HC Deb 10 October 1939 vol 352 cc149-52
26. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the undertaking given that no militiaman under 20 years of age should be sent abroad for military service, he will consider the case of boys who joined the Territorials before war at 18 years of age and who are now being sent abroad as they become 19 years old; why is this differentiation made; and whether he will put an end to this anomaly by ensuring that boys who joined voluntarily shall not be sent overseas at an earlier age than those who were called up under the Military Training Act?

27. Mr. Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take steps to prevent lads of 19 years of age and under, already serving with His Majesty's Forces, from going overseas until they reach the age of 20?

30. Mr. Burke

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Gunner Kenneth Moore, No. 1462307, has been sent overseas; and why this has been done in view of the Government's policy that no man under the age of 20 years should be sent overseas?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

On the introduction of the National Service (Armed Forces) Bill, I informed the House that we were taking out of the active Forces preparing for overseas all existing men who were under the age of 19, and that I would give an assurance that, if possible, before sending any man called up under the Bill out of the country when under the age of 20, I would make a statement to the House. This undertaking, which was accepted by the House, has been and will be observed. The reason for the differentiation is that the Regular and Territorial soldier has always been under the obligation to serve in the field under the terms of his voluntary enlistment.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that men who have joined the Territorial Army at the age of 18 will not be precluded from going on active service at the age of 19, as there appears to be considerable misunderstanding? Many units have an average age of very little over 19 or 19I years, and if this condition were insisted upon it would deprive those units of the opportunity of standing beside our Allies.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I can give that undertaking. I am aware of the feeling of young men that they should be allowed to participate in active service.

Mr. Burke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this young man to whom I refer was only 19 years of age, and the undertaking given to the House was that no one should be sent abroad if he was under 20? A volunteer of 19 is just as old and no older than a Territorial of that age.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I must apologise to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke). I omitted to give the last part of my answer. In the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Burnley, the soldier, according to the age given on attestation, is over 19 years of age.

Mr. T. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have sent him particulars of a case from my division of two brothers, one 18 and the other 20, who were sent abroad? Is not that really a breach of the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

In any such case, where a mistake has been made, I have undertaken to bring the man back at once.

Viscountess Astor

But if one applies for these men, as I have done in several cases, they are not sent back.

Mr. Speaker rose

Mr. Kirkwood

May I not put one supplementary, Mr. Speaker, on my own question? Does not the right hon. Gentleman's reply mean that the volunteer is going to be placed in a worse position than the conscript?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

From the volunteer's point of view, I think it would generally be true to say that he considers himself in a better position.

Mr. Speaker rose

Mr. Davidson

May I not ask a supplementary, Mr. Speaker, arising out of my own question? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that when he gave that undertaking to the House it was generally supposed to mean that no lad of under 20 would be sent to France? In view of that, and as he has trained men of 20 and over, would he not consider replacing those young lads in France by men of over 20?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I think the hon. Member is under a complete misapprehension. Would it further reassure the House if I told hon. Members that at this moment we are taking out of the Forces for overseas all men of under 19—and they are very numerous—and we are not proposing to send them to France although they have enlisted again?