F. Kingsley Lowth, T.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)
Charleton, H. C. Groves, T. MacLaren, Andrew
Clarke, A. B. Grundy, T. W. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Cluse, W. S. Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) March, S.
Compton, Joseph Hardle, George D. Maxton, James
Connolly, M. Harris, Percy A. Montague, Frederick
Crawfurd, H. E. Hayday, Arthur Morris, R. H.
Dalton, Hugh Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Dalton, Ruth (Bishop Auckland) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield). Mosley, Sir Oswald
Day, Harry Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Oliver, George Harold
Dennison, R. Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Owen, Major G.
Palin, John Henry Sitch, Charles H. Viant, S. P.
Paling, W. Smillie, Robert Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)
Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Snell, Harry Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip Wellock, Wilfred
Potts, John S. Stamford, T. W. Welsh, J. C.
Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Stewart, J. (St. Rollox) Westwood, J.
Riley, Ben Sutton, J. E. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Ritson, J. Taylor, R. A. Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Russell, Richard (Eddisbury) Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby) Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Saklatvala, Shapurji Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.) Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston) Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Shepherd, Arthur Lewis Thurtle, Ernest Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Shield, G. W. Tinker, John Joseph Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Shiels, Dr. Drummond Tomlinson, R. P.
Shinwell, E. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Hayes and Mr. Whiteley.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Ganzonl, Sir John Oakley, T.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Gates, Percy Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Csnt'l) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman Glyn, Major R. G. C. Perring, Sir William George
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Grant, Sir J. A. Pilditch, Sir Philip
Astor, Ma]. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Price, Major C. W. M.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Gunston, Captain D. W. Raine, Sir Walter
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Ramsden, E.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Hamilton, Sir George Rawson, Sir Cooper
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Reid, D. D. (County Down)
Boothby, R. J. G. Hartington, Marquess of Remer, J. R.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Haslam, Henry C. Rentoul, Sir Gervals
Briscoe, Richard George Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Brittain, Sir Harry Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stratford)
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Henn, Sir Sydney H. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Buckingham, Sir H. Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Rye, F. G.
Bullock, Captain M. Hills, Major John Waller Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Campbell, E. T. Hopkins, J. W. W. Sandeman, N. Stewart
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Sanderson, Sir Frank
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Sandon, Lord
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.) Hume, Sir G. H. Shepperson, E. W.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Hurst, Sir Gerald Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Christle, J. A. Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'sland)
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Kindersley, Major G. M. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Cooper, A. Duff King, Commodore Henry Douglas Thompson, Luke (Surderland)
Cope, Major Sir William Kinioch-Cooke, Sir Clemant Thomson, Sir Frederick
Courtauld, Major J. S. Lamb, J. O. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Looker, Herbert William Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Lougher, Sir Lewis Wallace, Captain D. E.
Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) McLean, Major A. Warrender, Sir Victor
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Macmillan, Captain H. Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) MacRobert, Alexander M. Watts, Sir Thomas
Davies, Dr. Vernon Margesson, Captain D. White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple.
Edmondson, Major A. J. Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) Meller, R. J. Williams, Herbert G (Reading)
Elliot, Major Walter E. Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl
Ellis, R. G. Meyer, Sir Frank Withers, John James
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Wolmer, Viscount
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Womersley, W. J.
Fanshawe, Captain G. D. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Fermoy, Lord Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Fielden, E. B. Neville, Sir Reginald J. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Wragg, Herbert
Foster, Sir Harry S. Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Wright, Brig.-General W. D.
Fraser, Captain Ian Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Captain Bowyer and Mr. Penny.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.

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