HC Deb 07 April 1936 vol 310 cc2724-40

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. Thurtle.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.11 p.m.


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

I am afraid that I cannot claim for this Clause the merit of novelty. It has been moved in this House for many years now, and, unfortunately, it has been defeated every time. I should like the House to realise that the fact that we bring it forward year after year is an indication that we think that we have a strong case for it. We would not bother to trouble Parliament with this new Clause year after year, if we did not think that we were trying to remedy an injustice which exists at the present time. I am hopeful that to-night we are to have it conceded. I hope that the Secretary of State will say that he sees no good reason why this small concession should not be made, and that he will be prepared to say that the safety of the British Empire would not be jeopardised by our being conceded this small change in military law. What is it for which we are asking in this Clause? It is recognised that the normal enlistment age for the Army is 18 years, and it so happens that on occasion boys misstate their age and get into the Army under the recognised normal age of 18. We want, by means of this Clause, to enable the parents or guardians of those boys, if they think fit, to make an application to get the boys out of the Service. The Clause does not refer to boys who enlist for special kinds of employment to be trained as tradesmen or as buglers and drummers, as the Army Regulations provide that such boys must have the consent of their parents. There is one other class. There are boys who enlist under the age of 17 contrary to the Regulations, and I believe that I am right in saying that it is the practice of the War Office in such cases, if the parent or guardian makes application, to release the boys in question. I believe that we shall be told to-night, as we have been told on other occasions, that even when a boy is over 17 but under 18, if a case can be made out for his release on compassionate grounds, the War Office, in a number of cases, are prepared to grant the release. That may be so, and I do not dispute it. I am very glad that the War Office takes that attitude on occasion, but that really does not meet our case. We do not want boys under the age of 18 released on grounds of compassion. We are arguing to-night that parents should be able to get them out as a statutory right, and that is the point to which I am trying to persuade the Secretary of State to agree to-night.

In order that we may view this thing in its proper perspective I would point out that, for good or ill, we recruit our Army under what is known as the voluntary system. There may be differences of opinion as to how far in fact that system really is voluntary. There was a very distinguished soldier many years ago, Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, who always refused to describe this system as a voluntary system; he described it as conscription of hunger. Those who know the circumstances in which many men join the Army must feel that there is some truth in that statement. But I am not going into that point to-night. I want to deal with the circumstances in which these recruits get into the Army. The method of recruitment is for a, boy or a man voluntarily to engage himself to serve in the Army for a period of years. The War Office takes the view that he is too young to undertake such an engagement if he is under 18 years of age. That is the official view and that is why the official recruiting age is 18 years. We might argue that even 18 years of age, in view of the very serious nature of the Army contract, is too young for recruitment, but in any case I suggest to the House that boys under 18 years of age are certainly too young to take on the very serious obligation involved in enlistment in the Army.

I would invite the House to consider the nature of the Army contract. When a man enlists in the Army he does not merely pledge himself to serve his country for a given period of years, but he pledges himself definitely and irrevocably in certain circumstances to sacrifice his life and his limbs. That is the real nature of the Army contract, and I submit that it is of such a grave nature that we ought not to expect boys under 18 years of age to be held to a contract of that kind. I am not a lawyer, but there must be lawyers in the House who know as well as I do what the law of the country is in regard to minors. The law says that because they are inexperienced and because of their lack of knowledge of the world minors must be protected against committing themselves to contracts for service or to financial contracts. Therefore, under the law so far as civilian life is concerned a minor, that is, a young person under 21 years of age, cannot be held to an engagement of a civil kind. If it is regarded as just that a young man under 21 cannot be held to any ordinary contract in regard to financial matters or in regard to a question of service, then it is a very grave injustice that a mere boy under 18 years of age should be held to the much graver contract of military service.

