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 if such request is made before the boy attains the age of eighteen and it is shown that the boy enlisted without the consent of the parent or guardian.—[Mr. Lawson.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
As the Committee know, we have moved this Clause for several years in succession. The intention of the Clause is quite clear. It is that no boy, unless he has his parents' consent, shall be kept in the Forces, if he has enlisted when under the age of 18. Of course, all depends on the question of age. The Section of the Army Act which we wish to amend has a proviso that the Army Council in special cases or classes of cases may by order direct that when a boy has enlisted before the age of 18 the period of 12 years of his service shall be reckoned only from the day on which he attains the age of 18. The Army Council recognises that no service before a boy is 18 years of age counts effectively, and that a boy's real service counts from the day, not when he inlisted, but when he attained the age of 18. The subject raised by the new Clause involves moral considerations, and in some respects legal considerations. A boy is a minor until he is 18. I believe that as a matter of fact parents are under an obligation by law to maintain a boy until he is of full age, and that age, I believe, is 18.
Let us suppose that a boy enlists in the Forces and does not bring his birth certificate with him. He may be of the 326 right size and appearance for enlistment. Sometimes he is enthusiastic and wants to stay in the Army. Sometimes he wants to get out again, but as to that there is a difficulty. Some of those who enlist at 18 years of age or over are very happy for a week or two and feel as though they would stay in the Army all their lives, but when they get into the hands of the right gentleman in the right place as a rule most of them want to go home again. But here we are dealing with the case of the boy under 18 years of age. Once he enlists the Army keeps him, as I think illegally. In effect, the parents are told, "All right; you may have a right to claim your son, who is not 18 years of age, but you will have to go before the court in order to claim him." I do not think there is any doubt—I speak as a layman and am not certain as to the law—that if parents had the necessary money to go before the court and claim their son from the Army they would have a strong case if the son had enlisted when under 18 years of age. I shall be much obliged if the Financial Secretary to the War Office will address himself to that point. All along the line the War Office has relied on the fact that parents are not likely to go before the court and claim the boy because they have not the necessary means.
Then there is the case of the boy who when he enlists gives a wrong age. That would be a matter for the court to consider too. When the Financial Secretary or the learned Solicitor-General replies, I wish he would state whether the Army has a legal right to keep a boy who has enlisted when under 18 years of age. In any case there is the strong moral consideration in the matter. In some cases before enlistment a boy has been working and has begun to earn money. His working-class parents have brought up the boy, who is beginning to be useful by giving a little return to them for their care and outlay on his upbringing. He may have been a cause of anxiety to them because of his physical condition, and in many other ways. Suddenly the boy makes up his mind to enlist. I know something of the virtues of the physical training and discipline which he will receive, and I sometimes wish that the opportunities for physical exercise and discipline which are afforded to those joining the Army could be dissociated from the Forces and made avai- 327 lable on a wider scale. But the fact is that in such a case as I have in mind the boy enlists just when he is becoming of use to his parents. Thus a real burden is laid upon his parents and that is a consideration which ought to carry considerable weight with the War Office authorities. I hope they will take it into account in replying to the case we are making on behalf of this proposed new Clause.
Then there is the question of whether youths under 18 should or should not be in the Army. For many years the Army authorities have considered that 18 is the earliest age at which lads should be allowed to join the Forces. There may be those who say that a full-grown boy is a man at that age. I thought I was a man before I was 13, because I was working in the pit the day after I passed the age of 12—like a good many other hon. Members on this side. But we all know very well that under 18 is too early an age for a boy or a youth to launch out into the kind of life which is involved and to undertake the responsibilities which he has to undertake, when he joins the Forces. It may be said that there are those who have joined at the age of 16 or 17. All we ask in this Clause is that if parents or guardians request the release of a boy who has enlisted before attaining his 18th year and if it is shown that he has enlisted without their consent, then he shall be released. It is time the War Office gave serious consideration to this view, because there is a strong public opinion behind it. I hope that either the Financial Secretary to the War Office or the Solicitor-General will reply particularly on the legal point as to the right of the Army authorities to hold these boys if they have enlisted under the age of 18 without the consent of parents or guardians.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I hope this afternoon we shall not merely have a repetition of what has happened in previous years, namely, a number of speeches from this side in favour of this proposal and the reply from the War Office, "We are sorry, but we cannot accept the proposed new Clause." I would have preferred a Clause in more definite terms than that which is on the Paper. I think we should have insisted upon an age certificate before a person is accepted for 328 the Army. This Clause, however, does not deal with that point. In industry a boy has to produce an age certificate, and in the case of the mining industry, if it is found that a boy has got in by any means under the proper age, there is trouble. I do not see why a certificate should not also be necessary in the case of joining the Army. However, all that we are asking at present is that, if a boy does join the Army under the age of 18 without the consent of his parent or guardian, the War Office shall release him on the application of the parent or guardian.
