§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE DEPARTMENT (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, this Bill, though a small Bill in itself, may be said to touch a large number of very important subjects and to open up very wide considerations. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will be content if I present it for your consideration in a rather concentrated form. The Government have considered the character and the number of the Forces both of ourselves and. of our Allies, their strengths, reserves, and the potential reserves in civil life, and they have arrived at certain conclusions as to the numbers of men that are required to extend the Navy and the Air Service and to maintain our Forces in the Field.
There are several sources from which these men may be drawn. They may be drawn from the Armies abroad, and I understand that those Armies have already undergone a strict scrutiny. Secondly, they may be drawn from the Army at home. I am informed that the position of the Army at home has been investigated so as to get the largest possible proportion of the men required from the Army itself. There must naturally be a balance over. That balance has been stated as one of between 420,000 to 450,000. The Government has decided how these men are to be drawn from the industries at home. I ought to state that these numbers are a minimum and that it is possible that more may be required as the military situation develops in the course of the year.
There were three ways of raising these men, or a portion of them, which were considered and rejected for the present. There was the lowering of the military age, the raising of the military age, and the introduction of compulsory military service in Ireland. These ways, partly on grounds of economy and partly on grounds of expediency, were for the present set aside. Therefore it became necessary to withdraw the men required from our existing industries. I should like to add, incidentally, that in order to fulfil certain pledges that had been given, and to make recruiting more easy, certain conferences were held with the trade unions. There were two joint conferences and a number of group 220 conferences in which the proposals of the Government were filly explained, and in which certain discussions took place between the different groups and the representatives of the industries concerned. Many valuable suggestions were made, some of which were of great use to the Minister of National Service.
In these matters the Minister of National Service occupies an entirely neutral position as regards the recruits raised for the Army. He not merely has to raise the men that he is ordered to raise. He is also responsible for the whole man-power and its distribution to the different industries at home. He is, therefore, no more interested in one particular industry than in another, but it is his duty to spread the man-power as impartially, as fairly, and as equally as it can be, between those who require it, whether it be the Army, or whether it be the industries. The problem, therefore, has been how to withdraw these particular men from industries with the least possible disturbance to the increase of national production. The aim always has been to equalise sacrifices and to remove any sense of injustice that there may be as to an unequal treatment of different trades or occupations.
The working of the Military Service Acts has revealed certain anomalies and inequalities, the most flagrant of which this Bill is designed to remove. Chief among these anomalies is the difference of treatment between the men who hold protection certificates and those who hold exemption certificates, and the main object of the Bill is to assimilate the position of the men holding exemption certificates to the position of the men holding protection certificates. This object, as carried out in the Bill, may be described as twofold. First of all, in Clause 1 the Bill proposes to cancel the existing periods of grace of two months or of two weeks, allowed to the men after the expiry of their certificates of exemption before they are liable for military service; and, secondly, it permits the Director-General of National Service to cancel certificates of exemption granted—and and this—and this is an important point—on occupational grounds. The Military Service Act, 1916, allowed a man two months exemption on the expiry of his certificate. The Military Service Act (No. 2) of the same year limited this two months grace to men in certified occupations or in occupations under the Munitions of War Act, 1915. 221 The latter were subject to the leaving certificate system, which has now been entirely abolished. In all other cases under this second Act the two months were cut clown to two weeks. Clause 1 abolishes both periods of grace so that, so far as that clause is concerned, a man will become liable to military service immediately on the expiry of the certificate unless he has applied for renewal under the Military Service Act, 1916. Under Clause 3, subsection (5), of that Act he may not be called up for service till his application, if any, has been finally disposed of by the Tribunal.
What I have said refers to the men who come under the Military Service Acts; that is, the unattested men. I ought to contrast their position with that of the attested men. These attested men have never enjoyed these periods of grace, but, subject to the terms of the instructions of the Tribunals, they can apply for renewal of the certificate of exemption. This clause, then, does not apply to the latter class. Of course, it may be said that the larger proportion of men in civil life who are barred from recruitment do not hold certificates of exemption which were granted by the Tribunals or Government departments, but hold protection certificates given under administrative direction. These latter, as opposed to the exemption certificates, can be cancelled by a stroke of the pe[...], subject, of course, to arrangements with the trade or other interests concerned. Certificates of exemption—and it is with these that this Bill deals—cannot be cancelled except with the concurrence of the Tribunal or the Government Department concerned. Lack of uniformity and difficulty in obtaining cancellation have made it necessary for the Ministry of National Service to obtain some powers over these exemption certificates—the same powers as the Ministry has over the administrative order certificate. But I want to make this point quite clear, that this Bill gives no power to interfere with certificates granted on personal grounds, such as hardship, conscientious objection, and other matters; it only permits cancellation on occupational grounds.
