§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Furness.]
§ 9.40 p.m.
Captain Arthur Evans
I wish to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the necessity for closer co-operation and co-ordination between the various Defence Departments and the Civil Departments in their appeals for voluntary man-power in the event of war. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Coordination of Defence was kind enough to notify me of his intention of being present when the Adjournment was moved to-night. Unfortunately, the Adjournment has taken place earlier than was generally anticipated, and I am afraid that my right hon. Friend may not be back from an important public duty which he is discharging, for some time yet. In the meantime, I hope that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General will be kind enough to note the remarks which I propose to make, and convey them to the proper quarter at the opportune moment.
As the House is aware, the Cabinet, in their wisdom, have decided that during the time of peace, or at least during the lifetime of the present Parliament, no form of conscription will be introduced. The Prime Minister also informed the House, in reply to a question by an hon. Member of the Labour party, that no 1766 national service register of man power would be put into operation during the lifetime of the present Parliament. Therefore, I do not propose, to-night, to argue the case for or against conscription. I propose to address myself only to the position as we find it and to our dependence, solely on voluntary effort in a time of emergency preparation. We find ourselves in this position. In organising and recruiting for the various requirements of the Defence Department and the Civil Departments, including the police authorities, we are entirely dependent on the response which the young men of this country and, indeed, the young women find themselves able to make to the appeals of the various Departments of the Government. That being the case, I think the House will agree that efficient co-ordination and co-operation between the Ministers concerned is of paramount importance. When I ventured to raise this matter at Question Time a week or so ago, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, in reply, used these words:The co-ordination of the needs of the Defence Departments is undertaken by a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, on which the Defence Departments and the Home Office are represented.My right hon. Friend then dealt with another matter and went on to say:Every effort is made to secure that men of the ages which would most urgently be required for the active Defence Forces are not accepted for duties that could be performed by older men."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1938; cols. 402–403, Vol. 336.]While it is the case that such a subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence has been established, there appears to be definite evidence that cooperation is not proceeding as smoothly as the House would desire. I propose to call attention to one or two instances. The first which I have in mind is the recent appeal which was made by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police for no fewer than 19,000 medically fit young men, of a minimum age of 30, for the Police War Reserve in London alone. I was privileged to listen in to that broadcast appeal, and I have since refreshed my mind with a copy of the actual broadcast, which was furnished me by the Home Secretary. I find that in most cases these men, when they are called up for service, will be able to live at home, and they will be required for eight hours' 1767 duty per day or per night in the 24 hours. For these services they are to receive rates of pay of 60s. per week, and in the event of their being unable to live at home and being transferred to another part of the Metropolitan area, they will receive an additional 6s. per week.
I think the House will agree that these are indeed most attractive terms of service, especially when one compares them with the rates of pay which the Territorial soldier will receive on mobilisation. As the House well knows, the rate of pay which the Territorial soldier will receive in the event of his being mobilised in a national emergency is exactly the same rate of pay as the Regular soldier would receive, and indeed enjoys to-day. The basic rate is 14s. a week, and I am advised by the War Office that at the present cost of living the food which a soldier consumes costs the War Office 14s. 4d. per week. If you add to these two figures the cost of accommodation in barracks, or indeed in billets, at exactly the same rate which the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is prepared to allow, namely, 6s. a week, you get a total of 34s. 4d. per week which the Territorial soldier will receive either in money or in kind in the event of his being mobilised, as against the 66s. a week which a policeman of the War Reserve will receive if he has to live away from his home. That is a difference of 31s. 8d. in favour of the War Reserve policeman. When I pressed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this point in this House in a supplementary question on 19th May, he replied:We think that the first obligation of younger men is to the Territorial Army and the fighting Services.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1938; col. 572, Vol. 336.]No wonder my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) asked, "Is not the whole matter inexplicable?" because he knew, as indeed the whole country knows, that in spite of the most commendable and strenuous efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, backed up as he is by the Territorial Army Associations throughout the country, the Territorial Army to-day is still short of over 25,000 medically fit men between the ages of 18 and 38. I was astounded when I listened to the broadcast which I have mentioned that no mention was made by the Commis- 1768 sioner of Police to this fact, in spite of the Home Secretary's view thatthe first obligation of younger men is to the Territorial Army and the fighting Services.I want to ask His Majesty's Government, why this unfair discrimination in rates of pay? I think that hon. Members on all sides of the House must be forced to the conclusion that one Department is trying to outbid another in its natural desire to recruit as many men as necessary, and perhaps at a later stage—if not to-day, on some other suitable occasion—a representative of the Treasury will be able to explain this to the House in greater detail. It is not so much a question as to how much a soldier, including all the overheads, costs the Treasury as against a police war reservist; it is a question in the minds of potential recruits of how much they receive, and if you were to offer an inducement to one particular class of men of 66s. a week as against 31s. 8d., I think that in the natural course of events, and human nature being what it is, they might be tempted to look with favour on a form of national service which recognises their service, from a financial point of view, in a more generous way than another form of national service.
I also find that this question of appealing to men who, in my judgment and, I think, in the judgment of most hon. Members, should be in the Territorial Army, is not confined to appeals by the Commissioner of Police. I have read very carefully a recruiting pamphlet which has been issued by the Home Office in connection with air-raid precautions, a pamphlet which I find is not only addressed from the Home Office, but is also published under the auspices of the Scottish Office. I find that for air-raid warnings the services of active men of 30 years of age are also wanted, that in the fire brigade reserve fit men over 25 years of age with fire brigade experience are wanted, that for first-aid purposes fit men over 30 are applied for, and their duty in the event of an emergency, I gather, is to work in parties of four men to go to the scene of any casualties and to give first aid to the wounded before having them removed to a first-aid post or to a hospital. There are many other instances where men are invited to join His Majesty's civil authorities in the event of war. I find that messengers are 1769 eligible to join the A.R.P. service, and in this particular case men of 3o years of age who are medically fit are invited to offer their services.
