The following proviso shall be added at the end of Section seventy-six of the Army Act (which relates to the limit of original enlistment):—
Provided also that where a boy is enlisted before attaining the age of eighteen he shall be discharged upon a request to this effect being made by a parent or guardian.—[Mr. G. Hall.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. G. HALL
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The proposed new Clause may be regarded as an annual Clause moved from this side of the Committee, and on this occasion I feel sure that there are. very few hon. Members who would not feel a great relief if it were made possible, either by the terms of this proposed new Clause, or some other means, to prevent 573 boys being recruited into the Army as men under the age of 18. It would relieve some Members of the very distressing cases which are brought to their notice from time to time. The Clause has been asked for on many occasions, as I have pointed out, and it has been refused, I have no doubt, for the reason that recruits were not presenting themselves in numbers sufficient to meet the requirements. This difficulty has now been removed, and I have no doubt that the Army Council is in a very happy position, as far as new recruits are concerned, for at no time since 1922 have there been so many recruits accepted as there were during the last year. The hon. Member who is in charge of the Bill, in introducing the Army Estimates this year, said:Those who have been Members of this House for any length of time have seen Minister after Minister standing at this Box regretting that recruiting has not been satisfactory, and hon. Members have shown their ingenuity by suggesting year after year new ways in which recruiting might be encouraged. This year, for the first time for many years, we have been obliged to fix a limit to the numbers that we were willing to receive. We have been compelled also to raise the standard of height and weight of those who have been selected from among the men who have come up to other conditions. Even so, we have got all the men that we require. We have got a sufficient number of men of a higher quality than have been recruited in previous years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1932; col. 1655, Vol. 262.]If ever there was a justification for moving the new Clause, the justification is this year, and I have no doubt that there is scarcely a Member on any side of the House who is not in favour of restricting the recruiting into the Army fur men to those over 18 years of age. The hon. Member and the Under-Secretary of State for Air, speaking on the first two Amendments on the Order Paper, said that the Clauses were introduced to remove doubt. We would like a doubt also removed regarding the age of enlistment into the Army, for I have not seen anything where there is so much doubt as to what is the proper age of recruitment and as to instructions given to the recruiting officers for men to be recruited into the Army. Under the Army Regulations, it is said that a boy may not be enlisted into the Army as such without the written consent of his parents or guardians. I take it that that would be if the boy enlisted as a boy, but, as 574 regards recruits enlisting as men by means of mis-statement of age, a free discharge is allowed if applied for before the recruit reaches the age of 17, or when there are special compassionate grounds, if the recruit is between 17 and 18. Under the Regulations it is customary to hold the recruit of between 17 and 18 to his contract, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds. We now ask that what is given to boys under the age of 17 should be extended to boys under the age of 18.
I will not go so far as to say that these boys are enlisted under false pretences. I know that questions are put to them as to their age, but I think the War Office is really condoning the enlistment of these boys under 18. I know no other Government Department which allows so much discretion in the hands of officials administering any Act, or admitting any persons into any service, as that which is given by the War Office to the recruiting agents. In some districts if a child of the age of five is presented at an elementary school a birth certificate is required, and a birth certificate is required in order that a child may sit for the examination for a secondary school scholarship. In connection with pensions of any kind, a birth certificate is demanded, but the instructions which the War Office give to the recruiting agents are such that there is no need for the presentation of the birth certificate. If the recruit is well developed, of good size, good weight and apparently of a reasonable age, the agent is satisfied and the recruit can then be admitted into the Army as a man. The time has come when more definite instructions should be given to the recruiting agents. If the War Office would make the presentation of a birth certificate or the consent of a parent or guardian the test, that would meet our point. In these days appearance and physical development are not a satisfactory test.
With the extension of the school age and the physical drill given in our schools, it is now possible for boys of 14 or 15 to be of the height, weight and in some cases the appearance of boys of 18 or 19. I have a boy, myself, of 13 who, as far as height is concerned, could enlist in the Army and I hope that in the course of a short time he will have the width as well. 575 Most hon. Members are acquainted with the cause of the large number of enlistments of these boys. Sometimes they are due to economic pressure. In a number of cases they are caused by trivial disagreements at home. Perhaps a parent, quite rightly, reprimands a boy and the boy taking it badly, runs away on the impulse of the moment and joins the Army. I have known too, of cases of groups of boys of 16 and 17 joining the Army. One of these boys may have suggested it quite seriously; others have taken up the suggestion more or less as a joke, and all have rushed away and joined the Army. The first intimation which the parent of such a boy would get of his son's action would be the receipt of instructions directing the boy to the depot of the regiment which he had joined.
