HC Deb 25 June 1942 vol 380 cc2174-204

Motion for Second Reading read.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill may, I think, be fittingly described as the last link in the chain of novel but appropriate legislation which has been designed to meet the situation arising from the presence in England of seven independent sovereign Allied Governments, namely, the Polish, Dutch, Belgian, Greek, Norwegian, Yugo-Slav and Czechoslovak Governments. Parliament has already passed the Allied Forces Act, 1940, which enabled Allied Governments to maintain discipline among persons already serving in their own forces; also, the Diplomatic Privileges (Extension) Act, 1941, which provided proper status for the personnel of Allied Governments; and also the Allied Powers (Marine Courts) Act, 1941, which enabled the Allied Governments to maintain discipline in their own ships and also to direct their seamen to go to sea. This Bill is designed to complete the series. The House will be aware that it is the declared policy of His Majesty's Government towards these Governments that we should give every possible facility to them to continue their administration from the hospitality of British soil. They all possess and are actually developing national Armed Forces which are giving the most valuable services to the Allied cause, and I am sure that the House would wish to pay this tribute to the efforts which the Allied Governments have made in this respect. It needed great courage amid all their tribulations to set to work to reconstitute their own Armed Forces on land, at sea and in the air, and we in this country have been thrilled to read from time to time in the Press reports of their gallant exploits in battle.

This Bill has naturally been discussed very fully with representatives of these Governments, and all, with one exception, have already signified their readiness in principle to accept the proposal. The exception is the Czechoslovak Government, who, for reasons connected with their own law, have so far not felt able to agree to the Bill being applied to their nationals. But if and when the Bill is passed, further discussions will take place with all the Allied Governments, including the Czechoslovak Government, in regard to the application of its provisions to Allies individually, and it is confidently hoped that this will lead to a complete solution of the problem with regard to the Allied Governments established in this country. The powers outlined in the Bill will be required only in respect of quite a small proportion of Allied man-power in this country. It is estimated that less than 10,000 Allied nationals of military age are still in civilian life in this country, and of these probably one-third at least are engaged on such important work that it would not be in the interests of the Allied cause to move them. Provision is made in this Bill in this respect. There is, however, I think, a general consensus of opinion that it should no longer be possible for an Allied national in this country who is of military age to avoid military service except on the ground of the importance of his civilian work.

Therefore the main object of the Bill is to establish the proper procedure, with the necessary powers, for ensuring that any Allied national of military age and resident in Great Britain who has not by a specified date joined his own national Forces will become liable under the National Service Acts to be called up to the British Forces. I might mention in passing that, as the House will see in Clause 4, those resident in the Isle of Man also come under the operation of this scheme. Under this Bill an Order in Council may be made applying Clause 1, which is the essential operating Clause, to the nationals in Great Britain of Powers allied to His Majesty. The House will see that the Bill is an enabling Measure and will not in general come into force with regard to any particular Allied nationality until, in agreement with the Allied nationality concerned, an Order is made applying it to persons of that nationality. Men of the nationality concerned who are of British military age will then have two months, or a longer period if the Order in Council so provides, within which they may join their national Forces. It is, I think, clearly desirable that so far as possible Allied nationals should join their own national Forces, but if they do not do so, they will, at the end of the period, become liable to be called up to the British Forces. It is proposed then that they should normally be posted to the Pioneer Corps, except those who have certain specialist qualifications which can be best used in the Royal Air Force.

The Bill gives the Allied Governments the right to grant certificates to those of their own nationals whom they wish to be exempted from liability under this Bill. Also, the House will realise that a large proportion of the available Allied manpower in the country consists of technicians and highly skilled workers. The Ministry of Labour has, for the last two years, experienced the most willing co-operation from the Allied Governments over the question of the reservation of essential workers when they were calling up their men for their own national Forces. His Majesty's Government are confident that this co-operation will be continued when this Bill comes into force, and it is hoped that a definite understanding will be reached with the Allied Governments that men whom the Ministry of Labour and National Service consider essential to the war effort in their civilian occupation should be allowed to remain in that occupation. The proper procedure for carrying all this into effect will be announced at the appropriate time.

The House will realise that any of the Allied nationals who has not joined his own Forces by the specified date and therefore becomes liable to be called up under our National Service Act will enjoy all the rights and privileges given by that Act, including such things as questions relating to hardship, etc. Opportunity has also been taken in this Bill to clarify certain difficulties which have arisen out of the operation of the Allied Forces Act, 1940. There is, I understand, no definition of membership of an Allied Eorce in that Act, and therefore Sub-section (1) of Clause 5 has been inserted, and the House will see that the definition is: For the purposes of the Allied Forces Act, 1940, a person shall be deemed to be a member of the naval, military or air forces of any such allied Power or foreign authority as is mentioned in Section one of that Act, if he has served in those forces on or after the date of the passing of that Act and has not been duly discharged therefrom, but a person who has not so served shall not be deemed to be a member of any such forces by reason of his having been called upon to serve therein. We have also taken the opportunity of making it clear in Clause 5 (2), as the House will see, a person sentenced by an Allied Service tribunal to imprisonment may be detained in a British prison, notwithstanding that he has ceased to be a member of his national Force, whether by virtue of the sentence passed on him or otherwise.

The Bill has been in course of preparation for a considerable period and has been very fully discussed with the Powers concerned. The many difficulties which appeared in the course of those discussions have been very carefully dealt with, and His Majesty's Government hope that the Bill will work with the same smoothness and lack of friction which have characterised the working of other Acts which deal with this subject. In conclusion, I would say that that lack of friction has been but one of the many examples of the happy relationships that exist between the Government of this country and the Governments of those gallant Allies whom we are proud to see resident in our country until the day when the victory of the United Nations will enable them to return in honour to their native land.

Mr. Cecil Wilson (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Has any attention been given, in the case of Norway, to the Act of 1922?

Mr. McCorquodale

I am afraid I do not know the Act to which the hon. Member refers.

Mr. Wilson

It relates to military service.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

In view of the fact that during the past couple of years I have asked questions of the Government on a number of occasions in regard to the promotion of this matter, I am naturally gratified to find that they have been able at last to face successfully all the problems that were before them, and to present this Measure. I am sure it is right that legislation of this kind should be brought into force, particularly when we bear in mind that we have taken powers to deal with neutral citizens in this country. During the discussion of legislation on this matter not so many months ago, it was laid down that Swiss and Swedish nationals could be made to take part in the home defence of this country, A.R.P. work and measures of that kind. At a moment when British subjects are being compelled to serve in military service, it is only right that subjects of our Allies who are here should be placed in the same position.

This matter has been dealt with in an ingenious manner. There may be certain points that will have to be very carefully safeguarded, and I daresay that more information can be given to us on the point during the course of the Debate. I agree that the natural and proper thing for any Allied citizen is that he should serve in the Forces of his country. That would be the normal procedure, but there may be a small number of cases in which, for historical or racial reasons, the individuals may prefer to serve in the British Forces. In such cases, I believe that the Allied Governments concerned will take an understanding and sympathetic view and will have no objection. It is very important that it should be made clear that the choice will be a real choice. There is undoubtedly a fear, which may be entirely without foundation, that, during the period of two months, or whatever it may be, pressure of various kinds will be placed upon Allied citizens to join the Allied and not the British Services. One can imagine all sorts of ways in which it may take place. I am not suggesting that any of the Allied Governments are for a moment thinking of such a thing, but the fact that the fear exists is quite enough to make it necessary that attention should be paid to it. There are questions of passports and of what will happen after the war, and all sorts of warnings that might be given as to what will happen to individuals if they choose the British Forces instead of the Allied Forces. This choice must be a free one, and it must be clear that no action will be taken against the citizens of any of our Allies because they chose to join the British Forces.

There is another class of person living in this country. These persons came here as refugees many years ago, having no sympathy with the country they left and very little knowledge of it, but they joined the Forces of an Ally under the impression that they were compelled to do so. They afterwards discovered that they were under no obligation. Under Regulations now being passed, they can be brought back compulsorily into that Allied Force. I suggest that it would not be right in such cases to leave these people in that position. We must pay attention to cases even though they may be numbered on the fingers of one hand.

I should like to know how far the Bill is intended to go. The Minister made reference to a limited number of Allied Governments; there are 28 Allied Governments altogether. So far as I understand the terms of the Bill, there is no reason why the Measure should not apply to the whole lot of them, each of them being: a Power allied with His Majesty and who are in Great Britain at the time when the Order comes into operation. I should like to know whether the Bill is intended to apply to Americans and whether any arrangements of a reciprocal kind are in operation between the two countries. I have raised the question of British subjects in America and the steps being taken to bring them into the British or the American Forces. I should like an opportunity to be taken in the course of the Debate to make clear what the reciprocal arrangements are. Nothing has been said about the Free French. Is it intended that they shall be brought in in any way, or are they, when they happen to be in this country, being allowed to do exactly what they like?

The question of nationality arises, and I should like the Minister to say who is to decide if there is a case of disputed nationality. Will it be a British court or an Allied court? It is important that that should be laid down with absolute clarity. Not only are there people of the United Nations but a number of friendly aliens in this country, who would be very glad to render military service on our behalf. I have in mind many friendly Austrians who would be glad to serve, but I understand from the terms of the Bill that they would not be included. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to deal with these and other points raised in the Debate. I think the Measure in principle is an entirely sound one, and I hope that the machinery we are now setting up for international action by a number of Allies working together will be a permanent one after the war. I noted with interest the declaration made by Mr. Sumner Welles on behalf of the United States Government the other day, in which he used these words: I believe that they will insist that the United Nations undertake the maintenance of an international police force in the years after the war to ensure freedom from fear to peace loving peoples until there is established that permanent system of general security promised by the Atlantic Charter. I venture to think that this Measure will be a real step along that pathway.

Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward (Hull, North-West)

The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Measure made what is to me the rather amazing statement, if I understood him aright, that the nationals of the country whose nationals over here probably exceed in number all the others put together are to be excluded from this Measure, and it seems to me that it is only fair that it should be explained to the House why the nationals of the Czechoslovak Government are not included. The hon. Gentleman said that negotiations were to be continued afterwards with a view to bringing those nationals into the purview of the arragements, but surely it would have been far better if those negotiations had been conducted before this Measure was introduced. I have no intention of opposing this Bill at its present stage, but it does seem in fairness to this House that an explanation should be given why the nationals of the Czechoslovak nation have not been included in this Measure.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill said that it was the last link in a series of Acts and was designed to complete the chain. As such, we welcome it, but we welcome it particularly because the last link of the chain does not exactly reproduce the form of all the preceding links. In the preceding Measures there was not conceded a very important principle which is, we are thankful to see, conceded, by this Bill. It concedes the principle that there shall be, in all the persons liable to serve under this Bill, an absolutely free option as to whether they will serve in the Armed Forces of the Power claiming them as its nationals, or in our own Forces. I wish that principle had been recognised earlier. It is too late to repine about that, but we are glad that, at last, this principle, which is a very important one indeed, has been conceded and—as I understand it, this is what makes it especially welcome—has been conceded with the free agreement not only of those persons who have been concerned, and of those affected by the Bill but also of the provisional Governments of the Allied Powers, with one possible exception.

My hon. Friend will forgive me if I take a little time in calling his attention to various points so that the Committee stage may be shortened and simplified. The first point I would like to take is this: The Government ought to make perfectly certain that the option is not fettered by any kind of bribe, inducement, pressure or argument of any kind. One part of his speech seemed rather to limit the freedom of the option. He said something which is not, I am glad to say, to be found in the Bill. He said that if the nationals of any of the Powers concerned elected, as they have the right to do under the Bill, to join our Forces instead of the Forces of the Allied Government concerned, they would be employed in the Pioneer Corps. If you say to a man who is eager to take his full part in the struggle, which means as much to him as to anybody, "If you serve in the Armed Forces of the Power concerned, you shall serve freely and equally, with the same rights and the same obligations as everybody else, whereas if you elect to go into the British Army, we shall not allow you to fight, we shall use you only in the Pioneer Corps," that is not a free option.

