§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir John Anderson)
I beg to move,That this House approves the proposals of His Majesty's Government for National Voluntary Service.I propose, first, to try to develop and, I hope, elucidate, some of the points made in my statement of last Thursday; and then, in the latter part of my speech, to deal with some of the more controversial aspects of this question.
In regard to the Guide or Handbook, which I told the House would be widely distributed probably about the third week in January, I am sure hon. Members will be glad to know that the final order for the printing of that little book has gone to-day to the Stationery Office; and one hon. Member at least will be glad to know, also, that we have had the wording carefully examined again, and in certain respects revised. I do not pretend that in its new form it will exhibit any of the joyous abandon associated with certain types of periodical literature, but I hope that any critic who takes account of the fact that the book has to convey a great deal of information, and to convey it in precise terms, will say that it is expressed in language both simple and lucid, and that the general presentation is not too unattractive.
Next as regards the list of reserved occupations, which forms a very important supplement to the Handbook. I said last Thursday that the contents of that list would be discussed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour with the representatives of employers and workers. Those discussions have already been initiated, and I dare say that hon. Members may have a number of questions to ask about the schedule of reserved occupations. I think it would be most convenient if such questions were dealt with by my right hon. Friend, who will be taking part in the Debate, if not today, then when the discussion is resumed on a later occasion. I should like to take this opportunity to say to the House that a very great deal of most admirable work, not only on the list of reserved occupations but on the Handbook, has been carried out by the staff of the Ministry of Labour under the direction of my right hon. Friend. I am getting the benefit of 1024 that work, and I should like to express here my most grateful acknowledgments.
I come now to the National Service committees which are to be set up, and I think that perhaps the House would like me to give some indication of the functions of those committees and some general indication of the proposed constitution of the committees. First of all, as to their functions. Broadly speaking, the functions of those committees, which will work in conjunction with officers of the Ministry of Labour, will be to stimulate interest in the whole problem of National Service and to see that impartial advice is given to people who, even after they have studied and digested this improved Handbook, are still in doubt as to what they should do; to hold the balance fair between the different services; to remove misunderstandings and suspicions; and generally to bring public opinion to bear on the working of the National Service machine. That is what they will do. What they will not do will be to function as a recruiting agency. Their function is rather a judicial one.
As to their composition, it is proposed—and I hope that hon. Members will not hold me to be too precise to-day—to constitute these committees on a widely representative basis. It is proposed to begin by setting up a committee for each county and for each county borough, and then later we shall proceed with the establishment of other committees in the larger centres other than county boroughs. For the county committees it is proposed to invite the Lord Lieutenant to act as president, with a deputy, who might be the chairman of the county council. In some cases it might be possible to enlist the services of the chairman of quarter sessions. [Interruption.] Their knowledge of their county and the magistracy will be of great value. In the case of the county boroughs the lord mayor or mayor may be invited to act as chairman. There will be representatives, as in the last War, of the various service units concerned, such as the Territorial Association, and there will be representatives of the local authority and the local employment committees. Labour, of course, will be represented. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not think that there is such a sharp division in this matter as some hon. Members suggest. Some room will be left for the inclusion in each 1025 committee of persons of general influence in their own locality. Those are the lines along which we wish to proceed.
§ Mr. Lansbury
May I inquire of the right hon. Gentleman whether these committees will advise people to leave certain occupations and join or consider joining the Territorial or the Regular Services?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I should say not, so far as leaving occupations is concerned. The object is to provide the best possible guidance for people who wish to volunteer for work of national importance.
§ Sir J. Anderson
For work of national importance. The Handbook will be found to give particulars of such work, but the Handbook must be read in conjunction with the other document, the schedule of reserved occupations. There will be many cases where people desiring to volunteer may still be in doubt as to what they should do. The National Service committees will be available to assist them.
§ Mr. Lansbury
As this is rather important, may we know whether these committees ill advise people that they will better serve the country by joining the Forces than by staying in their own occupations?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I tried to make it clear that these National Service committees will not have any of the functions of a recruiting authority.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Perhaps I shall have an opportunity of dealing with the matter when I speak later in the evening.
§ Sir J. Anderson
If the right hon. Gentleman makes his point in a speech or lets me know otherwise what it is, I will do my best to deal with it.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind clearing up this point? In a passing phrase he said that these 1026 would be judicial committees. Are they to be advisory committees rather than judicial?
§ Sir J. Anderson
The hon. Gentleman will excuse me. I did not say that they would be judicial committees. What I said was that they would not be recruiting authorities and that their functions would be rather of a judicial nature, but they will be advisory.
I pass to the question of training. I said on Thursday that it would be necessary when we take steps to obtain the necessary number of recruits to ensure that the available facilities for training should be adequate. I have had the whole matter reviewed. The House may perhaps know that there is at present one general air-raid precautions school and two gas schools. As from the 1st January the training at the gas schools will be extended. It will include training in matters concerning incendiary bombs and elementary training in the problems of high explosives. When the instructors come out from these schools—and the out-turn from the schools will be 240 fully qualified inspectors per month—they will be available to expand the facilities of training in the localities very rapidly. Air-raid wardens' training is being reorganised. There will be a reduction in the amount of anti-gas lecturing. There will be training in respect of incendiary bombs and elementary courses of first-aid, and training and exercise in the working of a communications system. First-aid training is being reorganised. Special arrangements are also being made for the training of first-aid parties, with the assistance of the St. John Ambulance Brigade and the British Red Cross Society. Those represent the largest of the air-raid precautions services. As regards the auxiliary firemen, no difficulty is likely to be experienced in any of the larger areas about the training of volunteers who may come forward as a result of the action we are taking. I thus feel able to assure the House that, so far as I can see, there is every reason to expect that facilities for training will be adequate to the strain likely to be put upon them when in due course we take the steps that I indicated last Thursday.
Then in regard to equipment, which is a matter also of great importance in connection with any recruiting effort we may make. Members of the House have called attention from time to time to a shortage 1027 of equipment which has interfered with training. I have every reason to think that as regards anti-gas equipment there will be no difficulty at all in obtaining everything that is necessary. Such difficulties as have arisen in the past have been due quite as much to faulty arrangements for distribution as to actual shortage. As regards training in protective measures against incendiary bombs, the supplies that are necessary for that purpose ought to be available in sufficient numbers. There may be some shortage of heavy protective clothing owing to manufacturing difficulties, but these are being overcome as rapidly as possible. In so far as the heavier type of clothing may not be available, training can be given in lighter weight suits which are available. Fire pumps should be available in sufficient numbers for training, at any rate in the areas of the large fire brigades, by the time when this appeal is launched in the third week in January.
I said something on Thursday about the more general form of training or instruction which it was hoped to organise in the near future. We have made some progress in this matter, although there are many details still waiting to be settled. As indicated on Thursday, we propose to begin on quite simple lines with a course of more or less popular lectures giving some idea of the problems of civil defence, the new factors which have been introduced into the problem of civil defence by modern conditions of warfare; then to follow with some more specific instruction with regard to air-raid precautions work, the problem of evacuation and allied questions. Our object in giving this instruction will be to provide persons who are anxious to know about these matters with a general background, to spread knowledge and to avoid the risk of misconception which, if widespread, may lead to serious conditions of confusion and panic in an emergency.
I pass now to the important question of the co-ordination of recruiting for the various services. The House will remember that on Thursday I indicated that towards the end of January the proposed Handbook will be widely distributed, and the National Service committees will in most cases have been constituted. We hope then to launch whatever effort may be thought to be necessary to secure the recruits that are still required. We have 1028 been able to make a beginning in setting up the new organisation that will be necessary for this purpose. I should like to make it clear that we do not contemplate anything in the nature of a whirlwind campaign. We do not believe that will be at all necessary, having regard to the recruits already available. The recruiting organisation will work on the basis of returns from the different areas. Where there is a shortage, or where the distribution seems to be faulty as between one service and another, the organisation will get to work in conjunction with the National Service committees. It is not in every area that there is a shortage. There are areas in which there is already a considerable surplus of volunteers for certain sections of the civil defence services.
It is very important for the purposes of this Debate that hon. Members should realise that our problem is not one of finding a job for everybody. Our problem is the problem of finding additional men and women for a number of jobs which in total do not amount to anything very great. It is, however, most important that the gaps that exist in certain of the auxiliary services, in such services as the auxiliary fire brigades—apart from the Defence Services—should be filled as speedily as possible and filled in the right way. It is to that end that this effort will be directed. I have had an opportunity of discussing this matter with an old friend who is known, I am sure, to many Members of the House—Sir Auckland Geddes. He has informed me that he is entirely in favour of the measures that we are proposing to take. He has said that he would gladly give me his assistance in any way he can in carrying out this recruiting effort, and I need hardly tell the House that I shall be very happy indeed to avail myself of his offer, because he possesses a knowledge of these matters based on exceptional experience in the late War, a knowledge which is probably unrivalled.
I pass now to another point of detail, but an important point of detail, mentioned in my statement of last Thursday. I said that it was proposed to introduce a further element of contractual obligation in the engagement of personnel for some of the branches of the Civil Defence services where no such obligation has previously been imposed. I think hon. Members will like to have at any rate 1029 some rough idea of what we have in mind. What we propose is, subject to further consideration of detail, that all volunteers, whether for part-time or whole-time service, should give an undertaking in writing to attend duly all the classes of instruction regarded as appropriate for their service in order to make themselves efficient, with the knowledge of course that if they do not carry out the undertaking their names will be removed from the list of volunteers in that service; further, to report to the local authority if they are leaving the district of the authority or wish for any other reason to resign from the service; lastly, to report at the beginning of any emergency, when called upon to do so, in order to make arrangements with regard to the times at which they will be able to give service. Those items in the undertaking will be common to those who undertake part-time service and those who undertake whole-time service. Volunteers accepted for whole-time service will also give an undertaking to report for whole-time duty when called upon to do so in emergency. It is no part of our proposal to attempt to enforce any of these obligations by penalty, because we think it better, having regard to the nature of these services, to rely on an honourable undertaking. Those are the lines on which we propose to proceed in that matter.
Now I have finished with what I may call the elucidation of points of detail, and I come to the important question of the Register, the National Voluntary Register which we propose to bring into being. That Register will be in a number of parts. It will consist in part of the records prepared by the various recruiting authorities whose business it will be to earmark personnel, not only for immediate training but also as reserves for the various services. There will be a special Register of persons possessing exceptional professional or technical qualifications. That special Register, which will be under the immediate charge of the Ministry of Labour, is already being compiled by the various professional institutions, for example by the Chartered Accountants, by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the Chartered Surveyors. The Royal Society and the Universities are cooperating with the Ministry, as regards persons possessing scientific qualifications. In addition, there will be a Register of people possessing adminis- 1030 trative qualifications, the sort of people whose services are aways in great demand when any emergency arises involving rapid expansion of public activities but who cannot easily be fitted into the appropriate jobs if they have not been classified beforehand. All these things will be done, and we claim that the Register so to be compiled will give us all that we want, and will serve all the purposes that we have in view.
Mr. A., Bevan
What checks will be imposed upon these special registers? Is there not a danger that certain people will get themselves classified, particularly in the second category, and thereby escape military service in the event of war?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Perhaps the hon. Member will wait until I develop my argument. I will deal with that when I come to the question of keeping the Register up to date. I was saying that the Register will give us all that we want. The different registers will not be kept in one building, but they will nevertheless constitute a National Voluntary Register. In my view that Register will be all the better, and all the more valuable, for being in the hands of the people who can make practical use of it.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am talking of the various registers—those compiled by the recruiting authorities, the register of people possessing scientific qualifications, a register which I inadvertently omitted to mention—that of people who cannot at once be accepted for any of the services, but who, nevertheless, offer and whose names are put into the unallocated reserve; the register which will be kept by the Ministry of Labour and, finally, the register of people possessing special administrative qualifications. We are beginning at the practical end. Instead of beginning with a theoretically complete Register and then having to break it up into pieces for those who are to make use of it, we are building up a Register from the beginning on practical lines.
Now I come to the arrangements which, as I told the House last week, are to be made now in order to facilitate the compilation of a complete National Register, if that should ever become neces- 1031 sary in time of emergency. For that purpose we are going to use, as I told the House, the ordinary machinery of the Census, adapted as may be required. Roughly speaking, there will have to be some 50,000 enumerators, the sort of people who are engaged for a Census, working under the supervision of the local registrars. Instructions to these people have to be prepared and great progress has already been made with the drafting of those instructions. Forms will have to be prepared, to be held in readiness, and they will be printed in the necessary numbers and held available. I said the other day that the cost of doing that would be from £6,000 to £7,000. I find that that figure was for England and Wales. The total cost for the whole country will be about £10,000.
If that Register ever has to be made, the procedure will differ from the ordinary Census procedure in one respect only. The forms will be distributed as in the case of the Census, and will be collected by the enumerators after an interval of two or three days, but before going away with the forms from the household the enumerator will, in the case of the National Register, have to deliver some form of document, an identity card or a registration certificate or something of the kind, which will be evidence to the individual of his inclusion in the Register. Substantially, apart from that one difference, the procedure would be the same as in the taking of the Census, though of course the forms used for recording the necessory particulars would be those appropriate to the National Register. I have given an indication of the additional cost involved in making these preparations. If a Register of this kind had to be completed in any circumstances, the total cost would probably be in the region of £250,000.
§ Sir J. Anderson
If a Register were taken at the beginning of a war, or in anticipation of the outbreak of war, it would probably be a Register of the whole population, for this reason, that, as I indicated on Thursday, it would be of great use in the administration of any scheme of food rationing. The preparations that are being made will be made 1032 on that basis. If such a Register has to be prepared, the question naturally arises, how could it be kept up to date? In emergency, if the Register were the basis of a scheme of food rationing it would go a long way towards keeping itself up to date. Apart from that fact, under the stress of great emergency it is possible to resort to measures for keeping a Register up to date which would not be likely to commend themselves generally in time of peace.
Perhaps I ought to elaborate that point a little further, because I may be asked: "If you think a Register of this kind should be brought into existence in emergency and be kept continuously up to date, why do you not consider it worth while to make the Register now, and keep it up to date, so that it will always be available against necessity; so that you may not have to face even the short delay of three weeks before it becomes fully operative for the purposes for which it has been prepared?" Before I go on to explain the difference between peace and war from the point of view of the operation of keeping the Register up to date, let me digress for a moment and deal with the question that was raised last Thursday by an hon. Friend behind me, as to how we propose to keep up to date the Voluntary Register that we are going to bring into existence. The answer to that question is simply this, that the vast bulk of the names in the Voluntary Register will be the names of people who have been recruited, or put into the special reserve, for particular services, and the recruiting organisations concerned will be in actual personal touch with the persons whose names are so recorded.
That is the difference between a practical register and a mere statistical record of names. That personal touch will, we believe, enable the Voluntary Register that we have in mind to be kept up to date so far as those sections of it are concerned which are in the hands of the recruiting agents. As regards the unallocated reserve, we shall have to rely on the people whose names are in that reserve to report changes in their condition. As those people will all be people who have been sufficiently interested, after failing to get into one of the Services, to ask that their names should be recorded against the occurrence of vacancies, I think we can rely on them for the most part to be sufficiently interested and alert 1033 to report changes that will enable us to keep that part of the Register up to date. As regard the section prepared by the professional organisations of persons with special professional qualifications, and the section dealing with persons of administrative qualifications, I think that in the nature of the case no difficulty need be anticipated. Let me contrast that with the case of a complete National Register prepared in peace time.
§ Sir J. Anderson
First of all, the register of unallocated reserves will be a register of people who have failed to get into one of the Services, because there were no vacancies. We are not offering them a sort of soft option of getting their names on to a register which means nothing. As regards the people with special professsional qualifications, they are a comparatively limited class, such as doctors, engineers and people of that sort.
§ Sir J. Anderson
By administrative workers I mean not people with ordinary administrative experience but people with special administrative experience.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Perhaps hon. Members opposite will have an opportunity of stating their points of view later. I was dealing with the very important question of keeping up to date a complete Register made in time of peace. I said last Thursday that no method had been devised by which such a Register could be kept automatically up to date, but I do not expect the House to be content with my ipse dixit in a matter of that kind. I, therefore, propose to develop my argument on that point. The matter is not one in which actual experience is entirely 1034 lacking. There was an Act passed by this House in the year 1915, the National Registration Act. That Act was passed by this House by a large majority, but it is significant that the majority of the speeches were against the Bill. The arguments that were put forward were not without interest for present purposes. The tone of the Debate was set by a very respected Member of this House, a supporter of the Coalition Government of that date, the late Sir Thomas Whittaker. This is what he said on Second Reading:Mere registration of itself is obviously no use. It is a means to an end. What is the end? Tell us frankly what you are at. Organisation? Yes, by all means. Efficiency? Yes, and where? And what has this to do with it? This Bill is a waste of time, a waste of energy and some waste of money. It is diverting attention from the real trouble, the real necessity, the real danger. It is hiding it up and misleading the people. It is not everyone between 15 and 65 we want to stir up. They are not the people who are at fault, but those who should guide and use them. … Tell the people exactly what you want, where and when you want them, ask them to register themselves, and do not … make them feel they are being trifled with. Unless this Bill is going to be used for compulsion, it will be of no use whatever.I feel very grateful to the late Sir Thomas Whittaker for providing me with this argument. What happened? The Bill, as I say, was passed, and it was a complete failure. It served no useful purpose whatsoever. When Sir Auckland Geddes later came along as Director-General of Recruiting, he found that the figures in the register that existed were all inevitably in a state of considerable confusion, and he said, in evidence before a Select Committee of this House in 1917:When I took over the office of Director of Recruiting"—that was an earlier office, I think, under the War Office—there were a million errors in the recruiting records, and there was no plan to put them right. By August, 1916, a plan had to be adopted by which no fewer than six million entries on the books (I say 'entries,' not men) had to be verified by the simple process of sending a calling-up notice to every person nominally shown, and waiting to see what happened.Anyone who has any recollection of what happened in the history of national service during the War will recall that there was a constant succession of rather pitiful attempts, by the exercise of ingenuity, to purge this register, which kept on getting 1035 more and more inflated. That experience is exactly in accord with what had happened earlier in connection with the working of the National Insurance Act and the panel doctors' lists. In the course of a few months, notwithstanding the fact that to be on one of those lists implied valuable rights, the lists became hopelessly inflated and useless for the purpose for which they were devised. Exactly the same lesson was learned years ago in my own personal experience, when there was a proposal to have an electoral register every six months instead of every year. In view of the extra cost of having a six-monthly register, this question of a continuous revision was taken up and fully explored, and it was found that the thing simply could not be done. The only course was to remake the register again and again as it was wanted. I am not saying to this House that if a complete National Register were necessary for any practical purpose, we could not have it. I am not even saying that we could not somehow ensure that it should be kept continuously up to date. There are ways in which you could get over many of the difficulties—drastic police powers, stringent requirements imposed on employers, and other methods which it would be very difficult to justify in time of peace. The best plan, I have no doubt, would be to remake the register at frequent intervals, and I would not hesitate to advocate that course, despite the trouble, inconvenience, and expense, if I thought it was necessary or justifiable. I take the other view, I venture to agree with the late Sir Thomas Whittaker.
In order to get a complete understanding of this matter, and in order that I may satisfy hon. Members as to why a complete register is not necessary for all practical purposes in time of peace, I think we have first to consider why a complete register would be necessary, as I have ventured to suggest it would be, in time of war. The first purpose for which it would be required would be food rationing. It is not the only basis for such a scheme, but it is at any rate a very good basis. Next, a complete register would be necessary if the Government of the day were to be enabled to measure the extent of the response made when recruits were called for, whether they were called for by an appeal for volunteers or under some measure of compulsion. It 1036 would not be possible without a complete register properly analysed to ascertain the extent of the response. If you called up, say, the age group 20 to 25, and you had your complete register, you would know the composition of that group, and you could tell the extent of the response, as it would be necessary for the Government in those circumstances to know it. Further, without a complete register and the statistical information that such a register would give, no Government faced with the terrible responsibility of deciding policy at the beginning of a war which might be prolonged would be in possession of the necessary information regarding the man-power resources of the country which it would be essential that the Government should have if it were to plan with full knowledge of the relevant facts and not to some extent in ignorance. All those purposes which a complete National Register would serve in time of war have no application whatever in time of peace.
It may be said that there are additional arguments for a complete National Register in time of peace, and here I am aware that I cease to be expository and become argumentative, but I wish to complete my statement. There is, first, an argument about the reaction on foreign opinion if we took this bold measure. I am perhaps hardly competent to express an authoritative opinion on a matter of foreign policy, but I will venture to tell the House, quite frankly, how the thing strikes me. I believe that those who constitute foreign Governments are not fools. I believe that they have competent and well-informed advisers, and I believe that if we proposed to take this step and to constitute forthwith a complete National Register under compulsory powers, it would be shown quite simply, and become quite apparent to foreign Governments, that what we were doing had an element of make-belief in it. Might they not in those circumstances, instead of being impressed by what we were doing, conclude that we were only doing it because we could think of nothing better, that we were presenting a facade because the real solid structure, strong, durable, and reliable, was not there? That is my personal opinion with regard to the possible reaction abroad.
Next, in regard to the reaction at home, we have been told that there will be, as no doubt there is, rather widespread 1037 disappointment that the Government are not now going in for a complete compulsory Register. I believe that there would be satisfaction in certain quarters if we decided now to prepare such a Register, but I believe that the satisfaction would be very transitory. I think it would be a satisfaction based on fundamental misapprehension, misapprehension first in regard to the requirements of the Government in the matter of national service. I am sure that many people greatly overestimate the number of vacancies that have to be filled. I believe that those people to whom I am referring have an idea that there ought to be a job for everybody in time of peace, and do not realise that if we had a job for everybody in time of peace, we should not have the people for the jobs that would have to be filled in a time of emergency.
That is obvious, but the matter does not end there. It has become more and more clear to me during recent weeks, from letters that I have received, from the newspapers, from talks that I have had, that many of the people who have been arguing in favour of a compulsory Register—and let me say at once that I am not thinking of hon. Members in this House—have been arguing, without realising it, in favour of a different form of compulsion altogether, in favour of compulsory service, or compulsory training, or at any rate something going far beyond the mere putting of one's name on a compulsory Register.
