§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is to enable British subjects in foreign countries to be called up for the Armed Forces. This principle is not a new one in international practice. It is, however, a new departure for this country. Certain Continental and other countries have uniformly followed the practice of making their conscription laws applicable to their citizens, wherever they may be. This Bill is not introduced because there has not been a good response from British communities in foreign countries on a voluntary basis, but the time has come to extend obligations similar to those at home. A very large number of people have responded to the voluntary appeals in various parts of the world, and we have provided special facilities for their return to this country to serve in the war effort. There is, however, a great moral reason behind this Bill. It is not merely a question of man-power but of demonstrating our determination to use every resource available for the defence of the United Nations. If anyone has not responded and has escaped the obligations that have been imposed on the citizens here at home, we feel it is desirable that as far as we can provide the law and the means, all British citizens should serve the country in this its hour of need.
The House will ask no doubt where and how this Bill is to be applied. Its first application will be to Egypt. There our forces are in the grip of battle with the enemy. It is not merely a question of the defence of Egypt. The defence of that territory is as much a defence of Britain as if they were fighting in Kent. Therefore, it becomes a question of utilising the man-power that is available, wherever the men may be. Alexandria and Cairo are in the line of attack, and probably in as great danger—or greater—as we are here, and we think it is right and proper that this measure should be applied in the first instance where the danger is most acute. We are not neglectful, however, of the position in other foreign countries. It is simply a question of priority of application.
438 I ought to explain that it is not proposed to interfere with the present arrangements with the United States of America under which British subjects of military age in that country join the United States Army if they do not enter a military or other service approved by the British Government. Where a reciprocal arrangement exists we think it better to follow that practice rather than to attempt to deal with the international problems raised by the application of this Measure.
The Bill will apply only in foreign countries. It will not be applied in the Dominions, India, Burma, Newfoundland or Southern Rhodesia, or in the Colonies, Protectorates or Mandated Territories. So far as these latter countries are concerned, it is not necessary to apply this particular Bill, because conscription can be effected by local legislation. So far as the Dominions are concerned, however, the matter will still be the subject of discussion with them, for rather than attempt to apply a Bill of this character to our own family of nations we prefer to discuss and arrive at internal arrangements within the Commonwealth itself.
The powers in the Bill apply only to British subjects. They will not apply to the citizens of any Dominion or of India, Burma, Newfoundland or Rhodesia in any circumstances; that is to say that if a citizen of one of the Dominions is—to take an illustration—in Egypt, this Bill will not apply to him.
I should add that it is the intention to take the same line as is adopted under the National Service Acts in this country in the case of those ordinarily resident in the foreign country. Under Section II of the National Service Act, 1939, the British Government can conscript any member or any subject of the Colonies in this country if he has been "ordinarily resident" here. In exactly the same way he will be deemed to be liable if he is in another country.
Another point that arises under the Bill concerns dual nationals. They were excluded from the Bill as originally drafted, but the Government propose to introduce an Amendment to Clause 1, sub-section (1), to enable them to be dealt with by the Order in Council in the light of the conditions in the individual countries. This question of duality of nationality arises in different ways in many countries. Egypt loomed large in the minds of the draftsmen when the Bill was designed, but 439 we found that if we had to deal with other countries the dual nationality problem would raise issues which would allow many of those who were in fact British nationals to escape their obligations. Therefore, it was felt better, especially as the Order-in-Council will have to lie on the Table of the House, to allow ourselves an element of flexibility in order to deal with this question of dual nationality according to the area of the world or the country in which we propose to apply the Measure.
The procedure, as I have indicated, will be by Order in Council, but the Order in Council will follow as closely as possible the procedure of the National Service Acts. The conditions to be met in the various countries to which this Measure may be applied vary considerably, and it is not possible to lay down all the conditions in a Bill. We shall require to have an element of adaptability to accord with the laws of the various countries, and we felt that if we laid a separate Order on each occasion, the House would have the opportunity of examining it in the light of the circumstances to be dealt with. The House will have a safeguard in Clause 2, which requires every Order to be laid before Parliament, with the right of either House to present a Prayer for its annulment. If, therefore, the Executive exceed what Parliament thinks is proper there will be an opportunity to raise the particular issues involved. Under this Bill we propose to lay down the same obligations as in the National Service Acts and to provide as far as humanly possible, rights of a like character. The Bill does not deal with such subjects as Civil Defence or industrial employment. They will have to be covered by Defence Regulations. Where people are not suitable for military service we must have the power to direct them, where it is possible so to do, to the most useful service which they can render.
Therefore, the rights and privileges attached to the obligation to serve will correspond, so far as is possible, to those in Great Britain. I propose to enumerate some of those rights. The British citizen will have the right to apply for postponement on hardship grounds. He will have the right to apply for exemption on the ground of conscience, similar to the provision here. It will be impossible to 440 reproduce all the provisions of the National Service Acts; for example, with regard to the constitution of the hardship committees and conscientious objection tribunals. We shall have to find alternative methods to achieve the same objects. The only caveat I enter is that, while we give the same rights, we cannot give exactly the same form of committee that we can give here at home, with the facilities that exist.
It will be appreciated that in applying this Measure to Egypt in the first instance we are in an interesting and, if I may say so, favourable position. There is the fact that the British Armed Forces are present in Egypt, subject to British military law, and there are special provisions to deal with problems of this character under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. This will facilitate the enforcement of calling-up to the Armed Forces. As I indicated, we have to adapt machinery in order to give efficient administration, and yet give the same rights, on the basis of justice, that we have at home, but not in the same form. We therefore propose that the machinery for calling-up should be under the control of the British Ambassador. The main civil functions in regard to British citizens in that country are under his direction and we feel sure that the citizens will be able to be dealt with properly, if the administrative work is placed under the British Ambassador.
We propose also to create a central board to advise him. This board will consist of a lawyer, a military representative and a civilian chosen after consultation with appropriate organisations representing the British community. We do not limit ourselves to consulting any one organisation; the Ambassador will have the duty of consulting a variety of forms of organisation that exist in those countries. In addition, we propose to appoint on the boards a woman member as well. So that you have the Ambassador, and then the central board, consisting of a legal person, a military representative, a civilian chosen after consultation with British organisations in the country concerned and a woman member.
So far as Egypt is concerned, we carry that a stage further, and propose to appoint three local boards, similarly composed, to work in each consular area on similar lines to those of the local machinery of the Ministry of Labour and National Service 441 here, through the district man-power boards. These local boards will consider problems of deferment and matters of that kind, but the applicants will have the right to appeal to the central board against any decision of the local board. Independent tribunals are also to be established to decide in cases of hardship and conscientious objection. The members of these tribunals are not to be in the service of the Crown in either a military or a civilian capacity. We feel that if we establish these as civilian tribunals it could not be argued that we had brought a military or governmental attitude into the tribunals.