I think it would be to the advantage of the War Office to adopt our suggestion. To-day I put a question to the Financial Secretary as to how many recruits did get into the Army under the age of 18. He was not able to tell me definitely, but he was able to give the numbers discharged. Before referring further to those, I would like to tell the House one or two things regarding the attestation form. When a lad first enlists, he has to swear to recognise the attestation, and, if he is discovered giving wrong replies to any of the eight questions which are put to him, he is liable to two years' imprisonment for making a false declaration. It may be well known to the recruiting officer that a lad whom he is accepting is under 18. We cannot get away from the fact that boys are taken into the Army because of their physique, and, if a boy is well set-up, he is not questioned very closely about his age. But later on if it is found that the lad is not suitable for the Army or his physique has not withstood the rigours of Army life, any doubt which a recruiting officer or a company commander may have about his age is immediately investigated, and it is left to the authorities to decide whether they shall dismiss him or not.
That is why we get figures such as the following of discharges over a period of years. The number for 1930 was 575; for 1931, 637; for 1932, 416; and last year 294. The figures, it is true, are going down. I do not know whether fewer lads under 18 are going into the Army or whether it is the case that we are short of recruits and are holding on more tenaciously to them and making it more difficult to get boys released. However, there are the facts of the case, and I put it to the House that, if we want to build up an efficient Army, we ought to lay down 329 definitely the conditions under which recruits enter the service and enforce them. If the age is fixed at 18, let it be 18. Let these boys know what they are taking on and what they have to face. Then those who do want to go in for an Army life know exactly what they are doing. To me the present system savours rather of the press-gang. It seems to be based on the idea that we must get them, any way we can.
A lad of 16 or 17 may feel dissatisfied with his home. Perhaps he is out of work and wants to get away from home. He joins the Army. There is always the doubt whether he will be allowed to remain in it or not. Clear away that doubt. Let it be definite that a boy must be 18 and physically fit before he joins the Army. It does not seem to me that anyone could reasonably oppose the proposed New Clause, and it is surprising that every year when this matter is raised we meet with the rigid and stern opposition which is typical of the War Office on this point. Probably the same thing will happen this afternoon as has happened in previous years. I suppose we ought to be discouraged when the other side always tell us that if people join the Army they ought to take the risk. But I hope we may see a change of attitude to-day, if not on the part of the Financial Secretary at least on the part of some of his supporters and that some of them will go into the Division Lobby with us and encourage us to bring this matter up on another occasion with better hope of success.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I would like to make the appeal which I have made on previous occasions to the representative of the War Office with regard to boys. I have had quite a number in my own experience, some of them under 18, and a considerable number over 18 years of age who, having joined the Army or one of the other Forces, have desired to get out of it. My experience, no doubt, has been the experience of other Members in similar circumstances. The War Office tell you that they are prepared to allow them out if compassionate grounds can be shown. My personal experience has been that, where those grounds can be shown, whether a boy is under or over 18, both the War Office and the other Services have been perfectly reasonable 330 in the matter, but when there are no special compassionate reasons which one can put forward, the only alternative, apparently, is that the boy shall be bought out. I am not sure, but I believe that the amount which the parents are asked to pay is £35, but whatever the amount may be does not matter very much.
I want to put this point of view to the responsible Member of the Government. I have no doubt that in the case of boys from various classes in society—because, after all, young persons of that age are very much alike—something happens at home, a row with father, or perhaps someone else in the family, and, in a fit of temper, they join the Army; or, perhaps, in the case of working-class people at any rate, they have been out of work a long time and been reprimanded at home for not finding work like some other boy in the street, or something like that, and the father, perhaps, in a heated moment, says, "It would be better for you to join the Army." I have had a case of that sort in the last few weeks. Sometimes when a boy has joined the Army the mother and father wish that the hasty word had not been spoken, and want their boy home again. They have been to me in circumstances like that within the last three or four weeks.
Assume two cases, one a young fellow under 18 in what we call the upper class of life, well supplied with money, and another lad, the son of a mechanic or labourer, not well supplied with money. In neither case can compassionate grounds be proved, but, in the case of the well-off family, it is comparatively easy for them to pay the £35, or whatever the sum is, and get the boy out. It does not hit them in the smallest degree; but in the case of the poor family, it is an utter impossibility for them to raise the necessary amount of money to buy the boy out. Therefore, it operates very unfairly as between two classes in society. It may be that there is an intermediate class where the parents deny themselves some things which they ought to have, and are able to get their boy out by such personal sacrifice of themselves; but in the case of very poor parents, where the need of the boy's assistance in the home is great, the possibility of getting him out of the Army is nil.
