HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc1012-6
Mr. Emrys Hughes

I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 4 and 5.

I think we should have some explanation from the Under-Secretary before we pass this Schedule. According to this Schedule, there are three categories of Army and Air Force pensioners not liable to be recalled. The first category is a man in Holy Orders or a regular minister of any religious denomination. The second category is a criminal lunatic, and I can quite understand that the Home Secretary is here tonight to prevent the War Office calling up any other people under his jurisdiction. The Secretary of State for Scotland is here to look after the interests of the blind.

I want to know why a man in Holy Orders or a regular minister of any religious denomination is lumped into these categories. I can quite foresee that I am forestalling the very strongest opposition in another place, when the bishops will want to know exactly why the gentlemen in whom they are interested are exempted under this Schedule. I would like to have some really logical explanation of why men in Holy Orders, or a regular minister of any religious denomination, should be treated with special consideration in this Bill. I understand that archbishops and bishops no longer adopt the attitude that war is futile and demoralising for the community and that the Church dignitaries should be exempted from it. I understand that their point of view now is that war is an institution which receives the blessing and approval of the Church. If that is so, if the slogan is to be "Onward Christian Soldiers," it should not be "For God's sake exempt us."

I have a great admiration for the lucidity of the Under-Secretary to the War Office and for his powers of exposition, and I would like him to give a clear exposition of why this special consideration is given in the Bill. It is no use him saying it has always been in these Bills since the time of Oliver Cromwell. I would like a clear, logical exposition which could be presented to the common sense people in the country.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

I would like to say a word or two in support of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and I want to bring the matter particularly within the confines of this Bill, because the Government in this case are seeking to exempt gentlemen in Holy Orders from the provisions of the Bill although they have already been in the Army in some position for which they have received payment at the appropriate scales and for which ultimately they have received a pension.

This Bill deals only with recalling pensioners, and why a gentleman in Holy Orders who has already found his place in the Army, according to his convictions and his cloth, or despite his convictions and his cloth—I do not ask which at the moment—should now be exempt is a matter which should be explained. It is suggested that because he is a clerk in Holy Orders he should be exempt.

I agree that now may not be the time to argue the general question of clerks in Holy Orders and their place in the Army, but I am submitting that in this case the issue has been solved by the Gentlemen in question. They have found their place in the Army and have received their pensions because they found their place in the Army. After all the trouble which is being taken, even to chasing a man to Southern Ireland—may be with no ability to get him back from Southern Ireland—I want to know why the clerk in Holy Orders should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Michael Stewart

I hesitated to rise too soon, because my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has given assistance to hon. Members opposite in some of their Amendments and I was waiting to see if they were going to return the compliment on this occasion. I think my hon. Friend will agree, if he considers the point, that it is not really incumbent upon me in this Bill to give an explanation as to why it is customary to exempt clerks in Holy Orders and ministers of recognised religious denominations from military service. I think on reflection he will agree that it will not be proper in a small Measure of this kind to make a big departure on general principle which has been adopted in other much greater Measures dealing with the question of military service. The learned comments my hon. Friend has made on the issue could more properly have been discussed when, in the past, we were considering the whole question of compulsory military service. It would be an extraordinary anomaly if we introduced into a Measure of this kind a new definition of principle in the way he suggests.

10.30 p.m.

My other hon. Friend, if I may so say, has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. It would not be possible on this Bill to call up clerks in Holy Orders who had served in the Royal Army Chaplains Department. The Bill is not so drafted as to cover someone of that kind. We might meet the situation where a man had, after perhaps 20 years of life in the ranks, retired on a pension and then taken Holy Orders. If he has done that, I agree he is exempted from the Bill, but I think my hon. Friend will agree that the number of cases to which this will apply will be very small.

Finally, my hon. Friend objected to the grouping together of clergy, criminal lunatics and one other class of the community—the blind. But I would point to many Acts of Parliament in which similar conglomerations are to be found. For example, those Acts dealing with the franchise group if I remember rightly, criminal lunatics, members of another place and persons convicted of treason together with clergy, both of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. I submit, therefore, that it would not be reasonable to make the alteration which my hon. Friend proposes.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

If we may be assured that in a future major Bill the War Office would be prepared to consider this issue of principle, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I beg to move in page 4, line 21, at the end to add: 4. A person certified by a local authority as essential to the completion of houses within its area. This would mean that the War Office would not be able to call up any person whom a local authority decided is essential to the building of its housing scheme. This is a point about which we feel very strongly in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland is there and he can corroborate everything I say in this respect. We need people on our housing schemes far more than they are needed in the Army. At present we are up against the position every day that all kinds of people essential to house building—bricklayers, joiners and plasterers—are being called up for the Army. This Bill extends this call up of essential workers. I say that these people are needed far more in housing schemes in Scotland than for any functions in the Army. We have a big problem of overcrowding and slum clearance to be faced in Scotland, together with a high rate of tuberculosis due to bad housing, and it would be better if the local authorities in Scotland had been called into consultation and had a say in whether a man should be taken away from necessary building work than transferred to the Army to do goodness knows what. I say it is reasonable, and if the Minister says this might be considered later on a bigger Bill, let me state that if this is put into the Bill, it will be the most popular thing he could do so far as Scotland is concerned.

Mr. M. Stewart

I think my hon. Friend is putting words into my mouth when he talks about a future and major Bill. I said no such thing in my previous remarks. Also, if he will forgive me, he might have saved himself trouble if he had studied more carefully what was said on Second Reading. In this Bill it is made clear that the Minister, in deciding whether a person is liable to be called up, may consider representations made by him or his employer as to the nature and urgency of the employment on which he is engaged. I think that is as far as it is reasonable to go in the direction my hon. Friend outlined.

Question put, and negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed.