§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is a week since I announced that the Government felt themselves compelled to introduce a limited and temporary Measure of compulsory military training. The following day we had a Debate on a Motion put down by the Government, which was carried by a very large majority. Since then there has been some opportunity of estimating reactions both at home and abroad to the announcement that I made. I expressed the view that while we must all recognise that that announcement would arouse those fears and suspicions which in many minds have long been associated with the idea of conscription, nevertheless it would be found, when the Government proposals were subjected to careful study, that we had made a great effort, and, I thought, we had gone a long way, towards providing safeguards and limitations which should set to rest those fears and doubts. As far as I can judge from such evidence as has come to me from different parts of the country, that view has been confirmed and the reasons which I adduced for the Government's decision have, I think, on the whole been recognised as sound and warrantable. Such inquiries as have been made and such anxieties as have been expressed have, broadly speaking, been directed more to the details of the Measure and the method by which it is to be carried out than to the principles of the Measure itself. On the other hand, there can be no possible manner of doubt that the determination of the British people to put themselves in a position fully to carry out the undertakings which have been given, as evidenced by this great departure from our old traditions, has created the profoundest effect all over Europe. Those doubts to which I alluded as to the seriousness of our intentions to put our Defence Forces into the utmost state of preparedness in order to preserve the safety of the country and to make good those undertakings have been removed, and to that extent the action of the 2096 Government in coming to this decision has, I submit, been fully justified.
To-day I am moving the Second Reading of the Bill which has been drafted to carry the decision of the Government into operation. We shall have a full Debate on the subject, for which two days are being given, and there will be other speakers on the Government side who will be able to deal with various aspects of the Measure. Accordingly, I am not proposing to go into any great detail into the Clauses of the Bill, but I want to say something about certain features of the Bill which, I think, require special emphasis. I will first say something about the numbers which are affected by our proposals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, in the Debate on the Motion a week ago, confirmed that the gross figure that I gave of the numbers of men between the ages of 20 and 21 who will come under the Bill would be 310,000. From that, of course, there are certain deductions to be made for various reasons, but the conclusion at which we arrive is that there will probably be available for compulsory training a number in the neighbourhood of 200,000. That is the number for the present year. As the House will have seen, the Bill is to be operative in the absence of further action by the Government for a period of three years. In the second and third years the number between those ages who will come under the Bill will be greater than in the present year owing to the well-known bulge in the birth rate at a corresponding period some time ago. If the Bill runs for the full term we anticipate that it will give us in the neighbourhood of 800,000 men altogether.
Under the first Clause of the Bill it will be seen that it applies to every male British subject of the requisite age who is not ordinarily residing in one of the Dominions or Colonies or Mandated Territories. Under Clause 2 there are a number of exemptions, which include the members of the Regular forces and those members of the Auxiliary and Reserve forces who enlisted before 27th April. To them, of course, must be added those who under Clause 4 are found after medical examination not to come up to the standard of physical fitness required. I do not give any figure for these exemptions. It must be a matter of guesswork 2097 at present, but we have, of course, formed our estimates and they have been included in the deductions which brought the gross figure down to the net figure which I mentioned to the House just now.
There is one class of exemption which is of particular importance and which is the subject of special treatment. I mean that of the conscientious objectors, who are provided for in Clause 3. I believe it will be generally agreed that we have dealt with this particular class of exemptions in a broad-minded manner. They constitute a class which must necessarily always present great difficulties. We all recognise that there are people who have perfectly genuine and very deep-seated scruples on the subject of military service, and even if we do not agree with those scruples at any rate we can respect them if they are honestly held. But there is a great variation in the way in which people are affected by scruples of this kind. There is the most extreme case, where a man feels it his duty to do nothing even to aid or comfort those who are engaged in military operations, although it may well be that those military operations have been forced upon us by the aggression of some other country. Probably that is the smallest of all classes of conscientious objectors. But it often happens that those who hold the most extreme opinions hold them with the greatest tenacity. We learned something about this in the Great War, and 1 think we found that it was both a useless and an exasperating waste of time and effort to attempt to force such people to act in a manner which was contrary to their principles.
Then there is another category, who take a less extreme view. They take the strongest exception to being connected directly or indirectly with the military forces or to having anything to do with military service, but at the same time they are anxious to make it clear that they are not less patriotic than their fellow citizens, and not less anxious to bear burdens and sacrifices for the national cause, although they cannot accept them in one particular form. They will therefore be glad, provided that their scruples are not infringed, to undertake work which could be represented as work of national importance, although not connected directly or indirectly with military service.
2098 Then, again, there is another category still less extreme. Their view is that they are not prepared to put themselves in a position where they might be called upon to take life, but they have no objection, on the contrary they are eager and anxious, to do their share in saving life. They do not want to be left out altogether; they do not even want to be left out of the military forces, provided that their work in the military forces can be confined to non-combatant duties. They, therefore, are ready to serve in such bodies as the Royal Army Medical Corps, and in operations like mine-sweeping. Then there are lastly those, very few in number I think, who are really shirkers and who would take advantage of exemptions of this kind to avoid a duty which lies upon every citizen of the country. I should anticipate that the temptations to take advantage of such provisions as there may be in the Bill by people of the kind I have mentioned will be much less than they were in the Great War, because we are not now saying that a man who is called upon to undertake this training shall shortly be sent overseas and much less that he shall be required to fight in the trenches; all that is in question here is a comparatively short period of compulsory training, and because of that diminution in the risks which attach to those who are called up one may anticipate, I think, that the number of those who seek to abuse the privileges will be very small. But I must mention them because they are a possibility that cannot be excluded and nothing would give rise to greater resentment amongst those who are doing their duty, than that they should be accepting burdens and sacrifices while others were permitted to evade them merely by making false statements.
All these various categories that I have enumerated are dealt with under Clause 3. It will be seen that anyone who is a conscientious objector, whichever class he may fall into, has first of all to make an application to be put upon a special register. He then goes before a local tribunal and that tribunal assigns him to the appropriate category. It will be seen in Sub-section (5) of Clause 3 that there are three different categories to which such an individual may be assigned. He may be finally registered in the register of conscientious objectors without any conditions at all. That is the most extreme case I mentioned. Or, again, he 2099 may be conditionally registered, the condition being that he must do some work of national importance as laid down by the tribunal. Then, again, there is the third case, where a man is registered in the military training register but is assigned to duties which are of a non-combatant character.
§ The Prime Minister
It is the local tribunal which will have to assign him to the particular category. It is only after he has been before the local tribunal that it will be decided whether or not he is to go into that category which is unconditional. If he is dissatisfied with the decision of the local tribunal he can go to the appellate tribunal which is provided for later in Sub-section (8) of the same Clause.
§ Mr. Lansbury
In the case of the men who are absolutists, if the tribunal decides to put them on the register of conscientious objectors can that decision be upset by orders or suggestions from the Minister to the tribunal, that is to say under the regulations?
§ The Prime Minister
Not under the regulations. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at Sub-section (8) he will see that the Minister, if he considers it necessary, may appeal to the appellate tribunal.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I understand that, but once the matter is settled, after the appeal or before, once he is on the register is he free of any interference from the military or anyone else?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, Sir. The decision of the local tribunal, if there is no appeal, or the decision of the appellate tribunal if the man has gone to the appellate tribunal, is final. That is provided in Sub-section (9). Once that decision has been taken the man is free and there is no further interference.
§ Mr. Silverman
Am I right in supposing that there is no absolute right of appeal from the decision of the local tribunal but only a conditional right of appeal?
§ The Prime Minister
I think that these things really are quite clear. I would 2100 refer the hon. Member to the proviso to Sub-section (8), which says:Provided that if the decision of the local tribunal is unanimous, the applicant shall not be entitled to appeal to the appellate tribunal except with the leave of the local or the appellate tribunal.I think it will be clear that a great responsibility in this matter attaches to the local tribunal. Therefore, special care will have to be taken in choosing those who are to sit upon these tribunals. We can lay down the general line on which we want the tribunals to proceed, but it is impossible to do more than that in a general way, and the particular circumstances of each individual must be investigated and judged by the local tribunal before it is possible to decide into which of the categories, if any, that individual ought to be allocated. I want to make it clear here that in the view of the Government, where scruples are conscientiously held we desire that they should be respected and that there should be no persecution of those who hold them. All we have to do is to see that they are not abused, and to try to provide for these special cases of people who are not prepared to undertake the ordinary combatant service but wish to do national service of one kind or another.
Now let me refer for a moment to the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies the Bill. In paragraph 18 of the Memorandum it is stated that:During the initial period of continuous military training the man will be clothed, fed and accommodated from military sources. His pay and conditions of service during the initial period of continuous training and the subsequent period of service in the militia or auxiliary forces will be governed by regulations to be issued in due coarse. Provision will also be made for the payment of special allowances in case of need to wives and dependants.I have no doubt hon. Members have observed that this question of pay and allowances is not dealt with in the Bill itself. If they will look at Clause 5 (2) they will see that persons who are called up are deemed to have been duly enlisted as militiamen under Section 30 of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907. That Act gives power to enlist into the first class of the Army Reserve, of which the Territorial Force forms a part. Under the Reserve Forces Act, 1882, His Majesty may, by order, signified under the hand of the Secretary of State, fix 2101 the pay of the Army Reserve, and it is in that way that the pay and allowances will be put into force.
The House would like to know what are the intentions of the Government in respect of pay and allowances and, therefore, I propose to give a short account. The first thing that I would lay down is that all those who are called up for compulsory military training should in this matter be treated exactly the same. There is equality of service, and we feel that it is equally essential that there should be equality of treatment. Therefore, during the initial period of six months during which they will be undergoing their training they will receive is. per day, without any addition for rank or trade. That is will not be subject to any stoppages. [Laughter.] Well, everybody knows that there are stoppages from the pay of those who are serving in the Regular and Auxiliary Forces, so I thought it necessary to say that there would be no stoppages. When they pass to the three and a half years service in the Auxiliary Forces, the conditions there will have to be determined by regulations, which will be issued in due course, and I am not in a position to give an exact account of them at this moment, but I would say that once he has joined the Auxiliary Forces his pay and allowances will be exactly the same as those of the volunteer members of the Force. There will be no distinction.
In the paragraph in the Financial Memorandum which I have quoted, it is stated that provision will be made for the payment of special allowances in case of need to wives and dependants. In the case of allowances to dependants, which, if they were granted, would be at the rate of 17s. a week for total dependancy and 12s. a week for partial dependancy, it is clear that these should only be paid where the need for them was established. Detailed regulations will be published later, giving full particulars. The case of the wife is, we feel, in a somewhat different category from that of the dependant who is not a wife. We are dealing here with very young men, and I have no reason to suppose that the proportion of married among them will be very high; nevertheless, the fact that a man or a boy of 20 has a wife puts him in a different position from the boy who is unmarried. Consequently, 2102 we propose that in such cases the man shall be entitled, as of right, to an allowance of 17s. for the wife, with the customary additional allowances for any children that there may be of the marriage.
That raises another difficult point, because in the case of the Regular and Auxiliary Forces in all Services, the age at which the family allowance has been given has hitherto been considerably higher than that of these new Militia men. It seemed to us that it would be very difficult to maintain the position where you would have two men serving in the same Force with different ages at which family allowances would be payable. We feel that this is a position which must be met and, accordingly, we shall take steps to meet it by reducing the age at which marriage allowances will be payable in the case of men in the Regular and Auxiliary Forces to 20 from a date later in the year which will be announced.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
Before we leave the question of pay, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the House of Commons is to be asked to pass the Bill and give power to the Government to call up these men, without having any effective means of checking over and approving the rates of pay that he has stated to-day?
§ The Prime Minister
There will be opportunity when they can be debated, but that will not arise on this Bill.
§ The Prime Minister
I have explained why. I have given the House the information. It will be debated on another occasion.
I turn now to Clause 6, which deals with the reinstatement in civil employment of a person who has been called up for service and has finished his training. The House will recognise that the provisions of this Bill are bound to cause a great deal of inconvenience to employers; but we feel that employers generally recognise that they have a patriotic duty in this matter, and that even at the cost of inconvenience to themselves it is right that they should do everything that, is humanly possible to see that the man does not incur the loss of his employment by reason of the call that has been made upon him by the nation. It is not an easy matter to deal with, but in Clause 6 2103 we have made a try. It has been made perfectly clear in that Clause that, whilst we have put in such safeguards as we thought necessary for employers who would be willing and anxious to do their duty, but whose circumstances might have so changed that they could not completely fulfil the obligation, there are heavy penalties provided for those who take ad vantage of the fact that the man has gone away, fill his place, and then refuse him the same or similar employment when he comes back. This Clause is one which has been received with a great deal of satisfaction in the country—
§ The Prime Minister
—I say, yes, and I think I can speak for the country. A great deal of anxiety has been expressed, very naturally and very widely, as to the possibilities of loss of employment on the part of those who are called up, and it is generally recognised that here the Government have made an honest effort to deal with that particular matter.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan
Who takes the action? Is the man himself, the aggrieved person, to institute the action, or is he to have extra legal facilities made available to him?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think this is the occasion to discuss a question which is, obviously, one that might well be brought up in Committee. I can assure the House that the Government are anxious to have the co-operation of the whole House in approving this Bill, wherever possible, and if the various provisions that we have set down can be improved by suggestions from any part of the House I can say at once that we shall be only too glad to receive and, if possible, accept those suggestions. The House will appreciate the importance of Clause 7. We are anxious as quickly as possible to put the provisions of the Bill into operation, and this is a Clause which will give simplification of procedure by which the Service Departments can obtain the possession of land within a comparatively short time.
I do not think I need detain the House by discussing the Clauses which follow, until I come to Clause 15, the effect of which is to provide that: 2104His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that this Act shall extend to Northern Ireland and to the Isle of Man, subject to such modifications and adaptations as may be specified in the Order.It is necessary that that procedure should be adopted, because the Act could not be extended to Northern Ireland without certain adjustments in order to make it administratively practicable. It was, of course, apparent from the first that in the application of this Act to Ireland there were special difficulties which did not arise in this part of the United Kingdom. Accordingly, the Government asked the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Craigavon, to come over and discuss the matter with them. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, and it would be the natural course to apply to Northern Ireland the same Measure that we were applying to England, Scotland and Wales. Moreover, the people of Northern Ireland are above all loyal to the Crown and to the connection with the rest of the United Kingdom, and nothing would cause so much resentment in Ulster as the suggestion that they should in any way be relieved of burdens or of sacrifices which were being borne by their fellow citizens over here.
When I saw Lord Craigavon on this matter, he vehemently asserted that position, but, on the other hand, he said just as firmly that in his opinion nothing ought to stand in the way of the unity of the country in this matter, and that he was anxious that nothing should happen which could be exploited by people who were not friendly to ourselves. Therefore, while he told me that the whole resources of Ulster were at the disposal of the Crown, in this matter as always, and that Ulster was most anxious to help in any way which would be of most assistance to His Majesty's Government in carrying out this measure, he stated that he would desire to leave the ultimate decision of what should be done in the hands of His Majesty's Government. We warmly welcome this attitude on the part of Lord Craigavon and his Government, an attitude which is inspired by the purest kind of patriotism. In asking us to make this decision, he has put upon our shoulders a heavy responsibility, but it is one which we are not going to shirk. In our view, it is of paramount importance that we should not permit differences which funda- 2105 mentally arise from circumstances having nothing to do with the question of National Defence to distract our attention or to impair the efficiency of this country at this time.
Therefore, we have decided that this Bill shall not be extended to Northern Ireland, and we propose to amend Clause 15 in Committee accordingly. We are convinced that that spirit which animated Lord Craigavon in making that communication to us will be found to provide from Northern Ireland no smaller a contribution—[Interruption.] To stimulate and to give scope to the loyalism of Northern Ireland, we have decided—[Interruption] May I appeal for order, Mr. Speaker? I cannot make myself heard.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry that I should have had to make an appeal for a fair hearing for the Prime Minister. It is quite contrary to the traditions of this House that a Prime Minister should not be allowed to speak without having to appeal for a fair hearing.
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. I want to ask whether the Prime Minister, in making such a declaration about Northern Ireland, is not casting a slight on Scotland, Wales, and England?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of Order. It is not a matter for me to decide. Those questions can be raised in the Debate, and there will be plenty of opportunity for dealing with them as the Debate proceeds.
§ The Prime Minister
I was attempting to say that, in addition to the existing volunteer units in Northern Ireland, it has been decided to re-constitute the North Irish Horse on a Supplementary Reserve basis in Northern Ireland, in the form of a Light Tank Unit of the Royal Armoured Corps. I believe that that is an announcement which will give great satisfaction throughout Northern Ireland.
I will not try the patience of hon. Members opposite more than a minute longer. I am afraid that on the last occasion when I made an appeal to them, I did not succeed in softening their hearts. All the same, I am going to make a further appeal. The principle of this Bill has now already been accepted. There are, no doubt, many important questions raised in the Bill, questions of detail on which hon. Members in all parts of the House may 2106 desire to make suggestions or criticisms. What I want to plead for is this, that the sooner we can get this Bill through, the sooner we can assure the safety of the country, and the greater will be the effect on public opinion in different directions and in different countries in Europe. I hope, therefore, that all hon. Members of the House, remembering the assurance that I gave that we are ready to give sympathetic consideration to any suggestions which may tend to improve the Bill, will see to it that there is no unnecessary discussion and that, while giving due consideration to points raised which ought to be discussed, they will remember that it is desirable, in the interests of the country, that this Bill, once introduced, should be passed into law as soon as possible.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:whilst resolutely determined to take all necessary steps to defend the country and to fulfil its international obligations, and confident that the necessary man-power can be provided by voluntary recruitment, this House regrets that His Majesty's Government, having grossly mismanaged foreign policy, exhibited grave incompetence in organising the national resources for defence, and failed to limit profits or prevent the amassing of large fortunes, have now, in violation of repeated pledges, introduced a measure of conscription.I would wish to call the attention of the House very specially to the opening words of this Amendment, in which we declare that we are prepared to take the necessary steps for the defence of the country, but in which we also declare that the necessary man-power can be provided by voluntary recruitment, even in the less loyal portions of the United Kingdom to which most of us belong. I am going to attempt to give reasons for the statement that this problem could have been met by voluntary recruitment, and I am going to enter into arguments with which the Prime Minister has not dealt, because I notice that he said not a word to-day about the military results of this Bill, and that he said remarkably little about them in his previous explanation. But by its military results the Bill must stand or fall. Therefore, I propose to subject to some examination the military results which this Bill will give, and to compare them with the military results which could have been secured by the voluntary system.
2107 I say that the voluntary system, even with a longer period in camp, would have provided the men that we require, and this will not be doubted by any Member of this House who has visited any of the drill halls in London during the last week. I went on Friday to a drill hall in Islington, a rather dreary looking place outside, in a rather dreary and poor neighbourhood, but it was busy, active, and cheerful inside with young men, very poor men, thronging to queue up to join the Territorial Army, men with not very good physique, men who nevertheless were willing to give voluntary service, because they believe it is needed, to a country which has not been over generous in the way in which it has treated them. When I saw that picture I was more convinced than ever that there was no need for conscription in Great Britain, and I would refer the House to the figures, which were issued by the War Office three days ago, of the recruiting under the voluntary system in the last month, the month of April. I find that in the first three weeks of April the number of recruits was 37,000. In the last week in April, when men realised that men were needed, the number suddenly sprang up to 47,000, an increase of 400 per cent. in one week, and those are the men whom you want to turn into conscripts. At the present rate of voluntary recruiting the new enlarged, extended second-line Territorial Force will be full up within the next three weeks, and if you went on and appealed for more, you could duplicate it again and you could duplicate it again. There are indefinite numbers of men who could be obtained by the voluntary system.
I know the argument which the Secretary of State has used, that at present these men spend only two weeks in camp each year, making two months during their period of service. The Government have made no attempt to prove that if they had asked for a longer period in camp the system would have broken down. It has been taken for granted that we cannot get a voluntary system under which we ask men to spend three, four or six months in camp. The Government have been misled by the comparison with the conscription on the Continent. There conscription is a very different matter. It lasts for two years, but only the first few months are spent 2108 in training and after that the work is mere repetition. All the rest of the 18 or 20 months the young men are just kept there, because that is how Continental countries maintain standing armies.
The Secretary of State has often pointed out that we do not want a standing army of that sort. Requiring an army which has to go abroad for four or five years we could not fill it in that way. All we require in addition to our standing army is that a sufficient number of the young men of this country should be willing to go to camp, while remaining civilians, for a period which we can put at six months as the maximum, and which is put by many War Office authorities at four months, and by some, at even three months. To introduce this enormous elaboration, the Continental system of conscription, for the sake of inducing young men to go to camp for from three to six months a year is really like taking a steam-hammer to crack a nut.
The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), in speaking the other day, made an offer to the Government on behalf of his colleagues in the trade unions. He said to the Prime Minister, "If you wanted the men why did you not come to us, and we would have used our influence to induce them to take part in the voluntary system?" I say, especially in view of what the Prime Minister has just told us, that if we went to the young men of this country and asked them to go to camp just once for this very short time, with their jobs guaranteed, with decent and reasonable pay allowances, with their rents, their mortgages and their insurances guaranteed, and with no loss of their prospects in civilian life—if that had been done, what right have the Government to say that the young men of this country are any less loyal and patriotic and responsive than the young men of Northern Ireland? I have no doubt in my own mind that he would have obtained so many men by that method that it would have been difficult to keep them out; some of those in the reserved occupations would have wanted to come in. It is clear that the Government are open to our indictment that they have adopted conscription without attempting to see whether the voluntary system has, in reality, broken down.
That is an argument on the general position, a long-term argument, and I 2109 do not believe that if we look at the matter in that way there is any proof that conscription will ever be necessary in this country at all—ever. But I noted what the Prime Minister said. He is not considering long-term conscription. I am not so sure that some of his followers behind him are not considering it. I think they are, and I am bound to say that if they are considering it, we cannot be reassured by the mere fact that the Prime Minister is not considering it, because that section of his followers behind him have, step by step, dominated his policy, although they have not been included when the natural distribution of promotions and awards has taken place.