Properly considered, the contract to engage in military service is the most grave contract into which any citizen can enter. I call these young people boys, and I have done so deliberately, because young people under 18 years of age are boys. We know that in the more fortunate classes of life boys of that age are still schoolboys, still members of the top form at school, still players in the school cricket 11 or in the school football team. The parents of those boys would never dream of agreeing that they had sufficient knowledge of the world and sufficient experience to undertake a military contract. In the case of boys of the working class the position is not the same. Those boys, unfortunately, have usually to go to work when they are about 14 years of age, and possibly by the time they are 16 or 17 years old they have acquired a certain knowledge and experience of the world, but in effect they really are still boys, and far too young to be asked to undertake the very grave obligation, involving possibly the sacrifice of life and limb, of military service. The War Office, in fact, concedes the point that 18 is the lowest age at which recruits ought to be accepted. All that we are asking for now is that the House should accept the logic of that position and say that boys under that age shall not be accepted as recruits and that if they are inadvertently accepted the parents or the guardians should have the right to get them released.

What are the objections to this proposal? It is said that when a recruit is accepted under age it involves the War Department in considerable trouble and expense when the recruit is released. If that be the case, why not apply the ordinary expedient which is adopted in all other cases? Why not ask the boy, the potential recruit, for his birth certificate? What is the objection to insisting upon the production of a birth certificate? If a boy wants to enter the Civil Service or the municipal service or any other kind of service it is usually necessary to produce his birth certificate. If a man or woman want an old age pension they have to produce a birth certificate. Why should the War Office talk about the cost of a birth certificate? As a Departmental matter the cost of the ascertainment of the age of any given person would be trifling. It is absurd to suggest that the cost is any serious matter.

A further objection raised is that if a birth certificate is insisted upon, boys who may not have been born in holy wedlock, boys who may be illegitimate, would be reluctant to have the fact brought to the notice of the authorities. The spokesman for the War Office said last year that if this fact was brought out it would spoil their chance of making good. It is positively absurd to talk in that way. I am glad to think that to-day, generally speaking, we take a much more enlightened view of that particular thing than we used to do. We do not regard it as anything like the grave stigma that it used to be considered in days gone by. The boy is not to blame for anything of that kind. A boy might, indeed, rise to a very distinguished office in the State although he was born in that way. Therefore, it is absurd to suggest that if the recruiting sergeant, or the colonel or the adjutant knew that he was not legitimate, that that would be any serious handicap to him in the Army.

Another reason given is that it would prevent boys enlisting in the Army under an assumed name. I wonder how many boys under the age of 18 have got such black pasts, have done such evil deeds that they find themselves under the necessity of enlisting in the Army under an assumed name! As a matter of fact there is not one of these arguments worthy of serious consideration, and I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that he should tell his expert advisers that they ought not to insult the intelligence of the House by putting forward reasons of this kind for resisting the claim we are making to-night.

If the War Office insists that it is unable to compel potential recruits to produce a birth certificate, then surely we have a right to ask it to accept this alternative solution—to allow parents, if recruits have been obtained improperly, to have the right of getting them out of the Service. If there is a drawback, if they find that it is an inconvenience, I submit that it is a proper penalty which they should suffer for refusing to take the sensible and logical course of asking for the production of a birth certificate. If the War Office is prepared neither to do the one thing nor the other, neither to ask for the birth certificate nor to allow the parent to reclaim the boy, in effect it is acquiescing in a violation of its own regulations. It is a very unworthy thing for a great Department of State to stoop to that kind of action.

I do not wish to accentuate the class aspect of this question, but I should be lacking in my duty if I did not draw the attention of the House to the fact that this matter has a class aspect. The issue involves almost entirely the boys of poor parents. I have not any figures, but I feel safe in saying that hardly any of the boys of whom we are speaking come from well-to-do parents. If more of these boys came of well-to-do parents we should probably find this change taking place before long, because these parents would protest very vigorously and very properly. They would represent to the War Office that these young fools of under 18 who joined the Army in this way really did not know what they were doing, and they would make a strong case to the War Office for getting them released. Unfortunately we are not dealing with parents with influence with the War Office. We are dealing with poor parents, and these people have not the same power to influence responsible quarters as the parents of the boys who attend our public schools. Moreover, if it is a question of purchase—I think £20 in some cases will buy a boy out—£20 may be a mere bagatelle for well-to-do parents, but £20 is a prohibitive sum as far as working-class parents are concerned.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to the working-class mother in regard to this question. It. is the unhappy fate of the working-class mother, as anyone knows who has contact with an industrial constituency, frequently to see her boy go off to join the Army. It may be through unemployment, unsatisfactory home conditions, or other reasons. If the boy is over 18 she shrugs her shoulders and puts up with it. She may have a quiet cry, but she dries her eyes; she accepts this blow as one of the inevitable blows poverty gives her. If the boy is under 18 even that mother feels that there is something wrong in the system which takes a mere boy and puts him into the Army for a period of years. So she goes along to her local Member of Parliament or somebody else who, she thinks, has influence, and asks if something cannot be done to get the boy out of the Army. It is for mothers of that kind we are arguing to-night.