The next problem is that of enforcement procedure. Of course, it cannot be exactly the same as here at home. There is no British court existing there corresponding to the court of summary jurisdiction in this country. Therefore, we have to find an alternative, and the proposal is that persons who do not comply with enlistment notices will be arrested in the same way as that provided for deserters. In other words, they will be issued with notices of medical examination and they will also be issued with enlistment notices. If they fail to respond, they will be treated as deserters and will be brought under the existing treaty arrangements between the two countries. I cannot see any alternative procedure, and it will be only the persons who fail to comply with the enlistment notice, according to the law laid down in the passage of this Measure, who will be arrested as deserters.
A difficulty may arise in connection with disputed nationality cases. We propose that they shall be settled by an appropriate tribunal. We recognise that, in the application of a Measure of this character, as was revealed in the recent Debate on the Allied Nationals Act the other day, this question of disputed nationality needs to be handled with great care. We are desirous that it shall be dealt with fairly and properly. By the time the Order-in-Council is submitted we shall have worked out the procedure, I hope to the satisfaction of the House. On the administrative side, it is proposed, in the application of this Measure to Egypt, in the first instance, to send an official from the Ministry of Labour to assist in the administration of the scheme. We took the view, I think quite properly, that the Ambassador and his staff who have been 442 engaged in entirely different work could not be expected to understand either the spirit or the intricacies of the operation of the National Service Acts in this country, and it has therefore been arranged, in order that the matter may be dealt with properly and I hope satisfactorily, that an experienced official from this country will be sent, so that the Ambassador and the various tribunals may be advised of the right approach to the problems that they may have to settle from time to time.
§ The question of what steps can be taken when the Measure has to be extended to other countries from the purely administrative point of view will have to be dealt with on its merits when we arrive at that stage. The point I have made for the moment about the official aid to be given by the Ministry of Labour applies primarily to the present set of circumstances in Egypt. I have no doubt that we shall be able to devise some plan of an appropriate character, when dealing with our nationals in other countries, to grapple with these vexed problems. This Bill also applies to women as well as to men, and this is made clear by the definition of His Majesty's Forces in Clause 3 that the Women's Auxiliary Services are included. That is one of the grounds for appointing a woman member on the Boards in the case of Egypt, and we shall do our best to get assistance from the existing organisations in Egypt which are concerned with the employment of women in that country.
§ I think that in this rather brief statement I have outlined the main provisions of the Measure. We feel that all the citizens of the United Nations should, as far as possible, be brought within the ambit of their respective laws. As far as our own country is concerned, as one of the biggest factors in the great United Nations effort, we feel that we should do all we can to utilise every man or woman who is a citizen to serve at this particular moment in this hour of great struggle. I believe that this Measure will be extremely popular abroad; it will clear away a lot of misgivings, for, very much as they were in this country, people are not so much refusing to do things as they are in need of direction as to what to do. This law, and its administration, will enable people to know either that they are rendering national service where they are or that they are being transferred to where they ought to be in the national 443 interest. It will, I am quite certain, impress other countries that Britain, in the struggle to win this war, does not intend to leave untouched any of its man- or woman-power. While the total numbers may not be great, the principle is important. The moral aspect is vital, and I believe the Measure will give satisfaction to citizens at home and give a proper opportunity to our citizens abroad.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I think that the House ought to congratulate my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the logic of the case which has been put before the House. I remember a very tense scene in the House very shortly before the war broke out when I stood at the Opposition Box and accepted the second Bill for compulsory national service. It was a very hard thing for me to do, but the Measure was accepted. Granted that compulsory service is now generally acceptable to this House and to the people of this country, I think it logically follows that it ought to be extended to British nationals abroad. It is not so very long since, in collaboration with our Allies, we passed legislation to deal with their nationals, which gave us authority to use them here or gave the Allied Governments authority to conscript them for their own Services. It seems logical that we should extend the powers obtained here, to the countries not excluded from the Bill, and therefore my hon. Friends and I accept the Bill.
I am glad to know from my right hon. Friend that the voluntary response has been so good, but I take the point, and I think it is a vital one, of which he spoke early in his speech and at the end, namely the obligation which lies upon us to prove to the United Nations the whole-heartedness of our own efforts. It is often forgotten that, of the belligerents now actively engaged in the war, we alone declared war, and in that special sense we have a very great responsibility. It is a gesture—and I follow my right hon. Friend's argument in this matter—of considerable importance to the United Nations that we should extend the powers conferred on the Government with regard to the peoples over here to our own citizens abroad. The main burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was in reference to Egypt, and he admitted that there might have to be an extension sub- 444 sequently. I am glad to think that he intends to send an experienced officer to Egypt to handle all the complicated problems which are bound to arise, and with which even the Ambassador is not, and cannot in the nature of things be, familiar. I assume that my right hon. Friend, in so far as he is responsible for the administration of this Measure abroad, will try to apply the same kind of principles as those which he has applied here and will do so in the same broadminded spirit. In those circumstances I think that the House has no alternative but to agree unanimously to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I think the Government are very wise in bringing forward this Bill; they might very well have done so at an earlier date. They will, none the less, be able to gather in a good many supporters to the war effort from different parts of the world through the machinery of this Bill. I would like to make a few remarks first of all with reference to the situation in the United States and the method which it is proposed to apply there. I quite understand that in the circumstances the Government procedure is the most appropriate one because of American legislation. My right hon. Friend said the response had been very good from the United States and other parts of the world. So it has, but there are a considerable number of people who have not responded, and there has been in the past a good deal of criticism in the United States. It has done us no good to have had a considerable number of eligible persons making no contribution at a time when the Americans were being conscripted.
I fully appreciate that large numbers of British people in America are much more usefully employed in what they are doing now and are making a much better contribution than if they were serving in the Armed Forces. My remarks do not apply to them and to many others who are only too anxious to play their part. But there are some of whom this cannot be said, and this applies not only to manpower but to financial power. I appreciate that this Bill does not deal with the conscription of wealth, but man-power. I wish it did deal with the conscription of wealth because a great deal of money is not contributing which might be made to do so. The fact that these people have been there has certainly done us no good. 445 I intend to refer, because I happen to have precise knowledge on this subject, to certain places in the United States where the authorities might usefully make their inquiries both on the question of man-power and finance, though I agree we are dealing only with man-power today. I ask them to make inquiries in New York, Long Island, the New-England coast, Santa Barbara, Del Monte, Carmel, Maryland, Virginia, Baltimore, Middleburg, Palm Beach, and Miami. They will find there are considerable numbers of the persons I have in mind in Southern California. I think that some investigation in those areas will be helpful to the war effort.
I desire to turn to another side of the problem with which my right hon. Friend dealt. In the course of his remarks on the question of enforcement he said he saw no alternative to the particular method he put forward. It is quite true that it will work very effectively in the case of Egypt owing to Treaty arrangements. It will work effectively in the case of the United States owing to the particular arrangements in force there. But it will certainly not work in the case of, say, the Argentine, where there are many British subjects. If they are called to the Colours there, no means exists of arresting them or making them respond. My right hon. Friend has said that it was very important we should strain every nerve to bring in every available person in any part of the world to join in the effort. I know he means it, and that it will be his desire to take every possible and reasonable step to bring in those persons. I think it is clear that the machinery of this Bill will not operate, certainly where neutral countries are concerned, and I venture to make these suggestions as a contribution to the solution of the problem of enforcement.
