§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.3
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, I beg leave to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will recall that a few weeks ago the Leader of the House invited your Lordships to approve the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce legislation of a purely temporary character for the purpose of instituting in this country a scheme of compulsory military training. After noble Lords had expounded their views upon the virtues or iniquities of such service, that Motion was agreed to without a Division. I recall that on the one side it was advocated that such training would be a positive benefit to the nation—that the moral and physical condition of all young men would be improved, and that it would enable the State to implement with greater rapidity the foreign commitments recently negotiated. On the other hand the view was expressed that military training of a compulsory nature was degrading; that it might brutalise the character of our people, and that it represented a serious and permanent blow to the spirit of voluntary service upon which it has always been our custom to rely. I hope the House will forgive me if I refrain from a discussion of the intrinsic value of any of these beliefs or ideals but endeavour instead to explain to your Lordships the procedure for putting the new scheme into force, what it actually entails, and finally to interpret the principal clauses in the Bill.
If I were called upon to give a decision one way or the other on those two alternatives, it would be no easy matter to say on which side the weight of authority and reason should preponderate. We must I think all be conscious, whatever our political views may be, that this method of proceeding is impracticable except in cases of emergency, and I had hoped for that reason that the proposals of His Majesty's Government would have received the universal approval of all Parties in the State. Although that approval has not been absolute, I believe that the vast majority of the nation is united behind the Government in taking any step they consider necessary to reinforce our voluntary system during the period of intense uncertainty and doubt existing in the world at the present time.
4 Now it would be true to say that in almost every country on the Continent a form of compulsory military service has been in operation for many years, and that the opinion is generally held in all democratic States that universal service is vital for safeguarding the very freedom upon which their system of government rests. It is, nevertheless, as the House will know, our intention that voluntary enlistment should continue both in the Regular and Territorial Armies, and it is the purpose of the Government to retain the voluntary system as the basis of our military organisation, to which we shall revert whenever conditions make it right to dispense with the exceptional measures provided for by the terms of the Bill. It has been stated on more than one occasion that if the Government think that the national interest demands a Bill of this character, it is their duty to introduce it. Surely the political expediency of this Bill can only be judged by His Majesty's Government who are in full possession of the military requirements of the nation. We can with certainty say that the more formidable our front the less the likelihood of attack.
In the past the might of Britain was founded on her Fleet, and through this we were enabled to develop our military requirements in comparative leisure and ease. Although our sea power will still furnish an important contribution to any successful conclusion of hostilities, modern methods of warfare—especially the bombing aeroplane—call for an ever-increasing rapidity of preparedness upon our part. To meet the threat of air attack we have devised an anti-aircraft organisation whose place in our home defence system is of paramount importance. The Navy is always ready for any emergency, and similarly the Government consider that our anti-aircraft organisation should also be ready at all times to defend us from the danger of sudden attack from the air. It is therefore, in our opinion, necessary for a sufficient number of anti-aircraft guns and searchlights to be permanently manned to meet this new threat. Consequently, one of the objects of the formation of the Militia is to produce the personnel required to man these defences. These men will be recruited in quarterly batches and will be trained by Regular personnel. After three months' training they will form the 5 units which will man the permanent defences, both gun and searchlight. They will be replaced in their turn by a further batch, and so on, to fulfil the scheme proposed that a belt of anti-aircraft defences will be always manned by trained personnel. At the same time His Majesty's Government are doing everything in their power to hasten the deployment of the anti-aircraft units of the Territorial Army so that the full defence can be taken over by this force at the earliest possible moment. Two other important aims will be secured if this Bill becomes law: first, to facilitiate the mobilisation of the Regular Army in the event of war, and secondly, the Militia will serve the double purpose of improving the efficiency and ensuring the strength of the Territorial Army so as to increase its degree of readiness to proceed overseas in war.
The Government maintain that the foundation of their scheme is fundamentally sound, for we decline to differentiate in any way whatever between any classes of young men between the ages of twenty and twenty-one. All will be called upon to perform their period of military training; the only exemption or excuse being for those who are found to be medically unfit. Any amendment which seeks to vary or tamper with that conceived project must reduce the scheme to complete failure. The only other exemption of a different category is found in Clause 3 of the Bill, which deals with conscientious objectors, and upon which I believe your Lordships would desire me to make some observations. For myself, I believe that this class of man is a minute percentage of the whole. It is, nevertheless, and has always been, a feature of the character and life of this country to respect the views of minorities if honestly and sincerely held. In these days, when so much is heard of the protection and rights of minorities, it would ill befit this country to depart from that tradition. Noble Lords will recall that we have quite recently lost a valuable member of this House in the person of the late Lord Allen of Hurtwood, to whose speeches your Lordships listened with marked attention and who always identified himself with the views of the minority, lest such views should suffer any violation.
Although many of us in this House disagree with conscientious objectors as a 6 whole, we all recognise that some may have genuine objections to military service but are perfectly willing and prepared to serve in a different way. If your Lordships will observe Clause 3 of the Bill, you will see that we have met this question by enabling any man at the time of registration—that is to say on June 3—to have his name inserted in the Register of Conscientious Objectors if he objects to having his name recorded in the Military Training Register or to undergo military training in any form or to perform combatant duties. The House will see that under subsection (4) of Clause 3 he is required to make application to a local tribunal constituted under Part II of the Schedule, stating which of the three matters to which I have just referred he conscientiously objects. Now, after hearing and deliberating on the cases, the local tribunal may do one of four things which are set out in subsection (7) of the clause. They may register the applicant without any condition in the Register of Conscientious Objectors, in which case he will be called up neither for medical examination nor for military training; or they may conditionally register him in that Register in order that he may engage in and perform some class of civilian work of national importance; or, again, they may register the applicant in the Military Training Register to perform work of a non-combatant nature; or finally, if completely dissatisfied with the application, they may direct that he shall be forthwith registered in the Military Training Register without any qualifications whatever. Power is given in certain circumstances for an appeal to an appellate tribunal.
It might interest the House to know that the arrangements for training the militiamen are such that those who have previous experience will not be held back by those less competent, and, should their proficiency justify it, they will be transferred to Section Leader Schools of all arms for the last two months of their training. Throughout his whole period no man can be ordered out of the United Kingdom in peace. At the conclusion of the six months' training, the militiaman will be given the opportunity, if there is a vacancy, of enlisting in the Territorial Army, or he will remain in the Militia. His liability will normally last for four 7 years, and he will be entitled to deduct any period of service he may have completed before he has been called up to discharge his full duties under this Bill. The influx into the Territorial Army of these militiamen, who have already completed six months continuous training, will naturally tend to raise the general standard of efficiency in that Army.
Before I come to an explanation of the clauses of the Bill, I think the House would probably desire me to say a few words on the question of pay and allowances for the Militia during their period of training. I do not at this stage wish to argue the responsibilities of a regular soldier as compared with the duties of a militiaman. We propose to pay militiamen the sum of 1s. 6d. per day during the whole period of their training, and the State will meet the Widows' and Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions insurance liability under that Act, and will make further arrangements to provide incidental expenses, such as sport and regimental subscriptions. We further propose to give the militiaman, if he should be married, a family allowance of 17s. per week, with appropriate rates for children corresponding to those of the Regular Army, subject to his supplementing this by an allotment of 3s. 6d. per week. At this moment my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for War, is engaged in working out detailed arrangements for assisting any dependants other than wives and children.
Perhaps I may now ask your Lordships to turn to the Bill so that I may endeavour to give some explanation of the more important clauses. Clause I impose,, an obligation upon all young men ordinarily resident in Great Britain and between the ages of 20 and 21, to register themselves (stating at the same time if they have a preference for naval or Air Force service) in a Register to be kept by the Minister of Labour and called in the Bill "the Military Training Register." The third subsection of Clause 1 gives the Minister power to antedate or to postpone the liability for military training. If the Minister does not grant such permission, he must refer the application to a Military Training (Hardship) Committee set up under Part I of the Schedule to the Bill, and finally the applicant or the Minister may appeal to a body set up 8 under the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1935. There is also, as the House will observe, penalties for those persons who fail to apply for registration. I think your Lordships will already be familiar with the intention of the Government that this registration should take place throughout the whole country on June 3 next, and the first group to be called up will consist of between 40,000 and 50,000 men, who will receive their notices on or about July 1, requiring them to report to their respective units a fortnight later. Subsequent groups will be called up for training at intervals of two months, and we propose calling up men in order of age, the eldest first and the youngest last.
Clause 2 exempts certain classes of persons, including members of His Majesty's Forces, but I need not refer in any further detail to this particular clause at the present stage of the Bill. Clause 4 deals with medical examination, which every man will be required to undergo who is liable to be called up for military training. My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour proposes to set up 120 medical boards throughout the country, and upon each board will sit five qualified medical practitioners. Under subsection (7) of this clause, any man who appears before the board will be allowed reasonable expenses, including compensation for loss of remunerative time. Clause 5 deals with the machinery for calling up persons for military training. Each man who is found to be fit will be given fourteen days to report to the military station mentioned in the notice which is sent to him. On the day he joins he will be deemed to have been enlisted as a militiaman for a period of four years, and from that date he immediately begins his period of a six months course.
Clause 6 of the Bill deals with reinstatement in civil employment. I am certain that the House will agree with the view His Majesty's Government have taken, that it is absolutely necessary to safeguard the employment of all those men who may be called up, and who, at the termination of their training, may desire to re-engage in their former occupation. Accordingly your Lordships will observe that this clause binds the employers to reinstate the man in question under conditions not less favourable than if he had not been called up at all. I know that the penalties included in this clause are of a very 9 severe nature, but I think that the proposal of the Government has been welcomed, and we do attach the highest importance to the contribution that every category of employers of labour will be asked to make. I have every reason to believe that their assistance will be forthcoming and that the penalties provided for in the Bill will be rarely if ever used.
Clause 7 deals with the simplification of the procedure in obtaining early possession of land required for the purposes of this Bill. I pass over the next two clauses of the Bill to Clause 10 to which I think your Lordships will attach considerable importance. The main purpose of this clause is to prevent hardship arising when men are taken away from their civil life to perform their obligations. I am not in a position at this stage to give a complete list of the matters which will be required to be dealt with by Order in Council, but I think I can make it abundantly clear that arrangements will have to be made to prevent a man from losing his rights under the various national insurance schemes, and further it will be necessary to provide that no man shall suffer because of the fact of his being called up for military training preventing him from carrying out any contractual obligations, or discharging civil liabilities into which he may have entered. Furthermore, the position of people with mortgages or with hire-purchase contracts must be safeguarded. It is the intention of the Government to make provision for such consequential matters as these by Order in Council, and the House will observe that we seek power to amend any enactment relating to such consequential matters also by Order in Council.
And finally I come to Clause 19 of the Bill which makes provision that the measure should continue in force for a period of three years and then expire. We are making provision that if the Bill should be renewed after three years, an Address will have to be presented to His Majesty by each House of Parliament praying that the measure should be continued in force for a further period of one year only, and under subsection (2) His Majesty may at any time by Order in Council declare that the necessity for the Bill has ceased to exist and it will then automatically expire by that Order.
I have endeavoured to give your Lordships a brief outline of the principal clauses of the Bill, but perhaps I may add this 10 in conclusion. There is no proposal whatever to attempt by means of this measure to secure and maintain a large standing Army raised entirely by compulsion. In accepting this Bill the House are in no way abandoning the principle of the voluntary system. The idea that any change in the mechanism of the military machine in times of peace was a deliberate breaking of a promise is one that I cannot accept. It is impossible by any stretch of the imagination to describe the present period as normal; and if noble Lords concur in that view, then the exceptional course we are now taking is a military requirement indispensable to our national needs. I can see, my Lords, no possible reason for any reproach that the general policy of His Majesty's Government has been changed or altered. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a (The Earl of Munster.)
§ 3.33 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure I am voicing the views of my noble friends, and I believe of noble Lords opposite, in congratulating the noble Earl on dealing with a highly controversial and most complicated measure in an extremely able manner, and also in a refreshingly short space of time. I will endeavour to follow his example, because there are many noble Lords, with far more knowledge of this subject than I can ever hope to possess, who I believe desire to offer their views to the House. The Government in introducing this Bill made a number of very serious mistakes, and I expect they realise it by now themselves. Their great mistake was in not taking into their confidence at the very beginning the leaders of the great trade union movement and the Labour Party. Those two very important sections of the body politic had been in consultation with the Government with regard to the help they could give to the whole scheme of national defence. The trade unions in particular had collaborated with the Government and given all the help they could—that I am sure will be admitted by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, and other noble Lords who have to do with these matters—and always on the understanding that they were to make a success of the voluntary principle, and that the voluntary principle was to be adhered to. When, almost overnight, the Cabinet reached its decision and, without any further consultation or explanation to these bodies, intro- 11 duced this measure, it is not surprising that there was an outburst of indignation and annoyance.
What else could you have expected? These men, in many cases against important minorities in their own bodies, had lent their aid to the Government's recruiting efforts and to the organisation of air-raid precautions and civil defence generally, always on the understanding that in peace time we were going to adhere to the voluntary system. At the same time it had been admitted that in case of war we could not resist the imposition of compulsion. When this Bill, which admittedly is of a revolutionary character, was introduced in this manner, it is hardly surprising that there was a good deal of resistance from the important sections of the body politic that I have mentioned. It is all very well for the noble Earl in his very adroit speech to echo the words of the Prime Minister that this is not a period of peace, that these are not normal times, and so on. That is simply regarded as an excuse for breaking a pledge. If that had been the Prime Minister's view, why did he not ask these people to whom I have referred to see him and explain it to them, and ask to be relieved of his pledge? What they have objected to—and everyone must sympathise with them, I am sure—has been the Prussian-like way in which this matter has been dealt with. I think the Government made a very great mistake.