These cases cause no end of sorrow and anxiety to the parents. These boys of 16 and 17 are suddenly taken away from home influence and placed in the maelstrom of garrison life. We know the sorrow caused in many homes as a result. In a few days time the recruit himself begins to realise what he has done, and many of these lads would do anything and everything possible to get out of the Army when that realisation comes upon them. If a boy is under 17, he can be released under the regulations; if he is over 17 and under 18, he can only be released on compassionate grounds. If they are retained, these boys become disgruntled and are of little use to themselves or the Army authorities while causing anxiety and sorrow to their parents. I think most hon. Members will agree that boys under 18 ought not to be allowed to enlist without the consent of parents or guardians. At that age a boy is too young to undertake military duties and as we are informed that there is an ample number of recruits over 18 years of age and of a high standard at present offering themselves, the War Office ought to meet us in this matter.
I do not know what it actually costs to enlist these recruits, but we know that a penalty of £20 is asked for if some of these recruits are released—unless it is upon compassionate grounds or unless they have served for less than three months. But I suppose that the actual cost of training and equipment would be 576 much more. The War Office, therefore, must suffer some loss as a result of recruiting these boys. A fairly large number of them are discharged for misstatement of age. In 1923–24, 793 boys were discharged for mis-statement of age. In 1924–25, 563; in 1928–29, 573; in 1929–30, 575. All those boys were discharged, I take it, upon presenting evidence as to their actual ages. Thus we have the expense in the case of those boys of recruiting them, equipping them, training them and paying their rail fares from their homes or their work. All this could be obviated if definite instructions were given to the recruiting agents on the lines I have indicated. Quite apart from the cost and inconvenience involved, the sorrow caused to the parents is such that the War Office at a time like this when they are getting a sufficiency of recruits of the proper age when in some regiments recruiting has been restricted, ought to agree to accept the proposal contained in the New Clause.
§ Mr. TINKER
I wish to support the New Clause. I think it is time that this matter was considered. Most, hon. Members receive letters from parents trying to secure the release of boys who have enlisted, and one wonders why the Army authorities have not done something definite to deal with this matter. I know that in the past there have been times when men could not be got for the Army and when the Army authorities were willing to take almost anybody, and even to go in for something approaching the methods of the press gang. But now we learn that we are getting as many recruits for the Army as we want, all of a fair standard. That being so, the time has come to lay down a definite rule about the age. I would go further than the proposed New Clause and suggest that no one ought to be taken into the Army without a birth certificate as definite proof of age, so that there would be no question afterwards of a mistake having been made. The cost involved must be fairly great and it is worth the consideration of the War Office whether it would not be an advantage, from all points of view, to have a definite rule of the kind which I suggest. If that were done, Members of Parliament who at present receive these requests from parents would be in a position to tell the parent, "Your boy before entering the 577 Army had to produce his birth certificate and he knew what he was doing." As things stand we are bound to feel a lot of sympathy with the parents in these cases. When a boy under age has joined the Army we cannot help feeling that he has been taken advantage of, to some extent, and that he ought to be allowed to return to his home. The Financial Secretary knows that we are most persistent in these cases and he has to do all he can to ward us off in connection with them. It would relieve him of a lot of responsibility if there was a definite rule about the production of a birth certificate, and I hope, therefore, that he will consider the point of view which we are putting forward.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
With the object of this proposed New Clause, I think most of the Committee are in agreement, but I rather doubt whether in this form it will achieve its purpose. During a considerable period I had to deal with cases of this character. I have had to write on behalf of distressed parents asking for the release of youths who had joined the Army under age. I think the Financial Secretary will agree with me that, almost invariably, the War Office is ready on reasonable grounds to release such youths on the request of the parents. The trouble is very different. The real trouble is to discourage the over-zealous recruiting officer from accepting youths who are obviously not of the proper age. We all know the glamour which His Majesty's uniform has for a schoolboy and 17 is a very susceptible age. The boy of 17 often wants to show his independence of his home and his parents. He seeks adventure and in a great many cases he goes to the recruiting officer. The recruiting officer, anxious to get as big a bunch as he can, judges solely by manner and appearance as to the boy's age. I understand the view of the War Office is that when a youth has been six months in the Army the State has had to undergo considerable expense in training, feeding, housing and clothing that youth. It is in the interest, surely, of the War Office and the State to prevent recruiting officers taking boys under age who may be claimed by parents shortly afterwards as being too young to be in the Army. But it seems to me that the method proposed in the new Clause leaves 578 us very much where we are now. It may be that in war-time or in particular cases the War Office takes a different attitude, but I think that in peace-time there are very few cases in which the War Office refuses to let a lad go when his parents show good cause why he should be exempt. It seems to me that the right course to take is for the War Office, in its own interests, and the Army authorities who are responsible for the proper expenditure of the limited budget at their disposal, to instruct the recruiting officers to take more care. The new Clause proposes that the War Office should let off a boy at the request of a parent or guardian, but the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) suggested a better alternative, namely, that the birth certificate should be produced. The trouble there—and I am talking with some knowledge of working-class homes—is that it is not always easy to produce birth certificates; but that is a practical proposal and one that would be far better in the interests of the Army and of the finances of the country than the proposal in the new Clause.