I believe that if you really mean business in those areas you will need to have the power to apply some of the sanctions of the kind to which I will now refer. It will be made clear, I suppose, that as is the case under the existing National Service Acts anyone not responding would be liable to imprisonment and arrest if they ever came into jurisdiction. Of course, they might not come into jurisdiction. It is possible that in certain cases, by arrangements with other countries, certainly with Allies, they could be arrested and handed over. The real 446 penalties however are these: If a British subject at this hour of our national peril is not prepared to make any effort to help, there is no valid reason why that person should remain a British subject. A suitable penalty would be to deprive them of their nationality. It should be in order to revoke their passports. They should be made liable to the forfeiture of all their assets in this country to the Crown. That is not an unreasonable penalty for people who refuse to bear the burdens that their fellow-citizens are bearing every day.
There is another possible sanction which might affect some British people. They should be treated as enemies under the Trading with the Enemy Act. It may be said that some of these sanctions are rather fierce, but the offence is serious. The refusal of a British subject at this time to do everything in his power, in whatever part of the world he may be, to help us to march towards victory is one of the most serious offences a human being can commit. While I do not expect the Government at this moment to make a final statement on the wisdom or the possibility of applying these sanctions, they are real sanctions. They Rave the backing of persons of profound legal knowledge—which I do not profess to have myself—who are well acquainted with international law, and I commend them to the earnest consideration of His Majesty's Government, to help them in the task which they desire to carry out in the national interest.
§ Colonel Stanley (Westmorland)
The whole House must agree with the objects with which this Bill has been introduced. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has referred to something which in the past has been in the nature of a scandal—the presence in the United States of, I think, a numerically small, but highly self-advertised, coterie, known as the Free English, who justified their refusal to take part in our war effort by running down all British institutions and openly hoping for a German victory. Those people have been dealt with by another, and, to my mind, much more appropriate, method than that contained in this Bill.
I am, I confess, confused as to how, in general, this Bill is going to operate. We are told that this is not an isolated Measure, but an attempt to bring all British subjects throughout the world into 447 the war effort, and to prove to the United Nations that all British subjects are in it. Although I agree that that is an admirable object, I want to put one or two questions to the Attorney-General, in order that I may be convinced that it is an object which will be capable of attainment under this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman drew his examples of the way that the Bill was going to work exclusively from the case of Egypt. Egypt stands in a category separate from that of other countries which may subsequently, as he gave us to hope, be covered by this Bill. The old, long history of the Capitulations has made a legal position between us and Egypt, and our British subjects in Egypt, which is quite different from that in any other country. Add to that the fact that although Egypt, like many other countries, is neutral, a fierce war is being carried on by both sides within her territory, without much respect for her neutrality. That obviously puts her, again, into a different category.
This Bill, however, is not applicable only to Egypt. We are given to understand that it may be applied to other countries, all of which—or most of which—will be completely neutral in law, whatever their feelings and sympathies may happen to be. I want to know what will be the effect of trying to apply the provisions of this Bill—which may or may not be all right for Egypt: I am not going to express an opinion either way—to other countries, such as, for instance, the South American republics. What would be the effect of the administrative provisions of this Bill, if carried, upon the neutrality of the country concerned? Is it proposed under this Bill to set up in a neutral country the whole machinery for the registration, examination and the subsequent conscription into our Armed Forces of British subjects who happen to be in that country? I would like to ask the Law Officers whether, if a neutral country were to permit that machinery to be set up under the aegis of our Ambassador, and to function openly in their State, it would not in fact be a breach of their neutrality?
The second point I would like to reinforce is that made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) with regard to sanctions. The one sanction that the right hon. Gentleman has of the immediate arrest 448 and the treatment as a deserter of the man who refuses to register may be applicable in Egypt, where they have the power of arrest and the people to make arrests, but obviously it is inapplicable to any other country to which the Measure might be extended. I would like to hear more from the spokesman of the Government on the sort of sanctions which they have in mind for the extensions of the Bill which they have led us to believe they contemplate? The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, with a thoroughness for sanctions in relation to personal liberty which always characterises a Liberal when he turns into an authoritarian, has produced a long fist, but he will, I am sure, agree with me that, even with his ingenuity in seeking these new sanctions, a great many people in the countries concerned would not be touched by any of the sanctions he was able to produce. During the war, and certainly without the desire of the person concerned to return to the country, no sanction in fact would be enforceable.
§ Mr. Mander
My view of the sanctions was that they would make most of the persons respond. They are so severe that if those persons desired to remain British subjects they could hardly avoid them.
§ Colonel Stanley
I agree that they are very severe and make a formidable penalty hanging over a man, for the future, but there are no sanctions at present such as we can now enforce in this country, and such sanctions cannot in fact apply. This country is going to decide questions of neutrality in the territory of another State, and by Orders in Council of the Ministry of Labour we are to decide whether a man in Argentina or Brazil is to be regarded as a British subject or as an Argentinian or Brazilian.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
There are a number of people who admittedly have dual nationality and the question was that under the Bill power should be taken, if thought proper, by Order in Council to apply conscription to British nationals notwithstanding the fact that they also had another nationality. It is not that we are dealing with a dispute as to dual nationality, but we preserve our right to conscript our own nationals and we do not regard dual nationality as a complete answer.
§ Colonel Stanley
I am obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend. Will he deal with the difficulty which might arise in attempting to apply sanctions in one of those countries to a person whom we regard as British but who is regarded by that country as one of their own subjects, singled out for penal treatment? There is one small point of drafting, and I should be very glad if he would look at it. That is in paragraph 2 (c) of Clause 1. He will see there that after giving general effect to the Bill we particularise the various things for which this Order in Council is to provide. We provide, first, for registration and examination, then for consideration of objections, and finally for enlistment and enrolment in any of His Majesty's Forces which may for the time being be present in that country. That is quite all right, as long as the Bill is devoted to Egypt. We have Forces there to whom enlistment and enrolment can apply, but when one extends it to some neutral country, say, in South America, that could not take place. I only want to know whether the doctrine "inclusio unius, exclusio alterius " does not in fact limit power to enrol and enlist in cases where we have Armed Forces in the country concerned? I am wholly in favour of this Bill, but as a layman I see considerable legal difficulties, and I would be grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General if he would remove them.
§ Wing-Commander James (Wellingborough)
There are one or two points on this Bill on which I also would like a little information. I was surprised and disappointed at the almost apologetic way in which the Minister introduced the Bill. I should have thought he required no excuse at all; it should have been introduced long ago. Primarily the Bill may be dealing in the ultimate resort with a very undeserving class of citizen. The overwhelming majority of British nationals who were earning their living overseas when the war began were among the most patriotic and zealous in the whole of the British Empire. I know that from personal experience, because on one occasion I had to go to young men doing important jobs and urge them not to leave them until such time as they were wanted for the war machine. Therefore, the residue left over, in certain countries at any rate, would be very undesirable people.
