HC Deb 29 March 1935 vol 299 cc2223-31

"In section eighty-one of the Army Act (which relates to power of recruit to purchase discharge), for the words "three months," in line one, there shall be substituted the words "one year," and for the word "twenty," in line three, there shall be substituted the word 'two.'"—[Mr. Maxton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

Section 81 of the Army Act provides that if a young man, having joined the Army, finds that the life is uncongenial to him, or that he is unsuited to it, or that there are some strong reasons why he should return to civil life, he may, within a period of three months, purchase his discharge for the sum of £20. We think that three months is much too short a period for a man to know what his feelings are towards Army life. In most walks of life most of us do not know in three months whether we shall find our particular work congenial or not. A 12 months' period of trial and experiment is much more usual than three months. Therefore, we suggest the extension of the time to 12 months, so that at any time in the first year of his service a soldier or his friends may have the right to withdraw by purchase.

We wish, in addition, to reduce the sum that he would have to pay for his discharge from £20 to £2, Most of the young men concerned, particularly in these days, are drawn from working-class or unemployed homes. A sum of £20 either to the serving soldier himself or to his relations in an enormous amount of money. It is prohibitive for the ordinary manual worker if employed, and unthinkable if he is unemployed. A large proportion of the young men who have in recent years joined the Army have come from homes where there is severe unemployment. That indeed has been one of the factors which have urged a young man to join the Army. We think that in such circumstances to say that he can have his discharge to civil life for an expenditure for £20 is no concession, because it is simply saying to him that he cannot have it because he or his friends cannot find £20. We suggest the substitution of the much more moderate sum of £2, which would represent a real sacrifice and would be sufficient to deter the soldier or his friends from treating the matter lightly. Two pounds is a substantial sum in a working-class home and a very large sum in an unemployed home. To alter the Clause as we suggest, would make it more in keeping with a realisation of the actual conditions in this country than the existing section does.

12.52 p.m.


I want to oppose this proposed new Clause for the very reasons that have been submitted by the hon. Member who has moved it. Perhaps there is an analogy that might be drawn. There are still such things in this country as apprenticeships. If a son of mine were apprenticed to a given trade at a certain premium, it would according to the hon. Member be only right if after a certain period, say of 12 months, the son did not like his surroundings, that I should be able to claim that the penalty for breaking the contract between the tutor and the apprentice should be reduced. I hope that the hon. Member will not think I am malicious, but I believe that there is an ulterior motive behind this new Clause, and I can thoroughly understand it. The hon. Member really gave the game away when we were discussing the measure known as the Sedition Act. Communists or any person who attempts to seduce the ordinary men of the Services from his allegiance to the Crown have had their activities curbed by that Act. This new Clause would lead to the possibility of a person enrolling in His Majesty's Services under the guise of a genuine soldier for the specific purpose of using his 12 months to distribute or disseminate propaganda.


I had not thought of that. It is certainly an idea worth considering.


That is the reason why I claim the Clause should not be accepted. It would lead to that possibility. The party, anxious that this antagonistic propaganda should be disseminated, but being in low funds and not having a sufficient membership to guarantee a banking account, would be much better able to get together £2 as the result of a public meeting than they would be able to scrape together £20. Therefore the hon. Member, with all due respect to him, is to be respected in so far as he is conscientiously inclined in these directions in finding this very novel way of introducing a dangerous thing. I do not impute the motive to him, but he has admitted that he sees the possibility of it. After all, if a recruit enlists in the Services, as the right hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago, the State attempts not only to make the best use of his services but to bring out the best qualities in the man himself. Not only do they teach him a trade, but they give him facilities for scientific knowledge which in ordinary civil life he would never be able to acquire. It is only fair to say that after three months those in charge of that man have an opportunity of knowing whether or not he is likely to be a suitable recruit for a specific type of service. It is unfair after the initial plans have been laid down and expenditure incurred that this person should by his own will by paying a paltry £2 be able to leave the Service and destroy all the ideals of himself on the one hand and the expenditure which has been laid down in respect of him on the other. I believe that it would considerably hold up the question of enlistment and the responsibility of recruits to ridicule, and, in so far as the British Army is concerned, I hope that nothing will ever be introduced into the regulations to make that possible.

12.57 p.m.


I know nothing about these ulterior motives.


Hear, hear.