Noble Lords opposite who are members of the Government must surely realise that a measure of this kind touches very deep and sincerely-held beliefs in large sections of the population. They have a conscientious objection to their sons being conscripted, and this Bill was therefore bound to be repugnant to many politically conscious workmen and others, who have grave doubts about both the intentions and the good faith of the present Government. These objections were voiced by my noble friend Lord Snell when the Government a few weeks ago asked for approval in principle of this measure. I do not want to labour that, but I would remark only that already the Scottish Trade Union Congress have, by a considerable majority, decided to withdraw from co-operation with the Government in civil defence. The Trade Union Congress for the whole country by a very large majority took the opposite point of 12 view. They have decided to continue to co-operate with the Government, but the Scottish Trade Union Congress have withdrawn. That, I think, is a measure of the hostility that has been aroused, especially in Scotland, by the way in which this Bill was introduced, and also by the lack of faith and confidence in the present Government—and, I am bound to say, particularly in the present Prime Minister. It would be only burking uncomfortable facts if that was overlooked.
There is no doubt a strong military case for this Bill. A military case was indeed made out for it to a certain extent by the noble Earl, Lord Munster. He particularly referred to the anti-aircraft organisation. Well, we agree that that has to be ready instantly, and we were prepared, and are prepared, to help to make that possible. And, generally speaking, the Labour movement is prepared to do all it can to strengthen and make efficient the defences of the country. That has been laid down again and again in recent years by the Leaders of the Party, and endorsed by the Party as a whole. But what the noble Earl did not refer to, and what is also true, is that the purely military case for the Bill, as apart from the political case, which I have attempted to deal with, has been strengthened by certain events abroad, for which events the Government cannot altogether escape responsibility. The scales have been tipped against us in the military sense by the loss of Czecho-Slovakia and Spain and by the fact that there are now two new land frontiers to defend—for this I do not so much blame the Government—in Libya and the Sudan, both of which were threatened. I could make out a case for blaming them there also, in view of the events of 1935, but I do not want to go too far back in their lurid history.
It is not difficult, I think, to sympathise with many in the Party for whom I have the honour to speak, who have seen blunder after blunder in foreign policy against the repeated advice of the Labour Leaders themselves, and now we are asked to foot the bill. This measure before your Lordships is a part of the bill, and it is a very heavy bill indeed. Not only have we already the greatest Navy in the world—and becoming stronger—but we are rapidly reaching the position of having the greatest Air Force in the world, and we are very glad too; now we are about to embark on the 13 creation of an Army on the Continental scale. I accept what the noble Earl said about the intentions of the War Office not to make this measure permanent, but I have no doubt at all that unless there is a great change in the international situation, this measure will be made permanent, and will be extended. The appetite grows with what it feeds on, and I can see other classes being called up and this system of compulsion being made permanent in the national life. What still further infuriates my friends and myself is that we see these blunders in foreign policy, which are really the reason, or one of the main reasons, for this Bill, being continued. The blunders are of such a nature that we always seem to get the worst of both worlds. I referred to the loss of Spain just now. There we allowed our friends—those on whom we could have relied—to be betrayed and destroyed.
They were the people we could rely on in the last War, at any rate. They were on the democratic side and would have been with us. And this we did without gaining, the good will of the new Government in Spain. We got the worst of both worlds there. I referred also just now to other blunders. I cannot refrain from mentioning the situation in regard to Russia, which has a great bearing on the whole strategic position of this country. There we allow the enemies of this country to create prejudice against us because of our attempt to make a limited liability contract with Russia. They say: "Here you see a British Conservative Government so anxious to strengthen their position and to encircle us that they are even prepared to make arrangements with the Soviet Government of Russia." We get the backwash from that sort of argument and at the same time do not do the thing properly by entering a full defensive pact, with the consequential Staff conversations. We are told that there is no ideological objection, and the only other explanation I have been able to find for the delay is that there is some conscientious objection on religious grounds, perhaps on the part of the Foreign Secretary—I know the reason for his not being here to-day—which has repelled the policy of a full alliance. I mention these things because they do a great deal to explain the objection of the majority of 14 the Labour Party and of the trade unions to the principle behind this Bill. It is not lack of patriotism, it is not hesitation to face facts, it is not reluctance to help the defence of the country at all. I have endeavoured to explain the reasons and they must be taken as additional to those put forward by my noble friend Lord Snell on the last occasion this matter was debated.
Now I deal with certain matters in the Bill and certain matters which arise out of the noble Earl's speech. The noble Earl stressed that there was no departure in principle from the voluntary system. We are not quite so sure. Is there by any chance a Gresham law of military service? Will it be found that, just as bad money drives out good money, so compulsory service will destroy voluntary effort or the voluntary system? Only time can decide, but in this connection I wish to deal with the case of the Royal Navy for a minute or two, and I hope the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who is to reply, will be good enough to answer these questions. As I read the Bill, under Clause z persons can have a preference for the naval or air service. That is in subsection (6). Further on, in Clause 5, subsection (5), the Bill says that the Admiralty, Army Council, etc., at any time during the period for which a militiaman is deemed to have enlisted, no matter which service he may have preferred, may do so-and-so. Take the case of the young seafarer, the fisherman, the yachtsman, the young man in the Mercantile Marine—I will come to him particularly in a moment—surely there is no doubt about the matter. Surely you are not going to turn him into a foot-slogging infantryman, but are going to take him into the Navy. Take the young men from the East coast of Scotland who go to sea in the herring drifters as soon as they leave school. When these men reach the age of twenty they are prime seamen. Surely you are not going to turn them into Horse Guards, for example, but will take them for the Royal Navy. I would have thought the same thing applied to young men who are now serving their time in aeronautical workshops and have knowledge of aircraft engines. Surely you will put them into the Air Force and not make foot soldiers of them. The provision is permissive, but it ought to be much stronger than that.
15 I referred just now to the young seamen in the Mercantile Marine. May I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty what is the position of these young seamen who are actually serving in deep-sea-going merchant ships? I can understand the Government not wishing automatically to exempt all key men. It would open too many doors. With regard to this particular class of seamen in the Mercantile Marine, give them six months training in the Royal Navy by all means, but do not ask them to declare whether they would rather have six months on shore being taught to shoulder arms. These are points of importance which are worthy of reply from the Government.
May I say this—and I hope I will not be misunderstood—if there is such a strong case for this Bill, why are you confining it to one small class, to one year only? If the compulsory system is the best for the emergency or abnormal times in which we are living, why not apply the same principle to everyone who can serve his country? Once you impose compulsory service, why confine it to these youths between 20 and 21? Why not apply it to all? In other words, why not have this compulsory register we have heard so much about in the past, and which I know many noble Lords opposite feel strongly about? I suppose the truth is the Government dare not do it. I could make out as strong a case for telling everyone what he has to do in the case of war and giving him the necessary training now as you can make out for this Bill. I could stand at this box and make out an even better case for applying this system equally to every man and woman in the country and training them for their particular duties in time of war. We always hear from Government spokesmen—and they are quite right, and I support what they are saying—in appealing for recruits for Civil Defence Services, the A.R.P. and so on, that the whole nation will be involved under modern conditions of air war. The noble Earl in his eloquent remarks referred to the revolution brought about in the strategical situation by the coming of the bombing aeroplane. We all know that. You could make out an equally strong case to enrol and to train—not necessarily for six months continuously—every man and woman in the country capable of doing service. But you dare not do that.
16 I come to another objection of great importance from the point of view of the Labour Party. My friends feel very strongly that, while you are taking these men, you have not made provision for the necessary equipment for them. We have been, like many noble Lords of other Parties, advocating the creation of a real Ministry of Supply for a long time, and we fear that you are taking these great blocks of 50,000 men at a time and yet have not the equipment for them. In that connection I have a very serious complaint to lay before your Lordships. The Bill to create the Ministry of Supply has not yet been introduced into either House of Parliament, although eight full days elapsed between the announcement that a Ministry of Supply was to be set up and the announcement of this measure. Eight days were lost in which the Bill for the Minister of Supply could have been introduced. I really am puzzled as to why it has not been introduced into your Lordships' House. We have had a comparatively easy time here in recent weeks, while they have been working against time in the other House on these emergency measures. Why should not we, to save a week or two, have dealt with the Ministry of Supply Bill here?
I would remind your Lordships that not only has this problem of supply been made more acute by this great influx of young men whom you are going to turn into soldiers, but also we have now the added responsibility of equipping, or helping to equip at least, two large nations whose frontiers we have guaranteed, who have great Armies but, as we all know, are short of equipment. We shall have to stretch ourselves now to provide infantry equipment and so on for at least two of the great Armies with whom we are in virtual alliance on the Continent, and yet the Bill has not yet made its appearance in either House. We have always been told that in case of war—the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, explained this lucidly to your Lordships' House—if it was found that a Ministry of Supply was necessary, a Bill would be introduced. I presume, therefore, that a Bill was ready and has been ready, so it is not a question of drafting the Bill. I presume the Bill is in the pigeon holes of the War Cabinet or wherever these things are kept. Why has it not been produced and read a first time in your Lordships' House or in another place?
17 The Bill before us, as originally introduced, has been much improved in another place. It has been largely amended, and I must say I think the War Office have been on the whole reasonable in trying to meet the objections that were immediately found in detail. That was bound to be the case, but I think the War Office have been very good in meeting the criticisms, and I hope that when your Lordships take the Bill in Committee, if a case is made out for further Amendments, those Amendments will be granted. I may say in this matter that my friends, the Opposition in another place, have agreed that if Amendments are made to the Bill in your Lordships' House they will do all they can to facilitate its final passage if it is sent back to them with Amendments. Now that the principle has been accepted, we will try to improve the Bill, and we do not want to delay its further progress.
I would, if I may, mention two Committee points which are rather important. One is what I may refer to as a sentimental question, but it has a practical application. In France where, after all, they have had conscription now for over a hundred years, the only son of a widow is almost automatically exempted. Now I know that tribunals are to be set up for hard cases here, but surely we can do the same here as is done in France. There are many cases in the country of widows who lost their husbands as a result of service in the last War and who have a special objection to their sons, in many cases their only support, being called up now. You will perhaps lose a few hundred men by conceding this, but I believe it would commend itself to the sentiment of the country.
The other matter is also a Committee point, but it is important, and also has urgency. I am told that the reason for the strike of apprentices on the Clyde—a very serious thing at the present time—is not so much that they are against the principle of conscription as the fact that these young lads will lose six months of their apprentice time and not be able to count it towards their journeyman's time, which will have a very serious effect upon their future prospects. Now I know this is a difficult question. The trade unions naturally are reluctant to see any loosening of the rules with regard to skilled crafts; at the same time it is going to be rather hard on these young men if they 18 are to lose the whole of that six months. I would at this stage ask that the Ministry of Labour, who I believe are most concerned, should consult with the trade unions concerned to see if they can find some way of satisfying these young men and of getting out of this difficulty. It is a complicated matter, but I think it might be looked into. Probably it has not been thought of. It is one of those things that has arisen suddenly, no one has foreseen it, but I am sure the Government do not wish to have these young men suffer, and I would ask them to make the necessary explorations.
I am sorry the Government have not gone the whole hog so to speak and given these militiamen 2s. a day instead of 1s. 6d.; 1s. 6d. is better than 1s.; but 2s. would be better still. No doubt my noble friend Lord Addison, who will be moving some Amendments, will try to get that matter rectified. In that connection, your Lordships may remember that the wages of soldiers have lagged behind the similar wages of workmen for a long time now. Six hundred years ago, in 1340, a mounted archer received 6d. a day pay, a foot archer 3d. a day, and a Welsh spearman 2d. a day. That was 600 years ago, and taking into account the value of money in those days, the Welsh spearman's 2d. a day was about equal to the day labourer's wage of that period. The soldiers in the Roman legions were paid about the same wage as the day workers of their period. In the reign of Henry VIII the basic wage had risen to 6d. a day, and it was not until the reign of Queen Victoria that the soldier was paid 1s. a day with 1d. for beer money. If I might quote from Housman's Grenadier:The Queen she sent to look for meAnd I shall have to bate my price,For in the grave they sayIs neither knowledge nor device,Nor thirteen pence a day.I think the Government might have risen to an extra sixpence for these militiamen, and I hope they will consider that before the Bill goes back to the Commons.
My last comment is this. I do hope that this is going to be the beginning of the real democratisation of the Army. This is a matter upon which I have ventured to address your Lordships before. I speak with diffidence on details of Army life, but, with the growth of education 19 and the different social outlook of the young men to-day, I do not believe you will continue to get the best type of young Englishman in sufficient numbers to volunteer for the long-service foreign-going Army unless you widen the avenues of promotion to the commissioned ranks. My Party believe it would add to the efficiency of the Army and to the good of society if the Army was completely democratised as regards the officer corps, and if no officer could be commissioned until he had served his time in the ranks. That is the view of my Party, and that Party contains, after all, a good many members of considerable military experience. I believe if you did that you could create the finest Army this country has ever possessed. There is an immense reservoir of educated young men not quite well enough off to pass through the ordinary channels of Sandhurst and Woolwich, but who nevertheless have powers of leadership and intelligence and would become efficient officers but who do not go into the Army because it is too difficult for them to be commissioned officers.
And the position of the soldier abroad, particularly serving in the ranks, is not too easy a one. Your Lordships are aware of the social conditions in the East, particularly in India and other parts of Asia. There is no, if I might put it so, white middle class. There is no white working class. There is no social life for the serving soldier, and there is a tremendous gulf between the commissioned officers and the rank and file. It is not the fault of the officers at all, but the small white society there does not regard the rank and file as being in the same class as the officer corps. The result is that the soldier serving abroad, although he has his sports, and although the Army does its best for him, providing him with all sorts of amenities, is not provided with the social life that he has at home and which is practically unobtainable for him abroad. Now if you make everyone pass through the ranks those altogether artificial barriers will be broken up, and we believe it will be to the advantage of the State and the Army. Perhaps out of what we call evil good may come, and this may lead to the democratisation of the Army which I have found so many soldiers believe to be necessary to-day.