450 Before saying a word or two about them, however, there are two points I would like to mention. The Minister appeared to place confidence in the completeness of the consular lists, but I do not think they are complete. The Germans have a complete organisation with regard to their nationals abroad and exercise a rigorous control which amounts almost to tyranny over their nationals in foreign countries. But nothing like that applies to our nationals. The consular lists in many countries may be valuable, but I do not think they are complete, and may be evaded by the sort of person who has not reported to the consul at all. I would like to ask what warrant the Minister has for assuming that consular lists are complete with' all data about British nationals of military age? Another point which struck me was this—and surely the Leader of the House knows all about it. An Ambassador is the accredited representative of His Majesty to a foreign Power. It is rather a new departure if an Ambassador is to be used, as apparently under this Bill, as an instrument of the Ministry of Labour's policy. I am not questioning the desirability or otherwise of such a line but it is something new and should not be passed without any comment. To refer to an Ambassador as one who is to be told to do this or that by the Ministry of Labour is something very novel indeed.
I come back to the category of persons whom the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and I have in mind in connection with this Bill. I do not see how the sanctions envisaged in the Bill can be applied in some cases, or, if they can be, that they will be sufficiently severe. One of the misfortunes of this war is that we have allowed to grow up in this country a body of some 66,000 "objectors" who are going to be in a position of comparative privilege compared with those who have served. As far as I can understand, they are to be under no disability whatever for having refused their obligation to serve in the Armed Forces. The position was different in the last war. The last war was not total war in the sense that this one is. In the last war people could, on philosophical grounds, hold views that are quite untenable in this war. Are we to extend this privilege to British nationals abroad? Are they to be allowed to object and because of their foreign resi- 451 dence refuse to serve? I go further than the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. I suggest that such people as object or shirk should be deprived of their citizenship.
§ Wing-Commander James
I go further than that. I know the old argument that one cannot take away a person's passport and leave him Stateless. Why not in this Bill establish a much-needed and valuable principle? Let us have second-class citizenship. Let these people be allowed to keep their passports but be deprived of their civil rights. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House whether it would not be very simple and very useful, on the Committee stage of the Bill, to insert a Clause whereby such people as do not obey the needs of their country shall be deprived for a period of, say, 20 years after the war of their rights of citizenship? How much better public life would be. Although we might lose a few good men, we should be saved a great deal of nonsense and rubbish. I hope that something on the lines I have suggested may be found to be possible.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I was intrigued by the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) that there should be two standards of citizenship. Judging from the way in which the various States of the world have been conducting themselves for a number of years, it might be a very advantageous position for a man to get into, to find that he was a member of none of them and had neither rights and privileges from them nor obligations to them. I want the hon. and gallant Member, who has a philosophic mind, to consider that thought in his quiet moments.
I have opposed the conscription Measures before the House and I do not accept this one, although I admit the claim of the Minister of Labour that, logically, there is nothing to be said against this Measure. It can be defended absolutely on grounds of logic. If we apply conscription to the citizens of our own land resident in our own land, there is no objection in principle to its being applied to the citizens of this land who are living outside our borders. The principle of con- 452 scription has been accepted by the House on at least three or four occasions, and I shall not attempt to challenge the principle here. I think that in commending the Measure to the House, the Minister might have been a little more modest. I think it would have been better if he had limited the Measure to places where he had some hope of operating it. The whole world is a good bit of territory for the Minister of Labour of Great Britain to take in, and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough suggested, it savours of the international organisation which the Nazis have built up whereby they could lay hands on their citizens in whatever country they resided, and bend them to their will. I do not know that the great British public is yet in that mood. We have gone a long way in the direction of trying to copy the international organisation of the Nazis and make our citizens, in the South American Republics, for instance, conform to our desires rather than obey the laws of the land in which they are living. That has been the essence of the problem which the Nazis have created throughout the world—compelling their citizens who reside in other countries to act against the interests of the country in which they are living and in the interests of the Nazis in Berlin.
§ Wing-Commander James
Surely the hon. Member cannot read into what I have said any such suggestion as that? It may be a good debating point, but it bears no relation whatever to what I said.
§ Mr. Maxton
If the hon. and gallant Members looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see he said that we had no desire to copy the Nazis. I see that the two hon. Members who promulgated this point of view are now in close contact with each other. If, separately, they thought of this fiendish device against British citizens in other parts of the world, Heaven knows what the two will produce if they get together. I object to this Measure, not because it extends further the principle of conscription—for that has been repeatedly affirmed by this House—but because I do not think the Minister of Labour is being candid in bringing it forward. He knows perfectly well that it will not apply to the United States, where, apparently, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has some friends who so far have escaped military service.
§ Mr. Maxton
Well, persons of whom he has knowledge. I move in different circles entirely from the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. I have not a single friend, so far as I know, in the United States or in Egypt.
§ Mr. Maxton
It is a pity. This Measure does not apply to the United States. As the right hon. Gentleman just said, it cannot be operated in foreign countries, such as the republics of South America. Egypt is the only placed mentioned. Obviously there is some reason, about which the House has not been informed, why the Measure should be applied to Egypt at the present time. When the House is not told, we are left completely helpless. In my view, there must be a very small number of people in Egypt who would come within the scope of this Measure. Presumably, although the Minister did not mention it, there will be a list of reserved occupations, as in this country, and I imagine that a large proportion of the British citizens in Egypt are engaged upon some work for the British Government. If people are working with voluntary organisations, I gather that they will not be affected. There can be only a relatively small number of people, who, as the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough said, cannot be very desirable elements. I think, as one of the least militarist persons in this House, that hon. Members would hate to have a British Army composed of that type of people. I do not think you win wars on the basis of a group of people who, it is suggested here, are somehow or other able to hide in Egypt and keep themselves clear of all forms of local, industrial, commercial or business life and keep free of all sorts of military organisations, or voluntary organisations of one kind or another. How many thousands are there? We are giving the Minister the power to do this at any place in the world. He cites in justification only one place. We 454 shall be let into the secret of what other places are in contemplation, when an Order in Council is brought before the House. We are giving the Minister today the positive power to apply it anywhere, leaving ourselves only with the very negative power of rejecting particular Orders in Council, and it is commended to the House with Egypt as an example and not one single indication of how many people are involved. I do not think that is right. We want something more in the way of a case made than has been made for the application of this Measure to Egypt. I associate myself with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough in thinking that there is something just not right in making the Ambassador there the Government official responsible for operating this scheme. I should have thought that Egypt was the one place in the world where we did not need to use an Ambassador.
