HL Deb 09 May 1923 vol 54 cc56-62

My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government three Questions of which I have given Notice—namely,

  1. 1. Whether it is justifiable to expend Army funds in instructing soldiers in occupations which do not increase their military efficiency?
  2. 2. Whether it is possible in six months to teach a man sufficient of a skilled occupation to enable him to earn a livelihood?
  3. 3. Whether the necessity for such schemes would not be avoided if employment were guaranteed to discharged soldiers of good character in occupations calling for reliability rather than skill?
These Questions are largely based upon a statement made by the Under-Secretary for War in another place when introducing the Army Estimates.

I propose to ask leave to quote it. The Under-Secretary said:— We are making a start next month, at Catterick and Hounslow, with vocational training centres for instructors, who will go back to their units and pass on their instruction in bricklaying, upholstery, market gardening, and other trades which are useful in civil fife. Courses in the same subjects will also be given at the end of their engagements to selected men, to help them to start in industry after demobilisation, and in this way we hope to do something towards repaying the debt to the soldier, and removing the reproach of unemployment among so many who leave the Colours. Now, I should first like to say one word as to the principle involved, which seems to me to be capable of considerable extension. I can imagine a member of a future Government getting up and saying something of this nature: "We are making a start next month in Fleet Street with vocational training centres for Cabinet Ministers, and in this way we hope to do something towards repaying the debt that we owe to Cabinet Ministers by removing the reproach of unemployment among so many who leave the Government."

As regards the general question, the Army, as your Lordships are aware, is now smaller than it has been for many years past, and is also considerably below establishment. In these circumstances it is important that it should be as highly trained as possible, and obviously if men are being trained as bricklayers and market gardeners, they cannot at the same time be instructed and trained as soldiers. I remember seeing, some years ago, a cartoon in which the British public was represented as attempting to repel invasion with the aid of footballs and cricket bats. It appears to me that a companion picture might now be drawn, in which the British Army would be depicted as attempting to repel invasion with trowels and garden rakes. But whether or not this scheme is detrimental to the efficiency of the Army, there is considerable doubt whether it, is beneficial to the individual. As your Lordships are aware, it takes many years to make a competent gardener, and even an efficient market gardener has great difficulty in making a living at the present time. It is the same with regard to bricklaying. I should like to know what attitude is adopted by the Bricklayers' Union towards these half-trained men. I understand that the Carpenters' Union refuses to admit them.

As to my third Question, it is well known that there are many industries requiring hundreds of thousands of men for which no previous special training is required. For some of these, ex-soldiers are peculiarly suitable; for instance policemen, omnibus conductors, ticket collectors, watchmen, and so forth, and it appears to me that this problem is to be solved by inducing employers of this class of labour to give a preference to ex-soldiers and not by this so-called "vocational training." If it is solved in this way it will not be detrimental to the efficiency of the Army, or expensive to the State.


My Lords, before the Government answers I should like to say something with regard to this subject. I think Lord Raglan has done a service to soldiers in introducing it. With regard to his first Question, I think it is quite justifiable to expend Army Funds in teaching soldiers, while in the Army, how to get a living when demobilized. When a soldier is demobilised he finds himself very often out of employment, but if he has been taught any trade whatsoever, whether that of a gardener or an omnibus driver or a carpenter, at all events he is fitted to take up some situation that may be offered to him. Therefore, with regard to Question 1, I do not agree with the noble Lord. I think it is most useful that soldiers should be educated out of Army Funds.

I come to another matter altogether in the Second Question on the Paper—namely, whether it is possible in six months to teach a man sufficient of a skilled occupation to enable him to earn his livelihood. No, it is not, and that I have proved myself with regard to a man who was absolutely disabled from shell shock, and who was in a most dreadful state. It was impossible to speak to the man without his trembling all over. Every effort was made by us in Ireland to help this man, who is an Englishman, and by degrees he got better. He was given fowls to take care of and work of that kind. Then, with great difficulty, we got him taken on as an assistant carpenter at the Duke of Leinster's place, and the whole man changed entirely. At first they would not grant the job for more than six months, but by means of pressure and exhortation he was kept on for twelve months. I have been employing the man, and he has turned out an excellent carpenter. Now I turn to the Question which I raised so long ago as 1917, the care of soldiers who were discharged from the Army and demobilised. I am speaking now not only of disabled soldiers, but of soldiers generally. There are several noble Lords present who took part in that debate. Lord Crawford, who was then Lord Privy Seal, addressed the House, and Lord Lansdowne and Lord Derby, both of whom are here to-day, also spoke. I cannot do better than quote what I said on that occasion. I urged the Government to do something to teach these men a trade before their discharge, and I added: I am sure your Lordships do not want to see these men after the war wandering about looking for work, or idling their time away as broken men at home. This is a matter of national importance, and it will come upon us all when the war is over. There are a great many disabled men in hospital, and it is no good blinking the fact that there and especially in convalescent homes they acquire habits of idleness which will be very hard to combat unless these institutions are beginning to train the men to a trade, or teach them some occupation. What I was then emphasising was that these men should be dealt with before they were discharged from the Service. That was a long time ago, and something was done, but not much.