Without unduly taking up the time of the House on this matter, in order to round off my argument, I should like to stop for a moment to consider what compulsion can achieve. I believe there is a great deal of misapprehension in regard to that. Compulsion has its limitations, and its very definite limitations, even in war. Compulsion in war can do this: it can give you men who will form members of a disciplined body which will act in formation under direct orders, people who in the last War were rather unkindly described as "cannon fodder." It would give you them. It would also enable you to keep people out of the Army who ought to go on with their ordinary jobs, but who are so patriotic and public-spirited that nothing will keep them out of the Army when there are vacancies to be filled. By compulsion you could get the less public-spirited into vacancies, and you 1038 could keep out those whom it is vitally important to keep at their ordinary jobs. That is another purpose that compulsion will serve in time of war. There is yet another, as important as any of those I have already mentioned. Compulsion may serve to stimulate voluntary effort by giving those who are patriotic and public-spirited the assurance that any sacrifice that they may be willing to make will not be made merely in order that some skulker may pursue his own course and promote his own private interests in peace and security. But those are wartime purposes, and I venture to say that there is no sharp antithesis, even in time of war, between the voluntary principle and compulsion. Even with a measure of compulsion, we should have to rely very largely on the voluntary principle. How do we recruit the Navy? There has been no compulsion in recruitment for the Navy since the days of the press gang. How do we get our officers and our noncommissioned officers? Not by compulsion. And what use would compulsion be in getting people, as we need them in civil defence, for jobs requiring judgment, initiative, and discretion? How can you compel a man to go into a job and say to him when you have got him there, "Now you are to exercise your judgment?" The agencies on which to rely in the performance of those acts must be got by voluntary effort.
I say, therefore, that there is no scope for compulsion in peace-time when the man-power available is so much in excess of actual requirements and when the selection that has to be made can best be effected by relying on voluntary efforts. But the confusion in the minds of those people who have argued for some compulsory form of service or training in relation to the proposal for a compulsory register, is, in my opinion, responsible for much suspicion throughout the country. I believe, and have always believed, that the people of this country are pretty sensible. When you find widespread suspicion and misgiving there is some solid ground for it, if you will only look. I claim that the proposals which I put forward on behalf of His Majesty's Government are all directed to strictly practical ends. For myself I hate cluttering up good honest work with make-belief. There is no sinister purpose behind these proposals, there is no ulterior motive, there is nothing designed to make 1039 it easier for some Government, sometime, to do something that might be prejudicial to the interests of some class or section of the community. I ask the House to accept my assurance.
That brings me to what I regard as the main and conclusive objection to a compulsory National Register. I can see no possibility of getting a united nation behind proposals involving compulsion when there is no necessity for it. The voluntary principle is at stake in this matter. I have shown, or tried to show, how much that principle counts for even in war. Surely we have to give it every chance. I venture to appeal to all parties to set an example to the country by uniting in favour of the proposals of the Government which I have the honour to lay before the House.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
Since we had an unofficial Debate in the summer about the possibility of a National Register events have moved slowly. Last week the Lord Privy Seal gave us a statement which did not carry us very far, but in the slowly developing plan of his Government he has carried us a little further this afternoon, although we are still a long way from a concrete scheme in black and white which the House can discuss in detail. I should have thought that, once the Government had their proposals more clearly in mind than they have at the present moment, the right thing would be for them to put all their cards on the table in the form of a White Paper showing the lay-out of the plan in detail, the classification of the various services, the interrelation of the various services and, particularly, the details and methods of administration. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon has taken us a little further, but we are still a long way from having something sufficiently concrete on which the House can pass judgment.
I am not in the least impressed by this grandiose talk of a National Register. That has been exposed by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. It is not to be a National Register at all, but a series of lists of people, most of whom are already well known to the organisations concerned, who can be called upon in time of emergency, and there are to be unallocated people for whom there is nothing to be done at the time. That does not impress me very much. I con- 1040 ceive that all this talk of a great National Register may become mere window-dressing, designed to give comfort to the people of this country, and it may easily lull them into a false sense of security in the belief that a National Register means something very real. We, at least, realise that the National Register is not so important a thing as we were led to believe it would be when the Lord Privy Seal made his statement last Thursday. Before I proceed further I want to quote a statement issued by my party, which sets out clearly and emphatically, indeed almost brutally, our attitude towards this proposal:No effort must be spared to make our country, as far as possible, safe from air attack. Air-raid precautions must be regarded as of equal importance with the other three Defence Departments and made thoroughly efficient.… We must organise our man-power, but we unhesitatingly reject compulsion, which is equally unnecessary for the armed forces, for passive defence, and for industry.I quote that statement because it is clear proof that we have no desire to shirk our responsibilities in the matter of the defence of our civilian population. On the Government scheme, which is still not fully disclosed, we retain freedom of action and freedom of criticism, and we shall watch its operation very closely and carefully. The Government's plan is a call to the masses of the people, the rank and file of the citizens to render, should opportunity arise, service to the nation. On these benches we feel that the machinery of administration should be under effective public control, and I was alarmed when the Lord Privy Seal dealt with the composition of what he calls the National Service committees. In his statement last week he referred to the National Service organisation, and I assumed from that—I may have been wrong—that there was to be some central authority; but no word has been said about that this afternoon. I should like the Lord Privy Seal to tell us how all these various county council and county borough National Service committees are to be co-ordinated, and if there is to be any central authority other than the Ministry of Labour, which, if I may say with all respect to the Minister of Labour, does not seem to me to be quite the body for this kind of work.
I come to what the Lord Privy Seal said about the National Service committees. He said that he did not want 1041 to be pledged or pressed with regard to the precise details of their composition. But that is fundamental to hon. Members on this side of the House. Our attitude towards the scheme must inevitably depend very largely on the methods by which the scheme is to be administered. The right hon. Gentleman said that these committees would be on a widely representative basis, and he began first by mentioning the Lords-Lieutenant of the counties and the chairmen of county councils and quarter sessions. I became snore and more terrified at the prospect if they were to be based on that kind of representation. I noticed his order of priority, the Service interests first, the local authorities, local employment committees, and then as a sop to this side of the House, "Labour will, of course, he represented." I am going to make a most emphatic protest against the composition of these committees. This ought not to be a movement directed from the top by a handful of people bearing honorific titles and wearing fancy uniforms. The right hon. Gentleman last week said that steps would be taken at once to build up a National Service organisation with local committees throughout the country, but the constitution he has put before the House to-day goes far from satisfying what I believe will be required by the democratic movements of this country.
It looks as though substantially they are to be drawn from a very narrow social class headed by the Lords-Lieutenant of the counties with a sprinkling of working people and the addition of a number of social busybodies. If these committees are to be the bodies they should be, they ought to be truly reflective of the national life and consist overwhelmingly of those who can speak for the masses of the people. If the Government want to shipwreck this scheme, let them do it through the agency of the Lords-Lieutenant. After all, the service that is being called for, especially in industry, is being called from the rank and file of the manual workers, and if there is to he any confidence in the scheme, those who lead the people, those who are trusted by them, ought to be the primary factors in the administration of the scheme. When the Lord Privy Seal was making his announcement last Thursday the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) asked the right hon. Gentleman a question to which no 1042 answer has been given this afternoon. My hon. Friend asked:In view of the extraordinary additional cost which will fall upon poor districts in carrying out the scheme which has been outlined, may I ask whether any steps are to be taken to relieve poor districts of the burden?The right hon. Gentleman replied:I think the hon. Member is mistaken. The proposals I have outlined should not in the ordinary course involve any extra cost to the poor districts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1938; col. 605, Vol. 342.]Surely, if the scheme envisaged by the Government, a scheme which is, as far as practicable, to make for the safety of the civilian population, is to be carried into effect, the scrappy, hurriedly-arranged preparations during the last crisis were negligible as compared with the responsibilities which in future will fall upon the local authorities. One assumes that the local authorities have the fire brigade services necessary to meet the demands made upon them in normal times of peace, one assumes that they have the hospital services which are necessitated by their normal requirements; but if they are to mobilise forces in the event of a grave national emergency, there is bound to be thrust on them a very heavy responsibility. I was a little astonished when the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, in reply to a question by the Leader of the Opposition as to whether a Supplementary Estimate would be brought forward, said:I think that it is too early to say."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1938; col. 604, Vol. 342.]But if national responsibilities are to be placed upon the local authorities on a very substantial scale, it is clear that the nation must come to the assistance of the local authorities; for, after all, that with which we are now dealing is in effect a State service, even though it be locally administered; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will face up to the financial obligations involved in the kind of scheme of preparations of defence which he has in mind. The Lord Privy Seal referred to contractual obligations. I listened with interest to his statement last week, and I was surprised when he said that there did not seem to be anything in his proposals which would require legislation. Now, what is that contractual obligation? I gather, in the end, that it is not a contractual obligation, but that it 1043 is what the Lord Privy Seal calls an honourable undertaking. I can conceive a case for a definite contractual obligation with regard to specific services. Personally, I would rather have definite enrolment in a specific service than all this nonsense about a great national Register. One can see that contractual relations may be necessary between the Government or the local authority, as the case may be, and the individual.
I am told—I have no personal knowledge of this—that during the crisis, in certain parts of London, persons who were enrolled for air-raid precautions duties at the very first breath of the crisis proved their efficiency so magnificently that they evacuated themselves. Really, a service of that kind which disappears when it is most needed is obviously of little use. What did the right hon. Gentleman say? He said that all volunteers had to give an undertaking in writing—that, I am sure, would have deterred these people who suddenly disappeared during the last crisis—they would attend lectures and so on, but if they did not carry out their duties, a dreadful fate would fall upon them—their names would be removed; they would be asked to report if leaving or wishing to resign, and they had promised to report at the beginning of any emergency, giving the times when they could give service, whole or part-time, and thereafter there would be no penalty. This is a gentlemen's agreement, and I am not certain that for carrying on the essential services of this country in times of difficulty one can base them on honourable undertakings and gentlemen's agreements. I think that has been found to be so in the case of the Territorial Forces, and I think it would be found to apply also in the case of the air-raid precautions services. The right hon. Gentleman said, in his first statement, that certain classes of civilian services, he thought, might be brought within the category of services where there were contractual obligations. He did not de fine contractual obligations then, and he has not done so to-day, and before we are committed to this rather hazy kind of understanding, I think we ought to know precisely to what services this method is to be applied.
This afternoon, the Lord Privy Seal was very discreetly silent about the financial aspects of the problem If there are to 1044 be auxiliary fire brigade services, if these people are to be called upon and to be expected to attend for duties, and if they are to be required to give certain undertakings, before very long the problem of allowances of some kind is certain to arise, and quite legitimately so. Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of putting more people on the nation's pay-roll to carry on these vital services? I am not now dealing with what I visualise may be necessary, the creation of a nucleus of full-time people to deal with air-raid precautions; I am dealing with those who are volunteers and who are giving temporary and part-time services.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, but there was one point which he did not make clear to me. Are people who undertake these contractual obligations, such as they are, to be exempted from military service in the event of war? If they are not to be so exempted, then in such circumstances—it might be against their will—although they had joined a particular service, whatever it might have been, as volunteers, they would by the Government's act, become conscripts, because they could not be allowed to leave that service which originally they had joined voluntarily. Then, I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman another question, which applies perhaps more particularly to air-raid precautions, although it applies to the other services as well—does he propose to organise those services round the places where men work or round the places where they live? It is customary in London and in many towns for people to live miles away from where they work, and it is clear that in the dreaded eventuality of war, air-raid precautions for factories and industrial establishments would be essential. Obviously, there must be some relation between the provision which is made when men are at work for industrial services and when they are at home; and if it be the case that men engaged in these factories are in reserved occupations, are they or are they not to be members of the factories' staff for fire-fighting and for carrying out air-raid precautions? I want also to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is still convinced that he can establish these services with the law as it is and with the feeble undertakings which he has recounted to us this afternoon.
1045 I turn now to an aspect of the problem about which the Lord Privy Seal was almost silent this afternoon, the industrial aspect. Here we need a good deal more information. Last week, the right hon. Gentleman told us that he was making a full list of all key industries, and that the Minister of Labour had begun preliminary work in classifying various occupations to be put on a special list, and so on; and he went on to say:My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is taking immediate steps to bring into consultation representatives of both the employers and the workers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1938; col. 598, Vol. 342.]It is a great pity that those steps were taken after the right hon. Gentleman made his first statement in the House, and not before he made it. As far as I am aware, some months have elapsed since representatives of the trade union movement were invited to see the Prime Minister, and as far as I know, nothing happened until after the right hon. Gentleman made his statement last Thursday. Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman—and I had some knowledge of those problems during the last War—that the classification of occupations is not the real problem. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour need not put his staff on to that procedure. There may be certain essential services which are very much overmanned to-day, there may be certain essential services which are undermanned; and I think that hon. Members on this side of the House are entitled to know whether the Government have any idea as to how they are going to deal with those services which to-day are not fully manned. Have they any idea of dilution in their minds? Are they toying with the idea of dilution? If so, we ought to know.
I mention this as an illustration in order to bring home to the House the fact that the trade union movement of this country ought to have been taken into consultation at the very inception of the scheme and before the Minister of Labour began to compile his lists of reserved occupations. I say that where industrial service is concerned, no steps should be even contemplated, let alone taken, without the full co-operation of the trade unions concerned. The trade unions are now an integral part of the structure of modern industry. You cannot do without them. They speak for those millions of workers 1046 without whose aid and good will the wheels of industry would be brought to a standstill.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I claim that no new departure in existing industrial practice and conditions should be made and that no new obligations should be placed upon the workers of this country without prior and frank consultation with the trade unions. I claim for organised labour—and we make this claim with some authority because the right hon. Gentleman cannot carry through his scheme without our aid—its rightful place in decisions vitally affecting the lives and the future of the industrial workers, and we are not going to be fobbed off with a few places on local committees. During the Great War, certain trade unions were "sold a pup." Agreements were abrogated and the whole future of industries was fundamentally changed, partly through force of circumstances but partly through force majeure on the part of the Government, and without that prior open consultation to which the unions were properly entitled. I would say that while the trade unions to-day are sincerely desirous of playing their part and have no wish to burke their responsibilities, they are determined not to allow their members to be "led up the garden path" again.
When we embark upon this very far-reaching series of proposals for National Service, we may be embarking on a slippery slope, which will imperil the lives of those people in the future. That responsibility we shall not take unless we are in at the making of the scheme. Obviously, there is a good deal of natural feeling and criticism about the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, and a certain amount of suspicion. That criticism and suspicion I understand and appreciate, because of the possible implications of the shadowy proposals which have been put before us. "Once bitten, twice shy" is a truism. It expresses in this connection the view of a very large number of honestly patriotic industrial workers. The right hon. Gentleman finished with an appeal for voluntary service. He rejected the view which is held by numbers of people in this House, that conscription is the way to the salvation of freedom. I do not share that view either but while the 1047 right hon. Gentleman may stand now for voluntary service, one does not know the pressure to which he may be subjected by those political friends of his who believe that conscription is essential. I want to say this as emphatically as I can. If there lurks behind the Government's proposals the faintest suspicion of industrial conscription, let the Government beware. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman wishes these activities to be conducted on a voluntary basis, but there is the experience of the Great War to guide us, and we are not in a mood to tolerate any Derby scheme, or any attempt to establish conscription by backstairs methods.
Even under a voluntary plan, carried out with the best intentions in the world, there are always grave dangers that compulsion may become operative. There is the possibility of certain employers in this country using their economic power to compel some of their workpeople to enrol in services in which they do not desire to enrol. There is the possibility of employers using their economic power to victimise those people and to convert them into conscripts. There is the possibility of using this new vast apparatus, which the right hon. Gentleman is in process of developing, in the case of legitimate and justifiable industrial disputes. We have know the forces of the Crown to be used against strikers who were acting within the law. One asks what effective guarantee can there be to safeguard the worker against victimisation and to safeguard his organisation against counter-action—which of course will always be said to be in the public interest—by this new organisation of National Service?
If I were asked to interpret our view of the situation broadly, I would say that we put this question: Are the Government prepared fully and wholeheartedly to utilise the experience of industrial leaders, and to maintain the traditions of freedom of the trade union movement? There is an even wider question than that. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a supplementary question last week, got out of what was a very serious difficulty for him—and I can appreciate his relief at the fact that he has not to deal with the other side of the problem, which was indicated on that occasion. When my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) asked him whether, in view of the exceptional arrangements 1048 Which are being made to compile a register of personnel, a register of property and wealth was also to be compiled, the right hon. Gentleman gleefully said, "That is not within my province." But it is within somebody's province, and we cannot regard the human problem as being separate from the question of the complete mobilisation of the material resources of the nation. That may not be the job of the Lord Privy Seal, but this is not a "one-man band." There is a national problem, affecting many Departments of the Government, and we say there should be a maximum guarantee of national effort.
We want to see proper use made of labour. We want to see in this great drive which is now, we understand, being undertaken, the absorption into wage-earning employment of the large numbers who are involuntarily idle to-day. Of course, this raises another question to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but which he skated over with an agility which would have done honour to an older politician than he. It is not much use having anti-aircraft brigades without anti-aircraft guns and searchlights and all the necessary equipment. If the truth be told, at the last crisis we were in a parlous condition and our demand now would be that before the Government begin to organise the people of the country they ought to organise the material resources of the country, to provide what is necessary for the nation, not only in times of war but in times of peace. I am bound to say that what we are passing through now convinces me more deeply than ever, if I needed any convincing, that this kind of situation calls for national ownership and control of our resources, whether in peace or in war, which means a substantial change in the whole of our economic system. This country if it should ever find itself, which God forbid, in conflict with totalitarian States, could not fight them in the economic field by the methods of muddling associated with modem individualism. It is impossible.
If these calls for service are being made upon men and women, then there ought to be a call for the proper national organisation of our national resources. If people are being asked now to sacrifice some of their leisure, and it may be—who knows—some of their freedom, what about our inanimate resources? What about wealth? 1049 Is this scheme to go through, while, at the same time, the grossest form of profiteering is allowed to continue? Are we to devote hundreds of millions of pounds of the nation's annual income to these purposes and see the cream taken off by people—I could give the names of some of them—who to-day do not know how to spend the money which they are making? Is wealth, during this time of national stringency and emergency, to continue to flaunt itself while poverty stalks the distressed areas? If we are in this plight, we have our terms to make. When we speak of defence, we mean the defence of life rather than the defence of property.
We realise that the nation in the hour of trial relies upon the spirit, the morale, the fortitude, the endurance, the determination of the masses of the common people. The best way to sustain those qualities is to get rid of those carking cares of insecurity and poverty and to fight that insidious evil of malnutrition, the existence of which the Government like to deny, though it is undermining the morale and strength of our people. It is idle for the right hon. Gentleman to attempt to organise the man-power and the woman-power of this country, if, through poverty and insecurity, and lack of opportunity, that power cannot be fully utilised in the national interest. Hence, so far from curtailing social services, a step which has been hinted at and denied, but which is nevertheless in the minds of the Government, how much better it would be that our national resources should be made available for the progressive development of those services, so as to strengthen the fibre and fortify the spirit of the nation's common people, which is the nation's greatest asset.
There is an even wider question than that. Why this activity? Why all this warlike preparation? For what purpose has it been called into being? To what object is it directed? I do not want to divert the course of this discussion, but, of course, we on this side of the House realise that we are now reaping the harvest of seven years of mistaken foreign policy. There would be greater confidence in the homes of the people of this country if they knew whither the Government were now trying to lead them. I realise that whenever an attack comes, and whoever may originate it. we have the solemn duty of protecting our civilian 1050 population. We realise that the safety of the civilian population will, perhaps, be the greatest single factor in the dread event of war, but many people would like to know where the Government are going to lead us. In certain eventualities you could not rely on labour. In certain eventualities you could rely upon it 100 per cent.
We are entitled to know whither we are being taken. I have expressed very emphatically my views about compulsion and conscription. On these benches we claim that democracy is based on the free and willing co-operation of people for common ends. Labour does not believe that forced service can inspire a democratic community or deepen its faith. Nor does it believe that conscription can save liberty against external attack. We repudiate the view that compulsory service abroad and the slave state abroad are necessarily to be met by similar methods in this country. We assert that, given a democratic cause, given a serious menace to our ancient liberties, the people of this country will readily rally to the support of democracy with all their strength without the scourge of compulsion. We do not believe that even partial slavery is the way to freedom. While willing to play its part and to take its responsibility, Labour asks that the Government plan should be fully disclosed before any decision is reached by this House. It claims that those plans should be an expression of the national will and that they should be administered, not as the right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon, but in a way which will strengthen and deepen the conviction and confidence of our people in their democratic institutions. If that is done it will be right; if we are betrayed, democracy is betrayed.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on his interesting statement. I had the pleasure of serving under him for three months on a committee dealing with the difficult and delicate problem of evacuation in the event of war, and I cannot help feeling that a little of the glory of his high position is reflected on the members of that committee who worked so harmoniously with him. One of my claims for intervening in what I consider a very important Debate, far 1051 more important than the words of the Motion indicate, is that I had four years' experience during the War of some of the problems which the right hon. Gentleman is tackling. I have a vivid memory of the first few days of the outbreak of war and the vast crowds which clamoured and shouted outside Buckingham Palace, all anxious and willing to make some contribution to the national need. Acting on an impulse I wrote a letter to the "Times." I was not a Member of Parliament then, but just a London county councillor, and they published my letter in a prominent place. I made the suggestion that organisation and machinery should be set at work for training this national energy.
As a result, I was appointed by the Government one of a committee of four persons responsible for organising and training a great part of this voluntary movement. I was secretary of the committee, and I can claim that at one time I was responsible for something like 1,000,000 men. During the last 18 months of the War I was appointed an assistant-director at the War Office, and throughout the War I had some experience of the organisation and administration of voluntary effort. The need in war time of having machinery of this kind was brought home to me only too well, but there is a vital difference between 1914 and any possible future war, that is, the time factor. The danger of invasion, as the Navy was supreme, was not present in 1914, and we had time to put in hand machinery to organise effort. If ever we should have to face such an emergency again there will be no breathing-space, and we have reason to believe that there would not even be the formality of the declaration of war. It would come like a thief in the night. It is, therefore, the duty and the responsibility of the Government to prepare immediately for any possible contingency and to organise the voluntary services of the country in an efficient way.
My criticism is not that there should be a scheme now, two months after the crisis, but that that scheme should not have been formulated, prepared and ready six months before. I must not ask the Lord Privy Seal what his views are, but if we went into his inner mind I am sure he would be the first to admit that. We are 1052 realists. We realise that at least one continental country within striking distance of these shores is organised for war in a way almost unprecedented in history. They pay lip-service to peace, but their writings and the speeches of their leaders show that they glorify, not peaceful methods, but force as a way of settling disputes. Therefore, the Government have the greatest responsibility for organising the civil population to protect itself against any possible danger and to do it now without any more delay. I would be the last to put any difficulty in the way of their great task. I would emphasise the word "defence." We have to organise the country for its defence. London is the most vulnerable target in Europe. The experience of China and Spain shows that everybody, men, women and children, are now in the firing line. They were, to some extent, during the Great War, as I knew only too well from the fate that came to part of my constituency.