I do not wish my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to feel that I have seized this opportunity to make a personal attack on the Commissioner of Police; I only raise this matter because it struck me that here was concrete evidence of a lack of co-ordination, not only between the Departments, but also within the Departments, because, after all, the Minister of the Crown who is responsible in this House for the Commissioner of Police is the Home Secretary. He tells me, in reply to a question, that young men of the category to which I have referred should offer themselves to the Territorial Army, but when a responsible officer of his Department is appealing to the vast numbers of young men who may feel inclined to come along and offer their services, no mention at all is made of that essential fact.
The time has come when His Majesty's Government should make clear to the House of Commons and to the various civil authorities throughout the country what is their actual policy in this matter of voluntary enlistment. It is, indeed, a question of high policy. His Majesty's Government must first make up their minds, after consultation with their various military and civil advisers, what they think will be the possible direction of the next war. There is an important school of thought which holds the view—which, I think, is rightly held—that the potential enemy might well try what is known as the knock-out blow, and, amassing all the possible aeroplanes at their disposal, would make an attack on London alone with the idea of paralysing the nerve centre of the country, and thus make it impossible for us to mobilise our resources.
If that takes place it does not need much imagination to visualise the terrible destruction, and perhaps panic, which might take place. I think that that is a reasonable assumption and that it is also fair to assume that the police force alone would not be able to deal with those circumstances. I imagine that one of the first things which the House would do is to declare a state of emergency and even, in certain circumstances, martial law. That is, I understand, according to the 1770 considered policy of His Majesty's Government, where the Territorial Army and, in some circumstances, the Regular Forces will play their part. The Secretary of State for War, in introducing the Army Estimates on 10th March, used these words:The first purpose of our Army is home defence. In preparing the Army for war the menace of air attack is a primary consideration. On the outbreak of war defence against air attack may be the primary requirement. In this major respect home defence is in the first category of importance and in a form unknown in 1914.These are the words which I would ask the House to mark:The priorities in home defence are, in their order, air defence; internal security, which assumes a widened scope in the light of air-raid precautions…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; col.. 2136, Vol. 332.]That being the considered view of His Majesty's Government, surely it is vital that every possible effort should be made to bring the Territorial Army up to strength in the shortest possible time. In view of the broadcast appeals to which I have referred and the pamphlets which have been issued by the Home Office, there must be some natural doubts in the minds of young men who are anxious to come forward at this time and do the best they can to strengthen this country against any possible act of unprovoked aggression from abroad.
I feel that for the type of work to which I have referred, in particular the police war reserve and air-raid precautions, a minimum age for the rank and file of 40 years would not be too low, and, in some circumstances, men under 40 who are not no per cent. physically fit to offer themselves to the active fighting forces of the Crown. For instance, I come within that category, and I do not look upon myself as being entirely decrepit. I feel that I would be able from the physical point of view to discharge the tasks of which I have read in the air-raid precautions recruiting pamphlets. I also feel that if I were to years younger and medically fit my place would not be in those services but in the active fighting forces of the Crown.
I do not quite understand what the hon. Member means by that. I do not think such an interruption is fair to him, because I am sure he would be one of the first in the event of emergency to offer his services to the nation. On the other hand, it may well be that in a future war, whatever the circumstances are, this country will never again be in a position to send a vast and important army abroad as it did from 1914 to 1918. No one can say that for certain. That is another hypothesis. In any case, we might be called upon to send large forces of our Regular and Territorial troops abroad to defend certain parts of the Empire. If that be the case, surely it is of the utmost importance that a large number of suitable men should be available in the civil population for those Services without having to drain the air-raid precautions, the police and other civil departments of men who arc far more fit for the Army than for those services.
In the event of the terrible calamity coming upon us the Government of the day might decide that they would not pursue the same policy as that pursued by the Government in the late War, and that the only fair thing would be to conscript the whole services of the nation, whether in man power or in wealth, for the nation's defence. That, however, is not the policy of His Majesty's Government at the present time. I believe that in our efforts to-day not only young men, but older men and young women, are anxious to play their part if their course is made clear by the Government. I rise to-night to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to take this opportunity of making the position clear beyond the shadow of doubt to the Home Office and the civil authorities, and to lay it down clearly to the sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence so as to ensure that the requirements of the priorities are regarded as of paramount importance. The people of this country, male and female, young and old, will then know exactly where their services will be of best value, and the nation will be able to join together in a supreme effort to avoid the necessity of some form of conscripted service during the period of emergency preparation.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)
I hope 1772 that my hon. and gallant Friend and the House will accept my apology for not having been present at the beginning of his speech, but I think 1 have inferred from what I have heard, and from the questions he has asked me on other occasions, what is his main purpose. I have no doubt that he only wants the Government to state clearly the arrangements which they are making for securing recruits to the various services in peace time. To-night we are not in a position, and could not be expected to be in a position, to make any statement, except a very general statement, as to what the policy in war time would be in connection with the use of our man-power. We are dealing to-night, as I think my hon. and gallant Friend intends, with the arrangements solely in time of peace. The first thing we must all appreciate is that any Government dealing with the use of man-power to-day would be almost criminal if they did not take account of the lessons of the Great War.
My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to some of the experiences in 1914. With those experiences in mind the Government Departments concerned have given a great deal of consideration, over a number of years, to the best use of man-power in an emergency. There is certain to be in the event of war an authority—what may be called, in the language used in the last War, a "competent authority"—who will allocate, according to the age and capacity of each individual person, a suitable position for that person to occupy. Nobody can escape from the obligation which will be placed upon in those circumstances by choosing a position, possibly one which he might think a more appropriate position for himself, in peace time. In other words, if anybody elects for one or other of the many services which are asking for recruits at the present time he will do so with the full realisation that he will not thereby be exempt from any obligation which Parliament may impose upon him in time of war.