§ 4.1 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, in joining the noble Lord who has just sat down in congratulations to the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading on the singularly lucid manner in which he did so, I desire to make one or two preliminary observations on the principles by which this Bill is inspired rather than to attempt to examine it clause by clause. As Lord Strabolgi has stated, the main principle of the Bill is the application of compulsion to military service when the country is not actually at war, and he proceeded to argue, with I thought considerable force, that there was no reason why, in that case, compulsion should not be more generally exercised and applied to other classes besides serving soldiers. Speaking from these Benches, I think I may claim that the general and historic objection to the application of compulsion in all branches has been the work in the past of the Liberal Party, and with all respect to noble Lords who represent the official Opposition I do not think they can quite advance the same claim, because I feel that they must be aware that even among those who would desire to see a wider distribution of wealth and greater opportunities for people to advance, whatever their circumstances in life, it is generally agreed that one of the principal causes which keeps so many people in this country from attempting to proceed on the general lines of the Socialist Party is the belief that the adoption of their principles would involve a far greater degree of regimentation and a considerable loss of personal liberty compared to what obtains at this moment.
But that is merely a side issue. We all agree, as stated by the noble Lord who has just spoken, that in a moment of danger the defence of the country must stand before everything, and that all ancient prejudices and even valuable principles may have to give way to the needs of the time. The only question, therefore, that we have to ask is: Does the necessity exist at this moment, and if it does, are His Majesty's Government adopting the best method in which to meet it? This question of compulsory service is no new one. It has been considered for many years. Just thirty years ago, five years before the War, the German Government volunteered to the Government here the statement that if we chose to adopt a system of conscription or universal ser- 21 vice they would in no way regard it as a provocation. In the circumstances of this moment I think that is not altogether an uninteresting fact. Then in the following two years some of your Lordships must remember the debates that took place in this House, formulated in the main by Lord Roberts, who desired to see a system of universal service, but who strongly resented the idea that it could be described as conscription.
There is of course no need to describe the particular plan on which he worked. There were various debates in this House, and the noble Earl opposite, Lord Midleton, a former Secretary of State for War, will no doubt carry in his mind all that passed. But the plan was objected to partly on the ground that the necessity for it was based on the danger of a sudden invasion by a force amounting certainly to 70,000 foreign troops or more on our Eastern coast, a danger of which the Navy refused to admit the possibility. The other objection was the financial one. It was supposed that the plan at that time might cost anything up to £8,000,000, and in those days that sum, which I suppose would now be considered so trivial as to be almost negligible, was regarded as a very formidable addition to the Army Estimates. Therefore nothing whatever was done, although I think a great many people will agree, and I have certainly never disputed the fact myself, that a system of national physical training containing considerable military elements of drill, and even something more than drill, might be a national advantage. But of course that is a totally different story from that which is involved in the present measure.
It has always been a surprise to me that that early kind of training has been considered by some as involving a risk of introducing a spirit of militarism into the country. My own recollection of the volunteer corps at school and college is certainly not that those who served were among the more truculent members of the community. Very often I think they were among the milder ones. I have never been able to comprehend the objections that have been raised in some quarters to the Cadet Corps of this country. It has always been a puzzle to me why almost a dead-set has been made in London, and also to some extent elsewhere, against these Cadet Corps. It has always been to me an astonishment. I 22 am quite sure, for instance, that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, looks back to his early experience as a naval cadet, which enabled him to perform fine service in the War, as a good thing in itself and not in the least as having imbued him with the bloodthirsty tastes of a Matabele or Masai warrior.
Some of the most enlightening things on the whole subject of military training are to be found in the speeches of Jean Jaurès, the famous French orator and Member of Parliament, who was shamefully and senselessly assassinated on the very eve of the Great War. I say senselessly, because although political assassinations are always criminal they are sometimes easily intelligible, whereas Jaurès, who combined the difficult feat of being a convinced international Socialist and at the same time a most ardent patriot, would have been a most valuable element to the French Government if he had lived during the War. Indeed, he might have helped to save the French Government from some of the mistakes that were made in the course of it. Jaurés went so far as to advocate the practice of target shooting even in the elementary schools, which would be regarded as a strong order by the education authorities in this country.
But to refer for a moment to what fell from the noble Lord who spoke last, it is undoubtedly true that when considering the need for this measure we should remember that since 1919 the situation in Europe has materially changed. As he said, the growth of the different Air Forces and the possibilities of air attack have undoubtedly altered the situation both as regards the Navy and the Army. At the same time, I am still glad to agree with him that it would be a most profound error to attempt to underrate the paramount importance of a supreme Navy if the worst comes to the worst and we should find this country at war. Lastly, of course, there is the fact that an entirely new situation has arisen through the unscrupulous and unregulated ambitions of certain rulers of the great Powers. Therefore His Majesty's Government, instead of adopting a system of military training, have, in spite of the title of the Bill, embarked on a measure of National Service. I do not see how the purpose and meaning of the Bill can be described in any other terms than that of National Service. It 23 goes far beyond what was intended in the different types of military training about which we have heard hitherto.
Their reason for adopting this course is that this is a moment of emergency and a moment of crisis. I am not going to attempt in any way to discuss the possible reasons for the existence of such an emergency, or to attempt to attach blame to anybody for the fact that the time is so critical. I have also no intention of discussing the various provisions of the Bill as set out by the noble Earl opposite, but I confess that I should like to have clearer reasons stated than I think have been stated anywhere yet, as to why the particular age of 20 was fixed for this period of service. I should have thought that in so many cases it must cut into the life of a young man just when he has settled down to a definite career that, if we are to have this system at all, 19 or even 18 would have been a preferable age. I have no doubt that in the course of the debate some further light may be thrown on this subject.
Then there is also the question of the temporary character of the measure. I find myself in some agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in his belief that it will be extremely difficult to drop. Unless there is a complete change of heart and mind on the part of certain persons whom it is not necessary to name, and unless, indeed, the whole condition of the world is changed by such a boon as a complete revival of the League of Nations and a general determination to keep the peace, it is difficult to contemplate a moment at which His Majesty's Government of the day, whatever they may be, will come to Parliament and say that they feel that the world is so bright and the sky so clear that measures of this sort are no longer necessary. Therefore I wish that a shorter period had been named for the initial stage of the Bill, depending on annual renewal, which if the circumstances remained as they are, the measure having once been accepted, would have presumably insured its continuance for the necessary period.
On the other parts of the Bill I merely wish to say that, so far as I am able to judge, the Government have taken great care, and have taken it successfully, to meet the case of the conscientious objec- 24 tor. I can hardly imagine that your Lordships' House will wish to alter those provisions of the Bill. I should also think that one other of the greatest difficulties—namely, the question of reinstatement—had been met to a considerable extent by the changes that were made in another place. On those two matters I think the Government may properly be congratulated on the trouble that they have taken to satisfy public opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned one or two matters on which, from that Bench, Amendments would be moved, but I will trouble your Lordships no further, and will merely say that it is inevitable that the responsibility for this novel and most important measure should rest entirely on the shoulders of His Majesty's Government, who are in possession of a number of facts of which we know nothing and who therefore alone can be responsible for the details of the measure.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend who is responsible for introducing this Bill into your Lordships' House must be satisfied with the two speeches that have just been delivered. It is true that they involved a certain amount of limited criticism, but in the main they were not hostile to the Second Reading. The noble Marquess who has just sat down concluded his speech by throwing the responsibility for the Bill upon the shoulders of His Majesty's Government. That was a very natural attitude for a member of the Opposition. For my part—and I believe I speak for most of your Lordships on this side of the House—we are quite willing to share the responsibility of His Majesty's Government in this respect. We are satisfied that the case for compulsory service has been made out. The noble Lord who represents the official Opposition was evidently in some difficulty: he did not want to oppose the Bill, but he did not want to be too civil to it, and he was driven, I think, to say that one of his objections to the Bill was that it did not extend to everybody. I do not think we need treat a criticism of that kind with any hesitation or respect. The Bill might, of course, have been wider, and if necessity appears hereafter it will be widened until all the essential exigencies of the country have been met.
25 For my part I have been quite satisfied, as I believe most noble Lords have been, of the necessity for this Bill. It is quite clear that we could not speak with the force with which we ought to speak internationally until we showed by this active step that we were prepared to fulfil our international obligations. That was the overwhelming argument in favour of compulsory service. But there were other arguments. Those of us who are old enough—and most of your Lordships are—to remember all that passed in the Great War, are aware of how very unsatisfactory it was that all that were best in our population were the people who enlisted, and all that were best were the people who were killed. It was a case of the survival of the unfittest, and therefore it appeared to us then, as it would appear to us if, as I earnestly hope may never be the case, we are engaged in another great war, that it was only right that all should share the risk. That is a fact which impresses itself upon all of us. We know what happened in the Great War—alas! we know too well. We know the immense effort that it means, and we know that we should be driven—inevitably driven—to a system of compulsory service, even if the Government did not undertake it at this moment. Is it not something that, in this matter, unlike so many subjects of British policy, we should not on this occasion be too late? It is always at the eleventh hour that British policy is decided. We live in a calculation of time which for political purposes always seems to be the eleventh hour. The idea of looking forward, of getting ready in time, is I am afraid, more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Therefore, we are very glad indeed that this Bill has been laid before us.
Of course, it is quite true that it was obviously prepared in a great hurry. We know that it was; that has been said over and over again in another place; and it would be very easy to pick little holes here and there in the provisions of the Bill. They will all have to be set right in the future. No doubt there will be Orders in Council, and not only Orders in Council; I suspect that there will be amending Bills, which will gradually put defects right, fill up the holes, smooth out the rough places, and make the system thoroughly satisfactory. We are all pre- 26 pared for that. I should like, however, to say one or two words, if I may, about the Bill itself. Some of us are gratified that there has at last once more been recognised in our military provision the Militia system. Some of us have grown old under the Militia system, and we have every reason, by knowledge and by experience, to believe in it, not merely in name but in fact. This is largely the Militia system, that is to say the soldier is to be not completely trained as a regular soldier but he is to be enlisted and to serve under the Army Act. He is being recruited and called upon to go through a definite and considerable period of recruit's training, and he belongs to the military service of the Crown for four years.
I should like at this point, if I may, to ask a question of my noble friend Lord Munster, or of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who I believe is going to reply. Is it contemplated not merely that there should be this recruit training but that during the four years there should be an annual training? I gather that it is so. I thought that was the case, but unless I am very much mistaken, and I may easily be mistaken, I do not find it anywhere so stated in the Bill. No doubt that does not prevent it in the least, but I do not know that it appears on the face of the Bill, although no doubt it is the intention of the Government. If there is to be annual training, with whom are the conscripts to train? There was at one time a rumour—perhaps more than a rumour, because I believe it appeared in the speech of my noble friend this afternoon—that the conscripts would be encouraged to join the Territorial Force. I do not know whether that is the intention of the Government—whether they contemplate that after the recruit's training then the conscript should be absorbed in the Territorial Force.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My noble friend most kindly tells me that a man will be so absorbed if there is a vacancy. That is a very important limitation, because a good many of these battalions—indeed I understand all the best—are already full, and therefore there will not be room for these conscripts. I am not sure that that is not just as well—that they should not be able to join 27 the Territorial Force. I do not want to lay down any very definite opinion, but I see a difficulty, because they would be enlisted under different conditions from their comrades. In a Territorial battalion, if a soldier wishes to be free and to dispense with the obligations into which he entered, by the practice of that service there is never any difficulty. I do not know that he has got any absolute right to go, but in point of fact on giving notice to his commanding officer he is allowed to go. That evidently could not be the case with the conscript. He would be in a different position. He would be obliged to serve. Supposing a commanding officer of the Territorial Force finds one of his men is not up to the standard of the battalion, he tells him he must go. That is done now. It is quite clear that if a conscript does not come up to standard he cannot be allowed to go. That would be absurd.
Therefore there are different conditions existing between two men. They are serving in the same ranks in all other respects upon an absolute equality, but, whether looked upon from the point of view of the man himself or from the point of view of the commanding officer, they are under different conditions. I do not say that is a hopeless position, but it is a difficult position which would be better avoided. What is the alternative? If the conscript finds that the Territorial battalion is too full or other difficulties intervene, then he must rejoin something else. Then, I understand, he is to be joined to a line battalion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
A different battalion. I do not know if that was ever said in the House of Commons. I rather doubt if it was, but it is a most interesting and important point. There are to be special service battalions. That is very interesting, and it leads me to ask a further question. Where are the officers of these special service battalions to come from? All these things were being thought out by the Government, no doubt in the forty-eight hours which it took them to construct the Bill. Whether they were able to do it then or not, this will have to be thought out. Where are the officers to come from? I have heard it said 28 that the officers might be raised from the ranks of the conscripts. Very likely there will be men found, not confined to one class, who will be fitted to be promoted from the ranks to the positions of officers, but they will be very young. It is not very easy to see battalions run entirely by officers under twenty-one, or most of them under that age. I only put these points forward for consideration by the Government, not in any sense hostile to the Bill but because I think they will have to be carefully thought out in the course of the next few weeks.
