HC Deb 15 December 1936 vol 318 cc2423-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]

11.20 p.m.

Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX

I wish to raise the question of the relations between the Labour Ministry and recruiting. It is well known to hon. Members that recruiting, especially for the Regular Army, is now in a very bad position. There was a Debate last week during which it was brought very vividly before my eyes. I put a question the other day to the Minister of Labour. We have no fewer than 1,600,000 unemployed and I asked that when men went to the Employment Exchanges for a job the officials should be allowed to give to men of recruitable age a pamphlet showing the advantages of recruiting in His Majesty's Army. I was told that that was impossible. The Minister said that he would allow Employment Exchange officials, if an applicant for a job asked for such a pamphlet, to give him such a pamphlet, but that he could not allow these officials to take the initiative in the matter, and that men of a recruitable age who were suitable for the Army must judge for themselves. He would allow the official to take out a dusty pamphlet from under the counter and hand it, with a blush, to one of these applicants, as though it were some indecent literature. In an ordinary industrial district, anyone who has a factory has the right —and often uses it—to write to the Employment Exchange and say he has occupation for six more hands. When men turn up for jobs at the Employment Exchange, the officials ask them whether they would like such a job, and they take it.

What I claim is that it should be allowed that His Majesty's Army should be put on an equal footing with the ordinary private industrial employer, and that a man should be allowed to judge for himself whether he would care to have employment in His Majesty's Army. I do not want compulsion at all. The official would simply say to these men, "What about the Army, old boy? If you like to think about it, here is a pamphlet which will tell you all about it." I do not want him to make unemployment benefit dependent upon it in any way; but when you ask a man to go into an industrial concern, he should have an equal choice of going into His Majesty's Army.

11.23 p.m.


I also was raising this matter the other day but was prevented from going further because of the Motion on the Paper. I desire to draw attention to the terms of an official memorandum, which has recently come into my hands, issued by the Ministry of Labour to officers in Employment Exchanges forbidding them to volunteer any information as to terms of enlistment in the Army to applicants for jobs.

Ministry of Labour. Confidential. Ex-change officers may on request give applicants information with regard to conditions of enlistment, including the name and address of the nearest recruiting officer. It is important, however, that Exchange officers should in no circumstances spontaneously volunteer information or suggest to applicants the desirability of enlisting in His Majesty's Forces. There is no idea of compulsion. It is simply that they should be told. When the Prime Minister a short time ago pointed out that there was no more honourable or manly occupation than that of serving in the Army, especially as men could also learn a trade, and when we know the bad state of recruiting—the anti-aircraft defence of London is 16,000 men short—it is surely an extraordinary thing that servants of one of the great Departments of State should be forbidden even to mention the fact that recruits are required for the Army.


11.25 p.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Lieut.- Colonel Muirhead)

I am sorry to intervene in front of the hon. Member, but I think he will realise that there is not much time at my disposal to reply.


You have had one point of view only, and not that of the unemployed.

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

I do not contest the correctness of the regulations to which the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) referred. I do not know how a confidential document came into his possession. These regulations were, however, instituted originally in 1919 and they have been continued by Governments of various political complexions. I should like to disabuse the House of any idea that there is an attitude on the part of the Ministry of Labour or the exchanges antagonistic to recruiting. The proof is that information is given at the Employment Exchanges if it is asked for. A poster agreed upon by the Services giving the addresses of various recruiting offices has been exhibited at the exchanges for several years and recently, in response to Service demands, we have agreed to put up pictorial posters also and to ensure that Service leaflets are available in the public rooms of the exchanges.

What has actuated the Ministry' throughout has been a positive attitude and not a negative attitude. We have been anxious to ensure the maximum efficiency for the exchanges in serving the national needs as a whole. Two million and a-half placings a year are now effected through the medium of the exchanges, and a considerable number at the present time are in connection with the Defence programme. The expedition with which these placings were fixed has been due to the spirit of confidence which has been built up over a long period between the exchanges and those who ask for places and those who have places to offer. We are extremely anxious that nothing should he done to shatter or injure in any way that confidence.

It is no good denying it—it is not the fault of the Ministry of Labour—but there is in this country in public opinion a strong dividing line between military and civil life. If one were to treat service in one of the Forces as though it was what one might call on a par with an ordinary civil job, one would either have to make it a job, or give the impression that it was a job that would carry disqualification for benefit if it was refused.


That is what they want.


I definitely said not.

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

I am merely putting the alternative. On the other hand, if it is a job which can be refused without disallowance being involved, it does appear to put service in the Forces in an inferior category as compared with service in a civil job. The Ministry recognise the urgency of the recruiting question, and that question, as I have said before, is being actively examined in all its aspects. The Ministry is co-operating with the Service Departments in order to try and improve conditions in the Services, and particularly in trying to ensure that there is a better and fuller provision of jobs in civil life for men when they leave the fighting services.


Why not do it before the end of their service?

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

I believe that the Ministry by working along those lines will be acting in a much better way to help the Services to get the men they require than by diverting the Exchanges from what are their most effective functions.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.