The next fact we must all realise is that there can be no compulsion in peace time. We are not in a position to tell men to join any particular service, nor, indeed, do I think it is necessary that we should have compulsory powers. One of the happy features of the present time, when public service is very much to the front, is that, generally speaking, 1773 there is an adequate flow of recruits to the different services. No doubt the number of air-raid wardens being asked for is a very large number but I think my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given figures which will satisfy the House that, generally speaking, the public are responding to the appeals which are being addressed to them. And so, at the present time, with the Auxiliary Forces, the Territorial Army in particular. Therefore, I should not admit for a moment that the youth of this nation require to be shepherded into particular occupations. I believe the public spirt of the moment is such as to result in a proper choice being made of the most appropriate service, in the great majority of cases.
But, just as it is undesirable or impossible to apply compulsion now, so is it undesirable to reject offers of service. Nothing could be more discouraging than for a young man or, for that matter, an older man, to come forward and make his offer in a genuine spirit of patriotism, and to find his services rejected, and we wish to avoid that mistake. Then we realise, all of us, that a great many positions have to be filled in time of peace. Half a million is the number of air-raid wardens required, and as with air-raid wardens so in the case of fire brigades, reserve constables and persons to fill the ranks of the first-aid parties in connection with air-raid precautions, it is essential that we should take measures in time of peace to see that the ranks of those services are adequately filled.
What can the Government do in these circumstances, with no compulsion and no rejection of any reasonable offer of service, and at the same time the necessity for filling the ranks of the services? I suggest to the House that we have taken the proper course. We have decided that there shall be certain downward age limits below which persons shall not be accepted for a particular service. As an illustration, in the case of fire brigades it has been decided that there shall be a lower age limit of 25, but that is not to suggest that we intend that the fire brigades shall be wholly or largely composed of men between the ages of 25 and 30. We thought that a downward limit of 30 in the case of fire brigades would be a very suitable limit to fix, but in fire brigades there must of necessity be included many young and active men for 1774 the sometimes dangerous service which the fire brigade undertakes. After fixing the downward limit of age at the point which we think best, we then leave each individual to apply for that service which suits his capacity or suits his bent.
Let there be no mistake about it, we do realise that some of the services ought to have, and we ask that they should have, priority. Supposing there is a man of, shall I say, 25 or 26 years of age. Although he is eligible for the lire brigade service we should like to think that, if he is able, in health and in spirit, to enter one of the Auxiliary Forces, the Territorial Army in particular, he will give that his first preference. All the Auxiliary Forces are at the moment finding a good supply of recruits, but there is still a great deal of need for those who are willing to give their services.
As in the case of fire brigades, who sometimes will need active young men for special services, so in the case of reserve constables. I think my hon. and gallant Friend spoke about air attack being possibly an attempt at a knock-out blow. There is one point in particular at which such a knock-out blow would be aimed, and that is this great centre of population, London. It is certain that the ordinary police force is not of a size adequate to deal with an emergency of that kind, and it would be fantastic to suppose that reserve constables enrolled to supplement the ordinary police force would be either middle-aged or elderly. They must for the most part be young, or comparatively young, and active men. That leads me to the reflection that to some extent the Territorial Army and the reserve constables are in competition for men of the same age.
My hon. and gallant Friend suggests that it is rather a pity that the salary of £3 per week has been fixed for those who enter as reserve constables whereas if they enter the Territorial Force in war time they will receive very much less. I have already pointed out that men of suitable age for military service would be called upon by Parliament to render that service if it is thought to be more important to do so than to serve in the police force. Let there be no mistake about it that service in the police force might be just as dangerous and require precisely the same qualities as service in the Territorial Army.
Would my right hon. Friend kindly deal with the suggestion I made that in the event of a knock-out blow being partially successful it would be the duty of the military authorities, according to the Secretary of State for War, to assume charge of the situation and of the police, and that it is of the utmost importance that the position should be understood at the earliest possible moment?
§ Sir T. Inskip
It is impossible to foresee the demands that may be made upon the forces competent to deal with such a situation and such a danger as an air attack upon London. The existing police forces might obviously be inadequate for services of that kind, and you would supplement them to some extent; and it may be that even the supplementary reserves may be inadequate to meet the situation. It seems of necessity to follow that the available military forces would be asked to aid in putting right the general disorder that might occur or to take over the services which ordinarily would fall to the police. The Government recognise that at first sight competition in those different services seems to lead to some avoidable confusion. I hope that the House realises that there can be no compulsion and that, on the other hand, we want to accept every willing offer of service; and that all the Government can do is to fix a proper downward limit of age and to trust to the good sense and the manhood of this nation to choose the proper service, always bearing in mind that, in the event of war, ultimately the proper position would be allocated to every man, according to his age and capacity.
I must say a word about the matter of pay for the reserve constables. I realise that at first sight men might be attracted by the prospect of£3 which is more than they would receive in the Territorial Army, but, speaking for myself, I rate our public spirit a little higher than to suppose that there would be any rush for the reserve constabulary forces because of the superior attraction of the rate of pay. There might be one or two men who would choose the reserve constable forces but, if they were suitable, they would be put into the necessary service, and if they are to be members of the police forces and even of the supplementary reserve, they must be remunerated under the law on similar scales to those who are already serving.
1776 My hon. and gallant Friend asks for co-ordination in these matters, and in his questions to myself or to the Home Secretary he has suggested that there has not been sufficient co-ordination. That is a misapprehension. It is not possible, by rule of thumb, to sort everybody into his right place in time of peace, but we shall arrange that there shall be a body always available for dealing with situations in which different Departments come into competition with each other. In so far as that body is not able to dispose of the question or settle the point of principle, it will then be referred to me, and I shall dispose of the matter, either by a decision of my own or by referring, perhaps, an important question of principle to the Committee of Imperial Defence. I think my hon. and gallant Friend will find that every case has been foreseen. I am not suggesting that all our age limits are rigid or unalterable; they would be adjusted to meet changing situations. If we find that the influx into one particular service is more than into the other services, it may be that some adjustment of the age limit would be required, but at the present time I think the age limits we have fixed are those most likely to guide men into the proper channels, and if they respond with the same spirit of public service as we are, happily, experiencing at the present moment, we shall find, as we are accustomed to find in this country, that good sense does more to provide good order than regulation.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not think the House can be very satisfied with the reply of the right hon. Gentleman to the case put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Cardiff, South (Captain A. Evans). It seems to me, as an ex-Territorial, that there is a very great difference between the obligations that are assumed by the man who joins the Territorials and the obligations undertaken by the man who joins the air wardens or any of the other forces that have been mentioned this evening. The Territorial is attested; he takes the oath; and from that moment he is under military discipline. He cannot of his own volition get out of the obligations he has undertaken. He does not have to wait until the outbreak of war before he has to make himself efficient. If during any of the years for which he has enlisted he fails to become an efficient Territorial, 1777 he is liable to a fine; if, without sufficient excuse, he does not attend camp, he is liable to a fine; and when the outbreak of war comes, his place is definitely settled, and he cannot regroup himself. He has lost all power of volition. And may I say I think that this is an obligation which a man of the age mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member ought, unless he has conscientious objections to war altogether, to be prepared to undertake. I want to be quite frank on that point. I joined the old Volunteers at 17 years of age, became a member of the National Reserve at the end of my period of enlistment, and re-enlisted again in my old unit at the outbreak of the War. Therefore, I have no doubt as to what ought to be the attitude of a young man who has no conscientious objection to war.