However, the Prime Minister says that this scheme is a limited and temporary measure, and, therefore, I will examine what I will call its short-term results, and will compare those short-term results with the results given by the voluntary system. I agree that probably we are now passing through the period of maximum danger and that if we avoid a catastrophe during the next six to nine months, before the end of the year, it is very probable that the tension in Europe may then relapse. Therefore, the next six to nine months is the period on which it is wise for us at the moment to concentrate attention. The scheme will give us, according to the figures of the Prime Minister, 200,000 men in six months, or some little longer period.
§ Mr. Denman
It is very important that we should get the figure right. The Prime Minister gave the gross figure of 310,000 in the course of this year. Is it not the fact that on the date of the passing of this Bill there will be an age-group of 310,000 upon which to draw, and that on every subsequent day there will come into that group something between 800 and 900, so that the total in the first year will be much greater than 310,00f I have not understood the position aright I think we ought to be told what it is.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
My belief is that the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) has not understood the Bill. My understanding is that there is a gross figure of 310,000 men who come within the age group during the year, but after deductions to provide for all manner of different cases we shall be finally left with a net figure of 200,000 available for 2110 military service. What is the alternative of the voluntary system? As soon as the Territorials expansion scheme is completed, in about three weeks, we shall have 420,000 Territorials; and beyond that there will be the indefinite numbers who will come in after the next three weeks if the appeal is continued. In addition there are the men who have left the Territorials in the last few years. I may say that the figures I am giving are not figures which I have got by questions in this House, they are figures which I have worked out myself, but I do not think they are very far from being accurate.
In the last five years 120,000 men have left the Territorials, and while they may have forgotten a little of what they learned, they are still well-trained men. In addition, there are another 250,000 who have been in the Territorials and are still under 40 years of age. After a refresher course they would have much of their old military value. That gives 370,000 men trained in the Territorial Army available for your reservoir for this Territorial appeal. Add these 370,000 to the 420,000 who will be in the Territorials in three weeks' time and it gives a total figure of 790,000—almost 800,000—in addition to the indefinite number of men who are not yet in the Territorials but who would join them as a result of an appeal. If we had gone to those 800,000 men—and there is the indefinite number beyond—and asked how many would go into camp, under all the advantages and safeguards which I have described, who would say that we should not have otbained more than the 200,000 men for which the Bill provides? And, let it be noted, since a large proportion of them are trained men they would have been ready earlier than the six months which the Government scheme requires for training—in fact, as we have not yet go the Ministry of Supply, they would have been ready so early that the Government would not have been able to equip them.
Although the Prime Minister asked us to regard this Bill as a limited and temporary Measure I say that there is no proof that it does not give us worse results than would have been obtained by the alternative system which we on this side are putting before the House. There is no military case for this Bill. It is a mere surrender by the Government to those doctrinaire conscriptionists in the 2111 Conservative party who for years have believed in and asked for compulsion for compulsion's sake. I have given this argument because I say that we have the expert authority behind us. The Government scheme is an amateur scheme. I believe that the two men who are the greatest authorities on the subject are against the Government and for our view. Sir Auckland Geddes had more to do with the organisation of man-power at the time of the last War than anyone in the Government and he is against the Bill. He was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. In addition to that there is that military expert who is more frequently quoted in this House than any other military expert—
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
—who, I would say, had more influence in inducing this House to set up the Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence than anybody else—that military authority, the "Times" military correspondent, also takes our view. I would point out to the House one feature of the Bill in which, I think, the War Office is greatly misleading the Territorial Army. If this Bill continues for more than three years and if this becomes anything like a permanent institution, I am sure you will find that the voluntary system and conscription cannot live side by side. The War Office has issued a statement reassuring the Territorial Army and saying that they will be given the fullest protection in the years to come, but what is the position? What will be their problem in the years to come? Of course they will, for a long time, have these men of over 20 who are coming in now, but in the long run the Territorial Army must depend upon those who have lately left school, upon the young men of 18 and over, who join up.
If this Bill becomes permanent, what will their attitude be? Why should any young man of 18 volunteer for the Territorials knowing that when he is 20 he will be a conscript, and that for four years after he will be compelled to be in the Territorials unless he goes into the Special Reserve? [Hon. Members: "No!"] Yes, for four years—or 3½ years—he will have to be in the Territorials or the Special Reserve. Under 2112 those conditions, the only men under 20 who will join the Territorials will be those who know that by joining under the age of 20, they cut down their period of service as compulsory Territorials afterwards. Who then will be left in the Territorial Army? Only those who have served their four years and who remain on because of their enthusiasm, and probably a number of non-commissioned officers. But it is clear if we look forward to the consequences of the Bill, that the vast majority of the Territorial Army will be pressed men. This Bill, unless it comes to an end in three years, signs the death warrant of the Territorial Army, as it has been known until to-day.
I have complained that the Prime Minister said very little about the military consequences of the Bill. I claim that, unless some reply is given to the figures which have been cited, it is clear that the military results of the Bill will be far less than those which the voluntary system would provide. The Prime Minister based the greater part of his argument not upon any military value in the Bill, but upon the fact that it is to be a kind of large diplomatic gesture to the various countries in Europe, and particularly to our allies in France. I must say something about the extent to which it is necessary to give way to our allies in France. They have many qualities, but I do not think anyone will deny that they have never appreciated the contribution which we would make to a combined war. I quoted in a previous speech "The Life of Sir Henry Wilson," in which we are told that at the beginning of the War, Marshal Joffre and General Castelnau informed him in conversation that they regarded the British Navy as not worth one bayonet. Later, Marshal Foch said he was of the same opinion.
What should be done is this: Enter into your conversations with France, discuss with them how many men we must provide, but let them understand what our contribution is. Let them realise, what I believe is the prevailing view in this House, that if there is a war it will probably end by being a war of economic resources. Let them realise the value of the Navy. Let them realise what we contribute in production and in finance, and the fact that an enormous amount of our effort has had to be spent in the building up of the Air- Force, largely, I 2113 am afraid, owing to the unfortunate decline in the French Air Force since the days when they had the strongest in the world. These things I think we shall be entitled to point out. We can then come to some conclusion as to how many men we should provide. But I say that, having come to that conclusion, one thing we ought to insist upon is that upon the point of how we shall provide it, we are entitled to a little self-determination for ourselves.
The Prime Minister gave another reason for adopting this proposal. He said it would remove any doubts as to our seriousness which existed among the smaller nations, of Europe and give them proof of our sincerity. But their suspicions of our sincerity are the price which we are paying for the policy of the Prime Minister. I think it was in yesterday's "Punch" that I saw a cartoon of the Prime Minister representing him in priestly robes, offering up voluntary service, as a sacrifice burning on the altar. I reflected that it would be far better if the Prime Minister offered up himself as a sacrifice and not the heritage and the way of life which we have enjoyed in this country. Before I leave the subject of France may I say there is one feature of the situation on which, I think, it will be necessary to let the French fully understand the possibilities and what we can do. It is very necessary not to mislead them into thinking that more can be done than is possible, because it is perfectly evident that, however many recruits we provide, we cannot guarantee their arrival on any soil outside this country at any early period of the war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air has, no doubt, heard discussions on this subject. Air-Marshal Gossage, who has naturally examined the subject, has come to the conclusion in an official lecture that you could not send an expeditionary force out of this country unless you had first got superiority in the air, and the nearest estimate I have heard is that of Lord Trenchard, who says that that is not likely to be attained in less than 10 weeks. That should be pointed out to the French. During those 10 weeks you would have time during which troops could be trained in the least vulnerable areas. I would like to say a few words about the argument which took place on a previous occasion about the subject of the conscription of wealth and the argument 2114 of the Secretary of State for War that conscription of life is justified because we already have conscription of wealth.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
What a parallel that is. The Prime Minister described to-day what conscription of life means. Conscription of life means that you take men regardless of income—labourers, skilled workmen, prosperous young professional men and others—and you say to them, "For your period of service the State deprives you of your income, whatever it may be." As the Prime Minister says, the State gives them an allowance of a shilling a day, and, as the Prime Minister also says, all will be treated exactly alike. All right. If the conscription of wealth is the same, what does that mean? It would then mean that you would take all the men in the country, whatever capital they own, and say to them, "During this period, the State deprives you of your income from that capital. It will pay you a shilling a day. That will be your experience for six months, and during those six months all shall be treated exactly alike." For the Secretary of State for War to say that that scheme is the same as the Income Tax, and for that statement to be approved by those who sit behind the right hon. Gentleman, is a piece of political sophistry by which we are not taken in.
§ Mr. Petherick
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he proposes, in his application of taxation, to charge everybody in the country precisely the same amount per head?
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
We think we have been very unfairly treated over the pledge of the Prime Minister, repeated less than a month ago. We greatly resent the breach of that pledge, even if it is only for a time, and it makes clear to me the fact that the Government policy proceeds in a series of jerks and nervous spasms, about which we can predict nothing two or three months ahead—"jitters," as one of their own colleagues described it. The Prime Minister gave a pledge on 29th March that he would try out voluntary service to the very end. He introduced conscription on 26th April. Again, we got a statement from the Government that under no conditions would we enter into any 2115 obligations to foreign countries. Within three days we made enormous commitments to Poland, Rumania and Greece. What I notice is that the Government is elbowed out of each position it takes up, sometimes by Herr Hitler, sometimes by Signor Mussoloni and sometimes by our Allies the French. When I see these rapid reversals of decisions, this apparent incapacity to hold any one position for any great length of time, what alarms me is not that we shall not have enough recruits, but the fact that in the hands of the Government we have been getting nearer and nearer to war for months, and that in those hands, if war broke out, our fate would be.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
Before I venture to offer some observations on the principles and details of the Bill I would like to correct one misunderstanding which seems to have arisen, but for which I disclaim any responsibility. I want to make it clear that I make no criticisms of the Prime Minister's act in revising his pledge against conscription; but I say that, subject to this qualification, that I criticise most strongly the procedure which he has adopted, and in particular his failure to consult beforehand the Leaders of the Opposition parties and of organised labour who had responded to his appeal to support the Government in their campaign for voluntary service, a response which was made on the basis of that pledge.
The Prime Minister has so far treated my protests on this ground as though it were a personal matter between himself and me, but the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition last week and of other Members of the Labour party, and leading articles in the "Daily Herald," have clearly shown that his failure to consult us is as much condemned by the Labour party as it is by my hon. Friends and myself. When I say "consultation," I mean real consultation before the decision was reached, and not afterwards. If the Prime Minister answers that such effective consultation is not possible except among Members of the Government, then I answer that it only shows that if the situation is as gravely critical as he represents it and I believe it to be, it is high time that he stopped excluding from his Government all those hon. 2116 Members, whether Liberal, Labour or Conservative, who have been consistent advocates of the foreign policy which His Majesty's Government now profess to be following.
§ Major Milner
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman on a point of Order. I have observed a stranger, not a Member of this House, proceeding through the Division Lobby, and I shall be glad of your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to the course which ought to be adopted. I can, if necessary, give the name. He was accompanying the Secretary of State for Air, a Member for one of the Woolwich Divisions.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
There is no question about it that a stranger has any right to be in the Division Lobby at this moment. I must ask that the Sergeant-at-Arms shall inquire into this matter and find out whether there is any stranger in the Lobby at this moment.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Is it in order for me to continue my speech in the full confidence that the Sergeant-at-Arms has acquired sufficient military training to enable him to deal with the serious situation which the hon. and gallant Member has revealed? I was saying that it was time the Prime Minister did not continue to exclude from his Government all those who have been consistent advocates of the policy which he professes to be following, and that he broadened the basis of his Government. Not until he does so will national unity be established on the issues which are now under discussion or on others. But I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in what he said last week that considerations of national safety must override any pledges given by the Prime Minister when the ordinary method of release, a General Election, is, for practical purposes, admitted to be unavailable. It is only on the question of procedure, in this instance a highly-important and significant question, and not on the fact of the revision of the pledge that I have in the past, and shall in the future, criticise the Prime Minister.
I should not have thought it necessary to make this point so plain if it had not been for the attack which the Secretary 2117 of State for War made on me at the end of the Debate last week. I hope that nobody will think that I resent the right hon. Gentleman's attack. He bears heavy responsibilities cheerfully and he works hard, and I do not grudge him any little enjoyment that comes his way, even though it be at my own expense. Moreover, he is a pastmaster of a style of oratory which is particularly well adapted to winding up a Debate late at night, and in which no one would have the hardihood to compete with him who has not enjoyed the advantage of a period of training in the Oxford Union. But these are serious matters, and I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House that his attack on me was based on three errors, one of fact, one of quotation and one of inference. The passage which the right hon. Gentleman quoted from my speech of 3rd April was:I believe in voluntary service … but if the Government, with their incomparable sources of information, reach a different conclusion, it would be unforgivable if they refrained from political motives … from telling the House and the country the truth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1939; col. 2498, Vol. 345.]Why did the right hon. Gentleman omit the words after "motives":as they did long after they knew that rearmament was necessary.Was it to spare the time of the House? Or was it a typist's error? Or was it because it might have spoiled the effect of the quotation? I stand by every word of it. It is not overstated by one jot, but the right hon. Gentleman could produce his effect only by contrasting it with my alleged references in a derogatory sense to the pledge of the Prime Minister. I sat here cudgelling my brains and wondering whether I had inadvertently used any language which might bear that construction. There was the right hon. Gentleman's error of fact. I did not use such language. I have reread my speech closely and there is no such reference, or any language which bears any such construction.
Lastly is the error of inference, which was that the words entitled him to claim my support in the Division Lobby. Of course, I said that if the Prime Minister reached certain decisions he should inform Parliament, but this House is not yet an institution like the Reichstag, to register the degrees of the Executive. It 2118 is a dangerous and undemocratic doctrine that a Government must assure itself in advance of the support of the Opposition before it can embark upon a policy which may prove to be unpopular. When the Prime Minister thought it necessary to ask release from his conscription pledge, he should first have consulted the representatives of those to whom he gave it, and he should then have put the case, as he did, to Parliament. Responsibility rests with hon. Members of this House, and each of us must exercise, as I did last week, independent judgment on the case submitted to us. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman could hardly have fallen into this error of interpretation but for his omission from my speech of the reference to rearmament. My attitude on all matters connected with Defence is the same, that I will not give to a Government I distrust a blank cheque. Therefore, I voted against the Government's rearmament White Papers, but I am willing to consider any concrete proposal which the Government make, and, therefore, I have voted for all the armament Estimates since rearmament began, because I considered that the case for them was proved.
The first question, therefore, for me is: Is the case made out for compulsory military training? I think all Ministers and hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that the case rests on three main arguments, one from moral principle and two others from vital considerations of policy. The argument from moral principle is that it is unjust, when some people are volunteering their service to the country, that their fellow-workers in industry or in the professions, or even idlers with nothing important to do, should be allowed to shirk their duty as citizens. Now in the first place, it seems to me that the proposals of His Majesty's Government offer not even a partial solution of that moral problem. It can be no consolation to men of the age of 21, or 25, or 30 or 35 who have joined the Territorial Army, and who resent the fact that their colleagues in industry or their competitors in the professions are making no comparable sacrifice, to reflect that boys of 20 are being compelled to serve.
The Secretary of State answered that point in his speech last week by saying that boys who are now 19 will be called up next year, and that boys who are now 18 will be called upon the following year, 2119 but that only means that justice will be done in 15 years' or 20 years' time, and that further presupposes that this system of conscription will be permanent, but the Prime Minister tells us that it is temporary, and I suggest that the Government must make up their mind and tell us frankly whether this system is permanent or temporary. After all, the principles of justice are eternal, and it is vain for the Government to argue in one breath that compulsion is the only just system and in the next breath to tell us that it is temporary. No doubt the plan of His Majesty's Government is a compromise between contending factions in the Cabinet. We have an uneasy feeling that all these suggestions that the system is only temporary, which are inconsistent with the arguments of the Prime Minister and of the Secretary of State for War, have been put in to salve the consciences of the dissentient Ministers and to ease the passage of the Bill.
If the Secretary of State is to reply to this Debate, I therefore ask him whether the Government will consider marking this Bill quite definitely as a temporary Measure to last for the period of the emergency by making it, like the Army and Air Force Annual Act, a Measure which has to be renewed annually. I hope that the Government will accept that suggestion but if they refuse it I ask whether they would accept an Amendment bringing the Measure definitely to an end in three years' time; thus throwing upon the Government of that day, if they think such a course necessary and advisable; the duty of introducing fresh legislation before the period of this Measure expires. At least let His Majesty's Government choose whether the Bill is to be justified on the ground of moral principle or whether it is temporary, for they cannot have it both ways.
Now I come to the two main arguments in favour of the Bill from the standpoint of policy. The first is that we cannot otherwise both recruit and train in time the numbers of men we need. The Secretary of State again quoted from my speech of 3rd April on this point—and it is not for me to quarrel with his description of it as a mine of useful information—a passage in which I pointed out that a considerable number of men, limited of 2120 course by the quantity of equipment available, could be trained more rapidly with the Regular Army than with the Territorial Army. I suggested that Militia battalions should be raised, but it is only in regard to nomenclature that he has paid me the compliment of adopting my suggestion, for, of course, I meant that the Militia battalions should be raised by voluntary enlistment, as could easily have been done—it could have been done as easily in England, Scotland and Wales as in Northern Ireland.
Owing, partly, to the response of young men to the country's need, and partly to the improvements effected by the Secretary of State himself in the conditions of service in the Army, recruiting for the Regular Army has been astonishingly good. The right hon. Gentleman told us last week that the Army was still 20,000 men short of establishment, but the establishment has recently been increased, and neither he nor any hon. Member doubts that he will soon fill the ranks of the Regular Army; and for that purpose His Majesty's Government will be relying even after the passing of this Bill on the system of voluntary enlistment. I agree with him, however, that he must do more than that, and I have no doubt that, once he was prepared to recruit men on a short-service enlistment or on the Militia basis without any obligation to serve abroad in peace-time, he would have obtained as many volunteers as he could have equipped
The other argument for this Measure from the standpoint of policy is the need for impressing foreign countries with our willingness to share in the cost and the sacrifices which continued aggression would impose upon the law-abiding and peace-loving nations of the world. I have shown my full appreciation of the force of this consideration in several Debates in this House, and shall presently have something further to say upon it. Meanwhile, let me only say that, if it is on this ground that we are being compelled to acquiesce in the acceptance of a measure of compulsory military training, we are paying the penalty for the Government's weakness and vacillations in foreign policy, and for their failure to counter hostile propaganda in friendly countries, and to impress the world with the scale of the effort we are already making under the voluntary system and with its still unexhausted potentialities.
2121 When I come to the provisions of the Bill itself, let me say frankly to the House that His Majesty's Government seem to have made a real and not unsuccessful effort to produce a fair and workable Measure; and, in particular, the Prime Minister seems to have endeavoured to give substance to his pledge that safeguards and limitations should be introduced into the Bill. Of course, one of the most serious difficulties which must have arisen in drafting the Measure was the question of its application to Northern Ireland. I have been in touch with people closely concerned with the question in that country, and I realise how delicate and difficult it is. It would be rash of me to add a single word to what the Prime Minister has said on the subject here this afternoon, and I would assure the Secretary of State for War that I shall certainly support the solution which His Majesty's Government propose of this very difficult problem.
As regards conscientious objectors, it seems to me that the Government have made a real effort to meet this difficulty also. Certainly the House, and, I am sure, men and women of all parties, will be jealous to safeguard the rights of the truly conscientious objector, and it is particularly satisfactory that the tribunals and committees for dealing with cases of hardship and conscientious objection are to be civilian and not military. It is also valuable that a clear obligation is laid upon employers to take men back after their period of training has expired, but I thought that a very important and practical question was raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), when he asked, in the course of the Prime Minister's speech, how the employé is to insist on this right of reinstatement. Must he have recourse to expensive legal procedure, or could not some special tribunal or committee be set up to adjust such disputes? Again, can the Secretary of State for War give us an assurance even to-night that the position of the apprentice and the student will be safeguarded? The 21st and 22nd, and even the 23rd years are critical years in the life of a student, and an interruption of studies in those years might cause great hardships to students and their parents, who are often very poor, especially in my own country of Scotland, and who 2122 have made great sacrifices for their children's education. I would ask the Government to make it clear that postponement or anticipation of service will be allowed in such cases generously and freely.
There are several other practical suggestions, notably with regard to pay and allowances, which my hon. Friends and I will desire to make at the appropriate stages of these discussions, and we are grateful to the Prime Minister for his assurance that such suggestions and criticisms will be welcome from hon. Members in all parts of the House. In particular, I would ask whether the Government will consider adopting the practice which is, I believe, common in Continental countries, and which certainly exists in France, of exempting the only sons of widows. Moreover, it seems to me to be inconsistent with the concern which His Majesty's Government rightly express about considerations of justice and equality of sacrifice that the whole burden of compulsion should be upon these boys of 20. If Parliament consents to this Measure, it ought most strongly to insist upon the adoption of a compulsory register, so that the burden of compulsory service should be shared by men and women of all ages and of every rank and position. It is one thing, and I think a good thing, to reply on the sense of honour and duty of individuals and on the pressure of a robust and healthy public opinion to furnish the service which the country needs; but if compulsion is to be imposed on any category of people—on boys of 20 as in this case—we must not allow any drones, whether dukes or dustmen, to escape similar obligations.
Following the same line of thought, another vital consideration is, as the Prime Minister himself said last week, that it is repugnant to the general sense of the people that armament profits should be increasingly swollen in this period of emergency, when such heavy sacrifices of valuable time at a critical stage in a man's career are being exacted under this Bill, and when other sacrifices are being freely offered. The Prime Minister declared that definite proposals to meet this point will be laid before Parliament at a very early date, and I would ask the Secretary of State for War, if he is going to reply, whether he would 2123 now be prepared to make that pledge more specific, and to assure us that these proposals will be placed before us in such time as will enable us to legislate upon them before we rise for the autumn Recess.
Further, the Prime Minister told us that in his opinion, with which I agree, it would be generally accepted that, when the safety and lives of the population are at stake, the wealth and resources of individuals must be considered as being held for the common good, and that they should be drawn upon as required. He told us that this problem was under close study with a view to working out a scheme, and here again I would ask the Secretary of State for War, or whoever is going to reply, to make that statement a little more specific. What form of inquiry has been adopted? Is it a Cabinet committee or some other committee? When is the inquiry likely to be finished; and can we be assured that the results will be brought without undue delay before this House for consideration? I agree with the Prime Minister that these matters are of vital importance, and that the country must be convinced that in time of war sacrifices and obligations would be justly shared by all.