I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman cannot accept the Clause—and I do not think it would take us very much further in any case—the War Office, during the next few months, should inquire into the whole problem of recruiting youths under 18. This is the very time to do it, when there is no shortage of recruits and when we are likely to reach our establishment in numbers; and, surely, we want to get the best value for our money. The Minister might very well have either an inquiry inside the War Office or a Departmental Committee. One does not like to suggest committees in these times, but the matter is worthy of an inquiry as to whether we could not find out some way of preventing these 500 or 600 lads who are released from the Army every year after about three months' training and after costing a considerable sum of money, which we can ill spare.
§ Sir GERALD HURST
I hope the Minister will not make the concession asked for in this Clause. I think the experience of most hon. Members will be that the present practice, by which, if there are genuine compassionate grounds, these young soldiers are released, is adequate to meeting the difficulty. I do not 579 think it is right to stress the alleged sorrow in the working class home which is said to arise when boys of 17 happen to enlist. In very many cases the grievance of the parent who finds that his boy has joined the Army is altogether ill-founded. Like other hon. Members, I have in my many years' experience as a Member of Parliament had many applications from constituents asking me to help them get their boys released from the Army, but my practice, unless they show really compassionate grounds, is not to try to get the boy released, but to try to persuade the parents that their son, in joining the Army, has done a far, far better thing than he has ever done before.
There are many cases where boys are at a loose end, and it is a very good thing that the spirit of adventure and what the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has just referred to as the glamour of the Army have swayed the young imagination. That is the sort of boy that we want in the Army, and it is altogether misplaced generosity to be led away by the anxiety of parents to seek to get these boys out of the Army if they want to stay in the Army. The proposed new Clause would mean, if it were carried, that any parent or guardian would only have to ask for the release of a boy and, whether he wanted to or not, the boy would have to be discharged. In other words, the parent or guardian, quite regardless of the wishes, the interests, the character, and the ambitions of the boy, would have the absolute right of denying him his choice if he wished to serve the Crown in this way.
In very many cases the boy of 17 is a much better judge of what his career should be than are his parents. He may have a far better understanding of what his own aptitudes are, and it is a very fine thing indeed that this release of boys of 17 should only be allowed where there is real need, proved to the satisfaction of the authorities, that the boy should return home, a need with which the boy himself agrees. If he does not feel that there is need for him at home, and the parent does not set up grounds of compassion and also see that there is a job waiting for the boy in civil life, he is far better paid, clothed, occupied, and 580 fed, and there is a far better future in front of him, in the Army than in most civil avocations at the present time. Because the Amendment is so reactionary and contrary to the true interests of the ordinary British boy, I hope ale Minister will make no concession at all in this matter.
I rise to add my appeal to the Minister to give serious consideration to this Clause, and I am somewhat surprised at the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst), who has just sat down, because I think it will be found, in the annals of the 500 boys or so who are supposed to enlist under age every year, that the circumstances referred to by him do not apply. The Committee has a right to look at the moral of the proposal, and surely there is an age limit below which a boy is not fit to make up his mind with regard to taking so responsible a step as entering the Army. As my hon. Friend who moved the Clause rightly said, a large percentage of these youths usually enter the Army owing possibly to some family grievance or a fit of temper, and regret it afterwards. It is not true to suggest that when they enlist, and compassionate grounds are pleaded, they are always released. I have known many cases where the compassionate grounds were unquestionable, but where the boy has not been released, so that it is not true to say that where compassionate grounds are proved it is a very easy job. It is a most difficult job to get these boys out once they are in, and surely a nation like ours ought not to depend for its fighting forces upon school children, because some of these boys are far from maturity and far from the age when they are able to decide their own destinies.
I think the time has certainly arrived when this nation's policy with regard to entrance into the Army or any of the fighting forces ought to be regulated by a definite age limit, and no boys ought to be encouraged to enlist until they arrive at that age. The last speaker talked about the glory of the Army, but that has been very misleading for many generations. There is sometimes more than glory in the Army, and I suggest that at least we ought to endeavour to recruit our defence forces from boys who are somewhere nearer the age of man- 581 hood, and not depend on mere children. I think it is true to say that, among those who are estimated to have enlisted last year under the age of 18, in the majority of cases they left homes which could well do with their return, and some of them have been refused a return.