I submit, on these grounds alone, that the Army authorities ought to be able 331 to say definitely, "Eighteen years is the age at which we take you in the Army, and if you get in, in any circumstances, by lying, we will not recognise lying and glossing over, and pretending that we do not know that lying has taken place, and we will definitely say you are not a fit member of the Army, because your age is not what you stated it to be, and you have got in under false pretences." After all, false pretence in many regards is a crime in law, but false pretence in joining the Army, apparently, is not. False pretence, if you join the Army, is considered to be a virtue. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would you prosecute?"] If prosecution meant getting them out of the Army, I think it would be very much better, but it does not follow that because they were prosecuted they would go to gaol. Let me remind the hon. Member who interjected the question that we have recently passed in this House a Children and Young Persons Bill, under which anybody up to 18 years of age is recognised as a young person, and when he goes to court he is treated differently from those over 18. There is a special court to treat such cases, and if a prosecution did take place in the circumstances that my hon. Friend thinks it might, I suggest that if the boy went to that special court he would receive more consideration as a young person than, apparently, the War Office is prepared to give him to-day.
Then, on moral grounds, it is encouraging these young people to lie. They are taken into the Army, and the only reply I have ever heard in this House, and the only reply we shall probably get to-day, is that when they join the Army the War Office is put to certain costs for training, and, therefore, it would not be fair to the War Office, after giving them a certain number of weeks or months of training, and supplying them with food, clothing and so on, that they should be let out. But is that any reasonable balance for permitting and encouraging this lying? Can anyone justify it on moral grounds? I venture to say that there will be no attempt to justify it on moral grounds from the Front Bench to-day, but I do hope that on moral grounds, and on grounds of equity and fairness between different classes in society, any boy who joins the Army under 18 years of age, provided that his parents make the application suggested 332 in this Clause, the parents shall get the opportunity, which they ought to have, of bringing the lad home, and allowing him to grow up and be of some service to his parents at a time when they certainly need him most.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Sir GERALD HURST
I hope that the War Office will resist this Clause. I spoke against a similar Clause on one of the previous occasions, and I would like to do so again to-day. In my submission, the hon. Members who spoke in support of the Clause have looked at the whole question from the wrong angle. They have looked at it entirely from the point of view of the parents who want contributions from the wages of their sons, and not from the point of view of the sons. It is really a question for the boys themselves and not so much for the parents, and this Clause enables any parent or guardian, possibly against the will of the young man who has enlisted, and in the absence of any; compassionate grounds, to obtain, as of right, his discharge from the Army. It is, as I say, against the interests of the son himself to substitute, as I suggest, in many cases an inferior life for a better. In 99 cases out of 100 a boy who wants to join the Army at 17 and take risks in doing so, is far more likely to get enjoyment out of Army life than from the scanty means of livelihood open in many parts of England to young men of the working classes. In 99 cases out of 100 there is no better life than Army life. In a very large percentage of cases the alternative in a poverty-stricken family at home offers utterly inferior amenities and pleasures. Instead of travel, adventure, health, happiness, open-air life and exercise, it means, in many cases, a life spent in and out of employment, a life where a man only casually and precariously makes any contribution to the home, and a life in many cases devoid of brightness.
Anybody who is acquainted with industrial conditions in the world to-day knows how difficult it is for a boy to look forward to a useful and well-employed adult life. As an alternative to that you have a life which offers any number of advantages which appeal to young men—health, happiness and exercise combined with doing their duty, undergoing a very useful discipline and also equipping themselves for useful work in after life. In 333 many cases Army life is the better, and, in my submission, to force against his will a young man who prefers the better life, and in the absence of compassionate grounds, to give up the life he prefers for the life he rejects, seems to be unconscionable, and not in his best interest. The hon. Members who spoke in favour of the Clause have emphasised that if these boys were compulsorily released from the Army they would be very useful to their parents. That does not at all follow. In many cases they might be a burden on their parents, particularly if they do not find employment. The chances of difficulty and trouble arising in the home in having unemployed young men there is very much greater than if they were in the Army, and even from a money point of view the position of the parents is less advantageous. And the dangers of home life are perhaps very much greater than in the Army. From the point of view of life itself, the dangers of death from shot and shell are less than from motors and motor cyclists, and the moral dangers are much less in the Army than in town life infested by Reds and Fascists.