It is unfair to the persons concerned, because they might wish to serve in our own Armed Forces rather than in those of the Poles, or the Czechs or anybody else, but may yet say to themselves "I will not do it, I will not elect to go into the Armed Forces I prefer, because if I do I shall go with less rights, with less obligations and with less onerous duties. Indeed people may say of me that I have joined the British Forces, not in order to discharge an obligation but in order to escape one." If you fetter the option you are giving such a person under the Bill by machinery of that kind outside it, you are giving him a free choice with one hand and taking it away with the other. I most sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider that side of the question, and leave a man quite free to serve as a fighting soldier in our Armed Forces if he would rather do that than serve elsewhere.

The second point I would like to make is this. There is an interval of two months or more between the date on which liability to serve arises and the date on which a man is brought under our own National Service Acts, and I should not blame the Allied Governments very much if they used that interval of time to persuade people by every legitimate means to go into their Armed Forces instead of into ours, because I quite recognise that they have a natural and legitimate interest in increasing the numbers of their own Armed Forces. I hope, however, that the Government will take special care to see that any such persuasion shall really be legitimate, because I am bound to say that in the exercise of powers under the Allied Forces Act of last year the Governments concerned, or some of them, have frequently acted not in accordance with the terms of the Act. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General may or may not know—if he does not know I would advise him to consult the Foreign Office and the War Office—that some of the Governments concerned have misinterpreted this former Act entirely and have sought to apply powers under that Act to persons who were not subject to it at all. I hope that will not be repeated. Let them use all legitimate persuasion by inducement or anything of that kind, but let there no longer be an illegitimate exercise of authority in our name, on our soil, and with the assistance of our police force.

I would also like to clear up the point which has been raised about nationality. There are in this country people who came here originally at very tender ages to escape from persecution. They came from Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, at a time when those States, as subsequently constituted, did not exist. They have lived here practically the whole of their lives. Not all of them have been naturalised. Naturalisation costs money, and not everybody has the means. But many of them have been here, except for their first few days, or weeks or months, virtually the whole of their lives, and regard themselves as citizens of this country. I am not sure what their nationality is under international law; I do not think anybody knows. I am perfectly certain that different States could compete for a number of them. A man might have, as many people have, dual nationality. Many others—I think this applies really to most of them—would be regarded by most people as, technically, Stateless. I think it extremely important that the powers under this Bill shall not be exercised by Governments against people on some narrow, technical ground.

I know personally one very tragic case. I have mentioned it before but it illustrates what may happen. It is the case of a man, who at the age of three was taken by his parents from Poland—there was no Polish State at the time—to Vienna where he was brought up. He knew no Polish at all, he had no Polish friends, he had no Polish connections of any sort or kind, and he had no desire for any. He lived in Vienna until his early twenties. It then happened that Hitler marched into Austria, and as part of his policy he removed from Austria thousands of people of non-Austrian origin—mainly Jews. He moved them across Austria and across Germany, intending to enforce their emigration into Poland. But the Polish Government said: "No, these people are not ours. They have never been our citizens; they are not now. We take no responsibility of any kind for them." I am not saying that they were wrong. I think that they were right, but they did take that attitude and these people were left, cast out of one State and refused admittance to the other. They spent the whole of a terrible winter without adequate food and clothing on the marches between Prussia and Poland, with no one prepared to take any responsibility of any kind for them.

The man to whom I refer eventually escaped and came to this country, and was living here quite freely and happily until one day two Polish gendarmes accompanied by an English policeman arrived at his home and said, "You are liable to serve in our Forces because we have conscription in Poland and you are a Polish citizen," and with the assistance of our police he was forcibly taken into the Polish Army. He was tried, and sentenced, and was ultimately induced, or persuaded, voluntarily to join the Armed Forces of Poland. He knew no Polish; he was no use as a Polish soldier. He had previously applied, being very anxious to serve, to be admitted into our Army, but under the agreement we had with the Polish Government, we were unable to accept him without the consent of the Poles. There were other such cases, and I am citing this one now not because the injustice continues, because it does not. It has been ended, and I am glad to think that the Polish Government have put a stop to that practice, which at one time was frequent with them. I raise it now in order to show how difficult this nationality question is. Under this Bill such a man could be taken back into the Polish Army. The Bill itself provides that if the man has been formally discharged from the Polish Army, and is therefore not actually serving now, he would not be liable to be taken back into the Army under this Bill. But in a great many cases there has been no formal discharge.

I know cases—I do not intend to reveal them now as it would be dangerous until proper amendment has been made—in which men of the type I have been describing have been taken into one of the Allied Armies and have ultimately discovered that the particular Government concerned—it is not always the Poles—had acted in excess of their jurisdiction and have left. The Polish authorities, or whoever they might be, have not ventured to do anything about it, although they know the whereabouts and identity of the people and everything about them. But these people have not been formally discharged. That is one of the things which will have to be looked at very carefully in Committee. It would be in the highest degree unjust if men, because they had been, under duress, serving in the Army of an Allied Power, should by reason of that illegal act, or by reason of some misunderstanding on one side or the other, now be deprived of the free option which the Bill gives to all those others who have never been in an Army at all. There is another respect in which the former powers were abused. In the Second Reading Debate on the Allied Forces Act the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General gave a clear undertaking to this House that the powers under that Act would not be retrospectively applied.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

The hon. Member is not quite accurate. When I was dealing with the Free French I said, quite definitely, that so far as I could say, the Act could not be used for retrospective purposes. The hon. Member has not represented quite accurately what I actually said.