There is no similar obligation in the case of an air warden. As far as I know, a person puts down his name to be an air warden, and this House has imposed no similar obligation on him to become an efficient air warden. He can, as far as I know, resign from being an air warden on any day that he likes. I do not know with regard to the other forces, but I have not noticed going through this House any Statute imposing on the reserve fire brigade man any liability of the kind voluntarily undertaken by the Territorial. I am not so sure about the reserve constables; I do not know whether they undertake any obligation, from which they cannot escape, similar to that undertaken by the Territorial. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman's memory seems to me to be rather short about what happened in the late War. I know that he was engaged in the Admiralty, on the Intelligence Staff, and therefore may not have had much time to devote to what was going on outside; but I can assure him that if he had been with the Forces in France he would have heard the most sarcastic allusions to people who were pressing to get into the special constables, in order to avoid being called up under the various Acts passed by this House.
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is just what they will not be able to do in this case. Provision has been made for that very purpose.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I said that the essential feature of the arrangements for war was that the competent authorities should allocate to every man his service, and that he would not be able to escape that military service, if Parliament so decided, by enlistment now in another service.
§ Mr. Ede
Then we may understand that, although it has not been brought before this House, and may not be brought before it in the lifetime of this Parliament, or before the outbreak of war, there is in existence a conscription Bill which will put everybody in his appropriate niche. What the right hon. Gentleman has said cannot mean anything but that. On the day the emergency arises the legislative machinery is all ready for bringing that about. I do not think he will deny that that is the exact meaning of what he said.
§ Mr. Ede
It is the first time it has ever been plainly stated. I hope it will be noted by these people who join these various services, because it cannot give much encouragement to local authorities to go on recruiting air-raid wardens and other people while that position holds, for they may be training people who, when the emergency arises, will be withdrawn from that service and put into another. I cannot think that that is a thing that is going to make for efficient working when the emergency arises. We are led to believe, and the existing practice justifies us in believing it, that this emergency may arise far more suddenly even than the last. I am told that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has even had to argue in court that there is a war in China. I forget which side he took, though I have no doubt he did his best for his client. He said it was quite clear, from what had been said by some distinguished lawyer in the past, that his view was right; but I gather, from the decision of the court, that they took the contrary view. This emergency may arise with the same suddenness as it has arisen in other places. If that is 1779 so, what is to be done with regard to filling these people's places?
Speeches like the right hon. Gentleman has made to-night make it almost impossible to believe that the Government regard the situation as being as serious as they sometimes say. When one contemplates the expenditure on armaments and the appeals that are being made for recruits, to say that there is already a Statute in preparation that will be placed on the Statute Book the moment the emergency arises, that will draft these people off, such as have made the wrong selection, into other branches of service, seems to me to indicate no clear conception of the confusion that will arise.
In the last War we often used to thank the Almighty that we had a Navy. If we had known that there was in the Intelligence Department at the Admiralty a person prepared to act on the lines that we have heard to-night in connection with this matter, I think that we should have preferred to rely on the Army a bit more than we did. This is a very serious matter, and the way in which it has been dealt with by the right hon. and learned Gentleman this evening cannot give the House any confidence in the methods that are being adopted by the Government. There was one thing said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South that I have heard said by other Members of this House—it was said in my own constituency by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair)—and that is, the position of the man-power of this country with regard to sending a force abroad. The hon. and gallant Gentleman assumed that we should send no large force abroad. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland said in my constituency that it would not be the duty of this country to send a large force abroad. All that I could say in reply to the right hon. Gentleman in my constituency was that no one imagined that he would have the responsibility of saying anything about it when the time came. But it is being frequently stated, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman said nothing this evening in reply to the statement.
I did not venture to be so foolish as to make a definite statement of that kind. I said that it was 1780 an assumption which the House of Commons were not justified in ruling out as a possibility.
§ Mr. Ede
I was very careful to say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman assumed the position. There seems to be a general assumption. I know of nothing that ought to allow it to be assumed in this confident way. When one is talking of dealing with the man-power of the country one may be placing a good many people under quite a wrong delusion if he allows this assumption to go unchecked. If there is to be any co-ordination in this matter, there should be a general understanding that people who accept recruitment to any of these forces should regard themselves as being bound to that force in the same way that the Territorial is bound to his force. I believe that any other form of recruitment is bound to break down when the emergency arises, and I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able this evening to assure the House that the arrangements now being made will be those which will be carried into effect when the state of emergency arises. If it were any other Government than the present, one could only draw the inference from the speech to-night that the state of emergency is a great deal further away than the Government have hitherto led us to believe. My own belief is that in this matter we are really drifting along in a spirit of complacency in the hope that, somehow or other, the emergency may be avoided, because no one could imagine, from the speech made this evening, that the emergency is imminent.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
What does the hon. Member exactly mean by conscription? Does he suggest that the right hon. Gentleman said that conscription will come into operation at the time of emergency, and that he objects to that? What is an emergency? Does the hon. Member want conscription now?
§ Mr. Magnay
I am sure the House understood that the hon. Member's objection to conscription at the time of emergency was that there would be a hopeless muddle. What is his alternative? Does he want conscription now?
§ Mr. Ede
I was not asking for conscription now. What I said was that persons who enlist now, voluntarily, in the various Services in a similar way that they enlist in the Territorial Army, should have that similar obligation and should be assured that when the emergency arises they will be able to continue in that form of service. There is, surely, nothing wrong or contrary to the voluntary system in that
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Markham
I apologise for intervening, but I am not clear on the statement that we have heard from the Minister. As I understand the position, it is that the Government have the right to allocate to all men who are attested or registered under Territorial schemes or police schemes any such duties as they think fit for them in the event of a national emergency arising. Am I right in that understanding?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I do not think I can put it any more explicitly or plainly than I did at the beginning. I do not know whether the hon. Member was here. I said that our plans envisage the setting up of a competent authority which will have power to allocate to everybody his proper position in time of war according to his age and capacity. I hope that is plain.
§ Mr. Markham
That is precisely the point I am driving at. As I understand it, that statement means conscription, and if it does mean conscription I think it is rather an appalling thing that the Government should make a statement of that magnitude on a Motion of—I say this with all due respect to my hon. and gallant Friend who raised the question—relatively small importance. It is a statement that should have a full dress Debate in the House, and I hope that an opportunity will be found for it at the earliest possible moment.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I intended to make the same kind of statement that the hon. Member has just made. As he has made 1782 that statement, I will not repeat it. I should also like to say that this afternoon, at Question Time, we were all terribly indignant and shocked because of what is happening in China and Spain with regard to air bombardment, and so on. Here we are to-night calmly preparing our minds for the day—if words mean anything the words of the right hon. Gentleman meant that that day may take place at any moment—when this great city is going to be subjected possibly, if not probably, to one of these bombardments, and Berlin or Paris or some other capital is to be subjected to the same thing from us. I can only stand here and say that I cannot understand the indignation that has been poured out in regard to what is happening elsewhere, when what is said to be a civilised Europe is making these gigantic preparations for the same kind of thing.
I may be asked, what else can we do? Lots else could be done, if the Government adopted what I propose. Nothing could be worse than what will happen if this catastrophe takes place. I see neither in this country nor elsewhere any effort being made to stem the tide towards the barbarism that is taking place or contemplated. Surely somewhere in the world some authoritative voice will be heard calling the nations to sanity before this happens? That is all I have to say tonight. I am appalled at the quietness with which we are sitting here visualising this terrible barbarity which we are told is almost upon us.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
If plans are to be prepared for conscripting the manhood of the country in an emergency may I ask whether it is intended at the same time to conscript wealth? If plans are being made on the lines indicated I think plans should be made not simply to conscript the life of the community.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman
I should like to ask whether in his survey the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has considered the setting up of a national register? Hon. Members have spoken to-night as though conscription was already upon us, but I would ask hon. Members to consider that because His Majesty's Government have in mind the possibility that there may be a measure of conscription, as was the case in the last war, that is 1783 not conscription now. It occurs to me that if we are to have such a measure introduced we ought now to be preparing the material.
The suggestion of the hon. Member would involve legislation, unless it is to be a voluntary register.
§ Mr. Beechman
The register I have in mind is a voluntary register. What I have in mind is this; that there should be a call to every citizen to indicate what service he or she is prepared to offer. It is clear to me that there is in this country a great desire to offer service. There are only two ways in which to forfeit liberty. One is by compulsion, and the other by inactivity. As I understand it, the country is determined not to lose its liberties in either way. It will not suffer compulsion and at the same time it is anxious to offer service, which at the moment it has no opportunity of offering. What I am suggesting is that there should be an opportunity given to the country as a whole to say what service it is prepared to offer in the event of emergency. I do not see how it is possible for His Majesty's Government adequately to consider the measure of conscription which has been indicated without having such material prepared in advance. Finally, let me say that nothing would impress countries all over the world, and particularly dictator countries, so much as the fact that not through compulsion but out of a sense of responsibility, realising that democracy involves service as well as rights, the people in this country, every man and woman, desired to offer service.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
The Minister for the Coordination of Defence has made an exceedingly important statement which will be received with the greatest interest tomorrow throughout this country and the world. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to legislation, and although I cannot go into that, I would like to suggest to him and to the Government that, now that we know that legislation is contemplated, it would be desirable at the earliest possible moment that the terms of the contemplated Measure should be known so that they can be discussed and considered by the people whom they will affect rather than that, on the day on which war is declared, the right hon. Gen 1784 tleman should come to the House and say that he wants the Measure passed in five minutes. The country would not be satisfied with that. The scheme must be a carefully considered and agreed one which has the backing of public opinion and which can be taken up when war is declared, but not before.