It was announced to us with great gusto that we were going to have a Minister of State doing responsible work for the Government out there, full time. Is he still there? This looks to me like a job. I wonder whether the Minister of Labour and his associates, in making their arrangements for this Measure, thought about the Minister of State who is out there, or whether, like me, they had forgotten about his existence. I should have thought that it was much more appropriate that the Minister of State, with the retinue which I imagine he has with him, should be responsible for this Measure and for dragging the 55 or 60 recalcitrant British citizens to the Army in order to demonstrate to the people of Egypt that we are so enthusiastic for the winning of the war that we are prepared to shove into the Army the most unlikely people, people with the least militant spirit, and people who are, perhaps, objects of scorn in that part of the world. I can see no other object in the Bill. I will take another opportunity to scrutinise the Orders in Council, but to-day, when we let this Second Reading go, we shall have given to the Minister general power to do this in any part of the world. He is getting it on a very insufficient case.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I would like to support the Bill for a reason that has not been put before the House, My 455 hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) speaks on many questions with a knowledge and a wisdom which I do not possess and never shall possess, but perhaps he will allow me to put the case of those who have not come directly under his purview. I refer to the British residents serving abroad. The British resident is often placed in the most difficult and painful position. He does not know, unless the State informs him, exactly where his major responsibility lies. Over and over again, in the last war men came to me and implored me to press the Government to stipulate, for each individual, exactly where his national service lay. Many of these men had very heavy responsibilities and they could not decide of their own initiative, exactly in which way they could best discharge their duty. They would welcome the Government taking the responsibility for a decision off their shoulders and exercising it on behalf of the Realm, as it should be exercised. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) said that there was only a residue of people concerned and not an entirely desirable residue. That term should be qualified. It is true that most of the best went immediately, but many of those who are left could not leave their responsibilities at this moment. I am more than glad on their, behalf that the State is taking this responsibility and will decide for them and take a grievous burden off their shoulders.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) I am not fond of conscription Measures, but, as he says, the principle has been accepted. I do not resent this Bill because I take the view that it is totally unworkable and that, in the main, it is a propaganda Measure. It may be defended in logic because it is conscription, but from other points of view it is illogical. When the House of Commons introduced conscription, it decided for good or ill to exclude Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of this country. We cannot apply conscription in a place within such a short distance of this country, yet we are seeking to impose it in the Argentine, in Brazil, America, Egypt and all over the world. We can fly from Glasgow into the heart of Northern Ireland in 50 minutes and yet we 456 cannot apply conscription there. That will sound ridiculous, just nonsense, to anyone living in those other countries. It cannot be done in a part of Britain—for Northern Ireland is part of Britain. Courageous as the Minister of Labour is, even he cannot do it there; he leaves the people in Northern Ireland alone. This House, when it passed the Measure, deliberately excluded Northern Ireland. It was a decision of the Government, but it was imposed by us. I ask whether there are any powers by which it could be applied to Northern Ireland by Order in Council, because if that were done it would mean that the Government were defying Parliament. The Minister shakes his head. Then I would ask, Are you to apply it to the Free State? I want to be sure about the Free State. I am told now it is not to be applied in the Free State, that Free State citizens are to be exempt. Although the Free State is not to be included, we are to force this in Egypt, and I want to say a word about applying the Measure there.
I understand from the Minister of Labour that all the rights in the conscription Acts are to be enjoyed by our nationals in Egypt. There is no right of reserved occupation, but there is the right, first, of conscientious objectors, and the right regarding hardships. Those are two rights which are to be granted. How are the local tribunals which are to deal with hardship cases to be composed? A hardship tribunal must consist of a chairman, usually a lawyer, a person drawn from the employers and a person drawn from the working people. That is the sort of tribunal which will have to be set up in Egypt. We are told there is a war going on, but these tribunals are to be set up almost among the guns to judge hardship.
Then there is a right of appeal. If the trade union representative dissents, there is an appeal to the umpire. Who is to be the umpire in Egypt? The Ambassador? There is often a High Court Judge as umpire in such cases. Perhaps the Attorney-General wants to go to Egypt in that capacity? There is another right; and I would like the Attorney-General to apply his mind to this particular matter. If a British citizen does not get satisfaction he knows he has the right to apply to the High Court to set aside the decision. How is the aggrieved citizen to exercise that right in Egypt? To what High Court 457 can he appeal? Not to the Egyptian High Court, because it has no locus in the working of the Measure, and not to the High Court here, because he is in Egypt and there is a war on. He has no appeal at all, in practice.
I do not oppose this Bill, but say that it will be ineffective. The machinery to work it is impossible. It is a first-class piece of window dressing. Why were we not told the number of citizens likely to be affected? Surely we are not asked to pass a Bill applying to a couple of hundred people. Surely we ought to have been told the number, after deducting those in reserved occupations, the physically unfit and others, and after the hardship and the conscientious objection tribunals have given their exemptions, who will be left, and affected by this Measure. If we knew the figures we could draw our own conclusions. Before we turn our Ambassadors into criminal officers, these things should be considered. The Ambassador is to be more than a mere administrator; there must be some form of dealing with people on the spot or the Measure will become ineffective. I pay little attention to the Measure, which is an expert Bill to conceal a lot of people who are worried about what to do and, like some people here at home, say that they wish the Government would make a decision for them.
Let us be quite frank; if any man has a decision to make, he does not need to wait until the Government make it for him. It is just a dodge to say, "I wish the Government would decide that "; if a person wishes to do the right thing, he can decide himself, and does not need the Government to decide for him. The Bill is not needed for that purpose. I would like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell us the numbers it is anticipated will be got in Egypt under this Bill. What will it add to the strength of the British Army in Egypt? What numbers are likely to be brought in in any foreign country, and what is the underlying purpose of the Bill? Seeing that it is not to apply to the Free State or to Northern Ireland, will it apply to Free State citizens or Northern Ireland citizens who are resident in Egypt? For my part, I do not understand the great necessity for this Measure. If this war is to be won, it will not be won or lost by the recruits obtained under this Measure. I hope the Government will win this war, but they will not 458 do it with petty measures like this, because this is a petty measure. Petty measures like this will never bring the Government of this country up to the required standard.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I had not intended speaking in this Debate, but the proposal that was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) was one that I could not hear put forward in this House without making a protest. He proposed to the Government that there should be a species of disfranchisement, a deprivation of civil rights, for all those who took up the position of conscientious objector, and he regretted that no proposal of that kind was contained in this Bill. I wish he might have been present, as I was and I think one other hon. Member who is in the Chamber, besides yourself, Mr. Speaker, on the occasion of the passing of the Representation of the People Bill in 1918. When the Bill was in Committee an Amendment was moved to disfranchise for a series of years those who had taken the position of conscientious objector, including those who had been recognised by the tribunals as conscientious objectors. On that occasion Lord Hugh Cecil gave to the House the noblest protest I have heard here, not because he agreed with those men—he profoundly disagreed—but because he felt that such a proposal would be contrary to the greatest traditions of this country, and that you should never force men to go against the deepest convictions of their conscience, that you ought always to respect a conscientious conviction, when sincere, even if you disagreed with it.
That was, I think, the noblest speech I have ever heard delivered in this House, and so profound was its effect that, although the Amendment was carried, there were scores of hon. Members who listened to that speech and who had intended to vote for the Amendment who went away and said they could not vote after listening to it. It is not just a question of the eloquence of one great orator, for this is a matter that affects our fundamental conceptions of citizenship. I honour the noble spirit of sacrifice of those who willingly go, out of a sense of duty, to give their lives in military service, but it is not the only form of sacrifice which men can render for their country. It is 459 possible to serve in other and humbler ways. I am thinking of men who are conscientious objectors who in this war have laid down their lives already in the pursuit of duty. There was one, a man in a humble position in Lancashire, who, after he had been before a tribunal and had received unconditional exemption, enlisted as an ordinary seaman on a merchant vessel. He gave his life in such a noble spirit of sacrifice, pursuing his duty to the last in most difficult circumstances, that the captain of that boat afterwards wrote a letter which was read by the chairman of the tribunal which had dealt with this case. The distinguished Judge who was the chairman of the tribunal paid a tribute to the unselfish character and devotion of that man and his true citizenship, although he could not, in accordance with his conviction, serve in the Army, Navy or Air Force.