Mr. Silverman

I have not the actual words in front of me, and I do not propose to argue with my right hon. and learned Friend on them; but I am certain he would not dispute that the impression which he desired to create, and which he did create, in the House at that time was that if we gave the Allied Governments power to punish crimes under their laws, by their courts but on our soil, they should not use those powers in respect of crimes committed before the granting of such powers. That is the point about which he was asked, and I think that is a fair interpretation of what he said. I know a case, which I have communicated to my right hon. and learned Friend, of a man who was tried in this country for an offence alleged to have been committed in France 18 months before. There was no possibility of getting all the evidence that might have been available at the time of the alleged offence. As it was, there was only one witness to show that he had committed the offence, and that witness contradicted himself, while live witnesses testified that he did not commit the offence; yet the court convicted him. I am not questioning that conviction; that is not our business. What is our business is the fact that those powers were never intended to apply to alleged offences committed on foreign soil long before such legislation was contemplated at all. I hope that under this Bill there will be no such abuse of the powers as I think has been proved in repeated instances under the other Act.

I would direct attention again to the definition of nationality. Nationality ought to be more clearly defined. It may be that we cannot have a new Nationality Act, but for the purposes of this Bill, persons deemed to be nationals of any of the Powers concerned should be specifically defined. On any definition of nationality, there must be in this country a large number of persons who are Stateless. They seem to be covered by none of this legislation. If they are Stateless, they will not be liable under our own Military Service Act or under the former Allied Forces Act or under this Act. That is a position that the House would not, I think, like to leave unremedied, and that the persons concerned would not like to leave unremedied, because most of them regard themselves, in all senses except the strictly technical sense, as persons having the rights, and therefore the obligations and duties, of British citizens. Have the Government considered what is to be done in those cases?

I have said already that not all, but many of them are Jews. The Government might give further consideration to the requests that have been made from time to time for the formation of a Jewish fighting force. Why are we passing this legislation? We could have done what we did in the last war. We could have made people who are not specifically enemy aliens, liable under our own law. But we thought it desirable in many instances not to do that. The Government have said, in defending legislation of this kind, "We are not going to deprive any European Government of its sovereign rights merely because, by acts of unprovoked aggression, Hitler has managed to remove them from their territory." It has been on that principle that we have departed from the practice of the last war, and have preserved certain sovereign rights of these Governments even on our soil. I do not want to say too much about this, but there are no people in Europe better entitled to protection of the kind I have indicated than the Jews. It is not as if we were in any doubt about national rights. We are committed, under the Palestine Mandate and in other ways, to the recognition of Jewish nationality. I see no reason why the Government should hesitate to allow those people who desire to do so to fight together in their own forces, under their own flag. I recognise that my hon. Friend cannot deal with that matter today, but I hope that the Government have not closed their minds to the proposal, and that they will sympathetically consider it.

I hope that I have succeeded in indicating to the Government a number of safeguards which, when we come to the Committee stage, it would be well to introduce into this Measure. I repeat that we welcome the Measure, that we are glad that agreement has been reached, and especially that free option to serve in our Forces has been conceded. We hope that that option will be freely applied. With those suggestions, we on these Benches will be glad to accept the Bill.

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

I, too, welcome this very satisfactory Bill. I imagine from the time that has elapsed and from other things I know, that a good deal of trouble has been taken to make it as satisfactory as it is. I would mention only one point, to which I hope the Government will give consideration, in order to save time in Committee. That is the question raised in Clause 5 (1). I have had a great many allegations, and a certain amount of proof, that in a number of cases, concerning at least two nationalities, people have, in fact, without any right under English law, been got into the Armed Forces of the Allies, sometimes by fraudulent representations as to their rights and duties, sometimes by bullying, and sometimes by more legitimate persuasion. Then these people having learned that they are not liable to serve, and not liking the conditions of service—and there may be many other causes for that than cowardice—have walked out. If this Bill is to authorise a man being put back lawfully into the Armed Forces of an Allied Power, simply and solely because he was once illegitimately and improperly clad in their uniform and taught to form fours or to form threes, as the case may be, it is not quite right. It can be put right, and I hope to put down an Amendment about it. I trust the Government will give some consideration to that point in advance if they have not already done so.

Major Milner (Leeds, South East)

I hope that the Government will pay attention to the points which have been raised by my hon. Friends on this bench. I thought of raising some of those points myself as they are extremely important. Many of us, while appreciating the difficult nature of the situation do not feel happy about it. There has been and there still is a not altogether satisfactory treatment of these questions. Of that there can be no doubt. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look into these points and will be able, at a later stage, to give some assurance on the matters raised by my hon. Friends. I would impress upon the Government that they should give us an assurance either to-day or in the future, that no pressure will be exercised by the Allied Governments to compel their nationals to join their Armed Forces in the interval between the coming into force of the Bill and the option which will arise, when, as I understand it, such nationals become automatically liable, or at any rate eligible, to join the British Forces

I desire to ask this question. Unfortunately I was not present during the whole of the speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and I apologise to him if he has already dealt fully with the question, but I understand he said that hardship tribunals will apply. May we be assured that in those instances where Allied nationals become liable under the National Service Acts either by reason of their obligation at the appropriate time or by volunteering, they will have all the advantages which British subjects are afforded, not only with regard to hardship tribunals but with regard to all the procedure; that they will come before our tribunals and not tribunals set up by the Allies, and that in all senses they will have the same opportunities as British subjects? I press that point because there are many Allied nationals now engaged in extremely important national work and this is not always recognised by their own Governments but would very likely be recognised by our own Government Departments. Therefore, it is essential in these cases that our own tribunals should have the opportunity of saying how far they are or are not necessary to the national effort in the work they are doing, or alternatively, whether they would or would not be better employed in the British Forces. I gather from the hon. Gentleman that they will have all the opportunities which are now offered to British subjects.

Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)

Most of the points about which some of us have been anxious have already been touched upon, and I desire only to make quite sure that we get from whoever replies on this Debate or during the Committee stage very definite assurances. The most serious point is the question of nationality. An hon. Member opposite stated that he understood the Bill was not going to apply to Czechoslovakians. I would like to know whether that is really the case? It is not clear from the Bill to which nationals it refers. It is described as a Bill: To make provision as to the liability to war service of the nationals of Allied Powers. Does that mean all Allied Powers?

Mr. McCorquodale

I hope that I dealt with that point clearly in my speech in moving the Second Reading when I said to the House that: the Bill is an enabling Measure and will not, in general, come into force with regard to any particular allied nationality until, in agreement with the Allied nationality concerned, an Order is made applying it to persons of that nationality.