I agree with the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) that if anything of this kind were brought forward, it would be absolutely intolerable unless the conscription of wealth was dealt with concurrently. I rather think that a promise of that kind was made by Lord Baldwin a few years ago, and I hope that on some other occasion the right hon. Gentleman or some Member of the Government will say whether there is a Measure ready to deal with the conscription of wealth as well. It is essential that all schemes for National Defence, whether they be conscription or anything else, should have the backing of a public opinion which believes in the Government's foreign policy. But public opinion does not believe in the Government's foreign policy at the present time. I quite agree that public opinion believes in what the Government did the week-end before last —[An HON. MEMBER: "That is our foreign policy."] I am talking about the general run of foreign policy, apart from that very happy lapse. Unless a foreign policy is pursued which has the support not only of the Conservative party, the National Labour party and the National Liberal party—all very important, but after all, not representing the whole nation—but of those who sit on this side of the House, all the schemes will fail, and this country will be landed in disaster.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Hopkinson
The curious thing in this Debate is that neither of the Opposition parties seems to have any conception of the meaning of the word "democracy." When the Minister for the Coordination of Defence makes a plain and simple statement to the effect that he and his advisers have got down to the necessary preliminary work with regard to preparing for the introduction of a Bill to give powers to certain competent authorities, hon. Members opposite seem to regard the whole thing as finished. They never seem to imagine that the consent of the people of this country has to be obtained before the necessary register could be established. They seem to re 1785 gard my right hon. Friend as a sort of Hitler or Mussolini who prepares these schemes for the destruction of liberty in peace time and who, immediately on the outbreak of war, will proceed to make the necessary decrees to put them into force. One thing that is obvious in this country is that, even in the years that have elapsed since the end of the War, the meaning and understanding of democracy has developed immensely in the minds of our people. It is rather pathetic that, when the people of this country and hon. Members on this side have appreciated the simple fact that this country is democratic and that nothing can be done in this country without the real support of the people, hon. Members of both the Opposition parties have failed to appreciate it.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Kelly
I hope that this Debate will be continued in another form before long. The hon. Member for South Cardiff (Captain Evans) raised what appeared to be a simple proposition, asking whether or not a person who joined the special police force would be allowed to continue in it if his service would be of more use to the State elsewhere. The reply, which came as a very great surprise to the whole House, was that in the event of a state of emergency each man in the country would be told the position that he had to occupy, and the work he had to engage upon.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I must correct the hon. Member. If I used the word "emergency" he has certainly misunderstood the sense in which I used it. I used it in no sense except as referring to a state of war.
§ Mr. Kelly
I am very glad that I raised the matter. There was another statement at which, I hope, the right hon. Gentleman will look in the morning. I called the attention of the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff to it at the time it was made. It was that in the event of difficulties the military would then be in control. I am sure he never intended that. [HON. MEMBERS: "He never said it."] Hon. Members opposite may not have heard it, but the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff heard it, and we both spoke of it.
I am afraid the hon. Member misunderstood the undertone in which this conversation was carried on. I was listening intently to my right hon. 1786 Friend. The hon. Member said to me, "Would the military be in control of the police or would they assist the police in certain circumstances?" My reply was, "That is the point."
§ Mr. Kelly
Again I am not at all sorry that I have raised the matter. I ask that this question shall not be left to the mere reply of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I hope that at an early date the House may be able to debate whether or not conscription is intended and what is the proposal of the Government.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have made a very important announcement by way of an obiter dictum, and it is only right that a full explanation be given on a more formal occasion when more Members are present. The Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned from the Government in 1914 because of the proposal of conscription before the voluntary principle had been tried. He is certainly occupying a very modest position on the Treasury Bench at the moment but, no doubt, he will take part in the Debate and explain why he has changed the view which he supported then with so much enthusiasm. I should like to know whether the unification and nationalisation of the different parties in the Government have proceeded to a point when the Chancellor who resigned a most important position in 1914 is now preparing to resign, or what he is preparing to do in the light of the Government's present plans. That, however, is merely a personal matter. What is important to note is the Government's intention, that when the moment comes, they will have conscription. [HON. MEMBERS: "Of course!"] Of course, "say hon. Members. But everyone said that in peace time the Government would never introduce conscription." In circumstances of emergency, ' we are told now, they intend to do so and obviously they would not wait for the outbreak of hostilities. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There are so many official and semi-official spokesmen of the Government that it would be of advantage if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to suggest to the Chief Whip that at some suitable time we should have a clear explanation of this plan which exists in the Government's documents, for the introduction of conscription.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
There will be considerable consternation when the country reads the pronouncement which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Coordination of Defence has made. The attempt at a belated justification by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) was rather beside the point. He suggested that this was a democratic procedure because before conscription could be introduced the permission of the House of Commons would be necessary. Everyone who experienced what occurred at the outbreak of the War knows how much democracy enters into circumstances of that kind. As I am attempting to reply to the hon. Member for Mossley, I hope he will try to achieve an unusual degree of Courtesy and listen to me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] He made an attempt to show that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was democratic because the consent of the House would be necessary but the consent of the House in circumstances of the kind contemplated, would be prejudged. The plans, I understand, are being made and when the time came the newspapers would stampede the popular mind, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends would stalk through the country, saying that this was necessary for the national defence, and the House of Commons would be overwhelmed with emotion. I suggest that the proceedings in that case would be a travesty of democracy.
I would like to put a further question. What are the strategical implications of the right hon. Gentleman's statement? Conscription came during the War, because it was found necessary to send large expeditionary forces abroad. What sort of war has the right hon. Gentleman in mind? Conscription will not be necessary for mobilising the Air Force or the Navy. It can be contemplated only for the purpose of a much larger Army. If that be the case, we ought to know what sort of war the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. Who is the enemy? What is the strategical background of these proposals? [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but the Government are supposed to be engaged in providing plans for a possible contingency. They now say that conscription may be necessary. Do hon. Members deny that it will be necessary only for a much enlarged Army? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] No, it is for the 1788 civilian population. In other words what is in mind at the moment is not conscription for the purpose of providing the military resources necessary to carry on a war, but conscription in order to keep the civilian population docile.
That is what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, and we shall require in some future Debate an amplification of this proposal before we permit the Government to go on any longer making plans of this kind. As my right hon. Friend has said, a member of the Cabinet resigned in 1915 or 1916 because of a proposal of this kind. We ought to be told a little more about what the right hon. Gentleman has in view, before we allow the Government to go any further with a plan of this kind. We are alarmed by this proposal. It contemplates the conscription of the manhood of this country, but have any plans been prepared for the conscription of the wealth of the country?
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Captain Margesson.)
§ Mr. Bevan
If plans are being made for conscription of the manhood of the country, for my own people in my constituency, people with whom I have been brought up, who are going to be placed under the control of the police, it is difficult to suggest that the police will have any paramount role at all. It will be found in practice that once you have conscription, the generals and the brass hats will be in charge of the whole of the resources of the country, and we already know how abysmally stupid they will be in circumstances of that kind. It is interesting to note that it is now anticipated that one of the principal means for defending democracy in this country will be the immediate abandonment of democratic rights on the part of the population. One vicious aspect of the proposal is that, as the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides concentrates on conscription as the first resort in the case of war, they have evidently turned down any alternative proposition. A number of other proposals might be mentioned, but as they have now informed the House that they have conscription in their minds in the case of an outbreak of war, they will 1789 therefore not have concentrated on any other alternative for mobilising the resources of the country, and in the absence of other plans that would lead to the voluntary organisation of the people's services, they would be compelled to come to the House and ask the House immediately to accept conscription.