I think of other men. I think of two men who have laid down their lives working with the Friends Ambulance Unit on the Burma Road and in hospital work in China; of another who lost his life in Libya a short time ago, a man of outstanding ability, of great literary power, who was not unwilling to go to the utmost personal risk, though he could not undertake military service. Surely the House will never wish to deprive of their citizenship men like those who have shown by their lives, and sometimes have been able to show by their death, the depth of meaning they attach to the duty of citizenship. It is because I believe that this Bill respects the rights of conscience in the way the previous Act has done that although I regret the extension of conscription anywhere in any country, I feel that it may be held to be justly conceived as in harmony with the spirit that underlies the main Act which it is following up.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I would like to call the attention of the House to one fact in connection with this matter which I do not think has so far been mentioned. This Bill has obviously been considered by the Government for some time. I would like to know why it is that we are having the Second Reading to-day, and that it is proposed that the Bill shall go through all its remaining stages on the next Sitting Day. It seems to me to be an utterly unreasonable procedure. There has been a large number 460 of speeches, many of them raising points of detail, and very few speeches indeed have wholly blessed the Bill. We have not enough time to put in Amendments before the Committee Stage on the next Sitting Day. Why is it that the House of Commons is always the body to be ignored and hurried through in this way? The Civil Service, the Parliamentary draftsmen and the Government sit for weeks and months on Measures and expect us to pass them in one Sitting. I think it is a wholly unreasonable proposition. I think that the House is becoming such a rubber stamp affair that the Government no longer care what they bring before it; they expect us to endorse everything they want to do without giving these matters any proper consideration. If I can have the attention of those responsible for the Measure—if they can detach themselves for the moment from their advisers—there is only one representative of the Ministry of Labour on that bench; there is not a Member of the War Cabinet on that bench at all. We are considering a matter of some importance—if it were not very - important the Government would not want it so quickly—and we ought to have a guarantee from the representatives of the Government that they will not ask the House to pass this Measure through all stages at the next Sitting. We ought to have an opportunity of digesting what has been said in this Debate and of considering whether we ought not to move Amendments providing for certain safeguards.
My second point is this. I am deeply worried by some of the implications of this Bill. I do not agree with some of my hon. Friends that it is unimportant. I conceive a number of important developments arising from it. I would ask, being a person not in favour of government and having fought Governments all my life: where is the person who does not agree with Governments to take sanctuary in the world? Apparently there is to be no right of sanctuary anywhere. You have only to have a number of Governments of the same mind, in America and in Great Britain, in Russia and in Germany—and that might easily happen—to drive all dissident persons off the face of the earth. In times gone by, the inspirers of the Russian Revolution were able to live here, because the Tsarists could not get at them. If we allow this Bill to go 461 through, and unnamed intimidation and discrimination to be exercised by British Ambassadors in every part of the world, such a position may be completely reversed. I will not mention any names, but I can think of countries on the Continent of America where revolutionaries have taken sanctuary, and where they have been able to carry on their activities—quite proper activities from the standpoint of mankind as a whole, but wholly objectionable activities from the point of view of certain Governments—but they would be unable to do so if these provisions were carried.
I am worried about the first Clause, under which an Order in Council can be made imposing on a body of British citizens in any part of the world the obligation to serve, under the National Service Acts. The Minister of Labour—that is to say, the Executive—has power to exercise individual discriminations not formerly exercised in matters of this sort. He can say, "This man must stay at his job, and that man must go into the Army." That sort of thing never happened in the last war. People were then called up in categories and age groups, but not as individuals. If the British Ambassador in any country, on instructions from the Foreign Secretary, objects to what a certain British citizen is saying or doing in that country, all that has to be done is to make an Order rendering that individual subject to the National Service Acts of this country. Immediately, without proper safeguards, a weapon of extraordinary discrimination and intimidation is put into the hands of the Executive. If I were in Mexico, the Argentine, or Chile, and we had in this country a reactionary Government—I do not suggest for a moment that the present Government are reactionary, although they are slightly mottled—they could immediately yank me over. They could leave all their friends untouched, by mere Executive act, but those whom they do not like they could shift all over the country, by means of directions—as I think the Minister of Labour now calls it—to places where they would be innocuous.
The House should not give such powers as that without asking for safeguards as to the way in which they shall be used. There are too many important problems raised by this Bill for the House to be asked to rush it through without a chance to examine all its implications. Mr. Speaker, I ask your protection. What is 462 the purpose of the Second Reading except to disclose the implications of a Measure-and to enable one to ask oneself how it can be amended? Ought we not to be protected from this method of making the House a rubber stamp by asking us to authorise anything that they want to do in a few hours? I seriously suggest to the Government that they should postpone the Committee stage, or on the next Sitting Day we may put down Amendments and embarrass the Government by asking them to consider them.
§ The Attorney-General
My right hon. Friend who has had to go on urgent business connected with the war would have been well satisfied with the reception his Bill received, not only from every speaker in the Debate, but from my right hon. Friend who welcomed the Bill on behalf of the party opposite, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who thought that it did not go far enough, also welcomed the principle of the Bill. I agree that a Measure of this kind raises certain points which were expressed most forcibly and concisely by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley). It is worth remembering that a Measure of this kind does assimilate our conscription law to the conscription laws as they have been in most other countries, that is to say, that the ordinary conscription law of a country does apply and has applied, as far as I know to all the citizens and nationals of that country wherever they may be. In the old days, for instance, the young Frenchman who reached military age in this country would get his calling-up notice from his consul under the general direction of his Ambassador, and, if he did not comply with it, he could not be touched here, but he could be proceeded against if and when he went back to France.
§ The Attorney-General
Certainly not. My hon. Friend even with as inadequate an acquaintance of French novels as I have will know of many cases where men were not called up.
§ Colonel Stanley
What was the precedent in the Franco-Prussian war? Did we allow the machinery of French conscription to operate in this country during that war?
§ The Attorney-General
I am coming to the question of whether it affects neutrality. All I can say is that normally countries which have had conscription have applied it to their citizens wherever they were, and that seems the natural thing to do. Why should a man be able to escape his military obligation by going abroad? I agree when one is considering the law, as it was in France and Germany, that generally countries call up the men at 19 or 20, whereas we, under the pressure of war, have applied conscription in a very different way, but I cannot for the life of me see why you should start with the view that there is anything absurd in saying that the obligation of military service should not be limited to those citizens who are within the jurisdiction. The only real method, which, I think, is being applied in most countries, is to apply it to everybody. It is worth noting that, when the House passed the Military Training Act, 1939, power was taken under Section 18 of that Act to do exactly what this Bill proposes to do, namely, by Order in Council to apply the Military Training Act to British subjects in foreign countries, and that principle was accepted. It was not put into the National Service Act, because, obviously, difficult questions arose, and it was thought better to leave it. This matter has been under consideration for some time, and it is very desirable that there should be the application of this principle to Egypt as soon as possible.