Miss Rathbone

I see that it is to be by Order in Council. I am sorry I missed the first two or three minutes of the speech of the hon. Member. The really difficult point arises where there is a question of disputed nationality. Several Members have called attention to the fact that during the last year a considerable number of men have been, I will not say coerced or bullied exactly, but inveigled by very strong pressure, even by threats, into joining one or other of these Allied Armies and it is extremely questionable whether they are really members of the particular nationalities concerned.

I have one case with regard to which I have been in correspondence with the Foreign Office. Threats and a great deal of pressure were brought to bear on the man who was told he would be arrested and that he was legally bound to join. He had never been to Poland in his life except for a few weeks when he was driven over the frontier. He could not speak any Polish and had no wish to join the Polish army, though he would have liked to have joined the British Army. This man is actually in the Polish Forces. When I raised the question I was told that he had joined the Polish Forces and that if he doubted whether he was a Pole he had his remedy at law. I would like to know what is his remedy at law? What is actually going to be the position, first of a man in the Forces who disputes whether he is a Pole or Czech, and secondly of a man who is not in the Forces but is equally uncertain and wants the matter cleared up? If a man is not in the Forces, I suppose he is now to have the option. It is a great relief, I am sure, to all who are interested in the position of these people that there is to be an option.

If there is a disputed question of nationality and the man is in such a position that he would be liable to penalties under the Act if he were a Pole or Czech, what is he to do about it? What court is to decide the nationality to which he actually belongs? I am not a lawyer and I do not envy lawyers if they have to decide these matters. There are many cases where it is extremely difficult to discover a man's nationality. Many of them are Stateless. They were, perhaps, born in Berlin of parents who came out of Poland at a time the bit of Poland to which they belonged was a part of Austro-Hungary. On what depends their nationality? There are cases in which men have had passports obtained for them by relatives as the only means of getting out of Germany. Perhaps some have passports showing them to be of two or three different nationalities. Are they to be considered Poles or Czechs or whatever it may be on the ground that they managed to "wangle" a Polish or a Czech passport? What is to be the deciding tribunal? I hope that that will be made quite clear.

As to the option of joining the British Forces, which we are all so delighted to see is to be part of the Bill, will it be made, as one or two hon. Members have suggested, crystal clear that they have such an option and that a man will not be subject to any kind of penalties or any, inferiority stigma if he proposes to hold out on a chance of joining the British Forces? If it is to be a real option it is very important that it should be made clear that the man will have a fair chance of joining a combatant unit if he so desires. Some no doubt prefer to join the Pioneer Corps and naturally cannot expect that there will be any promise given beforehand, as in the case of the British soldiers, that they can join whatever Force they like. But it ought to be clear that they are not to be limited mainly to the Pioneer Corps and will have a free choice. They ought to be considered for the Royal Air Force, the Navy or the unit of the British Army which they want to join. It has been a great humiliation to many of those who are anti-Nazis in every possible sense, and who are longing to take vengeance for their dead countrymen and women, to find that they have no option but to be put into a unit where they can do nothing except dig and sweep all day long.

May I say a word about the Czechoslovakian Forces? I suppose it is natural that there is a special difficulty where Czechoslovakia is concerned and perhaps more so in connection with the Sudeten-German part of Czechoslovakia—I do not know—but I do know that there is no group of refugees in this country more passionately desirous of victory for the Allied cause than the Sudeten-Germans. There is no group which realises more the necessity for close co-operation between themselves and other parts of Czechoslovakia, but they feel some fear as to what may be the future of their part of Bohemia after the war, and they want to be quite sure that no political results that would in any way place them in a less favourable position than Slovakians will follow. That is possibly why they are hanging back to a certain extent over questions raised in this Bill, although I believe that most of them very warmly welcome it.

Mr. Cecil Wilson (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

In Clause 1 of this Bill it states that the National Service Acts, 1939 and 1941, will be operative, but there were two sentences used by the Parliamentary Secretary which gave the impression that that was not really intended. He said that the only ground for exemption would be that these people were doing essential work and that exemption would be granted only when their Government wished to have these people exempted. That is not in accordance with the Acts which we have in operation in this country. The provisions of a Norwegian Act of 1922 provide for dealing both in peace and war with those who are described as "refractaires from motives of conscience." Incidentally, the Norwegians who have been under conscription for a long time, and who have made changes, found a better term than "conscientious objection." Conscientious objection means nothing to the vast majority of the people of this country. When it is talked about as the Ministry of Labour talk about it, it reminds me of the man who came to me to make an objection to the vaccination of his child. He declared that he had a conscientious objection to it on the ground that it would be prejudicial to the health of his child and said as he walked away, "You know, this is my second child. My first child was vaccinated and has had all the ailments to which a child can be subjected. Now I will see how this one gets on without it."

This same idea is held by the vast majority of the people of this country, not excepting Members of this House, as to what is conscientious objection. The use of the word "refractaires" or some other such expression is very much more appropriate. In the Norwegian Act conscience is more strictly interpreted. It states that alternative service shall have no connection with military institutions or operations. During the years that conscription has been in operation the Norwegians have learned lessons from it. The Act also states that during alternative service persons serving have the right to maintenance and clothing and to whatever is provided for the soldier. Their families have the right to what is provided for the families of soldiers. There is very little of that kind in this country. In a statement of the motives of the law the Governmental Commission is of the opinion that the execution of the law should be effected in such wise as to avoid the danger of alternative service taking the character of penal service. That is not in operation in this country. You have tribunals in all parts of the country using most objectionable terms in regard to some of these people. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but in a few days I will let him have a long list. The Act goes on to state: or that opinion should mistake it for something other than a compensatory employment in lieu of military service. That views the whole thing in a different light, and I am not surprised to hear that the Government knew nothing of Norweigian law. If they had studied them, our laws would be on a much more satisfactory basis.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I rise to express a welcome to this Bill, because I am somewhat in doubt as to the position of friendly aliens who are engaged for the time being on non-essential work, useless jobs such as waiting on other people, and who can be found in various forms of employment covered by the union with which I have been associated for many years. I do not know exactly what is meant by the Bill when it makes provision as to the liability to war service. The Minister of Labour has power to direct all British subjects covered by the Act to some kind of employment under the Essential Work Order, but in the case of friendly aliens, who are dealt with under this Bill as Allied nationals, it appears to me that there are many of them whose services could be better utilised in the war effort if they were directed, under the Essential Work Order, to jobs for which they are well suited. I do not know whether the Ministry of Labour have looked at the matter from that angle. I shall not argue legal points, but put the matter from the point of view of the man-in-the-street. There are many people who know that friends of theirs who were waiters, or engaged in the distributive trades, went into the Armed Forces many months ago, by reason of the National Service Act, but these people find that there are friendly aliens who are engaged in the same kind of work and will be engaged in it for the duration of the war unless the matter is dealt with under this Bill. I want to ask the Minister whether the Bill will deal with that matter. Will it comb out the men in these various occupations and bring them into more beneficial and useful occupations? Whether a man be a Dutchman, a Greek, or a Pole, I cannot se that there would be anything wrong in saying to him, "Here is your opportunity; if you have not volunteered, you have got to play the game and do the same kind of thing as we do."