The proposal is a novel one. There are no details. It has been sprung upon us. There have been no preparations for it. We have had indications before of the sinister psychology of the Government, but very few of us apprehended that behind that suave and urbane exterior such designs had been hatched. I listened to those soothing accents over the radio this evening, but the right hon. Gentleman did not tell the country that a part of the preparation that he is making for the defence of democracy in this country is a proposal that every man over 18 years of age should surrender his liberty immediately war breaks out. He made no statement of that sort. He has blurted that out maladroitly on an inconspicuous occasion in the House of Commons, but he will hear more about it, and I can assure him that the industrial masses of Great Britain will learn with alarm and indignation that proposals are being made for conscripting the manhood of Great Britain and that no proposals are being made for mobilising the private interests of property and the wealth of the nation in circumstances like that.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
I heard only part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but I want to join my hon. Friends on both sides in expressing our regret that an announcement of this kind was not made on a more formal occasion. It is regrettable that a matter which will get the headlines in the Press to-morrow has been just hinted at in this Debate to-night. I do not want to say a word beyond what has been said by my hon. Friend about the military aspect of the problem, except that I want to join in expressing the view that the Government and the right hon. Gentleman will mistake very seriously the temper of this country if they think they can put forward any measure to conscript men's lives which leaves the wealth of the country outside their proposals. I also want to express the regret which we must all share at the fact that this important announcement has been made on this occasion. The right hon. Gentle 1790 man is engaged in negotiations with the trade union movement, and I want to say a word as one who has had, like my hon. Friends, trade union experience. There are industrial implications in this statement. As I understand it, it is that plans are being prepared in case of a national emergency to provide for allocating to the men over 18 years of age their place in the national scheme. They involve allocating their places not only in the Air Force, the Navy and the Army—that will be the smaller part of the problem if what we are told about the kind of war it is likely to be is true—but industrial conscription as well. If it does not mean that, how can you allocate men to their places unless you have power to tell them, "There is your job and you stand by it; you must not strike while you are there. There is your job in the pit or in the factory." If it does not imply that, it is meaningless.
The Prime Minister has made a pronouncement to the trade unions that he is not a Fascist and that he believes in democracy and freedom. These statements have been made because the Government's policy has caused the trade unions a good deal of apprehension. I want to ask a question which will not only be asked in the House when we get the Debate which we are entitled to get, but will be asked by millions of trade unionists in the country. Our leaders have been in consultation with the Government, and the Government have asked them for their help in this state of emergency, and in the serious position that confronts the Government in the making of armaments. We have now been told that the plans are ready which will destroy the trade union movement and bring in industrial conscription, for that is what they mean in effect. Here is a bit of news for the Engineering Union Conference when it discusses the Government's negotiations to-morrow, namely, that late at night on Monday on a Motion for the Adjournment, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said, "We are appealing for your help now, but our plans are ready and you will be conscripted when the time comes."
In the discussions which the Minister and the Prime Minister have had with the trade unions, has any intimation been given that plans are ready for what must clearly be industrial conscription? We have had our experience of this sort of thing. We 1791 know what it meant during the years 1914–18. We know of the promises that were made. They are beginning to be made again. I remember representatives of the Government— the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and Mr. Runciman—coming to a conference in Cardiff and making promises galore. They were not kept. In the private and confidential conversations which the Minister has been having for some weeks with the trade unions, has any intimation been given to them that the Government have plans complete by which, when an emergency comes, the labour of the country will be conscripted to the service of the State? If that was not done to the trade unions they will read this with a great deal of regret to-morrow.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Sir T. Inskip
As the hon. Member has addressed a question to me I will, with the permission of the House, say a few words with reference to it. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Captain Evans) asked me a question of which he had given me notice as to the competition between the different services which at the present time are calling for volunteers. In stating to him and to the House the arrangements which had been made I made the statement in that connection that the plans envisage the creation of a competent authority who will allocate to the persons concerned their proper place, according to their age and capacity, in the public service. Now upon that statement, which is dealing with what my hon. and gallant Friend raised, no more must be built than is either expressly stated on some future occasion or is necessarily inferred. When the hon. Member suggests that I have announced a policy of conscription of labour that is not justified by any statement that I have made. Nothing was further from my thoughts, and, as far as I know, there is no plan or preparation for such a possibility as that.
§ Mr. Bevan
Did not the Prime Minister say in his speech last Wednesday that one of the advantages of the war situation was that they did not require any conscription of labour, because they were able to say to a man, "Either you do what we want you to do or you join the 1792 Army"? Conscription involves industrial conscription.
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is a question as to something which the Prime Minister said a week ago, and I do not recognise the statement which the hon. Member has made, but, at any rate, this is not the occasion to deal with that, and I think the House clearly understood the statement I made in reference to the question asked by my hon. and gallant Friend. Let me add this: I am sure that the House also appreciates that whatever may be contemplated by any plans which the Government have, could never be carried out without discussion in this House and without submission to this House at the proper time, and it is one thing to say that plans envisage the creation of a competent authority and another to say that the Government's policy at the present time is to bring in now a plan for conscription. Hon. Members opposite—and I do not complain of it at all, as they have had their opportunity—have tried to graft on to what I have said something which goes a great deal further than anything I have said to the House, but if the House would be good enough to pay heed to the words which I have used, and the sense in which I used those words, I think they will find that there is no ground for any apprehension that the liberties of anybody can be interfered with except in accordance with the decision of this House.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is not quite fair to me. My hon. and gallant Friend and the whole House know that I could not make a proper statement unless I stated the facts. If I had kept back anything then I should indeed have been open to that remark.