Under Clause 2, therefore, the Director-General of National Service gains power to cancel certificates of exemption not less than fourteen days after the date of the Order, as may be specified in the Order. Clause 2, subsection (2), makes Orders applicable to any exemption certificate 222 granted by Tribunals or Government Departments to attested as well as unattested men provided always that it was granted on occupational grounds. Clause 2, subsection (3), enables individual certificates granted by Government Departments to be cancelled, but—and this is the exception—not individual certificates granted by the Tribunals. This power of cancelling certificates applies also to certificates granted to classes or bodies of men or to men of any class or description. Rights of renewal of certificates also are restricted, hut only so far as is absolutely necessary to secure the cancellation of the Order from being a real cancellation under Clause 2, subsection (4). These restrictions are twofold. A certificate is not granted or renewed if the renewed exemption would have been of value if it had been in force at the date, of the cancellation of the Order. Let me take an example of that. Jewellers or printers, for instance, could not get a renewed exemption if jewellers' and printers' certificates had been cancelled, and, further than this, a man cannot change to another occupation and then apply for a fresh certificate. These restrictions are only to secure that when the cancellation order is made it is really carried out
There is this restriction on the power of the Director-General of National Service. Clause 2, subsection (5), requires class cancellation Orders to be laid on the Table of the House, and they will be void if either House within fourteen days presents an Address against them. The Rules Publication Order does not apply to these Orders; otherwise they would have to wait for forty days before they came into force, and it must be clear to your Lordships that, with the necessities of getting the men, it would be impossible to wait for so long a period as forty days. Under Clause 2, subsection (6), in individual cases notice of cancellation is given, but that, of course, cannot be given in the case of the cancellation of certificates applying to classes, but some general notice will be inserted in the Press, and other means will be taken so that the cancellation applying to a class will be brought to the notice of the men concerned. There is another very important point in Clause 2, subsection (7), that is to say, to decide what are or are not these exemptions granted by Tribunals on occupational grounds. As your Lordships know, many of these exemptions are granted on what might be called mixed 223 grounds, and the Director-General of National Service is made arbiter on the question whether they were or were not granted on occupation grounds.
May I call your Lordships' attention to a printing error of some importance in page 2, line 19. The words "except as otherwise expressly provided by the Order" ought obviously to come out of line 19, and to come in after the word "then" in line 21. Possibly your Lordships will excuse this error owing to the considerable difficulties there have been in printing during the last few days.
I have only to say one word about the system of recruiting which can be thoroughly put into force as soon as this Bill passes, because I think I have made it clear to your Lordships that this Bill deals with the question of exemptions, and not with the question of protection certificates, which latter can be altered to-day by a stroke of the pen. It is felt that it would not be possible to apply the bare and undiluted principle of the youngest or the single men first, to the question of recruiting. Certain industries, for instance, can spare hardly any of the men engaged in them—such as shipbuilding; whereas there may be other industries, less essential, from which older men can quite well be spared. In fact, the basis of the recruiting system must be an occupational basis, conditioned, if you like, by age and by marriage. The system will be, therefore, one of clean cuts by age in the different occupations; so that the age may be, and will be, different in the different occupations according to the nature of the industry in which these men are engaged. The sole test will be national necessity and national production.
To make this quiet clear, may I take the cases of three different industries? I will assume that these industries are vital to national production and to the necessities of the country. But the question will be whether, each industry being vital, the whole of that industry is vital; and whether, therefore, you cannot withdraw for the Army men from that industry who represent the excess over national requirements. Take first a particular industry, the whole of the output from which is absolutely necessary. In that case, speaking generally, it would not be possible (except, of course, for substitution) to withdraw any man from that industry. 224 Suppose the production in that industry were one-third in excess of what was determined to be absolutely essential, then you might, roughly, say that you would withdraw one-third of the men from that industry; and so on if it were one-half, or whatever the proportion might be. Thus it is perfectly clear that, as between occupations, the age must be different; but, of course, speaking generally, in the occupations themselves you would proceed with the youngests first.