Now no part of the country will really be safe. The people of the country are quite alive to this fact. They do not want any persuading. They are hungry for leadership and are prepared to follow any bold, constructive, practical scheme that is put forward. They are calling to be organised for their own defence. All they ask is wise guidance. I am not attacking the Lord Privy Seal, for he is a new boy in the Government, but the Government are months behind public opinion in this respect. There are many things still calling for a policy. It is not within the scope of this Debate, but there is the question of air-raid shelters, about which there is still no policy so far as the public are concerned. I believe that the public are ready to pay by taxes or in some other way to have a really constructive air-raid shelter policy. The same applies, although to a lesser degree, thanks to my right hon. Friend, to the problem of evacuation. My criticism again is that that, too, ought to have been put forward before last July. The Committee which dealt with it did not waste any time, for they were only appointed in May, but they ought to have been appointed six months earlier. There is still much work to be done under that heading, not so much from the point of view of evacuation, but from the point of view of the organisation of reception areas, which is vital to the success of any great evacuation scheme.
1053 I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's wise analysis of the objections to conscription, not merely from the point of view of theory, but as a practical solution of our problems. It is, of course, quite against our tradition, and tradition should not be ignored if we want to have a united nation. Any form of conscription is regarded with suspicion as a potential danger to our liberties, and there is the very real objection that a large number of people—not, I hope, in this House, but in the country—who want conscription for its own sake, and want to imitate some of the bad things going on abroad. If the nation were convinced that any proposal were necessary for its safety, all prejudice would be swept aside. Every proposal must be judged on its merits and from the point of view of its application to our own circumstances and conditions. An arguable case could be put up—we only want to look to France to recognise that—for conscription if the country were contemplating an army on the continental scale, but, in reply to a question of mine last week, the Prime Minister said most emphatically that we had no commitments to send a large army to the Continent. I understand from information I have at my disposal that at the most we might contemplate a highly mechanised expeditionary force, and, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, when it is a question of highly technical work the conscript is not the best man for the purpose. In these days of the Bren gun, the tank, and our highly mechanised organisation, it is true to say, as was said many years ago, that one volunteer is worth ten pressed men, and, as I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman has accepted that policy in principle.
A conscript would be little use as an air-raid warden. Anybody who has had anything to do with the organisation of A.R.P. knows that it is vital for its success to get not only a willing man but the right man, and if there were any kind of compulsion used it would defeat the very purpose. The same consideration applies to the fire brigades, the special constabulary and all the other services associated with A.R.P. I am convinced, as I think the right hon. Gentleman is, that we can get all the man-power we require if we set about it in the right way. I am not going to be drawn aside, like the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), but I will say in- 1054 cidentally that a clear-cut foreign policy which the nation could understand would make the work of the Lord Privy Seal very much easier.
The English people hate war with ferocity, they passionately desire peace, but it is also clear that they are not going to be bullied, and any appeal which is made to them to defend their hearths and homes will receive a generous response. But I do think the right hon. Member for Wakefield is right in saying, and I would emphasise it, that the conditions of service and the obligations incurred in joining-up must be clear-cut; they cannot be too well defined. I am all in favour of some form of contractual obligation. It is obviously common sense that the authority responsible for civilian defence should know when the time comes that the men and women are there, and if they can walk off the obligation is only a paper one and is worthless. I say, however, that it needs to be made clear whether their services are to be paid or unpaid, and how far their duties, either in war or peace, will interfere with their ordinary occupations. We cannot he too clear or emphatic on those points. The ordinary British man or woman will do anything for the public service so long as they know what they are going to be let in for.
The same considerations apply to the question of training and equipment. The right hon. Gentleman did refer to that, but I think there is much leeway to be made up under both those heads. Nothing is more discouraging or disappointing to anyone who has undertaken some service than to find that there is not the essential equipment. I have heard many criticisms, especially from some of the women, of the inadequacy of the provision for training. Here I would make a constructive suggestion. I believe we should get that training done best if we took it out of the hands of an improvised service and put it into the hands of the education authorities. That is nothing revolutionary. The education authorities have done a great deal of work in training men and women for first-aid. Every technical college has its first-aid class, and it may be news to the right hon. Gentleman that most of the evening institutes do a great deal of the training of the police in first-aid work; though perhaps as he has been in the Home Office he is acquainted with that fact. I believe we 1055 should get more efficient training and up to a universal standard if it were not left to an improvised organisation but were undertaken by the ordinary education authorities.
I come now to the important question of the authority for A.R.P. and civilian defence. There was a long Debate when we discussed the Measure which made provision for this civilian work, and we decided, and I believe rightly, to work through the local authorities. Some of them have done their work magnificently; others, as is generally recognised, and I think the right hon. Gentleman admitted it, have been found wanting. The authorities which have done well are not to be found in one particular part of the country. Much has depended on the enthusiasm of a committee or a mayor or even of the staff or officials of a particular council. In the provinces the problem is comparatively simple, especially in great cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, where obviously the right authority is the city council. In London, where the problem is most urgent, London being the most dangerous zone, the most obvious target in time of war, the problem presents special difficulties. There is a division of authority. We have the police under the Home Office, the Fire Brigade under the London County Council and the ordinary A.R.P. work divided among 28 borough councils. That is far from satisfactory. If we are ever faced with the danger of war the incoming aeroplanes will have no regard for borough or county boundaries. They will regard London as one easy target.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he is devising anything for London there should be one supreme authority. I do not suggest for a moment that the local authorities should cease to do the work they are doing, but they should be subject to some authority which is not responsible to each borough but for the whole of the London area. I believe the London County Council is probably the right authority. It may be necessary to secure one officer for the purpose, such as the clerk of the council, or some official like the executive officer of the Fire Brigade, under the London County Council, to do the job; but if we are to have effective co-ordination I think it is better, if we are working through local 1056 authorities, to stick to the local authorities and not impose on them, I will not say some mongrel body but some kind of authority that might obviously promote jealousy and suspicion, doing the very thing we want to avoid and instead of bringing about co-ordination putting a fifth wheel into the coach.
I especially emphasise the local authorities because this is not merely a question of adding a few air-raid wardens or a few special constables or increasing the number of men in the fire brigade. We want to get a new spirit into the population. That is why I attach so much importance to the utilisation of the education machinery. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not realise how complete our education organisation is throughout the country. They have the whole organisation for the physical improvement of the nation. Last year we passed an Act of Parliament and were going to do wonderful things for the improvement of the physique of the nation. I will not say that that Act was a wash-out, because a good deal of work is being done under it, but it has been a great disappointment.
If we are to do anything, we do not want necessarily to copy Continental methods. The great Hitler Youth Movement, of which we hear so much and see so many pictures, has, no doubt, great virtue in improving the physique of the nation, but it is open to many serious objections. It is inspired by the wrong spirit, and experience has shown that in many ways it suffers from great defects. If we want to learn something from the Continent, far better to look to the so-called sokol principle, so successfully carried out in Czechoslovakia, which recognises not merely the necessity for drill and gymnasium work but also the importance of nutrition. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Government got the co-operation of the Board of Education in this matter and made it part of national Defence through the local authorities, accepting the local authorities as the basis and foundation of the organisation, I believe we might use the incident of the national danger greatly to improve the physique, the health and the character of our young people, which is so badly crying out for improvement.
We must, of course, have the cooperation of employers. I believe the 1057 simplest and best method is by a shortening of the hours of work of all under 18, conditional upon their joining some kind of evening institute where their health can be looked after and their minds cultivated; but if we are to make a success of this scheme we do want the co-operation and the good will of the local authorities, and I ask my right hon. Friend, whom I wish well, to think again over his committee scheme, which I very much fear, though it is well-intentioned, will fail to achieve the purpose he aims at.
I am not going to follow the right hon. Member for Wakefield in his criticism of the industrial side of the right hon. Gentleman's scheme. I should like to believe that he was setting up a bogy, and I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will be frightened of it. I do not think he has any idea of an attack upon the privileges of the trade unions, because that would be leading straight to disaster. The success of any form of national service or national defence depends upon the unity of the nation, and it would be asking for disaster, it would sweep the Government away, to make any attack on the fundamental privileges and rights of the trade unions, which are the basis and foundation of the whole of our industrial life. At the same time, I do not think we can object to the right hon. Gentleman trying to protect us in advance from some of the difficulties we had to face in the last War. In the current number of an excellent periodical, "P.E.P."—Political and Economic Planning—there are some figures of very great significance. The Board of Trade report for July, 1915, showed that in 11 essential industries there was then—less than a year after the outbreak of the War—a loss of 20 per cent. in the number of workers in those industries. In the small arms industry alone there was a loss of 16 per cent. If all that the right hon. Gentleman aims at in his scheme and his list of scheduled occupations is to prevent vital necessities such as munitions and aircraft production and the engineering industry being robbed in a time of crisis of their workers by the competition of the Army and the Navy, that is common sense, and should have our general support.
I am particularly glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour in his place. He is vitally concerned with this problem. I will not say he is the keystone of it, but certainly a good deal 1058 of its success depends upon the policy and the practice of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. If you are to create nationwide enthusiasm and to get the backing of the whole people in an appeal for national service you must deal with some of the serious economic problems that affect a large part of our population. How can you expect enthusiasm for voluntary service from 1,800,000 people who are unemployed? They are too busy thinking of their daily bread and of their ordinary problems to be able to apply their minds or to give their service with enthusiasm. Germany claims, rightly or wrongly—we do not know the exact situation there—to have eliminated unemployment. With a time-lag in munitions output it is appalling that we should have over 1,000,000, and nearer 2,000,000, people unemployed. There is an overwhelming case for some more scientific planning and better use of our man-power. It is difficult to understand how there can be 1,800,000 people out of work at a time when we are told we need a greater output of guns and aeroplanes, and even of rifles.
Let the Lord Privy Seal apply some of his organising ability with the Minister of Labour to explaining that point or seeing whether it can be solved. It has a direct relation to our national safety and to what is equally important, our national unity. To make this plan a success—after all, the right hon. Gentleman has given us only an outline—depends upon the good will of the whole nation, not of one party or of one class. Unless the right hon. Gentlemen can explain or solve this problem there will be difficulty in getting a united country. So far as we on these benches are concerned, we wish him good luck. He has only outlined his scheme, but he is to be congratulated because he has built it on the sure foundations of the voluntary principle. For that and that only we wish him good luck.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
With a great deal of what the hon. Baronet has said I am in entire agreement. More particularly would I endorse his suggestion that the defence of London against air attack should, like our police arrangements, be entrusted to a single efficient body and not be distributed among 28 different and un-co-ordinated bodies. Perhaps the hon. Baronet will forgive me if, instead of 1059 following the arguments which he placed before the House, I turn directly to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal. I wish it had been possible for me to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech, but I must confess in all frankness that I was grievously disappointed by the substance and even more by the tone, of that speech. To my mind it showed very little realisation of the terrible dangers through which we passed only two months ago and of the even more terrible dangers which may confront this country at any moment.
We are living in a time of grave peril to the very existence of this nation. At a time like that, the kind of proposals that we have before us and the kind of speech that has been made seem to me utterly inadequate. Let me turn, to begin with, to this question of the National Register. What is the object of a National Register? It is to enable the Government to survey the whole of its resources of man power, in quantity, quality, type and classification, in order to be able to know how to wage a war, what kind of war they can wage most effectively and, from that point of view, what foreign policy to pursue or not to pursue. My right hon. Friend pointed out that to wage war only a complete Register, properly analysed, could enable the Government to judge the extent and the limit of their responsibilities, and he pointed out also that without such a complete Register no Government could know—I have not his exact words—how to decide their policy at the beginning and during the course of a war.
Surely those are the things that you ought not to try to find out after your war has begun; surely they should be the foundation of your policy beforehand. We all know that the other day there were conversations between the French Government and ourselves as to what we could do in the event of war. How can we supply an answer to that question unless we have first of all come to our own conclusion as to our resources and as to our policy in utilising them? As far as the broad issues of policy are concerned it seems essential to have a complete Register. I would add that its frequent bringing up to date is not so very essential. The Register gives us the broad state of our population. Every few years, perhaps, it would require serious revision, but at any rate, from that point of view, frequent revision is not essential. If it 1060 were, there are no insuperable difficulties to carrying it out, with modern methods and machinery. If, on the other hand, it is essential to keep up to date the information as to voluntary service which would be incidentally afforded by such a Register, that applies to my right hon. Friend's scheme just as much.
A Register serves two purposes, one to give the Government a general survey of the material which is available from the war point of view and, incidentally as a purely voluntary matter, to enable them to have some idea of what kind of service different individuals are prepared to volunteer. You cannot meet the first and more essential purpose after war has begun. My right hon. Friend spoke of preparations costing some £7,000 which would enable the work to be done in a few weeks, and would enable a smooth, safe and easy transition to take place from the voluntary Register to the National Register. Well, really, are those three or four weeks going to be smooth and easy weeks of transition, when perhaps we shall be landed with 40,000 casualties on the day that war is declared, or before war is declared? My right hon. Friend will be faced with incredible difficulties in connection with evacuation and every kind of problem, when people not registered will be rushing to do all sorts of things which you would not want them to do if you had a Register. Surely the only sane and rational thing to do is to have your Register complete, and to have it now.
What is the objection? Is it compul-hon. Friend is new to party politics. sion. We have a compulsory register for Parliamentary purposes. My right He has never fought an ordinary election. I wonder what the Prime Minister, an old electioneering hand, would say if, on principle, the House of Commons decided that the compulsory Parliamentary register should be made up only after a general election had begun. I see no difference. I confess that, for him to reassure us that he is making all sorts of preparations in order to make a key to lock the stable door as soon as possible after the horse has been stolen, is really not treating the situation seriously. Most of the reasons which he gave seemed to me not reasons but excuses covering—I will not say his, but the Government's incapacity to come to a decision on even this small point of a compulsory Register. I want to make it clear that the compulsory Register is not 1061 to be part of any scheme of compulsory national service or training, but unless you have a compulsory Register it is not in any sense a National Register at all. It is only at best a Register of such volunteers as your recruiting committees may be able to get and are not immediately able to use. So much for the voluntary Register.
The Motion of the Government raises, however, the whole issue of voluntary versus compulsory service and training. What are the wider purposes of national service to which we are asked to subscribe? They cover not only air-raid precautions but the whole question of the man-power required for our Defence. We are facing a danger of war which may arise at almost any moment. What is our reply to that danger? At the end of January we are to issue 20,000,000 Handbooks. I dare say they will be excellent Handbooks telling of all the kinds of service you might render if you feel so disposed. If you are in any doubt whether you in a key industry or not you are to have recourse to the advice and guidance of the central advisory national service committee of your district. Well, in this House we are all pretty well accustomed to the receipt of circulars and handbooks and we know what generally happens to them. What will the ordinary working man do when he goes home to tea and finds this Handbook in his house? He will say: "If I am really wanted they will fetch me. I gather that I am not really wanted, so I will read the football news." My right hon. Friend suggests that a national compulsory Register is to be deprecated because foreign countries would think that we were not taking the situation seriously.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Has the right hon. Gentleman no faith in his countrymen that, should any crisis arise, they would come voluntarily? Does he think they would remain at home and read the volume? That is what he said.
§ Mr. Amery
I will deal with that argument in the course of my speech. Just as, in spite of all the appeals that were made month after month before Munich for volunteers, the men did not turn up, so, however great the national need may be, the mere sending round of literature will not make them come forward. They want Parliament to tell them to come 1062 forward; they want a national will and purpose in this matter; they do not want it to be left to mere chance. And what is going to be the reaction in the outside world? Will it not be thought that this is merely a matter of make-believe, and that we have not really faced the situation? What, I wonder, will the outside world say about the handbooks? I can imagine Dr. Goebbels sniggering at the thought that Germany's organisation and will-power is going to be met by the issue of 20,000,000 handbooks.
I am told that the handbooks are going to be followed up—that there are going to be recruiting agencies of various sorts, for the Territorials, the Regular Army, and other Services, including A.R.P. No doubt they will get a certain response. But will the response be sufficient? Will it be sufficient, not only in numbers, but in adequacy of training, for the purposes required? I dare say that for certain kinds of A.R.P. service not much training will be required, but there are some which do require serious training, and from that point of view it is essential, to my mind, that not only numbers but adequate training should be secured; and certainly when it comes to the Territorial Army I venture to doubt very much whether the handbooks and the recruiting campaign will secure the result that we aim at or that we need.
Surely, in a matter of this vital importance, there is only one way of dealing with the situation, and that is to decide first of all what is the number of men that you want for all the branches of your defence, and then to decide what is the minimum training that they ought to have. I do not propose to go at any length into the question of air-raid precautions. I dare say some aspects of it do not require much training, but they all require some discipline, and one of the questions that I should like to ask is: What is to be the disciplinary structure of the Air-Raid Precautions personnel? Who is to be entitled to give orders, and what happens to people if they disobey orders? These are vital things when you come to a situation of life and death, when bombs are dropping about in every direction, when houses are falling right and left. Is a man to be subject to penalties for running away or for refusing to do his duty? The ordinary Territorial is a voluntary-service man, but, once he undertakes his service, he is bound for a certain number of years, subject to 1063 certain conditions, and, at the moment when war is declared, he is, on embodiment, subject to the same responsibilities and the same penalties as a regular soldier. What corresponding control or restraint is there to be in the case of the A.R.P. personnel? I am told that during the recent crisis a very large proportion of London air wardens found the climate of Dorset and Devon more salubrious than that of London. How is that going to be met?
I turn to the even more important question of our home defence generally—both the anti-aircraft Territorial force and the Territorial field force. Let me begin by asking how many we need. Is it 100,000, 300,000, 400,000, or 500,000? It is for the Government to say. They have never yet said it. I doubt if they have ever really dared to ask themselves the question; I think they were too frightened of what the answer would be. At any rate, I venture to say that the present Territorial force is utterly inadequate for the double duty of providing anti-aircraft services in this country and providing the field force that might be required in a great war. Before the Great War, the Territorial force served only one purpose, that of reinforcing the Regular Army. It has since been steadily robbed as a field force in order to create an anti-aircraft defence force. How much longer is that process to go on? Then, whatever the numbers, I would ask, what ought to be the training of that force? We know what is given in other countries. We know what even a small democratic people like the Swiss insist upon as the minimum training. Is anyone going to suggest that a fortnight in camp for 50 or 60 per cent. of your force, and a certain number of evening drills, is going to produce men adequately trained for war purposes, that is if you judge by merits and not merely by convenience, if you do not cut down the training in order to get enough men who are willing to undergo it?
My right hon. Friend used certain arguments about compulsion which, to be quite frank, I thought were a complete travesty of the case for and against. The whole object of compulsory training is, first of all, to get rid of the economic pressure which prevents the would-be volunteer from serving for such time as is adequate; and, secondly, it is to give him such a training as will make him a skilled 1064 man, able to take responsibility, able to do what is required. The hon. Baronet opposite quoted the old tag about one volunteer being worth 10 pressed men. I venture to say that one man who, in the service of his country under a compulsory system, has learned what to do, is worth two or three men who, however gallantly they come forward at the last moment, do not know what to do. In my view, our system of calling upon the untrained patriotism of our people in the hour of battle is sheer murder.
This is not a new problem. Nor does it arise only in connection with the defence of the Realm. We faced it in connection with education years ago. As long as it was purely a matter of voluntaryism whether parents sent their children to school, and as long as there was no compulsory law forbidding the employment of children in factories, it was not possible to get an educated nation, because the economic pressure of the short-sighted parent made it impossible for those more disinterested parents who cared for their children to give them the chance of a proper education. Compulsion has been the foundation of our system of education, as well as of our system of insurance, of sanitation. Hon. Members opposite have committed themselves to the principle of voluntaryism for defence, but surely, in trade unionism, the whole secret of success is collective action, and the man who, by standing out, breaks the efficiency of that action is called a blackleg.
Why should the principle of blacklegging be exalted into a sacred principle when it comes to the defence of the country? Moreover the principle of compulsion has in fact been accepted. It has been agreed by every Government since the War that we should have compulsion the moment a major war starts. Why is it right to have compulsion when you apply it too late to save you from disaster, and wrong to apply it in time to give you a chance of victory if there is war, and an enormously increased chance of peace? We are told that we must give voluntary training another chance, that it has not yet failed. It has failed over the whole of the last 20 years and more. We knew for years that the Great War was coming. In vain Lord Roberts and some of us in this House appealed to the nation to face the issue. When the Great War came, 1065 was there not the ghastly failure of those opening months when we had neither equipment, nor uniforms, nor weapons, nor men who knew how to wield them, so that, when Germany was spent in those early months, we had no chance of taking advantage of that opportunity and so shortening the war by years and reducing our casualties by hundreds of thousands? Then we had the final stage, when a weak-kneed Government, still trying to the last to dodge compulsory service, invented the so-called Derby scheme, the scheme of voluntary registration. We are now back at the Derby scheme again.
This scheme of my right hon. Friend is nothing but a postponement of decision on the part of the Government on the vital issue whether they are really going to face the defensive needs of the country or not. After the War, we lived for a time under the comfortable delusion that there never would be war again. We long ago emerged from that stage, and for the last five years we have known the danger. How far have we got towards solving it by voluntary means? Does anyone deny that what happened at the time of Munich was a failure of our voluntary system? Is it not really fantastic that, in the present condition of the world, and with the dangers that are confronting us, we should talk about handbooks, and voluntary registers, and co-ordinating committees, and recruiting committees, some under the Ministry of Labour, some under my right hon. Friend, and some under the Home Office? When I read my right hon. Friend's statement the other day, I felt as I used to feel as a boy after reading the Athanasian Creed—in a state of considerable bewilderment, not knowing how to believe in the unity of the organisation without confounding the substance of my right hon. Friend with that of the Minister of Labour or that of the Home Secretary. It seems to me that all this shows sheer inability on the part of the Government to face up to the dangers of the situation.
Every day we have fresh evidence of the exaltation and pride engendered in Germany by the fact that they have won a great victory by their power, and mean to win still further by power. When Dr. Goebbels talks about the hour coming for the redistribution of the world's surface, what does he mean but that? Of course he does. Look at the recent demonstra- 1066 tions by Italy against France. Do they mean nothing? We have to face the facts, and the facts are that there is a great danger that at any moment war may be upon us. I wish the Government were really alarmed at that. I wish they were only half as afraid of the Germans as they are of the milkmen. Is it not really time to face the facts? The Prime Minister the other day described himself as a go-getter for peace. Had he not better be a go-getter for safety first—for security? We are told that the nation will not have compulsion. But even the hon. Baronet opposite, who by tradition is opposed to compulsory service, admitted that, if the Government confidently and of conviction stated that it was necessary, he would consider many things that he does not consider to-day.