§ Mr. Benn
I certainly withdraw the word "unfortunate" and say that it is fortunate that the right hon. Gentleman has put us in possession of plans which certainly will have to be discussed. He made no secret about there being plans for conscription. [Interruption.] The 1793 hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) based his arguments upon it. While it is impossible at this time of night to pursue the matter I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that the Government should take the earliest opportunity of explaining the position to the House. I must say that the right hon. Gentleman made one very great concession, which was that conscription would not be introduced without the consent of the House of Commons. That went a long way to prove that he was opposed to Fascism in any form. There must be an opportunity for the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence or the Prime Minister to explain to the House clearly what those plans of the Government are for the introduction of conscription.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Markham
I support the request that has just been made for the fullest and frankest statement by the Prime Minister on this point. It was only about three-quarters of an hour ago that I specifically asked the Minister for the Coordination of Defence whether his statement referred to the attested or to the registered men, and he took me back to his original statement that he referred to all concerned. The inference of the House—I think rightly—was that the Government had in preparation plans for the conscription of the man-power of this country in the event of an emergency. As we know from the last War, if you are thinking in terms of the armed Forces alone—and by that term I include the police—you must have military and industrial conscription as regards manpower. There can be no half-way measures, as we found out by experience during the last War. Speaking for myself, I hope that the Government will not leave this matter to be haggled over and boggled over, but will give the House a full-dress Debate at the earliest possible moment.
§ 11.18 p.m.
As I was in a small way responsible for this storm in a teacup, perhaps I might be permitted to explain to the House what I understood from my right hon. Friend's reply. I endeavoured to raise a very small issue, regarding the claims of the Defence Departments as against the claims of the civil Departments in appealing for man-power in times of peace. I understood my right 1794 hon. Friend to explain that if certain young men had offered their services to the civil Departments in times of peace, the Government of the day, when war broke out, must of their own accord, in accordance with the view of the House of Commons, as expressed on that occasion, be free to review the position of those men, in view of the situation facing the country at the time.
§ 11.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the way in which he reproved me for not having accepted his original statement and told me when I repeated it that he had tried to make it as plain as he could. He went a great deal further than the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is like the greyhound who has bitten the electric hare that he was supposed to be chasing. He is beginning to regret the position in which he has placed his right hon. Friend. I merely want to ask the right hon. Gentleman one specific question, and so that there may be no misunderstanding I shall ask it in one sentence: In "age and capacity" does the right hon. Gentleman include ability as a munition worker?
§ 11.20 p.m.
I would ask the Minister to reconsider the position from the point of view that, if plans are completed with regard to even one or two sections of defence which affect the civil population, those schemes should be placed before the House. I am sure that not only the Minister himself but his right hon. and hon. Friends, despite the continued support of the Noble Lord who still retains one Government position at least, must feel very uneasy. As representing very important sections of the community, I think the Minister should understand that, if there are plans complete, if he has definite policies with regard to the coordination of certain defences that affect particular sections of the community, it is his duty to lay those plans before the people affected by them. It is wrong for the Minister, in order to vindicate his own position, to say, in view of the criticism that comes from his own side, that schemes are complete, and then, when those schemes are inquired into to ascertain the rights of the people, to say that they will only come up in time of emergency. I think it is felt in all quarters 1795 of the House that schemes which will affect the lives of these people ought to take in the entire resources of the community, and I do not think that the House of Commons will tolerate part-time schemes affecting only particular sections.
I am sure that the news that Members have received to-night has come as a great surprise. If any plans are completed, what is the real reason for not detailing them? I think we should have a reply on this part of the policy with regard to labour, and I would ask the Minister for a reply on that point. If he does not intend to reply, he might ask the Patronage Secretary on behalf of the Government at least to give us some inkling of the Government's plans. I am chiefly concerned with Scotland, and the way in which the Minister's plans affect the Scottish people. If the Minister thinks that he can come forward at the last moment with some scheme about which no one knows anything, and which no one on the Front Government Bench can amplify, and that it will be as accepted immediately by Scottish workers, he is making a great mistake. It is bad management for any Minister to believe that he can come forward at the last moment with proposals such as that and put them before the workers of this country.
As one who is anxious to see the Minister making progress, who desires to see the true co-ordination of all our efforts in one Minister capable of that particular job, I would ask the Minister to tell us what he intends to do in future. I do not think it is right that on a question such as this we should receive the statement we have had from the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman has been very good in stonewalling on this particular subject. It may be good Parliamentary tactics for Ministers of other Departments to stonewall Opposition criticism, but I suggest that it is not good Parliamentary tactics and not good patriotism, that the Minister, despite continual requests from all sections in the House, should stonewall and give very inadequate replies. I would ask the Minister to consider, in view of to-night's Debate, coming forward honestly and straightforwardly. I believe his difficulty is that he is an honest man trying to do his best in the company he 1796 is in. I believe his intentions are good, but that he is pulled this way and that, and that he is afraid of making a definite statement. I ask him to forget the chiefs of staff and the surroundings he is in, and say, "Here am I, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, these Members, representing many constituents, are entitled to a fair statement of the Government's policy, and I am going to tell them honestly what the policy is"; or what I believe to be more to the point, that he should tell us that the Government have no policy.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Boyce
It would be entirely misleading to the country if it went from this House to-night that my right hon. Friend has made any important pronouncement in regard to conscription. The alarm that hon. Members opposite are trying to engineer—it has been obvious to everybody who has listened to the Debate—has been a false alarm from start to finish. The Prime Minister has said categorically that we shall not have conscription in this country in time of peace. Lord Baldwin said that in the event of war we might have to pass legislation which would give us some form of conscription. We have been reminded by hon. Members opposite that Lord Baldwin said that the form of conscription might have to be on a broader basis than in the late War, when we were forced to have conscription.
All that my right hon. Friend has said to-night is that he is getting on with his job and considering what forms of legislation will be necessary in the event of this country going to war. The suggestion that the country is going to be alarmed to-morrow because the right hon. Gentleman has said that he is getting on with his job and doing what Lord Baldwin said would have to be done, and what our present Prime Minister has said would have to be done, namely to give consideration to these different forms of legislation— such a suggestion as that is utterly fantastic.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'Clock.