I think my argument must have made it abundantly clear to the House that I cannot vote for this Bill, but, in the gravely critical situation in which we now find ourselves, the over-riding consideration actuating us in every word that we speak, every vote that we cast, and every action that we take, must be its effect on the prospect of preserving for our people and for mankind the supreme blessing of peace. I am convinced, as I told the House last week, that the preservation of peace depends at the moment mainly on three things. In the first place, it depends on the strength and moral firmness of this country, and on our ability to impress them in good time on the consciousness of the rulers of other countries. Therefore, it would seem to me to be a grave disservice to peace to aggravate the cleavage of opinion here at home which His Majesty's Government have caused by the adoption of the system of compulsion.
Secondly, the preservation of peace depends upon co-operation between ourselves and other peace-loving nations who 2124 are threatened by aggression. There is no doubt from whom the threat to peace comes. So shrewd, experienced and detached an observer as President Roosevelt sees clearly that it comes from Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini. To preserve peace, they must be convinced that the forces which are opposed to aggression are too strong to be overthrown, and the only way to carry such conviction to their minds is to strengthen co-operation between France, Russia, Great Britain and other nations. But such co-operation must be based on mutual confidence and on the sure knowledge of our friends in Europe that we are willing to make the fullest contribution of which we are capable to the common cause It was still possible to argue last week, and I did argue with conviction, that it ought not to have been impossible for His Majesty's Government to persuade our friends abroad that we could make that contribution on the basis of the voluntary system; but. Parliament having decided last week in favour of compulsion—a decision which has made a profound impression in France, Germany and other countries, not excluding the United States of America—compulsory military service has become—wrongly as I think, but I have to face the fact that it has become—a symbol abroad of British strength and purpose. For these two reasons it seems to me that now to reverse the decision which Parliament reached last week would be to endanger the prospects of peace.
The third condition of preserving peace must be to convince the German and Italian peoples that we have nothing but friendship for them; that we see in their happiness and prosperity, as in that of other nations, the best guarantee of our own; that there is no claim or grievance of theirs that we are unwilling to discuss within the limits of a general settlement, which must, of course, include disarmament and the acceptance of third-party judgments in all disputes; that their internal forms of Government do not concern our foreign policy; that we have no wish to encircle them; but that we want them to join the circle of the nations which uphold peace and order and respect the equality and rights and status of all nations, great and small. The wise policy, therefore, for us to adopt must be threefold—first, to strengthen our defences by 2125 every means in our power; secondly, to achieve the closest possible co-operation with other peace-loving countries in resistance to aggression, for the only alternative to negotiation under the threat of force is to be strong and firm; thirdly, and simultaneously, to do all in our power to support the bold and imaginative lead which President Roosevelt has given us towards a peace conference of all nations to discuss all outstanding claims grievances and disputes, to promote disarmament to increase trade and thus to restore to all mankind the blessings of happiness, prosperity and peace.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill
I was very pleased, like nearly every Member on this side of the House, when the Government decided to introduce a measure of compulsory military training. I put my name down to an Amendment to the Address sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) in favour of a compulsory national register, and I also put my name down not long ago to a Motion which was put on the Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in favour of the immediate mobilisation of all our resources in view of the emergency which we had to face. I think that in present circumstances, in view of the heavy commitments which we have undertaken in the East of Europe, to Poland, to Rumania and to Greece, we cannot fulfil those commitments unless we adopt a Measure such as we are now discussing.
I naturally wish to refer especially to the question with which the Prime Minister dealt in his speech, namely, the application of this Measure to Northern Ireland. I must say some things quite plainly, because I think it is better in this matter that we should speak plainly. The Prime Minister referred a great deal to the loyalty of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. He said that, although he did not propose to impose conscription there, he nevertheless expected no smaller contribution. That is a rather serious thing to say. I hope there will be no smaller contribution; but the considerations which apply as regards voluntary service in the rest of the United Kingdom also apply in Northern Ireland, one man saying, "I will not enlist unless my friend enlists." 2126 I hope that our contribution will be no less, but the Prime Minister has set a hard test.
The Prime Minister stated that this was a very difficult question, but he rather gave the House to understand that he had consulted in regard to it only the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and that the. Prime Minister of Northern Ireland had told him that he was content to leave the matter to the decision of the British Government. The decision lies with no other than the British Government. The imposition of compulsory service in Northern Ireland has nothing whatever to do with the Northern Ireland Government. In the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, under which the Constitution was set up, it is provided that all matters appertaining to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Territorial Army and Defence of the Realm are matters solely for the United Kingdom Government and are entirely outside the purview of the Government of Northern Ireland; so the responsibility can be, and could only be, with the Government of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Government can carry no responsibility whatever for the decision of His Majesty's Government to leave that Province out of compulsory service. It is pretty obvious, when you look at the Bill, that when it was originally drawn, Northern Ireland was included, because Clause I says that subject to the provisions of the Act, every male British subject, not ordinarily resident outside the United Kingdom, shall be registered for military training. That would apply in Northern Ireland. Then, in Clause 15, comes the provision for temporary exemption. The change was, obviously, an eleventh-hour change.
I should like for a moment to ask the House to examine with me the events which occurred. On the day of the announcement by the Prime Minister that compulsory training was to be adopted, the head of the Government of Southern Ireland announced in his Parliament that he was postponing his visit to the United States because of the grave announcement here the day before. The next day the High Commissioner of the Southern Irish Government saw the Prime Minister. Then this Bill was printed, as we have it before us to-day, with Northern Ireland partially in; and not until then did the Prime Minister ask Lord Craigavon to come and see him. It seems, therefore, 2127 as though the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was not even asked about this question for his advice. Although it is entirely a United Kingdom question, surely he was entitled to be asked his views about it. He, apparently, was not asked until after the Bill had been printed in its present form.
Now we have to carry the matter one step further than it stands in the Bill. The day before yesterday, in the Southern, Irish Dail, the head of the Government announced that he was determined that Northern Ireland should be entirely excluded from the Bill. The High Commissioner went over to Dublin and came back yesterday to London and saw the Prime Minister, and to-day the change has been made that Northern Ireland is entirely excluded from the Bill. There can be no doubt whatever that the reasons for the exclusion of Northern Ireland from this Bill are not the reasons which have been given; but that it has been done because the head of another State thought it right and proper to interfere, and has made the British Government change their mind. I said when I began that it was much better to speak plainly, and those are the obvious facts.
Before I go further, I want to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to what, I think, will be a real practical difficulty arising out of the present situation. You will have this situation: that Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, will not be subject to compulsory military service, while the rest of the United Kingdom will. How are you going to prevent an influx into Northern Ireland of young men, young Irishmen in Great Britain, who want to avoid military service? It may be said, "They can go to the Irish Free State." They might prefer to go to Northern Ireland, for this reason: in Northern Ireland the social services and rates of unemployment assistance are exactly the same as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom; and there might lie very considerable attractions to young Irishmen in Britain who wish to avoid service to go to the North of Ireland, and stay there. That will create a very serious social problem in Northern Ireland with which I do not think it ought to be saddled.
Of course, if they go to Northern Ireland they will still be in the United 2128 Kingdom, and I presume they will be liable to be brought back. I suppose we can send escorts to bring them back to Britain, subject to whatever penalties there may be against avoidance of service; but if you do, will you not be creating in Northern Ireland the very difficulty from which you have excluded her before, namely, the difficulty of trying to get a certain section of the Irish population to join up when they do not want to? I seriously suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that this is a matter which deserves careful consideration, and that some safeguard to prevent that situation should be put into the Bill. I said just now that the obvious reason why the Government have come to this decision was the action taken by the head of the Southern Irish Government. The reason given by those who see difficulties, or think there are difficulties, is the minority in Ulster. I suppose they imagine that if conscription were imposed there you would have a section of the population bitterly hostile, violently resisting, that you would have arrests and imprisonments; a state of affairs which would be highly undesirable. In my view that is very greatly exaggerated. If you had gone straight ahead with this thing, I believe it would have been accepted without very great demur. Some of us remember the days when conscription was brought in during the Great War, and there was a time when it was proposed that Ireland should be conscripted. Of course, it was not, but I remember those days very well, and it is my belief, as it was the belief of many people at that time, that the people of Ireland were quite prepared for it at one time. If it had been adopted the whole course of the history of that unhappy country might have been very different, and we might never have had the Irish revolution of 1916.
I want on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends in this House from Ulster to voice a most emphatic protest, and I can-, not help feeling that it will be voiced also by a considerable number of Members in i this House, against the surrender of the Government to the dictates of the head of another Government. The method which has been adopted seems to me exactly analogous to the method to which we have now become accustomed from Herr Hitler. Herr Hitler never ceases to interfere on behalf of what he calls German 2129 minorities in countries that belong to; other people. That is exactly what Mr. de Valera is doing with regard to conscription in Northern Ireland. The analogy is complete, and it seems that the | Government are determined never to do anything to offend Southern Ireland. The truth is—and those of us who know Ireland know well that it is the truth—that the more you give to the Southern Irish the more they demand. You can never buy their friendship by yielding to' threats or to ultimatums.
What return has this country had so far for the most generous Agreement it made with Southern Ireland last year? It has had no return. In that Agreement we gave up points of great strategic importance in the defence of these islands. We gave them over to the control of the | Government of Southern Ireland. What return have we had for that? We have had a statement that, in case of war, Southern Ireland will be neutral, and now we have the unwarranted interference of Southern Ireland in this question of conscription in the United Kingdom. All this opposition to conscription is part of an insidious and incessant propaganda against what is called the partition of Ireland. Everybody knows—some of us have personal recollections—of what took place on that question immediately before the Great War and how the people of Ulster carried through a great fight to maintain' their position in the United Kingdom. They objected then to enter the ambit of a government in the South of Ireland; they object a hundred times more to-day. The anti-British policy pursued by the Southern Irish Government since those days has driven them further apart.
I cannot help feeling that, if the Southern Irish Government had shown a shred of statesmanship on this question of conscription, they might have seen in military service a golden opportunity for healing some of the wounds and assuaging some of the bitterness which exists between the two parties. For better relations we have to look to the young people of the country, and might it not have been a real possibility of accomplishing a better understanding if we had had joined together in the common task of military service to the State, Protestants and Catholics, Anglo-Saxons and Celts sharing common hardships and relaxations? 2130 Might not that possibly have tended to bring together, through better knowledge of each other, those who are now so very far apart? Instead of that, the Southern Irish Government have been intensifying their propaganda. They are carrying on propaganda every day to bring about the end of partition, and it is with the same object that another and more extreme organisation is carrying out in Britain to-day acts of violence and sabotage, and the throwing of bombs. There is one common object both on the part of the Southern Irish Government and also on the part of those responsible for the outrages in this country, and that is the withdrawal of British troops from Ulster.
I will say but one sentence more, and it will be in the nature of a warning. I do not think that anybody in this House will accuse me of being either an alarmist or an extremist, but in the most solemn language that I can command I should like to warn the British Government, and indeed any future British Government that if ever the British troops were to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland, the peace of Ireland would be gravely imperilled. If, with the British Army gone, any attempts were made by the South of Ireland to coerce the North, such action would inevitably precipitate a racial and religious civil war, the consequences of which one shudders to contemplate, and in such a war, if it were ever to arise, this country would inevitably be involved.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I have only four more words to say. The embers are there, and it would not take much to fan them into flame. My hon. Friends and I who represent Northern Ireland seats intend, of course, to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill because we approve of the principle of compulsory military training, but we shall oppose the Amendment, which, I understand, the Government intend to move in the Committee stage to remove Northern Ireland from its ambit.
§ Mr. Buchanan
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I refrained from interrupting the right hon. Member during his speech, and I want to raise the point now. During the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman linked up the Government of the Southern Irish with: 2131 certain outrages that were taking place. [Hon. Members: "No."] I am not unfair, and the right hon. Member will know that I have never been unfair to him in debate. Is it in order for a right hon. Member to reflect upon a Government which is in friendly relationship with this Government, and to link it up with certain movements for which that Government has no responsibility at all? I ask you, Sir, whether it is really in order to imply an attack like that on what is a friendly Government at the present time.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I want to say that I did not myself actually hear the words to which the hon. Member has referred. There are certain reasons why, during the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I was not able to listen attentively to all he said, and I shall be glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say on this matter.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman opposite will find when he reads what I said, that I said anything of the kind. I particularly stated that it was another organisation other than the Southern Irish Government that was carrying out outrages in this country, and I did not for one moment suggest that the Southern Irish Government approved of them.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The right hon. Gentleman linked them together as having the same aims, and, therefore, I take it, the same objects. I do not think that it is fair to a Government who have never associated themselves any more than I have with aims of that kind.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that the matter has been sufficiently disposed of at the moment, and I would only add that, strictly speaking, the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in desiring to raise a point of that sort, should have raised it immediately the words were spoken and not have waited till the end of the speech.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think that the whole House will have listened to the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) 2132 with very considerable regret. It was entirely undesirable that there should have been introduced some of the rather fanatical considerations to which we have just listened. I hope that the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman will not induce hon. Members in other parts of the House to reply in similar strain, because I am sure that no responsible Member of this House wishes to see this controversy obscured by smoke from other fires. I rise, not to follow up the point made by the right hon. Member, but rather to address myself to the merits of the Bill. In December of last year the House discussed a measure for voluntary service, and on that occasion the Labour party and the Government entered into co-operation, on guarantees given by the Government with regard to compulsion, for raising the armed forces of the Crown by means of a joint propaganda. On that occasion I warned my hon. Friends that if they co-operated with the Government in a voluntary service system they would not thereby escape compulsion.
Last December the Government deliberately led this party into a trap. I recall the speech of the Minister of Labour and the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, that the only alternative to compulsion was successful voluntary recruiting. The Labour party said that compulsion was unnecessary, and we gave assurances that we were prepared to cooperate in raising a volunteer Army and we satisfied the Government that we would be able to raise sufficient men to make compulsion unnecessary. It seems to me that the terms of that arrangement involved a trap, because it meant in effect that if we did not prove to be successful recruiting sergeants in the meantime, our policy would result in compulsion at the end of March, but if, on the other hand, we succeeded in being good recruiting sergeants compulsion would be unnecessary. From the point of view of the man who is in the Army it does not seem now to matter very much how he got there. All that the Government, and also some of my hon. Friends, were saying last December was the policeman's warning: "Go quietly. If you do not you will be taken."
We did, in fact, improperly commit ourselves to an undertaking which ought not to have been given, and I regret that 2133 my right hon. Friend based a good deal of his criticism against the Bill on the ground that we had already proved good recruiting sergeants and that if the Government would only withdraw the Bill we would do better still. For the Opposition to take up that line is highly dangerous. We ought not to encourage any recruitment in Great Britain except on certain considerations and reasons, which are at the moment absent. I hope no hon. Member opposite will take exception to the frankness with which I am going to speak. There has been a certain assumption shared by the Government and by the Opposition for some years. On that assumption there has been cooperation between them over rearmament. What was the assumption? I have never heard anyone in any Labour party conference or any Labour leader, industrial or political, say that they would co-operate in preparation for a war the only purpose of which is the defence of British Colonial possessions. I have never heard it said by any responsible body of the Labour party that we are prepared to make sacrifices and incur risks merely for a repetition of 1914–18.
What actually has been said by the Labour movement was that we were prepared to undertake whatever sacrifices were necessary and to make whatever contribution was needed for two purposes; first, the maintenance and the application of the system of collective security, and, secondly, the defence of the liberties of the people of Great Britain; first, the defence of democracy and, secondly, the defence of international law. We have always said at our conferences that we are prepared to find whatever armed forces are necessary for the defence of these two principles. The Government and Members of the Conservative party will pardon me if I speak perfectly frankly. They have never been concerned about collective security, and they have never been primarily concerned with the protection of democracy or British liberties, because they have in the last few years connived at the destruction of two democratic states in Europe. But there was this common assumption between us that Fascism was a menace both to their Colonial wealth and to our liberties; that a new condition of affairs had arisen which distinguished the menace of Germany from the menace of other Powers, and that the difference is that it 2134 is not merely an attempt at a redistribution of the international swag but is also a great movement injurious to the political ambitions of the party opposite and at the same time a menace to the things which we on these benches hold to be most precious.
It is upon that assumption that the cooperation between hon. Members on this side and hon. Members on the other side of the House in respect of rearmament and foreign policy was temporarily established. It was believed by our conferences and by our leaders and by our people that it would be possible for us to defeat Fascism, although the price of its defeat might be that we should appear at the moment to be also defending Imperial possessions. The terms of the undertaking were that we would defend your wealth and you would help us to defend our liberties. That is putting it in the most sordid way. The assumption was never stated, although it was implicit. Whenever the leaders of Labour have tried to persuade their followers in the Labour party to accept rearmament the argument has been that these arms were necessary for the defence of democracy and for the application of the principle of collective security. That cooperation was established and grew stronger and stronger. So strong did it become that the. leaders of the trade unions even took the initiative of going to Government Departments to make suggestions in order that the armed forces may be more efficient.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not at the moment making an attack; I am endeavouring to state the circumstances. I am not even questioning the assumption on which cooperation has been based. But it seems to me that the bringing in of conscription has ruptured finally the assumption upon which co-operation has been based. No one could have made more concessions to national unity and the foreign menace than have been made by the Labour movement of this country. May I draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that there has been no large-scale industrial stoppage in Britain since 1926, a longer period than any in our history? The trade union movement has not cooperated in a wide demand for wage increases. The social services have been 2135 practically stagnant. Further, the treatment of the unemployment in the distressed areas is very bad, and the evidence which is now pouring in of malnutrition is being ignored because the attention of the people is being given to the issue of foreign policy. We have at the same time cast aside our traditional aloofness with regard to military affairs, and many responsible leaders have placed themselves in embarrasing circumstances by urging the workers of Great Britain to enlist. We have imperilled and jeopardised our political independence by concerting common measures, and there is this even more serious departure—we have had underwritten partial commitments made by the Government which fall far short of the system of collective security, for which we have urged our people to arm.
A few weeks ago the Parliamentary Labour party supported the commitment given to Poland, and we may expect in a few weeks' time to see how the Parliamentary Labour party has again been deceived by the Prime Minister. We have underlined, endorsed, the commitment made to Greece and Rumania, although it is perfectly true that the main reason for the guarantees to Greece and Rumania is the threat to British communications and not because it makes any contribution to collective security. We have endorsed these partial commitments and thereby put ourselves in this position, that if the Government runs away from these partial commitments and we stand firm by them, we shall be accused of being the war party and they will say that they are the peace party. We shall appear to be for war all the time, while they will appear to be for war sometimes. If it pays the party opposite to run away from then-commitments, then we urge them to stand by those commitments, and if it pays them to stand by the commitments, we stand with them; so that at all times the British Labour party abandon their traditional position of independence and place their spiritual, moral and physical resources behind the Government.
What now happens? The Government bring in a Measure for compulsory service. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends may disagree with what I am saying. I do not want to quarrel with them. I say that until this moment we have been 2136 behind the Government in these commitments, which might have meant war. Let hon. Members note that I am not against the commitments; I share them. But we must understand what is involved. We should be prepared to place behind those commitments all the resources of the nation, including the resources of the Labour movement. There can be no running away from that. What is the position? Conscription has been introduced. Quite wantonly, this understanding and co-operation have been violated. We have lost, and Hitler has won. He has deprived us of a very important English institution—voluntary service. We have abandoned large-scale wage claims and agitation of a successful kind for the social services, and now we have abandoned the system of voluntary service. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) told us last week that we have also abandoned something which is much more important still. I am sure that the implications of the right hon. Gentleman's speech have not yet been examined. He told us that the Government are justified in bringing forward this Measure at this time because the circumstances of the time make a General Election in Great Britain impossible. If this condition of affairs continues, I gather that a General Election will also be impracticable for the same reason at the end of the legal term of this Parliament.
It seems to me that the war against democracy is succeeding along the whole front. The Government and their supporters remain in undisturbed possession of their wealth and their Colonial possessions, but we surrender one stronghold after another and one institution after another. We become weaker and they become stronger. This is an embrace in which we are being strangled to death. We lose all the things in which we believe. This co-operation is voluntary euthanasia. The working-class movement in Great Britain makes all the sacrifices and concessions, and not a single concession is made from the opposite side at any stage. We retreat from one weak position to a position that is still weaker, and at last we are having this final indignity of conscription thrust upon our people. No one on the opposite side of the House seriously suggests that Hitler is going to be frightened by the compulsory training of 200,000 boys between 20 and 21 years of age. No one seriously believes that 2137 informed public opinion abroad is impressed by conscription of that scope. [An Hon. Member: "It is."] The significance of this Measure will soon penetrate to it. It will know exactly what the Measure means in terms of increased military preparation, and it will probably be told, far more successfully than hon. Members opposite have told it, how successful voluntary service has been. No one seriously suggests that these 200,000 boys are a barrier between us and disaster.
My friends in the trade union movement do not believe that this conscription will be confined to 200,000. We believe this is merely the beginning of extended conscription. It is the usual way in which the British ruling class does its job. We have seen this sort of thing over and over again. A small class is being taken and those who are not taken say, "We are not involved," so that the boys between 20 and 21 years of age lose their natural defenders. Once the system is begun, it will be extended as a result of pressure from the benches below the Gangway opposite. Pressure from those quarters has been more influential on the Government than pressure from anywhere else. We have got nothing and they have got everything. It seems to me that we are witnessing not the conscription of 200,000 boys, but wholesale conscription in this country. What does this mean? To you, it means that there is a vast Army ready to defend your Colonial possessions whenever it is necessary. To us, it means the complete abandonment of any hope of a successful struggle against the weight of wealth in Great Britain.
I ask hon. Members opposite to look at the facts as we on these benches see them. First of all, the reason which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping applied to the impracticability of having a General Election applies also to any large-scale wage movement, because if the miners of Great Britain, for example, decided to serve claims on the employers for increases in their wages, which might involve a stoppage, then the right hon. Gentleman would come to the House and say—as has been said in France—that we cannot permit the unity of Great Britain to be imperilled at this time. If it is impracticable to hold a General Election, it is also impracticable to have a national strike. In France, we 2138 have seen that conscription was used to smash two general strikes.
But the worst feature of all is that the employers, as they sit at the conference table with the leaders of the trade unions, are themselves conscious of the fact that they have that card to play in the last resort. In the last resort, the scales are weighted on the side of the employer, and consciousness of that fact is bound to assist him in resisting more successfully claims made by the trade union leaders on behalf of their members. The fear that conscription will be so used is present in the minds of the industrial masses, and the worst feature is that it is present also in the minds of the employers and is a bargaining counter in their negotiations with the trade unions. During the last few years we have been deprived of a great many of our weapons. At the present time, the young men are being deprived of a very important democratic weapon, namely, the right to say to the Government that they will serve the Government only for a policy in which they themselves believe. They are deprived of that leverage which democracy confers upon a free people. If the Government wanted volunteers in a voluntary system, they would have to supply the policy which the people desired, but by the abolition of the voluntary principle, the lever of democratic pressure is taken out of the hands of the people. Every means of political influence is taken away from them. The democratic facade remains, democratic institutions remain, but the reality is taken from them.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member, but I wish to understand his argument. Does he contend that in a democracy a minority of the country is entitled to fix the policy?
§ Mr. Cartland
The hon. Member has now used that argument three times. I understand that he is a follower of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). It is only a few years ago that the hon. and learned Member advocated that when a Labour 2139 Government came into power, if they met with opposition and had not finished their work at the end of the Parliamentary term, they should continue in office without holding a General Election.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
The answer is a simple one. I never said anything of the sort. If the hon. Member will read the book to which he has referred, he will see what is stated there.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not intend to be seduced from the main line of my argument. I was saying that hon. Members opposite are complacently accepting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. If the trade unions decide that they will use extra-Parliamentary efforts of resistance to this proposal, I would like to know what objection hon. Members opposite would have to it. They would not have any democratic argument against it, because they could not argue that the trade unions were putting their sectional interests against a decision of the majority unless the majority were afforded an opportunity of expressing their views. By this dangerous argument that there is not to be a General Election, that the Government are to be absolved from pledges without consulting the people to whom the pledges were given—by all those arguments—I am afraid that hon. Members opposite are taken rather farther along a road they may not themselves desire to travel. They have been using facile arguments in the Debates in this House, many of them scoring petty debating points without realising the significance of what they have said. If we are to have that sort of defence of their conduct, then I ask them frankly, where is the democracy which they are asking our people to defend?
If those are the lines they are adopting, what argument have they to put to the young men of Great Britain? What argument have they to persuade the young men to fight, except merely in another squalid attempt to defend themselves against the redistribution of international swag? Hon. Members opposite have taken away, piece by piece, everything in which we believe, and all that is left are the things which they hold 2140 precious. I say to my hon. Friends on these benches that they ought to offer to this Measure stubborn, ruthless and sustained resistance here and in the country; that they should say to the country that the national unity which had been built up has been destroyed by the Conservative party, pursuing its own narrow, selfish class aims; that hon. Members opposite are exploiting the privileges of the Left in the interests of the Right; that nothing will satisfy us except that the Government should resign and give way to a Government in which people could believe and to which the defence of democracy could be safely entrusted.
The arguments advanced this afternoon by the Prime Minister were entirely unworthy of him. There was, for instance, his statement that there is to be equality of sacrifice, as if the millionaire's boy taking his "bob" a day was in the same position as a boy of the poorer classes. There is no protection against the employers, and I defy any lawyers to construct a protection for workmen when they come home from their six month's training The leverage remains in the hands of the employer all the time. I accuse hon. Members opposite for the three and a half years they have been entrusted by the electorate with the Government of the country of being, most of them "yes-men." They have allowed violation after violation of election pledges to be made. They have allowed incompetence to go unchecked and they have followed like sheep into the Division Lobby. Now they justify conscription on the ground that unless we have it war may come. They have not only jeopardised our liberties but they are destroying our liberties and they have lost any claim to ask the working class of Great Britain to follow any longer under their banner.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman seems to suffer from a complex on that subject. I would like to bring the House back from this subject to an aspect of the Debate which is perhaps a little more important than the ties we wear, that is, the speech which was made a little earlier by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), the latter part of which deserves to be underlined by Members of this side of the House. In the earlier stages of his speech the right hon. Gentleman engaged in a controversy with the Secretary of State for War. We are all familiar with the fact that nothing gives so much satisfaction to any Members of the Liberal party as to enter into controversy with another Member of the same party. Most of us have learned by now that when that process is going on those of us who are Members of parties which are not so naturally internecine had best stand back and let the process take place. On that part of the speech I do not want to comment.
In the closing stages the right hon. Gentleman gave, it seemed to me, a statement of the reasons which might actuate any hon. Members, whatever their party political faith, in giving support to this Bill. It struck me that his analysis was as fair and as accurate as any hon. Member could ask for. I have hopes that this is only a first stage in a gradual development towards a closer approximation of our points of view on this very difficult question. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that it is of no use to pretend, and I do not think anybody has pretended, that in approving this Bill the House and the country are not making a departure from practice of the greatest significance, but I cannot accept that in so doing we are in any way showing our disrespect for the voluntary system. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale talked as though the voluntary system had ceased to exist now, but everybody knows that that is not so. It is true that we are accepting here an important new principle, and I do not think anybody in the House will complain if the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else shows himself a very jealous guardian of the liberties of the subject. After all, we are here to guard the liberties of the subject and that is what the House exists 2142 to do. All Members will agree that there are certain things that we have gained down the centuries which all other countries do not possess—a respect for individual liberty, a certain standard of social justice, and the equality of individuals before the law.
These are things we care about, and we would refuse to countenance a Measure that contravened any of these principles or our sense of religious and racial tolerance which has grown out of these conceptions. We would be all opposed to that, but what I have yet to hear is how or why it must be supposed or expected that this particular Measure is a departure which contravenes those principles. We are the first country to organise on voluntary principles in half a dozen different ways. In organisations of employers and employed and in our local government life we have a far more marked development of voluntary organisation than any other nation in the world. That is all to the good, but because we have got those things I do not suppose that to-morrow or, indeed, ever, the Government will come to the House and say, "We are now going to introduce a Measure which will bring compulsion into all those spheres of life in which hitherto there has been the voluntary principle." On the contrary, I think it is fair to say that in our national affairs as a whole, we have carried the voluntary method much further than any other country, and that, generally speaking, the duty of the Government to-day is much more a co-ordinating duty than the duty of being the dominating authority. I believe that in the future in normal times the development of that coordinating duty will be the main part of the function of Government. Even in the last few, days there has been a remarkable example to the nation of the working of the voluntary principle. Within the last few weeks we have virtually doubled the size of the Territorial Army on a voluntary basis. Had that been realised in any other country it would have been treated with infinitely more acclamation than it has been met with in this country. It is a remarkable achievement and without parallel in our history in time of peace.
It is not fair to interpret what we are doing now as a measure due to the failure of the voluntary principle. That is not how I regard this Bill. It is not being 2143 introduced because the voluntary principle has failed, but because, as the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland put so well, we have to remove doubts in the minds of certain foreign countries as to the determination with which we intend to pursue the foreign policy to which we have placed our name. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley said, I think very fairly, that we must be able to say to our friends that they ought not to be allowed to decide our policy, but it would be even more foolish to ignore the existence of those suspicions in the minds of our friends if they be there, especially if they are not by any means confined to our friends. The truth is there are nations to-day living on the edge of danger and very much more conscious of the immediate conflict that might arise at any moment even than we are in this country. Those nations know very well how deeply and sincerely and, as I think, how rightly attached we are to the voluntary principle. It is for that very reason that we can give no more striking symbol of the sincerity of our determination to fulfil our pledge to them than by making some temporary sacrifice of that fundamental principle.
It is in this way, I submit, that this policy should be regarded. Say, if you like, that you can exaggerate its military value. I think perhaps you can, because everybody knows how much was achieved under the voluntary system in the last War. No finer troops ever left this country for foreign lands than the Territorial Army and Kitchener's Army in the last War. When hon. Members follow that up by saying we ought to adhere to the voluntary system because it is just to the people of the country, I must say that I think their case is less easy to establish. The voluntary system may have produced good military results, but it is hard to establish that it has been just. Was it really quite just in the last War? There were some families who volunteered in their entirety and lost the greater part, and, in some cases, all of their manhood. There were others who did not run a comparable risk. Was that really just?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is not that an argument against what the right hon. Gentleman was maintaining a moment ago, when he 2144 said conscription should be only temporary. What he is saying now is surely an argument for permanent conscription.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to adapt my argument as he likes. What I am stating is that the case is often made that voluntary service is fair. I say that there is a case on the other side which is well worth looking at and which was seen in the course of the last War. Many people must have wondered then whether it was fair that a man should be wounded and have to go back two or three times while others had not seen any service at all. They must have wondered whether it was fair that one man should make a great deal of money while another was risking his life. All these things were in the minds of the people of this country.
So I say that the overriding case for this Bill is that the Government are engaged on a foreign policy the object of which, we presume, is the maintenance of peace by the creation of a deterrent to any would-be aggressor. This Bill is part of the deterrent. It may be that we ought to be able to persuade foreign lands that by means of a voluntary system we can do as much as, or even more than, we could do by a compulsory system, but we will not succeed. On the Continent of Europe military strength is as instinctively thought of in terms of compulsory armies as in this country it is instinctively thought of in terms of navies. Nothing that we can say will persuade the average citizen of the Continent of Europe that by our voluntary methods we will really achieve as much. If this Measure can tip the scale in making the deterrent policy effective, surely we should not hesitate for one instant to take it.
Let me deal with one other point which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made. He spoke as though this policy of national service might be a first step to the establishment of some sort of totalitarian regime and to the gradual disappearance of democracy. I quite agree that it might be. It just depends on the attitude of this House whether it is or not. This House can easily stop it. It is true that one of the first things that the totalitarian Government did in Germany was to abolish the long-service Army and substitute compulsory national service. But there is also the Swiss model. I wonder 2145 how many Members know what the practice there is, because it makes an extremely interesting contrast, within the same system, to the method of totalitarian States. In Switzerland, when a man has finished his period of service, he takes home his rifle, hangs it up on the wall and there it remains until such time, if ever, as he is called upon to come with it to do some further drill. It does not require much imagination to conceive of other countries where the practice of soldiers taking their rifles home with them when they have finished their service is hardly likely to be endorsed by the State. There are those two conceptions, and the Swiss conception of compulsory military service can be very much nearer our own than the other.
§ Mr. Stephen
Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to persuade us that, as the result of the passage of this Bill, the Government intend that all these people are going to take their rifles home with them?
§ Mr. Eden
What I am trying to say is that there can be no compulsory service of any kind in this country unless it has an overwhelming measure of voluntary support, and the moment that compulsory measure loses the voluntary support it will cease to operate altogether. I think it was unfortunate—the Government themselves admit that it was unfortunate—that no consultation was possible between the parties before this announcement was made to the House. I hope that in future every possible precaution will be taken to ensure the fullest possible consultation, for national unity is too important for us to risk jeopardising it.
The Government have told us that they do not desire excessive profits to be made. I think we want something more. We want to be satisfied that there is going to be no financial gain from the nation's need. I am convinced that that sentiment runs very strongly through the country. I should like the Government to give us an assurance that they are going to bring forward definite proposals in order that that state of affairs may be brought about.
It is stated in the Bill that its provisions may be brought to an end by Order-in-Council. I cannot help thinking that in a matter of this magnitude a decision of that kind ought to be taken by the two Houses of Parliament, and I hope 2146 the Government will consider whether the matter is not of such importance that the two Houses of Parliament should take the decision. The Bill seems to many of us, certainly to me, a piece of machinery to ensure the more effective discharge of a certain foreign policy, but I must add this word of warning. However good the Measure, and however determined the House, we shall not make much progress in the prosecution of this foreign policy if we allow the opinion to grow abroad that we are not absolutely whole-hearted.
There was a leading article in the "Times" this morning which seemed to me to be open to misunderstanding abroad. I hope the Government to-night will tell us two things which I think it is most important for the world to understand, first, that there is no modification of any sort or kind in the nature or extent of our guarantee to Poland and that that guarantee stands absolutely, and, secondly, that they continue in their desire to bring the Soviet Government into the peace front and to conclude with it and with other peace-loving nations agreements as complete, as rapid, and as far-reaching as possible. I hope we may have an assurance on that point. It is because I am convinced that the Bill is needed to help this policy to a successful conclusion, and that our foreign policy is our last hope to avert the final calamity of war that I yet dare to repeat the appeal that hon. Members opposite will not find it necessary to go into the Lobby against it.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I should like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that none of us on these benches look upon him as a "Yes-man." The Prime Minister last week said he believed that all of us on this side would do all we could for the country in time of danger, and that if war broke out every one of us would rally to the cause. That is a fair reflection of the opinion of Members on this side. Anyone who has followed the policy of our party for a long time will recognise that on every occasion we have given all the help we could to the Government in pursuing a policy of collective agreement and collective bargaining so as to get international security, if it could be got. On this point we cannot agree with the policy of the Government, because we believe that at a time like this it was not necessary to bring in conscription. I have 2147 examined this question very carefully. Had I been convinced that conscription was necessary, I should readily have followed the lead given. If I felt that the country was not responding in a manner that I thought worthy of it, I should have to say that some other method must be adopted to get the man-power. I listened on Thursday and to-day to the Prime Minister, and I listened to the ex-Foreign Minister also. Can they give us any reason at all why this is being done in regard to the falling off of the voluntary system? Not a word was uttered to show that the voluntary system had failed.
On Sunday I went to a meeting in my constituency. I wanted to find out what the people there thought about this Measure. We had a large meeting in the market place, called hurriedly because we had not had much time. It was not altogether a Labour meeting. It declared almost unanimously against conscription. Here was an ordinary meeting of citizens who all believed in the welfare of the country yet, when they had a chance of expressing themselves, they believed that there was no need for conscription. Until I am convinced, I must take every step I can to prevent it being put on our people. I was one who volunteered for the last War. I was over age, but I felt that the country required volunteers and I was prepared to go and do what I could. We went out and I got a commission. I had charge of a number of men of the volunteer type. I never had any trouble with them. There was never any hesitation on their part to do all they could on all occasions. There was the ordinary grousing about food and this, that and the other, but when it was a question of doing their duty and going up to the line, their grousing did not interfere with the work they wanted to do. As time went on our man-power got depleted and we had to have conscripts. I had a number of conscripts drafted into my platoon. The whole aspect changed. They did not want to fight, they did not want to do their duty, and it was pressure all the time to get them to do the ordinary work of the soldier. In place of that feeling of what I may term satisfactorily doing their duty, everything after that was discontent.
That is the difference between what is called a volunteer Army and a conscript Army. Now we are attempting to do 2148 that again at a time when it is not necessary. I claim that by this departure we have created a position where, in place of unity, there is disunity. We feel that we have been betrayed over this matter. We feel that the Government have adopted a wrong policy in not first of all calling all sections together, putting the case before them and telling them whether there was any danger at all and saying, "The voluntary system does not seem to be paying its way and, unless we can get sufficient men, we shall have to threaten conscription," and if we had felt there was any lack of volunteers we should have urged all we could in order to get the men. That was never done, and we are now called upon to agree to a Measure which is alien to the traditions of the British people in time of peace. We are told that there is an emergency and that war is very near, but I have never thought that there would be war and I do not now think there will be. I want to be prepared for it, yet I am hopeful that it will never come.
The announcement was made upon the day before Hitler spoke, and I wonder whether it was made for the purpose of having it both ways. If Hitler had declared for war and had been belligerent, the Government could have said, "We are ready for it; we have passed a conscription Bill. Our men are almost on the point of being ready." The speech that Hitler made last Friday was quiet and so the Government can say, "We have quietened Hitler, because we are getting an Army ready for him." At a time when there was unity in the House of Commons and in the country, it was not fair of the Government to do that kind of thing. I do not know whether hon. Members are getting what I am getting, but on the day that the announcement was made I received scores of telegrams asking me to vote against the Bill. In my constituency last week-end a number of mothers came to me. Their lads had been taken away and they were bitter and resentful at what the Government were doing to their sons, whether they wanted to go or not. Therefore, instead of a united Britain, you will have a discontented people who feel that they are not being properly treated.
I am going to resent this proposal for all I am worth, but if Parliament decides on Monday night to carry this Measure as it seems it will, I want to assure the 2149 House that I shall do all I can to help the country in whatever step is taken. I promise that. After all, whatever our differences are, if the House of Commons decides, it is up to everybody to try to make the best of it. The Prime Minister has told us that the pay will be 1s. a day and that everybody must be treated alike. In some homes 1s. a day will not seem as much as in others. To the person who joins from a richer family it will be different to the working man, because the former will get help from home whereas the working' man will have nothing behind him. Will there be any equalisation in that kind of thing? Also, many of the men will be in jobs and in many cases will probably be the supporters of their family. What position will they occupy? Will the Government examine the position and, if they are satisfied that men are losing weekly wages, although not the sole supporters of their families, will they give some help in order to build up the family fortunes? In the case of men who are the sole support of their families, I do not think that it is right that the amount stated by the Prime Minister should be the total that is given to them. This question ought to have a thorough examination before it is settled. I welcome the recognition of the married men. I am pleased, because I have advocated during the discussions of the Army and Air Force Annual Bill that the marrying age of 26 should be lowered. I am glad that it has been decided in this way, because I think it is a step in the right direction.
Northern Ireland is to be exempt, but the Prime Minister did not tell us that it was because he expected trouble from Southern Ireland. It would have been far more honest if he had said so. He said that he felt that the loyalty of Northern Ireland would provide him with more troops than conscription. If that argument has any weight, why cannot it apply to this country? Why should it be claimed that Northern Ireland is more patriotic than our people? The argument is not sound, and the right hon. Gentleman has not been quite honest with the House of Commons. As an example of loyalty I would recall that the miners, to whom I am proud to belong, displayed such loyalty when the call came for volunteers during the last War, and so many of them joined up, that the mines could not be worked and men had to be asked to 2150 come back. If there is any question of loyalty among the people of England I claim that we stand equal, if not ahead, of Northern Ireland. Whoever replies on this Debate should be honest with the House of Commons and tell us exactly why Northern Ireland has been exempted from the conscription Bill.
As one who believes in his country and will do all he can to help in any time of trouble, I say that I think we have taken a wrong step in demanding conscription. It would have been far better to have kept the voluntary system so as to show to the world what Britain can do. I think the response would have shown everybody that in time of trouble Britons stood firmly together. We have broken that accord and that unity, and we have caused distress in many homes which it will be very difficult to clear up.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Medlicott
In rising for the first time to address this House I am sure that I shall receive that indulgence which it so generously accords to a new Member upon such an occasion. I would like to take the liberty of congratulating the last speaker upon his very sincere speech, and particularly upon his statement that while he feels constrained to speak and vote against this Measure, he never the less will consider it his duty if the Measure becomes law, to work in order that the Measure may be made operative in the best interests of the community as a whole. It would be only right for me to say that many of us have received the introduction of this Measure with mixed feelings, even though it is our intention to support it in the Division Lobby. We have advocated with sincerity and enthusiasm the cause of complete voluntaryism, and we are able to agree to some limitation of that principle only after giving the matter the most anxious and careful thought.
I believe that the need for this Measure is pressing, but there is a legal maxim which says that it is not only necessary that justice shall be done, but that it shall appear to have been done, and I do not think that I shall be wasting the time of the House if I try to give some of the reasons for my decision to support this Measure. References have frequently been made to the way in which the voluntary system has been working with 2151 success, and to-day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) suggested that we might call up a number of Territorials who have passed through the Territorial Army and so still further reinforce the available man-power. It has been suggested, also, that because of the success of recruiting under voluntary means, there is no need for the Bill. I suggest that, however unexpectedly, the reverse is the case, and that the very success which has attended our efforts at voluntary recruitment necessitates the supplementing of the efforts of those who have come forward of their own free will. The Bill envisages a particular form and type of increase in the man-power of our Forces which I suggest is essential if we are to avoid doing injustice to those who have already come forward voluntarily.
Curiously enough National Service should really be described in peace time as National Training. It is training for national service in the event of war. The need has, however, arisen for us to have an increased number of men not merely undergoing part-time training, but able to be brought into instant action if necessary. Guarantees have been given to certain European Powers with the approval of a large measure of opinion in this country, and I think they have already had a stabilising effect. If our military resources were adequate prior to the giving of those guarantees, it is merely a matter of arithmetic that those resources cannot be adequate now without some such Measure as is proposed. It is well known that military circles on the Continent regard our Territorial Army as primarily a militia in the old sense, not in the sense of the word as it is now being used, and as not in any way able to take the field immediately. It is because of the speed with which events are moving that we have got to be prepared to add to our military resources by these means. We have given these guarantees, and just as a man who gives cheques upon his banking account must have the resources ready to meet those cheques on presentation, we have here given cheques upon our military resources, and we have got to provide the increased military resources necessary to meet the cheques upon presentation.
The second justification for the introduction of this Measure is relative directly to the system of anti-aircraft defence of 2152 this country. The anti-aircraft defence, so far as the ground defence is concerned, has been placed upon the shoulders of the Territorial Army. I do not profess to be a military expert, and indeed my right to refer to matters of military strategy is that limited to one who, after serving for over two years in the Territorial Army, has so far only achieved the modest rank of lance-bombardier. I, therefore, feel considerable diffidence, but I can speak with practical knowledge on the training side, of the limitation which admittedly exists in the Territorial Army as a force ready for immediate action. In France there is the Maginot line, and I think I am right in saying that that line would be of architectural rather than strategic interest if it were manned by Territorials who had to be summoned from great distances and taken from their homes and work at a moment's notice. It would be like manning a fire station on Territorial lines.
We have got to have in this country our own Maginot lines, and I think we are justified in saying that we have got them already and that those who have worked so hard in the preparation of them are entitled to more praise than they have so far received. In passing, I would like to pay a tribute to the permanent staff instructors of the Regular Army attached to the Territorial Army, who have played so great a part in bringing the Territorial Army up to its present state of efficiency. They are men who have worked far beyond the strict limitations of their duty, and in the operating of this new Bill they will, I am sure, prove of even further value to the country. But if we are to man these Maginot lines of ours with the efficiency and speed that are necessary in order to make the prospects of a successful knock-out blow recede still further into the background, we must have the men on the spot, and it would not be fair to place upon our civilian Territorial Army as at present constituted the obligation in peace time of manning these anti-aircraft defences for any undue length of time. It is because of that, because this Measure will, I think, with the least amount of unfairness supplement to the necessary degree the work of the Territorial Army, that I welcome it upon strategic grounds. If I may, I would express the hope that, as far as the feeding requirements of the new Army are concerned, home-produced foods will 2153 be given primary consideration. This will be another gesture towards that unity which we all so much desire to see achieved.
Now, if I may pass on to what I referred to in the earlier part of my remarks, namely, the question of the principle involved here, I have asked myself whether this is an anti-democratic Measure. I think that to most of us democracy represents the rights to vote, to speak, and to worship according to the dictates of our own conscience, adding to that, perhaps, the privilege of writing to the Press, because no statement of our liberties these days would be complete without a reference to the freedom of the Press. I cannot find in this Measure anything which impinges upon any of those four essentials of what we regard as democratic rights. Indeed, I regard the Measure as a means of ensuring that those rights shall not be invaded by any of those in Europe who have seen fit to attack those very four rights elsewhere the moment they were in a position to do so.
Reference has been made in this Debate to Colonial possessions, but I would like to refer to them as Colonial responsibilities. It is not fashionable in these days to talk about the waving of the British flag, but at the risk of being unfashionable, I would like to point out that where British rule prevails, there is a measure of freedom and self-determination which is worth fighting for. We have these Imperial responsibilities, we have these additional Continental responsibilities, and we have the responsibility of our national defence. These are all considerations which I think justify support of this Measure.
It has been suggested that public opinion is not behind this Bill. I venture to submit that, if anything, public opinion is in front of this Bill, and that there is a rising determination that we shall take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our privileges as they have been maintained for so long past. But even with all the arguments which have been used in support of this Measure, I should still vote for it with a heavy heart if I thought that this was merely to be the preparation for just another war. I believe that the public opinion to which I referred just now is aroused to the stern necessities created by the events of the 2154 day and is prepared to support this Measure, not only because it will provide a bulwark against aggression in Europe, but because behind that bulwark we shall yet again attempt to build up a system of international good faith, and once more strive to establish international justice upon such a firm foundation that the haunting shadow of war will be banished from the face of the earth for ever.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Lunn
It is a custom in this House, or it has been ever since I came here in 1919, to appreciate the first speech of any hon. Member, and I should like to show my appreciation of and congratulation to the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott), upon the excellence of his maiden speech. I did not altogether agree with his matter, but I liked his manner, and I liked his confidence, and I am sure he will have a place in this House if he chooses to make it, which I hope he will endeavour to do on every occasion when the opportunity occurs. In beginning my speech, I have another congratulation to make, and then I shall have finished with congratulations. I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) upon his excellent speech to-day and upon his unqualified opposition to this Bill.
This is a thoroughly bad Bill, and I wish it could be defeated. Anything that I can do to that end I shall do. Miners are strongly opposed to conscription, and as I am one of them, I agree with them. The principle that this Bill contains is altogether alien to British ideas. It will help to destroy our democratic liberties and our freedom in every way. To conscript young men of 20 shows what cowards we are at our age. They were born at the end of the last Great War, and they had nothing to do with the making of what was called the peace treaty. They are not to have any say in this matter. I was here in 1919, and I heard many of the speeches made at that time. Some hon. Members here remember them, and since then we have helped Germany to become a menace to us again. We have never attempted, nor have they, to lay the true foundation of peace, and we are again placing this young generation in chains.
We were told that there was to be no conscription in peace time, and the 2155 Labour party and the trade unions relied on those promises and pledges. This Bill shows how they have been betrayed from every point of view. Before we had this Bill the Government should have resigned, and we should have had a General Election. Parliament should have had a mandate from the electors for or against conscription, and, remember, those who are to be compelled to join up have no votes for or against. It is most unjustifiable. This is only the beginning of our enslavement. I believe it will be a menace to our trade union standards and that it will be used to break their power. It will encourage low wages and bad conditions of employment. Clause 6 (3), which guarantees that when these young men come back they can have their work back is so much eye-wash, and we all know it is. We shall almost certainly get industrial conscription as a result of the Bill, and it will completely destroy our individual liberty.
I think that a proper Amendment to this Bill, if we are to have conscription of human life, would be to start at 50 and go upwards to any age. What right have we, every one of us exempt at the start, to send the young into the firing line? I do not believe that this Bill will strengthen the defence of the country; it may weaken it. If the workers would unite against it, it could be defeated, and I wish they would take a lesson from Northern Ireland or from Ireland. I am opposed to it from every point of view, and I would suggest that if we pass the Bill, the chairman of the Appeals Committee ought to be a mother of boys under 20 and that a majority on the other committees should be young mothers. To talk of providing for those with conscientious objections and to put their fate in the hands of hardened old militarists, some of whom I have heard this last day or two, is unfair and is, in my opinion, hypocritical. The Press, with the exception of the "Daily Herald," I believe are backing this Measure. I am surprised. How they will squeal when their liberties are assailed. We have seen it before. I have a quotation from the "Daily Herald" which I should like to read, because it represents the Labour party's position to a very large extent:the voluntary system has been a success.2156 Hardly anybody has denied that in the speeches to-day.And its success has been due in no small part to the work of Labour local authorities and the co-operation of the great trade unions. Yet in face of that success this Government, which has done nothing—and intends to do nothing—seriously to conscript wealth, or even effectively to control arms profits, proposes the conscription of men too young to have any voice in their own destiny, since they are not even of an age to have votes, and does so in breach of the most solemn obligations to Parliament, to the trade unions and to the country. Why? No adequate explanation has been given. The Government prefers to rely upon the massed forces of its big battalions in Parliament—forces elected with no mandate for conscription from their constituents—just as Herr Hitler is content to rely upon his big battalions when he finds it convenient to break his pledges.That is certainly the attitude of this House. It is said that we are to conscript wealth. Is it remembered what happened in the last War and after it, although we were all aware of the vast fortunes made out of it? What is going on now? Riches are being made as never before out of armament profiteering. We all know that the proposal is rank humbug and has no meaning whatever. I think we ought to oppose the Bill and make the Government withdraw it, and in every way possible seek to unite our people against it. This is not the way to prevent wars. They are made by men, and they can be prevented by men. President Roosevelt has pointed out the way, his message is the way to peace, and I do wish all our efforts could be used to secure it by other and more sensible means than by encouraging the destruction of human life, which I believe is the object of this Bill.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I do not want to discuss at any very great length the general principles involved in this Bill, but I should like to say a few words about some of them, and some words with reference to what has just been said by the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn). I was interested to note that his view was that this legislation might have been validated by a preliminary General Election. Since he spoke I have naturally not had time to look up the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I think my recollection is right when I say that that was not the view of his leader, who very carefully refrained from that opinion, and indicated another alternative which I do not think has appealed to anybody except the right hon. Gentleman who suggested it.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I did not say anything about running away or use any controversial expression about the Leader of the Opposition. I am sorry if I am wrong, though I do not think I am. My recollection of his argument was that he did not say that there ought to have been a General Election. His alternative proposal was that there should be a change of Prime Minister and that then the Bill should go through. That is what he described, I think, as the straightforward way. I do not think it seemed to anybody else that it would have been any more straightforward.
Another thing was said by the hon. Member for Rothwell which I a little regretted. In the time of the last War I was young; now, like him, I have joined the women-and-children class; but I remember that even before I had attained that seniority I always regretted and resented, and never believed, the talk there used to be about the old men sending the young men into the trenches. I always believed that at that time my father, and my father's contemporaries, would, if they had had any choice, have much sooner gone into the trenches themselves than let their sons go into them, and I think it is unfortunate that that sort of talk about men over 50 passing compulsion for the military training of men under 21 should get into current controversy.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
In most of the speeches to-day, and that of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) was a particular example of it, there really has been almost a tacit assumption that the main general principle did not need discussion, a general assumption that what was to be discussed was the time when it was necessary and not the main principle—is it ever right to use legislative means to collect fighting men? If all that we are arguing about on this occasion is the moment, I think it is almost universally agreed that if there were actual war there could be no doubt that something like 2158 general compulsion would be necessary. That narrows the argument to the question—if there is not actual war who is to decide what is the moment beyond which it is intolerably dangerous to risk postponing the beginning of training on a compulsory basis? I am bound to say that I do not see how anyone can ever come to any very valid decision upon that question except His Majesty's Government, and I can hardly believe that, whatever Government were in power, if I were told that that decision had been come to I should feel it possible to resist it. Nor do I understand the sort of principle of democracy which has been invoked several times to-day, conspicuously I think by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), which seems to assume that there is a right to withhold co-operation with a Government unless one approves of its policy. I do not believe that a democratic system can be kept alive in any country upon that basis.
There is one other point on this general question to which I should like to refer, partly because it was referred to by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), when he talked about the sense of injustice that was felt by men who were mucking it in the trenches for a bob a day and thinking of young fellows who were piling up the shekels in comfort at home. I think there was some such feeling of injustice, but it is not one of the things that has ever very much bitten me. In ever can really feel that it does very much matter if some very unpleasant men get rich, or get richer, in that sort of way. Nor, after all, can that money ever form any very high proportion of the whole cost of warlike operations. Therefore, as far as my own personal reasoning and feeling powers go, I do not think it is a matter of very great importance; but it is certain that it is a matter of very great importance in the minds and emotions of very many people; and I very much hope that if by chance we should have another war, what was learned in the last War will enable us to prevent that sort of scandal. I do not think it was nearly as widespread as is sometimes assumed now, but it was a scandal which was a great too widespread in those days. I do a little regret that it has not been possible to adopt 2159 some sort of provisions on the lines indicated by a Motion which I put on the Paper some weeks ago, or by another much better Motion put on the Paper a day or two ago by the hon. Member for the Mossley Division (Mr. A. Hopkinson).
So much for the general principles of the case. I hope that I may, without getting out of Order, without getting on to the Committee stage, say a word or two about one or two individual Clauses, and first about Clause 3, which is the conscience Clause. It seems to me, from my recollections of the last War, that frequently there were two defects, at opposite ends, of the administration of the conscience Clause. At the one end I think it is probably true that too many people got off on conscientious grounds when the grounds were not really conscientious at all. I do not mean that in more than a few cases there was deliberate shirking or cheating, but that in some cases really the fundamental objection was a political one. They did not like the Government or the policy or they thought that we were going to lose the War. When that does happen I think it is regrettable. The other defect, which I regret even more was perhaps due to the composition of the tribunals. They also sometimes made mistakes, not from any wickedness but from not being very clear-headed. Sometimes when it was or should have been clear to them that the objection was a genuinely conscientious one they went on wrangling or bullying about theological or moral questions, which they were not particularly competent to deal with. I hope that the lessons of that administration are going to be remembered and that, whether by inserting additional definitions in this Bill or by administrative action, we are going to avoid some of the mistakes that were made in the last War.
What I have said so far might have been said by anyone foolish enough to say it. I want also to say a word or two in my particular capacity; not, of course, that I am a plenipotentiary delegate of the universities, or even of my own one university; but I have done the best I can to make full and wide inquiries of what is thought and felt there, and I am emboldened to refer to the subject because it has already been mentioned by 2160 one or two speakers, including the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). Although there is high authority that one should not overestimate the virtue of the lady who protests too much, yet I would begin by saying that I am quite sure that nobody either responsible for the management of any educational institution or in it as pupil or student, wants anything which even to the eye of malice, if in this country there is such a thing, could be represented as preferential treatment. My hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Medlicott), who charmed the House with his maiden speech just now, said that justice should not only be done but should be plainly seen to be done. That it should be clearly seen in this case that there is no sort of preferential treatment is immensely more important than any other single consideration.
There are one or two questions which I desire to put, not as requests but by way of trying to make sure that the competent Ministers have considered them. I would ask first about Clause 1 (3). It provides that the Minister, if satisfied that there is good cause for so doing, may authorise persons registered either to anticipate service and do it earlier than they would normally have done it, or to postpone it and do it later than they would normally have done it. As far as I understand, for apprenticeship, Universities, and so on, everything that can possibly be wanted by any educational institution can be given under that Clause and I hope it will be considered that educational arrangements come within the scope of the words "good cause." One thing in particular which I would ask for and not merely ask about, is that people who are finishing a course this June, should know as soon as possible that they will not be called up before they have taken their examinations, in the first or second week of June. I am sure that that will be so but I think a public statement to that effect would be helpful.
The other thing which I would ask for is this. If it is intended in the course of the next two or three years to call up undergraduates at Universities during their courses and not as I rather hope, to allow them to do their training either before or after—if it is intended to call them up in the course of the curriculum, I hope it will be arranged that the calling 2161 up shall not depend upon accident of birthdays. Educational arrangements would be knocked endways if one lot were called up in January and another in February, another in March, and so on. I hope it will be found possible to call them up at one date in the year, preferably in the spring so that the six months would cover the period of the long vacation. I apologise for introducing these considerations which are, I acknowledge, very small in comparison with the main burden of our discussion and I hope it is not supposed for a moment that I wish or that anybody in academic authority wishes to ask for any special concession, but merely to be sure that there has been full consideration.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Sloan
It is with considerable diffidence that I rise, as the second new Member to address the House to-night. I have only been a very short time here, but daring that time I have seen or heard nearly all the stars in the political firmament. I am not going to tell the House whether I am exceedingly elated or extremely disappointed, but there seems to be a whisper telling me continously, "These be your gods, O Israel." I come here straight from a by-election, and, while conscription was not the primary issue in that election, it played a prominent part in the campaign. My campaign was conducted principally on the failure of the National Government's foreign policy and their rejection of the policy of collective security. Naturally the question of conscription bulked largely in our discussions because the policy that has been pursued by the Government is one which would ultimately lead to war, and you cannot divorce the war mind from conscription of bodies, as distinct from conscription of wealth. Almost every day I addressed many meetings in my constituency at which I stressed this point and stated in unequivocal language that I was opposed to conscription. I was badgered with questions by our opponents, but at every meeting when I made my negative reply to conscription it was received with applause. My attitude on this question was uncompromising.
We have heard a great deal this evening about the question of a General Election. In the absence of any appeal to the country, either by a General Election or a referendum of some sort, I claim that 2162 the election result in South Ayrshire is at present the only measure of public opinion at our disposal. It was an election which the Government intended to win. Tremendous importance was attached, as we all know, to the personal influence of the late Member, the Right Hon. Dr. Brown—an influence which no one could deny, and which was estimated in some quarters at as high as 5,000 votes. An intensive campaign was instituted by our opponents. Two members of the Ministry were imported into the Division, one of them being the Minister of Labour, who added his musical voice to the din. Many Tory cars were brought in and voters were carried as far as 200 miles to the polling station. More than that, attempts were made to bring in the Liberals, and the chairman of the Unionist party in South Ayrshire sat for hours on the doorstep of a prominent Liberal, asking him to sign a nomination form. In sheer desperation and to get rid of him the man ultimately did so. The result of it all was that instead of the Government winning the seat the Labour majority was increased. Are the Government prepared to accept the South Ayrshire result as a reply to the demand for conscription?
I am not exaggerating the situation when I say that the sudden decision of the Government to introduce conscription, if it was a sudden decision and not merely a well-planned coup, has caused consternation in the country. It is significant that in every local Labour party, among the trade unions, among Socialist organisations and among organisations which are not Socialist the opposition to conscription is growing stronger every day. The mail bags of hon. Members demonstrate that fact. We have heard occasionally during this Debate that that opposition is not confined to any one political party, and it has been proved that strong resentment is felt among supporters of the National Government at the reckless and foolhardy manner in which that Government have violated their pledges. The only reason given in this House, as far as I have been able to hear, for the introduction of conscription is that the foreign situation was worsening. That is no news to us. The foreign situation has been growing worse ever since this Government assumed office in 1931. We had become so accustomed to that aspect of the situation, that we knew there would be no improvement in the 2163 foreign situation until the Government were displaced and another Government with a saner foreign policy took their place.
That, however, does not relieve the Government from the responsibility of placing their cards on the table and informing the House of the real reason for departing from the voluntary principle. In the course of this discussion the question occurred to me which I now address to the Government: Are we to understand that conscription is being applied because of pressure from outside? The Prime Minister referred on 27th April to what he called "the gibe" that had been bandied about from capital to capital, that Britain was prepared to fight to the last French soldier. Is it to remove that gibe that we are now conscripting 200,000 boys? Is it to restore the prestige of the National Government and the Prime Minister that this Measure has been introduced? Are we having a foreign innovation applied here at the dictation of foreigners? If so, how does that square with the propaganda of 1931, which brought down the then Labour administration to the effect that foreigners were dictating the policy of the Labour Government.
I oppose conscription on the ground that, whatever may be said from this side or the other side of the House, or in any other House, it is undemocratic. It is sheer nonsense to say that because France is a democracy and because France has conscription, conscription is not undemocratic. I say it is undemocratic, and for an example I would prefer to look the other way at the great Western democracies of America and Canada with a frontier of a thousand miles and not a gun and no conscription. I oppose conscription, because it is foreign to the traditions and desires of the people of this country. I oppose it, because it is an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of the subject. I oppose it, because once established, machinery whereby soldiers in unlimited numbers can be secured, will be an incentive to the warmonger. I oppose it because it is a capitalist innovation to secure soldiers to protect private property. I oppose this particular Bill, because I am convinced that it is only an instalment of a much wider and larger scheme, and that once having tasted blood 2164 this and future Governments would soon call upon more. I oppose it, because of the unjust burden that it places on the workers of the country.
Hon. Members talk about equality of sacrifice. I saw in one of the daily papers yesterday a picture which represented two lads arriving at the recruiting office. One was in a Rolls-Royce car and the other was a working lad and it was called "Equality of sacrifice." Equality of sacrifice on a shilling a day. For the whole of their six months' training they are to be paid £9, or a fortnight's wages. That is what is termed "equality of sacrifice." I shall not argue here whether the voluntary system has failed. What I want to assert is that it was never expected to succeed. It was foredoomed to failure. I wonder what are the feelings of all those people who set out to make the voluntary scheme a success. I admire the presentation of the case from the Government side for its skill. The Prime Minister has actually used the services of the Labour and trade union movement in pushing the voluntary scheme for the purpose of now introducing his scheme for conscription.
After the Labour party, the trade union movement and the National Council of Labour have done all that they were expected to do, and the figures given for last month of those enrolled under the voluntary system have gone up to 63,000. The Prime Minister uses that figure. He says: "Is it fair that these 62,000 should come now and enlist and become part of the voluntary scheme while others should go scot free?" I see that the Clock is going on. I was expected to speak only for a few minutes, but unfortunately I misjudged the amount of material that I could get in in the time. I only wish to say again, before I resume my seat, that I entirely oppose the Bill, and that I shall, without any hesitation whatever, go into the Lobby against it.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara
The hon. Member who has just sat down said that he felt diffident in rising to address the House for the first time. I assure him that I also feel diffident in offering my congratulations to him, because that happy lot usually falls to a senior Member of this House. At the same time, if he will accept them from one of the junior 2165 Members, I give him my sincere congratulations upon his maiden speech, to which I listened with very great interest. In the course of his speech he said that his return for South Ayrshire showed that the country was against the Government on the matter of conscription. I did not have the pleasure of fighting him in that charming country, but from reports which were issued about the election I understood that the change was not so very great in the actual numbers polling, and that the election was not really fought upon the conscription issue, but more upon matters like pensions.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Would the hon. and gallant Member like to come down and try upon the conscription issue himself?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara
During this evening we have listened to many arguments against the Government's case for conscription. One put from the Labour benches was that this gesture of compelling 200,000 men to serve would not interest the Dictator countries, Germany for instance. Let us put that argument the other way round. Suppose that Germany suddenly gave up conscription; would that not impress us? If we look at it from that point of view I think we must agree that what we have done will certainly interest the foreigner. We have also heard from the benches opposite that the voluntary system is proving a success at the moment. It is true that volunteers are coming forward in great numbers, but in the voluntary system there are weaknesses which cannot be overlooked. One of them is that no men are permanently on duty. We have surely learned the lesson recently about those over night coups, sudden invasions and sudden attacks that take people by surprise. We cannot take those risks in this country.
There is, again, the weakness that when there is a crisis people join voluntarily, but not until after the crisis, and that they begin to prepare themselves after the crisis is over. We want to have people ready for the next crisis. A third weakness is that in the voluntary system there is no steady flow of men into a body of trained reserves. We have a large Territorial Army and Regular Army, but they cannot be expected to go out to war confident unless they know that behind them are trained reserves of people to step into their places if they themselves are killed, 2166 wounded or taken away in sickness. Furthermore, I would like to point out, as the Government have said, that this Military Training Bill is not to supplement the voluntary system with a compulsory system, but that compulsion is to be used merely in conjunction with the main voluntary system of the country. To that point I propose to address in particular my few remarks this evening.
There is a fundamental principle involved in this Bill in connection with the voluntary system, and I would draw the attention of the Ministers concerned to this point. Those who enlisted in the Territorial Army before 27th April are exempt from conscription, but those who join in future will be conscripted at the age of 20. I want to draw Ministers' attention to the story of the life of a Territorial soldier as we shall see it under the new Bill. It is a very serious matter which has not received full attention or publicity, but it will certainly cause a great deal of interest and heart-burning in the country unless it is put right. A man may join the Territorials at the age of 17. Every year he gets a bounty on being passed as efficient. By the age of 20 he may very well be a lance-corporal, a corporal or in certain cases even a sergeant. Yet hon. Members will see in Clause 5 (6) of the Bill that Territorials cease to be Territorials upon being conscripted as militia.
