HC Deb 02 November 1959 vol 612 cc637-41
1. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Labour what categories and how many men are still liable to call-up for National Service; and how many of them will be called up.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Edward Heath)

All British male subjects ordinarily resident in Great Britain, born before 1st January, 1941, and under 26 years of age, are, unless they have already served, liable under the National Service Acts; but men born on or after 1st October, 1939, have already been told that they need not expect to be called up. On this basis, some 470,000 men were within the field for call-up at the last count on 31st March. The great majority were on deferment.

About 66,000 are likely to be called up in the course of the present financial year, but I cannot yet give a precise estimate of the number of men needed between April and December of next year.

Mr. Lipton

Will the right hon. Gentleman, whom I congratulate on his promotion to more vocal duties, take note of the fact that the call-up system is now in a bit of a mess? Will he do something to end the long delay between registration, medical examination and call-up, which is causing very great hardship and dislocation to thousands of people, some of whom are married men of 25 with wives and dependent children?

Mr. Heath

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, but I cannot accept the strictures which he made on the system. However, there are three Questions on the Order Paper today when I shall be dealing with the details. Perhaps I may answer his points then.

11. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Minister of Labour when young men born in the third quarter of 1939 will be required to begin their National Service.

12. Mr. A. Evans

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware of the unsettlement in home life and in industry caused by the long delay between registration for National Service and medical examination and call-up; what steps he is taking to rectify this; and if he will make a statement.

21. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware of the many young men of 19 years of age whose careers are being jeopardised because of the delay in being called up for National Service and the absence of any indication when it is likely to take place; and what he will do to improve the situation.

Mr. Heath

As men born in the third quarter of 1939 who registered last January are the final age group to be registered for National Service, their call-up must necessarily be spread over a considerable period. A longer period of time than usual between registration and medical examination and call-up is, therefore, inevitable. Men born in July, 1939, will start going into the Forces within the next month or so.

Information can be given to a man who wishes to know when to expect his medical examination, and a man who so wishes can apply for an early call-up on application to the office where he registered.

Mr. Goodhart

Will my right hon. Friend remember that uncertainty about the prospect of National Service is still a very great burden on many young men and their parents?

Mr. Heath

Yes, I appreciate that, and I think that what the young man and his parents would like to have is a greater degree of certainty. That is why, if they ask at their place of registration, we will tell them when to expect medical examination and, if in order to suit their future arrangements they wish for an earlier call-up, that will be arranged.

Mr. Evans

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the matter again because, from his own figures, there are 400,000 young men involved? Will he consult the Service Departments with a view to minimising the delays and uncertainty which these young men find?

Mr. Heath

Yes. Perhaps I should point out that it is not really satisfactory to take the figure I gave in answer to the first Question of approximately 470,000 as being the number available to the Services. If one subtracts the number deferred—and many of them are on indefinite deferment because of the industries in which they are working and others are on shorter term deferment—one finds the total number at the last count, on 31st March, is only about 70,000.

Mr. Dodds

Does the Minister not appreciate that it would be very helpful to many of these young men who have been waiting more than twelve months if some information could now be given to them as to when it is likely they may be called? Does he not appreciate that many of these young men are not anxious to go into the Forces at all and will not, therefore, be asking to be called up in the hope that they will avoid National Service in the near future? When that is obvious, cannot they be told something much more definite than they are told at present?

Mr. Heath

I am afraid it is not possible for us to tell them definitely in the form of groups, but if a man applies to his office of registration he will be told approximately when he can expect to be called for medical examination and approximately the time after that when, if fit, he will be called up.

Mr. Lee

Will the right hon. Gentleman give publicity to the latter point he has made, that people can make that inquiry and get to know with certainty when they will be called up? Will he agree that in the sort of case about which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) asked, the sort of ground on which deferment can be granted is quite unclear? In other words, I think there is need for clarification on compassionate cases. Will the right hon. Gentleman give publicity to that?

Mr. Heath

Certainly I shall try to arrange for greater publicity to be given to the statement I have just made. In cases of hardship, there is official machinery through which every case goes and is considered. Men also have the right to ask for an appeal to the umpire on a decision. That machinery is firmly established, and points raised by hon. Members come to me in the last resort.

27. Mr. Owen

asked tthe Minister of Labour if he will now make a statement concerning the future of call-up for National Service.

Mr. Heath

As already announced, the Government plan is that there should be no call-up after the end of 1960 and we have no doubt that that will be achieved.

Mr. Owen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Northumberland is faced with the problem of pit closures, that the young men concerned are naturally looking to their future and that employers, when faced with requests for employment, make inquiries about National Service? These young men, in the absence of clear and definite Government policy, are now faced with the difficulty of not knowing whether it is advisable for them to leave the industry and seek further employment. I hope the Government will face up to this and help to end the muddle and confusion which seem at present to prevail.

Mr. Heath

This matter was dealt with by my predecessor in answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Sal-ford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on 2nd July, 1959. My right hon. Friend then announced: … men who have worked for several years in the mines, and who become redundant owing to closures, will have their cases looked at specially if they are within two years of the upper age-limit, and normally their National Service obligation will not be enforced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July. 1959; Vol. 608, c. 76.]

Mr. Lipton

On a point of order. In view of the generally unsatisfactory nature of all the replies on National Service call-up, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.