§ The Attorney-General
The general question, yes. The reason why we are asking the House to pass this Bill as a matter of urgency is that it is obviously desirable to apply this procedure to Egypt as soon as possible.
§ The Attorney-General
No, Sir. The principle has been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite on behalf of his party—
§ The Attorney-General
I thought that might be so, but the principle of the Bill has, I think, received the general approval of the principal parties and Members in this House, and, therefore, I do not think any case can be made out for postponing the general principle of the Bill. I was explaining that the reason the House is being asked to pass this Bill as a matter of urgency is that it is important that its principle should be applied to Egypt—
§ Mr. Maxton
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain what is the importance of applying it to Egypt, of all places in the world?
§ The Attorney-General
Some thousands are affected by this Bill. The enemy is very near the gates of Egypt, and if there is an area in the world where the application of military service should be enforced, it is that area. I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's question. If he cannot give an answer as to the importance of applying this principle, if it is accepted, to Egypt, I am surprised.
§ Mr. Maxton
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not resent being interrupted, but the Government are asking a good deal from the House in the presentation of this Measure. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to me how a person who is to be taken into the Army by the operation of this Bill is to be of effective use in the military situation with which Egypt is now confronted?
§ The Attorney-General
You might say, "Do not let us take anybody else into the Army because they will not be of use for from three to six months." If you argue like that, you will soon find yourself in Queer Street. I appreciated the hon. Gentleman's great anxiety that undesirable people should not be enlisted or conscripted. He said they might not make the best fighting men, and he was a little apprehensive about that. Well, we must do our best to meet that difficulty. That argument could be used against conscription at any time and any place—but by compulsion you get in some people who are in a genuine dilemma. And there are also other people who, perhaps, are not by nature violent fighting men and 465 who have not taken the plunge themselves but who, when told it is their legal duty to do so, join up. Many such men make the most admirable and gallant soldiers.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think the Government's case would have been fortified had they taken advantage earlier of this potential manpower in Egypt and not left it until the present desperate situation?
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think so. There has been a good response from British subjects in Egypt, and many men have come forward, but it has been thought right that in the situation Egypt is now in compulsion should be applied and that it should be treated as a matter of urgency as the invader is at the gates.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell me what classes of British people in Egypt will be affected by the Bill? I have many years of experience in Egypt and I know that before I left, the pure British subjects were all enrolled in the war effort. One could not find one who was not.
§ The Attorney-General
There is a number of people who are not enrolled, although many have come forward. It is difficult to make an exact estimate, but undoubtedly there are some thousands involved.
I come now to the more general point regarding sanctions. This Bill falls into line, as far as my knowledge goes, with the general principles on which the conscription laws of different countries have proceeded. It is true that the sanction, apart from the special position in Egypt, which was fully explained by my right hon. Friend, is not a complete one. The sanction does depend, in the ordinary cases where we are not able to make special arrangements as we can with the Egyptian Government, on the fact that if and when the man returns to his own country he will find that he can be proceeded against. That was the sanction in the case of my hypothetical young Frenchman who was here before the war. If the Bill were applied to a South American country, for instance, that would be, in all normal cases, the only sanction. I agree it is not complete, but we do not think that for that reason it is of no value. There are a great many people, par- 466 ticularly the younger ones who would be affected, who certainly, in the ordinary course, would want to come back to this country from time to time, and quite apart from any sense they might have of obligation and moral duty, they would not want to put themselves in the position in which, if and when they came back here, they might be met by a warrant at the quay. Undoubtedly, that is a substantial sanction. If a man intended never to come back here, there is no sanction in the ordinary case.
Of course, in war-time—naturally one does not want to indicate or suggest any country, nor have I one in mind—one might find that a country, it might be an Ally, would be willing to do for us what we have done for the Allied Governments here, and make some such arrangement, or co-operate in some different way. One might get a State which, without being an Ally, was friendly, and it might be possible to make some arrangement which would enable us to enforce the thing rather more effectively than we could in a country which was a neutral and which proceeded as a neutral and restricted us to doing only what we could properly do in a neutral country. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley) asked how this Bill would affect neutrality. Of course, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was introducing the Bill, in describing the machinery of the committees and so on, he explained what would happen in Egypt. He was not explaining how it would work or what would be the basis of an Order in Council if and when applied to another country. I think there may have been some misunderstanding about that.
§ Colonel Stanley
I must confess there was a misunderstanding. I thought he was explaining the general principles upon which this Bill was based.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think so. He explained that each Order in Council would have to be debated. The whole basis of the position in Egypt arises from the fact that not only are we able to make arrangements with the Egyptian Government, but also that we have Forces on the spot in which the men can be enlisted.
§ Wing-Commander James
Surely the Attorney-General will know that in many foreign countries persons possessing British passports have never been in this country and have no intention of coming to this country? Such persons are a great nuisance, particularly in war-time, because they seek our protection and take full advantage of our citizenship. Such persons will be subject to no sanction whatever. I think the Hollywood acquaintances of my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) come into this category as well.
§ The Attorney-General
If the hon. and gallant Member will be a little patient, I will deal with his suggestions as regards sanction. I was suggesting that normally that was the sanction and the only sanction. It is imperfect, but we think it is right.
§ Colonel Stanley
Is the Attorney-General going to fill the gap which, owing to a misunderstanding, has been left by the Minister of Labour? Is he now going to do what the Minister did not do, and give some idea how this is to be applied to other countries?
§ The Attorney-General
Taking the extreme neutral country, all you can do is to say, by Order in Council, that men in that country are liable to compulsory military service. There would be some procedure for them to register with the consul, and, if they did not comply with any directions, they would commit an offence and would be subject to penalties similar to those contained in the National Service Acts. That is the broad way in which a conscription Act is applied.
§ The Attorney-General
No, Sir. You would have a sifting-out method for men who were doing work of national importance. You would not give instructions to a man with one leg, because you would not want him home. I would not like to say how it will be possible to have some arrangement for examination of conscience; that is one of the things which would have to be considered when an Order in Council was made. Obviously, the protection of the Act would be applic- 468 able when the man got back, but how it would apply out there would be a matter for consideration.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)
How would the neutrality of a country be affected if it allowed enlistment' to take place? What would be the international law in regard to the neutrality of that country?
§ The Attorney-General
It has never been suggested that there was any breach of neutrality in serving enlistment notices in ordinary times. Take the possible case of reservists abroad in Continental countries. I do not think anyone would have suggested that the serving of a notice to a reservist in a neutral country constituted a breach of neutrality.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
What does the Attorney-General mean by ordinary times? Does he mean peace-time?