I cannot think that in many cases parents will be better off or happier in having sons at home than if they are well employed, well clothed and well looked after in the Army. A boy or girl of 18 is a better judge than the parents of what should be his or her career, and the boy who is willing to take the risk of two years' imprisonment in order to have a life of adventure is just the stuff of which our country has always been proud. I think that in many cases parents or guardians have very little knowledge of what is really best for the child. That is why they often take the advice of the schoolmaster as to what they shall do with their child, tout the boy himself, in most cases, is the best judge, and if he likes a life of adventure he can have it, and it is a wrong thing, in the absence of special, compassionate grounds, to take him from that life against his will.
The hon. Member who last spoke referred to cases in his constituency where questions of this type have arisen. They come to most Members of Parliament. I myself have often been spoken to by parents of sons who have enlisted below the age of 18. I have always told them 334 that it was the best thing that could happen to the boy, and I have always discouraged them from taking any action to get them out of the Army or any other branch of His Majesty's Service, and in the sequel they have always been glad that they have taken my advice. They realise what everybody realises who compares the life of the Army to-day with life in industrial towns, that the young man of 17 who takes the risk, by making a false statement, of joining the Army, is often doing a far, far better thing than he has done before, and entering a far, far better life than he has ever known.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I join in the hope just expressed by my hon. and learned Friend that the Government will not accept this Clause. There were one or two observations made toy the hon. Members who supported the Clause to which I would like to refer. It was said that if a boy under 18 joins the Army because he has had a row with his parent, who says, "You had better join the Army," he should be entitled to go to the War Office, and that the parent should get his immediate release. My hon. Friend then went on to say that this Clause would enable the parent or guardian at once, without, any question of compassionate grounds, to get the boy out of the Army. I notice-that one of the proposals in the Clause is that it must be shown that the boy enlisted without the consent of the parent or guardian, and that means that somebody would have to arbitrate as to whether the consent given in that little domestic quarrel to which reference was made was real.
§ Mr. LYONS
I think it was the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) who mentioned that matter. The principle behind this Clause is very important. I had a case a little time ago in my division in which I was be-seeched by the parents of a boy who had enlisted in the Army to help to get him out. The evidence was that he was a first-class recruit, behaving himself well, and that he had won the admiration of his superiors and his fellows. It is common knowledge that the Financial Secre- 335 tary to the War Office to-day gives immediate and kind consideration to every application of this nature that comes before him, and I am glad to think that I can join in the acknowledgments made by the other side in this respect. In the case to which I am referring, I saw the parents time and again about the matter, and the boy sent me a letter, in which he said:I want to tell you that I am now in first-class surroundings, properly fed, properly housed, and properly trained. I have a doctor to look after me when I am sick, I am earning a reasonable amount of money, I am being equipped to take my place in the world when I am released from the Army, and I want my parents to take no steps in the matter. I want to stay where I am.If this Clause were accepted, it would mean that willy-nilly, without any regard for the desires of the boy who was serving in the Army, his parents could obtain his immediate discharge from the Service. Nowadays the Army, without dispute, is a first-class life for any boy, and the conditions of service are infinitely better than those that existed years ago, when many of us first became acquainted with the Service. When a boy goes into the Army to-day the State Spends a good deal of money in training, equipping, housing, feeding, and making a man of him. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) has suggested, very much better money is being earned in the Army to-day than in many blind alley occupations in ordinary civil life. To accept this Clause would be to allow a parent or guardian at any moment to say, "Never mind what you have done in the way of training my boy, I want him out at once." That will put an unknown burden of expense upon the national Exchequer.
We know very well that when the Army Estimates come out hon. Members opposite criticise the spending of so much money on the Army and say that we are squandering money in a race for armaments, but they would never turn round, if this Clause were carried, and say, "This extra amount is being expended because of the Clause which gives the right to every parent or guardian to take back, out of the Army, a son or a ward who has joined before 18, and thus waste all the money that has been spent on him." It is common knowledge that the 336 cost of the Army to-day is much greater per man than it was years ago, and this Clause would mean an extra burden on the State which would be entirely without justification. Finally, if a parent were able to obtain the discharge of a boy in these circumstances, the boy would find himself sent into some industry, if work existed for him, which would be not nearly so good for him and which would offer not nearly the same opportunities that he had in the Service. For these reasons, among others, I hope the Government will not accept the proposed new Clause.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I think the propaganda department of the Government, after the last two speeches to which we have listened, will be able to put out a new poster: "Join the Army and solve the unemployment problem." I support the proposed new Clause. I think a good deal of nonsense has been talked from the other side of the Committee against it, The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) said that at 17 a lad was better able than his parents to choose what he ought to do, but the hon. and learned Member knows very well that that is not so. He knows as well as I do that a boy of 17, who is inexperienced, when left entirely to himself, would often choose the wrong career for himself. We are told to-day that the lad of 17 is a man when he joins the Army and that he gets all the advantages of an Army career, but in industry at 17 years of age he is a boy. If you go inside a colliery office and ask for an advance in wages for a boy of 17, you are told that he is only a lad, that he has not the experience of an adult, and that he must be content with a low wage. If he falls out of work, he gets less than a man from his unemployment insurance. He is still regarded as a young person, and in general legislation we do not regard a person of 17 as a man.
