HL Deb 28 July 1942 vol 124 cc3-13

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Snell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The LORD STANMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Liability to service of nationals of allied Powers.

(2) Where any person to whom this section applies is not, at the expiration of two months from the material date, a member of the naval, military or air forces of the Power of which he is a national, the National Service Acts, 1939 to 1941, shall thereafter apply to him as if he were a British subject and any proclamation previously issued under the said Acts, which would have applied to him if he had been a British subject in Great Britain at the date of the proclamation, shall thereafter be deemed to apply to him:

Provided that—

LORD WEDGWOOD moved, in subsection (2), after "him," immediately preceding the proviso, to insert "and shall be entitled to the same rights of choice of service as are enjoyed by the British subject." The noble Lord said: This Amendment is based on the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, on the occasion of the Second Reading. He stated then that the War Office intended to put these people joining the British Army into the Pioneer Corps. I thought at the time that it was impossible to devise any form of words which would amend that suggestion, which does not actually appear in the Bill; but the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, was kind enough to go through the Bill with me, and discovered a place where a suitable Amendment could be put in. I think the one that I have drafted is in order. Its object is that those subjects of a foreign country who desire to be in the British Army rather than their own Army should be exactly on all fours with British subjects themselves, and should have the same rights as British subjects.

The British subject does not enjoy absolute right of preference for the Service in which he shall go, though he used to in the early days. But it is well known to your Lordships that people taken into the Pioneer Corps now are taken in from two sets of people. They are those who are excellent workers but not intelligent enough to become soldiers; for the soldier's job nowadays is a very skilled job and requires really skilled men. Those who are not so skilled at present generally go into the Pioneer Corps. I want the same principle to be applied to the new comers, to the people who are English from every point of view except that they have never been naturalized: I want to get the intelligent fellows into the Army and the fellows who have no aptitude for the art a fighting into the Pioneer Corps. According to Lord Snell's speech on the last occasion all these people will go automatically into the Pioneer Corps. That, in the case of men who are desperately anxious to fight Hitler, is a grave disadvantage. Of course the Pioneer companies are now all armed, that is to say, they have got rifles, but the training in the Pioneer Corps is not comparable with the training given even in the Home Guard. I get a good many letters from people in the Pioneer Corps, alien refugees, all complaining of the same thing—that they are not being trained to fight, that when Hitler comes they will not be trained soldiers. One man says he has been twice on the shooting range. Of course all training is riot now merely with rifles alone. These people are working hard all day, they have no time for training. Consequently they are not getting the advantage of being taught soldiering, and they are not going to have the chance of fighting Hitler's troops on an equal footing if they come to this country.

Then there is another thing. We have seen recently a British Army circular advising officers on their relations with their men—a most admirable circular, in Which the officer is instructed to remember at all times that his men are the salt of the earth, that in replying to their salutes he should smile, give a nod of recognition and, if a man should happen to be walking out with a girl, the officer should stop and ask to be introduced, thus raising the self-esteem both of the man and of the girl and, at the same time, turning that man into one who will follow him into any tight place—in fact, teaching the art of comradeship. It is perfectly true that they got it all out of Shirer's Berlin Diary: we were following Germany. I wish We did not always follow them, we might sometimes get ahead. But I myself tried out that method my men, first in the Boer War and then in the last war, and I know it is a most admirable method of securing great confidence, great trust, great affection in times of danger. It is a great change and a move in the right direction. The relationship between the British officer and the man in the Army now is infinitely better than it was in the last war, or even at the beginning of this war; and if these new instructions are followed out there will indeed be a revolution in the happiness and confidence of the British Army.

Though that is largely true of the ordinary fighting branches of the Service, it is by no means true of the Pioneer Corps. There relations are entirely different; they are more the relations of the gaoler to the gaoled. It is partly due to a different type of man and a different type of officer. I think there is a great deal to be said for Colonel Bingham's statement that the officer had better be a gentleman—I wish they all were. I told your Lordships on the last occasion that I get probably a larger selection of abusive and offensive letters than anybody else in this House. Of course the most offensive ones are not signed. Even where they have been signed, I found in several cases when I sent them on to the police that the names were false and the addresses sham. But I do occasionally get some that are signed. One which I got some six months or more ago was actually signed by a Major with a command in this Pioneer Corps. It was not quite so obscene as most of them, but merely referred to the fact that after a prodigal youth I had wasted my substance and I was now in the hands of the Jews, therefore a subject of pity. I thought this was funny coming from an officer of the British Army—a Major in the Pioneer Corps—so I sent the letter to my friend, the Adjutant-General, suggesting that he might wrap him over the knuckles. I knew, of course, he could not. He replied he was very sorry, but would I dress him down myself, because anybody is entitled to write to a Member of Parliament, and it was not a criminal offence, even if the man was a bounder.

I quote this to show the unfortunate type we have. Naturally all the "dugouts" who were any good got into the fighting Army, and the Pioneer Corps did not get the best. There was, for example, Major Scott, commanding the Pioneer Company on the "Dunera"—a shocking case—and there have been many others which have got into the papers. Really, from my many letters on the subject from Pioneers, I have come to the conclusion that the Pioneer Companies to-day want looking into. One officer is reported to have said, "You are here for digging and nothing else." According to one the men never complained, never got drunk, never used foul language, and were altogether too refined. The hardship is in consigning these people to these particular officers who are in some cases—of course it is not universal—Fascist, Anti-Semitic, and definitely hostile to the people they are commanding, regarding these unfortunate people not as comrades, but as fit for internment. One of them, indeed, said, "In my opinion you ought all to be interned, and nine-tenths of the population think so too." That is an entirely wrong atmosphere. It is not merely a question of whether the men are more useful in making roads or whether they would be more useful in the Army. It is whether they are going into a happy family life in a decent British regiment, or whether they are to be put into an atmosphere of antagonism between the officers and men and put into the position which these people occupy who have given every evidence of their hatred and hostility towards Hitler and of their determination to fight him.