I say that I know nothing about these ulterior motives—I am not going further than that—but I should never suspect the hon. Members of doing anything that they were not prepared to come into the open about. Therefore, I do not want to say anything about any suggestion of ulterior motives, but to deal with the proposed new Clause on its merits. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said that three months was much too short a period for a soldier to make up his mind whether or not he would be happy in remaining in the Army. The hon. Member would be one of the first to consider the interests of the State. He believes in State control and would therefore never overlook the interest of the State even though he would take into consideration the interest of the individual soldier. Considering the interests of the State, he must take into account the cost of the training of these young soldiers, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike).

I can assure the Committee that the cost of training to-day is very considerably much more than it was before the days of mechanisation, and, if a youth were to be allowed to come in for 12 months, take advantage of the training which he obtained and then go out again into civil life within a 12 months' period, I am sure that he would unnecessarily be using up a great amount of State money. As the hon. Member for Bridge-ton said, the effect of this Clause would be to allow a youth to be in the Army for 12 months and then be bought out at a cost of £2. I wonder whether he has considered the young fellow who perhaps after 12 months or just before the 12 months' period of service has expired gets just a little tired of Army life. He goes out after 11½ months' service and then shortly after finds that the Army was not so bad after all, comes back, does another 11½ months' service, goes out again, between periods of service in the Army enjoying considerable periods of leave. I think that the hon. Member would agree that that would not be conducive to the smooth running of any machine, even an efficient machine like the Army. How about when a battalion was getting ready for foreign service '? Some young soldiers may decide that they are going to take advantage of the facilities now being granted to them by the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his friends and say, "No, we are not very keen' on foreign service" just before the battalion is due to go abroad, and decide to take their discharge. You can imagine the chaos in the battalion. They may have to start with even younger recruits, and it would be very difficult for them to complete the training which is necessary in so short a time. There is no doubt about it, whatever the ulterior motives may be, if this Clause were accepted, the dislocation would be very serious, and it would make administration in the Army quite impossible. I ask the hon. Member not to press the Amendment, and, if he does, I ask the House to reject it.

1.2 p.m.


A Government does its best to get a Bill through as easily and quickly as possible, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not spare time for a few lessons to his supporters, not that one minds what they say. I once had a foreman beside me who was always looking for something that was wrong, and it was said that he had a mind like a sewer. I can assure the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) on the question of distributing literature to seduce soldiers that if somebody wanted to do that the question of £2 or £20 would not stand in his way. If a Power wanted to do that sort of thing a few miserable pounds would not stand in its way. I ask the Committee not to take the hon. Member seriously. We have already dismissed him on the subject of unemployment insurance, and I trust that on Army matters his fate will be the same. I turn to more weighty considerations. The right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office always seeks out the, weakness in a person's case and plays on that. It is good debating, and I take no exception to it. He bases all his case practically on the 12 months and says little or nothing about the £20 or £2. If the right hon. Gentleman will concede us the £2, we will not press for the 12 months. When we put in the claim for the 12 months we knew it had certain weaknesses which do not pertain to the £2. The right hon. Gentleman said that men would seek to leave the Army on the eve of a regiment going abroad. It is not the common practice to send abroad men in their first year or two years of service, though it is sometimes done.

In my own case I served an apprenticeship of six years at my trade, which is one in which the unfit are very quickly eliminated, but we have found that it is only after a year or two that a lad really knows whether he will ever be fit for the trade. I daresay that during a young man's first few months in the Army he is treated as he would be treated in any other human establishment; they are kind to him, they forgive his faults, his failings, and his stupidities, they are tolerant towards him; but at some time will come the test of whether he will make a soldier or not. It is not always a case of a man not liking the Army. I have had considerable experience of endeavouring to get recruits released from the Army, because a large number of young men in my constituency join the Army. What I have found is that they do not always want to leave because they are against life in the Army, but because they feel they will never make a soldier; just as some men may feel they will never become journalists or pattern makers. The young man has not got his heart and soul in his job and feels that he will fail to make as good a soldier as his fellows. It will take 12 months to find that out. In the first six months or so in the Army they will be kindly and tolerant towards him; it is only in the second six months that the test will arise. Though I have never been in the Army myself that is what I have learned from my experience in dealing with the cases of men who want to get out of the Army. They feel they cannot make as good soldiers as the others. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) will know that nothing annoys a miner more than the thought that he cannot pull his weight with his fellow miners, and it is the same with soldiers.