During the same debate, the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said this: I think the Pensions Department have done all that was in their power to make their scheme thoroughly attractive to the men concerned. I was given two day ago a copy of a leaflet which I have no doubt is founded upon the Warrant to which my noble friend. Lord Crawford, referred just now, in which, in the form of a catechism is given an enumeration of the terms which are now offered to disabled soldiers and sailors— 'Q.—Who will pay the expenses of my being trained? 'A.—All the expenses of your training will be paid by the Government. 'Q.—How shall I manage to live without being trained? A.—An allowance of at least 27 s. a week during the training will be made. An additional 5s. a week for every week you have attended will be paid at the end of your training if you carry out the course.' Another question which was asked by Lord Lansdowne was whether the new Government scheme was being fully explained to the disabled soldiers and sailors while they were in hospital, and whether it was being properly carried out and by whom.

In July, 1917, I brought the matter up again, and drew the attention of His Majesty's Government to the arrangements then being made for the training of disabled soldiers, and moved for a Return of disabled soldiers, and all other soldiers who had been trained in the various areas in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Lord Crawford answered me on that occasion, and I managed to get a Return of what was being done. That Return showed that, besides all the work that was being done by Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops, and also at St. Dunstan's, there were 4,067 men in munitions. Of course, directly the war was over they found themselves in a blind alley, and the majority of the men were in munitions at that time.

As I brought the matter fully before the House so long ago I think my noble friend is entitled to a satisfactory answer to the points he has brought forward to-day. There are a great many soldiers, many of whom are disabled, who have no employment at all, and we must not forget—I do not think any of us do forget—what they went through during the war. I see many of them in Ireland, and there are, of course, a great many in this country. I certainly do not like to see soldiers, who have fought at the Front, grinding organs, singing songs, and playing bands in the streets. If these men had had the chance of being trained, as I humbly suggested nearly six years ago, they would not be wasting their time in this way; they would not have been put into munitions and left in the lurch when the war was over. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having drawn attention to this subject again after so many years.

Old as I am the question comes very close home to me and to everybody as affecting this country. It also comes home to me with regard to our own men in Ireland, who, of course, will have to be dealt with after the troubles there are over. That is a very serious question, though I mention it by the way. Although I have said this, I hope the answer I shall receive will show- that the subject is now being well taken up and that the men are being trained, and trained while in the Army. That is what. I suggested long ago—that they should be trained while in the Army to fight the battle of life when they are demobilised.


My Lords, I will answer the Questions of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, as they stand on the Paper without dealing with those remarks of his of which I confess that I do not entirely see the point. Manual and vocational training is based on the recommendations of various Committees, the first of which considered the problem in 1877 and the others in 1883, 1895, 1906, 1914 and 1920. All were agreed that action was necessary towards the reinstatement of the ex-soldier in civil life, and that the best means of doing this was to increase his employability. It has been stated by my hon. friend the Under-Secretary in another place, that the manual and vocational training now being carried out will not only increase the employability of the soldier in civil life, but will also improve the standard of efficiency in certain technical military subjects by the co-ordination of hand and brain. It is also hoped that the scheme will provide skilled or semi-skilled tradesmen from the Reserve for the Army on mobilisation and will prove an aid to recruiting by providing better prospects for the ex-soldier after completing his service. Some of the Dominions are showing considerable interest in the scheme because they are realising that the Army in future will in this way be able to provide a, more suitable type of emigrant.

As to the second Question of the noble Lord, it is not intended to turn out a skilled man at the end of six months' training, nor is this possible except perhaps, in the case of men who have served in highly technical corps. The object is to train a man in the Army up to the "improver" standard so that he may be capable of earning a livelihood on discharge while continuing his technical education with a view to an increase of wages within a few years. The proof of a pudding is in the eating, and at Hounslow seventy per cent. of the students under instruction were on discharge found immediate employment as improvers to their trades. That in itself is, I think, a justification of the course we are pursuing.

With regard 10 the third Question, of course if we could do as the noble Lord suggested, naturally we should like to be able to do it, but it is obviously impossible. We are doing all that we possibly can to induce employers to employ ex-soldiers and, I am glad to say, with very considerable success. But it is a thing that the War Office as a War Office cannot do. We must appeal to every individual in this country to help us in securing employment for discharged soldiers.

The Question of the noble Earl, as far as I understood it, seemed to me to have no application whatsoever to the subject now under discussion. The question of disabled discharged soldiers does not come, and I think rightly does not come, under the War Office. It is dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions, and any Question on the subject should be addressed to that Department.