To sum up the few observations I make on this question of recruiting. Young men will be taken from the essential industries, and, if male substitutes are required and have to be found, the object will be to find these men for the most part from amongst those who have been in those industries before, but who have gone abroad and fought, or been wounded, and who, though they are not fit for active military service, yet may be capable of doing industrial work at home. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that this Bill is absolutely essential in order that the men may be obtained, and that this recruiting system may be carried on in the fairest possible way. As the hour is late, I will now ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading; because it is most important—every day is of importance—that the Bill should be carried and put into practice as soon as possible.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has introduced this Bill has explained its details with a lucidity to which this House is now becoming agreeably accustomed; and I feel satisfied that there is no member of your Lordships' House who desires to place any impediment whatever in the way of the passage of the measure. But the Bill does provoke one or two considerations, and there are a few matters to which I desire to direct the attention of your Lordships, even though the hour has grown rather late. The first thing is this. I think it would be a pity, when we are passing Bills for the extension of compulsory military service, if we forgot all that we owe to the men who voluntarily joined the Colours in the first months of the war.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
For upwards of two years this country depended entirely upon the free gift of its citizens; and in the earlier months of the war the miseries and discomforts which those men suffered in training and in the camps are something which the people who are taken under this Bill will never know. It was no fault of the War. Office, but the fact is that those men were trained in muddy swamps; they lived in leaky huts; they had imperfect equipment; they had frequently to drill in what a soldier always regards as a disgrace—civilian clothes. But none the less they bore all their hardships with courage and with cheerfulness, and they were formed into an Army that never knew defeat. Nor ought we, in remembering what we owe to those men, to assume that all the men who stayed behind were not animated by patriotic feeling. In many cases it was a very hard struggle for the man to decide between the claims of his country and the urgent claims of his own home. Upon him depended the maintenance of his business, the future of his children, the comfort, and, it may have been, the health of his wife; and it is not surprising if, in those circumstances, there were many men who were compelled to stop at home with a heavy heart, but who, if they had been free agents, would have been only too glad to go where their friends had gone before.
The Military Service Acts, of course, broke down all those considerations. They tore these men up by the roots, and formed them into Armies no whit inferior to those by which they were preceded. But I think that one ought to bear in mind the fearful dislocation that such measures must necessarily cause, and one should keep before one's eyes constantly the essential need of making the way smooth for these men when they return, and of enabling their roots once more to grow deep into their native soil.
One thing further needs to be said. The Government must accept a very grave and a very solemn responsibility for the safety of the men who are drawn into our Armies under Bills such as this. They are bound to secure that nothing is done to weaken the confidence of the men in the Generals by whom they are led, and, at the same time, to see that those Generals deserve their confidence. There is no question at all as to collision between civil and military control. At no time in the history of this 226 war have I ever heard it suggested that the military were the people who controlled the civilians. Civil control is, and has been throughout the whole of this war, an essential feature of the whole conduct of operations, and the members of the Government cannot escape from the duty and obligation that that fact lays upon them. My Lords, if there is any one in any position whatever who, in the opinion of the Government, does not command the fullest confidence of the Army, then their first duty is to remove him. If the men do command that confidence it ought to be sufficient for the public that they are retained in their office, but let the public know that that confidence is firm.
The one thing that is to my mind dangerous and disgraceful is that men in high command in our Forces should be subject in this country to systematic and organised attacks by newspapers, against which they are quite unable to defend themselves. The Government, I think, are in a difficult position in this matter. It is no use avoiding plain speech on a question of this kind. It is far better that the things that people say should be openly spoken in the Houses of Parliament than that they should be whispered in lobbies or muttered in clubs; and what the public do not understand is why the Government permits a certain group of newspapers, under one control, to start first in one organ and then in another spiteful and vicious attacks upon men in high command, and takes no steps whatever to interfere.
Do not let the Government be under the misapprehension that they have no power which will enable interference. If some wretched misguided man had put into an ill-printed and ill-lettered pamphlet one-half of the matter that has appeared in recent days in the Daily Mail, and had circulated it at the gates of a factory, I have no doubt whatever that he would have been sent to gaol. I want to know why it is, if the Government do disapprove of these attacks, that they do not take steps to stop them. There can be no security, there can be no satisfaction or confidence in this country, unless something of this kind is done. If you can get a group of newspapers, purporting to be independent organs but in fact under one control, beginning an attack in one to-day, echoing it in another to-morrow, and repeating it in a third the day after, until you have the whole chorus in unison in one cry of 227 spiteful abuse—if you permit that and allow it to be directed first against one public man, then against another, then against some great General and then against a Commander, until you have driven these men from public life—I say in that way lies anarchy and the negation of all constitutional government. I think that the present moment is one of grave menace for the people of this country, unless the Government are prepared to take a firm, strong hand in this matter.
In the history of this country we have experienced many forms of government, but up to this moment we have never submitted, and I trust we shall never submit, to government by the newspapers. Owing, it may be, to our insular position, we are far too apt to confine our attention to things which exist at home and we do not look far enough to see things which are happening abroad. But the fever of political revolution is not hindered by any limit of territorial boundaries, any more than is the fever of disease. Discontent unallayed, suspicion excited and provoked, lack of confidence carefully and sedulously disseminated among the men upon whom our victory in the war must depend—these things will work their inevitable consequences, just as in other countries, unless care be taken. I have said what I have said because I believe it is a public duty that these things should be publicly stated, and that it should be shown that in your Lordships' House at least people are not uneasy about expressing their own plain views upon great and urgent questions.