Perhaps my manner is a little aggressive. It is not intended to be. It is furthest from my intention to-night to be at all aggressive. I want to get on the right side of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am drawing attention to these matters not because I want to score debating points, but because I am anxious to get the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to give this matter reconsideration. I aim in some difficulty as to what is the best method of approach. We have had many refusals in the past, and I am wondering what the real explanation of those refusals is. I imagine it must be because the permanent advisers of the War Office have suggested that our claim should be rejected. Again, to-night if the right hon. Gentleman refuses this claim he will no doubt be acting on the advice of his Departmental advisers. If I am wrong in that, I beg his pardon, but I think it is extremely unlikely that if his expert advisers were to tell him that this small concession might safely and properly be made, he would reject that advice. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is a reactionary person himself, and if his advisers would say that he could make this concession it would be made.

Therefore, if he says that he is sorry he cannot concede the point I shall assume that he is doing so on the advice of his expert advisers. On that assumption I am going to make a direct appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. First, I am going to beg him to believe that it is conceivable that his expert advisers, with the best will in the world, may be mistaken. He knows enough of the history of the Army Act since the War to know that there have been many changes in that Act. He knows enough of the history of the Act to know that almost every one of those changes—they have been many and important—have been resisted by the expert advisers of the War Office. I do not exult over that fact, but I draw attention to it because it is evidence that these expert advisers, sincere though they may be, acting from the best possible motives, may give the wrong advice. I am going to suggest to him that he should bear this fact in mind, and bearing it in mind agree to give the matter his own direct careful personal attention.

I am going to give one reason why he should do that. I do not know what kind of new arguments he is going to bring before the Committee to-night, but if he brings new and cogent reasons why this claim of ours should be resisted I am sure the Committee will listen to them with great respect. If he does not do that, if he is going to use the old hackneyed, threadbare arguments which have been employed on other occasions, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, from the point of view of his own intellectual self-respect as a logical and reasonable man, to realise that it is time that this matter was reconsidered. I make that appeal with a certain amount of confidence, not because the right hon. Gentleman has promised me any concession, but because he has in the past given some proof that he is concerned with justice for the private soldier. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) will remember that many years ago when we were urging the abolition of the death penalty in the case of cowardice in front of the enemy, we got unexpected but powerful support from the right hon. Gentleman in favour of that change. It is true that he was then a private Member and has now reached Cabinet rank. There are some cynical people who say that when a private Member obtains Ministerial rank he promptly puts his passion for justice in told storage and does not bring it out again until he goes out of office. I have a higher opinion of the right hon. Gentleman than that. I think that he still v ants to do justice to the private soldier, and for that reason I make a direct personal appeal to him to give this matter fresh consideration.

So far as his expert advisers are concerned, I would like co suggest to them, through the right hon. Gentleman, that they are not doing themselves justice in resisting this claim and in putting themselves at variance with public opinion in regard to it. The people of this country believe in the Army and are prepared to maintain it at a strength which is considered right and proper. I do not know how many recruits may possibly be lost by the change I am urging tonight. The number may be small or it may be large, but I am quite certain that, whatever the number may be, the people of this country are quite ready to make whatever improvements may be necessary in Army conditions in order to ensure that additional mature recruits are obtained to take the place of any of these boys who are lost to the Service. This country has a reputation in these matters. Even in times of crisis and grave national peril it has never been eager to push mere boys into the Service. I have said all I want to say on this issue. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Committee that the change we are suggesting is reasonable and just. It is a change which can be supported by the facts, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman again, as a believer in justice for the private soldier and as a just and reasonable man himself, to say that he will make this concession, or that he will give the matter very careful consideration with a view to bringing forward the suggested change next year.