If we must have an Army, and I suppose we must, and we want an efficient Army, for Heaven's sake let us have it made up of men and not of lads. Our proposed new Clause says that if a boy joins under the age of 18, and his parents or guardians make a request for his discharge before he becomes 18, he can have it. If he leaves home and joins the Army under 18 years of age, and his 337 parents or guardians are willing for him to have an Army career, then, so far as we are concerned, we have no quarrel, but we think it is wrong to allow a lad of 18 to have an absolute right of discretion to join the Service or not. I think that many hon. Members opposite, after their speeches this afternoon, would not, if they had sons, put them to the law or advise them to join the Civil Service, but would tell them of all the wonderful benefits that they would get from an Army career.
While I agree that, comparatively, an Army life is much better than being out of work in an industrial district, that is the rotten side of the industrial system, and there are thousands of lads who have been driven into the Army from sheer poverty. They do not, however, always make the best type of soldier. The Financial Secretary to the War Office, who believes in an efficient fighting Service and who has the courage of his convictions, both in this House and in the country, and states what he wants, will, I hope, see reason and accept this Clause on the ground that a lad of 17 has not reached an age when he is able to decide for himself that an Army career is good or bad; and I sincerely hope that we shall get this new Clause inserted.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Duff Cooper)
This Clause has been so often discussed in this House that in listening to the discussion once again I feel rather as though I were listening to an old play, but very often when we see an old play we notice some new point in it, especially if it is a good play. I do not say that this is a particularly good play that we are attending now, but one new aspect of the case has struck me very strongly this afternoon, while listening to the speeches of hon. Members opposite. It is very extraordinary that the Labour party, the Socialist party above all, should be supporting a Clause of this kind. This is not a question as between the boy and his parents, as has been suggested. It is not a question between even the individual and the Army. The question is which is the wiser to decide, the parents or the State?
Hon. Members opposite are supposed to believe in State interference, and that in matters of this kind the State is a good 338 judge; and they have been generous enough—the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) has been generous enough—to agree that the State does look very carefully into every case of this kind, judging on its merits and, when there is a strong case, releasing the boy. But when the State, represented by the commanding officer of the regiment, looks into the details and judges whether or not a boy would be better off at home, and reports to the War Office, and we look into it again—I have often discussed these questions with hon. Members opposite—and we decide according to our lights that it is better that the boy should be released or retained in the Army, we say, on these benches that that kind of decision is wiser than the decision of the parents as to what the fate of their son should be, but in this particular matter the Socialist party opposite are the reactionary party. They are not even asking for the rights of the individual. They are asking for the most old-fashioned of all things—a revival of the patria potestas, known to students of Roman law, which gave to the parents powers over their children, which no modern State would tolerate. That is the kind of thing that they are trying to revive in this country. Some poor boy may have escaped from a bad home, and he may have a good career opening before him in the Army, but they say that because he is 17 years and 11 months old, his father may drag him back into the bad home and may have the right, against the wishes of the boy and of his commanding officer, against the wishes of the State, as represented by the War Office, to claim his discharge from the Army.
This is a most reactionary Clause, and I think the hon. Member for West Walthamstow had not thought out the matter very clearly when he said that the War Office, by retaining these boys, were encouraging them to tell lies and were putting a premium on false pretences. Exactly the opposite is the case. These boys have committed a very serious crime by making these false statements as to their age, but the hon. Member says that, although they have committed this crime, we should take no notice of it but should let them go back home. A boy of 17 years and 11 months commits the crime of making a false attestation, and on the same day a boy of 18 years and one month makes a true declaration. A month after- 339 wards they both get sick of the Army and want to return home. The hon. Member says, "Keep the boy who told the truth, but overlook the lie that the other boy told, and let him do exactly what he likes." This is putting a premium upon false pretences and giving a benefit to the perjurer. Nobody can dispute that. You are encouraging a boy to tell a falsehood because you are putting no penalty on him for doing it. We say that if a boy commits this crime of making a false attestation, we should have the right to decide what should be done with him. He knows that he lays himself open to a penalty of two years' hard labour by making a false attestation. We would not dream of exacting that, but we would retain the right—that is all that we claim—to be the best judges as to whether he should remain in the Army or return home.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who asked for the figures as to how many of these boys are released, expressed surprise at the very great falling off this year and said he could not account for it. I can. For two years there has been prominently on every attestation form a warning, printed in large characters, to the effect that a boy who makes a false attestation lays himself open to this very heavy penalty of two years' imprisonment with hard labour, and that has only been in force for two years. The first year the numbers went down by about 100, and this year they went down from over 400 to under 300. That is very remarkable, and I think it shows that we are surely doing our best from the point of view of morality to make the position plain to the boy. The hon. Member for Leigh asked why we should not make the position plain to the boy so that he would know where he was. What more can we do, for we tell him he must not join before he is 18, and he has to fill up a form on which he swears he is 18.