Mr. Silverman

My hon. Friend will appreciate what was the position without this Bill. Many of these people, whose great anxiety has been to serve, have not been able to do so, since when they applied at the employment exchanges for work, or applied to join the Army, they were told, "You are a Pole, or a Czech, and we have an agreement with your provisional Government, and unless they release you, we cannot employ you." If the persons concerned were people who would never apply to those States, they were left without an opportunity to serve.

Mr. Walkden

I appreciate the hon. Member's point of view, and probably the Bill will help in that matter. At the same time, the Ministry of Labour have not so far dealt with these people as we feel they ought to have been dealt with. I imagine that within two miles of the House there must be at least 1,000 people whose services could be better utilised. Only a few weeks ago a Czech came to me and told me that he had tried three times to get into a certain kind of job in the Croydon area, but was turned down because he was a Czech, and some kind of reference was made to him that may have appeared unpleasant. The Ministry of Labour would not give him a chance. I hope that not only will all these men be given a chance, but that there will be an effective comb-out, and that we shall not see in future, in the West End of London and in various towns and cities, in shops and catering establishments, people doing unnecessary jobs when they could be playing their part in industry.

Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)

I should like to add my thanks for the optional Clause in the Bill, which certainly will gratify quite a number of foreign nationals who have the utmost sympathy with our country and who happen to be exiled from their own lands. I know of a case of a young man who tried, in the early part of the war, to join His Majesty's Forces. He spoke perfect English, although he had come from another country only about two years previously; but when it was discovered that he was the national of another State, he was told that he could not serve in the British Army. He has had, of course, the opportunity of serving in the Forces in this country of that Friendly Power, but he says that he would be prepared to go to prison for the rest of his days rather than serve in the army of the nation to which technically he belongs. I presume that this Bill will apply to such a person, and that he will be able, if he so desires, to be accepted for the British Army.

I would like here to make a suggestion for the consideration of the Minister. We are all supposed to know the law. That is a fiction rather than a fact. I presume that Allied nationals will be presumed to know the law in respect of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, and I suppose that most of them will know about it, but it does not follow that all of them will. Therefore, I want to ask whether it would be possible to see that those Allied nationals are informed that they can opt out of their responsibility to their national Forces and join the British Forces? For instance, it might well be laid down that if and when they are called for service in their national Forces, they shall be informed, before actually signing on, that they can, if they wish, serve in the British Forces. It may be that a small Amendment of that sort could be incorporated in the Bill at a later stage. It would thus be guaranteed that this power of option would be brought to the notice of all those to whom it applies.

I want to express the hope of large numbers of Austrians in this country, who are intensely hostile to the Nazi regime and who have shown in more ways than one their complete friendliness towards this country, that they may at some time be brought within the scope of the Bill. I do not suppose that can be done now, but I mention it because I am in touch with large numbers of Austrians, and they are most anxious for this opportunity to be given to them. Finally, I want to express the fervent hope that no legal advantage, privilege or opportunity granted to British nationals will be denied to the nationals of other countries serving in this country. For instance, I hope that the privilege, if it be a privilege, of going before tribunals by men who conscientiously object to combatant service, or any form of war work, will be open also to, nationals of other countries who are temporarily resident here. I know it can be argued that technically that is so, but perhaps that too might be embodied in my suggestion, that some definite form of notification shall be conveyed to the nationals sometime before they are to be called up.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

A number of Britishers and members of the Austrian and Czechoslovakian communities, and people from other countries who are now our Allies, served with the International Brigade in Spain. They were accomplished soldiers and endured great hardships. Since the British contingent returned, a number of them have been rejected from the British Army because of their political tendencies—belonging to the Communist party. I should like to know whether any of these people who served in Spain and are now our Allies, and who tend to be of a Communist political outlook, will be exempt and barred from participation in the war effort, as the Communists are to-day.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

I am rather intrigued with the provisions of this Bill, and am very pleased to see two eminent lawyers sitting on the Government Front Bench, who, perhaps, will be able to reply to the few pertinent questions I wish to ask. The House of Commons is asked to-day to give power to the British Government to conscript aliens. I should like to know whether such a thing has ever happened before in this country, or indeed in any other civilised country with which the right hon. and learned Gentlemen are familiar. I know it is very unpopular to strike a note like this, but I should like to know what the British Government would think if any foreign Government in Europe or elsewhere conscripted British subjects for its Fighting Forces. I understand—I cannot vouch for it with accuracy—that when an alien voluntarily joins the American Army, or at present is conscripted into the Fighting Forces—by the Government at Washington—then that alien automatically becomes an American subject.