The powers given by this Bill are undoubtedly drastic and severe. I have myself an earnest though a faint hope that it may be possible that it will not be necessary to exercise them to their fullest extent. The Government have recently made a statement with regard to the terms of peace which I think all fair-minded men regard as not unreasonable. They must have been put forward with the sincere and earnest desire on the part of the Government that they should receive favourable acceptance, but I do not think the Government can, with the responsibility on their hands, let the matter stand there. Those terms need more emphatic warrant than they have hitherto received. It must be of the very first importance that the Government should secure the consent of all our Allies and of the United States of America to a plain, simple, catalogued definition of what our 228 war aims are, and of what we mean to do in order to secure them. That should be stated stripped of all rhetoric, in plain and simple words, for the consideration of the world. Finally, I trust that in the exercise of these powers fairness and consideration will be given, or difficulties will surely arise. Unless this Bill be administered justly, so that no man can say that certain classes of poeple are kept back while other classes less favoured are taken, this Bill will work confusion. The only chance of its successful working is in absolutely strict, openhanded, impartial justice, so that people may feel that, heavy as is the burden, it is a burden which all alike equally share.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I am glad that the noble and learned Lord has made this scathing criticism of the campaign in the Press. But I will go to the actual consideration of the Bill. The noble Viscount, in moving the Second Reading, dealt chiefly with the details of working of the Bill, rather than the main considerations which had necessitated its introduction. He said the Bill proposed to produce, I think, 420,000 to 450,000 men.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
No, what I said was that the balance required for the Army was such. I did not say they would be produced under the Bill, but I said the removal of the exemptions would assist in getting these men.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I understand that the monthly wastage of the Armies at the Front is about 86,000 men, and in conducting this debate it is almost impossible to disregard those letters which have appeared recently in the Press by that very eminent War Correspondent, Colonel Repington. In one of those letters, I think he put the requirements of the Army for this year at 1,200,000 men, and if the Government mean that by this Bill they are going to satisfy the requirements of our different Armies, I ask on what basis have they arrived at that conclusion? It seems to me most inadequate, but, if the matter has been carefully considered and it has been decided that this Bill will suffice to repair the wastage of our Armies, then I would ask by what date do the Government contemplate that this Bill will produce this half-million men? By what date do they estimate they will be able to put in force the provisions of the measure so that the men will be obtained? Are 229 they really satisfied that in doing this they will do enough to make good the wastage which goes on so heavily at the Front?
I see from yesterday's newspaper that Sir Auckland Geddes says that the Germans are bringing 1,600,000 men from the Eastern to the Western Front—about three times the number of men that will be obtained by means of, or in conjunction with, this Bill. Are the Government satisfied with the present position? We see what happened at Glasgow. We were told by Viscount Peel that the Government had done their best to arrive at a satisfactory agreement with the different unions, but the outlook at present is not very promising. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said that if the Government were satisfied that what they put forward was really requisite it only remained for them to act with courage and fairness. Many noble Lords in this House have had commands of various sizes during this war. I had the privilege of commanding a regiment for about three and a half years, and I confess it was terrible to see the paltry expedients to which from time to time the Government were put in order to secure men.
The noble Lord also spoke of the working of the Bill, and said it should be on the basis of non-favouritism to any class. The other day the Prime Minister spoke of a privileged class which, up to the present time, by reason of certificates of exemption, had not taken its share in the war. Any one who has had command of a unit and has seen the wretched condition of men who (sometimes wounded) have been brought before the medical boards and stripped—men who, it is known, are to be put into Class A and thus rendered liable for service at the Front—and has reflected on the strong able-bodied men of military age who were secluded and safeguarded in various industries, could have felt only shame that anybody calling himself a democrat should be content that the very first duty of democracy should be worked on such false and unfair principles. The noble Viscount referred to the manner in which the various industries will be affected and the way in which it was proposed to regulate the call upon an industry so as not to reduce its output too seriously. He mentioned nothing about dilution, however. I was informed by a manufacturer in the steel-plate trade about a year and a quarter ago that[...] at the instance of 230 the recruiting authorities, dilution had been proposed, and that in these particular works eighty women had been trained to take the places of men. The women were trained and this change was about to be put into operation, when at the last moment the trade unions said: "No, we will not allow it." The trade unions were backed up by the Government, and I believe to this very day the eighty men who were to have been displaced are still there. This, I believe, has taken place over the whole of the steel-plate trade. Is that going to be continued under the operation of this Bill when it becomes law? Will the Government have the courage to put the whole manhood of the country on an equal footing with regard to military service? The success of this measure—the success of the war in fact—mainly depends on this. As Lord Buckmaster said, the people of the country want to be treated with candour and want to know where they are, and I believe that all classes will accept the decision of the Government if the position is first of all thoroughly explained to them and then the Government act courageously.