It is certainly not true to suggest that there would be much difficulty in getting birth certificates where entrance to the forces might require it. We should not encourage children to enlist. I am a father of a family, and I say very seriously that I would not consider that a lad of mine, at 17 years of age, was sufficiently mature and stabilised, without family guidance, definitely to make up his mind as to what was best for him; and that applies to the majority of lads. I do not think we have any right, particularly at this time of day, needlessly to encourage infants into the fighting forces, when, as a matter of fact, we were told, when the Army Estimates were before us, that we had recruits in plenty last year well over the age of 18.
§ Lieut.-Colonel POWELL
Speaking as the commanding officer of a battalion, I would like to make a few remarks on this subject of the Army and recruiting. I do not know I shall be in order, but many other hon. Members have not been in order if I am not, in taking up this point about not allowing recruits into Vile Army before 18. I feel that the subject is important from several points of view. One is the difficulty which arises at once, if you get a boy enlisting under 18, that you train him for six or nine months and he is then due to go abroad. Any medical authority will tell you, on the question of going abroad to a hot climate, that it is most unsuitable to send men before 19 or 20 years of age, and from that point of view it is a mistake to take a boy under 18. With considerable experience in the Army, I would suggest that it is quite easy to discourage recruiting sergeants from taking them before that age. An order sent round to the recruiting sergeants to the effect that they would not be congratulated if it was found that they had got a certain number of boys under 18, would to a great extent meet that difficulty.
As far as the Clause is concerned, however, there is a point of view which seems to have escaped some hon. Members who have spoken, and from the point of view 582 of a commanding officer I certainly hope it will not be accepted. It has been assumed by one or two hon. Members that a commanding officer wants to keep an unwilling soldier, but any hon, Member who has had experience of soldiering will know that nothing gives more trouble to a commanding officer or to any officer or non-commissioned officer than an unwilling soldier, and if you give a commanding officer half a chance to get rid of one, he will jump at it. It is therefore rather a mistake to suggest that a commanding officer would in any way coerce a man to stay in the Army.
There is another point which relates more directly to the Amendment, and that is the suggestion that a boy should be removed from the Army merely on the application of a parent or guardian. I have had many cases to deal with in the last few years, and I would ask the Minister to give the commanding officers a little latitude in this matter. They are quite reasonable men, and they do what they consider best, the same as anybody else. Do not tie them down to endless regulations. I think there are the best part of 2,000 now, and you do not want to add any more. If you give a commanding officer a certain amount of latitude, I will tell you what generally decides him with regard to releasing a boy. The first thing that you want to be careful about is that if he goes home there is a chance of his getting a proper job, a better job than he has in the Army. When some Member of Parliament writes to a commanding officer and says, "Will you on humane grounds release this man?" the first thing you have to be careful about, before releasing him is to he sure that he has a good job to go to.
There is another condition which I think is also right. The boy might say that as he is 17 he can make up his own mind. Incidentally, I was an officer in a regiment before I was 18, and I had to make up my mind. We should not lose sight of the question whether a boy is really anxious to stay in the Army. People do not seem to appreciate that we cannot have enough boys who are anxious to stay and to get on. Education in the Army is very good; the boys go to school and get their second-class certificate; and a boy may intend to make a job of it and be very anxious to stay and get promotion. The question therefore whether a boy wishes to stay should rest 583 to a certain extent with the boy himself. It ought not to be left entirely to the demand of a parent or guardian regardless of the boy's wishes, and regardless of whether he has a job or not.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. I do not see why a boy who has joined the Army should be compelled to leave because a parent or guardian demands it. I have been in the House as many years as a good many Members who are present, and during all that time I do not think that I have had a dozen cases in which parents or guardians have desired to have their boys returned to them from the Army. I have brought them to the notice of the War Office; careful consideration has always been given to them, and in cases where the War Office have considered that the circumstances warranted a boy coming out, I have never found any great difficulty in getting him returned to his parents. According to the wording of the Amendment, any soldier who joins before he is 18 can be discharged on the demand of his parent. Suppose a man joins before he is 18 and gets tired of the Army after two or three years' service. He can then say that he wants to leave, and, although he has attained the age of 20 or 21, the fact of his having joined before 18 gives him the right to demand his release. Whoever drafted the Clause cannot, I am sure, have meant that. It is one of the most loosely worded Clauses of an important nature which I have ever seen brought before the House. Of course, that was not what was contemplated, and it only shows how some proposals are brought forward without the slightest consideration of how far they will take us.