I should have thought that officers might have been got elsewhere, and if you are going to have special service battalions, as my noble friend the Leader of the House has just explained in an interruption might probably be the case, and if you are going to have special officers, you have reproduced almost literally the old Militia system as I have known it, a little improved but on the old principle. If that be so I for one shall be thoroughly satisfied. I believe that that is the right solution—to have these special service battalions, and to have special officers attached to them. I believe it to be right that after their training as recruits these conscripts should meet for annual training every year during the period of their engagement. I think the favour with which I regard the Bill has been increased by what I have heard this evening.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say one further word, and I do not desire to detain your Lordships at any length, upon the question of the conscientious objector. My only right to speak on this is that it so happens that I had a great deal to do with the treatment of conscientious objectors during the late War. May I compliment the Government upon the provisions in the Bill? They are a little complicated, and might be simplified, but broadly they seem to me to be founded upon very good lines and I think the Government have shown great courage in grappling with the undoubted difficulties of the system, because it is a very difficult matter, this treatment of conscientious objectors. It is not simple, because the means of judging whether a conscientious objection is genuine is extremely difficult. The Bill itself says that the tribunal must be satisfied of the conscientious objection. 29 Well, how is the tribunal to be satisfied? Your Lordships will forgive me if I say that I speak from some experience, because I had a very large number of these cases to try. How is the tribunal to be satisfied? It must be primarily from the attitude of the objector. He says that he has a conscientious objection. It is not very easy to find other evidence to bear upon the subject. What really the tribunal has to do is to say, "Is this man speaking the truth?" or rather—for the thing is not quite so crude as that— "Does he exaggerate his scruple in such a way as to make it a genuine reason why he should not join the Service?"
There is a considerable temptation to an objector to exaggerate his scruple, not so much in respect of this Bill as it was in time of war. The choice then for the man was: "Am I to go to fight, am I to risk my life, or not?" In such a case scruples sometimes have a tendency to become of an exaggerated kind. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Munster, himself who said he thought the number of conscientious objectors would not be very large. I think that is true. It will not be very large relatively to the whole body of conscripts, and not so large as it would have been had it been a question of immediate fighting. But still, it will be a considerable body; and when a man has to say to himself, that in addition to his scruple, there is his material interest which would lead him to desire to avoid joining up, why then it is rather a subtle question as to how far this scruple should be accepted.
My conclusion is this, that I hope that the decision of the tribunals, both the local tribunals and the Appeal Tribunal, will not be too legalistic. After all, it is not a question of law whether a man has a genuine conscientious scruple. It is a question on which a responsible layman, a distinguished layman if possible, would be quite as able to arrive at a sound conclusion as a lawyer; and, though I have a great respect, I need not say, for the legal profession, I am a little bit sorry that in the Schedule such weight is thrown upon the legal training of the Chairman. There has been, of course, a change made in the course of the passage of the Bill through another place, under which the tribunals are to have as one of their members—both the tribunals below and the Appellate Tribunal—somebody who has the confidence of the working class. 30 May I call him a representative of the Labour Party? because that is the way it will work out, I have no doubt. Well, I am very glad of it. I think it is an admirable thing, because you want to give unlimited confidence both to the public and to the individual that he is going to be perfectly fairly treated when his case comes to be tried by these tribunals.
For these reasons I think that the provisions of the Bill are well founded—perhaps not very well drafted, but that, as I have said, can be put right hereafter. I earnestly hope that this Bill will receive your Lordships' assent, and I have no doubt whatever that it will. Whether it is possible to bring it to a close in the course of the three years set out in the Bill or not, or whether on the contrary the noble Marquess is correct in thinking that it will last much longer, I cannot say. May I add that I do not think it is necessary to say anything on that? What I hope and believe is that your Lordships and Parliament will readily assent to whatever is required by way of compulsion in order to furnish us with sufficient armed force to fulfil our word internationally.
§ 4.47 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I wish to take only a very few minutes of your Lordships' time. I make no comment on the general purport of the Bill. I am perfectly content in this matter to rely on the responsible judgment of the Government that this step is necessary for the purposes which have just been so eloquently described by the noble Marquess. I will only say this. These young conscripts will be assembled together at a very critical period of their lives. Most of their time must necessarily, and rightly, be taken up by what may be called an intensive military preparation; but I hope it will be recognised that, if that is to have its full value, there must be some alternative, otherwise it is very apt to become stale and unfruitful. I hope, therefore, that care will be taken that ample opportunity is given for the provision of recreation, education, and also, if I may say so, for spiritual ministrations to these young men in their service and in their camps. I was very glad to see, from what was said in another place, that the Government seem to be ready to invite suggestions of that kind. I know of many who are 31 experienced in work of that sort among young men, who would be very ready to co-operate if opportunity were given. What I plead is that during the time of their training some regard will be paid, not only to the bodily, but to the mental and spiritual welfare of the conscripts.
All I want to do to-day is to say one or two words on the subject of the conscientious objector, which the noble Marquess has just, and most rightly, described as very difficult. I cannot agree with him in his estimate of the numbers who are likely to apply for registration as conscientious objectors at the present time. From my experience I have little doubt—I hope I may prove to be wrong—that the number of young men who have these conscientious objections, and who will endeavour to sustain them, will be far greater than in the case of the last War. There is a great multitude of young men of all classes—I emphasize that, and not least those who come from our public schools and Universities—who have been moved, partly by the appeals of the Peace Pledge Union, partly by the immense influence which was exercised upon the young men by my late lamented friend Canon Dick Sheppard and others, and most of all by the thought of the difference between the sufferings which will be inflicted by any modern war, far greater than those which have marked previous wars, or even the last War, and which will be inflicted upon masses of innocent men, women and children.
I believe that the number of individuals who are deeply impressed with considerations such as these is very large. I need not say that I do not agree with the position of the complete pacifist, but I respect his conscience. I am sure Parliament and the country will try and respect that conscience. At a time when we are claiming, as against some other countries, that freedom of conscience must everywhere be honoured, it obviously is our duty to show that we fully respect it. I agree with the noble Marquess opposite and the noble Marquess who has just sat down that, so far as I can see, the Bill as it has come amended from the other place makes not only fair but even generous provision for conscientious objectors, and I earnestly hope it will be administered in the spirit in which, as I gather, it has been conceived.
32 I do not think any of us can look back with satisfaction to the treatment of this difficult subject during the last War. I have not had as much experience of it as the noble Marquess has had, but I had a certain amount of experience of what was suffered in the North of England particularly, and the treatment of conscientious objectors is not one of those memories of the last War to which we can look back with very great satisfaction. In many cases, these young men were treated with great harshness, at least with inconsiderateness. I earnestly hope we shall never see any more of what was then popularly called the "cat and mouse" arrangement, and that in every way fuller consideration will be given to these genuine convictions. There will be shirkers and, as the noble Marquess has said, every care must be taken to see that they do not avail themselves of these provisions; but speaking of the young men whom I mentioned a short time ago, it would be ludicrous to regard them as in any sense shirkers from what they conceive to be their duty to their country.
Everything will depend on the administration of the tribunals. It is said they are to be composed of impartial persons, and I hope they will be something more. I hope they will be persons who will be able to estimate—if I may use an ugly term—the psychological personality of those who come before them. I heartily endorse what the noble Marquess has said when he hoped their treatment will not be merely legalistic. The noble Marquess pointed out how difficult it would be to estimate the genuineness of conscientious objections. One test which would be easy to apply at the present time is how long before they applied for registration they had plainly and publicly identified themselves with some of these pacifist movements of which I have spoken, because when they did so it could not be said it was with a view to avoiding the service of their country. It would be a great mistake if the tribunals once again were to manufacture martyrs up and down the country. Their bias should rather be to respect, not suspect, the genuineness of the convictions of those who come before them.
Take one instance. I think your Lordships will agree that if a man was allowed to be entered on the Register of Conscientious Objectors and was required to undertake some other form of national 33 service, it would be quite unjust to require him to take any part in the manufacture of munitions of war. That sort of thing seems to be obvious. Anyhow, I hope that not only the tribunals but also public opinion—for that is so important—will, at the beginning of this stage in our defensive organisation, be prepared to recognise very generously the convictions of the conscientious objector. I feel bound to say that in my view it will be the duty of the Church and of all religious communions to whom freedom of conscience is sacred, to be vigilant in seeing that wherever good proof can be made of genuine conscientious objection, it shall be everywhere respected.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill. It is indeed a revolutionary measure and one which, I am sure, you will all agree goes dead against all the principles which we for generations have held in this country, that in peace time we should compel our youth to undergo military training for the service of the nation. Many of us through the years, both in another place and in your Lordships' House, have asked for three things in relation to the Defence Services and defensive forces of this country. One thing we asked for was an expert co-ordinating head of the Committee of Imperial Defence. We have got that now in the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, who sits on the Front Bench to-day. We asked for a Ministry of Supply to co-ordinate the supplies required by the Services of the Government. We have got a Minister-Designate now, but so far without any powers, and we are impatiently waiting for the terms of the Bill dealing with the powers which the Ministry of Supply will have. Now we come to the last of the three things we asked for, and that is the compulsory training of our youth so that, if and when the country requires its services, it will at least have undergone the privilege of training.
I feel sometimes that the youth of this country forgets the great debt it owes to its fathers and other generations for the great advantages it enjoys—advantages not only in the Social Services, which were fought for, line by line and year by year, but also the advantages of the various inventions which it enjoys and accepts as if they had always been. It is inclined to forget that debt which it owes 34 to those people who brought these things along and provided it with these great services. Only yesterday I attended at St. Paul's Cathedral a service for the "Old Contemptibles" of London, and there I saw many old comrades looking fit and well who served in the early stages of 1914. It struck me there that perhaps the youth of to-day does not remember the terrible sacrifices on the field of battle which were made by its forefathers to preserve the very things it enjoys to-day. This service which youth ought really to be proud to do is only a continuation of the education which the State demands every individual shall have.
This Bill is, I think, something which Lord Roberts would have loved to have seen had he been with us to-day. My mind goes back to the time to which the noble Marquess who leads the Liberal Party referred in his admirable speech. I remember the days at the Staff College when I went to see Lord Roberts near Ascot. He was then very keen on advocating those very things which are contained in part of this Bill. We are a wonderful people; we seem always to have had the luck to have the time to do things. But the position has now changed. Engines of war are quicker in action; the individuals who make war spring it upon you during the night as it were; and that is why we have no longer the chance to train our volunteers that we had formerly. Unfortunately, in our country, volunteers only come forward in great numbers after a war has started. Now we have to train our youth so that when the opportunity of serving the country comes along they will already have done what they can to make themselves fit to discharge their duty on that day. I never forget that it was those men who went into the last War not fully trained who sustained the very large casualties that occurred in the early days of the War. You must have training if you are to avoid that occurring again. That is one of the reasons why, in the interests of our youth who would in time of war undoubtedly be called out, I welcome this Bill, which will give them the training first so that they can avoid those things which led to such very heavy casualties in the last War.
I cannot understand altogether the objection which the Opposition has to this Bill. After all, it is a real democratic measure. Is it not going to bring all 35 classes together under the same roof, eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, all getting together and exchanging views one with another? It seems to me that it is almost an ideal arrangement in order to carry on the great democratic principles for which we all stand. From that point of view alone I think this is an extremely valuable measure. I see it has been argued that this Bill is quite inadequate to meet the demands that may be made upon the nation. Mr. Lloyd George in another place said that this Bill would only provide some 200,000 men. If you take the classes that are called up in France and Germany you will find that in France one annual class gives you 141,000 men, and one annual class in Germany gives you 230,000 men, so that if we get 200,000 men it is a very good beginning. If we continue to follow that principle we shall ultimately build up a large number of trained men fit to take their place in the Army if and when they are required.
I was very interested in the point made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who asked where these young men are to go after they are trained. That question concerning the Territorial Force was one of the points I had meant to raise. If the Territorial Force is full, as it no doubt will be for some time to come, there will be a difficulty in placing these young men after their six months' training. I am not sure whether the intention is to send them to special reserve battalions or to a special reserve. I think that it would be better if we could send them to a special reserve and not to special reserve battalions, so that they might be more fluid in case they should be needed for drafting purposes if and when war came. During the last War we found great difficulty in the matter of drafting because so many people had been earmarked for units and those units did not require the particular drafts when such drafts were ready. From the point of view of drafting I think it would be an advantage if these young men were kept more fluid in a special reserve.
The actual place of training, too, is, I think, very important. I remember that when I came home from France in 1917 to become Director of Organisation and to reorganise our personnel in the Army and elsewhere, we found we were 36 beginning to call up a lot of very young recruits. It was decided to form them into young soldier battalions, and some ninety-two such battalions were formed throughout the country. We did so because these young boys when first called up were not physically strong enough to be able to carry the regulation weights of an ordinary infantry soldier, and consequently they would probably have been at a disadvantage if they were put alongside a lot of older men and required to carry the same weight. So we got the training staff officers and non-commissioned officers, many of them reconditioned from wounds, and then filled up a battalion with one type of young men with more or less the same physical capacity, more or less of the same age, and fitted them out with lighter equipment so that they were physically able to march with that equipment. We found at the end of April or beginning of May of 1918, when these young soldier battalions went over to France, that they did extraordinarily well. We got special letters of thanks from Lord Haig for the uniformity of these battalions, and because of the way that they were able to be used in a time of stress.
I think that that experience leads up to the question of where best can we train the 200,000 when they are called up. The present intention, as I understand it, is to send them to regular units in various centres like Aldershot, Catterick, Tidworth and other places. I have a feeling that what we ought to do, if there is time, is to construct training camps near the centres of population, or as close to the centres of population as possible, and that we should have the training staffs in those centres, consisting of experienced officers and non-commissioned officers. Then these young conscripts could be trained as close to their own homes as possible, and during the weekend they could go in uniform to see their friends. This, I think, would have the advantage of popularising this system of training, and at the same time you would get a much greater degree of esprit de corps than you will get if these young men have to go and be trained with experienced regular soldiers. Their actual contact with older soldiers might tend to create in them an inferiority complex. There would, I think, be an advantage, from the point of view of their training and their general outlook in the future, 37 if they were kept together and trained together, of course by experienced officers and non-commissioned officers. I throw that out as a suggestion. I am sure that if we are to popularise the Army in the country as we have popularised the Navy in the past few years, it is only by affording the population an opportunity of gaining a real knowledge of the Army. I make that suggestion for what it is worth.