Look at this House this evening, when what I regard as perhaps the most important Bill which has been before your Lordships for a very long time is under discussion. Look at the concentrated attention of your Lordships on this measure. What is the reason? Noble Lords think it is unnecessary to attend simply because they have confidence in His Majesty's Government. I do not know that we all individually share that confidence so largely, but at all events we realise that when the Government say a thing is necessary, the public, including your Lordships, will respond to the claims that may be made upon them. Therefore, I trust that the Government will act in this case with candour, will tell the people what are the real requirements for carrying on this vast war, and then—having told the people what their requirements are, and having full power to act—that they will utilise those powers unflinchingly and with absolute courage.
My Lords, just one word on behalf of those of the public who have been supplying recruits to the Array up to now. I think the noble Viscount may be perfectly certain of this, that the Bill will be received with satisfaction by those who have been coming before the Tribunals during the last three and a half 231 years. There has hardly been a case that one has had to deal with which has not been a case of hardship, and of course of late months of increasing hardship, on account of the ages of the men, of the fact that they are family men, and of their occupations. Whilst I am proud to be able to say that there has been a conspicuous absence of vindictiveness or rancour in consequence of men haling been sent into the Army when they have received the ultimatum of the Tribunal—having a sense that at any rate justice has been done—I am perfectly sure that there has been a feeling of bitter indignation that men of the age that we constantly now have to send to the Army, men with families, have to go while a number of young men are left behind. It has been a matter of surprise to us that industries in our own neighbourhood somehow or other—how, we never could make out—have managed to protect these young men. I am certain that in all the classes which have been supplying men for the Army during the last two years there will be a strong feeling of satisfaction that the Government have taken the matter in hand in the form of this Bill.
The noble and learned Lord opposite expressed the very strong hope that in putting the provisions of this measure into execution fairness and justice would be observed. I want to point out that, under the working of this Bill, all those attributes will have to be displayed by the Director of National Service. He is the man who is going to select, from the various occupations, the men whom he and his Department wish to send into the Army. The men are going to have the right of application to the Tribunals; but what is there to guide the Tribunals? Nothing. The Director selects the occupation; he is the only person who will know whether the occupation is of the first, the second or the third importance. He selects a certain number of men from each of these occupations and those men apply to the Tribunals. The Tribunals will know nothing whatever about the importance of these special occupations, and they must assume that the Director knows. Then, if a man is physically fit, can the Tribunal possibly refuse? I submit, therefore, that at an early stage, so far as fairness and justice are concerned, I do not quite see where the Tribunals will have an opportunity of exercising these attributes. It seems to 232 me that the whole responsibility must fall on the Director.
I am going to have the temerity to say one word as regards the important appeal the noble and learned Lord has made with regard to attacks upon distinguished officers. Of course we know attacks upon distinguished officers have not been confined to this war. The Duke of Wellington suffered many attacks of a similar kind in the Peninsula War, but I am sure that as long as gallant officers feel they have the confidence of the Government their shoulders are broad enough to bear the attack, whether it comes from speakers outside or inside this House, or from the Press. But I cannot help thinking that there is a feeling among the public that the confidence of the Government might be expressed. I am afraid, from the very beginning of this war, there has been an inclination to avoid that responsibility. The first instance I saw of that was the failure of the late Lord Kitchener to support General Von Donop when he was charged with failure to supply certain munitions of war. I remember sitting on that Bench, on the day after General Von Donop was bitterly attacked, with the late Lord Kitchener sitting on the front Ministerial Bench and, to my astonishment, in making a speech he never said one word in protection of his subordinate. The noble Earl, Lord Derby, has a great reputation for resolution and, shall I say, indifference to public opinion. What I mean is that where he knows he is right he is always prepared to state it in public, and I do not think he will suffer in public opinion in the least if he will state what his opinion is. After all, he is the head of the Department, the head of the Army Council; these officers are his subordinates, and, if he has confidence in them, he is the man to tell the country so. It has been said that these officers have been supported in the House of Commons, but it was by one of the Parliamentary officials of the War Office, with nothing like the position of the noble Earl, and I beg the liberty of adding my appeal to that of the noble and learned Lord, that he will take some opportunity of giving his opinion as to the merit, or otherwise, of these attacks which have been made on these gallant officers.