That means that the man who has been voluntarily serving his country week by week, doing drill after drill, attending the summer camps, and been passed as efficient year after year will, upon being conscripted at the age of 20, have no notice whatsoever taken of that previous service. These men cease to be Territorials and have to take their places alongside conscripts who have not a day's service to their credit, and to join with them in learning again the first lesson of turning to their right or left. That is hardly a just or fair measure of respect to the men who served voluntarily beforehand. Furthermore, and more serious still, the men who served and earned the rank of corporal, lance-corporal or sergeant will have to give up their rank under this Bill upon ceasing to be Territorials. They will be private soldiers. One asks what the point is of being a Territorial and of working for that rank, and I say that this arrangement is wasteful of talent and is a slight—an insult if you 2167 like—on the whole Territorial Army who served their country so ably in the past. When the Territorial comes under the Bill, he ceases to be a Territorial and becomes a militiaman. Afterwards he goes back to the Territorials. That means, according to the Bill, that at the age of 20 he has to hand back his Territorial uniform to his Territorial unit, and draw a Regular uniform for his service in the Regular Army. Six months later he hands back his Regular uniform to his Regular unit and draws out his own Territorial uniform. Why not let him be a Territorial for the whole period of his conscript service, wearing his Territorial uniform and retaining his Territorial status and, if he has it, his Territorial rank?
If this had been a mistake in the Bill, one could have understood it, but from previous contacts and from conversations I have had this afternoon I have a very strong suspicion that it is not a mistake at all, but that it was quite deliberately put in. I suspect at once a tendency, now that the Regular Army feel that they have got their men, whether they want to come or not, to disregard the voluntary service that people have given so willingly before. I am entirely in favour of the Bill and entirely in favour of the six months' compulsory service, but I am also in favour of its being in conjunction with, and not imposed upon, the voluntary principle. Therefore I would suggest that Territorials, when they do their conscript service, should do it in a separate formation, starting a stage ahead, naturally, because they have been learning for years, and being given advanced forms of training, which will be more interesting to them seeing that they have been working for years voluntarily for it.
There is a further point. After a militiaman has finished his conscript service, he is to be given the choice of going either to the Territorial Army or to a special reserve of the Regular Army for another 3½ years. I have heard awful rumours in connection with this as far as the Territorials are concerned, and I want them publicly denied or affirmed. Then we shall know where we stand. The attitude about which I have heard whispers is that they have got to serve in the Territorials after that period, and, therefore, matters like pay, bounties and so on, which Territorials get now as a 2168 slight reward for their long voluntary service, will be reconsidered. One wonders whether they are to get them in future. Have we not heard in the last few weeks or months, throughout this time of crisis, lavish praise for the Territorials, for whom nothing was too good? But, now that the men have been obtained, I feel that in all fairness the Territorials must not be undermined in any way, either before, during or after their conscript service, but must be treated with exactly the same generosity, financially and in spirit, by the Government and by the Regular Army.
Unless the Territorials continue to receive that recognition which they have won recently, their spirit will be killed, and we shall find that they will gradually melt away in numbers, and then it will be found that the compulsory system has come to stay as the only system, because the excuse will be that men for the Territorials cannot be obtained. A little tact, a little adjustment in these early stages, a little recognition of this Army for which, as I have said, nothing has been good enough in the last few months, will save a lot of heart-burning and trouble later on. I have felt it my duty to point this matter out to the House, in the earnest hope that the Government will tackle it now rather than hurt the feelings of a very large body of about 500,000 men who have endeavoured to serve their country faithfully in a time when there was no conscript army.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mrs. Hardie
One has a feeling almost of hopelessness in listening to this Debate. Almost every speech has been delivered from the angle of preparing for war. As a pacifist, I feel compelled, even at this late hour to ask whether there is not some possibility of arresting this awful horror. I remember very well the sacrifices that were made in the years 1914–18. In the hospitals and in the lunatic asylums throughout the country there are still men, some of them driven insane by the horrors they had to go through, and some so disabled that they will never be able to take a real part in life again. I remember one experience that I had in 1918, before the war to end war came to an end. Travelling from London to Glasgow in a night train, I was sitting in the comer of a third-class 2169 compartment—not a very comfortable way of travelling. The train was crowded with soldiers coming home on leave, and the smell of that train still lingers; they were in such a filthy condition coming from the trenches.
The trains at that time travelled very slowly, and I remember that this one stopped at every station. At one station a woman came in with a baby, and, putting the baby on the seat, sat on the edge of the seat for eight hours. Someone moved along and suggested that she should sit beside me. She had a look of dreadful misery on her face. When we reached Glasgow, she asked me to direct her to the Erskine Hospital. I told her what trams to take, and asked her if there was anyone there to look after her. She told me she was going to see her husband, and, I said to her, to comfort her, that it was probably not very serious if he was up there. She said, "Yes, it is; he is blinded and disfigured, and I have been warned about the condition he will be in." That was why she sat on the edge of the seat; she did not feel physical discomfort or anything; she was going to meet her husband—a young woman starting life with a man who would never be able even to see her again. These are some of the horrors that occurred in the last War, and the arguments that are now being brought forward in favour of war were used in those days in 1914. It was a war to end war, a war to crush German Imperialism, and all the rest of it, and people were carried away just as they are being carried away at present.
We on this side of the House have been asked for unity, but I notice that it is always to be unity on the terms of the Government—never on our terms by any chance. I have taken no part in recruiting; I could never ask anyone to go and face the horrors of a war. An interesting suggestion was made by one of my colleagues on this side, that the older men should go and fight. There used to be an old song which finished up by suggesting that those who had the quarrel should be the only ones to fight. I should like to see a ring made around all the people who were responsibe for the terms of the Peace Treaties and who have been here ever since, and to see them made to carry on the fight. They could use their own weapons. They might talk one 2170 another to death. I remember some of the old men in this House who made the Peace Treaties, and I remember that the War might have been finished long before it was but that people in comfortable homes wanted the War to be fought to a finish. I shall be losing my reputation as a pacifist if I say that I have a kind of unholy joy at the thought that the civilians will also be in any future war. I am sorry for the children, but, as far as everybody else is concerned, I think it will be a good thing that the whole nation will suffer, and not only the young men.
We have been told that we on this side are in favour of collective security, and that, therefore, we should rally round the Government; but when we on this side advocated collective security, it was collective security for peace, and not for war. The League of Nations was the one good thing, as we believe, that came out of the last War. It failed because of the selfishness of the representatives of the nations that went there. Everybody went to get something; nobody went in a spirit of accommodation, to do justice to anybody else. We in this country were among the "haves." That is the case that Hitler has. Make no mistake, Germany has a case. I heard the translation of Hitler's speech the other day, and I thought that if I had been a German I should have felt "that was a very good speech." I am convinced that if we had had a different type of representatives here and had met the Germans in a different spirit, there would have been no Hitler—no dictators. This is part of the price that the country has to pay for the cowardice of 1931, when a Tory Government was elected. The fact of our having a Tory Government in power here made the German people lose faith, because the Tory party have always stood for Imperialism.
There are two reasons for war—the economic reason and the lust for power. Are we guiltless? Consider some of the songs that are sung in this country, about "The Boys of the Bulldog Breed," and so on. We have been just as arrogant in the past as Germany. It seems to me as if we were on a slope, sliding down, and that the whole of civilisation were going to be destroyed, because of the pig-headedness of the rulers in the various countries. All the economic difficulties arose when we put on tariffs and quotas 2171 and granted Imperial Preference. That is the argument against us, that Germany and other countries are being shut out. Have the Government ever gone further, and suggested that we might remedy those things? When the Prime Minister came back from Munich and said he had secured peace, I hoped that he had. The women of this country would forgive the Government for almost everything if they could guarantee peace. But if that was the Prime Minister's policy and he believed it was right, why did he not pursue it further, and see whether something could not be done in the way of remedying the legitimate grievances of the other nations? All that was done was to sacrifice a small nation, and we went on as before. We were told to re-arm so as to protect British interests. No moral issue was held before us.
I particularly rose to put the women's point of view. I can assure you that the women of this country do not want conscription. When I speak of the women of this country, I mean the working-class women. The co-operative guilds have declared strongly against it; a large branch of a women's trade union in my constituency have sent me a resolution against it. I have not been in favour of trying to push young men into the Army. I think the whole system is cruel and brutal. You say, "We are going to train them for six months, and then put them back into the Territorials and call them Militia men." You are going to take those unemployed boys, who have received very little justice in life, to fight for British Imperial interests. We are fighting for the balance of power. It does not fool me when you talk about fighting for democracy. As soon as a war breaks out, it will take a microscope to see the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship.
Some of my colleagues on these Benches spent some time in prison during the last War, because they dared to refuse to go into the Army. What is to happen to these conscript boys? No working woman wants to shelter behind a boy of 20. If it was only a question of training for six months it would not be so bad, but we all know that as soon as war comes they would be the first to go into the trenches. Some of the boys came back from the last War wounded and 2172 battered, and some so brutalised that it would have been better if they had never come back at all. It is bad enough if they go of their own free will, but some of them are to be forced. I do not place much reliance on the measures which are promised to safeguard conscientious objectors. A good many will be called shirkers who are not shirkers at all, but who object on principle to taking life.
Something has been said about Northern Ireland. The Government do not need to explain to me why they are leaving out Northern Ireland. They know there would be concentration camps, and there would be trouble, and they would have to keep an army there. They will have the same trouble in many other districts. We in Scotland should be excluded from the Bill also. One thing that Scottish people resent is conscription and compulsion of any kind. We still have the old Covenanting blood. The Minister of Labour should understand that. We are not going to be conscripted and forced to do something wrong. I, therefore, suggest, if you are not going to throw out the Bill, that you take out Scotland as well as Northern Ireland. I do not suggest that all Scottish people are like me, but there is one thing to which they object, and that is, to being conscripted into the Army. The Minister of Labour in his Department ought to have seen to it that more was done for the unemployed boys. You are going to take them now and try and bring them up to a state of health. If he would look at his lieutenant sitting beside him and take him as a sample, and then look at some of the young men that come from Glasgow slums, he would realise the unfortunate condition of many young men who have never had a chance in life. Before you conscript the people, you ought to give them justice.
Although you are conscripting the lives of these young people, there is no suggestion of conscripting wealth. There is a Clause in the Bill which deals with the taking over of land for training camps and for other purposes, and I notice that there is to be no conscription of the land. Land is not to be taken over for the purpose unless compensation is paid. There is to be no compensation for the young boys whose lives are to be broken up. The Prime Minister has said that no one should be better off because of war. What right has anyone, if there is a war, to be 2173 as well off as he is to-day. If you take one class of the community and break up their lives and send them to fight and to go through the horrors of war, what right has any civilian to expect to be as well off as before? What right have the landlords to be as well off. They are not to be asked to give the use of their land without compensation. There was a Bill passed by this House the other day to give people the right to walk over the mountains. Fancy anybody claiming the ownership of a mountain. We have had to get a Bill through this House in order to allow the people, under certain regulations, to walk along the narrow path over a mountain. Yet the people from the slums of Glasgow and Liverpool and from other places are to be asked to fight for this land, of which they do not own a square foot. For these and many other reasons, I certainly oppose this conscription Bill.
§ 8.49 p.m.
I do not wish to intervene in this Debate for more than a few minutes, but I would like to say that many of us on this side of the House dislike this Measure of compulsory military service just as much as hon. Members opposite. I would say to the hon. Lady the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie), who has just made such a very sincere speech, that I remember as vividly as she does, only too vividly, the horrors and the sorrows of the last War, and I can assure her that it is only after the most profound thought and searching of heart that I have come to the conclusion that this is both a right and wise step to take at the present time. In spite of the present views of hon. Members opposite and of the result of the South Ayrshire by-election, I am convinced that opinion in this country has radically changed on this question during the last few months. I believe that the Prime Minister was quite correct this afternoon when he said that the majority of the people, quite irrespective of party politics, support the Government in introducing this Bill.
The two main things which have affected me and altered my views, and, I believe, the views of many people up and down the country, are, first, the obvious injustice and unfairness to those who are prepared to give their free time voluntarily to do extra service for the State as against those who are not. In other and different circumstances this might not 2174 have mattered, but now that the Government require such vast numbers of people, the whole situation is totally different. The other think that has changed my view is the immediate necessity for showing the dictators by every means in our power that Britain as a nation is in deadly earnest, and there has been overwhelming evidence from nearly everyone who has travelled on the Continent recently that some measure of compulsion in this country was undoubtedly one of the best ways of showing the world our determination to buttress up peace. It was once said of a very loquacious lady, how could she know what she thought till she heard what she said, and I think that it may equally well be said of Hitler and Mussolini to-day, how do they know what they say till they see how they act. Nobody can pretend to know how the dictators are going to act next, and this makes it vitally important to show beyond the shadow of doubt that, although we are the most peace-loving nation in the world and prefer to settle our differences and our disagreements by reason and argument rather than by force, nevertheless we can, and will, if the necessity should alas! ever arise, deliver a knockout blow.
It is true to say that it is part of our make-up in this country never to contemplate the possibility of defeat, and quite rightly, but that assumption should be based not merely on complacency or on past achievement, but on actual present facts with regard to our strength. However successful recruiting for the Territorial Army is, it stands to reason that we shall be in a stronger position at an earlier date if we have a greater number of adequately trained soldiers, than if we were to wait for the entire number to be obtained by voluntary methods. It is very significant that nearly all our friends and allies throughout the world have welcomed this Measure, and it cannot be altogether without interest to hon. Members opposite to read and to contemplate what M. Blum himself has said. I will quote one passage, which, I think, is very significant in view of this Debate: He says:I am not afraid to say to my labour comrades that it is my firm conviction that conscription in Great Britain is one of those capital actions upon which at this very moment the peace of the world now hangs.Therefore, it seems to me that the Bill accomplishes two main things; it gives 2175 confidence to our friends and allies, as it has already done, and when passed it will give greater strength to ourselves, and if we were able to be united on this Measure then undoubtedly it would also give disappointment to our enemies.
There is one word further I should like to say and that is about the pledge which was given by the Prime Minister. Personally, I think, and I believe a great many other hon. Members on this side of the House would agree that they would have preferred, if it had been possible, to have settled this issue by a General Election, but as that is not possible at the present time, therefore, I feel the Government had no choice, because the safety of the nation is a super-pledge which must always come before all else. Two of my constituents have written to say that they will not vote for me again if I vote for this Measure, not perhaps an uncommon experience for Members of this House. I have replied that although the Measure is undoubtedly a great departure from our traditional custom it is to my mind a supreme non-party issue, and surely at this time it would be very foolish indeed to oppose a Measure which does in fact only directly affect the lives of about 200,000 people and may indirectly affect the future and the freedom of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey
In the very sincere speech which the hon. Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) has just made she has told us that the reasons which have led her to support this Measure of conscription, which otherwise she would shrink from, are that it would get rid of unfairness which she fears exists at the present time and would impress the dictator Powers. Those who oppose this Measure do so because they believe it will inevitably inflict unfairness and injustice, and that whatever the short-range effect may be in impressing certain Powers in Europe to-day, the long-range effect on the people of Europe and on the ultimate situation will not make for peace. Let me deal with the first point. I believe it is quite true that under the present system there is often unfairness. Everyone must recognise that. The conscientious man who undertakes a sacrifice will never be in the same position materially as the selfish man who avoids 2176 sacrifice, and there is no system of legislation which will avoid that. But if you impress mechanically one form of sacrifice on every one of a certain age you will inevitably cause injustice. I think those who have followed some of the details of the working of conscription abroad could give evidence from personal experience that although there may seem to be a mechanical equality conscription does not really give equal justice in all cases.
Hon Members who have spoken on the Government side have made it clear that they feel that in taking this step we are departing from a great tradition. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made it clear that we are accepting a new principle, and the Prime Minister has also made it clear that he takes this step with great reluctance and only under a sense of urgent necessity. He has emphasised that the Bill is temporary and limited. I do not think a thing which is wrong becomes right because it is temporary or limited. If injustice is done only to a limited section it is injustice still, however limited the section of the people to which it applies. I believe profoundly that this measure is not only a departure from the great tradition of freedom which is characteristic of our country but that it will also be a wrong, and because of that I feel it is my duty to oppose the Second Reading, not in any spirit of rejoicing in opposing the Government, because I agree that at such a time as this we all want to emphasise the points on which we are agreed. I think we need to remember that the very name of this new service "militiaman" takes us back to a tradition which has almost disappeared, the feudal tradition of the old militia. I do not know whether hon. Members have taken the trouble to look up the Militia Act of 1786. It has an interesting preamble which was repeated in the Militia Act, 1802, setting forth the nature of the militia as it was then conceived:Whereas a respectable military force under the command of officers possessing landed property within Great Britain is essential to the constitution of this realm.The idea was feudal, the man with large landed estates in command and the respectable militia forces grouped under his command. We have gone away from that. Even in the days of Wellington we had got away from that idea. Wellington himself contrasted more than 100 2177 years ago the continental system with the British system. He said:The English would not accept this system of slavery.That is the judgment of that great soldier. There can be no doubt that for over 100 years, with one exception in a time of intense stress during the Great War, this country has relied entirely upon the voluntary system. We have evidence to-day from all sides in the House that there has been no falling off in the effectiveness of that system. I want to go further and point out that under our conditions of freedom we have allowed an opportunity of citizenship, which is very precious and which has been a characteristic of British culture and civilisation. It is something which we ought to endeavour to preserve. We have already had quoted to us the words of Captain Liddell Hart, the military expert. I am not going to deal with what he has said from the military point of view in advocating the voluntary system, but I think that with his immense military knowledge and experience, his judgment on the deeper issue is one that is worth recording. In his book "Europe in Arms" he says:It we drifted into copying Continental folly in the last War, we should be chary of consecrating this lapse as a permanent basis of our policy. The older British tradition represents a theory proved by three centuries of practice. With it, too, is linked the British tradition of individual freedom, our most precious heritage, which will be immediately endangered if we accept the new foreign theory of totalitarian preparation for war. It would be the supreme irony of our history if we sacrificed this freedom in the process of preparing to defend it. It would be like committing suicide to escape a fear.That puts, in very good language, the ideal that we have to keep before us. I want now to discuss the effect on foreign countries, to which the hon. Member for East Islington has referred. I think we must keep that in mind. It is well to remember that it is not only in France and Poland that thoughts have been turned to the possible coming of conscription in this country. As long ago as December of last year, a leading German paper, "Der Angriff," looked forward to the coming of conscription in this country, and not with regret. That is a significant thing. I will read a translation of the issue of "Der Angriff" of 20th December: 2178The Chamberlain Government is upon a path which without doubt ends at the introduction of conscription. The Cabinet has already extended the national register proposal so that at the end of March the voluntary results are to be examined. This can only mean that the voluntary principle can be changed to legal compulsion if registration is inadequate. The possibility has, therefore, to be reckoned with that in the next few years Britain will place itself in the ranks of the 'militaristic States' which were previously regarded as a Continental phenomenon. The 'island' will finally be transformed into a normal European State.There we have a sincere Nazi writer looking forward with more than calm—with satisfaction—to the transformation of this country into what he calls a "normal European State," with conscription as part of the basis of its life. Do we want to give satisfaction to those who have that ideal of the life of a nation? Europe for years has been going away from the ideal of militarism, although not as fast as we could have wished, and if we adopt this Measure now we may tend to strengthen the tide that is setting in in the wrong direction, which means in the end the destruction of our civilisation, or at least an imminent danger of that. That has been recognised by one and another, and I think it is recognised probably by some who reluctantly support this Bill, not because they want war, but because they believe that this will help to ward off war.
I am sure that the Prime Minister feels reluctant in proposing a Measure such as this. I do not think he wants to fasten militarism on this country or to have industrial conscription, but that may come in spite of his desire. It should be remembered that before the first Conscription Act of 1916, there was a campaign for conscription in which some who wanted it said that they wanted industrial conscription as well. Sir Frederic Banbury advocated it in the House on the ground that it was desirable from the point of view of keeping control over the men in the factories. I do not for a moment suggest that that is the object—I am sure it is not—of the Government, but it is a danger which has to be borne in mind, and it is one of the reasons for which many dread the fastening of conscription on this country. It is not possible for conscription and the voluntary system to continue long side by side. One must destroy the other. If conscription becomes 2179 permanent, we shall have lost something exceedingly precious that cannot be replaced.
I want to say a few words about the details of the Bill. I recognise that great thought and care have been given, amid stress upon the Government, to the working out of what is believed to be fair. I want to pay a tribute to the effort that has been made to make this a fair and, as far as may be, a democratic Measure within the limits that conscription allows. But the very fact that you have this element of compulsion nullifies again and again the effort to get fairness. It is true that there is a hardship provision, but nothing can guarantee that all the cases of hardship will be properly dealt with in this way. I can remember how Mr. Asquith, in introducing, in 1916, the first Military Service Act, quoted with joy the old ballad which described the campaign of Henry V before Agincourt, in which the King was made to say:Go 'cruit me Cheshire and Lancashire,And Derby hills that are so free,No married man or widow's son,No widow's curse shall go with me.Within a few months, the married men were compelled to come in by another Act, and the widow's son again and again went, in spite of all the recommendations that may have been made at the tribunal. This machinery will not prevent injustice.
I come to the very difficult case of the conscientious objector. I want to pay the warmest tribute to the effort that has been made by the Government to deal fairly with the conscientious objector. I believe the proposals contained in the Bill in this respect are immeasurably better than the proposals in the 1916 Act. In particular, the judicial character of the tribunals is a matter of the greatest importance and value. I can remember how a bishop—not a pacifist bishop—wrote to the "Times" to protest about the behaviour of the tribunals and said that they reminded him of the conduct of Mr. Justice Hate good in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." I hope nothing of that sort will have to be said of the tribunals that are to be set up under this Bill when it becomes an Act. I am sure the intention in that provision is one of justice and fairness, and I hope that, possibly with some amendment on the Committee stage, it may prove that in practice, worked in a judicial spirit, it will avoid 2180 most of the cases of injustice that occurred under the 1916 Act. But there again, no machinery can avoid injustice altogether.
There is no machine which this House or any other House can set up for judging the consciences of men that can be satisfactory. There must be hardship and sometimes grave injustice even under the best conditions. In the last war over 5,000 men were found by the tribunals not to have genuine conscientious objections or were not allowed the exemptions which were claimed. Later the Central Tribunal sitting at Wormwood Scrubbs declared these men, after they had been court-martialled, sometimes repeatedly, and imprisoned, to be conscientious objectors, and they were given an alternative to the treatment they had been suffering.
That shows how completely the machinery of the old Act failed largely because of the prejudice, ignorance and inexperience of many of the members of the tribunals. I hope that nothing of that kind will happen under this Bill. We must not think only of these persons. There will be many others. Mention has already been made of apprentices and students, and I hope we shall have an assurance from the Government that postponement of service or anticipation of it will be allowed in those cases. It is well to remember that in China to-day, when the Republic is fighting a desperate struggle against tremendous military odds, the students are ordered by their Government to continue at work, because they recognise that their work is essential to the future of Chinese culture and civilisation. Students do not want any class privilege or anything that would give them an unfair advantage over their fellows, but this is a case where the interest of the nation as a whole is concerned and the service of the students should be made as full as it can be for the benefit of the country.
Behind this Bill there is undoubtedly in the minds of the promoters the thought of national service. We all feel the value of that and the need for it and for sacrifice. Although I oppose this Bill, I do it believing that national service and sacrifice are needed and are desirable, but that they should come as the free gift of free men. They will have a deeper and fuller meaning if they come in that way. I look forward to the time when the highest national service will be recognised as that which is also in the true sense of 2181 the word international, which aims not at the destruction of life but at the building up of life, not just for the good of one nation but for the good and well-being of the whole family of nations.
We have that thought behind the best thought and endeavour of the great humanists of all ages, from Erasmus downwards. We have it behind the thought of the great leaders of science who feel the evil of war and the tragedy of this civilisation of ours giving all its best energies and thought to works of destruction. Above all, that thought is behind all the forces of religion. Behind the example and spirit of the greatest Master and Teacher who ever came to us is the thought that the service that we give should be a service that is compatible with the teaching and example that He gave, not a service for one nation alone, but a service for the whole family of nations, the whole community of mankind, from which the good of our nation can never be separated.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The House can never fail to listen to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) without a deep appreciation of the sincerity with which he speaks. I cannot go all the way with him in his views, and I will not follow him into all his arguments. I recognise that the problem of the conscientious objector is an important one, and I hope in my remarks to say something about it. The hon. Member has said much about the principles involved, and the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) talked about this change in our heritage and our way of life. I am not altogether satisfied that any great question of principle is involved in the Bill. If it were, I think that the emergency is such that it might well be disregarded. I might have a principle that I never run across a road, but if I found myself walking in the middle of the road and a big ugly bus suddenly approached, I should not stop to discuss nice questions of principle but I should jump out of the way as soon as I could.
What has impressed me about the Debate to-day is the great unity of thought which has been expressed from all sides. Members of all parties are determined that this country shall be defended and are determined to make a stand against aggression even in places 2182 so far away as Poland and Rumania. We are determined that we must convince our friends and foes alike that the commitments into which we have entered are real and not mere scraps of paper or sops to sentimental idealism. We are agreed that they have to be clothed in reality. I readily admit that there is a difference as to the means which should be adopted, and I appreciated the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who directed his remarks to the question whether this method was really necessary. With regard to the question of the principle involved, I would ask, first, whether it is good democracy. If I might borrow a phrase from the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) with regard to the duke and the dustman, I would ask whether there is anything undemocratic about a principle whereby the son of a duke and the son of a dustman work together, train together, sleep together, and, if necessary, fight together.
Then a question was raised, as far as I could understand it, by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) with regard to trade unions. It was said that they had not been consulted, and if there was any lack of consultation I should much regret it. No one appreciates more than I do the part that trade unions have played in building up the defence of this country in recent months, the part they played in helping with the rearmament programme, and, when the history of these times comes to be written, the part that the trade unions have played will be given full prominence. I believe that the men at the head of the trade unions are too big to stand upon their dignity and let a squabble as to not being consulted stand between them and their judgment on the matter. I believe they will seek to judge it on its merits. I would ask them to consider whether there is anything in trade unionism which goes contrary to the principle of compulsion. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite will take these things from me, but I was reading the other day some remarks of the late Arthur Henderson, whose views I think should carry weight in all parts of the House. Speaking on the subject of conscription in 1916, he used these words: "We"—that is himself and members of the trade union movement—We have all advocated compulsion to secure the extension of trade unionism, and 2183 many of us have advocated measures of the most drastic social reorganisation—measures which could only be enforced by compulsion on the largest possible scale. If we have done this to improve the health of the people, to regulate their social habits, to break down the barriers of class, to equalise the distribution of wealth, surely we cannot do less to save the nation and not this nation alone but the little nations to whom we are pledged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th January, 1916; col. 1733, Vol. 77.]I feel that that view, expressed by a man for whom we all have the highest esteem, should carry some weight in the House. It is true that at that time we were at war and to-day we are not, but can it be said that our need to-day is so very much less? Can it be said that our opponents are so very much weaker or our battle front so very much shorter than it was then? Since then we have seen the growth of modern weapons and the strength of modern science applied to the horrors of modern war. We have seen ourselves committed, with the approval of all sides of the House, to battle fronts which extend from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In my view, perhaps the issue here is not one of principle but of necessity. We have to be in a position now to send out an expeditionary force of sufficient size and sufficiently well trained to strike, and to strike quickly, a vital blow. I am not in full possession of all the facts about the training of men, and so forth, in the Regular Army, but I believe it to be true that there are companies of infantry which would have to depend to a very large extent on reservists in order to bring them up to their war strength—perhaps up to 50 per cent. of reservists—many of whom have not received training in modern weapons. It seems to me that this method of conscription will be a way in which we can have men of the old Army trained in modern weapons.
May I say a word about the way these men are treated during their training? As it seems to me, the object of the Bill is to train men in military duties—totrain soldiers, and not housemaids. Anyone who has any knowledge of the Army is aware that a lot of valuable time is taken up with duties such as cleaning the barrack-room floor and other less savoury tasks. We do not want to use very valuable time in these short six months in having these men doing ordinary fatigue duties. Surely it will be possible to employ ex-service men who happen 2184 to be out of work to do those jobs, and use this very short time to get down to it and train these men in military duties. I am sure that the Regular Army—I have spoken to several senior officers on the matter—are determined to give these young men the very best time they possibly can, because it is on the view that the first batch take when they go back from their conscript training that the success of the whole scheme will depend. If they go back and say, "It was not really such a bad time that we had; we rather enjoyed ourselves," their younger brothers and cousins will come forward willingly, which is what we want. I should like to emphasise what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara) on the subject of the Territorial Army. I hope it will be given some special consideration in this matter. No one wants exemptions, but it seems rather a waste, when you have trained a man for two or 2½years, that he should then go and start learning how to do a right turn. This is not a matter where class distinction comes in. Surely it will be possible to put them either in senior companies or in different units, and in some way to make use of the training which they already have in order that they do not have to repeat all the elementary work a second time.
Obviously, a man who conscientiously holds the view that killing is wrong ought to be excluded. I suppose a Quaker is a typical example. I notice that under Clause 3 (5, c) they have power to compel him to do non-combatant duties. If that means that conscientious objectors are going to have labels tied on them and then be sent along with the rest of the conscripts into sanitary squads, it is not a method that appeals to me. I notice that in these tribunals the Minister has very much greater powers of appeal than the objectors. I do not share their views, but that does not seem to be giving them a square deal. I hope we shall have some assurance that this point will be considered.
When these men come back from their six months' training they are to go into the Territorials or some Special Reserve. In either case I assume that they will have to do drills and training, and perhaps go to camp. It seems to me that this is very good legislation for the towns, but I am not sure that the position of the rural 2185 districts is very fully appreciated. Most of us who have knowledge of rural districts realise the difficulties already experienced in recruiting for the Territorial Army. Men who live in villages several miles from the nearest drill hall are 10th to recruit for the Territorials, and I hope that steps will be taken to ensure that the training system is so decentralised as to enable these men to have the training conveniently given. I believe that, if that is done, not only will it help this scheme, but that it will give a great impetus to recruiting for the Territorials in rural districts generally.
I am just as guilty as any hon. or right hon. Member for having advocated at times, on different platforms, alliances of different sorts, mutual alliances, unilateral alliances, or pacts of collective security. I admit frankly that I have not always been careful to examine the military implications of the problem. I believe that this is almost entirely a military question. We have given these commitments to Poland and to Rumania, and we cannot take up a position something like a second in a boxing contest. We cannot sit outside the ring, in a corner, uttering encouraging grunts, and waving a towel. We cannot just murmur encouraging advice. Our allies would not be content to accept that, and I do not believe that this country would be content with it. I feel that in this House and in the country we are united in our desire to see these commitments implemented, if necessary up to the full, and for that reason I pledge my support to the Bill.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I am delighted to get in even at this late hour, after sitting here since half-past two. I am glad to have been called, after 16 years' service in this House, and representing as I do in this House over 300,000 engineers. I want to tell the House the position of the engineers. I only wish the Prime Minister had been here to listen to my colleague, the hon. Member for Spring-burn (Mrs. Hardie). The House heard from her a true version of how conscription is going to affect the Clyde. You may take it from me that it will not come off. There will be no conscription on the Clyde. Our district committee of the Amalgamated Engineers Union have unanimously passed a resolution calling on our executive in London to use every 2186 means at their disposal against the idea of conscription. We have been doing everything we could in order to keep the engineers at work. We have used our influence, and the Cabinet know it. The Prime Minister knows it. We are told that in Birmingham they took a secret ballot, and the women voted seven to one for conscription. That may be Birmingham, but that does not represent the Clyde, nor does it represent the engineers. The voice of Springburn to-day was a warning to the House that it will be just as serious for the Government to try and enforce conscription on Scotland as it would be in Ireland.
The hon. Member who has just spoken had the audacity to pose as an intelligent man and say that there is not much in this Bill. We are asked to surrender our right to be free men. It has always been recognised that when a man joins the Army he ceases to be a free man in this country.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The reply to me now is that he is a boy. That means that it is the boys who are being conscripted. They will be taking the weans next. We in Scotland believe that in peace or war free men are better than slaves. It was said by one hon. Member representing Ulster that some of us can remember the last War. We can remember the last War. Some of my colleagues were sent to gaol. I was deported and sent to gaol, and I am prepared to go again against conscription. Hon. Members can see whether or not I am serious. As I told our party on Wednesday, I say now, I will do all I can and use whatever influence I have—and up to now no official of our union has ever had the vote that I have got from the engineers—to influence the engineers of Great Britain against conscription.
§ Sir Joseph McConnell
The hon. Member talks about what happened during the 2187 War. Had he any infleunce with the engineers in Belfast? Did any one of them support him when he went to gaol, and did any one of them strike?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I do not see that that has anything to do with it. Nobody knows better than the hon. Member that I have no greater admirers than the engineers in Belfast.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I do not want to take up too much time, although I do not think I have been treated fairly. The engineers will get word how I have been treated as their voice here to-night.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
You know, Mr. Speaker, whether I have been treated fairly or not. Is it fair treatment that I should sit here from 2.30 and rise on every occasion, and only be called now?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is an accusation against the Chair. The hon. Member must realise that there are many other hon. Members who have been sitting in the House an equally long time.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I do not wish to pursue the matter further now. I know that I shall not get the support of the House, but I know I shall have the support of the engineers, and that is all that I am concerned about. Hon. Members talk about what happened in the last War, and we are told that we are being given safeguards. It is all so much nonsense. There is no one on this side of the House or anywhere else who can hold this Government to any pledge now. The hon. Member opposite mentioned the late Arthur Henderson. In the last War we had two of the most powerful men that our movement has ever produced; men recognised by the other side as powerful men, and the result was that they took them into the Cabinet. I refer to our general secretary, George M. Barnes, who is still alive, and Arthur Henderson. Those men came to us with pledges. I used all my influence with the engineers not to surrender their trade rights, because those trade rights were not ours to surrender. Our forefathers had died for 2188 those trade rights which we were asked to surrender. I said that they were ours to defend, not to surrender. The engineers took the advice of the general secretary and Arthur Henderson, because they had got the pledge of the Government.
What happened? The hon. Member opposite just now read out what Arthur Henderson had promised was going to be practically the millennium. Wealth was going to be practically conscripted, everything was going to be equal after the War, and we were all going to be comrades. What was the case in 1920 with my trade union? We engineers had our wages reduced below the level of the scavengers in the streets. Those were our conditions, and that is what we were reduced to, with the result that there is some justification for the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there was a shortage of skilled labour. Why was there that shortage? It was because our best men were forced to leave our trade in order to get decent wages. They are still there. That is how we were treated, and, therefore, the men are forewarned and forearmed, and they are not now going to be hoodwinked.
Before you have conscription of youth, you must conscript all the material wealth of the country, including the land. I warned our party of that. I stood here in this place and asked them not to vote for National Service, but my comrades are generous, and always have been. There is more in the Prime Minister than many give him credit for. I have never underestimated the ability of my opponents. They tried it on with the workers of this country for National Service, and I demanded that if we were to vote for National Service, the old age pension should be raised to £1 a week and at 60 years of age. I demanded that we should ask concessions from the Government if we were to go in for National Service. But we did not, and only nine of us in this House voted against National Service. We said then that it was the thin end of the wedge. They tried it on, and it came off. The Prime Minister thinks he has sized up the situation and that he can go through now with conscription, with us surrendering everything we have. No, Sir. Scotland says: 2189If I'm design'd yon lordling's slave—By nature's law design'd—Why was an independent wishE'er planted in my mind?If not, why am I subject toHis cruelty, or scorn?Or why has man the will and powerTo make his fellow mourn?On the Clyde we have given of our very best. We have produced the finest ships in the world, without conscription; we have defeated the French in regaining the Blue Rib and of the Atlantic, without conscription; we have built the finest warships in the world, without conscription; we have produced the finest men, without conscription. [Laughter.] There is no levity about it for me; it is too serious for me. I went to gaol the last time, and maybe I shall have to go to gaol again. There is nothing that I will not sacrifice in order to fight against conscription, in order to fight against the very thing that we boasted of, the thing that we were proud of, that we were free men, that we were not conscripts. Have we ever let the country down as freemen? Have conscripts ever been able to demonstrate to the rulers of this country that conscripts are superior to free men? Never, Sir. If they had come along, and there was danger because, remember that, I said in this House years ago that I am no conscientious objector. I am a fighter, and I have said here before that if this was a Socialist Republic, I would fight for it, but this is a different matter. When we ask anything for our class, what do we get? Even at the moment in Portsmouth, we have them out on strike.
I am glad the Prime Minister has come in to hear what is being said, because he knows perfectly well that the engineers up to the moment have never let him down, and he is letting the engineers down badly. To think that here, without having the voice of the country, he takes away something that he himself has always held dear, the liberty of the subject, the free man, able to decide for himself what he is going to do; and here he takes this plunge without asking the country whether they are in favour of it or not—the more so after he himself said that no conscription would take place in this country before a General Election.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Well, we are not in war yet, and I hope we shall never be in war, and more so to-night than ever, 2190 because I want to tell the Prime Minister that the men on the Clyde will down tools rather than give in to conscription, and I, the Member for Dumbarton on Clyde-bank, will do all that I can in order to get, not only the engineers on the Clyde, but the engineers throughout Britain, to down tools against conscription.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
It is fortunate for the Prime Minister that he has been able to come into the House to hear such a definite testimony and such a downright expression of view from an hon. Member on this side of the House. I echo to the full the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). All of us who remember the years 1914 to 1918 and the many broken pledges of that time cannot but feel disappointed that we have come once again, in days of peace, to the open violation of pledges frequently repeated, even by the Prime Minister, in this House. The Prime Minister must be concerned at the expression of opinion that he has just heard. I think he was more concerned this afternoon with the effect of conscription abroad. He did say that conscription had produced a profound impression abroad, and he urged that, I imagine, as a reason for our support of conscription in this House. After all, this is still a self-governing country, and there is no justification at all for any attempt to influence votes in this House by reference to vague ideas regarding the opinions of people abroad. I am sure that I could satisfy the Prime Minister, if I had a private conversation with him, and I could tell him pretty frankly, without offence, what I think is responsibue for the opinions abroad.
I am certain that the people abroad have come to the conclusion not that England is weak, not that the British people do not love liberty or are prepared to compromise, but have come to the conclusion, by the daily witness of the Government's policy, that it is the Government of Britain that is weak. They are now expressing their satisfaction that there is some sign of returning vigour in the Government of this country. There is an impression abroad that the Government of Britain is stronger to-day than it was six or nine months ago, and having watched the progress of events in Europe I am not surprised that the people of 2191 Europe had come to the conclusion that this nation was on the down grade. I heard a speaker say this afternoon that it was a bad thing to start the consideration of an international subject with the impression that this country is going down. I do not believe that it is, and I do not believe that it will go down, but if anything is creating such an impression abroad it is the conduct of His Majesty's Government.
Let us take ourselves back to September of last year. France had then, as she has to-night, the best army in Europe, the best army in the world, manning the best frontier defence works ever constructed anywhere in the world. There was in Czecho-Slovakia an army of 1,750,000 men facing west towards Germany, and manning lines almost equally well-constructed. There was the force of Russia in the background. One does not know what occurred in the case of Russia in September of last year. We have never been given a full explanation. But although France had the best army in the world and were certain allies with the Czechs and with ourselves, and there was the possibility of the aid of Russia, it was represented that France was not strong in September of last year. She was not short of men nor were her military positions badly prepared, but France was deemed too weak because she was short of aeroplanes and anti-aircraft defences.
Let me put this point to the Prime Minister. I do not want his answer now, but he must have it in his mind. Supposing that in September, 1938, we had had, conscripted and ready trained, half a million men. Would that have made any difference to France without the aeroplanes and anti-aircraft defences? The answer is, No; and when we are asked to discuss the question of raising men of military value we are taken right away from the larger considerations. Of those we have heard practically nothing. Not one word has ever been given in confidence to this House regarding the growing production and organisation in our workshops. Nothing is said. We are told there are a number of planes but how many nobody knows, because no figure is given. Are we producing guns? Well, there are none in evidence. There is every evidence of an appalling back- 2192 wardness in preparations on every hand in this country.
We are told that the introduction of conscription is not a sudden inspiration, is not a concession to opinion in France. I have listened on a dozen occasions in this House to demands for conscription in this country, and I fear to-night that the amateur strategists, those gentlemen who sit in the smoking-rooms of clubs in London and elsewhere, those retired generals and colonels with militarist ideas will succeed, unless we are very careful, in persuading the House and the people that now that we are to have conscription everything is all right, and we shall go on as we have been doing for another six or twelve months, and that would be fatal.
We have said in our Amendment that we are concerned because we have pledged ourselves to the defence of this country in a very special way. We have gone an enormous distance, not on our road but even off our road, almost getting off our road, in order to be quite certain that the nation's defence shall not fail because of action on the part of this party sitting here. It is well known that three or four years ago the organised workers of this country, in the Trades Union Congress at Norwich, passed a very special resolution supporting a vast rearmament programme. I am reminded that it was done at the Margate Conference first. An hon. Member for Bristol and the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) were asked by the Trades Union Congress to go abroad to tell our international friends assembled in Geneva that the British workmen were prepared to accept obligations for the promotion of collective security in order to make our due contribution in munitions and men to the safeguarding of peace. We did that because we wanted peace and not because we are militarists.
But after the experiences I have gone through there has been a change in my mind. Facts have changed my mind very largely. Since 1933 I have visualised a different Europe. It is not the kind of world we thought we should be living in this year. That change has taken place, and all who have not been blind to that change have been able to pass some judgment on events in Europe in the last six years. We took an enormous risk. I have heard speeches from the benches opposite charging us with unwillingness 2193 to try to safeguard peace, but we were trying to hold together the dissolving members of the League, trying to provide an improvised system of security when the League had gone.
I have heard hon. Members telling us across the Floor that we on this side wanted war. They should have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs. They should have heard the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie). That is our view of war. We do not want war. War has never benefited the workers, and never will. If we are forced into war it will not be a war to benefit the working class; it will be a war in which we join, if we do join, because of the political solidarity which is inherent in the build of the people of this country, and not because we are out to benefit ourselves. I cannot say the same of hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I have listened to their speeches more often than I have spoken and I know their minds.
As to the Prime Minister's speech today I am sure that on reflection he will fell ashamed—on this one point. The Prime Minister represents himself—I do not know how far, but I believe he does represent himself and that he is jealous of his right to represent himself—but he also represents a Government and a party which in the year 1939 are passing a law by force majeure, which is going to take young men out of their working places and put them into the custody of the State to be trained for a specially hazardous service under the State, a service which many of them feel to be degrading. Those men are to be taken out and kept in rigorous training for one shilling a day. A shilling a day! I thought the shilling-a-day soldier had gone for ever. A young man is to be asked to give up six months of his time, valuable time at that period of life, to give his whole capacity for service in the most hazardous and unlovely of all occupations, and he is to be rewarded with a shilling a day. And the Prime Minister has the temerity to say that there will be equality of sacrifice.
It is we who have a right to be offended when hon. Members opposite come here and toll us that there is equality of sacrifice. What is the position of young men of 20 and 21 who have had to live in 2194 poverty? I know them by the thousand. I was one myself. They are young men who have never had a chance to save a penny piece and have known poverty at close quarters. I know what it is to have struggled hard with a good deal of mortification, but with a certain humble pride against circumstances, to fit myself for a fairly decent role in life. But when I came to the age of 20 I was free, and if anybody had told me that the State wanted to take six months of my life, I would have been very disappointed because then I was planning my own life. I wanted every hour of my time to carry out the modest little plans which I had made for myself. We do not know how long these young men will be required to serve under this Bill. Many of these will be young men of the working class who have probably been denied the opportunity for work from the day they left school, until the State wants them, and then they are told that a shilling a day is the pecuniary value which the State places on their service.
At the same time, as a salve to the conscience of the House and the country, we are told that everybody gets the same and that it is equal all round. What is the use of telling that to a poor boy, who never got a shilling for any of those occasional little indulgences to which he is perfectly entitled? What is the use of telling him that he makes the same sacrifice and only the same sacrifice as the son of the rich man, as the sons of hon. Members here, who can afford to send their children for 10 years to public schools and universities and give them generous allowances, allowances in many cases infinitely more than the amount on which a working man has to keep a family. There is no equality of sacrifice.
I am not in the least impressed by the suggestion that a claim will be made upon the rich people in the form of some measure for the conscription of wealth. I will make this prophecy. I know the Prime Minister's party better than he does. When he was Chancellor I remember sitting here and listening, I must say with some admiration and some hope, to the introduction of a Measure for a tax on profits. What has happened to that? It was defeated in this House by the rich men, and I tell the Prime Minister that if he brings in a Bill for the conscription of war wealth in any form, it will not be hon. Members on this side who will defeat 2195 it, it is not our small numbers which will embarrass him but the weight of the vested interests behind him. Therefore, away with this pretence. It is a shameful thing to link up this suggestion with a proposal to conscript the young lives of this country. We are free to speak here, and I hope for a long time we shall be free to speak everywhere, but I doubt it very much. I share the opinion that we may now be approaching a very steep declivity, down which we shall slide and lose our freedom before we are awakened by the shock.
Let me say a word about our Amendment. It presents half a dozen points. One point is that we do not believe that the voluntary system has failed. I am sure it has not been tried. We were approached some months ago and asked in our capacity as Members of Parliament, as members of local authorities, as public men, as trade unionists, to play a part in the organisation of national safety in this country. An overwhelming majority of Members of this party consented to do so and I have done so myself in a small way. I am to open a discussion to-morrow night on the wireless appealing for support for National Service. How can I do it? I am not afraid of responsibility. Hon. Members on this side of the House are not usually afraid of responsibility. They would not come here if they were. But I must have some regard for consistency and I shall have to amend the script which I submitted in good faith 10 days ago if I am to speak to-morrow night after this Debate. I shall have to say something about what I think is a grand mistake on the part of the Government in introducing this controversial subject at this time, or else remain silent.
I believe that we should have been able to get sufficient men in this country, but not for a shilling a day. The soldier henceforth must be a well-paid soldier. There is no reason why he should not be. Why all this talk of conscripting wealth? Why all this pretence, unless the soldier is to be regarded as fit for the ordinary rights of the citizens? The soldier must be a well-paid man and I feel certain that if the Prime Minister had taken that course, he would have been successful. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman saying that he is a democrat and I do not dispute it. Every man knows that for 2196 himself. If the Prime Minister as leader of a democracy had said to the people of this country, "We must all try to live up to the conception of duty that democrats owe to the State, with which they are associated freely and voluntarily in service one to another"; if he had made that appeal as a democrat to democrats, there would have been no doubt about the reply.
I have heard it said that if you go round putting up posters and trying to attract people's attention, that is a form of compulsion in itself. I do not regard it as such. We invite people to join the Band of Hope and various other societies. We invite them to become this or that in an unofficial capacity, and throughout their lives men freely play their part in a thousand voluntary ways in the building up of this country. There is no reason why a man of any age should not be asked to perform his duty to the State, although I yearn for the day when it will no longer be necessary to require any man to carry a gun or a bayonet for his own protection. Safety cannot ultimately be found on those lines.
However, we are living in a difficult world. I should not be ashamed of asking men to do as I would myself, undertake the risks of war in order that we might get through this very difficult period; yet there is no safety without arms and, in the long run there can be no safety with arms either. We are all striving by these means to prevent the outbreak of war by disparaging the aggressor. Suppose the Prime Minister withdrew this Bill to-night. He could say: "I have done it in deference to the opinion of Members of Parliament who come to Parliament with the same right as myself." Indeed, on this question I say that we come here with a better right than hon. Members on the other side, with an allegiance to which they, in their large numbers, were not loyal. Hon. Members opposite came to the House pledged to defend the League of Nations. We came here on the same pledge and we have stood by the League.
The people of this country know their responsibilities. We are not a nation of weaklings afraid to face realities and responsibilities. We should tell the people of this country that the duty which awaits us is that of averting war by presenting a packed block of resistance to those who seem to pour scorn upon our labours, 2197 and there would be no shortage of volunteers. If the Government will do that, the volunteers will come. The way to keep the peace is not to wait until six months' time. If trouble came to-morrow, what would be the use of the Bill? If the war comes upon you suddenly, like a thief in the night, conscription or no conscription, you will have no plans ready at all. If you want to save time, and you think the voluntary service does not permit a sufficient time for training, why should the volunteers not be invited to come up for training and to spend the first three or six months of their training before they come into the ordinary Service? I am sure that you would get far more men in that way. We have been getting during the last three or four months more men than we could equip. I understand that we have been getting 2,000 men a day, and there has not been enough equipment or drill-hall space for these men to be trained as soldiers.
I am sure that if you want to develop that principle and if you want 5,000 men a day, or an even larger number, in this country, you will get them if you will offer inducements. Show the people of this country that our object is sound and that we are going to treat our soldiers in future as they have never been treated in the past. Much can be said about the democratisation of the Army, but if we are to have a national Army in this country for use in peace or war much should be done to change the conditions in order to make a satisfied and contented service, as well as to make conditions more comradely between the various grades. All that can be done.
Those who are thinking in old-fashioned terms of military service are doing a great disservice at the present time. The Army of the future will be small and consist of highly-trained technicians. They will be far more highly trained and physically fit than the soldiers were of olden times. It is said that we need only one man as a soldier out of every 18, because you require 17 men to provide the materials for one modern soldier, who uses guns of large calibre and rapid-firing machine-guns. The dropping of heavy bombs from high up in the air is done with one man at the controls of an aeroplane of 1,000 or 1,200 horse-power. That relation of the man to the material involves an entire change in the kind of service required from what was required in former years. 2198 You can get that pick of the young men in this country now if you pay them properly. I feel quite sure that if you offered decent prospects of service there would be no delay. The men would come. We are driven to the conclusion that the Government's unwillingness to explain their difficulties and their reticence on all these matters ought to be cleared up. No attempt has been made to prove that the men cannot be obtained and that the Government are not satisfied with the effort that has been made.
It has been said that we are breaking with tradition in embarking upon compulsory service in peace-time. Be it remembered that this House—a House that is proud of our national achievements in many ways—has for some 150 years looked after and undertaken all the commitments of a scattered and wide-flung Empire. We have commanded and policed the seas; we have accepted our responsibilities; at times we have claimed the right to possess a Navy larger than its two nearest rivals put together; we have had a standing Army large enough to accept all the commitments of many decades in the life of this nation; we have built up in the last few years an Air Force of superlative material, with young men of good education and excellent physique. All of that has been done under a voluntary system, and it has been done without creating civil discontent or disaffection of any kind.
I warn the Government that they will not escape disaffection if they press on with these measures. Many people, myself among them, are so averse from any change to totalitarian control that they will never accept it. For myself, I will not have it. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the other day, and I confess to him that I sat here very uncomfortable. Let him read his speech. It is the duty of hon. and right hon. Members on the other side of the House to try to understand us. We have just as high ideas of national duty as anybody on that side. Let them try to have some regard to the things for which we stand. If they will, I feel sure that no one will quarrel with the Amendment we put forward. We deny nothing to the State except the right of the State to make vassals of its citizens.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I have decided to intervene at this stage because I anticipated that Mem- 2199 bers would be interested to know some of the details which it is proposed to put into operation in order to make the registration and calling up, which will come under my charge, effective under the Bill. The House will understand that no discourtesy is meant to any hon. Member who has raised purely military questions, such as were raised by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, if I do not answer those questions to-night, but leave them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is the natural Minister to answer them, when he speaks towards the end of the Debate. Those who have listened to the whole Debate—
§ Mr. Attlee
Is it now to be the method of carrying on a Debate that, in a two days' Debate, no answer to the major points which have been raised by my right hon. Friend as to whether the military needs of the country require this Measure is to be given until the end of the two days' Debate?
§ Mr. Brown
I made no such statement. What I said was that the military points raised by the right hon. Gentleman would be dealt with by the Secretary of State for War when he came to make his statement towards the end of the Debate. I shall certainly follow the usual custom of the House and deal as fairly as I can with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman and by other Members, including the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell).
Those who have followed the Debate from the beginning will have noticed three things. First of all, there has been a great deal of talk about the issue of international relations; secondly, there has been put squarely to the House the issue with regard to compulsion on the one hand and the voluntary system on the other, and the comparative effect which the two systems would produce from the point of view of the nation's needs; and, thirdly, judging by the silence of the House up to the moment about the actual construction of the Bill itself and the proposals of the Bill, allowing for the other side's complete opposition to the Bill as a whole, it is apparent that, granted the need for the Bill—to which I will address myself in a minute or two—there has been singularly little discussion on the Government's decisions as to how the thing will be carried out. I am not talking about 2200 the minor points; I am talking about the major points, as to how the thing is to be operated, what is to be its effect on a man when he has completed his period of training, and the major point dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about those who have conscientious objections to military service.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) raised the question of voluntary methods against compulsion. I did not detect in his speech quite the same whole-hearted objection to compulsion, as compulsion, that has been expressed by other speakers. As I understood his argument, it ran as follows: We did not need compulsion, and, therefore, we ought not to have it. We did not need compulsion, he said, because the Government held one view, and the Opposition held the other view that voluntary methods would give us all we want. He did not go so far as some other Members on that side in denouncing compulsion, as compulsion, and from that I drew the comforting conclusion that, as the arguments went on in this House and the country, there was a great deal more hope of agreement being reached on this matter than might have been likely at first sight. He said that the voluntary system would give us all we want; but other hon. Members said that what we were doing in this Bill was abolishing the voluntary system. That is not so.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out that this is a supplement to the voluntary system; and, indeed, the vast bulk of the service which the nation needs now will, after this Bill becomes law, be provided on a voluntary basis. [An Hon. Member: "You will not get it."] The hon. Member is prophesying. I heard the prophecy made on the day that this scheme was announced that the introduction of compulsion would stop voluntary recruiting. I do not want to draw exaggerated conclusions from the experience of a week or ten days; but the statement has been made three times in the Debate that compulsion and the voluntary system could not go side by side, and those who made the statement that the immediate, effect of the introduction of compulsion in this country would be the cessation of voluntary recruiting have been proved, in the first ten days, to be wrong—and not merely to be wrong on the military side, 2201 but to be wrong over the whole field. Let me add to the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the announcement of the intention to introduce compulsory military service for young men of the age of20 has not had an adverse effect on the Voluntary National Service schemes. Both of the last two weeks since the announcement was made have been record weeks for the number of applications for voluntary enlistment.
§ Mr. Brown
No. Let me put these facts before the House. In the week ending 22nd April there were 120,000 applications, which was an increase of 30,000 over the preceding week, and in the week ending 29th April there were 160,000 applications, and there is no sign of diminution. There have been 1,190,000 applications since the campaign started, and the increase is notable in the last fortnight both in the applications for Civil Defence and the applications for the armed Forces. I cannot give the precise distribution of the applications at the moment, but it is the fact, and that I think should make hon. Members a little less hasty in asserting what the opinion of the country will be. It has been rightly said on both sides of the House that, in adding this Measure of compulsion to our voluntary system, we have made a great breach with our tradition. Outside this House this seems to me to have been received both by men and by women in this spirit, that they are convinced that, while there is a wonderful response to the voluntary appeal, there is also need for additional and serious measures in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that he was going to answer the argument which I put forward, based upon very careful figures, that, by the voluntary system, we could have got, within the next year, a larger number of recruits than the Government Bill provides. He has merely quoted a series of figures which were practically the same as those which I gave, and which show the enormous response to the voluntary system now. I wish to know 2202 whether he intends to-night to deal with my argument, or whether he says that the Secretary of State for War will deal with it when the Debate is wound up.
§ Mr. Brown
If the right hon. Gentleman will only wait, I am coming to that very point. I was, first of all, dealing with what has been the whole atmosphere of the Debate, and I have judged that to be the real duty of the Minister at this stage of the Debate. The first point, and I repeat it, is that the first indications do not bear out the confident prophecies of Members opposite that there is the same violent feeling outside against this Measure as they have shown, in one or two speeches especially, although not in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and against compulsion as such. That is the first point I make.
§ Mr. Brown
Nobody would ever challenge a statement of the hon. Member about the Clyde, but there might be other viewpoints put on the appropriate occasion. The right hon. Gentleman says, "You are going to take in a successive number of young men between the ages of 20 and 21 for the three-year period for which this Bill is to run, and that will amount, it is estimated, to some 800,000." He says that we could have got for our purposes by the voluntary system a larger number than that. To state the case in that way is completely to miss the point underlying the Bill, I mean the military point, which is this. Whatever may have been the result of appeals for service on a voluntary basis we could not have obtained the same number of trained men in the same time as we shall get by this system. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman, and there is no hon. Member who has served in the Territorial Army, or who served in the last War, who does not know the meaning of that. Those who went into the ranks in the first months of the last War know how priceless would have been a six months' preliminary training. That is my military answer to the right hon. Gentelman. It is a complete answer and it is a true answer. The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) in his speech showed a perception of what is happening. He said that he would not go back on the vote he gave 2203 on the last occasion, but he realised that the decision having been taken, the situation had entirely changed. There has been a perception throughout the whole country that this system will give us what the voluntary system cannot give us, that is, trained men in time.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to set aside entirely the whole argument I used. I pointed out that if you took the members of the Territorial Army, the ex-service men who had five years' service under the age of 40, you would get men already trained, and by appealing to them you would have got vast numbers of trained men more quickly.
§ Mr. Brown
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman would call them up for six months? His argument means that he would put an extra burden on those who have already done their share. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) is always desirous that other people should listen to what he has to say, but I do not find him so eager to listen to points which he does not like. I have been challenged to make a reply, and I am making a reply, and the fact is that it is rather uncomfortable for hon. Members opposite. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Brown
If I were to spend a quarter of an hour dealing with the fallacies underlying the right hon. Gentleman's speech I should not get the same effect as I have done by a plain statement of fact. There is another point, and it is a major point. The question of foreign relations has been frequently referred to during the Debate. The point which I am making is the effect which this decision has had all round the world. One or two speeches have been made to belittle its effect, but I find the speech of the right hon. Member for Caithness much nearer the mark. He knows that however much Members of the official Opposition may try to belittle the effect it has had abroad, the introduction of this Measure has had a most profound and steadying effect abroad, more than anything which has been done in recent months, after the first commitments which the Government made towards Poland, 2204 Rumania and Greece. The reason is this. It is to be found in the absence from this Debate—except for the speech of one hon. Member—of any claim from the Opposition benches that this Measure is undemocratic. There were wild, sweeping, general speeches, notably one from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who made portentious prophecies about the absolute smashing of democracy by this Measure; but only one hon. Member in the whole Debate has ventured to say that this Measure is not democratic. There are two reasons why hon. Members cannot say that. First, owing to our past history, our past tradition, our past needs and our past conception of foreign commitments, we have been the only major democratic country in Europe that has not had a compulsory service system. Within the group to be called up, there could be nothing more democratic than the provisions of this Bill.
§ Mr. Brown
Nobody, whether a civilian or a soldier, who is under 21 has a vote. If war should come before the person is 21, as I understand it, he would have the vote then because he would be in the Services. Therefore, in case of war, that point is a false one. To continue my argument on this subject, I was pointing out that nobody, except one hon. Member, has said that this Measure is not democratic. It cannot be said. The fundamental principle about the service is this, that there are only two classes of exemptions. There are arrangements made for anticipation and for postponement, but there are only two classes of exemptions—exemptions, after registration, because of medical unfitness, and exemptions, after registration, for those who hold conscientious views.
§ Mr. Brown
They are not exemptions. I am using accurate language. The hardship tribunals arise out of the necessity of meeting the cases, some of them educational and others industrial, of those who, while they wish to do their service and indeed will have to do it, desire, because of the interruption in their career, to do their service earlier or later than they would normally register. But for the rest, it is a completely democratic framework. All will serve in the ranks, 2205 all will carry the ordinary soldier's pack, all will eat the ordinary soldier's ration, and all will live in the ordinary soldier's barracks. I cannot conceive of anything more wholesome for all concerned; for whatever views those of us who went into the ranks in the last War, and served for more than two years in them, had of the War, it is certainly true that none of us would forego the experience he had of being in the barrack-room with other people of all sorts and conditions.
Moreover, in this case there can be no doubt whatever that the six months' training will not be regarded, as some hon. Members think it will be, as something to be avoided. I have no doubt whatever that when the date for registration is announced, the overwhelming majority of those in the age group between 20 and 21 will come forward and register, and we shall then be able to test by actual fact inside that group whether hon. Members' prophecies about this matter are right, or whether there may not be a much stronger desire to serve, as the democratic Government of this free country, backed by a free Parliament demands, than has been prophesied in the wild indications of men outside which have been bandied about by hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member for Gower was very insistent on the shilling a day, but I noticed a new spirit in the Debate about that. Members who have been talking about the shilling a day have been reflecting. They have been asking what the Regular soldier gets and what are the Regular soldier's obligations. They have been saying that a Regular soldier enlists for a period of service to go anywhere in any part of the world where he is commanded to serve. He has a marriage allowance only if out of his 2s. a day he makes an allotment to his wife. It is a different situation for the Militiaman who comes up. He comes up for six months' training at home. There is an obligation afterwards to do his annual training for three years, and while he will get a shilling a day during his six months' training at home, in barrack or in camp as the case may be, he will get a marriage allowance without an allotment from his pay as of right.
When he has done his six months' training he goes back to work and wages, 2206 and the Government have laid down a very strict Clause imposing a statutory obligation for reinstatement which is as tight as the law can make it. More than that, when in successive years the Militia soldier comes up to do his drills he will get pay similar to the pay of all others of his rank in the service in which he does his future service. That is why, while we shall hear a good deal about the shilling a day in uninstructed circles who have not followed the history of the Regular Army, we shall not hear much about it in circles who know what the Regular Army's pay and conditions are, especially when it is realised that the 2s. is the highest pay the Regular soldier has ever got, and that 2s. was fixed by this Government, which has made more improvements in the lot of the Regular soldier than any Government in modem history. That is, I think, an answer which the country will appreciate.
I want to say something about the actual frame work of the Bill. There will be three stages. The first stage is registration in the military training register. The second is the medical examination. The third is the calling up for military training. With regard to registration, we are proposing to make a public announcement by posters, Press and wireless instructing men between 20 and 21 to attend the nearest office of the Ministry of Labour for registration. We have given most careful thought to this question and have reached the conclusion that, on the whole, in most places Employment Exchanges are the most convenient places for the purpose. They are well known and well equipped for it. [Interruption.] They are not only well known, but they are universally popular. In some places it may be necessary to use other buildings. In order to meet the general convenience as far as possible and to cause the least disturbance to business, men will be registered on the first convenient Saturday afternoon following the passing of this Measure into law. All men will be required to register as far as possible on the same day. That day will be notified in the public announcements. To avoid congestion or queues a system of timing will be put into operation in populous districts. Men who are prevented from attending on the appropriate date by circumstances beyond their control, such as illness, will be required to attend for registration as soon as possible.
2207 Arrangements will also be made for those who live at a considerable distance to register by post. Men who are away from home on business or holiday will be permitted to register at the exchange in the towns where they are staying. There will be certain classes, such as seamen who are at sea, for whom we shall make special arrangements. When men attend for registration they will furnish the necessary particulars, including particulars of their occupation and any special experience, so that as far as practicable appropriate use may be made of their qualifications. The date of registration is a date of the first importance for under the Bill a man's liability to be called up runs for one year from that date. Men who fail to register not only render themselves liable to a penalty, but will be liable to have their term of liability extended, because it will last for12 months from the date on which they are actually registered. The Bill recognises anticipation and postponement in order to meet hardships. That, of course, will affect educational careers on the one hand and certain, I hope few, apprentices on the other. There will be Military Training (Hardship) Committees and they will deal with cases of anticipation or postponement.
With regard to medical examination, individual notices will be served on men who are registered to attend for examination before a medical board. There will be about 120 medical boards at convenient centres throughout the country. Men will be allowed reasonable expenses and allowances for attendance, including compensation for loss of remunerative time. The Government appreciate the great importance of medical examination in order to secure that men are not subjected to training which would be injurious to health. Each medical board will consist of not more than five qualified medical practitioners and it will have authority to direct examination by a consultant examiner in any case where it is considered desirable. Steps are being taken now to secure suitable premises for examination. The third stage is the calling up of men for military training. Men who have passed the medical board will receive their individual notices to present themselves at the appropriate reception depot for military training. At least 10 2208 days will be allowed from the date of the notice for the men to make arrangements. It is proposed to call up men in approximately equal batches commencing not earlier than the end of June. That answers the question of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) and a number of individual inquiries made to me from various men who want some indication. The other detailed questions that the hon. Member put will be noted for consideration, together with a number of other questions which have been put to us already by correspondence.
§ Mr. Harvey
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an announcement to the House on those points? It is of importance to a great number of students to know the exact details of the arrangements.
§ Mr. Brown
That is understood. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put two questions. He wanted to be assured that there was no modification in the nature and extent of our guarantee to Poland and that the Government were continuing their efforts to bring the Soviet Government into the peace system. I can only say a few words about this matter, because the subject before us to-night is the Military Training Bill, and there are frequent opportunities for ascertaining the point of view of the Government on foreign policy. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will avail himself of those opportunities, as he has done in the past. It is, however, reasonable that he should wish to be reassured that the main lines of our foreign policy have not been modified, and that no modification is taking place. He may take it that our undertaking to Poland has not been altered in its nature or extent. In regard to the question about Russia, the Prime Minister has indicated to the House this week that no further statement can yet be made, although we fully recognise the desirability of making one at the earliest possible moment, and he will no doubt make one when it is possible for him to do so.
§ Mr. Eden
My right hon. Friend must appreciate that the only reason why I raised this matter was because of the "Times" leading article this morning. What I asked for was an indication that what was stated there about the undesirability of an Anglo-French-Russian alliance did not represent the view of His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Brown
I understand, and that was why I made this statement in the Debate, as it was an important point and we attach importance to it. One further point in conclusion. I believe the country appreciates that this Bill is not a substitute for but a supplement to the voluntary system, and that there will be increasing evidence of that shown as the weeks go by in the realm of voluntary service. There is no contradiction between the two schemes. I believe that this scheme will meet our immediate needs in the light of the new conditions of defence and that it will build up a reserve of trained men to complete the system of training and equipment more easily than could be done in any other way. Certain hon. Members opposite say that the country will not do this, that or the other, but I believe that as the days go by they will alter their view. This is a democratic decision, and when the country realises that, after a full debate, Parliament has decided, and that the majority rules, then those who are in a minority will loyally fall in with that decision and do their best to make what is the decision of the House a practical Measure, and work it to the very full for the interests of the nation as a whole.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.