The next question I want to ask is a question put to me by rather experienced people. They say, is it quite certain that when these young men are called up their contractual obligations end? If a young man is in ordinary employment in a works, does that employment officially end when he is called up? Is the employer not liable for his wages on the contract over a period of six months, so that when the young man comes back and is reinstated he can have a claim on that employer? Is that point quite clear from a legal point of view? The Bill refers quite clearly to reinstatement, but the point has been put to me by legal minds as to whether the actual calling up of the conscript in itself terminates the engage-merit he is engaged upon. The other point in relation to reinstatement is the question of what happens to a conscript if and when he is discharged before he has finished six months, either because he has gone sick at the end of three months, or because he is found to be unfit for further service either mentally or physically. Does he come back and get reinstated in the same way, and if he is reinstated, how do you get over the difficulty of the sickness contracted during his part service?
The next point I wish to touch on is one dealing with the time of the year at which these conscripts are called up. I quite understand that in the initial stages, and this year, we have to fix the time probably in July, but in future years would it not be possible to consider whether that date is the best date, or whether some other date might not better suit many young men in their present employment? I am thinking largely of the young men in agriculture. I believe there are something like 130,000 young men in agriculture, and if they are called up in July it is rather an awkward time of the year from the point of the agricultural work that has to be done on the various farms. Possibly if they could be 38 called up later in the year, at something like the dates at which the French and German conscripts are called up, it might be an advantage in future years. I am not complaining about this year; I am only putting the suggestion forward for future years. Lastly I would like to say this. It cannot be too clearly laid before the country that the calling up of these young men, necessary as it is, is done with the purpose of preventing war and not waging war, and I think all this added strength in the defence of our country is got for that purpose and that purpose alone.
§ 5.14 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just concluded will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail through the pæan of militaristic satisfaction to which he has just given vent. I would, however, just remark in passing that there is a fundamental difference, in the view of many of us, I think in the view of all of us who have gone carefully into the subject, between a conscript and a citizen army. I mention that because that confusion is common, and not entirely non-existent among our own ranks on this side of the House. The noble Marquess who leads the Liberal Party gave me a moment of unquietness because the compliment which I most appreciate is that of some of my friends who, when wishing to tease me, accuse me of being about the last extant specimen of a Gladstonian Liberal. I feared I should have to share that good pre eminence until the noble Marquess continued his speech and said that for the defence of the country his Liberal principles must go by the board. I felt after such an illiberalism my pre-eminence was safe.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, made some interesting points. He cannot, I think, however be entirely satisfied with the present position, because if I followed his argument correctly one of his reasons for advocating conscription was the unfortunate result in the last War of the voluntary system under which the best and most fitted members of our nation were those who went out to be killed. I would suggest therefore that he should move some kind of Amendment whereby the medical examiner should take first of all those most ancient, which seems the only method of dealing with this particular objection.
39 But I really got up to-night because it seems to me that I have in this particular connection certain special knowledge which some of your Lordships may not share. I would say first of all that, although I am going to make a plea on the ground of expediency, I would not have it thought for one moment that I do not appreciate the moral objections to this measure. I do in fact feel them most deeply. I had expected that other members of your Lordships' House would put this particular position far more eloquently than I could do myself, and I had therefore not intended to speak of it. In fact, I think your Lordships have on the previous occasion on which we discussed this matter heard something of this point of view, but I would in passing say that I do hold it as a matter of principle that the State, though it may ask its citizens to kill, has no right to command them. One of the unfortunate results of a departure from this principle is the question of tribunals of conscience of which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the most reverend Primate spoke. Such tribunals I believe to be a return to the Middle Ages. Such tribunals have not existed except in the unfortunate period during the late War in this country since the days of the Inquisition, an institution of which we all have memories in our school-boy history books as the blackest blot on a period known as the Dark Ages.
But it is not on those grounds that I intend to-night to base my objections to this Bill. It is rather because it has been my experience to live in a country which has had this system in action for a longer time than any other country in the world, the country in which this system of conscription did actually originate—France. The noble Marquess mentioned the views of a great member of my own Party, Jean Jaurès, and I dare say many other noble Lords will remind me of the statement of M. Blum a short while ago. In this connection I would say that M. Blum's intervention in a subject of which he knew comparatively little, and in which at any rate he was a foreigner, was not merely impertinent but in my opinion a tragic example of the lack of contact—which also applies in the case of Jaurès—between the urban middle class intellectual and the peasant who is the backbone of his own country. It is amongst these village people that I have lived, and it is 40 as a result of living amongst them that I have come to hate and have a detestation of this system which amounts positively to the fanatical.
I believe that the military life is fundamentally bad. I think it is psychologically bad. You will hear constantly from those who take the other view—the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, I am sure will maintain it—about the advantages and beneficial effects of discipline. There are two kinds of discipline, good and bad. The good discipline is self discipline, and all other discipline I believe is bad. Obedience exacted by the means of discipline is psychologically bad. All obedience amongst free people should be based upon consent. An unfortunate result of this military discipline upon young people is the discouragement of initiative. It is a regrettable result of the military life, owing to the fact that these men must necessarily be herded together, that outside the performance of certain more or less mechanical duties, they are relieved of all responsibility. They are fed, they are clothed, they are housed and, as I say, apart from some more or less mechanical duties, they have no responsibilities. This unfortunate position does undoubtedly create amongst young people a regrettable irresponsibility. Finally, it is inevitable that in order to organise any such system of military training, the centres where that training takes place must be easily accessible for purposes of transport, and therefore they will probably be in the region of fairly considerable urban centres. That has this additional unfortunate result, that in many cases these boys acquire decidedly undesirable habits.
As I have said, I have lived very close to the people of a French village. I am not going to harrow your Lordships by recounting exceptional cases, such as that of a gentle, slightly simple shepherd boy, a useful hard-working member of the community, who returned from his military service a morose, sullen practically useless idiot. Some may think that, although such cases may be exceptional, any system which produces them must inevitably have a great deal of bad in it. It is the average young man in the village with whom I am concerned. I do not know what the effect of military training may be on an urban population, but I do assure your Lordships that I have been dismayed by the effect of that training 41 upon the boys from villages. Boys who are serious, quiet, hardworking, who are settling down to be useful members of their village community, are rooted up and submitted to the influences which I have tried to describe to your Lordships. The result is that, on their return to their villages, they are unsettled. This unsettlement only too frequently results in their departure from the villages, and when it does not it results, in many cases, in a most appalling disorientation of these youths. The indirect loss to France and to her agricultural efficiency owing to this system of conscription has always appalled me. I am something of an agriculturist. We are all aware that His Majesty's Government, though they have failed to solve them, are at least alive to the problems of the countryside. I think perhaps the most serious of those problems has been the loss of population. This measure, I believe, will give an additional impetus to that unfortunate drift from the land from which we are all suffering.
Not only do I believe this Bill to be bad on the ground of expediency but I believe it also to be morally wrong, and I cannot think that a moral wrong is ever expedient. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, appears to be satisfied by the arguments put forward for the introduction of this measure at the present time. I am afraid I must have been less attentive than the noble Marquess, because it seems to me that the noble Earl who introduced the Bill did well to confine himself to the mechanism of the Bill and its suitability for the purpose rather than go into reasons for its introduction. I have not yet heard—I am afraid that perhaps I have been obtuse—any good argument for the introduction of this revolutionary and it seems to me fundamentally un-British measure which is being forced through Parliament without consulting the people. My Lords, a great orator complained not far from this spot of the passing of the age of chivalry. To-day, I mourn the passing of the age of liberty on whose grave, I believe, we are engaged in erecting a tombstone.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken, if in nothing else, that this Bill is one of fundamental importance. This is no ordinary or minor measure. The issues that it raises go far beyond the exigencies of the 42 day, grave though those exigencies are. The Government have indeed assured us that the issue is a limited one. They have emphasized the temporary character of the Bill. When we debated this matter a month ago, the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, said that he would not merely state but would emphasize that this Bill would be of a purely temporary character. It was to be enacted for the time being. The very title of the Bill begins "An Act to make temporary provision", and we know that Clause 19 of the Bill provides that it is to come to an end at the expiration of three years and can only be continued on an Address being passed by both Houses of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, spoke on the last occasion ofthe intense reluctance of the Prime Minister and of this Government to bring forward even the limited measure of compulsory National Servicethat was before the House. Yes, but I confess that I am more concerned on account of the arguments that have been advanced in support of this Bill than by its actual provisions.
We have been assured by noble Lords who support the Bill and by members of the Government that the voluntary system is, in itself, unfair. The noble Earl who leads the House, Lord Stanhope, has said it is unfair that people who are patriotic enough to volunteer their services, to give their leisure and time to becoming members of the Territorial Army, should do that and that other people should be free from any such sacrifice. Other noble Lords have continually said that in Switzerland, France, and other countries it is regarded as elementary justice that all should serve alike. I can well understand that argument being advanced; but how does that square with the temporary character of this Bill, if the voluntary system is essentially unjust? Are we likely at the end of three years to be able to dispense with an Army, or with a Territorial Army, altogether? If not, are not the arguments which are now advanced in support of this measure such as logically to compel the country to continue a measure of general compulsion? Why should the Government show "intense reluctance," in the words of the Lord Chancellor, to introduce a measure of this kind? They ought rather with 43 alacrity to seize the opportunity to introduce a measure of fairness and to end what they themselves describe as a measure of injustice.
In the remarks which I addressed to your Lordships a month ago on this subject, I asked specifically that the Lord Chancellor in his reply should confirm the view that this is not to be a permanent measure but is really intended to be temporary, in spite of the arguments advanced in its support, which unquestionably have a general and a lasting character. But the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who is not, of course, under any obligation to reply to every question that is put to him in the course of debate, ignored that question, and I must confess that I feared that there may have been—I have no information to lead me to think so—some divisions in the Cabinet, and that while some Ministers may have regarded conscription as a good thing in itself and been ready and anxious to seize the opportunity of the present conditions to secure the assent of the nation, others may have held a different view, and the Government may have presented the Bill as a temporary measure although some of its advocates may have anticipated that it would become part of the permanent system of the country. So, in addressing these observations to your Lordships, I am not thinking only of the situation that exists in May, 1939, but also of the situation as it will be three years hence, when this alleged temporary measure comes to an end. It is essential that there should be on the records of this House some emphatic pronouncement by those who are anxious on this matter that this Bill, if it is passed, is passed definitely as a temporary measure and on the strength of the assurances that are given by the Government, and not on general grounds of equality and fairness and other advantages of conscription, such as have been put forward by some members of this House and of another place.
I confess that I agree to a very great extent with what the noble Lord who has just spoken has stated so eloquently as to the effects of military conscription as such. It is not only a question of national tradition. If a tradition is harmful it must be discarded; but you have to consider whether our British tradition of 44 liberty in these matters is harmful or not. Here you are touching matters which affect the whole national character and which will have their influence on generation after generation. The question is whether we want to have the British people such as they always have been, such as the people of the United States and the people of the British Dominions are, with their characteristic faults and defects, no doubt, but also with certain virtues: self-dependence, resourcefulness, sometimes possibly a healthy truculence—qualities which are the chief difference between these mainly Anglo-Saxon peoples and the peoples of the Continent. It is not, as my noble friend who sits beside me says, that the opponents of conscription think that the conscripted nations are imbued with a spirit of bloodthirsty militarism—
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I should have said that he attributed that idea to the noble Lord who has spoken on behalf of the Opposition. Not at all; they really have, one might almost say, an opposite quality of undue subservience, of being ready to do as they are told, which makes many of them a prey to influences coming from above, and an undue deference to the idea of the State. These qualities are very convenient to those in authority. The ruling class welcomes them in the populace; and no doubt they bring certain elements of efficiency to the nation regarded as a unit, and there is no question but that in time of war those qualities are essential and ideas of liberty must give way. But in the end and in the long run, those are not the best qualities of a nation, and my fear is that this measure, in itself small and in terms temporary, may become universal and permanent, and that, unless we are careful, we are passing a Bill to-day which may become the precursor of a great extension in Britain of the coercive power of the State.
But, we are told, this measure is indispensable, it is necessary; we must have the men. I do not think that even the advocates of the Bill have said that it would be impossible to get the men under the voluntary principle. If there had been a Government in power which were strong, energetic and resourceful, and which were definitely attached firmly to 45 the voluntary principle, I have not the slightest doubt that they could have got as many men as could be obtained under this Bill, or more men. It depends how the matter is put to the people. When the air-raid precautions measures were first formulated and a million men and women were asked for for civilian defence, the movement rather hung fire, and I can well imagine that people could have said, "Well, now, we must introduce the compulsory principle; we have asked for a million men and women and we have only got half that number"—or whatever it was. A good case, or at least a plausible case, could have been made out. But that course was not adopted. Methods of propaganda and stimulus were applied, and now you have a million and a half. If the necessity could be shown, you could with ease get two or three millions, if it were a fact that so many were needed and if the Government brought home to the nation the requirements of the case. If the advantages that are now guaranteed in this Bill with regard to return to employment—reinstatement—had been passed by themselves, together with the pay and allowances and the other provisions safeguarding the interests of the people concerned, you could have got double that number of volunteers in the three years without the smallest difficulty.