§ LORD TREOWEN
My Lords, I crave your Lordships'indulgence on this the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House. I 233 rise with considerable hesitation, having heard the very able speech which proceeded from the noble and learned Lord opposite, who raised matters of the very greatest and deepest importance, and I feel I can only rise as one who has taken a keen interest in the raising of the Army since the war began and who, before the outbreak of war, had given a great deal of thought to the question of how to raise an Army. I propose to confine my remarks, brief as they will be, entirely to the Bill, and to its bearing on the question of raising men for the Army.
This Bill is the fruit of a very important decision which was taken by the noble Earl now at the head of the War Office—and I am very glad to have this opportunity of congratulating him on that decision—last summer, to transfer the work of recruiting for the Army from a military to a civil Department. It was a decision of very great importance. A great part of our difficulties, in connection with raising men for the Army under the Military Service Act, has arisen from the fact that no authority existed in this country which could take cognisance of the needs of the country generally for man-power. For one reason or another—I will not go into the early history of the raising of the great Army we have now—it seemed to be ignore[...] that material and personnel of an Army had to be drawn from the same pool; that you cannot have shells, aeroplanes, ships, and all the material that is required for carrying on a successful war without men, and that, at the same time, you must draw from the same reserve the men to do the fighting. That was the cardinal principle that was ignored. I do not say any one was to blame, but it is the fact that it led to many of our difficulties. After much hesitation—things go slowly in this country—and an unnecessary amount of deliberation, we came to the conclusion that it was necessary to take stock of our Whole man-power in a Registration Bill, and then to render a man, within certain limits of age, liable to military service. But we failed to recognise that, in doing that, we mast at once set up an acute competition between military needs and industrial needs, and this has led to what is now the only cause of dissatisfaction in this country in regard to the Military Service Acts.
I entirely endorse what has fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in regard to the manner in which the country has 234 accepted those Acts. It is one of the remarkable facts of the war, and I do not think at the present time there would be any demand that we should go back upon that legislation. But when we decided to take men compulsorily, rightly or wrongly, the War Office came under great suspicion. Parliament was not going to give the War Office the decision as to what men should be taken for Military Service and what men should be left for equally important duties in connection with the war. There seemed to be an idea that the War Office was a sort of ogre, endeavouring to secure all the manpower of the country to the detriment of the industries most necessary for the successful conduct of the war and the needs of the country. Such an attitude led to a system—I will not call it a system because it was not systematic but of protection being given in a most haphazard manner to men who came under that Act.
I will not trouble your Lordships with the details of the many and various forms of protection which were instituted, but there was gradually evolved out of a system of individual protection a document which I hold here in my hands called the Schedule of Protected Occupations, a voluminous document which was issued by the Ministry of Munitions. There was further a list of certified occupations issued by the Local Government Board for the guidance of Tribunals. There was recruiting for munitions, there was recruiting for the Army. There followed after that recruiting for agriculture, recruiting for shipbuilding under the Admiralty, and recruiting for the Air Service for the manufacture of aeroplanes. Who was to decide on the various claims which were put forward? The obvious result was this, that every man who did not feel inclined to go and be shot at took good care to get into some trade that was protected by one of these Departments, and you had a conflict between the protection which was accorded to a man by the certificate of some Department and the claim by the War Office for him for military service. The trades concerned became flooded with men who were not skilled workers, men who are now known by the name, which is certainly an offence to the King's English just as the individual is often an offence to patriotism, of "dilatees." These dilutees swarm in all manner of industries connected with warlike material and others, and the out[...]ry has been against these men being allowed to retain that protection while other men were 235 taken by Tribunals although they could bring forward personal reasons for exemption which were such as to awaken the sympathy of their neighbours and friends and the Tribunals also.
I may remind your Lordships that about a year ago a Bill was introduced—I did not think it a very wise one, and I said so at the time—for revising certain certificates of exemption given on the ground of physical inability. The whole feeling of the country was against the revision of those certificates, and at the same time it accentuated the feeling against men holding certificates of exemption in trades in which they were not skilled. It has recently been my duty to take over certain responsibilities in connection with the National Service Department as a Director of National Service. One of the first duties I had to perform was to go to the various regions under my control to meet Tribunals which had refused to carry out their duties on account of this very grievance. These gentlemen, who had worked, and worked honestly, and were most anxious to do the best they could for the country, said that they could not in the circumstances go in the face of the feeling of the country and take men of higher age, men with families, men with all sorts of reasons for personal exemption, while at the same time, day by day, the streets of the industrial districts were crowded with young men who were only doing half-time work and who were not skilled workers. It was unfortunate—I said so at the time, and my noble friend will remember my views—that they should have selected one set of certificates of exemption for review and not placed under review other sets of certificates of exemption.