All of us, I think, have dealt with a number of tragic cases which will be covered by this Bill. The House knows that I take an interest in this problem purely from a humanitarian point of view, and I will give one case with which I have had to deal. It is the case of a boy born in Leningrad whose parents of Polish nationality opted their child as a Polish national. That boy is now a young man of military age, living in this country, but he has never been to Poland. He knows nothing about Poland, and the Polish Government here wanted to conscript him. If the House does not mind my saying so, after I paid a visit to Poland under the Pilsudski regime and seeing what happened to the minorities there I think he was perfectly right as a Jew in not wishing to join the Polish Army. Strange as it might seem, I have done my best to provide him with an opportunity to join the British Army, but the Polish Government would not allow him to do so.

My second point is this: When aliens are conscripted into the British Forces will that affect them favourably in securing British nationality later on? That is fundamental. The more of these cases with which I have had to deal the more it has impressed upon my mind that a human being without any nationality at all might just as well commit suicide. He is in a hopeless position. A Stateless person is a tragedy in the present world. The party to which I belong have agreed to support this Measure, and I have ventured to make these few points on my personal initiative.

The Attorney-General

The Bill has, on the whole, been welcomed. Points have been made, some of which deal with matters of detail—some dealt more with administration than with the terms of the Bill—which, no doubt, will be considered. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who opened this Debate, is quite right in saying that he has been the most insistent Member in demanding that Allied States on our soil should be given powers to conscript their nationals. He has waited about two years for this Bill, but, unfortunately, he has not been able to wait for the end of the Debate—he has waited so long that we may well excuse him for this. He always seems to me to ride two horses on this matter. No one pays greater tributes to the Allied Governments than he, but, on the other hand, he sometimes asks the Government to assume that these Allied Governments do undesirable things.

A good deal was said about the possibility of pressure, and some reference was made to actions which hon. Members suggested were not quite as they should be. The position of the Allied Governments on our soil, who are fighting with us in this struggle, is, no doubt, very unusual. This Bill does not so much give them power, but says what consequences will happen if certain steps are not taken. It is, of course, right and proper that everything should be done in due order, or, to employ a word which has already been used, "legitimately." It was suggested, although this arises under the Act rather than under this Measure, that some of these friendly aliens do not understand their rights, and I agree it is important that they and everyone should understand what are their rights.

Mr. Davidson

A lot of British subjects do not understand their rights.

The Attorney-General

Certainly, but the suggestion here is that it may be more difficult. I think the Debate and the publicity given to one or two cases in the courts have done a great deal to help these Allied communities, who are mostly in touch with each other, to understand their rights as they exist here. But, having said that, it is also right to say that, after all, these Allied Governments are dealing with their own nationals. It is true that we are here to see that things are not done which are wrong on British soil, but it is also fair to remember that they are dealing with their own nationals.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) asked if it had ever been done before. I believe it has. I understand that we did it in 1917, and the United States are doing it to-day, that is to say, they are taking power to conscript people within their jurisdiction other than their own nationals. But the real answer that I would make to the hon. Member is not based on either of those facts, which I believe to be true, but on how the Bill is going to be worked. My hon. Friend explained that it will only be applied to a particular Allied Government and its nationals by agreement with that Government. If the United States Government by agreement with us take power to conscript our nationals in America and we take power to conscript American nationals here, I do not see how any such agreement would be derogatory to either Power, or that there would be anything novel or strange about it. When the hon. Member realises that this will only be applied by agreement, I think that removes the implications of that part of his speech. As far as America is concerned, the Bill could be applied, but I understand discussions are going on. It is not the intention to apply the Bill to any of our Allies, including any of the 28 United Nations, except by agreement with them.

Mr. Mander

What about the Free French?

The Attorney -General

It is obvious that in the present circumstances of French citizenship and nationality the Act could not possibly be applied there.

Mr. Davidson

Can a French citizen exercise any preference?

The Attorney-General

The Bill will not be applied in the case of the Free French for reasons which I think will be obvious. Another main point that has been raised is the question of nationality. Every lawyer is familiar with the class of case of which the hon. Lady spoke. A child is born of Polish parents in Leningrad and an option is exercised. In some cases territory may have been transferred. There are obviously many difficult cases, but one is apt to exaggerate their number. Nor do I think there is any particular reason to suppose that the Bill is likely to bring a crop of them before the courts. The only way a case could come before the courts is this: Suppose the Polish, Dutch or Norwegian Government has asked one of its nationals to join its Forces and he has declined. The Bill is passed, and the man reads about it in the papers. The only way in which the nationality question can arise is if he says he is not Norwegian and the Norwegian and British Governments say he is. Of course, if the man accepts the Allied nationality, the Act is applied, and no question arises. He either joins the Force or he is called up. The nationality question can only arise if a man says he is not a national of one or other of these Allied Governments to whom the Act has been applied and they and we say he is. [Interruption.] If they say he is, they cannot make him join. He simply sits tight. When the two months have elapsed legal proceedings can only be taken if the British Government say, "You not having joined, and being in our view a Norwegian, we treat you as liable under our National Service Act." Therefore I do not think we are likely to have very many cases. In the case put of a man who says he is not of Norwegian but of Swedish nationality, I should have thought that the British Government would not take the trouble to contest a complicated nationality case for the sake of one individual. I do not think double nationality cases will present a great deal of trouble. If one of a man's double nationalities is British, and he retains it, of course he comes under our National Service Act.

Miss Rathbone

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not yet dealt with the point that I raised of a man who has actually joined an Allied Army because he thought they had the right to conscript him, though they had not. Now he says, "I do not belong to this nationality." What is he to do about it? Can he get out of the Army by proving that he is not a Czech or a Pole?

The Attorney-General

That has nothing to do with this Bill. If the man has joined the Force and undertaken the obligation, the Bill does not enable him to get out of it, nor do I see how it could deal with the problem. The matter could only be taken up with the Allied Government.

Mr. Silverman

I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is looking at this lukewarmly. If he will consult the War Office or the Foreign Office, he may be shown a dossier of a number of specific cases which I myself furnished, after investigation, in which people who denied that they belonged to these Forces at all were arrested, detained and handed over to the custody of those Forces and who, under pressure of that kind, ultimately, in that way, consented to join, and who were then subsequently allowed to go without being formally discharged from the Forces because, on examination, the provisional Government concerned recognised that they had got them in that way. They will still be liable to be handed back under the Bill.