9.41 p.m.


It is only three minutes ago that I discovered that my name was down as a supporter of this proposed new Clause, and then it was pointed out to me by another hen. Member, but I must say, after having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Thurtle), that I am only too glad to be able to avail myself of the mistake. There was one point in the speech of my hon. Friend to which I think the Secretary of State should reply, and that is the question of the age of 18, which was fixed by the Army Council itself as the age at which they desire to take boys. That figure of 18 was not fixed arbitrarily; the Army Council had some specific reason for fixing the age of 18. The reason was that they do riot want boys under that age. If 18 is the age at which it is desirable that boys should join the Army, and a particular boy is untruthful enough to make a mis-statement about his age and unruly enough to join the Army without his parents' or guardians' consent, why should these two facts turn a boy who otherwise would not be eligible for the Army on its own Regulations into a boy who is so eligible that once the Army have him they refuse to let him go?

I can understand that it causes trouble and expense to the Army Council if a boy enlists and gets his uniform, and then for his parents to wish him to leave. But, surely, that position could be met by some small financial penalty, and not by insisting that the boy shall serve his full service. It cannot be a very important matter for the Army. Surely there is not a large proportion of these youthful recruits who join without the consent of their parents and give a false age. There cannot be very many cases of that kind annually. It is no use pretending that this is likely to raise a serious problem for the recruiting authorities. It may be a very serious problem for some parents. It may also be a serious matter for some boys, who perhaps in a romantic moment run away from home to join the Army before reaching years of discretion, and who then find that they have made a great mistake. For the parents and the boys it may be a serious matter, but by no stretch of the imagination can it be regarded as a serious matter for the recruiting authorities. The hon. Member for Shoreditch has paid the right hon. Gentleman many compliments which I am not at all certain the right hon. Gentleman deserves, but I hope that at any rate he will attempt to earn them by agreeing to this Amendment.

9.46 p.m.


I wish to support the new Clause. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) moved the Clause with a thoroughness that I have not heard in the House before, and he mounted up one argument upon another in a most convincing way. Not only did he do, that, but he made an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He handed to the right hon. Gentleman flowers that bloomed as fresh as they do in the spring, and he was really trying his best not only to get to the heart of the right hon. Gentleman, but to meet the arguments that are likely to be put forward. I do not think there is much that can be added to the remarks of the hon. Member for Shore-ditch upon this question.

I confess that I cannot understand why the War Office refuses to grant this request, which has been made in different forms at different times. On this occasion it is a. request that the consent of the parents should first have been given. On a previous occasion we asked that the birth certificate should be the test. I cannot understand why the War Office refuses this request, because it really involves comparatively few youths who are under 18 years of age. It is true, as the hon. Member for Shoreditch said, that the boy who enlists under the age of 18 takes upon himself the gravest responsibility that any human being can undertake. None of us is what might be called squeamish. None of us asks that boys should be treated in an effeminate way, but I do not think there is any hon. Member who will say that anyone can take upon himself a greater responsibility than that which is taken by a youth who joins the Army at an age when, as a civilian, he is a minor. In civilian life he is not legally able to undertake the most ordinary duties without his parents' consent, but when it comes to undertaking this military duty the War Office insists that the boy should be counted as having a legal status which he does not appear to have in ordinary civilian life.

There is another point I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. As a rule these boys are members of working-class families, very often members of big families, and sometimes the eldest of the family. When they enlist they do so suddenly, without telling their parents beforehand that there is any possibility of their enlisting. If the parents could have five or 10 minutes to talk over with these boys the condition of the family, it is possible that they would be able to bring such influence to bear on them as to hinder them from taking the course they contemplate. The parents would be able to tell the boys of their responsibility to the family and of the part they would be likely to play in a year or two's time. Sometimes at 17 years of age these boys are not getting very big wages, but at 18 or 19 they may perhaps become the mainstay of the family, and frankly it is this which sometimes leads the mother or the father to ask for the release of the boys. When the boys enlist without the knowledge of their parents, it is too late.