I turn now to the other point of £20 as against £2, and will illustrate it with a case which came under my notice only a few months ago. The son of a man living in the neighbouring division to mine, which in the main is a wealthy division, joined the Army, and after 2½ months was bought out. His father was a commission agent and bought him out for £20, which is less than 20 pence to any constituent of mine. In the very same week one of my constituents wanted to buy his son out of the Army, but he could not afford to do so. To find £20 was a terrible matter for him; it would have been hard enough to find £2. There we see a distinction between a man who can easily put down £20 and get his boy out without any trouble and another poor fellow, living within a quarter of a mile of him, who cannot afford to pay the £20. In these days of equality surely we are not going to say that a man is to be denied a right simply for lack of money. Even in police courts we recognise that fines must be graded according to a man's capacity to pay. To a man who is well off £20 means nothing, but to poor people it is a prohibitive, almost an impossible, sum. Therefore, we say that on this question of money, whatever may be said about the period of a year, we have an unanswerable case, and that this concession ought to be granted in order to put all sections of the community on a level.

1.12 p.m.


I am inclined to support this Amendment, which I regard as a very reasonable one. The sum of £20 is absurdly high. I think the Minister has made his calculations on an actuarial basis in suggesting that because the cost of training a recruit is so high the State ought to be reimbursed as far as possible if a man leaves the Army at the end of three months. There is another point of view. While assessing the expenditure of the State on the training of these young men the Minister must not forget that the men render a great deal of service while in the Army. It is not all give on one side and take on the other. Speaking with five years' experience as a soldier, I maintain that a

private soldier works very hard indeed. He has to shovel coal out of trucks, he has to be a domestic servant and peel-potatoes, he has to be an ostler, sometimes even he has to be the horse. A private soldier gives a good deal of value while he remains in the service, and in calculating how much we are to charge him if he wishes to retire we ought to make allowances for the services he has rendered to the State. No doubt most of those who wish to retire from the Army are unable to find the £20, because to them that is a small fortune. It is probably four times as much as the State pays that man in the first three months of his service. We are accustomed to smugglers, when they are discovered, being charged the heavy penalty of four times the value of the smuggled goods. It seems as though we are imposing a very heavy penalty upon people who wish to retire from the Army, making no allowance for the service which they have put into it, and only taking into account the value which the State has provided in the training.

The argument is that the Army might not wish them to retire, but would it not be very much better that they should retire, if their heart is not in the business, than that the State should have to send them abroad, incur further expenses and, in the end, turn out an inferior article instead of the better article that might have been obtained if the lad had been allowed to retire? The sum of £20 should be very considerably reduced. The hon. Member who moved the Clause protested against the absurdity of the existing sum, and I hope the Minister will give way upon it and will agree to reduce it to the dimensions proposed by the hon. Member;, or to some still lower figure.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 17; Noes 109.

Division No. 127.] AYES. [1.17 p.m.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Foot, Dingle (Dundee) McEntee, Valentine L.
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Gardner, Benjamin Walter Thorne, William James
Cove, William G. Groves, Thomas E. Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Daggar, George Grundy, Thomas W.
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Dobbie, William Jenkins, Sir William Mr. Maxton and Mr. Buchanan.
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) John, William
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Goldie, Noel B. Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.) Grimston, R. V. Held, William Allan (Derby)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Ropner, Colonel L.
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes) Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Selley, Harry R.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Aske, Sir Robert William Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne, C.)
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Blindell, James Hume, Sir George Hopwood Somerville, D. G. (Wlliesden, East)
Bossom, A. C. Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Bower, Commander Robert Tatton Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Spens, William Patrick
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Stourton, Hon. John J.
Broadbent, Colonel John Kerr, Hamilton W. Strauss, Edward A.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Knight, Holford Strickland, Captain W. F.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Leckie, J. A. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Browne, Captain A. C. Leighton, Major B. E. P. Sandys, Edwin Duncan
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Campbell, Vice-Admira. G. (Burnley) Liewellin, Major John J. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring) Lloyd, Geoffrey Tinker, John Joseph
Clayton, Sir Christopher Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Lumley, Captain Lawrence R. Tree, Ronald
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Mabane, William Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. McLean, Major Sir Alan Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Conant, R. J. E. Maitland, Adam Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Cook, Thomas A. Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Craven-Ellis, William Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Watt, Major George Steven H.
Crooke, J. Smedley Milne, Charles Wells, Sydney Richard
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro) Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Morrison, William Shephard Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Wise, Alfred R.
Essenhigh. Reginald Clare Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardin, S.) Penny, Sir George
Fremantle, Sir Francis Pike, Cecil F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Ganzoni, Sir John Raikes, Henry v. A. M. Sir Walter Womersley and Major
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) George Davies.
Goff, Sir Park Rathbone, Eleanor