The Attorney-General

If the hon. Lady was raising her point under Clause 5 (1), I apologise for what I said. If she was raising the general point as to whether these people can be released, my hon. Friend's intervention rather supports what I said, that this is a matter for representations through the Foreign Office. The point was raised on Clause 5 (1) that there might be people whom everybody regarded as better out of an Allied Force than in it and who might not have been duly discharged, and that, therefore, it would be desirable that their position should be cleared up. We will certainly look into that point, which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt).

My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Wilson) gave an interesting account of the Norwegian provisions for conscientious objectors. That, again, brings out the two sides of this problem, because so far as the Norwegian Government are concerned this Bill does not and cannot affect Norwegian law. If in any document that they send out to their nationals or any approaches they may make to them they provide for the operation here of any machinery for dealing with conscientious objectors—which would, of course, be informal because it could not be a court—it would be a matter for them. This, however, does not empower the Norwegian Government to conscript in the full sense. That is why it is welcomed so much by some of my hon. Friends who have spoken in the Debate. All it says to the potential Norwegian conscientious objector is, "If you do not join the Norwegian Forces, you will become liable to the British National Service Act"; and all the machinery of that Act for conscientious objectors will apply to him. The hon. Gentleman thought the Norwegian methods were better. We cannot go into that now. We do our best in this country and think that on the whole we do better than other countries, but we cannot on this Bill consider whether our general scheme for conscientious objectors might be improved. All that it is relevant to point out now is that it will apply in all its details to those aliens who come under the National Service Act by reason of their not having joined a Force within the two months.

Mr. Wilson

Will such a conscientious objector come under the ordinary tribunal or the Norwegian tribunal?

The Attorney-General

We have nothing to do with the Norwegian tribunals. If a Norwegian conscientious objector does not join the Norwegian Forces because ex hypothesi he does not like joining Forces, then under this Bill, two months having elapsed, he comes under our National Service Act. He is told to register, he then says he is a conscientious objector, and he will have the whole of the advantages of our machinery for establishing that fact, and, if it is established, of exemption and so on.

Mr. Sorenaen

Will the Attorney-General say a word regarding the suggestion that there might be some failure to enable the power of option to be exercised before a man is actually called up.

The Attorney-General

That surely must be left to the Allied Governments. We are dealing with Governments which are dealing with their own citizens. They are in difficulties and that is why they are here, and it is the more reason why we should constantly remember that they are sovereign States. I wonder what we should think if some other country tried to say how we should communicate with our citizens. This must be a matter that should be left to them.

Mr. Davidson

Will the Attorney-General answer my point with regard to any political barrier? I asked about men who had fought for democracy in other Forces and left their own countries because they did not approve very heartily of their particular forms of government, which countries are now Allies of ours. Will any political representations from those countries be entertained by us with regard to the entry of these men into our Army?

The Attorney-General

That really seems to me to be a very hypothetical question. As I understand it, the suggestion is that there may be some people in this country who fought in the International Brigade in Spain who are, say, Poles, Czechs or Dutchmen. They do not join their own national Forces, and what will be their position when this Bill becomes an Act? If they do not join those Forces within two months, they will come under our Forces. What view will be taken of them in our Forces is hypothetical. Anyone who comes under our umbrella in this Bill will be scrutinised in the ordinary way. Some people think that the way in which the scrutinising is done is not the way in which they would do it, but these men will be dealt with in the same way as any other men who join the Forces.

Mr. Davidson

May we have an assurance that their participation in the Spanish War or their political activities of the past will be no barrier?

The Attorney-General

I certainly will not give any such assurance, because it is irrelevant to the subject with which I am dealing.

Mr. Silverman

Would the Attorney-General like to say a word about the only point in the discussion on which he has not touched? I think I know why, but I should like him to deal with it. The suggestion was made by the Parliamentary Secretary who moved the Second Reading that people who elected to join our Forces instead of a foreign Force would be employed in the Pioneer Corps. It was suggested that that was unfair and interfered with their freedom of option.

The Attorney-General

What my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary stated is the position. There have been very long and difficult negotiations on this matter with the Allied Governments. It is our idea that those who do not join their own Forces will be put into the Pioneer Corps unless they have special qualifications for the Air Force.

Miss Rathbone

Is that the only exception? Suppose they have special qualifications for some other military unit?

The Attorney-General

That is the general basis of the scheme. The Pioneer Corps is a combatant body, and many foreigners have served in it with great gallantry and distinction. It is a mistake to suggest that it is a non-combatant branch of the Service. It is an honourable branch in which gallant service has been and can be given. That is the general basis of the way in which it is intended to work the scheme.

Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)

I hope most sincerely that my right hon. and learned Friend will not give way on this important point, because it concerns a very practical problem which will arise if the men choose of their own accord to serve in the British Army rather than in the national units of their own countries. Some of the men concerned are foreign-speaking and not all British regiments are in a position to deal with foreign-speaking recruits, but the Pioneer Corps, which had a splendid record in France, has special alien companies. These alien companies have British commanding officers, but in certain instances commissions are given to foreign nationals in those particular companies. Half of their non-commissioned officers are of British origin and half are of foreign origin. Men in the Pioneer Corps are employed on all kinds of duties. As my right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, they are employed on combatant duties in the line and on highly skilled work for which they are particularly Suited, besides doing ordinary labouring duties when no other work can be found for them. It would be most unfortunate if the impression went out to the country that some stigma would be attached to those men by their being posted to the Pioneer Corps which is rendering such loyal service. Not only is it an honour that they should have the privilege of serving with that Corps but they will be much happier because of the special facilities which are provided for them in that Corps.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

Dr. Peters.

Miss Rathbone

Can my hon. and gallant Friend say whether he is aware that—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I called Dr. Peters.

Miss Rathbone

I was only asking a question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Lady has already made one speech and is not allowed to make two.

Dr. Peters (Huntingdon)

I myself was only going to ask a question. Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the Minister of National Service will have powers of direction in reference to these particular people?

Mr. McCorquodale

We have complete powers of direction.

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.—[Mr. J. P. L. Thomas.]