All the requests that can be put to the War Office have no effect, because the War Office have made up their mind to hold on to the boys. The War Office have been considerate enough to say that youths under 17 years of age should be released, and that is the legal practice. That was some concession, but I must admit that I cannot understand why the same does not apply to boys under 18. I shall be very interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's reply on this matter.

There is then the further point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch, that in the wealthy families there is no penalty in this matter. They are able to buy the boy out, and sometimes in their case £20 is a mere bagatelle, although to a working-class family it is prohibitive. It is unjust that the War Office should take advantage of the circumstances of a working-class family which makes it impossible for them to use the ordinary means that would be open to wealthier parents. I ask the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion to settle the question once and for all. The hon. Member for Shoreditch has already said that if the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, he ought at least to give the matter serious consideration. I think that in fact it will be found to be a small matter.

I am sure that if they gave way on this point, the War Office would be able to get as many youths or men over 18, sometimes over 21, who are in a fairly good condition, or who have been rejected because they were just on the border-line. They would be able in that way to make good the numbers if they wanted to do so. I submit that the value which the War Office gets from having boys under 18 is neither worth the trouble it causes nor just to working-class parents.

9.54 p.m.


I wish to support the Clause, and in doing so I would like to ask the War Minister to take note of the remarks of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), who in his pleadings paid a great many compliments to the right hon. Gentleman. To-night the hon. Member pleaded as I have never heard him plead before. I do not know whether he will be successful or not, because we have done that sort of thing during the past three or four years and we have never had any success. The Secretary of State for War said he could not give way and had no intention of giving way, and he even pointed out that the Labour party did not attempt to do anything in this respect when they were in office. We have had to admit that we did not do it when we had the chance but there are two pleas which I would make in that respect. The first is that we were overloaded with other matters and had not time to deal with this question. Secondly, as the years have rolled past, the Army has gradually improved and now occupies a status equal to other grades of employment. Now that it is regarded as an honourable occupation—if one may put it in that way—the same kind of treatment should be meted out to those entering it as is meted out to entrants into other occupations.

In every other grade of Government employment it is necessary for a boy or girl on entry to produce a birth certificate. In other walks of life an employer is liable to prosecution who does not require a birth certificate. If that is necessary, in mining for instance, as it is, why should it not be necessary also in the case of the Army? If the occupation is worth anything it is worth requiring truthfulness from those entering it, and the recruiting officer ought to insist on a boy who wishes to join the Army producing the record of his birth so that there can be no question afterwards.

This would have a good effect in various ways. First, there could be no crying out afterwards and asking the Secretary of State to exercise his clemency in favour of boys who have joined under age. The parents would know that the boy at the age of 18 had satisfied the authorities, had acted with full knowledge of what he was doing and head been accepted for the Army on those grounds. It would be of advantage therefore to Members of Parliament, to parents and to the War Office. There cannot be many boys between 17 and 18 joining the Army, and if so, it is hardly worth while keeping up this practice year after year. The hon. Member for Shoreditch has already made the point that working-class families have difficulty in finding the money to buy out boys who join under age, whereas well-to-do parents have no trouble in that respect. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accede to our request on this occasion. As long as he maintains his present position he may expect opposition from us. If he wants to ease his own burden and to have a quiet night each time the Army Annual Bill comes round, he had better give way on this point. Otherwise we shall strengthen our opposition, and he will have to listen not to short speeches such as we are making to-night, but to much longer speeches. Therefore I hope that, for his own sake and for the sake of the gentlemen who are now listening to us in the official gallery, he will give way to our plea on this occasion.

9.59 p.m.


The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) has been accused of pleading and of indulging in flattery. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has adopted the other policy of indulging in threats. If I satisfy either hon. Member before I sit down I hope they will not think I have given way either to flattery or to threats. What has impressed me has been the powerful and reasoned case which the hon. Member for Shoreditch has put forward. He has submitted every sound argument in favour of his case, and I think one or two which were not sound. One can only suppose that he thought he might as well, on this occasion, put in everything in favour of his case. For instance, I cannot agree that there is anything sacrosanct about the age of 18. We have adopted that age simply as a mean. Everybody knows that there are boys of 17 and 17½ far better developed, mentally and physically, than boys of 18½ and 19. But in regulations it is necessary to fix an age. No one can definitely say that no boy under 18 is fit to be a soldier, or that any injustice would necessarily be done by allowing a boy of that age to take even such an important decision as that of joining the Army.