I have had a good many men under my command at various times, and I have seen a great desire on the part of young fellows at the age of 17 or 17½ to join the Colours and to get on. According to the Clause, we are not to mind the boy's desire and his eagerness to attain promotion, but he is to be compelled to come out of the Service if a guardian asks for him. Boys of 17 and 18, and girls also, know their own minds, and in the great majority of cases boys who join the Army under 18 know full well what they are going to do in the Army and have 584 a desire to join the Colours. I hope that we shall leave it to the common sense of commanding officers, who do not want unwilling soldiers. A commanding officer wants his battalion or his brigade to be in a happy and contented condition, and they do not require men in the Army, any more than employers require men in civilian life, who will create strife and restlessness. Wherever a commanding officer wants to get rid of such a. man, he will not keep him against his desire.
A parent usually asks his boy what sort of vocation he wants to follow and allows him to follow any vocation he likes, but according to this Clause, when it comes to the Fighting Services, we are to lay down that the parent has to decide. That is a great mistake. The release of boys on compassionate grounds has been worked with sympathy in the past in all three branches of the Service, and I hope that the Government will continue on those lines, which have been quite satisfactory. Of course, we do not want recruiting sergeants to go round with instructions to look for school boys. It is only in cases where a, recruiting sergeant has been specially desirous of getting in recruits where this Clause might be needed, but in such cases assistance is given for the release of boys.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) and noted with some care the observations be made about his own experience. He said that, although he had been a Member of the House for a good number of years, he had never, except on rare occasions, come up against any difficulty in getting a boy out of the Army. The hon. and gallant Member represents Dulwich, and there are not many Dulwiches in the country. There are not many people in Dulwich who are obliged, because of economic conditions, to look to the Army as a way out of their difficulties. Nor are there many cases in Dulwich of parents who find that their children have gone into the Army without their consent. In any such case in Dulwich the required £20 would be readily forthcoming. I agree that there is a. point in regard to the technical shortcomings of the Clause to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman directed our attention, but, if the general principle is 585 accepted by the Financial Secretary, I am sure that it will be possible to add a few limiting words to say that a person who had been two or three years in the Army could not avail himself of the right.
There is, however, a principle in the Clause to which we attach great importance. The choice of a career is not a simple thing, and in these days it is becoming a more difficult problem than it has ever been. Since the choice of a career is highly important, the question arises whether a person of the age of 17 or thereabouts is adequately equipped to review the position attaching to a given Service in such a way that he can take a decision on his own responsibility. Over and over again hon. Members on the other side have quite properly emphasised the great principle of parental responsibility. When I was associated some two years ago with a colleague in the late Government in trying to commend to the House a Bill dealing with the raising of the school age, and another Bill dealing with the education of the canal boat child, I remember the enthusiasm shown by hon. Gentlemen for the great fundamental principle of parental responsibility. Now, apparently, parental responsibility has not the same claim on them as it had in those somewhat remote days. A boy who goes into the Army at the age of 17 or thereabouts may take a decision, lightly, without adequate circumspection, that is to determine his career for a number of years. It may be seven or 10, and at the end of that time, about the age of 24 or 27, unless he enlists for a further period, he goes into the world. Perhaps he finds that he is handicapped by the decision he took in his less responsible days.
The House ought not to make a decision of that sort easy for a boy of such immature age. There Jan be very little dispute on the general principle that, whether a parent has an overriding decision or not in the matter, he ought surely to be consulted. A parent might ask the boy if he prefers to stay in the Army or not, and he might tell him, "If it is your will to stay, I will not stand in your way." But that is a different thing entirely from what we contemplate in the Amendment. We are considering the case of the child—for such these young lads are—who has entered the 586 Army, perchance as the result of some pique, some resentment at parental admonition, perhaps because of the attraction of going with one's comrades in the street; but, whatever the cause, the young fellow takes a step that commits his career for a considerable measure of time. We think such a step ought not to be taken except with the definite consent of the person who above all others surely has the right to be first consulted. An hon. and gallant Member opposite spoke very sympathetically on this matter, and I was tremendously impressed with what he said, but, with great respect, I do not concede the principle that even a commanding officer ought to have the right of determining whether a boy has a better job to go to than the job he has in the Army. That is not his prerogative; if it is anyone's prerogative, it is that of the parents of the child. The argument about a better type of job being available does not carry that conviction to me which it seems to carry to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. There is, however, one very substantial point which he put, for which we thank him, and that arises when the boy's regiment is suddenly called upon to go abroad. It is a serious matter to send a boy of that age to the other end of the world. Surely it cannot be argued that a boy of that age is endowed with the power of self-control which older people possess, or that his physical attributes are sufficiently developed to enable him to withstand the rigours of foreign climates.