Why should not the Government face the issue? We may be told that it could only be put forward at an election, and that putting it forward at an election would result in a change of Government. I certainly think that that change would be for the worse, but how much worse? A minor difference compared with the real urgencies of the situation. After all, you would then have a great issue brought before the nation and kept before the nation by a party in Opposition which would be bound to come back again against a Government which would be confronted with the same difficulties with which the present Government are confronted to-day. But need it be a matter of an election? Is it really impossible for both sides in the House, in this hour of danger, to sink their minor differences? I confess that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) made me almost despair. All the little grievances of the Great War were magnified, and the fact that in the long run the measures we took enabled us to win the War seemed to be entirely forgotten. I remember that there was a time when the great city of Constantinople fell to the Turks, and civilisation was blotted out in Eastern Europe. On that occasion, of the 1,000,000 inhabitants of Constantinople, there were barely 5,000 willing to defend the walls, because they were all quarrelling on minor points of religious doctrine. Is it not possible that we are in somewhat the same condition? The barbarian is at the gates, and must we go on wrangling about our petty diffi- 1067 culties instead of facing the situation which is before us?
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Bartlett
May I begin by appealing to hon. Members to remember that they all at some time have gone through the ordeal that confronts me now; and I am sure they will recall how alarming a place the House seems to a newcomer. But if one must make a maiden speech—and I suppose one must, although I hear that there are Members who have managed to avoid the ordeal for some time—I am glad to do so when I am able to congratulate the Government upon taking what I believe to be a very considerable step forward. After the disappointment we have had about a Ministry of Supply and so on, I feel that, at any rate, I can go further than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery)—with whom, rather surprisingly, I can agree on much that he said—in congratulating the Lord Privy Seal on having produced a scheme which will have the approval of many Members of the House.
As I see it, the object of civilian defence is twofold: to deter those who might be attempted to attack us, and to make our defences as efficient as possible if we are attacked. It is probably true that nothing would make as great an impression abroad as the institution of conscription in this country. I speak with some diffidence from this part of the House, because I do not happen entirely to share the views of most Members on this side about conscription, or some form of compulsory military service. I have never been entirely convinced that it is so undemocratic. I am not entirely convinced that our present military system is a better method of breaking down those barriers of class, accent and prejudice than you find in the national militias of some democratic countries, such as Switzerland; and I think that, despite what the Lord Privy Seal said about make-believe, conscription here would have as great an effect abroad as conscription abroad has had here—which is saying a great deal.
But I realise there are two very powerful arguments against any form of compulsory military service. One is that it would arouse bitter opposition in this House; and, to my mind, it is more important now than at any moment since 1068 the War that there should be as great a measure of national unity as possible. The other argument is that compulsion of any sort, unless the Government contemplate the despatch of a large expeditionary force overseas, is more likely to be useless and wasteful than the scheme the Lord Privy Seal has in mind. In fact, I am afraid that some doubt about the effectiveness of the Lord Privy Seal's scheme must persist while we have doubts about the Government's foreign policy. Only in the last day or two we have had speeches—with which I am in entire agreement—by Members of the Government which suggest that even inside the Government there is still a considerable measure of difference as to what our foreign policy should be. If we are to have voluntary service, how can it best be organised in such a way that it does ward off potential aggressors and make us really stronger if that warning should not be sufficient?
One of my reasons for intervening in this Debate is that I have had more recent contact than most Members with the electorate, and I have come to certain conclusions which I venture to think are not entirely irrelevant to the Debate. The most important of those conclusions is that at no other time since the War have the people of this country been so desperately anxious to serve. In my opinion, that applies to people in all classes; and I will appeal to hon. Members opposite to remember with gratitude the patriotism of the poorer members of this national community, which in no way lags behind the patriotism of more fortunate people. They are just as anxious to serve as the more fortunate people, and yet they have so very little to defend. The Lord Privy Seal is rightly anxious to make the most of that spirit of national devotion, because, unless it can be maintained, the best-laid plans for voluntary service will fail; and we shall then find ourselves having conscription imposed on a resentful and suspicious people. I would suggest that it is essential that we should take much more vigorous steps to convince the general public that there is not going to be any profiteering in sandbags, aeroplanes, steel and cement and those other articles which, at the present time, are of even greater importance than the supply of well-trained man-power. I think the same suspicion of large-scale profiteering at the expense of the nation 1069 is one of the main causes of the hostility to the Milk Bill.
The Government would stand a much better chance of harnessing patriotism to useful purposes if they could dissipate this suspicion that they are more anxious to suppress criticism than to be guided by it. I have read in the last week or two at least half a dozen explanations of why I happened to be victorious at Bridgwater. There is dissatisfaction with the Government's agricultural policy; there is the abominable treatment of the Jews in Germany; the youth of my very excellent and able opponent; the fact that at an earlier period I used to be connected with the microphone. But I am convinced that none of them helped nearly so much as the Prime Minister's recent reproaches to the Leader of the Opposition in this House for expressing his belief that the Munich Agreement was a blunder. According to the OFFICIAL REPORT, the Prime Minister said:If the right hon. Gentleman really believes that, I am sorry that he should say so publicly. It is not one of the characteristics of totalitarian States, at any rate, that they are accustomed to foul their own nests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1938; cols. 73–4, Vol. 340.]I honestly believe that there is a very widespread fear in the country that our freedom of speech, which is the foundation of pure democracy—that is to say, which is the foundation of our national greatness—is seriously threatened. I would suggest that if the Lord Privy Seal is to have that success that we all want, more should be done by the members of the Government to dispel that suspicion.
There is, I fear, another obstacle in the way of the Lord Privy Seal. I went, in my very humble capacity, on each of the Prime Minister's three visits to Germany, and I saw enough of the strain under which he worked and the responsibility he had to carry, or chose to carry, to come to the conclusion that it would be an impertinence for me to criticise the decisions he made, even though I thought they were mistaken. I tried to rub that in in every election speech I made, but, being new to the game, I was surprised to discover the extent to which my words were distorted—or, should I say, misunderstood? On one occasion, one of my opponent's supporters said at a meeting that I had said that the Prime Minister went to Munich like a dog with his tail between his legs. He added, 1070 "I say that he went like a bulldog," to which a farm labourer at the back of the hall said, "Why didn't they send a retriever, so as to bring us back something?" As in foreign affairs, so in home affairs, feeling is growing that the Government are showing haste and energy only in surrender. After the recent crisis we did expect a rebuilding of the Government, in order to make it national in fact, and not only in name. If Bridgwater is any guide, there is bitter disappointment that, with the exception of the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, there has been practically no change, except the fact that one Noble Lord aged 66 has retired and been replaced by another Noble Lord aged 67. I want to say nothing disrespectful to those two noble gentlemen, but surely much more understanding of public opinion, much more imagination, will be necessary if these civil defence plans are to be the success we all so desperately want them to be.
The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me referred with some contempt to this Handbook which is to be issued. Undoubtedly that is a step in the right direc1ion, but I wonder how many Members in this House could put their hands on their hearts and swear they read through every word of the A.R.P. Handbook, which was handed out to us at a time of grave national crisis, when it should have been studied with the greatest care. It sounds to me too much like an Income Tax return, this system that is being adopted. We are to have local committees, which will give advice, but I would suggest that if they are to be staffed with people with what are called Oxford accents, we shall find not enough people coming for advice to make the thing worth while. We have to avoid a repetition of the A.R.P. fiasco, with its buckets of sand and spades and retired majors. I would suggest to the Lord Privy Seal that when he launches his new scheme, he should launch it with the utmost possible display of pageantry. That may sound an unimportant thing, but I believe it is of the utmost importance that we should bring the danger home to the people, and I believe that that can be done only with a display of pageantry.
Herr Hitler has obtained power in Germany with the help, I think, of three qualities. One is the ability to play on 1071 the little resentments and jealousies of the masses. We certainly do not want to follow that. Another is an understanding of the feeling of the poorest people in his country because he himself tramped the streets of Vienna with no work and with an empty stomach. When I read and hear Debates on the Special Areas and similar problems I sometimes wish, certainly without any malice, that more of the right hon. Gentlemen who have to deal with these matters had been through similar experiences. The third quality that Herr Hitler possesses is his wonderful mastery of dramatic presentation. I do no see why in this present crisis we should not follow him in that respect. Nobody could enter this House without being impressed by the sense of pageantry possessed by our people. That is why everybody who goes through the ordeal that I am passing through to-day is in such a state of nerves about it, and I do not see why that sense of pageantry should not be directed towards the possibilities of the future as well as towards the traditions of the past.
I think, therefore, that enlistment under the new scheme should come at the end of a national voluntary service registration week. If possible let registration day itself be a public holiday—a public holiday perhaps repeated every year when the Register will have to be brought up to date. Let every method possible of influencing public opinion be used to convince the nation. and particularly the youth of the nation, that it is embarking on a romantic and dangerous enterprise which has become necessary for the protection of our liberties. Pageantry should also bring out the fact that the miners, the engineers, the transport workers, agricultural workers and other men in key industries are playing their part, so that they too do not lose this very important idea of National Service.
No psychologist and no publicity expert could be too big for this job, and I would suggest that the Lord Privy Seal should consider the appointment of a small expert committee to advise him on the most effective ways of projecting his scheme. I have made these few criticisms, I assure the House, in no carping spirit. I merely want to emphasise that the people of this country are desperately anxious for a strong lead, and I think that the welcome that has been given to the 1072 proposals put forward by the Lord Privy Seal does show that the welcome is immediate, generous, and general when any lead is given. I believe with passion that the worst possible policy is to minimise the difficulties and dangers that lie ahead. The international situation has deteriorated to an almost incredible extent in the last few months, and as far as I know them, the younger people are not frightened of dangers or difficulties; they are frightened only of muddle, cowardice and delay.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Grigg
I was one of those who went down about three weeks ago and did his humble best to prevent the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett), who has just addressed the House so successfully, from entering it.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I came back convinced that he was doing very well, and I came back also full of a feeling that he was owing his success very largely to the independence, the courage, and the freshness of his views. He has shown those same qualities in the maiden speech he has just made, with, I believe, the universal acceptance and approval of this House. I have seldom heard a maiden speech which has won so much attention or been so delightful in its character and so full of freshness and common sense. I congratulate the hon. Member most warmly upon it, and I hope indeed that neither the state of his nerves nor the direction of your eye, Mr. Speaker, may prevent him from addressing us on many more occasions in the days to come.
We all listened this afternoon to the detailed statement by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal of his plans for national voluntary service and his case about the National Register. He was very clear in his statement last week and again in his speech to-day in drawing a distinction between peace requirements and war requirements, and I agree with him that that is a thing which must be kept most clearly in our minds. As far as our peace requirements are concerned in the way of national service, he has assured us that they are not really so extensive as many people suppose. I am very glad to hear that that is the case. However that may be, he has, I believe, given the country 1073 a most admirable plan, worked out with all his administrative ability in order to ensure that the defects, whatever they may be, are made good at the earliest possible date. I have never contested the fact that this effort must be voluntary. Services are essential, but it would, I think, be a disaster if compulsory recruitment had to be introduced in this country in time of peace. I should regard that as a terrible breach with our traditions. Bitter opposition to it would be inevitable, and certainly nothing worse could happen to us at a moment of very great anxiety and danger than that this nation should be split. I am, therefore, absolutely at one with my right hon. Friend in his view that this appeal should be for voluntary national service and that we should endeavour to do our utmost in every way to see that the voluntary principle provides the necessary personnel in time of peace.
The difficulties are considerable. My hon. Friend mentioned some of them. There are the states of mind into which the country is divided, and although the country is still very alert, it is not nearly as alert as it was six weeks or two months ago. Its phases change very quickly. But at the same time unquestionably millions have been asking in the last few weeks, "What can I do? Is there anything I can do?" My right hon. Friend is going to provide them with a clear answer, and if they do not understand the answer in the Handbook they can go to these committees and get advice. I believe that we shall find that the response to his appeal will be exceptional in time of peace. I leave it at that, and I hope in any case that all agencies, the screen, the microphone, the stage, the Press, everything, will help in this appeal. I absolutely agree that it must be presented as picturesquely and as vividly as possible. I hope that, if there lingers in anybody's mind any idea that this scheme is for any ulterior purpose, it will be dispelled.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said something in the course of his remarks about the anxiety lest these special services for home Defence should be used to break a strike. I believe that it is laid down in the Territorial Act that the Territorials are never to be used for any purpose of that sort, and surely it will be laid down in the same way in regard to any 1074 of the other services which are necessary for home Defence. This appeal is being made at a very critical time. Quite lately a Minister of one of the Dominions Governments has been touring Europe and he returned a day or two ago and issued a statement, which appears in the papers this morning. It is a statement which one cannot but consider as extremely grave. Statements of that kind, after all, are not issued by responsible Ministers unless they feel that the cause for anxiety is very great. I can only say, therefore, that I wish the Lord Privy Seal Godspeed. We shall know how his appeal is succeeding just about the time that the next crisis may be expected in European affairs, and it is very much to everybody's interest in this country that at that moment it should be perfectly clear that his appeal has been a success.
I am quite prepared to accept his word, with his great administrative experience behind it, that the partial registers which he has provided for will show that this voluntary effort is properly sorted out, that men and women do not get into wrong boxes, so to speak, and that industry does not lose any of the men it ought not to lose. He has said that the Register which he is preparing will provide for that. I know that admirable work has been done in this direction by the Ministry of Labour already, and I have no hesitation whatever in accepting his assurance that these registers will be adequate from that standpoint. I am particularly anxious to say that because I have used as an argument for a complete and national compulsory register in the past the necessity of seeing that this sorting out is properly done. I believe that he is providing for that, and I shall certainly not press the argument as to sorting out in any way that may prejudice the voluntary appeal which he is now about to make.
I come to a very much more difficult part of his statement, and that is the war requirements of the country. That is an entirely different subject, and I agree absolutely with what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) that what we need, in the first place, is a strategical plan based on adequate information. That is what we mean. In his statement on Thursday my right hon. Friend said that a National Register, compulsory and therefore complete, was essential—I think I 1075 am quoting his words—for the survey and the marshalling of our resources as a whole. These were the words he used. I draw a great distinction between the survey and the marshalling. The survey is the thing which we ought to do in peace. Whether we marshal these forces depends upon whether we go to war and what action we take in that war. The survey is essential to provide information as to what you are to do and whether indeed you are capable of waging a war of the kind you have to face. That survey should be complete in time of peace. From that standpoint, one statement which he made on Thursday caused me a good deal of shock. He said that he was anticipating the machinery of the 1941 census in order to provide us with the means of compiling a complete National Register quickly, if that had to be done.
I remember that in April of this year no less an authority than the Prime Minister told us that machinery was already in existence. I have not the quotation here, but I think that in a speech which he made at Birmingham on 8th April he said that the machinery was in existence under which a National Register could be smoothly and effectively compiled if the need arose, and it was a considerable shock to be told by the Lord Privy Seal that he was setting up this machinery which we supposed was already there. What I presume must be the case is that he is setting up a machinery more complete than the Prime Minister had in mind. In any case it is obvious that it is no use pressing immediately for a compulsory National Register if the machinery does not exist, but we have always assumed from the Prime Minister's statement that it did exist.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I do not think that there is anything inconsistent between what I said and what my right hon. Friend has said since. The machinery was there but he has taken steps which will enable it to be put in motion earlier than it otherwise would be.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I thought the explanation must lie in something of that sort. The fact that it is being prepared or perfected is all to the good, but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is really convinced that the prepara- 1076 tion of this machinery is all that need be done in time of peace. To answer that, it is necessary to consider the objects of the Register, and in considering those objects I will do no more than follow the lines of his own statement on the subject. He stated that we needed this Register and that it was essential for two purposes. It was, if not essential, very desirable, at any rate, in order to establish an adequate system of food rationing, and it was absolutely essential in order to survey and marshal our resources as a whole in the conduct of a war. I have said that I entirely agree with the argument that was advanced on that subject by my right hon. Friend opposite, but what is it in this survey that we need to know?
What is the information that we need to have if we are to have a proper plan for making the whole of the country's resources available in case of need? We must know, in the first place, roughly the needs of industry under the strain of war. That may exist in the Ministry of Labour but it is one of the things that we want to know. The next thing is the needs of home defence. We want to know, in the third place, the needs of all the utility services—things which must be carried on—which again the Ministry of Labour may have. We want to know, in the fourth place, after careful consideration and examination how far those needs can be met by replacing younger and more active men with older men and women, a thing that was done on a very large scale in the last War and ought to be worked out on broad lines in advance. When you have done all those things you get what is the residue of the man—power of the country—its strategic reserve-and, until you know that, I do not see that we are entitled to make commitments of any sort even in war.
What did we do in the last War? We sent a division here and a division there without considering what it involved and what the drain on man-power was going to be afterwards. I am convinced that now we should not make a commitment of any kind without working out in advance the drain on our man-power and whether we are capable of meeting it. There are many who consider that in the new conditions this country cannot afford to send a large Army oversea at all. If it cannot afford to send a large Army, it had probably better make up its mind to send no Army at all. Moreover, we should 1077 know not only the strength that we have available as a strategic reserve when all our other necessities are met, but we should also have a broad idea as to the time necessary for deploying that strength. That also needs survey. In the last War everything had to be manufactured from scratch. We shall start, if we are in a war within any measurable period—I trust we shall not but, if that calamity occurs, we shall have great reserves of trained staff officers, trained officers and trained non-commissioned officers all of whom should be known, with their capacity of service if that still remains. On that basis it is possible to work out the speed with which our strength can be deployed. I do not know whether I am misinformed but I am told that all trace of even trained staff officers, certainly many efficient officers and noncommissioned officers, has been lost. You can get at them by various ways, but those resources should be tabulated at once.
I suggest that if we are to play our full part in the next war, and if the potential war strength of the country is to count, as I hope it will, in the scales of peace, that strategic plan should be ready in advance. Then the nation can decide with full knowledge as to what use it will make of its strength. I would press the same argument on the subject of food rationing. I believe that from the very first day of another war we should take steps to conserve the food supplies of the country and see that no one goes short. There will be great movements of population. Distribution will be extremely difficult, and it seems to me clear that, unless some system of food rationing is established before war breaks out, there is going to be very great waste of food supplies and many will go short.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
We have been charged so often on this side with being unwilling to collaborate in Defence preparations that I think the House should know that there are people on this side who have been for at least two and a-half years assisting to arrange a scheme of rationing, and however little I support the Government on other matters, I support them on that.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I know that there are schemes of rationing in existence, but I am going on the statement of the Lord Privy Seal that a national Register was 1078 desirable with a view to establishing a full system of food rationing. He repeated that statement to-day and I presume that there must be something in it. The Lord Privy Seal said that when the machinery was in existence he would be able to compile this Register in a period of three weeks. My right hon. Friend has immense administrative ability and, when he makes a statement of that kind, I am naturally predisposed to believe him, but what I should be inclined to say to him is that I will believe that statement in regard to any three weeks except those three weeks. In those three weeks it is quite inconceivable that work of that kind should be done at this pace.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend made that proviso. If the telephones and posts were working, if his 50,000 enumerators were proceeding calmly about the country on their bicycles, or whatever method of transport they might adopt, if his headquarters were working in their normal routine in peace perhaps the Register might be compiled in that time; but I am sure my right hon. Friend is unwilling to mislead us as to what we can expect under the conditions that will exist in the great cities in those weeks. I am sure that, if the question of working out the scheme is left till then, it will be much longer than three weeks and there will be a great wastage of supplies and thousands will go short. My right hon. Friend said, both to-day and on Thursday, I think, that he saw no difficulty about waiting even for more than three weeks after the declaration of war because he believed that the voluntary reserve would be adequate. But really it is not a question of having a reserve available. We know very well that, if war occurs, people will be tumbling over themselves to volunteer for this and that, and that they will be trying to get out of the jobs that they ought to be doing and getting into some other job. That is what they always try to do in an emergency. The one thing that they cannot believe it essential to do is to go on doing the job they are doing in time of peace. It is important from the first to have a full plan of action in your mind of the use you wish to make of the country's resources in order to see that the waste and confusion do not occur which occurred in the last War. There- 1079 fore the registration must be complete in time of peace and, if it is to be complete in time of peace, it must be compulsory.
What are the objections to compulsion? Objections are being made to the Register on the ground that you would not be able to keep it up to date. I think my right hon. Friend disposed of most of those arguments, but what I would say to him is that, if this inventory is going to increase the influence and authority of the country in any way, and increase also its security, it is really worth making it afresh every year, just as you work out the inventory of your wealth. There is no great difficulty about it. If you are going to increase the security of the country in that way let us have this inventory once a year, just as we have our inventory for Income Tax. After all, the object of the thing is to save and preserve life, which will otherwise be wasted on the same scale as it was in the last War.
I was a little surprised by the account that my right hon. Friend gave of the Second Reading Debate on the War Register in 1915. I was not here at the time, but I have quite recently read that Debate. He said that almost the whole of the Debate was objection and he quoted some objections of Sir Thomas Whitaker, but he failed to tell the House that, in spite of the speeches that were made, extraordinarily few—it was mainly the Irish Members who objected—went into the Lobby against the Bill. I think if he refreshes his memory he will find that no less a person than the late Mr. Arthur Henderson, who wound up the Debate in favour of a compulsory national Register, made a very effective answer to most of the criticisms. He described his experience in trying to compile a voluntary Register, and it is worth while to look back to what he said. I do not think any objection can be really effectively raised to this proposal for a compulsory Register on the ground that it would need to be constantly revised. If it needs constant revision let it have constant revision.
A stronger objection is that the cry of conscription will be raised in regard to it. I do not under-rate the political dangers inherent in that cry if it is raised, because it is a subject on which the country unquestionably feels very deeply. This may be a country of strong prejudices, but it is also a country of very strong intelli- 1080 gence, and I think, if the difference is explained between registering, giving the information that is required, and being requisitioned or compelled to serve, every one will understand that to confuse a national Register with conscription for service is an absurdity of the worst sort. There is a world of difference between carrying out such a survey and conscription, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater will have no difficulty in explaining that difference to his constituents.