When it is said that this Bill is a gesture to our friends, our Allies and our possible opponents of the resolute determination of the British nation, I have no hesitation in saying that to raise a total force of two or three million men, Army, Navy and Air Force, with Reserves and Territorials, by voluntary action—which could have been done with ease if they were required—would have been a far greater gesture of the resolute determination and the spirit of the British people than introducing this compulsory Bill in itself.
The provisions in the Bill for the conscientious objectors have met general approval and are no doubt necessary. At the same time, I should like to make my own position clear, that I cannot in any degree concur with the position of the conscientious objector or the pacifist. There I wholly disagree with the noble Lord who has just spoken. Of course you cannot blame a man for acting 46 according to his conscience, but it has been said that you can blame him for the conscience that he has. If it is right that certain individuals say, "We will not serve the nation in any of the armed forces, because we object," then it would be right for everyone to say so. Why should particular individuals claim this exemption from duty on the ground of their own personal beliefs? It is a general rule of ethics not to do that which you would not wish other people to do in similar circumstances. If it is right for A, B and C, it is right for the whole alphabet up to Z. The conclusion is that, if the conscientious objectors are right in their view, and if the pacifists are right in objecting to supporting military forces, then it is right for the whole nation to take this course, and that means that we should have to dispense with the Army, Navy and Air Force altogether—a view which has been frequently stated by Mr. Lansbury and others.
What does that mean? We are now in an era in which in Europe certain countries deliberately and openly pursue power politics, and in the face of that we are, according to the pacifists, to pursue a course of submission politics. Signor Mussolini says: "Woe to the weak," and we are to be the weak. It is hoped by those who take this view that the whole world would be so struck by our act of renunciation, that we might lay down our arms and that Herr Hitler and the Nazis and Signor Mussolini and the Fascists would at once do the same. On the contrary, every one knows that such action on our part would be received with Homeric laughter. As George Meredith said: "England cannot afford to invest her all in the millenium and be ruined if it fails to come." That is exactly what the pacifists invite us to do. Here we are faced with nations having millions of people with all their young men trained from childhood not only to be cannon fodder but fodder for their ideologies. They claim to be speaking the last word of progress but are really speaking the first words of barbarism. Those who say that we ought to adopt the principles of conscientious objection would deliberately hand over the whole world to the domination of ideas which they are the first to detest.
It is obviously impossible that we should accept the German and Italian 47 assurances. Since the invasion of Bohemia and Moravia it is no longer possible to accept any assurances. It is no longer a question of legitimate grievances under the Treaty of Versailles. It is no longer a question of bringing inside the Reich those Germans who have been outside it. It is no longer possible to accept the assurances of Herr Hitler that he has no further territorial claims in Europe. Some one has said: "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say." That is the fact with regard to the international situation. It is no question of encirclement by our Allies and friends and this country. It is no question of engaging in a preventive war. It is not a question of ideological blocs. It is purely a question of mutual defence against unprovoked aggression. For these reasons it is impossible for me, while holding the views I do with regard to compulsion, to share in any respect the views expressed by pacifists and conscientious objectors. Whether a better foreign policy in recent years might have avoided the present situation; whether the present Cabinet possess the necessary qualities of courage, vision and energy is a matter upon which there is some little difference of opinion, but that is no reason for refusing the Government of the day adequate military forces such as they are convinced are necessary, by whatever means, whether voluntary or compulsory, which may be found to be necessary.
I am not denying that if compulsion is necessary it ought to be applied, with all its disadvantages, because the defences of the nation are the supreme issue. The fact that certain people holding certain political views have no confidence in the present Government is no reason for refusing to provide adequate defences for the nation. Their right course would be to move a Vote of Censure and challenge a General Election. So long as the Government of the day are in office, in matters of national defence they must be accorded by Parliament adequate forces, and for that reason I regret the attitude of the Labour Party in the House of Commons in dividing against this particular measure, notwithstanding that I, and the Liberal Party, consider this compulsory provision in the circumstances unnecessary and objectionable. Political differences ought never to be carried so far as to lead to military weakness. If that 48 were the result of the working of our Parliamentary system, then democracy would go down, and would deserve to go down.
It is for these reasons that, although personally—and I speak for myself alone—I deplore this departure from the voluntary system and regard the case for it as not having been made out, even at the present time, yet the principle having been decided by Parliament I do not think that now we should vote against the Bill or hinder its passage into law. There is no doubt that if this Bill were now to be rejected or effectively opposed it would make the international situation greatly worse. For the reasons I have given, whilst I consider it necessary to make this protest and to express clearly the views which I and many other Liberals hold with regard to the compulsory system as opposed to the voluntary system, still, Parliament having endorsed the principle, and the international situation being as grave as we believe it to be, I think all good citizens ought to accept the measure and do their best to secure its efficient working.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I should like to express my satisfaction at the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, all the more because I heard him expressing exactly the same sentiments as I used to express here before he was born, at a time when I and others were looked upon as semi-lunatics by the rest of the community. It is not likely that anything I shall say will make any impression on noble Lords opposite, and especially the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, but I think I can state a fact, not an opinion, which ought to convince any unprejudiced person that the Government had absolutely no alternative to adopting the principle of universal service. When in 1914 Lord Kitchener was War Minister and occupied a higher position in the estimate of his countrymen than any man before or since, he had the foresight to see that the War would last four years, but he had not the foresight to realise that the voluntary principle would not last for that period. What happened? The system of volunteers began to run down and in 1916 the Coalition Government were obliged to resort to compulsion.
49 In 1917 several of the great Powers engaged in the War had had quite enough of it. In 1917 Rumania fell out of the War and Russia also went. And there were two other Powers that were in almost as great a difficulty. Everybody knows that in Italy there was a very strong peace party, who were extremely anxious to make peace with Germany, and they were only prevented from doing so by the energetic action of France and of this country. But the case was almost equally bad in France. Everybody knows that in 1917 there was a very strong peace feeling in France, amounting almost to the demoralisation of a large proportion of the inhabitants, and they were sorely tempted to come to terms themselves. What saved the situation? We saved the situation, because we were able to replenish our Armies and practically sustain the brunt of the war. Thus we were able to keep the war going and to keep the Allies in the field. Does it not stand to reason that this will occur again if we have the misfortune to be involved in war? Does anybody suppose that if we are dragged into war it will be confined to these islands? I feel perfectly certain myself, although I am not a military authority, that we shall certainly be fighting in two other Continents as well as in Europe, and how are you going to find the men for a campaign of that character under the voluntary system?
It seems to me incredible that this particular lesson should be overlooked, and I really do not feel disposed to say much more on the subject because it seems to me so absolutely conclusive. But I cannot help expressing my astonishment at the attitude of noble Lords opposite. They still adhere to the obsolete voluntary system. The noble Lord, Lord Faring-don, spoke of his moral objection to universal service. Well, I have a moral objection to the way in which the voluntary system works out. The voluntary system, if you look at it dispassionately, amounts to this, that about nineteen people in the country go about trying to persuade the twentieth man to do the duty which they ought to do themselves, and it is perfectly obvious that that sort of thing cannot go on in a life and death struggle with civilised Powers. The voluntary system sufficed for our needs as long as we had only savages or semi-savages to fight, but at the present moment it is totally inapplicable. When 50 I heard the noble Lord opposite denounce the principle of compulsion I thought I should like very much to hear him engaging in a discussion with his international friends who talk of standing up to Dictators. How does he propose to do it? And what answer would he get if he went and told his friends the international Socialists that they were demoralising their youth by making them undergo home service? He would be laughed out of court.
It really amounts to this, that those people who still adhere to the obsolete system which is known as the voluntary system are using the arguments which were used by a Power more than 2,000 years ago. They say: "We have a more powerful fleet than anybody else, we have a great deal of money; and we have Allies who will fight for us if we pay them enough." That is precisely the argument that was used by the Carthaginians more than 2,000 years ago. When I read the opinions of the supporters of the voluntary system, and how they propose the pulling down of Dictators and announce their determination not to yield an inch anywhere to anybody, I ask myself how is the thing to be done under a voluntary system? It is just as well that we should make up our minds that it is no good adhering to these old shibboleths, and if we are foolish enough to enter upon a war in the same way as we entered upon the last War, then we shall deservedly share the fate of the country that I have mentioned.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, most of the speeches this evening have dealt with the question of compulsory service, but the title of the Bill is the Military Training Bill, and this title has been given to it by what amounts to a stroke of genius, because the question of military training is in a way far more important than the question of compulsory service; for, whereas compulsory service will provide the men who are necessary to bring our Army to the requisite strength to meet this period of emergency, compulsory training will have its effect far and wide on the life of the country. In that respect the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, was perfectly right, but he must excuse me if I do not follow him any further. I feel that both he and the noble Lord who leads the Opposition, and who spoke in the earlier debates on the sub- 51 ject,have been haunted by a ghost, the ghost of the shouting and bullying drill sergeant. Very likely there are still some to be found, but they will take some finding in the Regular Army of to-day, and if anyone seriously imagines that the militiamen are going to be trained by people of that sort, and on those lines, then I fear he is sadly out of touch with the Regular Army of to-day. I would suggest that if anyone is still unconvinced, he should obtain facilities to go and look at the Regular Army at first hand and at the Regular instructors who will handle the militiamen. And if the noble Lord who leads the Opposition goes himself, I suggest that he take the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, with him, in order that he may supplement his experience of soldiering in Spain and military service in France with some experience of conditions in the Army in this country.
If I have done anything to lay that ghost, let us consider what this training is which the Regular Army instructors are going to afford. In the present syllabus of the recruits course at the depots, education and physical training play a very large part and, in the earlier stages of that training, what amounts to a predominant part. But it is not until the man under training is fit in body and in mind that the time comes when he can usefully be instructed in the weapons he has to handle and the machines that he has to serve, or to take his part in training for duties on the battlefield. I do not know exactly whether the training of the militiaman who has had no previous service will follow the same lines as that now in force for the Regular recruit, but I sincerely hope so, because that will result, not merely in men skilled at arms, but in an improvement in the physical condition of the men who undergo training, and that will result from scientific physical training and from the high standard of nutrition which prevails in the Regular Army to-day.
Looked at in this light, it seems to me that this Bill, when it is passed, will not only make provision, and necessary provision, for national defence, but it will also take a definite place in our national scheme for physical fitness—a national scheme which so far strikes me sometimes as being a jigsaw puzzle, in which there are a number of gaps which have 52 not yet been filled. There is at present a complete scheme for physical training and recreational training in the schools—although physical training and recreational training are not the same thing—so that every boy and girl comes under the physical training scheme before reaching the school-leaving age. Then there comes the period between the school-leaving age and the age for military service. That at the present time is only imperfectly covered. It is only covered in patches by the various youth movements, such as the Service Cadet movements, the Scouts and Girl Guides and the like, who include physical training in their scheme of work. It seems to me that service in the Forces follows logically as the third stage in the physical training of youth, and this service will be most useful to the nation as a whole as well as to the Army if physical fitness takes its proper place in the training of the militiamen. For this reason, though I do not want to say any more about conscientious objectors, I hope that their conscientious objections will not be allowed to extend to refusing the privilege of physical training if it can be offered to them.
But it is really the Regular Army which will be on trial in this scheme. The first few weeks of compulsory training will be critical ones, for in those weeks the Army will have to standardise its practice in dealing with the men who are called up first, and on its success, as I am sure it will be, will largely depend the success of the scheme. In six months' time the men will come out—that is to say, in time to spend Christmas at home—and it will then be seen whether their time in the Army has made them better or worse men than they were before, whether a man is less employable or more employable than when he joined, whether he is fitter and stronger or less inclined to work than he was before, whether he is a better neighbour and a better citizen. I, myself, have not the slightest doubt about the answer. Time will prove, and on it will depend, far more than on the clauses of this Bill, the re-absorption of the militiamen into employment.
Having said this much, I hope I may be allowed a minute or two to deal with a much smaller point, but one which to my mind is a matter of principle. The Officers Training Corps covers the 53 schools and Universities of this country and the Cadet Force covers secondary schools and a number of companies of working lads. As these two forces are under no liability for military service, it follows that they will come within the scope of this Bill, and no one will be more anxious to have it so than the members of these two forces themselves. But for nearly 31 years the members of the Officers Training Corps and the members of the Cadet Force from the schools and working boys companies have been able to gain certificates of military proficiency known as Certificates A and B. Broadly speaking, Certificate A requires at least two years' service, each of forty hours training—and that is a higher figure than in the case of the Territorial Army—and a week's camp followed by practical and written examinations which take about seven or eight hours. It has been repeatedly laid down in time of peace by the War Office that these certificates entitle the cadet, when he applies for a Commission on mobilisation particularly, to certain rebates in the initial period of training. I, myself, have spent or, as it seems, misspent two years when I was on the General Staff at the War Office in telling representatives of the Universities and schools that this was so.
It now appears from the discussion on this Bill in another place that nothing of the sort is going to happen and that all these people who hold Certificates A and B will line up with the rest on the square and will then take their chance as to what happens. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to put before you a simple problem in arithmetic. Six months' training plus no previous training equals six months. Six months' training plus three years in the Officers Training Corps plus two camps plus two examinations still equals six months' training, according to the War Office. The people in the Universities and schools can do sums just as we can here, and I do not think they will be long in realising that, if this is the considered view of the War Office, there has been little need for them in the past to have spent so much time and trouble, and in many cases their own money, in supporting the Officers Training Corps and the Cadet Corps if, when the time comes, this standard of training turns out to be inacceptable for no reason other than the reason, as far as it appears, 54 that compulsory service has now been decided upon.
To my mind it is perfectly clear that not only the schools but the Universities have been under contract. The cadet who has voluntarily undertaken training is also a party to the contract. I realise that in these days, when there is little time to arrange the details of the Bill, one plan is required for all. Equality of service is the keynote. I also realise that at some moments it may be necessary, in the well-known phrase, to prefer injustice to disorder; but I would ask those responsible for this Bill in your Lordships' House to think well before they take a step which may lead to the school and University authorities, who so far have given very loyal support in matters connected with military training, withdrawing their support if ever it is required in future. Very likely, while the Military Training Act lasts, there may not be the same need for their efforts. Very likely the scheme of training will have to be altered, but if we revert to voluntary service this organisation, which produced 100,000 officers in the War, will be required again. I do ask that the matter should be looked into, and that some more clearly defined place should be found for these cadets, if only in the interest of what appears to me to be justice and expediency. But I hope that this objection in detail will not be allowed to obscure my strong support of the Bill as a whole.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but the noble Lord who speaks for the Opposition has given me an opportunity to make a point on which I feel strongly. I want to be quite frank about it. The noble Lord said, during the course of his speech, that he hoped that the Army was going to be completely democratised with regard to officers. I conclude that he really meant he hoped that every man would have to go through the ranks before he became an officer. I have heard that remark made very often recently, and I have never heard anybody stand up and answer it. I would like, first of all, to ask: Were the men dissatisfied with their officers in the last War? For three years of the War I was in the Army, and I did not hear any such dissatisfaction. Ask the men who left the Army: Were they dissatis- 55 fied? I would like to ask the noble Lord whether his men were dissatisfied with him when he was an officer.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
I would say another thing. The noble Lord has before, in this matter, spoken about the French Army and has said that in the great armies of Napoleon the marshals came out of the ranks. I would point out that the English Army still won the wars! This is not a matter to be treated lightly. We are getting the men, and I am all in support of that, but I say to you the most important thing is to see they are properly led and properly trained. We pass over the question of officers perhaps because it is regarded as politically unwise. I say you have got to face it, or you will face worse when a war comes. I have always taken the view that this country is greater than any other country, and I have taken that view because we have always had three types of brain, three classes of men, to run the country—the old aristocratic, the very clever and the good type ranker. As long as we keep those three types, and have the clash of brains and the clash of ideas between them we shall remain great. But if we make them all go through one class, and try to turn them out like soap tablets or sausages, we shall not be the great country we have been. I am not against the rankers. Nobody has done more than I have by using the little influence that I possess to encourage them and get a larger proportion of them, but do not think that the other classes are useless and that for political reasons we have got beyond them in a military sense. In the largest military sense I believe it is necessary to keep those three types.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I rise to support this Bill as an emergency measure, although, contrary to many speakers to-night, I feel strongly opposed to compulsory service as a permanent institution in this country, and on military grounds. I had not intended to take part in this debate, especially after the end of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Munster, who impressed on this House that this was an emergency measure, but since then one speaker after another has expressed doubts as to whether in fact it 56 would be possible for it to remain purely an emergency measure. The tension may be so prolonged that it may be necessary to extend it almost into a permanent measure. Therefore I should like just to offer your Lordships a note of warning as to what I feel are the dangers of compulsory service as a permanent institution in this country, and after that I would say, very briefly, why I support this Bill in its present emergency form.
As is constantly said, we are as a nation dependent entirely upon the safety of our sea-borne communications. It is essential to secure our territory at home and abroad against sea-borne attack of any kind. It is necessary to secure our supplies, including our food. It is necessary to enable us to transport reinforcements from one part of the Empire to another part that may be more threatened; and it may be necessary to bring assistance to any Allies that we have, whether it takes the form of military assistance or munitions, or food or fuel supplies. If we do that troops might have to cross the oceans to help the nations that are attacked. And we must have sea power to bring to bear the great weapon of economic pressure, the sure weapon, the deadly, demoralising weapon that was one of the decisive factors in the last War. Now to secure these sea communications we require, first, a very large and overwhelming Navy; but, equally important under modern conditions, as I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, would be the first to admit, is a very powerful first-class Air Force to supplement the Navy. That force also provides the main offensive force in modern warfare. Finally, we must have a Regular Army to defend our naval bases, and to defend territories where considerable Air Forces are maintained, and to protect the land frontiers where they exist. Now all these professional forces have to serve for considerable periods abroad, and they therefore all depend upon long service, and long service means voluntary service.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said there had been a suggestion that there might be a Gresham law, that voluntary service could not thrive alongside compulsory service. I do not believe that in an emergency like the present compulsory service is going to have any effect on voluntary service, but I have the very gravest doubts as to whether the two plants can thrive in the same soil 57 in normal times. Therefore I look with some concern to a condition of affairs which might lead to the present measure, essential as it is as an emergency measure, being prolonged and prolonged until it became a permanent measure, with the recruiting of the old Services, which are vital to our Imperial defence, falling and falling. Apart from that, I have observed for a great many years that the democratic nations that are compelled by the fact that they are liable for invasion to maintain compulsory service, frequently let down their Navies, and since the War I have noticed with alarm and concern that they have let down their Air Forces. Of course all that has been corrected now, but they have been as late in correcting it—and I am not speaking of any one nation—as we have been in correcting the weakness of our Army. Now as we must have the Navy, and we must have the Air Force, I do not want to see our people over-concentrated on the Army, as they will be over-concentrated if young men from every family are to pass through the ranks of the Army. I think it is a dangerous state of affairs.
When we get to normal times, we shall have to remember, what we have forgotten now, quite rightly, the financial aspect. No nation has yet succeeded in affording a maximum Navy, a maximum Army, and a maximum Air Force. Now we must have a maximum Navy, we must have a maximum Air Force, and we must have a good solid and rather expensive Regular Army for the reasons I have ventured to give to your Lordships, and if, in addition, we are going to have a permanent Militia of considerable size, paid, if not quite so much as the Regular Army, at any rate nearly as much, and all fully armed and probably enlarged, then I think you will find that there is a great permanent overhead charge, that the First Lord will be going to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and will not be able to get what he wants, and that Parliament will get the proper position of the British Army in our defence system out of perspective.
Lastly, there is another point, which perhaps your Lordships will reprove me for counting as a military point but it is a military point, I venture to say, in the wide sense of the word, and that is national unity. I think if there was an attempt to project compulsory service into normal times, we should get a very bad 58 split in national unity, and if it was thought to-day that it was going to be projected into normal times, if people did not believe what the noble Lord told us to-day that it was a temporary measure, I believe we should endanger national unity. The national unity has been very remarkable. There have been no strikes, certainly no official strikes, since this rearmament began. There have been comparatively few labour disputes. The whole nation has worked together as one man, and if we continue to work together as one man we can see any crisis through.
The question may be asked why, holding these views which I do hold, and which I have developed, of compulsory service as a permanent institution, do I support this Bill? I have only decided to speak since I heard the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who is not here now, and Lord Samuel, because I think both of them were unconvinced that the Bill was really necessary at the present time. I really cannot add much to what has come from the Government Benches, but if I may be allowed to comment on it a little, we have been given two reasons. The first is that the Bill is necessary to provide a covering force to enable the antiaircraft defences to be manned at all times in a long period of strain such as the present. That is one reason. The other reason is to provide an increase in the Reserves of the existing Forces of the Crown. Unfortunately, I missed a short part of the Earl of Munster's speech, but I think those are the reasons. I have followed the debates very carefully in both Houses. The first need is really to provide against something that we used to call, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, will remember, the bolt from the blue. Before the War the whole of Lord Roberts's case was based on the bolt from the blue, the attack in profound peace; and it is interesting to recall that Lord Asquith—Mr. Asquith as he was then—speaking in another place on the 29th July, 1909, said that the Committee of Imperial Defence, in examining Lord Roberts's case, had admitted the hypothesis of a bolt from the blue, though he did not think it was likely to happen. At that time the classic example of a bolt from the blue was Frederick the Great's invasion of Silesia in 1740, which is described by Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, in his 59 Modern Europe as "an act of the blackest treachery." Unfortunately, since the Great War such acts have become a commonplace. I do not think hostilities have ever been begun except by something rather approaching a bolt from the blue. At any rate there has been no declaration of war.
In those circumstances, I think it is generally conceded that we have to have a very high standard of readiness. Various expedients have been suggested in another place by which this difficulty might be met without adopting compulsory service. Most of them were of doubtful practicability. I do not think they could have been worked, and I think they were shown to be impossible. There was one rather promising suggestion, however, to which I do not think an official answer was given, and that was that the numbers might be raised on a Militia basis by voluntary service. I think conceivably that is possible. I think with these small numbers required for the anti-aircraft defences it is just conceivable that, while Parliament has been discussing this Bill in the present emergency and anxiety, you might have got those numbers. But nobody can say for certain that you could have got them, and I am quite sure the Government must have felt this is a matter in which we can take no risks at all, and the only way we can get the men for certain is by compulsory service. I feel that does make the case there.
Moreover, even if you could have got the relatively small numbers required for the anti-aircraft defences, you certainly could not have raised rapidly the numbers required for increasing the general reserves of the Army. In 1914 the general reserves of the Army consisted partly of the Army Reserve, men whose service with the colours had expired, and secondly, what is called the Special Reserve, to which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, referred, which was really the old Militia. The Official History records that:By the end of the year——practically all the Army Reservists and the pre-War Special Reservists had been used up.Surely that is a risk that we, cannot afford to run again. We cannot send our Armies into action with the risk that their ranks will be depleted after a few months of warfare, and it seems to me that that is the complete justifica- 60 tion for this emergency Bill in this present time of tension.
I have only one more point I would like to make, if I may, and it is this. Supposing we do come to the end of this period and the Bill is lifted, or supposing it turns out not to be popular and a Government comes in that has to change it to meet popular opinion; there ought to be ready some scheme by which we shall ensure even out of voluntary service a much higher standard of readiness and by which we can get these Army Reserves. My own view would run very much with that of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that the Militia or Special Reserve, by whatever name you like to call it, is the basis; but I would venture to suggest that when our very efficient and very hardly tried War Office and General Staff have got the new measure going, and have thoroughly provided for our security for the next several years, they should get down to see if they cannot work out a scheme for a higher level of preparedness if and when we return to the normal.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, reminded your Lordships of the debates which used to take place in pre-War days. I think very few of us were members of the House at that period, but I am one, and I well remember the many debates which took place in regard to the efficiency of the Territorial Army. I happened to be a member myself at that time. None the less I felt that, although the standard reached by the Territorial Army was quite extraordinarily high for the amount of training it got, it was not adequate to enable the men to take part immediately in war. The Government in those days thought that there would be enough time to give that training. As events showed, that was not the case. War, even in 1914, broke out extraordinarily suddenly for most people, who did not seem to realise it was coming, and the Territorial Army had to undergo training after the war began.
What was the result? I think I am right in saying—my noble friend Lord Hankey, to whom we have listened with so much interest, will correct me if I am wrong—that the first formed non-Regular Division which went out to France arrived somewhere about the spring of 1915. We know now from the German records of the 61 War that if those Territorial troops had arrived as well trained for the first battle of Ypres as for the second battle of Ypres, we should almost certainly have won that first battle, and very likely the whole War would have ended in the winter of 1914 instead of four years later. We have only think of the immense loss of life, the suffering and the waste of wealth which took place, to realise what a tremendous misfortune it was that these men had not had their training before war broke out instead of afterwards.
Wars in these days break out with even less warning than they broke out then. As my noble friend has just reminded us, again there is talk of a bolt from the blue. It seems to me that for two reasons it would be impossible to go on as we have been doing. In the first place, with the far greater rapidity of action on land—I am not at the moment talking about the air—it is necessary to get your troops into position even quicker than before. The whole of our Allies on the Continent are saying that England is not serious because she is not undertaking compulsory military training, that she thinks she is going to have time once more to train troops after war begins. Obviously, they say, she is not putting her heart into the business, and is not really prepared to fulfil the promises she has given. We felt it essential that it should be realised to the full that the promises we had made were promises we intended to implement, and implement to the full. For that reason alone it would have been advisable to produce this measure. But there is a far greater reason which has been touched on by several noble Lords, and that is the bolt from the blue in the air.
In the old days, as my noble friend Lord Hankey pointed out, although there were some who criticised the Navy of the day, and said there might be a landing on the coast of this country, I do not think there were a great many of us who believed that that would happen. Although some realised it, others did not know that we were pledged to support Belgium and that that meant sending forces to the Continent. In those days we were faced with a different situation. We were the only country practically in Europe which did not need to have a frontier line permanently garrisoned by troops. The Navy was there to protect us, we had ample time to realise if an invasion was being organised, and therefore we were 62 safe. The Navy could do the same again to-day, as far as invasion is concerned, but it could not protect us against raids in the air. I deliberately say "raids in the air" because my view most strongly is that, although air raids may do an immense amount of damage and inflict great loss of life, you are not going to win a war by such action. I have been shot at from the air myself, and very frightened I was, but I think it made me more angry than anything else that happened to me in the War. That feeling, I think it has been discovered, actuates other people. It makes them furiously angry. If anything can fix firmly in people's minds the idea that they will go on until they have smashed the country opposed to them, I know of nothing so effective for the purpose as an air raid. It is not right that this country should be faced with a situation of that kind. Therefore we in this country must have our Maginot line permanently manned. That line will be manned by people with anti-aircraft guns and searchlights. Those men, if they are properly trained and disposed, combined with the fighters of the Air Force, will be adequate to inflict such severe casualties on an air raiding force as to make any country realise that air raids are most expensive operations to pursue.
I would ask the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, whether he really thinks it possible that a permanent garrison of that kind can be maintained without a compulsory system. It means the employment of a large number of men—some 22,000 at any one time. He and I can join in admiring to the full the immense services rendered by members of the Territorial Army, both officers and men. I do not think anybody can say enough for the wonderful way in which these men give up their spare time to do their drills and their training in camp and for the great patriotism which they show in so doing. But it is not possible for these men, engaged in civil avocations, to spend three months or six months or nine months, or whatever the time may be, permanently manning these guns and these searchlights whenever a situation of strain arises. The only way of doing it which is fair is to say that each of us in turn shall undergo a period of training and shall then be responsible for manning these defences when they are required. That is what the Government propose. 63 That is very largely our reason for introducing this Bill.
I am not going to deny that the change to compulsory service is a revolution in the whole of our traditions as we have known them in times of peace. It is recognised as such, not only here, but over the whole of the Continent. It is recognised as a measure of the earnestness of our preparations, and of the steps we are taking to fulfil our promises, that we are making a change so great as that. Therefore it is warmly welcomed by our Allies, as several noble Lords have said, and if it is not warmly welcomed, at any rate it is generally accepted by the people of this country as a whole. The noble Lord opposite, I felt, was rather kicking against the pricks in criticising the proposal to the extent he did. I do not think his criticism was very severe because I could not help feeling that he realised that a Bill of this kind was necessary. And that I think is the feeling of the people of this country. I do not say they like it, but they are prepared to accept it, and they feel that the Government had no alternative.
The noble Lord said: "That is all very well, but you ought to have taken the trade union leaders into your confidence and told them what you proposed to do." I do not want to go into that question at length, because I dealt with it in an earlier debate when we were talking about this matter, but I would remind him of the time factor. As he knows, a very important speech was to be made on the Continent and the Government felt that it was necessary that a measure of this kind should be announced in this country before that speech was made and not afterwards, because, whichever way that speech went, it was likely to be taken as an answer to that speech, and therefore it would have been a most undesirable thing to introduce a measure of that kind soon after that speech had been made. Obviously a discussion of the idea beforehand with the trade union leaders would have taken a considerable period of time, and time was of the essence of this question.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I do not think for one moment that they could have said, without consulting a great many people in various parts of the country, that they 64 were prepared to support the Government in these matters. After all, as several noble Lords have said, this is the Government's responsibility, and when the noble Lord suggests that it is a breach of faith, let me remind him of this. There were only three possible things that the Government could do. One was to do as we did—to produce this Bill, informing other Parties what we were doing but not consulting them before we produced it—undertaking the responsibility of government. The second was that we should do nothing at all and should say: "Well, we have given a pledge that compulsory military training will not be introduced in time of peace, and so we are tied by that and can do nothing." The third possible course was to have a General Election. Does the noble Lord really agree that the Government would have been right in taking either the second or the third course, to do nothing at all and to leave this country in danger, with no adequate defence against air attack, or to have a General Election, either this month or last month, in the situation in which we find ourselves to-day? I am perfectly certain that his Party would not have appreciated it.
The noble Earl the Leader of the House was good enough to ask me my opinion, for what it is worth. I quite agree with what he said, but his premises are wrong. The Government could have called together the trade union leaders in twenty-four hours—at least the executive—or less; I say twenty-four hours to be conservative. The executive could have been called in, as they frequently are in time of emergency.
§ EARL STANHOPE
But the noble Lord seems to forget that they were asked to come to the Prime Minister's House and were told about the whole situation. That was done before the announcement was made publicly in the country. There was time for consultation, if he puts it in that way. But the real position is perfectly clear: there was no time for adequate consultation, done in that way, and it would have taken a very long time indeed to have adequate consultation as the noble Lord suggests. Therefore the Government had no alternative but to do what they did.
I do not want to go into that any further, nor do I propose to follow the noble Lord into the question of foreign 65 policy. My retort to him is that the foreign policy of his Party would have landed us in three, if not four, wars, and a measure of this kind would have been in existence long ago. He suggested that perhaps my noble friend the Foreign Secretary had some religious objection to having any alliance with Russia. Let me assure him that there is nothing of the kind in this question. It is merely a question of seeing which is the best way to get agreement between those with whom we are working to maintain a peace front, and of not getting us tied up in interminable arguments, some of which may appeal to one country and some to another, and getting nothing settled. What we are anxious to do is to get the thing settled and get it in being. That is why we were not in entire agreement with some of the proposals that were put to us by the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
He asked me about various things in the Bill, and suggested that seamen should necessarily come to the special reserves of the Navy. My answer is "Certainly, if they so desire"; and it is for this reason that the word "may" appears in the Bill. It may be that some of those who have been either fishermen or seamen have either had enough of it or feel that they would like a spell on shore, and therefore might prefer to do their training in the infantry, realising that if war should come during the next three years they would be called up as infantry—I think to the great detriment of the nation. But undoubtedly the intention in the Bill is that all those who so desire and who have marine training should automatically come to the naval reserves and should do their training under naval conditions. Probably, as think I have mentioned to the House, those who are in the Mercantile Marine would do their training in anti-aircraft defence from on board ship.
The noble Lord asks: Why confine this measure to one age-group? My answer is that you have to begin somewhere. After all, the numbers we are calling up are some 60,000 more than the whole of the Regular Army serving in this country. When he comes to think what that means in regard to the provision of officers and non-commissioned officers of the best type—and they must be of the best type for this purpose—for the train- 66 ing of those men, I think he will realise that 200,000 is quite as much as the Army is likely to be able to manage. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on the vital importance of officers and non-commissioned officers in this business. To call up any more would, I think, be most disastrous, because it would be quite impossible to deal with them adequately. I wish I could share with Lord Strabolgi his childlike belief in the Ministry of Supply. I have every confidence in my right honourable friend the Minister without Portfolio, but if I thought that by just inaugurating a Ministry of Supply you then got your supplies, I for one would have urged it on my colleagues in the Cabinet a very long time ago. Of course it makes no difference in that respect whatever; it is merely a difference of organisation; and the work that has been done in the War Office and in the other Service Departments is such that I am glad to say that supplies are now coming in in very great quantities. That is why we are at last enabled to produce a measure of this kind. Up till recently we could not have put the equipment into their hands or the clothes on their bodies.
The noble Lord asked me a question about hard cases. Those will be inquired into, but may I remind him, when he says that the only son of a widow in France is excused military duty, that the pay in France and the pay proposed in this Bill are indeed different? Here the pay is very materially more, and there is provision for dependants where that necessity is found to arise. It makes a very vast difference in regard to that matter. As regards apprentices, there is, as he knows, a provision in the Bill by which training can either be put forward or put back, and the proposal is that those who are doing an apprenticeship engagement will probably finish that apprenticeship and will do their service afterwards. I will not lay that down as a hard-and-fast rule. We shall have to see how the thing works out. But there is every intention of meeting cases of that kind by moving the date in which the six months' service will be given either forward or backward. May I at that point refer to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, whether the contract under an apprenticeship, or payment, would come to an end 67 when a young fellow is called up for training. If he will look at Clause 6 (3) he will see that there are arrangements under which that will happen.
§ EARL STANHOPE
And the employer will be cleared from payment in the same way as the employee will be cleared from giving service.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
I do not think it is definitely said in the Bill. It only says that it can be arranged by order if the Minister wishes. Is that so?
§ EARL STANHOPE
Yes, I think the Minister makes an order or does it by regulation; at any rate it is provided for under that part of the Bill. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, asked me why the age of 20 was chosen. There was a very long discussion on what age should be chosen, and we came to the conclusion that the age of 20 to 21 was on the whole that at which service would interfere least with young fellows in every walk of life. Obviously it is going to interfere pretty seriously with the University undergraduate, but taking it as a whole we thought it probably came between the end of apprenticeship time and the time of ordinary employment, and was therefore perhaps the best moment at which to take people out for six months.
Then my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury asked me various questions about the annual training after the six months. I am afraid I was not entirely correct in what I said to him, but, as I understand it, this is what will happen. If a man has done his six months' training he will thereafter be called upon annually for a period of training—I am not quite sure of the period because it may vary, but it will be either in the Territorial Army or some other force. If it is in the Territorial Army he will, of course, do the ordinary fourteen days' training and the number of drills required. But the Territorial Army may be full, and in that case he will go to the Regular Army and be attached to the Regular Army; but if there are a very large number, obviously there will have to be special service battalions. My own view is that that is most likely to be the case, and probably I think we may find it will work out in that way. At this moment it 68 is almost impossible to say, because it is hard to determine how many will desire to go into the Territorial Army and how many vacancies there will be for them to fill.
Then he said: Why not Militia officers under the old system? I wish that were possible, but I am afraid that the Militia type of officer has disappeared. He was the country gentleman with a certain amount of leisure, who was prepared to take on this patriotic service. The training was not too strenuous, such as to prevent his doing public and other duties when he came back from training. Those people, I fear, do not exist in these days. In these days of heavy taxation, I am afraid that all of us find it necessary to take up some kind of employment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If I may interrupt for a moment, I agree with the noble Earl that it will be much more difficult than it was, but there is a large untapped body of gentlemen who would be very glad to serve, and who, under the stimulus of the present crisis, would be very glad to join. It is important that there should be local officers—it may be officers who have served in the Regular Army—and if they be local officers, and these new units can be stationed locally, then you would have revived in essence the old Militia.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am certain that my noble friend Lord Munster, and those who work with him, are fully alive to the advantage of having local connection, and using it to the full whenever possible. The most reverend Primate spoke in regard to the conscientious objectors. I do not think I need go fully into that matter, beyond saying that I know it is the intention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour to see that those who are called upon to adjudicate in those cases shall not adjudicate merely from the legal point of view, and that everything will be done to see that these people are treated fairly and equitably, and not given work such as the making of munitions when they have conscientious objection to any form of war service. I can think of many things on which they can be put to do work which is certainly not less hard than any work they would be called upon to do in any of the fighting Services.
Then Lord Hutchinson asked me with regard to dates. There is no intention 69 under the Bill to call up everybody on July 15. Only the first contingent will be called up then, and thereafter men will be called up at intervals of two months for the Army, and I forget at the moment whether it will be at intervals of three or six months in the case of the Navy. Of course, individual cases will be gone into by the proper authortiy, and where they are engaged in agriculture it is very unlikely that they will be called up just before the harvest instead of when the harvest is over.
Lord Bridgeman, in a very interesting speech, which made an impression on the House, asked questions with regard to military training and physical fitness, which are not entirely the same thing, and that is one of the reasons why I objected to physical fitness being mixed up with this question. When I was President of the Board of Education my object was mainly to get everybody physically fit throughout their lives, whereas this is for a period of six months, and then for shorter periods during the following three years. I am sure that everybody who goes through one of the Services is more physically fit afterwards. The only remark which I would make in reply to Lord Faringdon's speech is that I am sorry he has not been through one or other of the Services, because if he had he would not have made some of the observations which he did make. Lord Bridgeman's point with regard to Officers Training and Cadet Corps is, of course, a somewhat difficult one. It has been considered I think at very great length. Let me remind him that you do not train an officer in six months, and I very well remember when I was an officer in the Brigade of Guards being told, together with other subalterns, by a more senior officer, that an officer who led his men into action and did not know everything which it was possible to learn was nothing less than a murderer. Some of the other subalterns were very angry, especially when the senior officer followed that up by the question: "What is the composition of a field ambulance?" which none of us could answer.
All those in the Officers and Cadet Corps are not likely to make any objection to coming under the terms of this Bill. They will do their ordinary two months in the ranks, and then those who show ability in the military way will be 70 pushed forward into advanced classes in order to make officers and non-commissioned officers for the future. This is a matter which any one working under this Bill is going to keep his eye on to the uttermost extent. Everyone who served in France during the last War knows how extremely difficult it was to get good officers at the end. The officer casualties were more numerous, in comparison, than those of the men, and some of the best men of the nation went out to fight early in the War and were killed. Therefore an adequate supply of officers and non-commissioned officers, as everyone connected with the Services knows, is absolutely vital and calls for great attention. All these young men having Certificates A and B will be marked men and set aside for officers and non-commissioned officers later on as required.
Lord Hankey doubts whether it is possible to have voluntary and compulsory service together. Frankly, I do not see why not, because my recollection—Lord Salisbury will certainly correct me in this if I am wrong—is that a very large number of those who served in the Militia, and served because they were forced to, because of starvation—in those days there was no "dole"—having done their service in the Militia went on to join the Regular Army, because they appreciated and liked military life. I think that is more than possible under this scheme. But, after all, in spite of what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and others, the purpose of the Government under this Bill is that this scheme should be temporary. I do not deny that I have always held the view that compulsory military service has many great advantages. I spoke more, I think, on behalf of Lord Roberts and his scheme before the War than I did on all other subjects put together. But I did so because I then felt that a war was imminent. I do so again now for the reasons I have stated, but I do not think it follows that this should become a permanent part of our system.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The noble Earl probably thinks now that a war "may be" imminent, not "is" imminent.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Actually I am an optimist on that matter, and I still hope and think we are not going to be engaged 71 in another Armageddon. I have always felt that. But the point is really that if this had been a permanent scheme I think there is no question whatever that the country would have had to face a General Election, if not now, at any rate at the earliest possible moment at which an Election could be held. But the Government feel that it is purely and simply because of the times in which we live that a measure of this kind is necessary. I am one of those who do not feel that this time of stress can go on indefinitely. I cannot help feeling, knowing as we all do that the people of every country are opposed to war, that sooner or later common sense must prevail again throughout Europe. I cannot help feeling that there is a temptation in some quarters to think that this country is old and therefore effete, and that in itself is a temptation. But by taking to ourselves the added strength which this Bill will give us I believe we are reducing that temptation and doing something of real importance to make war, not more likely but a great deal less likely. Therefore I hope and believe that when this measure has taken its effect gradually the world will settle down and we may come to a period of peace and common sense once more, when a measure of this kind will no longer be necessary and we shall return to the paths of peace, which everybody in this country has always so earnestly desired.
§ On Question, Bill read a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.