I think the only new point which has been raised this afternoon was raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who put forward a most alarming suggestion that the War Office were acting beyond their powers and that if parents cared to go to law they would be supported in the courts against the War Office and that the Courts would find that the War Office was retaining 340 the boys illegally. I have had the advantage of the Solicitor-General's advice and I have also read the Act, and I think the hon. Member can set his mind at rest. There is no question as to the legal position. I am sure that if there had been any case to be brought against the State, it would have been brought many years ago.
The most important aspect of the question is the economic aspect. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow said the rich man's son was always in a position to afford his release. I agree. I do not deny—it would be humbug to pretend otherwise—that the rich are better off in every way than the poor. When a man is subjected to a fine or imprisonment, the rich man can pay while the poor man goes to prison. That may be just or unjust, but it is not the issue that arises on this proposed Clause.
On the question of compassionate grounds, I have before said in the House, and I would repeat, that in the vast majority of cases not only is the boy better off, but the parents are better off for his being in the Army. From the first week he joins he gets 14s. a week, and within a few months that may go up. In addition, the boy gets complete sustenance, lodging, good food and plenty of it, and medical care. He can if he wishes—I do not suggest that any boy should do it—allot the whole of that 14s. to his parents, but naturally he must keep a certain amount for his own private expenditure. There are very few boys who are in a better position than that when they start in industrial life at the age of 17.
The position broadly is that we say 18 is the age at which a boy should join the Army. We do not want boys younger than that. In the Act of Parliament 18 is the figure laid down. If we changed it to 19 to-morrow, we should be discussing this proposed Clause again next year with the figure 19 instead of 18. Nine months here or 12 months there in certain cases makes all the difference in the development of boys. There is many a boy of 16 or 17 who is as fit to take on an Army life as other boys of 18 and 19. Our recruiting agents have instructions not to recruit boys under 18. When the boys come along they are asked to sign a form. If they take the risk of making a false attestation, we say that 341 we will look into the case, and if we see no particular reason why they should be released, we keep them. If it is not to their own or their parents' benefit that they should be released, we keep them. I do not see how any reasonable man can say that we are wrong in doing that.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
I listened to the Financial Secretary to the War Office with care because I expected him to put up a reply to the arguments which have been advanced from this side of the Committee, but, although I always admire his courage and ingenuity in debate, I must confess that this afternoon he appears to me to have overstated the whole position. He started by saying that he was amazed that this party, which in its philosophy sets the authority of the State above the authority of the private citizen, now seeks to put the authority of the parent above that of the State. His amazement is nothing compared with our amazement that he should advance such an authoritarian dogma as that, because he represents a Government that believes that all the important functions of society which should be discharged upon the initiative of the individual and that the State should have no direct responsibility at all in the matter. I can understand some people, for instance a Fascist, or a man who believes in an aristocratic state or a dictatorship or a plutocracy, putting up that position, but for a man who believes in private enterprise to assert the authority of the State above that of the parent is astonishing.
As a matter of fact, what the hon. Gentleman has said is that the State shall be the best judge of a liar but not the best judge of a truthful person. If what the hon. Gentleman said is correct, if indeed the State should be the best judge of whether an Army career is better for the boy than an industrial career or than to be unemployed, then the hon. Gentleman should bring forward a Measure for conscription, because all those arguments merely justify conscription. He tells us, however, that the War Office emphasises the fact that they will not take lads until they are 18 years of age, and, if a boy sneaks into the Army under 18, he gets there because he tells an untruth. The State, says the hon. Gentleman, shall 342 exercise the perfectly desirable prerogative of deciding what is best for the boy who tells a lie, although it relinquishes that power in the case of the boy who tells the truth. That is an astonishing position.