I was a little surprised at what my right hon. Friend said about the psychological aspect. I believe that the psychological value of such a Register in Europe would be very great, and I have not met a single foreigner—and I have met a good many recently—who has not assured me that that is the case. My right hon. Friend said that he had some unfamiliarity with European opinion in this respect. I can assure him that it is not the slightest use addressing arguments of the kind that he was addressing to the House, to the democracies of France or Switzerland—because they simply fail to understand them. They say, rightly, that they are democracies as much as ourselves, and that to address arguments of that sort to them is to suggest that they are totalitarian States. So far as I know, the only democracies that share the right hon. Gentleman's views are the democracy of the Duchy of Luxemburg, the democracy of the Vatican City and the democracy of the Principality of Monaco. Those are the three democracies. While the words my right hon. Friend used may strike a responsive note among the light-hearted denizens of Monte Carlo, they will not be received with any gratitude or pleasure in the democracies most closely allied to us in thought and sentiment.
The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) used a similar argument. He used the old argument about one volunteer being worth ten pressed men. I used to think it sufficient to say that Nelson's band of brothers at Trafalgar were, as to the large majority of them, pressed men; but it is possible to point to an experience of the last War. The Australian troops came to France after a period of compulsory military training in time of peace, and if anyone is going to say that the Australian troops were inferior in courage, in initia- 1081 tive and in fighting quality, I have yet to meet them. They were most remarkable troops and they were the product of a form of compulsory training before the War. The psychological value of this Register would be very great and every democracy will feel heartened if we take a decision of that sort. Why should we hesitate? In any case, we are going to have a compulsory Census in 1941. Why not have it in 1939? The principle is exactly the same, and it would only be two years ahead. Millions of people are accustomed to register for the various insurance services. This is the greatest insurance of all. Nothing can equal it.
§ Sir E. Grigg
The compulsion would apply exactly as it does to the filling up of the Income Tax form or to the filling of the forms sent out to households in regard to the Parliamentary franchise.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Yes. We only want it for information. The right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) yesterday made a speech regarding the status of Members of Parliament which touched me very much. I thought it was a remarkable description of privileges and responsibilities which we feel very deeply, especially at the present time. I hope that in this matter hon. Members throughout the House will face the question on its merits, thinking of their responsibilities as Members of Parliament and not as party men, or as sectional people of any sort. It is a terribly important question. The dangers that we face and the dangers that are approaching cannot be exaggerated, and we shall need all the unity that this country possesses to escape from them with our liberties and our welfare intact. In these circumstances, it is the duty of Members of Parliament to think of their individual responsibilities, whatever loyalty they may feel to their leaders. That is what the country expects.
There has been current in the country a lot of feeling that on one side of this House we scarcely do anything except register the requests and decisions of our leaders, and that on another side nothing is done except to dispute and to question those decisions. We have an opportunity 1082 in this matter of raising the status and the standing of this House in the country at the present time, and it would be a great thing if the Government found it possible to allow an absolutely free vote of their own party as to whether this Register should be compulsory or not.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Captain Cobb
We have had only one speech from the Labour party, and I must confess that it was a speech which gave no very great pleasure to anybody who wishes the scheme for civilian defence to go forward. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) adopted a very unfriendly attitude of criticism and hostility to the proposals contained in the statement of the Lord Privy Seal, and, judging by the support and applause which came from the right hon. Gentleman's friends, one is bound to gather the impression that in regard to any measure which the Government are going to take for the defence of the country as far as the civil population is concerned, we cannot expect to get very much help from the Labour party.
§ Mr. Alexander
I hope that this kind of statement is not going to be made over and over again. It is a complete misrepresentation of what my right hon. Friend said. What we complain of is lack of consultation—we have not had consultations—and lack of clarity of detail in the schemes to be considered. We have asked for the schemes to be considered, and the hon. and gallant Member has no right to draw such a deduction from my right hon. Friend's speech.
§ Captain Cobb
I think other hon. Members on this side must have gathered that the attitude adopted by the right hon. Member, as a whole, was one of unfriendly criticism. The attitude which has been shown on the other side will not be reflected in the country as a whole. I believe that our people will welcome these proposals for some form of national registration. We have had it brought home to us very clearly as a result of the wars in Spain and the Far East that the civil population in any future war will have to bear the full brunt of it in a way it has never had to bear it before. Therefore, the steps proposed by the Government will be welcomed by reason of the fact that they will be regarded as the first steps towards the proper organisation of our civilian population in time of war.
1083 A reference was made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield to trade and industry, with which I entirely agree. So far as I can gather, the greater part of these proposals are confined to the civil population, but most of us would agree that it is equally essential that our trade, industry and commerce should also be fully organised to meet the shock of war when it comes. It is more than likely that if we should at any time find ourselves at war it would be with a nation which is already fully organised on a war footing, and probably has been so organised for some considerable time. I hope the Government's plan for the organisation of the country will involve consultations with trade, industry and commerce, both employers and employed, so that plans can be made well beforehand which can be put into operation as soon as war breaks out. It is essential that those plans should be made before the emergency arises, and not afterwards.
The Lord Privy Seal has given us to understand that in his opinion he will be able to effect what is necessary on a voluntary basis. As that statement comes from a man of his very considerable experience, one must accept it, but I must confess to a certain measure of disappointment that the Government do not propose to ask for compulsory powers. I should have thought that the lessons we have learned from the recent crisis would have convinced most of us that the voluntary principle is not enough in times of emergency such as those in which we live to-day. It must be present to the mind of every hon. Member what we saw during the fortnight or so before the Munich Agreement, when tens of thousands of men and women were offering themselves for every form of military and civil National Service. In spite of the immense amount of recruiting which took place during that time we are still very much below establishment in every branch of our military and civil defences, and I find it very difficult to understand how we can expect to get better results now that the crisis is over than we obtained during that time, when the dangers of the situation were so much present to everybody.
There is already an immense amount of information already available at the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Health, but I believe I am right in saying 1084 that, virtually, the whole of that information applies to the insured population. I would ask whether there is any reliable information available to the Government about those very considerable sections of the community who are not insured either for unemployment, national health or any other form of insurance. I think a certain amount of misconception has been aroused about compulsory national registration. After all, registration only implies, as was said by the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), that you are asked once a year to give definite information about yourself, your job, and your capabilities. No question of compulsory National Service is implied. It merely means that once a year, or as often as the Government think necessary, a really effective survey of our national resources shall be made.
There is nothing new about compulsion. We have been brought up on the voluntary principle, of course, but it is only so far as national service is concerned. Every day of our lives we are doing something or other that the Government compel us to do. We are filling up forms for the Parliamentary franchise, we are vaccinating our children, or we are sending them to school, compulsorily, or we are obliged to insure ourselves against unemployment or ill-health so that it would be quite untrue to say that a compulsory system is repugnant to the people of this country. We have a lesson to learn from the Conscription Act which was passed during the War. As far as I can remember, that Measure aroused very little opposition, if any, in the country except, I believe, in Ireland, where the great objection taken was to the fact that the Irish people had been deliberately omitted from the Act, and that objection was expressed by the Irish themselves.
There is at the present time a very real sense of gratitude, among the people of the country as a whole, to the Prime Minister for the great part which he played about two months ago in saving European peace. There is, too, a very real feeling among the great majority of our people that they want to do something to back up the efforts which the Prime Minister made at that time. There is a real feeling among the people that they would like a strong and definite lead from the Government. There is no question but that a great number of willing volunteers were very much discouraged during the crisis. 1085 One has met so many people, friends and acquaintances, who offered themselves for service in one capacity or another who did not even have their application acknowledged by a Government Department. I have one particular case in mind of a friend of mine, who was at one time a regular soldier, who served on the Staff for two years, who went to the Staff College after the War, and who retired in about 1923. He is a man of some considerable experience. In about the first week in September he went to the War Office and filled in a form offering himself for any kind of service that was likely to be useful, and he is still waiting for an answer to his application. One is not suggesting for a moment that Ministers are responsible for this kind of neglect. We know very well that they cannot be held responsible for sins of omission on the part of their clerical staffs, but there is no question that in the eyes of the public as a whole Ministers are held responsible, and I feel that it would be a splendid thing if the feeling which exists among many people that the Government are not really serious about this business of national defence could be dispelled as soon as possible.
As the hon. Member for Altrincham said, there is a most important psychological aspect to consider. We have to consider the effect, the most encouraging effect, on our own civil population which a compulsory Register would have, and there can be no question too that if it were known abroad among both our Allies and our potential enemies that we were so far departing from our tradition, even in this small respect of demanding a form of compulsory registration, it would undoubtedly create an effect which would go some way towards the preservation of peace. The Lord Privy Seal is a man of immense experience, both at home and in the Empire, and one can be assured that the work which he has undertaken for the organisation of our civilian defence will be extremely well done. He will carry with him, I believe, the good wishes of every Member of this House, and I, personally, hope that his expectations in respect of his proposal for voluntary national registration will be fulfilled. But I do hope that if he should find that his expectations are not fulfilled, he will not hesitate to come to the House and ask for further powers. I am con- 1086 vinced that if he does so, the House and the country will not be found wanting.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Cluse
The first point which arises in my mind in this Debate is the continuous suggestion from the other side that the Labour party is only critical and is not prepared to assist the Government in the dangers with which we are now faced. We have had in the past great experience of that kind of suggestion. At by-elections we are accused of being warmongers, and in this House we are accused of being pacifists. The Labour party is neither a pacifist party nor a warmongering party. The Labour party has taken up the attitude for some considerable time, and has put it forward in all its pronouncements, that it is perfectly willing to take its full share in the defence of this country if the country is attacked from abroad, and that position should be understood in the country and in this House. Where we differ from the ordinary statement of belief in national defence which comes from hon. Members opposite is that here we know, as the result of almost deadly experience, that in times of national crisis and in times of war the desire of the people to assist in the defence of their country has been used to take away the liberties of the working men at home.
That is why we are not concerned on this question so much as to whether it should be a compulsory or a voluntary register. There is really no difference in it of any consequence, because most of the working people of this country are compulsorily registered, and those who have any money are compulsorily registered under the Income Tax returns. It would be a great advantage, I think, if we were able to find out by a register the number of people there are nowadays who either get their living willingly by living upon other people or who get their living in some unproductive fashion or another. It would he a great advantage to the country to know how the nation gets its living, and if it came down to details, we should have some very valuable information. Therefore, my first point is to try and rebut the idea that the Labour party wishes to throw sand in the machine of national service. It wishes to do nothing of the kind, but it wishes, in assisting in a war against Fascism, not to produce Facism in this country and 1087 thereby endanger the liberties which the workers have achieved over years of effort.
As to the position of the Government, we are tremendously surprised that on the other side of the House we find this division as to compulsory or voluntary service. The Lord Privy Seal, in an effort possibly to provide arguments against compulsory service, seemed to belittle the nature of the crisis. Apparently he wished to bring it home that the gaps were not very many and could easily be filled, and that there was no necessity for either compulsory military service or compulsory registration. My complaint all through the crisis and up to now is the lack of frankness displayed by the Government. People were scared—I was going to say scared stiff—but no doubt the fact that for the first time in our history the ordinary population of this country were served out with gas masks and saw trenches being dug created a tremendous feeling of apprehension, and out of that feeling of apprehension came the worship of a figure which was projected into the public mind of someone who believed in "peace in our time."
Now that the crisis is past, most people are forgetting about it. The country is very apathetic in normal times. It woke up during the crisis, but it is going back to the apathy which existed before the crisis. Like most of us here, I am very much concerned as to the situation to-day, and it is for us on both sides of the House to spread that interest in the seriousness of the present position from within the walls of this House throughout the country. That could be done if the Prime Minister was more frank in his statements, but he is not very frank with us when we ask questions as to foreign policy, and we have a duty while here to find out whether or not there is anything going on behind the scenes. We are not aware whether this latest passive defence scheme, as it might be called, is the result of some serious crisis looming behind the curtain, or whether it is simply, if one can call anything nowadays normal, the development of the Government's policy in producing defensive measures. We do not know. Our leaders are not informed. We are asked to give wholehearted support to the Government, and yet we are not taken into the Government's confidence.
1088 If the whole of the Labour movement, the Co-operative movement, and the political movement of our party outside, who in previous and recent by-elections have proved that we represent half the voting population of this country, are to be induced to go wholeheartedly for the organisation of the defence of this country against attack from the totalitarian Powers, we should know and the public should know. Military preparations cannot be divorced from policy. Why does not the Conservative party through its Press or through its leader tell the world the position to-day as we know it? Why is not the public informed that actually we are just feinting for time to get our defensive weapons ready against an almost certain attack within, perhaps, a short period of time? If we told the people this we could rely, I believe, upon a great burst of popular voluntary effort on the part of the people. Instead of that, we read of some new diplomatic thunderbolt, some new difference between the gangsters as to who is to have first grab at the spoil, and the public, not knowing the dangers of the future, do not understand the events of the present. I hope that as a new mood on the part of the Government they will let the public know the danger and that the Prime Minister, while doing his best to fence off by diplomatic language or arrangement the danger, will at the same time develop throughout the world an endorsement of democratic principles which will within a short time set up such a barrage that even the dictators will be afraid to attack, and our country will see the possibility of peace in the future.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Major Rayner
I agree with a good deal that has been said by the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Cluse), but I do not agree with his statement that there is not a good deal of difference between a voluntary and a compulsory register. Like some other hon. Members, I was in Germany in those gathering weeks of the crisis, and I found no single German who wanted war. I also found no single German who was not prepared for war if it came. They each had their job and were prepared to go to their job if the order had been given. I came home and I found what I expected to find—everybody intent on fighting for some purpose if we had to fight, long queues of men waiting to join the Defence Forces, ready 1089 at last to go through a system of training which was likely to be rudely interrupted by the onslaught of modem war; every man and woman dashing around trying to find out what they could do and how they could help and badgering those people who had trained themselves beforehand and were trying to do half a dozen jobs at the same time. It was a pageant of great patriotism tardily realised, a rather sad picture of willing citizens all set to do something, mostly untrained to do anything.
The days of the crisis are fading into the past, the memories of imminent danger are being dissolved into the normal everyday life of the country, and in spite of what the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) has said in his excellent maiden speech, I am afraid that the great British public are gradually tending once again to become contented with their comings and their goings and are relapsing into their usual apathy. Before the leaves become green again we may be confronted with the danger of war, and we are asked to believe that yet another appeal from the Front Bench in this case, to register is going to shake this country out of its chronic inertia. I do not believe it will. Nor do some hundreds of men of different professions and of many different opinions with whom I have talked all over the country during the last few weeks. They feared that we should get yet another half-hearted measure, and I am afraid that their fears have proved to be well-founded.
Instead of sounding the tocsin we are once more lulling the country into a feeling of security by pretending that drastic measures are not even now necessary. I believe that the average thinking man in the country has come to conclusions very different from those come to by the Government Front Bench. He realises that if we are to live in peace side by side with the dictatorships we must be able to hold our own end up. He has seen that the intense subordination of individual effort and energy to the national purpose in those countries generates immeasurable power, compared to which our spasmodic voluntary efforts are as those of the veriest amateur up against the most tried professional. He feels that just as we are to-day so often beaten by international professionals on the Olympic field, so we shall be beaten as far as our liberties are concerned unless 1090 we are content to be a little less amateur in their defence. Therefore, he feared that he would once more be told that he must try the voluntary system, when he realises that for the last few years since the clouds began to gather over Europe the voluntary system has been tried again and again. He knows that his friends are quite willing to do their job if everybody else is in the same lifeboat, but he knows also that most of them are quite as prepared to sit on their behinds and leave the keen fellows to do the jobs, as long as the Government say that the situation does not warrant really drastic orders and decisions. He feels that it is foolish to put off boat-drill until the ship is going down by the head, and that the very least we can ask for to-day is that the National Register should be compulsory and comprehensive.
I do not think that the average man—and here I disagree with the Labour party—fears the cries of "Fascism" which are thrown about nowadays when a compulsory Register is mooted. He knows, as several hon. Members have pointed out, that he has been registered from the day of his birth, and he cannot for the life of him see why the principle of compulsory registration should not be extended to an organisation which is intended to save his life and his liberty. Thousands of people are thinking on these lines in the country to-day. They accepted the Prime Minister as a leader when he went to Germany in a way in which this country has seldom accepted a leader in the last 100 years. They were willing to follow him then to peace or war, and in spite of the large number of people who have snapped at his heels since he saved their lives, I believe that a great majority of the people in this country will follow the Prime Minister to-day whenever he chooses to lead them. But they want a lead worth following. They do not want another of those half-cautious measures which have brought us to our present pass. They do not want just another shuffle forward in front of the weight of public opinion. They do not want just another issue of millions of paper-backed books to go either on to the front room bookshelf or into the wastepaper basket. They do not want another half-hearted measure like the one we are discussing to-night.
It was said in a "Times" leader yesterday that a compulsory National Register would take a long time to 1091 arrange. That it is not ready after all the warnings we have had in the last few years is a pretty bad show, but all the same, I suggest to the Government that they should say they are going to have one, because the country, in my opinion, not only want a lead, but also a tonic. We are still inclined to be apathetic and lethargic; we are still inclined to take a negative attitude towards life generally, as compared with other countries. We know what we are against, but we seem to have precious little idea of what we are for. We are anti-war without being able to create peace; we are anti-dictator without being able to breathe new life into democracy; and we are still content to provide subsidised idleness for our unfortunate unemployed, and leave it at that. Our much vaunted physical training scheme has, in my opinion, been a complete flop, for it reaches a bare fringe of our inhabitants and fails to bring in just those most obstinate cases which most require its services, and although we spend on our educational system a sum of money quite incommensurate with what we get out of it, we are doing nothing to teach our young people that they owe certain duties to the State. We still go abroad and stick out our chests because we are British, and all the time, as compared with many other democracies in Europe, we are in some respects their inferiors for we are the only democracy in Europe that has not demanded from its citizens some citizen service. Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, and all the rest have put a duty on themselves to defend their little civilisations.
We alone still seem to look upon peace as the normal state of existence to which we are entitled and not, as General Petain once said, the most difficult thing to come by, a thing which is only achieved by sacrifice and virile endeavour. We hear a great deal about Nazi-ism, Fascism and Communism, and all the other newfangled isms in this House, and I think we might hear just a little bit more about Britishism, that faith which was a good faith 200 years or more before the other isms were ever thought of. I think that in these dangerous days we might take steps to tone up Britishism by purging it of some of those traditions which merely tend nowadays to become a cloak for the lack of public spirit. I do not know whether hon. Members ever read the Book 1092 of the Wisdom of Solomon, but I would like to refer to one bit of advice from that wise old ruler, given in Verse 17 of Chapter 6:The true beginning of wisdom is the desire for discipline.I suggest to our own rulers that we require a tonic in this country with that advice as the main ingredient. Nobody was more pleased than I was when the right hon. Gentleman, with his great and distinguished background, was given his present job, but I am afraid that I cannot congratulate him on this his first Measure because, as I have been saying, I feel that this country wants a tonic, and I am afraid that this Measure will tend to be merely another sedative.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I have listened to many speeches in the House in my time, but one of the most outstanding I heard today, and that was the speech delivered by the Lord Privy Seal. I consider that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a most momentous one, and I think that the Government are to be congratulated on having an individual who can deliver such a speech in this House, and simply get away with it in the manner in. which the right hon. Gentleman has done. The first thing that I welcome is that the Lord Privy Seal is not in favour of compulsory service. The House can take it from me that the working classes in this country will not stand for compulsion, and the workers in the workshops are more keen about this than they have ever been before. The reason is that during the last War we were put through it in no uncertain fashion. I was in the workshops at that time. We got all the guarantees that could be given.
Certain hon. Members have asked for Labour and the trade union leaders to be included in order that our rights may be safeguarded. During the last War we had looking after our interests three of the most able men that our movement has ever produced—and I have been connected with the movement ever since its inception. After the introduction of the Defence of the Realm Act, we had looking after our interests, the just-retired general secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, George N. Barnes, who was then a Member of the War Cabinet; we had Arthur Henderson, a Member of the War Cabinet; we had also our colleague 1093 who is still with us, my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes)—three of the most powerful men, and there is none nearly so powerful in our movement at the present time. In spite of all that power, the engineers were betrayed by the Government. We were let down badly. George N. Barnes and the chairman of our union, who was then still a Member of the House, came to the engineers in the country and assured us that they had got every pledge that man could get, that all was better than well, and that all our rights would be safeguarded. At that time, when they came to the Clyde, I pointed out, on behalf of the Clyde engineers, that those rights were not ours to surrender, but were ours to defend. But the engineers surrendered their rights, they gave up everything, believing that they were doing it in the interest of the country.
The Defence of the Realm Act worked in this way, that a man was not allowed to leave one employer and go to another. The reason I am raising this point is that it is evident that there is a number of individuals even in our party who think that it would not matter with conscription. I want to tell them that I was a key man in Beardmore's, just as another man might be a key man in Weir's, and I never had any desire to leave my employment; but the moment that the Defence of the Realm Act applied to us, I told the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that it was the same as if Beardmore's had branded "B" on my forehead, making me a slave. From that moment I rebelled, and so did practically every key man, against the idea of being brought under the Defence of the Realm Act. Until then, these men had always given of their best without any compulsion. No, it is an innate belief of the working class of this country that free men are better than slaves either in peace or in war. Therefore, I am glad that the Government have taken that line and that the Lord Privy Seal had the gumption—a good old Scottish word—to consult with the Minister of Labour, who knows perfectly well, from his contact with the trade union leaders and the Employment Exchange officials, the spirit that is animating the workers at the moment. The right hon. Gentleman knows what is going on. Therefore, I 1094 am glad that the Government are not thinking about the idea of conscription.
There is another thing about which I want to warn the. Government. While patriotic fervour was abroad during the War, when the men of this country were animated by the spirit that Britons will defend Britain against all comers, there was an appeal to the engineers. I can never get away from this side of the matter. What happened to us? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who was then Prime Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who was then Minister of Munitions, told us that it was an engineers' war, they appealed to us and told us that we were the watchdogs of civilisation. The engineers surrendered everything. Then in 1921, the wages of the engineers of Britain were below those of the scavengers in the streets. Because of the treatment we have received we are forewarned and therefore forearmed. The engineers will not be taken in again. It is going to be harder for any Government, no matter what Government it may be, ever to get round the engineers again. The engineers, and indeed the workers in general, if there is to be conscription of man-power, will demand conscription of wealth. That is the only thing that would make me do anything in the way of making a surrender in defence of Britain.
What Britain are we to defend? Old age pensions—can we be proud of them? Can we be asked to defend this land of ours when the veterans of industry receive 10s. a week? Let it be remembered, too, that that 10s. a week is for man and wife. If the wife happens to be under 65 and the husband is 65, there is 10s. a week for the man and his wife; and invariably it is the rule in working-class life that the wife is younger than her husband. Last week, a reverend gentleman in London, who worked with me during the War in Beardmore's and who is now a minister of the Gospel, asked me to go down to address a meeting of old pensioners in the Stratford division of London. I have been addressing meetings for nearly 40 years. I never looked at an audience such as I saw last week here in London. In London, the richest and largest city in the world, I looked at thousands of wrecks of humanity, and I never was more distressed than I was sitting there, during that meeting. Ten 1095 shillings a week for these people is a disgrace, and the Government ought to feel ashamed of themselves for asking these individuals to defend the land which gives them such conditions. I think the Government, in that, are asking a wee bit too much.