The hon. Member for Shoreditch said that parents in wealthy families would not dream of allowing their sons, when they left school at the age of 17, to commit themselves to such a course, but I would remind him that boys of much younger age are allowed and even encouraged by their parents very often to take an equally important decision in joining the Navy, and there are many instances in which boys in all ranks of life have at an early age to take decision which may ultimately affect their whole careers. The insuperable difficulty which makes it impossible for me to accept the new Clause on the Paper is that, if it were adopted, the practice might easily arise of boys of 17 joining the Army for a short time to see what it was like. There would be nothing to stop parents encouraging boys to go into the Army to see if they liked it and, if they did not like it, they could come out again.


If they had to produce a birth certificate that would not be the case.


There is nothing about a birth certificate in the new Clause. There would be the danger under this Clause, as I say, of boys joining the Army for a short time to see whether they liked it or not and while there may not at first sight appear to be anything absurd or impossible in that system, hon. Members will understand that such a system could not possibly be allowed or encouraged by the Army. Then the hon. Member for Leigh says: "Why not insist upon a birth certificate"? That is a very reasonable suggestion, but there are arguments against it. Indeed the hon. Member for Shoreditch has stated most of the arguments against it, though I do not think he stated them quite so well or at such length as the other arguments he used. There are cases in which boys wish to make a new start in life, very often because they feel that they have committed some incredible crime when, in fact, they have done nothing serious. There was a very sad case recently of a boy who committed suicide because he had done some foolish thing which at his age loomed large in his mind and appeared more grave to him than it would to anybody else. There are boys who, at that age, think they must make a new start and change their names and enter the Army. There may be many of those cases, and it is difficult, and it may be impossible, to gauge their true number.

There are cases also where one of the things that holds boys back from recruiting is that diffidence avid shyness which is common to all Englishmen, and especially common at that age, and a reluctance especially to reveal the fact that their birth happened to be illegitimate. I think boys especially are extremely sensitive on this subject, and they feel that if they have to show a birth certificate to the recruiting officer, he may be their superior officer or their sergeant when they join their unit, and may hand on the information thus obtained to their fellows in the ranks, and they may suffer as a result. These are not unimportant considerations, and I would remind the House that recruiting at this time is extremely bad. It is really a very grave and serious problem. The dangers in the world, as we know, grow greater every day. We alone among the great Powers of Europe continue to maintain our defence system, with our enormous Imperial responsibilities, on a voluntary basis. There was something which the hon. Member said and something which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said, which I almost took as a promise that if they were met in any way in this matter, they would themselves try to fill up any deficiency that might be caused if they were met on this question. They both said they had no doubt it would be easier, if any change of this sort led to a greater fall in recruiting, to find the necessary men to make good the deficiency. They did not say they could be found, but—


May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if, for instance, he came forward with a suggestion of better pay for the private soldier, he would get my support?


That may be, but I seriously suggest, as I did when speaking on the Estimates—and I thought I met then with some response from the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street—that it is the duty of hon. Members opposite, just as it is the duty of hon. Members on this side, to do what they can in their constituencies to make it plain to those who support them that there is a good life awaiting them in the Army. It is the policy of the Labour party to maintain a strong Army, and they should, if they are logical and wish to support their own policy, lend us their assistance in the great work of recruiting. This question of producing a birth certificate is one that I am prepared to say I will look into. There is a great deal of force and cogency in the arguments that have been put forward. I must, of course, make such careful inquiries as I can as to the extent to which such an alteration is likely to affect the numbers in the Army. At present, in this year that lies before us, we are going to do our utmost, as I have already said, to increase recruiting throughout the country. If recruiting does increase satisfactorily—and it can only increase satisfactorily if we have the support of all sections of the community in advocating it—I think it might well be possible that I should be able next year to adopt some suggestion of the kind put forward to-day which would get rid of many of these difficult cases and which would, after all, put the Army on the same basis as other occupations.


In view of the very promising statement which the Secretary of State for War has made, I would like, with the permission of the Committee, to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to