Hon. Members on all sides have conceded the point that they do not desire unwilling people in the Army. I wish that view could have been applied to my case in earlier days. I should not have remained as long as I did if they had shown such readiness to dismiss unwilling people; but, apparently, we have moved some considerable distance from that stage. Here is the central point at issue. Personally, I may not like the choice the young man has made, but if a person 18 years of age has determined upon the Army as an avenue of service or as offering him a career I feel that he has arrived at that decision at an age when his judgment ought to be given due weight; but I cannot feel that the same measure of attention ought to be given to the decision of a younger person. In the 587 Children's Bill which is in Committee upstairs the Government has raised the age at which an offender is exempt from the death penalty from 16 to 18. I admit that it is not exactly the same point, but it is not inapposite to this discussion to cite the fact that the Government have decided in that connection that 18 is the more appropriate age at which to fix responsibility. Even though the actual wording of the new Clause may require slight modification, I hope that it may be accepted by the War Office.
§ Mr. COOPER
As the hon. Member who moved this Clause said, this subject has often been discussed in this House. I should have thought that the fact that during the two years the Socialist Government were in office, when he himself held a very responsible position in one of the Service Departments, this Clause was not considered or passed, would perhaps have sufficed as an answer to the queries he has put this afternoon. At the same time we cannot object to the way in which he moved the Clause or to the speeches made on behalf of it. I think that the greater number of the points raised have been adequately answered by some of my hon. Friends. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) has laid his finger upon one very important point, and shown that the Clause as it stands is unworkable. I am sure hon. Members opposite did not intend to say that because a boy joined when he was 17 years and 11 months old he should be released from the Army six years afterwards if he happened to think then that it was a suitable time to leave. I should imagine that what they really mean is that the privilege that we at present extend to boys who have joined when under 17, and whose age is discovered before they reach the age of 17, should be extended to boys before they reach the age of 18.
There is another point which makes this Clause unacceptable. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) showed that he was conscious of the difference between boys who join as drummers or buglers with the consent of their parents and boys who join as men by giving a false age. This Clause would affect boys who join as boys with their parents' consent, and the parents could come back six months afterwards and say, "We 588 now want the boy back." Therefore, the Clause as it stands is quite unacceptable. Our main objection to the Clause which hon. Members opposite intended to move is based on economic grounds. We cannot accept the position that boys of 17 should be allowed to try the Army for three or four months and, if they find they do not Ike it, then throw it up. During the early months after a recruit joins be is a complete liability to the State. We spend a lot of money upon him. We pay for his equipment, his training, and for the education which he receives during that period, and if during that time or at end of it he is to be allowed to change his mind, or if his parents, finding their conditions have improved or that the facts which induced them to urge him to go into the Army have altered, are to be allowed to take him out of the Army, a position would arise which we could not accept. We wish to make it plain that that is really all we are arguing about, whether the age be 17 or 18, and I think hon. Members will see that there is a good deal to be said for our point of view.
After all, in whatever sphere of life a boy may be born, he usually has to make up his mind before he is 17 as to the profession he is going to join. In most cases he does so with the consent of his parents. They do not compel him. If a boy decides to join the Navy he does it of his own will. There are very few cases in which he is compelled to join. Probably the parents approve of his determination, but it is the boy's own wish, and I am sure nobody can feel that because the boy changes his mind a few years later he ought to be allowed to go back to civil life. It is a great responsibility to thrust upon a boy, but at the age of 17 great responsibilities are, unfortunately, thrust upon all of us. We have to take decisions then which will affect our whole lives, and in my opinion it is just as well that boys should be conscious of their responsibility at that age.
§ Mr. COOPER
Boys who join up as midshipmen do so long before they are 17. No class question arises here. A boy who wishes to be an officer in the Army makes up his mind long before he is 17 whether he is going to an Army class or to a crammer. It has been said that 17 is an age at which boys are susceptible, but I suggest that many worse things than the British Army may charm and mislead a boy and get hold of his susceptibilities at that age. I do not think it is a bad thing for a boy of 17 to be in the Army. Distinctions made by age are always rough and unsatisfactory. One boy at 16 is equal to another boy at 19, and a boy of 19 may be years behind. In this matter we rely upon the good sense and judgment of our recruiting officers. They have instructions not to try to get young boys into the Army, but to get boys of a sufficient age and sufficient physical development—boys who seem to them to be fit for the Army and appear to them to be 18. The hon. Member for Aberdare said there ought to be no doubt in this matter, that doubt ought to be brushed away. There is no doubt. The age of recruitment is 18, and every boy knows that if he joins the Army under that age he has signed a false attestation.
An alternative put forward was that we should require the production of his birth certificate, although the remarks on that subject are really more appropriate to another Amendment. We always object, and I think the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) gave some indication of why we object, to the suggestion that birth certificates should be required. It is a practical suggestion, but there are many reasons against it. Some boys joining the Army do not wish the circumstances of their birth and of their parentage to be discovered, to be published—so far as they are aware—perhaps to those who are going to be their comrades in the barracks during the next few months, though, of course, it would be quite easy to get over that difficulty. Boys coming from unhappy homes do not want to produce their birth certificates, and a great many would find considerable difficulty in getting them. They have drifted from their homes, they have lost sight of their parents, who may 590 be in trouble, may even be in prison, and they do not know where the birth certificate is to be found; and, I for one, am very much against any increase of this system of inquisition and inquiry at every turn. If an upstanding boy, looking as though he were 18, wishes to join the Army, I think he ought to be taken without having to fill up a lot of forms and produce certificates as to where and when he was born and who are his parents.