I am happy to say that now there is to be a revision. The Minister of National Service has the power to withdraw certificates of exemption. The holders of those certificates will have the opportunity of going before the tribunals, and if there are personal matters to be considered they will no doubt have the benefit of them. But there will be a very large revision of those certificates which were issued in a most irregular and broadcast manner. I would even go further and say with regard to those certificates that in many parts of the country it is looked upon as a great scandal, and there is a firm belief that in certain departments it is only necessary to get hold 236 of the right man and a certificate of exemption can always be obtained. More than that, it is said—and one cannot ignore these things that are said, although I do not pretend to have any evidence on the subject—that a regular business is done in the obtaining of exemptions under certain Departments of the State. That is a most unfortunate condition, and such a condition of things as that cannot lead to a general respect for the law; and the Military Service Acts are now an integral part of the law of the land. Therefore, my Lords, I welcome the introduction of this Bill, just as I welcome the decision, to which I have already referred, taken by my noble friend. But this is not all that is necessary in order to make effective the Military Service Acts. The Government, I understand, has now in another place a Bill dealing with registration which will—
§ LORD TREOWEN
Then I am afraid I have not sufficiently closely followed the proceedings of your Lordships' House. I had not noticed the fact that it had come here, but I am very glad to hear it. That will have a very important bearing upon the efficiency of the Military Service Acts, because the registration, though carried out some years ago, has not been thoroughly maintained in all its efficiency. For some reason we did not think it necessary to go low enough down the scale, and we have already exhausted all those young men who were on the Register and who might be coming forward for military service.
Another criticism was made in the House of Commons upon this Bill in regard to which I should like to say a few words, because that criticism may have given rise to some misapprehension. It was asserted that dictatorial powers were given under this Bill to the Director of National Service. That is not the case. He cannot deal with certificates granted for personal reasons. I would add that it is most important that there should be no interference with the decisions of Tribunals in the matter of men brought up under the Military Service Act. That has done a great deal of disservice to the working of the Act. The Tribunals should be the final court to decide whether a man has to be taken or whether he has not. Unfortunately in the past there has been interference from other Departments, and men have been granted certificates to my know 237 ledge after the local Tribunal had adjudicated on the case and ordered military service. I want to tender to your Lordships my thanks for the attention which you have been so good as to grant to me.
§ LORD BERESFORD
I hope that your Lordships will allow me a few minutes in which to protest against the unfair, cowardly, and malignant attacks upon our Generals at the Front. It does not matter if my noble friend Lord Derby or the Government does defend them now. The harm has already been done in the trenches. What we read in the morning is read by the men in the trenches in the evening. When men have done what these men have done out there, and when they hear it said that whole divisions have been wiped out by machine guns, and when they hear charges made such as those which have been made in the Press, doubts are put into their heads and they are not likely to have confidence in going forward, or to have the trust in their leaders which they ought to have in order to achieve success. When these things are said they have a very bad effect indeed in the trenches, and they also foster an idea at home as to whether we can win the war.
When the men in the trenches read these things, is it to be wondered at if they should say, "We have been sent over the top and we ought not to have been sent over the top. We have been badly led." Any man who has ever commanded men will tell you that this is the worst possible thing that can happen. I say that it must be stopped under the Defence of the Realm Act, or there will be such a situation created in this country and in the trenches that the Government will go out of power. My noble friend Lord Derby, who has been in the Army, and other officers who have been in the Army, know that what I say is right. The putting of these false ideas into the heads of the men in the trenches ought to be stopped. If it goes on, how can you expect the men to trust their leaders? It is disgusting that a Press which does these things should have been seen to be powerful enough to force a man like Sir John Jellicoe out of the Navy. I say to the Government that if we are to win the war they must stop this sort of thing at once under the Defence of the Realm Act. I hope that your Lordships will forgive my beat, but I feel very strongly on this matter. The men are doing their best for us. They are being shot for us, 238 and this sort of thing ought not to be allowed to be put into their minds. We will lose the war if it is permitted to go on.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Tan EARL OF DERBY)
My Lords, I did not intend to speak on this Bill, but I hope that your Lordships will pardon me if I say a few words. Your Lordships' House is in some ways a wonderful place, because there do not appear to be any rules of order to which anybody need keep if he does not wish to do so, and a great deal of matter has been brought before this House which I suppose, under ordinary circumstances, would not be called in order. But I am glad that it should have been brought before this House. Your Lordships will pardon me for a few minutes while I deal with some of the matter that has been raised.