Last week I put a question to the Minister of Health regarding widows' pensions. It is not even generally known in the country how woeful are the conditions under which some of the women folk in this country of our's have to live. Many of them in a country which is teeming with all the good things of life receive little or nothing. The like was never known in the history of the world. We are living in the age of which the prophets dreamt—the age of plenty. Man's ingenuity has tapped the sources of wealth and made nature do man's work. We, to-day, are heirs to a glorious inheritance. But what do we do about widows' pensions? Just think of it. The moment that a widow's youngest child reaches the age of 16, not only is that child's allowance stopped, but that widow's pension is stopped. Yet those are the conditions our people are asked to support.
If the Government wish to get the working class and the country at large to support them, they must look to these things. They have the opportunity. This Government, and the powers-that-be in this country, are very rich, able men. During my 16 years in this House I have never challenged the ability of any Government that has been here. But I have challenged their courage, and I challenge the courage of this Government. We have never had such a powerful Government. There is nothing they cannot get away with. They tell us that the Labour Government did not do this and did not do that, but the Labour Government had not the power. The present Government have the power. There is nothing which they desire to do that they could not do. All that is required is that they should have the will. Let them give the people a chance, such as the country could afford to give, and there is no race of men and women in the world who would stand by their country as our people would. Just as they did in the days of old, they would stand like a wall of fire around their much-loved island.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton
If I went fully into the point about pensions raised by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) I fear I should be called to order. Therefore I do not intend to pursue that subject further than to say that I believe that every man in this country, whatever views he may hold on party politics, will be most willing to serve his country in any emergency. I go further and say that I believe there would be no more loyal man in that service than the hon. Gentleman himself. I believe that he would be the first to serve his country in an emergency. I cannot conceive that on this question of national service there is any division between the parties. I believe we are all united on the question of a voluntary Register and on the way in which the man-power of the nation can best be used both before a war and when a war comes, if it should ever come.
I cannot see any great division such as was posed by the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Major Rayner) and by the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) between a compulsory and a voluntary Register. The Lord Privy Seal on Thursday said he had decided that, at the moment, a compulsory Register was not necessary or desirable, though it might become necessary later. It may become necessary if the voluntary appeal which is to be made in the third week of January should fail. One speech which I personally welcomed more than any other to-day was made from the benches opposite by the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Cluse), who asked his own party, as well as Members on this side, to spread throughout the country the need of making that voluntary appeal a success. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and the other leaders of the party opposite will consider very carefully that suggestion from one of their own supporters. I believe that it is the right approach to make to this question, and I hope that the Minister of Labour will co-operate in it.
We must show the world in the third week of January that we in this country, as a free democracy, are willing voluntarily to offer our services to the nation, and I hope it will be arranged that Members of all parties shall from the same platforms appeal to the people to offer 1097 their services in the way indicated by the Lord Privy Seal. If necessary this arrangement might include not only Members of Parliament but also candidates in the several constituencies. There is no need that I can see to bring the question of voluntary service into the arena of party politics. We on this side have points which we can urge against hon. Gentlemen opposite and they equally have their weapons of debate against us, but on this question surely there exists the same unity of purpose as there was in the days of the recent crisis when everybody tried to serve the country to the best of his capacity. I am afraid that, too frequently, we were quite literally tumbling over each other in our efforts. There was not that order and that sequence which ought to have existed. I hope that we shall get a little enlightenment in the Handbook and also in the speeches of Ministers on how we can most effectively render service.
There is one point which has always been a worry to me personally and that is how, in the event of a crisis or of a war, we in this House should carry on our duties. Clearly those Members who are of my age would be required to serve in some active capacity, probably a military capacity, but in that case plans should be made so that our work could be taken on by other and older Members. I hope that that has not escaped the attention of the Government for many of us whose work occupies the whole of our time, cannot serve in Territorial units, but we are just as ready as those who do to serve in time of war and play our part.
I want to refer to a part of this problem that affects my constituents, namely, the men on the land, who present a grave problem. The House well knows that the number of men on the land has shrunk by 280,000 in the last 17 years, and the shrinkage has been a great deal among the younger men. When the Lord Privy Seal made his statement last Thursday, he said:A full list will also be made available of all the key occupations which, if this country has to mobilise for defence, would become so essential to the war-effort of the nation that persons above a certain age who are engaged in them could not be spared for any other form of national service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1938; col. 598, Vol. 342.]I hope that as regards serving on the land that statement will be carefully revised, 1098 because if it means that all the men on the land under a certain age will have to leave the land and go into other occupations, it will means a great wastage of our Defence material. Agriculture has been undergoing a process of mechanisation since the War. We are producing more rapidly on a less acreage because the work is more mechanised, and the men who are in charge of the machines are young men. One of the first questions I got from my constituency when the clouds of war gathered in September was, "Will it mean that all the young men will have to leave the land? If it does we cannot plough and reap, and the food production of the country will crumble." There is need for a clear statement by the Government that all the men on the land to-day will remain on the farms on which they are working now. I do not say that they should be compelled to stay there, but they should not be removed as they were in the last War, when we had the muddle of men being taken off the land and put into units and sent to France; when we had chimney sweeps and plumbers, excellent men in their own professions, but of no use on the land; and where men at the front who had been agricultural workers were brought back but were drafted to other parts of the country where they did not know the methods of cultivation, and the food supplies of the country suffered a great deal. We do not want a repetition of that situation.
We have lost 280,000 men from the land. In time of war, in order to increase our food production, we must have more men on the land, and I hope that one of the opportunities for voluntary work that will be laid down by the Government in their Handbook will be for additional men to go on to the land, and that, if necessary, there will be some method of training them in time of peace so that they will be able in time of war to deal with the machinery used on the land and have some knowledge of the occupation they will be undertaking. I regard that as an important matter because modern war does not depend only on the men who are fighting in the trenches, but, of far more importance are the men who will carry on in the country and see that the people are properly fed. Many of us have grave fears on that score.
It is difficult to touch on one other aspect of voluntary effort because we are 1099 still awaiting some declaration from the Government about it. I refer to the question of evacuation. We are quite ready in the country districts to play our part in billeting the evacuated population in whatever manner the Government lay down; but it must be realised that to deal with that evacuated population a great number of voluntary helpers will be required. It will be no good appealing in the third week in January for men and women for A.R.P. work whom later the Government will be asking to undertake the administration of receiving the evacuated population. It is vitally important that before the Government get out the Handbook and before they make their appeal in January there shall be some clear indication of the number of men and women required to deal with the evacuated population, and, still more, what is to be the evacuation policy in time of war so that there will not be the muddle that would otherwise occur.
I put forward these views because I think they are important. They are the views that the countryside has been voicing to me in the last two months. During that time there were many men of every belief, class and party, with a unanimous desire to help their country. They wanted to demonstrate that desire then and at once, but the time has passed and some of the enthusiasm has died down. Therefore, it is essential that we as the House of Commons should unite in stirring up that enthusiasm so that this country may have the Defence she requires in time of peace and in time of war. That is the duty, I believe, of the whole House. We are united in trusting in the democratic system of government. We are all proud, whatever our party, however much we may hate each other in our political views, of being free and democratic. It is to preserve our freedom and our democracy that these measures are to be taken.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I have risen for two reasons. One is to repeat a complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for South Islington (Mr. Cluse) about the lack of frankness to which the House has been treated by the Lord Privy Seal. I am compelled to put a few questions to him because of the extremely meagre information that the House has received respecting the whole scheme which the 1100 Government obviously have in their minds. Were the Lord Privy Seal present at this moment I should perhaps not be unduly presumptuous if I suggested to him that he has not appreciated to the full the tremendous difficulties that will confront him before he succeeds in his objective in organising and mobilising the civilian population for passive defence.
Incidentally, we have been appealed to by more than one speaker from the Government benches not to enlarge unduly upon the problem that has been presented, and the manner in which it has been presented to us, by the Lord Privy Seal. Unfortunately, the objective of the Lord Privy Seal covers extraordinarily wide grounds, and it would be absolutely impossible to look at it from the narrow angle suggested in several speeches. We have been told that this civilian organisation is for use in case the country finds itself at war, but that will inevitably raise a thousand and one most unpleasant questions for this Government, and those questions will have to be answered. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) appealed to us to form a common platform in order to create enthusiasm among the people in regard to this plan.
§ Mr. Turton
I started off by quoting what one of the hon. Member's own colleagues, the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Cluse), had said when he was asking all parties to spread this policy throughout the country, and that seemed to me to be a most valuable contribution.
§ Mr. Davies
I apologise, but I did not understand that my hon. Friend had meant it in precisely the same sense that I understood the hon. Member meant. In any case, defence against the worst excesses of war must raise the question of the causes of that war, and the Lord Privy Seal will find himself being compelled to answer very difficult questions indeed, because obviously the moral of the people in a great crisis, in a terrific issue of that kind, must be related to the knowledge that people will have as to how this country has been landed in the crisis, and it is no use expecting the country to forget such names as Abyssinia, Munich and Spain. Those names will be extremely lively in their minds and this Government will never be able to shed its responsibility as far as perpetrating the tragedies that those three names stand for in our memories this evening. 1101 Further, when we are to adopt a common platform in propagating this great scheme of mobilising the civilian population of this country will both sides of the House be prepared to accept this as a postulate—to recognise that in terms of war-casualties the line of demarcation between the combatants and the non-combatant has been destroyed for ever? Can both sides of the House accept the obvious in that? They say that the dangers that are now common to the whole of the population must demand common sacrifices from the whole population. I ask the Lord Privy Seal to remember that if there is to be a common response to protect the country from a common danger, the common sacrifices must be equal, but we have heard absolutely nothing about that in the long speech—not uninteresting I agree—that we had from him early this afternoon.
I understand there is to be a clarion call to the whole people, irrespective of class or of position, of wealth or of poverty, in this country, and if that be so we must ask ourselves, Have the right hon. Gentleman and the Government got a scheme to end, say, profiteering in armaments? We heard nothing about it this afternoon, though, needless to say, when this enthusiasm comes to be worked up, when this appeal is made to the civilian population, questions of that kind will be heard, however disconcerting, however unhappy they may be to spokesmen on behalf of the Government. It would have been far more encouraging and helpful if we had been told how the right hon. Gentleman proposes to prevent, say, profiteering in the other industries and in the transport services.
A great deal has been said about how local authorities can be used in this scheme. I think the local authorities will be quite prepared to respond, but is it not time to make a declaration on behalf of the Government that no longer shall we see the farce of a local authority, however poor it may be, being called upon to contribute directly to the defence of this country? Surely that is the first thing to be done, and I think it would do more to win the hearty response and co-operation of the local authorities than a thousand and one speeches. For example, if in Merthyr Tydvil we spend only just a few thousands in our efforts to protect the civilian population immediately we have another 1s. rate additional to the 1102 rates of 28s. 6d. in the £ which that community have to face to-day. Now that it is admitted that passive defence, as it is described, is as important as active participation in war—that being inevitable, now that the line of demarcation between the combatant and the non-combatant has been destroyed for ever—what a farce it is to impose upon local authorities a tribute, a tribute, let it be remembered, which they will be called upon to pay largely as the result of the blunderings of this Government.
Again, we were told nothing this afternoon as to what steps were to be taken to prevent profiteering in food supplies. I understand that something is being done in the background, but that will never be enough to stop prices of essential foodstuffs skyrocketing the moment an emergency arises between this and another country. May I make a confession? I was not happy over the references the Lord Privy Seal made this afternoon to the close co-operation which had been established with the Ministry of Labour in this matter. Frankly, I do not like it. Unfortunately, when I think of my constituents or think of South Wales I am compelled to think very largely in terms of the big army of unemployed we have there, and have had for the last 12 or 15 years, and it was rather an unkind reminder when we heard this afternoon of the willingness with which the Ministry of Labour have been helping in the actual recruiting of men for the active Forces of this country.
I am glad that the Minister of Labour is on the Bench this evening. Why should I apologise for him? He must know very well what have been the consequences of imposing the means test in such districts as South Wales, and what was in the mind of the Unemployment Assistance Board when they made the maximum payable to a promising youngster who was unemployed and living in his own home, 10s. per week. Those were deliberate artifices evolved a few years ago with a view to their acting as a recruiting sergeant among the unemployed of this country. Until these questions are answered, and until the Minister of Labour has been able to persuade the unemployed of this country that he has not been for some years our best recruiting sergeant, there will be considerable hesitation on the part of thousands of unemployed men whom I know, before 1103 they will lend their services or allow their enthusiasm and love for their own country to be unduly exploited.
I am not afraid of my people being charged with being unpatriotic. They are not, but much resentment exists in their hearts to-day at the humiliation to which they have been subjected for some years. Then we are exhorted to join with the Government in trying to work these people up into some state of enthusiasm and to being parties to forgetting the very brutal and himiliating treatment which they have had for a considerable time. As we have been told in other words by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood), the best recruiting sergeant that any country could have is for the people to realise that they have a great state that is gloriously worth fighting for and dying for. Perhaps the Minister of Labour still has an opportunity to undo the very great deal of harm for which he and his Department have been responsible, something to do away with the resentment that is felt. Remove your means test from among these people; be more generous to the unemployed by raising their scales above what the board has already forced upon them. If that be done with considerate, human and Christian treatment, you need not worry whether this country would give a response and an account of itself, for no totalitarian slave State could ever compete with it in any struggle if they were compelled to face one another.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
In the deep, patriotic sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) in his concluding sentences all of us would seek to join. Despite the poverty that has been suffered by many unemployed people in this country, I am certain that they, as well as those of us who are better off, would be ready when the call to answer that call. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be doing the greatest service to our country, our time and our free institutions were we to press on and endeavour to improve the standard of life of all those people. I am with him in that respect.
I would remind the hon. Member that the Government are doing more work in that direction than any previous Government have done. While none of us are satisfied with what has been achieved, I suggest that we should do justice to those who have made a step forward in the direction we all desire. I warmly agree with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil in his condemnation of such profiteering as occurred in the last War, as occurred in the last crisis and as will occur again unless very drastic steps are taken to prevent it. I am sure I speak for every man and woman in the country when I protest against the needs, dangers and efforts of the country being exploited to the advantage of a few private individuals. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) on his appeal on behalf of agriculture. I will not attempt to cover the same ground except to say that agriculture is a vital interest and that it would be a calamity if, merely by some rule made by the Lord Privy Seal, the Minister of Labour, or anybody else that under a certain age agricultural labourers should join the Army, young and essential men should be taken away from that industry. I hope that the Minister of Labour, who knows his land problem as well as anybody, will not be unwilling to reconsider that part of the Lord Privy Seal's statement, and that he will make it possible for those essential and most highly-skilled men to be retained at their jobs when the next crisis comes. And as we are talking about essential commissariat services, let us not forget the needs of the Mercantile Marine, which is as vital a service as the Army and Navy. If there is to be training for agriculture, as I think there should, there ought also to be training for the Merchant Service, and the men in that Service should be retained there, whatever be the danger in which this country might stand.
To-night we are considering a Motion which will declare, if it be passed, the approval of the House for the scheme of National Voluntary Service outlined by the Lord Privy Seal. That scheme falls under two heads, of which the first is the Register and the second is the service itself. As to the Register, a week or two ago I added my name to a Motion on the Paper calling for a compulsory National Register.
Although I agreed upon voluntary service, I felt that a compulsory Register was necessary. I still hold that view, and I believe that ultimately we shall have to adopt it, but I am impressed by the arguments used by my right hon. Friend to-day, and particularly with that part of his statement last Thursday in which he said that if the voluntary Register failed to provide the necessary volunteers he would abandon it and introduce a compulsory measure. If the right hon. Gentleman had been present I should have liked to ask him to give an assurance to the House that if his voluntary Register fails to produce the goods, so to speak, within a reasonable time, say three months or something like that, he will be ready to come frankly to the House and announce his willingness to adopt new and more effective methods.
My right hon. Friend justified his voluntary Register on the ground that it would be more effective in impressing foreign Powers. That is what I understood him to say, but I do not find myself in agreement with him on that matter. My view is that the stronger, the more determined and the more comprehensive our efforts at rearmament in this country, the more will those efforts impress foreign Powers, and the more we are likely to retain peace. The more, as I think, we pander to their demands, the sooner shall we rush right into danger. I have taken the view throughout, and I still believe it to be right, that we should advance with the greatest possible speed to a complete state of national defence, both in armaments and in man-power organisation.
So much for the Register. What about the service itself? There has been some discussion to-day about conscription. Some of my hon. Friends have been urging that voluntary service has been tried and has not succeeded and that we must now adopt some sort of compulsion. I do not think they mean conscription in the normal sense of the term, namely, that every young man should join the Army; they mean some kind of compulsory service in other directions. I do not favour that plan. Compulsion in war, yes; conscription in war at the very first hour; and if I could see a practical scheme for the conscription of wealth, I should agree with that as well, because I remember the scandals that accompanied the last War. Compulsion—conscription—in 1106 war, yes, immediately; but not in peace time. There are many good arguments, I admit, for some kind of compulsory training of young men who are unemployed, and I myself think it would be a good thing.
§ Mr. Maxton
Why the unemployed? Why put a special burden on the people who get least from the State to do most for the State?
I did not want to develop that point, but, as the hon. Member asks me a question, I will answer it. I was thinking of those young men of 20 or 21 who have never worked at all, and whose idleness is doing them, bodily and mentally, great harm. I think that that kind of young man, if he cannot find work himself, ought to be obliged to go through some kind of training to, keep himself fit. That is all that I ask, but I am entirely opposed to military conscription. But, whatever may be one's views as to the merits of conscription the fact is that conscription would be resolutely opposed by the organised workers of the country, and that is, to my mind, a sufficient reason for abandoning it as a proposal for the present time. The one thing to avoid at this moment is splitting our country on such an issue. We have succeeded so far, in spite of a lot of argument and some bitterness, in getting unity upon the big thing—our desire to protect our country. We are all agreed upon that. As to the need for rearmament there is no dispute. Let us not break that valuable unity in a useless squabble about conscription. Voluntary service is the only effort in peace-time which this country can sustain and I believe that effort can be made effective if certain conditions are met. Those conditions are that the effort shall be accompanied by efficient organisation, by central direction, by sustained drive, and, above all, by a wide vision of the ultimate needs of the country.
I listened to-day with the greatest possible interest to the Lord Privy Seal, a fellow Scot whose career I have followed with admiration and pride. He put his case with the moderation that we expect from a Scotsman of his standing; but I should be less than frank if I did not confess to some disappointment with regard to at least one passage in his speech. It may be true, as he says, that this new national service will not provide, and is 1107 not intended to provide, every man with a job, but my right hon. Friend went much further. He stressed the limited scope of the scheme which he was adumbrating. He told us that people greatly exaggerated the needs of national service, and the number of persons required. He said that the man-power available was far in excess of the requirements. The impression he conveyed to my mind—I hope I was wrong—was that, despite the universal demands of the people to serve their country at this time, the need was not really very great. He did not mention numbers, but he seemed to me to suggest that about one man in a thousand, or something like that, would be sufficient—that there was not really any great demand for fire services, A.R.P., Territorials, and so on. He seemed to say, "Do not worry; it is not a tremendously serious thing." I think that, when he reads his speech to-morrow, he will not accuse me of exaggerating. I feel that he has under-estimated and perhaps misunderstood, the very deep feeling of the nation at the present time, and I do not think his view is justified by the facts of the case.
Take the purposes of this national service scheme. We are trying to get recruits for all the Services—the Regular Army, the Territorial Army, and the Civil Defence services. Does anyone pretend that the Regular Army is up to strength, or anywhere near it? A very large number of recruits are wanted for the Territorials. That is on the basis of the present size of the Territorial and Regular armies, but does anyone suggest that, if the men were available, the Secretary of State for War would not greatly increase both the Territorial and the Regular Armies? In addition, we have a vast new Service that was not thought of in the last War. How many recruits does the Lord Privy Seal think will be ultimately required for all these civilian services if they are to be efficient? Does he think the number will be 2,000,000, or 4,000,000 or 8,000,000? I do not know, but it may well be 8,000,000 if all the Services are to be fully manned, and, if that be the case, is the Lord Privy Seal justified in minimising, as I felt he did to-day, the call that should be made on the people?
I feel that the effort we require to make is much bigger than that suggested by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. 1108 I think his campaign will have to go beyond the distribution of so many million books, valuable as that will be. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in underestimating the value of that proposal; it is a very necessary basis; but there will have to be much more. This campaign will have to be supported with an effort backed by all modern publicity methods. The same energy that is put into the advertising of great national products must be put into this campaign. It is not inconsistent to say that, on the one hand, the people desire to serve, and, on the other hand, that the opportunities which the Government offer them need to be presented with all the power of modern advertising and publicity. And the campaign must be backed by a real endeavour to provide work for the volunteers to do. It will not be enough to get recruits; it will be necessary to provide openings for these men and women. My right hon. Friend has assured us that ample opportunities are to be provided for training, and that the equipment is to be there. I hope his assurances can ultimately be justified. But it is not only for the civil services that he is carrying out his campaign. It is for all the services. I am not satisfied that the Territorial Army, to take an example, is now in a fit condition to employ further recruits.
I will give an example, although I do not want to be parochial, from my own part of the world. In St. Andrews, we have one of the largest branches of the British Legion, in proportion to the size of the place, in any part of the United Kingdom. They are men with War experience, most of whom are fit and active. They are desperately anxious to join one or other of the services. Yet they experience great difficulty in finding outlets for their patriotism. Recently a searchlight unit has been established in Lochgelly. It needs officers and men and it has appealed to the ex-service men of St. Andrews. Some of them have been invited to take commissions in that unit. But it means a three hours' journey there and back twice a week, and few of them can undertake it. Also, the annual training takes place in the middle of July—a strange time of the year, I should have thought, for searchlight training—at a moment when every seaport town in the east of Scotland is catering for visitors. 1109 In this way, you handicap hundreds of men—it may be, if you take the country as a whole, tens of thousands of men—from serving their country at this time. Is it possible for the Lord Privy Seal to represent to the War Secretary that throughout the country the rules and regulations governing the Territorial service hamper the development of that service, and its proper recruitment? Why cannot the service be brought to the volunteers, as the Air Minister has brought his work to the workers?
I will give just one more example of the kind of constructive reorganisation that is needed in order to make use of the recruits that the Lord Privy Seal demands. There is nothing so disheartening for a recruit for national service as to report and find that nobody knows anything about him, and that there are no plans to employ his service. Take the special constabulary. In Scotland, the special police service is full of anomalies. The man who joins up in Cupar may not be used outside the boundaries of that town. The powers of the chief constable of Fife are in that way hopelessly limited. He can neither enlist nor discharge a man outside his own burgh boundary. He has to consult not the needs of the nation, but one of 22 different local authorities in the county. I have no doubt it is the same in Dumbartonshire and every other county. How can you expect men to respond to a national appeal if the service to which you introduce them is run like that? In spite of my criticisms, I respect the tremendous efforts which my right hon. Friend is putting into this work. That he has succeeded in producing a scheme so well thought-out as this in the few weeks he has held his office is a great achievement. If he will take these steps that I have suggested, so that the services become efficient as well as sufficient, my right hon. Friend may go down to history as one of the great men of the present Parliament.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Kelly
Listening to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, I was struck by his optimism in thinking that he would secure results from the proposals he placed before the House. I hope he will give further consideration to these proposals. I am sorry to hear who were the people he considered should be at the head of these committees in these various 1110 districts. He gave as a reason that these people were acquainted with the localities and with the interests of the districts, and that, therefore, they could deal with difficulties which might arise. Lords Lieutenant may be very important people, but, in the matter of industry and in the matter of the people living in the localities, they know very little except through seeing people on ceremonial occasions. I hope this will not hurt the Lords Lieutenant, but I suggest that the bulk of the people of this country could not say who are the Lords Lieutenant of their particular counties. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not press his scheme for appointing those people either as chairmen or to be in control of these committees.
Another suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman made—I am sorry to have to go into these details—was that the chairmen of quarter sessions should be made chairmen of the committees. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will not appoint any of these lawyers to such a position. I do not know what training they have received on the legal side that enables them to understand clearly what is required in the circumstances which we are now considering. As for their knowledge of the localities and of the people in them, as one who sits at Sessions with those people, I ask the Lord Privy Seal not to appoint any chairmen of any quarter sessions to one of these positions if he desires the work to be done.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that he required people for certain work. What is the work for which he requires them? We were given no indication this afternoon. We heard of a special register for certain people engaged in particular work; for technical workers and the professions, for the surveyors, the chartered accountants, together with universities. We ought to have been told the type of work these people would be called upon to do, but not the slightest hint was given to us. We were told that there were certain people who might go on to another register who were skilled in administration. What type of administration? I ask these questions because some of us who had to engage in this kind of work between 1914 and 1918 saw some of the business men who were called in by the Ministry of Munitions. I wish that they had not been brought in, as, I believe, it might have been an advantage to this 1111 country in the work upon which we were engaged at that time.
What is the intention now of the Lord Privy Seal with regard to the people who are to be placed upon this Register? I hope that before the evening is over we shall be told a little more about what is meant, and particularly about the 50,000 enumerators who will go to the houses in order to receive the forms and to hand out the identity cards. It would be interesting to know what type of identity cards and what kind of work are to be assigned to the Members of this House. Probably they may not be asked to fill in a form. I suppose that this may be considered as work that would be useful in the event of an attack being made upon this country. There was not a word uttered this afternoon as to the other people who are really essential at all times in the life of this country. I refer to the operatives. We were not told whether there is to be a register of operatives in the various establishments. We need operatives at all times, even though we can do without administrators or even a technical and professional staff for a particular purpose.
I hope that we shall be told whether or not there is a real need for this Register. We have not been told yet. I put it in that way because there have been many complaints in the country that we are unable to obtain the raw material or the finished products, and the impression has got abroad that we are short of the labour sufficient to give us the protection that the country needs. That is nonsense; it is untrue. Whenever I hear people talking about being unable to obtain engineering products and machine tools and so forth, I can point to factory after factory and workshop after workshop in this country that could have been engaged in the manufacture of machine tools, but they have not been permitted to work to full capacity through the absence of orders. Quite recently we were told of the shortage of certain items that we needed during September, trailer pumps in particular. It was said that certain districts that had required so many thousand had had to be satisfied with a score or two. Manufacturers and men engaged upon this kind of work have not been working at full capacity and they are not so working at this moment, and yet we are told that, although we are not 1112 using all the labour that we have in this country and are allowing much of it to remain idle, we must now register these and other people in order that we might have them engaged upon what? I hope we are going to be told, as we have not been told up till now. I hope that we shall be told to-night whether we are going to leave the various establishments in this country which are engaged upon war materials and munitions of all kinds in charge of these factories, and whether there is to be registration of these people, who, according to the statement of the Government, have not given us what we require at this time.
I must make a reference to the speech that was delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). I hope that he will read his speech, because throughout the whole of the time he was speaking we heard of one thing only. He spoke of the resources of the country, not in material and machinery but in men. He referred to the fact that we must have the compulsory registration of the men because there was not enough public interest in this country for people to undertake the work that the nation requires. [Interruption] I do not think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) was present during the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Remer
I am sorry that the hon. Member mistook me. I was here the whole time that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) was speaking. I am not saying that I agree with all that he said, but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) is giving an incorrect description of what he said.
§ Mr. Kelly
I hope I am not. I certainly have no intention of saying anything that does any injustice to any Member of the House. If one thing was clear throughout the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, it was to conscript the men but not to conscript 1113 the resources or the wealth or anything else of this country. He had but one concern. He suggested that we should make skilled men of them. I hope we are going to be told whether the Lord Privy Seal is endeavouring to make skilled engineers of these people who are going to be on the Register. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. It indicates that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook was far short in what he stated as to the intentions of the Government. One would imagine that there are no lists and no registers in existence. The Ministry of Labour has had us all ticketed and docketed since 1912. What this is wanted to do I do not know. There is information with regard to 12,000,000 or more of our people. Now we are asking for something more. For what purpose? There are ticketed and docketed to-day men for various work, such as power stations. Despite the fact that employers try to keep that kind of thing to themselves, we know that they have, ready for the moment of dispute, certain lists of people who will undertake that work for them.
I hope it is going to be made clear to us that there is going to be no recruiting in the workshops, so that employers and foremen may not have an opportunity of intimidating the people in their employ. We know something of it. We know the difficulty. If there is an attempt to use the firms, or the managers, or their foremen, in order to make up this list, I hope the men are going to stand against it, because it is not going to be a free and voluntary service. I trust that before we leave this question we shall be told a great deal more of the work that these registered people will be called upon to do and, above all, make sure that there is no endeavour to obtain cheap labour, because I heard one Member declare that we should not be able to afford to pay for this labour and we must look forward to the registration in the hope that we should get it without having to find any payment. These are a few of the questions that one would like to put. I hope when a later discussion takes place to be able to deal with them in more detailed form.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton
I want to intervene only with a sentence or two. At least that is my intention when I get on my feet, and I hope I shall stick to it. Other of my 1114 hon. Friends will, I hope, when the matter comes nearer to the point of a House of Commons decision than it is to-day, deal with it in more detail. The thing that has brought me to my feet is that since I entered the House I have heard several speakers bringing us all into one great, happy family, all united on the taking of this step. I am not in that happy family, and I want to let it be known now. I am not in this effort, and I am not in with the compulsion that is lying a little beyond this effort and, unless it is a different kind of war from what I visualise arising out of this effort, I am not in that either. I do not want to be left here in that position. I have seen it happen a hundred times in my experience in this House. "But you agreed with so-and-so back in 1922. Therefore, you must now, in 1924, agree to this next step, which is the logical outcome." Then in 1926, "You must agree to this further step, which is the logical outcome of the two that went before." I see this effort as purely an effort for war. If in normal times of peace a Minister had come to that Box, feeling calm and cool, and said, "It is high time we say we can bring about an organisation so that we have every man and woman engaged at the point of their maximum usefulness," I would have said that was a proposal that I could support wholeheartedly. But I never heard that or any such proposal in times of peace. I have seen since I came to this House an average of something like 2,000,000 men and women registered for public service all the time. I never heard the Minister come to that Box with any proposal for putting those people, with their skill and their ability, to the point where that skill and ability, and energy, could be used for the benefit of the nation. My right hon. Friend does not, I hope, expect me to believe that his proposals of to-day have any other than a war purpose. I, therefore, am entering my opposition and antagonism now.
I saw a good deal of the operations during the last War and I saw with considerable regret, because I was against the War, that the mass of the people were ready to rush and offer themselves for the most dangerous services, so that I do not expect to see anything else on another occasion, although I know that there is now a bigger body of organised 1115 anti-war opinion than there was previously. I shall never forget August, 1914. I was engaged with a friend, a Member of this House, in carrying on a strike of berry pickers. We had some 500 or 600 people, the absolute bottom dogs of the slums of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. They were engaged in berry-picking under the most awful conditions under which I ever saw human beings engaged. Working a full week they could make just £1 if they stuck to their job, and they were housed in byres and pigsties and fed on second-hand throw-away food. Every one of them was out on strike, and we were on the point of winning when the War started and they called off to go and fight for their country. They vanished in a couple of days. That showed that you had not any difficulty with your human material. At the very same moment the nation was requiring horses and motor cars and various properties of different kinds for the purpose of their war activities. The people who owned motor cars, horses and other property that was required did not run and offer them, like those poor people from the slums offered their services. They had to be bargained with, bribed and coaxed. They had to get their money first.
§ Mr. Chapman
If the hon. Member is suggesting that people who had a little more property did not come forward to do their job at that time, he is making a very great mistake.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not know whether the hon. Member is wilfully misunderstanding me. I do say that I saw no section of society who ran so quickly as those poor fellows did to render service. The people in the class of society to which the hon. Member for Rutherglen belongs, and the people of the class of society to which I belong, took their time and weighed it up. The class of society which the hon. Member is defending when it came to parting with their property, which was just as essential as lives, made it a business proposition.
§ Mr. Maxton
There is no one in the House whom I should regret more to hurt than the hon. Member, and when he makes a charge of stupidity against me, I must take serious notice of it. The point that I am making is one which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer), like the hon. Member for Rutherglen, has missed. I never said that there were not people in all grades of society who were not prepared to sacrifice their lives.
§ Mr. Maxton
I am saying that there was very great reluctance on the part of people in that class of society to part with their property for the public good. Have I made that plain? Is it clear and distinct that the hard fact is in the statistics of this country? It is there in the National Debt, to the extent of £8,000,000,000. No hon. Member will tell me that is not so. Therefore, I say that if the Government want a war it will be their war and not my war. If they need to make preparations in advance for it, well, good enough, but I am not supporting them in it. In the last War the difficulty was not in getting men but in getting materials, and if I were in charge of affairs at that bench, with the responsibility of putting the nation on a war basis from a peace basis, it is not the men that I should be looking after, but the property. I should start now with a register of property and a scheme to make it possible that the nation can get it when it requires it.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I should like to deal with one point that was raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I understood what he said, but I think he will agree with me that, as a whole, every class in this country did its best in the last War, both the so-called upper classes and lower classes. There was no distinction between them, although it is perfectly true to say that 1117 there was reluctance in some ways in some classes. However, the nation as a whole acted along the same lines of national service, to whatever class people belonged.
I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on what he said to-day. The House can congratulate itself on having as Lord Privy Seal, in charge of this very important duty, someone who does not mind facing up to facts, who is willing to take a practical view of things and to give a straight answer in regard to the many difficulties which he realises, more than anybody else, lie before him. With respect to the Register, I confess that at first I was in favour of a compulsory Register, but since hearing what the Lord Privy Seal has said I am inclined to think that the voluntary Register is better as a start. I think that for two reasons. In the first place, it is a live Register. If you have a Register consisting of a whole lot of names, the details of the particular individuals being unknown, you will find in an emergency that there will be a great deal of muddle. To begin with, a great many of the individuals will not be physically fit for the jobs which you have for them. Then you will have many individuals about whom comparatively nothing is known, and in an emergency there will be the danger of square pegs getting into round holes.
The voluntary Register supplies all that is necessary for the first step. It will be a Register of people who are willing to perform useful service. They will apply for the particular service which they think suitable for them to fill, and as they are gradually absorbed into their posts it will be much easier to work a compulsory Register. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will bear in mind that those who volunteer now are the people who ought to have the more responsible positions, because they are volunteers. This country has always approved of the voluntary system, and it is right that in a time of emergency those who have been willing to volunteer ought to have the prior positions, all other things being equal. If the voluntary system is worked out now it will allow a gradual process of building up our defences, particularly in those services which are most required.
The Lord Privy Seal is to be congratulated on the clear indications he has 1118 given, particularly in regard to A.R.P. In the last few weeks I have had evidence in Edinburgh of a very much better preparation and outlook with regard to what should be done. I would especially mention the fire services. There is nothing more important than that each particular district of a city should have the necessary personnel and arrangements for coping with fire, one of the worst dangers of an air raid, so that they can keep things going until the full fire service of the city is able to be brought to bear. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps he has already taken. I feel certain that the House has confidence in him and that he will make a success of the very important task with which he has been entrusted.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
We are discussing to-day the problem of the utilisation of the resources of the nation, the national voluntary services. We on this side believe in the utilisation of the national resources. We believe in the utilisation of all the national resources, for the benefit of the whole people, but to-night we are discussing something less than that, namely, the utilisation of the resources for voluntary service. Therefore, in this Debate we can, I think, all agree that we are acting on the assumption that we wish to support the voluntary principle. In the course of the Debate, there have been references to conscription, and some hon. Members have ventured to say that if a war came, there would be conscription. I am not going to deal with that to-night. I would only say that people would have very different ideas with regard to conscription if there should be another war from what they had in the last War, because I do not think that ever again this country would stand for the conscription of man-power and not for the conscription of wealth, nor do I believe that they would allow "business as usual" to go on and large profits to be made.
But what we are on to-night is a narrower matter. There is one thing on which we can all agree, and that is that it is in the interests of the nation that, whatever the voluntary service is to be, it should be done intelligently and that we should get the right people doing the right jobs. There have been many allusions this afternoon to what happened 1119 in the last War. The most ludricrous things happened in the last War, as we all know. I remember that my first platoon sergeant was a foreman in a wire works, but I lost him after they began to think there was rather a need for barbed wire. I remember two of my subalterns, one of whom was particularly accomplished in African languages. Of course, he never served in Africa, but was sent to France. The other had a very rare accomplishment in this country. He was a fluent speaker of Russian, but, of course, he never got anywhere near the Eastern front. The majority of the mistakes in the last War were due partly to lack of thought, partly to a false romanticism that regarded service in wartime as equivalent to service in the trenches. If there should be another war, it is obvious that the danger at home would be as great as, and possibly greater than, the danger abroad, and the danger for civilians would be as great as the danger for the serving soldier, sailor, or airman. Therefore, all would be rendering service in a danger zone and, equally important, all would require the support of a morale that, I believe, you cannot get under any system of compulsion.
I listened with care to the conscientious and rather lengthy statement—I do not complain of its length—of the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon, but I am bound to say that I was not very enlightened as to what is his plan. I do not really yet understand what it is that is going to be done, or whether anything effective is going to be done, beyond the issue of the handbook and beyond the acceleration of census preparations. It seems to me that the Voluntary National Register that we are going to get amounts to little more than a collective name for a number of enrolments and lists, with the addition of a number of local committees, and I am bound to say that I do not understand the exact functions of those committees. The Minister spoke of the existence of suspicions. I think those suspicions exist, and I think the lack of content in his speech will increase those suspicions.
The first point on which I would like to question him is this: What is the national service organisation? I listened to his first statement, and when I read it I read that steps would be taken at once to build up a national service organisation with local committees, and I read 1120 lower down that unallocated reserves would be registered with the national service organisation. In the course of his speech to-day, the national service organisation seemed to drop out entirely. I imagined there was going to be some kind of central body, but, so far as I can see, the only central body, quite a substantial one, is the Minister of Labour. I do not know what is going to be the relationship between that central body, if he is that central body or if the Lord Privy Seal is that central body, with these local committees. Then we are to have, apparently, a better coordinated recruiting campaign. The Minister said, "We are going to launch it." I want to know who are the "we." First of all, I thought he was speaking collectively for some central body, but perhaps now he is only speaking collectively for the Government. Anyhow, I should like to know who are the "we," and what is the nature of that campaign, and how it is going to be better co-ordinated.
As I understand it, the intake of recruits resulting from this co-ordinated drive are to be advised by local committees presided over by lord-lieutenants and lord mayors. I understand that the campaign is to be undertaken very largely by these voluntary organisations, who will presumably be out to get recruits for their own particular associations. Are they all going to go for advice to these committees, or is it only some kind of residue left over that is going to be advised? I must confess that these committees did not impress me very much. They seemed to be the kind of thing that might have been set up a good many years ago, when you had society very carefully divided and you had a lord-lieutenant and the local notables, and then, as a mark of very great advancement, perhaps a few Labour people added. They did not impress me as working committees.
Then I began to think what work they were to do, and the only suggestion was that of advising people as to what they should join. The allocation of persons to different jobs is a highly skilled work, and advising them is much the same. They have to consider all sorts of things, such as the requirements of the particular service, and they have to have at their back a great deal of statistical informa- 1121 tion. I do not see the lords lieutenant functioning very much, nor even the chairmen of quarter sessions, despite their having some 80 or 90 years' experience in this wicked world. Are they going to sit round a table and have a kind of viva voce examination? If not, what are their functions to be? Are they merely ornamental, and is there going to be some executive officer to do the work, and, if so, who is to be that executive officer? As far as I can gather, it might be, apparently, the manager of the local Employment Exchange, but I thought he had a fairly full-time job already. If not, are there going to be special officers, and will they be permanent or temporary, or is it going to be someone from the local authorities? Then on these committees, besides the ornamental heads, there are to be representatives of all the Services which are competing for recruits. I can conceive that there might be a kind of scramble among them when the recruits come for advice, each one pressing the claims of his particular organisation; or are they going to use great self-abnegation and to say, "No, I do not want this man; by all means take him yourself"? I do not see how it will work.
Let me take London. I do not see how the Lord Mayor and a number of ladies and gentlemen will be able to give this advice unless they have a very intimate knowledge of the plans of the Lord Privy Seal. It is really no good assembling masses of people and recruiting them unless you have laid down your main strategy on air-raid precautions. Take one single point—evacuation. Until the evacuation policy is settled there can be no finality in organising voluntary services in London or in any other large town. And there will be similar difficulties in the rural areas. If the rural areas are going to receive great masses of people transferred to them they will have to improvise a whole lot of services, and until they are told the decisions they cannot know what their policy should be. Then there is the question of key occupations. A list is going to be made of those persons who can best serve the State in their present occupations and they are going to be advised to stay in them. I want to know whether the voluntary organisations will be advised not to take these people if they apply? If that is so, we are approaching very near to a kind of industrial conscription, because 1122 we are going to say to a certain category that they are so valuable they must stay in their occupation and will not be taken for any other. It may be an engineer who thinks he would like to try the Air Force. The fact of the matter is that the question of these reserved trades ought to have been fully discussed with the representatives of the trade unions before the right hon. Gentleman made his statement to-night.
One of the troubles about the Government is that they never seem to take the obvious step. Exactly the same mistake was made by the Minister for the Coordination of Defence when he let two years go by before meeting the trade unions. The next question concerns the unemployed. Are the unemployed going to be asked to give this voluntary service and, if so, will they be sufficiently well fed to be able to do it? It strikes one as curious that we are going to invite the great masses of the workers of this country to work overtime in the national interest while there are between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 unemployed for whom we cannot find work. If the Lord Privy Seal really wants to carry out what he calls "the determination of His Majesty's Government that the reserve in manpower of this country shall be effectively organised and employed," his first work is to find work for the unemployed. I know that there is a good deal of the work which must be done by volunteers who are working at their ordinary jobs, but I am convinced that in the immediate needs of air-raid precautions there is a vast amount of work which ought to be paid for and which could be done by many of the unemployed. There is work which could be done by those men who are called the hard core of the unemployed, men over 40 and 50, who could do a great deal of the work, which ought to be properly paid.
Generally speaking with regard to this plan, I confess that it does not seem to me to be a real plan. I regard the appointment of the Lord Privy Seal to his present position as another instance of the failure of the Government to understand the essentials of organisation. The Lord Privy Seal has not been appointed to his job because the Government think they must have a special Minister to take it over. His appointment has followed years of muddling at the Home Office. The first man who had to deal with the 1123 repercussions of his own foreign policy was the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who from the Foreign Office went to the Home Office, and what happened there with regard to air-raid precautions we do not know. Then the right hon. Gentleman went to the Treasury and, eventually, after the crisis had revealed what I think is called some deficiencies, the Lord Privy Seal was called in to put them right. For some years back the Government have never faced the problem of the organisation of defence. They refused to appoint a Minister of Defence. They put us off with the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. They still refuse to appoint a Minister of Supply. The real fact is that in the dangerous situation with which we are faced the need for special efforts for air-raid precautions becomes a defence problem in relation to home defence, and it has never been thought out. There has never been any decision as to priority. The Government have never shown any real consideration of the problem of defence, and we do not know to-day that any real scheme has been worked out by the Government or what is the decision of the Government with regard to priority in the allocation of our expenditure, our reserves in man-power as regards the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Therefore, it does not seem to me a well planned scheme. I take it rather as a compliment to the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) and his friends. They have made a clamour, just as many of us clamoured, for a Ministry of Defence. All we got has been the right hon. Gentleman who holds the position of Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, and all that the hon. Member for Altrincham has got is the Lord Privy Seal. In effect we are dealing with only a small part of the problem. We are asking people to volunteer for national service. As has been pointed out, there is nothing said with regard to property. Is there going to a great recruiting campaign to get the shekels in? We are, in fact, carrying on as we did in the last War, allowing profiteering, and meanwhile people are being asked to give their personal services.
I think it is well to look on this matter in the light of the conditions with which you are faced. Everybody realises that 1124 there is grave danger, and I believe the people are willing to respond and give their services to meet this danger. But it must be remembered that this danger has come as a result of seven years of the National Government. Again and again we have warned the Government, as they will see if they consult the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT, that the pursuit of this policy would inevitably bring the country into this danger. They now confess that they have drawn the country into this danger, because they departed from the lines of policy which were being pursued in 1931. Now, in the House and in the country, when we are in this position, there is this constant appeal, always to hon. Members on this side of the House, to show some unity with the Government in this terrible time. The Government had one chance after another of uniting the people of this country, and they deliberately threw away those chances. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1931?"] I had 1935 particularly in mind. Having won a General Election on one policy, the Government proceeded to throw over that policy, and incidentally to throw over a few Foreign Secretaries in the course of doing so.