§ Mr. GROVES
Would it not be easier for the recruiting officer to get the information from Somerset House, as is done in the case of applicants for old age pensions? The boy himself would not know how the information was secured, and there could be no invidious treatment of the boy.
§ Mr. COOPER
Of course, I cannot consider that point now, but it seems a reasonable suggestion. With regard to the releasing of boys who have joined under age the course which has been suggested would probably waste the boy's life to some extent, and I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have suggested that a boy should be allowed to try the Army for a few months, and chuck it up if he does not like it. I do not think that that is a very good suggestion, because we do not want to encourage young boys, who might not like the harshness or unpleasantness of the Sergeant-Major during the first three months, to be able to throw up the Army, and thus end a career which they may have entered with enthusiasm only a few months before. I think we can safely leave the decision on this point in the hands of the recruiting officer. Most of the cases which have been brought to the notice of the War Office have been sympathetically considered, and for these reasons I hope hon. Members opposite will not press this new Clause to a Division because it is one which the Government cannot possibly accept.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Ever since I have taken part in public life I think it has always been recognised that so far as 591 the working-class soldier is concerned hunger has been the main recruiting sergeant, particularly in the case of young men. When unemployment is rife and depression prevails the recruiting figures always go up, and why? Those who have been brought up under working-class conditions know that very often a young man between 16 and 18 does not find himself always welcome at home, because his family cannot maintain a growing lad who requires as much food as and even more than those who are much older. A labourer with a family of two or three young boys finds it almost impossible to keep them. In these circumstances, when there is no employment to be found for young boys, it is no good talking about them having a free choice or a right to decide for themselves. It is a case of Hobson's choice.
The boys have to find some employment, and the Army or the Navy presents to them a way out of their economic difficulties, more particularly when things at home are not as good as they might be. Hon. Members connected with our various military organisations must take into consideration the economic position of the class of boys they are dealing with. The Army is a very fine occupation for those who like it. I was glad to hear an hon. Friend of mine say that the sergeant-major was not always an angel. If the sergeant-major was anything but what he is, he would not be wanted in the Army because he has to be a disciplinarian. The sergeant-major is not always very careful with the language he uses, and if a private used similar language we know what would happen to him. The Army is not intended for people who are weak in the head in the sense that they are not always strong in the body especially at times of crises, and then we take them in in more ways than one. When men were disabled during the War all kinds of excuses were put forward for not giving them any pension. We know how many of those men are now walking the streets of our great towns and cities, and they are compelled to go to the relieving officer.
I am not one who believes that we can do without armies or navies altogether. I wish the people of the world would agree that there is a better way of 592 settling disputes than resorting to war, but as long as we have an army and navy we must have recruits, but we should not place the responsibility of deciding the question we are discussing upon boys of 16 or 17 years of age. It is not fair to compare a boy from the slums who joins the Army with a boy who comes from the public schools at Harrow or Eton. Take the case of a boy in my constituency, with nothing but starvation staring him in the face, going about the streets singing "Rule Britannia" on an empty stomach. Can any comparison be made between that boy and an Eton boy? Before you give these boys freedom of choice you must give them equality of position, and you will not do that while the present Government have to deal with these matters. Under these conditions, it is absurd to say that a boy is choosing his own career. In one case the boy has economic security and in the other there is no guarantee whatever of economic security. Every boy who leaves our public schools knows that he will be able to enter a decent job at the end of his career, probably with superannuation, but in cases where hunger has been the recruiting sergeant the boys do not join because they love the Army and the Navy, but because they are compelled to do so by economic circumstances. It is said that a boy at 16 knows enough to be able to use his own judgment in these matters. I am aware that there are boys of 13 years of age who know more than boys at 16, but that is not the fault of the boy, and it is no reason why he should be made food for powder. When a lad is old enough to form his own judgment he should have a free choice, but up to now the boys have not had a free choice. Very often a boy joins the Army in order to be in a position to help his parents.
§ Mr. GROVES
Could not the War Office consider the practicability of getting evidence as to the boy's age from Somerset House? In London the boys are recruited at Scotland Yard, which is very near to Somerset House, and within 10 minutes they would be able to find out the age of the recruit. Inquiries could be made, if necessary, in the Provinces, and that would only mean a delay of about a day. The reply which has been given by the Government does not accept the principle underlying our Amendment.