§ The Attorney-General
I said in ordinary times—in peace-time. I said I did not think in war-time anyone could suggest that it was a breach of neutrality, for instance, to send notices calling up reservists. Take the vast number of the conscript Continental armes. I cannot say whether they are called reservists. Perhaps they have had two years and are liable to be recalled to the Colours on mobilisation, and are scattered all over the globe. No one could suggest that there would be a breach of neutrality in serving notices' on them, nor could it be suggested that it was any breach of neutrality if we served notices on our citizens abroad if and when, by law, they are liable to compulsory military service. If you started setting up some big organisation it might be. A breach of neutrality would be much more likely to arise if you tried to enlist voluntarily, than if you had a regular machinery for compulsory enlistment, because it is for voluntary enlistment that you want to advertise, and so on.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think so. Anything may cause complications. That is a different point, which my right hon. Friend dealt with when introducing the Bill. There is power in the Bill, if a 469 man is a British national, to apply the obligation to him. It will be no answer for him, as far as the Bill as we propose to amend it is concerned, to say, "I am also a citizen of somewhere else." Citizenship of some countries may be acquired very easily and therefore it may be right to say, "You were born a British national, you are a British national under British law, and we preserve the right to call you up." In other countries it may be that people of dual nationality form a definite category whom you do not want to call up, and that is the case with regard to Egypt. The suggested sanction of deprivation of citizenship is attractive, but I think very difficult. For one thing, it is flying in the face of the facts. It does not inconvenience only the individual if you deprive him of nationality. Stateless people are a great nuisance to every one. They are a great trouble to any country in which they are. They may be troublesome to the courts which have to wind up their estates. I do not think it would be at all a good policy to adopt, as an extra sanction for a Measure of this kind, the deprivation of nationality.
Another suggestion was to take all the person's assets. That is a fine. One of the troubles about it is that it will be very hard to do it unless you have been able to try him. Some one has to determine whether he has disobeyed your law. He may not have got the notice. He may have changed his address. All we should know was that he had not turned up. It would be contrary to the Liberal principles of the hon. Member to say that a man should be condemned in his absence without a chance of defending himself. I think the result may be that one has to face the fact which every country has faced in the past, and we have faced ourselves, I suppose, in the very limited field of reservists. If a reservist of the Regular Army happened to be abroad when he was recalled to the Colours, and if he did not come, we could not do anything to him unless and until he came back to this country. It may be that we shall have to rest content with the sanction, recognising that it is imperfect, but the principle is right. It will have an effect, but there may be some people who will never want to come back to this country, who will be unpunished and will escape any consequences.
§ Wing-Commander James
The right hon and learned Gentleman misquoted 470 me. I did not suggest the withdrawal of nationality, but I said citizenship, and the two things are not exactly the same.
§ The Attorney-General
I did not appreciate the distinction. The right of citizenship is perhaps the right to vote, and this is ex hypothesi a man who will not come here and who would not suffer much from being deprived of that right. We are prepared to consider any fair and practical methods, but at present advised I can see difficulties about the suggestions that have been made.
§ Mr. Mander
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is prepared to give serious consideration to the proposal I put forward.
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend has put down an Amendment and he has raised the point on Second Reading. I am definitely of opinion that the suggestion as to nationality is impracticable. As to the forfeiture of assets, it is also impracticable and impossible to work without a trial. I cannot hold out any hopes that I shall alter my view that these suggestions are not practicable. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asked me about the position of citizens of Northern Ireland, and of Eire. There is no such thing as Northern Ireland citizenship, as distinct from British subject or United Kingdom British subject. A person from Northern Ireland will be affected by the Order in Council in the same way as a person who normally resides in this country.
§ Mr. Buchanan
So conscription cannot be applied to a person normally resident in Northern Ireland if he stays there, but if he goes to Egypt conscription can be applied to him?
§ The Attorney-General
If he comes from Canada, he has to be here for two years. If he comes from Northern Ireland, he becomes liable at once.
§ The Attorney-General
The Free State citizen under the proviso to Clause I (1) of the Bill will not be affected by an Order in Council if he is in Egypt. This Bill, following certain precedents in rather different contexts, does not affect the national or citizen of a Dominion under their own law or who belongs to an Dominion that has not a nationality or citizenship law. That is a precedent that is often followed. The Irish Free State have their own nationality law, and Canada has a citizenship law. Therefore, anybody who is an Irish Free State national or a Canadian citizen under their respective laws, if in Egypt, will not be affected by the Order in Council by virtue of Clause I (1) of the Bill.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
Assuming that a man comes from the North of Ireland to take up temporary employment in the building industry, am I right in assuming that he is liable to be called up at any time for military service, but that if he stays at home you cannot take him?
§ The Attorney-General
People from the Irish Free State come under the Act if they are here for two years. There was a case in the courts in which five men from Southern Ireland sought to show that they were not British subjects. The case arose on a calling-up notice or a refusal to have medical examination. I have done my best to answer questions, and though I am afraid the continuity of my argument may have suffered a little—
§ The Attorney-General
My right hon. Friend dealt rather fully with that point, but I can say it again. These Orders in m Council though they cannot, of course, exactly reproduce the machinery of the e Act will provide the like safeguards. Take the question of the umpire, for instance. I understand that it is not contemplated to have an appeal to an umpire in Egypt. But is is contemplated that there will be an appeal from the local committee to a n central committee. The intention of this s Bill is that we should do our best to pro-r vide proper machinery, having regard to e the circumstances, for the main principles r and safeguards laid down in the Act. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the r Member for Westmorland asked me to forecast a little more fully than I had done e what the procedure might be—and this d is only a prophecy—if one applied this main Order in Council to, say, a neutral e country, Ruritania, where there were no r special arrangements in force. I do not e want to be tied down or to tie down those e who have to deal with the problem, but it seems to me there might be an arrangement on the spot for dealing with age and medical fitness. You do not want to have e to pay a man's passage across the seas and then find that he is unfit. I said I thought it was doubtful whether you would be able to have a satisfactory arrangement with regard to conscientious u objectors, but you might be able to. You might have some machinery under which you could at any rate sift out 100 percent. conscientious objectors. If it was not wholly satisfactory you could have a further arrangement whereby, when the man got here, he could say, "I am a conscientious objector and the examination out there was all very amateurish" e and he could come before another tribunal; but then you would have got him here and he would have the safeguards.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am doing my utmost to try to avoid any difficulties on the next stage. What we require, and what I think the whole House would like to see, is some form of appeal at the disposal of the person who is called up which is not an appeal to the Executive which is making the call up. Therefore, can an assurance be given that when the Orders are drawn up there will be machinery which will enable a person to appeal to someone 473 outside the Executive or the servants of the Executive against the decision of the Executive?
§ The Attorney-General
Under the Egyptian Order in Council, as explained by my right hon. Friend, the appeal is to an independent body which has nothing to do with the Executive. I can also say that if and when this Measure is applied to some other country the House would have cause for complaint if there were no such appeal either in that foreign country or, if that were found to be impracticable, there were no arrangement for the matter to be decided by our own machinery here, so that the man could have his complaint investigated and adjudicated upon. I am quite prepared to give that assurance. Subject to that, I believe that this principle is sound. One hon. Member suggested that this was merely a propaganda Measure, but we are affirming a principle which is not at all a new one in this area of conscription and we think it right to do it at the present time. The case of Egypt has rather precipitated the matter. We hope that the House will give the Measure a Second Reading.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day.—[Major Sir James Edmondson."]