It is the easiest thing in the world to be wise after the event. I started at the beginning of the war a very strong supporter of the voluntary system, and I did my best to make it a success. Looking back upon it, I see that I was absolutely wrong except for the moral effect that the huge voluntary Army produced, I think, in all parts of the, world. But from the point of view of administration and of fairness to the men that we took for the Army, I do not hesitate to say that if one was to do it again one would go on a quite different system. One would have compulsory service at once, and would work at what I may call turning out Territorial Division after Territorial Division, because the Divisions were based to a great extent on the population of the counties in which they were raised. From the very first day of the war I would have put the whole question of recruiting under a civil authority. Let the civil authorities be, as they are now, the arbitrators between what is wanted for the Army and—what is just as necessary for success—that which the Army has to use in the way of shell and other material. Therefore I may plead guilty to having supported a cause which, at the time, I thought right, and to raising a voluntary Army which I still think is the best thing a country can have as showing its spirit. At the same time there is no doubt whatever that, owing to the military authorities being the people who did the recruiting, we took at the beginning, among all the splendid patriotic fellows who come forward, many who ought, to have been left at home, while many of those who perhaps are still at home ought to have 239 been taken. That is why last year, when it became a question as to whether there should he a transfer of recruiting from the Army to National Service, I was only too glad to make the transfer.
Your Lordships may remember that when the Military Service Bill was first before this House I was not in the Government. I had been helping with recruiting at the War Office, but I warned your Lordships then of the number of loopholes that there were in that Bill. There is no doubt whatever that that was so, as the enormous amount of trouble which has arisen since has shown. We have had to follow with other Bills, and we are still following with. Bills, but I sincerely hope that the Bill which is now before your Lordships will be the last of this nature that will be necessary in order to get the men required for the Army. I hope that under this Bill, and under the powers of the National Service Department, we shall be able to get the men we want for the Army without disturbing those essential industrial trades which are, in some ways, just as valuable to us as the men themselves.
The noble and learned Lord (Lord Buck-master) dealt shortly with something which is rather outside my province, as I am not a member of the War Cabinet, and that was the terms of peace. I am not going to discuss with the noble Lord as to whether the terms that have been put forward by our own Government and by the United States of America are definite or not definite enough. The noble Lord admitted that they were not unfair terms, and I do know this, that you are going to get no terms, fair or otherwise, from Germany unl[...]ss you are prepared to enforce those terms, and therefore the Bill which will give you the power to take young men who can be spared from industries to enforce peace terms is to my mind just as essential as actually stating in more definite language the terms of that peace.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I would not have said that if I had thought it would have been misunderstood. The noble Lord paid a well-deserved tribute, which everybody in your Lordships' House will endorse, to those men who came forward at the beginning of the war. It was, indeed, a hard struggle for many also to decide that they could not come forward, and I join with the noble Earl most sincerely in the sentiments that he has expressed.
I now come to what is, perhaps, the most difficult part of my answer to the noble Lord, and that is in regard to the question that he and my noble friend Lord Beresford raised with regard to attacks on distinguished Generals. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, called on me to express my confidence in them. At somewhat great length yesterday, I tried to express the confidence that I have in our Generals. I am afraid the noble Lord thinks that I failed to make myself clear. I therefore want to repeat what I said. I recognise—everybody must recognise—that the civilian heads of the Government must be the head and controlling body. They have a right to get rid of whoever they like, whether a colleague or subordinate, and. it ought to be clearly understood by everybody that it is the duty of the Government to get rid of anybody in whom they have not confidence. But it is equally the duty of a Government and of the head of a Department loyally to support all those in whom he has confidence. I have no hesitation whatever in again repeating my confidence, and I can assure the noble Lords that if at any time I fail to retain my confidence in any individual who is serving under me, as head of the War Office, I shall ask for no dictation from outside. I shall make a change myself. But as long as I have confidence in a man, I will stick to him as loyally, I hope, as your Lordships would wish. The noble Lord spoke with some heat. I agree with him. I speak with heat now, because I feel that this discussion as to the merits or demerits of Generals is doing an infinity of harm. I made an appeal yesterday, and I make it again to-day, that they should not be the subject either of praise or criticism. They want neither. They want to be left alone, to go on with the work of the war, and what I beg the House and the country at large to believe is that those officers are retained in command because we have the confidence 241 in them that I believe the whole country has.
§ LORD BERESFORD
That was not my point. We know that they have confidence, but, if you do not stop the Press, the men will lose their confidence in them. They will say "This is allowed to go on; therefore these Generals are sending us to laughter." If the Government will come forward and say This thing must be stopped," we shall be satisfied.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
What I ask for is that all controversies should cease, and then there can be no question of taking any of those steps that the noble Lord has suggested.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.