§ Mr. BEVAN
We will see in a moment to what extent he does that. The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) told us that these are criminal types by means of which this Empire has been built up; those whose sense of adventure leads them to break the law, he says, are the very stuff of which this country is made. That is a point of view which I am sure will be hailed with hilarity in the criminal classes of society. The Financial Secretary says that if a boy tells a fib, then, by the act of telling that fib, the State assumes in respect of him a relationship which it does not claim in respect of the truthful person. He has not justified that. All that the State has established is the right to punish a person for telling a fib if it is an unlawful fib. I understand now that immediately a citizen between 16 and 18 tells a fib to get into the Army, he relinquishes all right to citizenship and all rights over his own body, his parents relinquish all rights over him, and he becomes a serf of the State. That seems to be rather a heavy punishment for having told a fib.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The alternative is obviously not that, because no court in Great Britain would give two years' hard labour to a child for telling a fib. What the hon. Gentleman has suggested is that by the act of telling a fib the boy becomes a serf of the State from 16 to 18. There can be no more heinous punishment than that, because it is a complete abandonment of all individual rights. We would be perfectly prepared to discuss the proposition that the State is the supreme authority in this matter if there were a proposition for conscription before the Committee. What is before us is a very simple proposition. It is that if a boy joins the Army by making a false statement the parent should have the right to take him out of the Army. That is all we ask. In that we assert the authority of the parent 343 as the responsible person for the boy under 18. Why does not the hon. Gentleman admit the right of the parent in this case in the same way that obligations are imposed by the property laws? A citizen in Great Britain is a minor until 21 years of age. The parent is responsible for the contracts made under 21 years of age, and, in the case of property, the parent is also made responsible. In the case of human rights the parent is deprived of that responsibility and that right. If the hon. Gentleman is consistent he should go forward with the proposition that parents should be exempted from all obligations to their children after the age of 16. The British law makes the parent responsible for the boy up to 21, and our claim is that if the parent is to be made responsible for the conduct of the child in respect of property, he should have the guardianship of the child with respect to its plans, intentions and acts.
It has been alleged by some hon. Members, like the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side that one of the reasons why we resist the Amendment is that the Army career is obviously so much more desirable for lads than a career in our industrial system. My hon. Friends here have said that that is an indictment of our industrial system and not praise for the Army. I would like to point out to him that boys between 16 and 18 are the least fitted persons to judge. In the first place, the attractiveness of the Army is falsified, and deliberate and calculated lies are told about the Army, which is held out to the lad as a marvellous opportunity for adventure, for individual enterprise, and for a colourful life. It is the first time I have ever heard the Army described as a place for the exercise of individual initiative or the regimentation of the Army held out as an opportunity for a colourful life or for adventure. One would think we were listening to a novel by Henty or Ballantyne and not to a discussion of the modern Army. Whenever hon. Members speak of the modern Army they go back to the middle ages and talk in romantic terms about the Army. There is no colourfulness, no adventure, no opportunity for initiative—
§ Mr. BEVAN
Adventure! It is a misuse of the term, with the regimentation of the modern army, the living in a modern compound, to speak of barrack life as a life of adventure. Civilian life gives infinitely more adventure. If all that the hon. Member refers to is an opportunity of marching down the street with a cane under one arm, ogling the girls, or going to the canteen, I say all those opportunities exist in civilian life, and such adventure is no prerogative of the Army. It is hyperbole to talk of the colourful life of the modern army; it is a dull, drab, miserable, regimented life, calculated to suck every piece of individuality and vitality out of a man, who becomes a good soldier only to the extent that he loses his individuality. Therefore, to claim that the lad between 16 and 18 years of age is being drafted into a life of adventure is a flagrant and downright misrepresentation of the facts. It may be less true of the Air Force, because the Air Force is a new arm, and there is some pioneering to be done in that branch of the Services, but the Army is a highly standardised organism, and it is only to the extent that the individual becomes subordinated to that organism that he is a successful unit.
Whenever the Army and Navy are discussed we get these stories, which remind one of the romances of Sir Walter Scott, of Conan Doyle, Ballantyne, of Seton Merriman and all the other stories that boys read. That is why a boy of 16 to 18 is least fitted to make a decision. His whole psychology at that age is romantic. He is reading literature full of adventure, all this falsifying literature. He is on the threshold of life, his adolescent life appears to be full of adventure, and when people come to him with suggestions for joining the Army he, with his mind excited by literature such as I have referred to, is least fitted to make a decision.
That is the claim which we make on this side of the House. The State has a special interest in the matter, and therefore the State is no authority, and there is only one other authority, and that is the parent. I should be the last person to argue in favour of parental tyranny. I am not suggesting that parents are divinely inspired, and that their decisions with respect to their sons are always correct, but in the absence of any other authority, in the absence of any other 345 guardian, the parent is the only person whom we can fall back upon. I suggest to hon. Members that in the matter of education they would not allow their sons of 16, 17 or 18 to decide what sort of career they should have. The wise parent does not come down on his son like a ton of bricks and say "You must do this or that," but he does try by wise guidance, by suggestion and by example to get the child to take up the kind of education which he ought to have. But here, with respect to the Army, we say that the parent has no wisdom, has no responsibility, and that the boy of between 16 and 18 must himself decide and stand by all the consequences of his decision for a period of 10 years—indeed, for 12 years if he enlists at 16. He is bound for all that time by an impulsive
§ action. It may be that he was only 14 years at the time, but as a general rule these boys are between 16 and 18. I suggest to hon. Members opposite they have not done justice to their case this afternoon. They are relying, as they have always relied in this matter, on an overwhelming majority in the Chamber. I would ask them, if they are going to justify their attitude, to present us with rather less frivolous arguments than we have had. They should put the real position before the boys and not falsify it by the romantic glamour of a century which is quite dead.
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 36; Noes, 264.347
|Division No. 190.]||AYES.||[4.51 p.m.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Maxton, James|
|Buchanan, George||Hall, George H. (Marthyr Tydvll)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cape, Thomas||Jenkins, Sir William||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Daggar, George||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawson, John James||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Dobble, William||Leonard, William||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Edwards, Charles||Logan, David Gilbert||Wilmot, John|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Lunn, William|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel||Clarry, Reginald George||Fermoy, Lord|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Clayton, Sir Christopher||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Fox, Sir Gifford|
|Albery, Irving James||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Fremantle, Sir Francis|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Fuller, Captain A. G.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Conant, R. J. E.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton|
|Balniel, Lord||Cooper, A. Duff||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Copeland, Ida||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Gluckstein, Louis Halle|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brogravs Campbell||Cranborne, Viscount||Goff, Sir Park|
|Bernays, Robert||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Crooke, J. Smedley||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Blindell, James||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Crossley, A. C.||Granville, Edgar|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Cruddas, Lieut-Colonel Bernard||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Grimston, R. V.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Davison, Sir William Henry||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Denman, Hen. R. D.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Denville, Alfred||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Dickie, John P.||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Doran, Edward||Gay, J. C. Morrison|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Dower, Captain A. V. G.||Hacking, Rt. Han. Doaglas H.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Duckworth, George A. V.||Hales, Harold K.|
|Burnett, John George||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Hamilton, Sir R.W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd)|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Duggan, Hubert John||Hanley, Dennis A.|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington. N.)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Dunglass, Lord||Harbord, Arthur|
|Carver, Major William H.||Eady, George H.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Eales, John Frederick||Hartland, George A.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenn'gt'n)|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Eillston, Captain George Sampson||Harvey, Major s. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Hellgen, Captain F. F. A.|
|Christie, James Archibald||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Savory, Samuel Servington|
|Hornby, Frank||Moreing, Adrian C.||Scone, Lord|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Hurd, Sir Percy||Morrison, William Shepherd||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Moss, Captain H. J.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Muirhead, Lieut-Colonel A. J.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Munro, Patrick||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Jetton, Major Thomas E.||Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Klne'dine, C.)|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Soper, Richard|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||North, Edward T.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Nunn, William||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Patrick, Colin M.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. C. (Westmorland)|
|Law Sir Alfred||Pearson, William G.||Stevenson, James|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Penny, Sir George||Stones, James|
|Leckie, J. A.||Percy, Lord Eustace||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Petherick, M.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Lewis, Oswald||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Liddall, Walter S.||Potter, John||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Ralkes, Henry V. A. M.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Litter, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Thompson, Sir Luke|
|Lleweiln, Major John J.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Lloyd, Geoffrey||Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)||Ratcliffe, Arthur||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Rea, Walter Russell||Train, John|
|Loftus, Pierce C.||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Tree, Ronald|
|Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Rickards, George William||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Roberts, Aled (Wraxham)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Mabane, William||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Ross, Ronald D.||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Host Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|McKeag, William||Ruggles-Brlse, Colonel E. A.||White, Henry Graham|
|McKle, John Hamilton||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian||Runge, Norah Cecil||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Magnay, Thomas||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Wilson. Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Russell, Hamer Field (Shef'ld, B'tside)||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Russell, R. J. (Eddlsbury)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Llverp'l)||Womersley, Walter James|
|Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Salmon, Sir Isidore||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Milne, Charles||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Sir Victor Warrender and Captain|