§ Mr. COOPER
I am quite prepared to take into consideration the suggestion which has been made by hon. Members opposite. A man who joins the Army under a name that is not his own generally does so because he has unfortunately got into trouble, and wishes to start again with a clean sheet. In those cases, I think it is sound policy, on the part of the military authority, not to insist too much upon the past being raked up. Many men who have made a bad start in life are anxious to find opportunities to start again, and I think what I have said meets the point put by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. GROVES
I must say that I was taught very early not to argue from particular cases to a general principle, and I have yet to learn that the Army is a place where people are going to be turned from black sheep into white.
§ Mr. GROVES
That is certainly not in accordance with the arguments adduced at this Table when representatives of the War Office are asking for recruits.
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 30; Noes, 276.595
|Division No. 149.]||AYES.||[5.31 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Edwards, Charles||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Batey, Joseph||Grundy, Thomas w.||Maxton, James|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cove, William G.||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Price, Gabriel|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Hicks, Ernest George||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Daggar, George||Hirst, George Henry||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Devlin, Joseph||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Lawson, John James||Mr. Gordon Macdonald and Mr.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, w.)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Chotzner, Alfred James||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Albery, Irving James||Clarke, Frank||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Clarry, Reginald George||George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Clayton Dr. George C.||Gillett, Sir George Masterman|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Gluckstein, Louis Halle|
|Bainlel, Lord||Colville, John||Goff, Sir Park|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cook, Thomas A.||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Cooke, Douglas||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Cooper, A. Duff||Grattan-Doyle, Sir (Nicholas)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (portsm'th,C.)||Cowan, D. M.||Graves, Marjorle|
|Bernays, Robert||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Cranborne, Viscount||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Crooke, J. Smedley||Grimston, R. V.|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Crossley, A. C.||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Blindell, James||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.|
|Borodale, Viscount||Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Hales, Harold K.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Davison, Sir William Henry||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hanley, Dennis A.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Donner, P. W.||Hartland, George A.|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Doran, Edward||Harvey, George (Lambeth,Kenningt'n)|
|Briant, Frank||Duckworth, George A. V.||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Duggan, Hubert John||Hallgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Duncan, James A. L.(Kensington,N.)||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Eastwood, John Francis||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Asten)|
|Burghley, Lord||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Eimley, Viscount||Hopkinson, Austin|
|Burnett, John George||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Hornby, Frank|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Horobin, Ian M.|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Fermoy, Lord||Howard, Tom Forrest|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Fielden, Edward Brockiehurst||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Cautloy, Sir Henry S.||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Hudson, Robert 8pear (Southport)|
|Chalmers, John Rutherford||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.(Birm., W)||Fox, Sir Glfford||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Hunt, Sir Gerald B.||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Munro, Patrick||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Nail-Coin, Arthur Ronald N.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|James, Wing-Corn. A. w. H.||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Kerr, Hamilton w.||North, Captain Edward T.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Kirkpatrick, William M.||Nunn, William||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Stones, James|
|Knebworth, viscount||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Knox. Sir Alfred||Palmer, Francis Noel||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Patrick, Colin M.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Peake, Captain Osbert||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Pearson, William G.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Levy, Thomas||Penny, Sir George||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Petherick, M.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Taylor,Vice Admiral E.A.(P'dd'gt'n,S.)|
|Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Mabane, William||Pike, Cecil F.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Scaham)||Preston, Sir Walter Rueben||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M, (Midlothian)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|McKle, John Hamilton||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Ramsden, E.||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|McLean, Major Alan||Rea, Walter Russell||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Makins, Brigadler-General Ernest||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||White, Henry Graham|
|Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Robinson, John Roland||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Marsden, Commander Arthur||Rosbotham, S. T.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Ross, Ronald D.||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Runge, Norah Cecil||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Millar, Sir James Duncan||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Salmon, Major Isidore||Withers, Sir John James|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Womersley, Walter James|
|Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingtley|
|Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Wood, Sir Murdoch Mckenzie (Banff)|
|Mitcheson, G. G.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Molson, A. Hugh Eisdale||Savery, Samuel Servington||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Moreing, Adrian C.||Scone, Lord|
|Morgan, Robert H.||Selley, Harry R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Morris, John Patrick (Saiford, N.)||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Lord Erskine and Commander|
Resolution agreed to.
The proposed new Clause which stands next on the Paper—(Attendance at church parade not to be compulsory)—in the name of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) is out of order.
I have given the Clause very careful consideration, and have looked up the precedents, and I find that, although this question has been raised many times during the last five and twenty years, it has always been raised, except on one occasion, in Committee of Supply, and on that occasion, in 1925, my predecessor ruled that, as it related to a matter of administration, it should be dealt with in Committee of Supply and not in the Committee stage of this Bill.