I am a little tired of these constant appeals, because it is always the Opposition that is asked to make sacrifices. We are, in fact, asked to pursue towards the Government that same policy of unilateral appeasement which the Prime Minister employs towards the dictators. If we do not do so, hon. Members opposite say, "Oh, but you are pursuing a party policy." I have said in the country, and I say it again in this House, that the people who have followed a party policy and not followed the interests of the country are hon. Members on the other side. If they will look back over the last few years, they will find that again and again by their votes they have condoned gross defects of administration by the Government, and when eventually something has come out and a Minister has had to be thrown over, hon. Members opposite have marched into the Lobby and given their full confidence to what has been done. In these circumstances, they must not be surprised if we look at these proposals with a good deal of suspician. We have no reason to trust the Government.
I welcome very much what was said by the Lord Privy Seal with regard to 1125 the methods and spirit of democracy. I quite agree that we can never get effective service unless we get the right spirit, and we cannot get that spirit by compulsion. It may be a comfort to us here to remember that that is exactly the weakness in the terrorist countries; they can never depend on their people because they cannot get morale by terrorist methods. I say here that there is great danger in this country of a kind of propaganda of fear which is being put about, very often for purely party purposes. The way to unite the people and to get that spirit is not by fear, but by a belief in freedom. I am certain that, given a proper approach, the people of this country will gladly give their services, but they want to know by what principles this country stands.
When the people of this country are asked to give their services, they have a right to be trusted, and I do not think that either the people or this House are being trusted to-day. We are not told what is the policy of the Government. Again and again, we are put off. If we are asked to give voluntary service for defence, we have a right to know what policy is being pursued by the Government. I am certain that you can get a magnificent response from the country if you can persuade the country that the Government are really going to stand by the freedom and democracy and traditions of the British people, and that you will not get that response if, instead, they are denied knowledge and if they see pursued a policy in which, week after week and month after month, the things which we hold dear are sacrificed.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I feel that I have no reason to complain of the tone in which this Debate has been conducted. Many speeches have been delivered which to me have been most hopeful and encouraging. If I feel at this moment any measure of despondency it is because of my immediate task of endeavouring to deal with a great many speeches and a still greater number of points that have been raised in those speeches, but I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will credit me with a desire to do as full justice as I can in the time available, to the points that have been raised.
I will deal first with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1126 Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who raised quite a number of points. He asked, as I think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked, about the provision for public control of the National Service Organisation. I thought I made that clear in my statement last Thursday. This afternoon, I was concerned with amplifying what I had said about the committees, but I hoped that I had made it clear that the committees would be advisory to an organisation under the direct control of a Minister of the Crown, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who is collaborating with me in this matter. He is engaged in setting up, under his direct control, a National Service Organisation which will extend throughout the country and will supply the experienced men—permanent servants of the State, who may have to be to some extent detached from other duties—who will do the executive part of the work. The National Service Committees will be advisory in character. I indicated in my first speech the general nature of their functions. I wound up that part of my statement by saying that it would be their business to bring public opinion to bear on the work of the officers of the National Service Department of the Ministry of Labour. I come now to the composition of the committees. We have heard a good deal on this matter, some of what was said, I think, being put forward in a half-jocular sense; but I did try to make it clear that I was indicating only in very general terms how these bodies would in all probability be composed Consultations are proceeding. For example, I never suggested that the chairmen of quarter sessions were going to be the chairmen of these committees. I never had that in mind for a moment. I said that some chairmen of quarter sessions might possibly be members of these committees. I said that Lords-Lieutenant would be invited to be, not chairmen but presidents. I do not want to go into the merits of Lords-Lieutenant but it was brought to my notice that the Lord-Lieutenant of what, I think, may fairly be described as the second city of the Kingdom, is himself a member of the party opposite. However, what I said to-day was intended to be a general indication only. I said that the committees would be broadly representative, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that due account will be taken of what has been said by 1127 various speakers. After all, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say that we go on and complete everything and do not consult you in time, and also say, when we do consult you at an early stage that our proposals are too vague. Hon. Members opposite were taken into the confidence of the Government at an early stage.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I took up my duties on 1st November last. I made my statement last week in the House as soon as I was ready to outline the scheme. That, surely, was an early stage. I explained that I was putting it to the House in broad outline.
§ Mr. Alexander
I would not call that consultation with us, if you want our help. I should call that a public announcement.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have said that it was only in broad outline. A question was put by the same right hon. Gentleman in regard to the provisional cost of this organisation. I think he had in mind a question which was put last Thursday by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) who was apprehensive lest heavy additional costs should be placed on the shoulders of the poorer local authorities. I said last Thursday that I thought that was a misapprehension. What I had in mind was that this scheme which I have outlined does not involve any enlargement of the responsibilities which previously rested on the local authorities in regard, for example, to air-raid precautions. It represents an attempt to assist local authorities, within the scope of their proper functions, to carry out those responsibilities more effectively and more promptly. That was what I had in mind when I made my previous statement.
Then the right hon. Gentleman asked whether those who registered for air-raid precautions work would be exempt from military service. The whole purpose of this scheme is to get an effective distribution and a distribution that will stand, as far as possible, if a crisis should come and involve the minimum of disturbance. But I cannot suppose that however successful we may be we shall finally have a perfect distribution which will never, in any circumstances, have to be altered, 1128 and I think the only answer which I can give to the right hon. Gentleman's question is that the extent to which persons who are enlisted or recruited in any branch of the civilian services will be free from any expectation of being invited to undertake other sorts of service, will depend on the developing circumstances of the time, if, unfortunately, an emergency ever arises. That is all I can say.
The right hon. Gentleman, in making an offer of co-operation which I, personally, welcome, said that hon. Members opposite would not support any scheme which created the faintest suspicion of industrial conscription. I cannot see anything in the scheme I have put forward which is open to that suspicion. I was also asked whether air-raid precaution volunteers would be expected to serve at home or at their places of work. The answer is that the organisation would have to make provision for both. There would have to be men prepared, trained and equipped to take part in these air-raid precaution functions at their places of work, and there would also have to be sufficient people at home, and provision is being made in the estimates for the recruits required for both purposes. The right hon. Gentleman said something about the question of equal treatment of wealth. I am not going to say anything about that now, but I am going to say something before I sit down in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
May I come to the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery)? I was disappointed that he should have said that he felt I had not sufficiently appreciated the gravity of the situation in which we are. I can assure the House that I am fully sensible of the heavy responsibilities that have been placed upon my shoulders. I do not wish to understate or to overstate the nature of the problems with which we have to deal. In the later part of his speech my right hon. Friend developed an argument which, I hope he will pardon me for saying, fully justified in my mind what I have said about the dangers of the prevalent confusion that exists between compulsory registration and compulsory service. I had thought that to-night we were discussing, among other things, the relative merits of the voluntary registration and compulsory registration. I find that my right hon. 1129 Friend was talking, about compulsory registration as if it involved, as a matter of course, compulsory training—
§ Sir J. Anderson
Naturally I have no wish to misrepresent my right hon. Friend, but I can only say that the major part of his speech was concerned with a description of the merits and advantages of compulsory training. I think he implied, if he did not say, that there would follow upon compulsory training compulsory service, because what is the practical value of compulsory training if it is not to be followed by compulsory service? That is the sort of statement which I suggested in my earlier speech, and which I suggest now, produces misunderstanding up and down the country and engenders suspicion. My right hon. Friend took a different view in that respect from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). My hon. Friend drew a clear distinction between compulsory registration and compulsory training and compulsory service. He said in terms that during peace he would not defend compulsory training or compulsory service. My right hon. Friend, on the other hand, said that the compulsory principle was the foundation of national insurance, sanitation and everything else.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Education, yes, but not for adults. We have not been discussing to-day whether it might or might not be a good thing to include in the curriculum as compulsory for young people some training in citizenship, some physical training, and so on. We have not been discussing that, and I am not to be taken as suggesting plans which I should not regard as immediate plans for an emergency, or for the near future. I would regard those plans as part of long-term plans.
If I may pass now to what my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham had to say, I should like at the outset to acknowledge what I consider to be the 1130 very generous tone of his speech. I felt quite sure when I said what I did in my earlier speech that much of it would be distasteful to him, and in his reply I think he treated me with very great consideration. He put forward a number of suggestions with which I feel that I ought to attempt to deal in some detail. He suggested that in order to be prepared for a future emergency we must have an exact strategic plan based upon adequate information. As regards what I said last Thursday about the importance in an emergency of having made a survey and being in a position to marshal our resources in man-power, he suggested that this kind of information can be collected by a census and should be made available for that purpose. I should like my hon. Friend to consider, when he speaks of the importance of an exact strategic plan, that its value must be related to conditions which are likely to arise. Is there not a great deal that must necessarily be conjectural about the conditions of future war?
§ Sir E. Grigg
Will my right hon. Friend let me explain? I think the principle of the Powers who may be said to challenge our system is to pile up power and decide how to use it when an opportunity presents itself. They are opportunists in that respect. All I was suggesting in saying that we should have a plan is that we should know what our power is, what we can afford to do in given circumstances if they are presented to us.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I quite appreciate that, but it does not affect what I was going to say. I was going to point out that there must necessarily be much that is conjectural in regard to the conditions of a future war—how the attack might affect the various industries of the nation, the extent of the initial disturbance, and so on. Just as the strength of a chain is the strength of its weakest link, so in planning it serves no purpose to be exact beyond a degree, allowing for inevitable error in calculations, and I was going to suggest that while I freely admit that it would be an interesting thing and a useful thing if we had an entirely up-to-date record of man-power which we could analyse for the purpose of getting precise statistical information on various points, we have general information with regard to the distribution and extent of our manpower based on the last census—out of 1131 date to some extent, I agree, but still there—and if it can be made a basis of working out a strategic plan it would probably—I speak with diffidence—be as exact as any plan you could make, having regard to the other factors of uncertainty.
Then my hon. Friend went on to say that we ought to study the needs of industry, the needs of home defence, the needs of the public utility services and the problem of replacements. I entirely agree, but a national Register of man-power will not in itself enable us to do these things; they have got to be done separately, and that is part of the problem not of national service but of the problem with which I have to deal in my other capacity, the problem of civil defence. My hon. Friend mentioned that we ought to trace the valuable ex-officers who had served in the last War. One of the purposes of the Register is that information concerning people possessing special qualifications would be got together. People would know that they could apply. Since I assumed my present office I have had innumerable applications from people who have described their experiences. I have had difficulty in dealing with such applications, in the absence of any arrangement for having the material properly reviewed and classified. That is the purpose of that special section of the Register.
Then my hon. Friend said—and I do not comment upon it with criticism and I have no complaint—that he felt I had unwittingly misled the House when I referred to a period of three weeks within which, if we made the preparations I am suggesting, we could have a complete national Register available for war purposes. I qualified my remarks by a reference to the physical conditions. It was part of the plan which I put before the House that we should, by the use of the voluntary system, endeavour to provide a plan not only for immediate needs but one which, in the event of war, would carry us on for some time. The idea in mind was that it might be found, when the time came, that it would be better to make the national Register a complete Register, a compulsory Register, after the initial disturbance and transfer of population which would be inevitable if we had a major war, had taken place. Then we could get the most exact information in regard to the actual condition of the population of the country. I 1132 know that there are many elements of doubt, but it is absurd to suggest that we can have a hard-and-fast, settled plan in advance. I know that that belief is in the mind of hon. Members as a possibility.
Now let me pass on. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) whom I should like to congratulate on a most interesting and suggestive speech, put forward a number of comments on various aspects of the plans which I had outlined. The one that impressed itself most upon me, as an ex-Indian Governor, was his reference to the value of pageantry—although I sometimes feel that I have had too much pageantry. Anyhow, I promise that the suggestion that we should make our first appeal at the beginning of the year in a dramatic way shall have the fullest consideration, together with all his other suggestions. We come now to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). He, too, was very kind to me, and he made a number of suggestions. He spoke of the possibility of bringing in the educational authorities in the matter of training. We propose to make the fullest use of those facilities. The question of physical training will not be neglected, though I confess that I cannot say here and now just how far it may be possible to include it in the training which we have in mind. When the guide or Handbook, to which reference has been made by many speakers, is available, it will be seen that reference to the physical fitness movement is made in a prominent place in that book. The hon. Gentleman asked me, in regard to National Service committees, not to hold myself committed to details. I hope I have already made it clear that what I have suggested was only intended to indicate the general nature of the proposals that we have in mind.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), whose speech I did not hear, inquired, I understand, what provision was being made for informing the uninsured as to how they might help in relation to National Service. The scheme that has been put forward contains, I think, the answer to that question. The guide—the Handbook—is intended to help those people. They are more in need of help than those who are already, as more than one speaker has pointed out, registered. The hon. 1133 Member for South Islington (Mr. Cluse) said that he and his friends were willing to share in national defence, but there must be real co-operation. That is what we on this side ask for. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes (Major Rayner) thought the proposals we put forward were half-hearted, and that we should have advocated compulsion. There I disagree. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) welcomed consultation with labour, and he also spoke, I think, of the importance of dealing with property as well as with personnel.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), in a speech to which I gave very close attention, made several observations in regard to the scope of my functions in relation to National Service. There was one thing that he said, bearing on something that fell from me in my earlier speech, on which I should like to comment. In that speech I said something to the effect that we had not got jobs for everyone—that, if we had jobs for everybody now, there would not be all the men required in an emergency. Of course, I was talking only of National Service jobs, and what I said was true; but I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we must not make the mistake of under-estimating the nature of the demand that is likely to be made for National Service in time of peace. We must also, as he truly said, take into account the possibility of the expansion of the demand in various directions as time goes on. But there is one thing that I would like to say, because it is fundamental. The function of any National Service organisation must be to find people for jobs, not jobs for people. That is quite fundamental. It is for those who are concerned with the various services, and not for the person who is running the National Service organisation, to define the demand under the various heads. I can promise my hon. Friend that I shall duly bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War what he has to say concerning certain deficiencies which he thought to exist in the Territorial Force organisation.
Coming to the very helpful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), he suggested that it would be found that there was an 1134 overwhelming volume of opinion up and down the country in favour of some such plan as I have outlined, and that there was no such deep division in the country as might have been inferred by comparing certain speeches that have been made here this afternoon putting forward different points of view. He, I think, supported the idea of a united appeal in which all parties joined. I hope that will be very carefully considered. He inquired about the position of men who are engaged on the land—a very important matter, since, if war were to come, the maintenance of agricultural production would be of the very first importance. It will be found, when the Handbook is issued, that guidance is offered on that point. He referred, further, to the problem of evacuation, and the necessity for a large number of voluntary helpers in handling that complicated and rather delicate problem. There again, he will find that in the Handbook the requirements in that respect are very clearly dealt with.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) spoke about national service committees, with which I have already dealt, and rather complained that no adequate indication had been given of the kind of national service jobs that were to be given. It is one of the main objects of the Government to give just that information. In regard to operatives, to whom he referred, when he asked what was to be done about them, they form, in the schedule of reserved occupations and the Register to be maintained in that connection, by far the largest section of the National Voluntary Register. As regards the question of trailer pumps, which he raised, he knows that I am making inquiry into certain matters that he has represented to me, and in due course I shall be able to give him the results of the inquiry. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was inclined to see in the proposals put forward by the Government the thin end of the wedge, and to make his own position in regard to this matter perfectly clear he also referred to the importance of dealing with property as well as men.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) made, if I may say so, a very helpful speech. Perhaps it was a speech which only showed how Scotsmen think together, but it was helpful to me. He supported 1135 the voluntary Register. He thought it better than a compulsory Register, for one thing, because it would be a live Register, and he hoped that the people who came under that Register would find themselves in due course in the more responsible positions, because they had shown earlier a sense of their responsibility and had taken pains to obtain instruction in their particular divisions of national service. I was glad to hear my hon. and learned Friend say that he had seen signs of improvement in equipment, organisation and training in some of the large centres since the crisis of two months ago.
I come now to the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He said that he was a believer in the principle of the effective utilisation of man-power resources. He supported, as I should have expected, the voluntary principle. He made some observations on the question of conscription. He made it quite clear that as far as he was concerned, if there was to be conscription in time of war, personally he would take the view that there should also be conscription in regard to property. I have not attempted in the course of this Debate to indicate any view of my own about conscription in time of war. I have made it quite clear that I think we should have to have a complete compulsory Register. I say nothing at all about conscription. I take the view that, if an attempt were made to decide something on that matter in advance, the whole question would inevitably have to be reviewed on the occurrence of an emergency by the Government of the day. As far as I am concerned I am not going to do or say anything more about that matter.
I was glad indeed to hear the right hon. Gentleman give the support he gave to my view that there is an overwhelming case for attempting now to get the most intelligent distribution of man-power in regard to National Service. That is the object of the scheme that I have submitted to the House. He spoke of lack of thought and false romanticism—I think those were his words—that had been exhibited in the last War. I think that in the preparations that we are making and the organisation that we are endeavouring to build up now we want to try and avoid certain glaring mistakes 1136 into which the nation fell in the last War. I would just utter this word of caution that, in considering the problems of today, it does not do to think too closely in terms of the War of 1914–18.
The right hon. Gentleman rather, I think, complained that the Government had not given the House sufficient enlightenment as to the plan that we have in view. I have done my best. I am very conscious of the inordinate time that I took up with my first speech. I hoped to have completed it in a shorter period of time, and if, even so, I failed to convey all the information that hon. Members would like to have, I can only express my regret, but there will be other opportunities of amplifying on any point which may be desired the information which has already been placed at the disposal of the House.
§ Mr. Attlee
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) asked whether there would be a White Paper?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I was asked whether there would be a White Paper, and I do not think that that is a matter on which I am really competent to give an answer straight off without consultation. The right hon. Gentleman asked how this recruiting campaign will be conducted and by whom? It will be conducted by an organisation under my control. I shall be responsible. The National Service committees will not, as I said before, be a recruiting organisation. The organisation will be set up under my control and it will proceed, as far as I can see at the moment, on these lines. We shall get returns from the different districts and from the different recruiting agencies, and we shall see from those returns how recruiting is going, whether there is a shortage and whether there is maldistribution. We shall judge from that the nature of effort that is needed in any particular town or district. The local national service organisation will decide what steps should be taken, and we shall be guided by experience in the development of that plan. The right hon. Gentleman asked what about people in key occupations. Will a man be forbidden to join one of the Defence Services if he is in a key occupation? I think I have given an answer to that already. I have said that what we are aiming at is to get the most intelligent distribution we 1137 can. We cannot be perfectly certain that we shall succeed, and to the extent that we do not succeed we shall endeavour to bring about a redistribution, but in time of peace, at any rate, it will be entirely voluntary. There will be no element of compulsion.
§ Sir P. Harris
I think the House wants to know whether men in certain occupations will be prohibited from volunteering for air-raid precautions or for the Territorial Army.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I will do my best to make the position clear. First of all, as regards the Regular Forces. No man in a key occupation will be debarred from enlisting. That will be taken as a change of occupation. In regard to the Auxiliary Services, a question was put to a colleague of mine in another place and a definite answer was not given. It is not an altogether easy question. Take people engaged in agriculture, for example. That is a most important industry which has to be kept going. Are those people to be sternly discouraged from joining, for example, the Territorial Army? If they join the Territorial Army and an emergency comes, are they going to remain there or will they have to be sent back in order not to deplete the labour force on the land? Those are all difficult matters which have to be adjusted in consultation between the Departments concerned and I am engaged now in endeavouring to arrive at a definite understanding on those points, so that when the time comes early in the New Year we shall be able to say exactly what the position of those people will be.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
I want to be perfectly clear on the point. Are we to take it that it is proposed to abrogate the fundamental right of every citizen to serve in the armed forces of the Crown?
§ Mr. Marshall
If a man is working in an armament firm in a key position and he wants to go into a factory to make agricultural machinery—
§ Sir J. Anderson
He will be entirely free. I was only attempting to deal with the position of a man in a key occupation who wants to join one of the auxiliary forces, to what extent is he to be discouraged from doing so and whether he should in any circumstances be refused. These are matters which have to be adjusted between the Departments con- 1138 cerned. I am dealing with the matter from the point of view of the organisation of national service. It is primarily for those who are concerned with the interests of the Army on the one hand and of agriculture on the other, to adjust their differences. I shall do my best to act as the honest broker.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Let us get this point clear. It is not a question of what the Army, the Navy or any Department thinks. It is a question of the fundamental right of the citizen to serve in the armed forces.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am not quite sure whether that fundamental right can be said to exist if there are no vacancies.
May I, in the few minutes that remain, say a few words in regard to what has been said by hon. and right hon. Members opposite about the question of the registration of property as well as personnel? In my capacity as Minister of National Service, if I may so describe myself, I have nothing to do with that matter, but as Minister for Civil Defence, I conceive that I have a responsibility laid upon me which extends to considering how the financial and economic structure of the country can be braced, having regard to the narrowed margins of taxable capacity, to meet the shock of a major war. I interpret Civil Defence in the widest sense and as covering that important problem which, so far, has been very little explored. I venture to make this prediction, that when examination of the problem has gone rather further than it has so far, this question of the registration of property, small and large, will assume a very different aspect in the eyes of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite than that which it has presented hitherto.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not grudge me the one or two moments that are left in order to bring to his attention a very important aspect of training for passive defence, about which I have ventured to put written questions to him, but in regard to which he has not given me very satisfactory answers. I refer to the estuaries, the wharves and the harbours of this country and their protection from incendiary bombing attacks. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman by written question whether he is satisfied that the fire-floats and the men trained to man them 1139 are sufficient, but with his innate Scottish caution, accentuated by 30 years of training in the Civil Service, he did not satisfy me.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I respectfully submit that in dealing with the question of Defence, the man-power of the nation, and passive defence, I am entitled to bring it in?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I respectfully point out that there is in existence in London, within the organisation of the right hon. Gentleman, an organisation which is receiving volunteers for this particular purpose, and I am seeking to elicit from him a statement whether the volunteers for manning the fire-floats in the estuaries are being adequately equipped and trained?
§ Mr. Speaker
That has nothing to do with this particular Motion. The Motion before the House, if the hon. Member will read it, deals entirely with the proposals of the Government for National Voluntary Service.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I do not wish to be unduly persistent, but voluntary service comprehends voluntary service for putting out fires in the estuaries and harbours of the country.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
With respect, I do not want to make a quibble, but every form of National Service requires some form of equipment, and it is impossible and it would be ridiculous to attempt to separate the two in the speech which I am making. I cannot do so. I should be content if the right hon. Gentleman would look at the question which I have put to him, and I can assure him it is based on consultations with people who are very much concerned about this matter.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.