Here is a man who writes: I am one who spent many years in dangerous underground activities in Germany. By our example we saved Madrid in 1937, and held it for two years against the murderous assaults of Spanish, Italian, and German Fascists. The authorities are doing Hitler's work by having his enemies confined to the Pioneer Corps where they are of less use to the war effort. How Hitler must laugh at this wasteful stupidity. Shame upon these semi-Fascists in this country who hold back Hitler's most determined enemies from even the smallest effort to destroy him! This would never happen in Russia where German anti-Fascists are in the forefront of the battle and, by their example, rally the others to fight like lions. That is all perfectly true. The Russians are using them in the Army. The Americans are using these refugees—precisely similar people to those we are discussing to-day—in their active Army. We cannot be the only people to consign them to a semi-pacifist, semi-penal service. Therefore, I move this Amendment in the hope that the Government, or at least the War Office, will listen to me and to others who are a little anxious about the Pioneer Corps, and will see whether we cannot get the matter improved so that there shall be in the Pioneer Corps the same good spirit between officers and men which exists at present in the British Army. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("and shall be entitled to the same rights of choice of service as are enjoyed by the British subject").—(Lord Wedgwood.)


The noble Lord proposes to insert the following words, "and shall be entitled to the same rights of choice of service as are enjoyed by the British subject." As the noble Lord has explained, this amendment was designed to ensure that Allied Nationals called up for the British Forces should have the same right as British subjects to express a preference for a particular branch of the Services. The National Service Acts do not allow even British subjects the right of choice. They allow a right to express a preference, and it is frequently not found possible to give effect to this preference. Under the Bill, an Allied National will likewise be able to express his preference, but this preference will usually be ineffective as it is intended that Allied Nationals shall normally be posted to the Pioneer Corps. As was pointed out in another pace, the Pioneer Corps is the only branch of the Army which already has foreign companies, and it has special facilities for dealing with foreign nationals, including men who cannot speak English. I am advised that it is not right to suggest that the Pioneer Corps is the "Cinderella" of the British Army. It is a combatant corps, and its units are armed.

I cannot out of my own experience assess either praise or blame to the officers of either the Pioneer Corps or any other regiment, nor can I guarantee their manners to the men under their control, but I feel that it is quite possible there may be officers in the Armed Forces to which Lord Wedgwood desires men to have the privilege of going whose language is not always a model of grace or of consideration. The answer to Lord Wedgwood's plea that these men should be given a chance to kill Germans, as I think he said on the last occasion, is that they may very well have an opportunity to do so, just as certain Pioneer Corps did in France in 1940. I am sorry I cannot wholly meet the noble Lord, and I am advised that I cannot accept the Amendment he proposes.


May I point out to the noble Lord and to your Lordships that these are not people who are unable to speak English? They are mostly people who have lived here for perhaps thirty years or more. They are not generally refugees, they are people who, but for the accident of being poor and not able to take out naturalization papers, remain nominally subjects of another Power. That objection therefore does not hear upon the matter at all. As for the rest of them being able to fight in case of invasion, if they were expected to fight they would be trained to fight. One of my chief complaints is that they are not being trained to fight, and they know they are not being trained to fight. You are going to ask them to fight the most skilled troops in the world without training.

The other thing is this. The noble Lord does not meet the suggestion that there is antagonism between the officers and the men in certain cases. I will illustrate that by this point. I got a complaint the other day from a man who had been an officer of the International Brigade in Spain to the effect that in one of these companies the men were being charged with talking German together, not on duty but after duty hours. They were merely conversing together in German after duty hours. I sent a complaint about this to Mr. Arthur Henderson, Under-Secretary to the War Office. He felt as I did. He made inquiries and found there had been an order that these people in the Pioneer Corps must not talk in their own language amongst each other. That sounds uncommonly like prison, and there is no reason for it. In fact, within a week the order was rescinded and they were allowed to talk in their own language when they were off duty, if they wanted to do so, though very few of them did. That is an advance, but this incident does illustrate the difference between the administration of these alien Pioneer Companies and the British Army as a whole. I am sorry the Government cannot accept the Amendment, and I hope some noble Lords will join with me in making representations to the War Office on the question. I beg to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2, 3 and 4 agreed to.

Clause 5:

Definition of member of force for purposes of Allied Forces Act and removal of doubts arising therefrom.

5.—(1) For the purposes of the Allied Forces Act, 1940, a person shall be deemed to be a member of the naval, military or air forces of any such allied Power or foreign authority as is mentioned in Section one of that Act, if he has served in those forces on or after the date of the passing of that Act and has not been duly discharged therefrom, but a person who has not so served shall not be deemed to be a member of any such forces by reason of his having been called upon to serve therein.

LORD WEDGWOOD had given Notice of two Amendments to subsection (1)—namely, to omit the word "duly" ["duly discharged therefrom"] and, after "forces," where that word last occurs, to insert "if having been irregularly summoned he has left that service before the first day of May, nineteen hundred and forty-two or." The noble Lord said: I should very much like to know what difference in an Act the word "duly" does make. The clause runs: .… if he has served in those Forces"— that is in the Forces of an Allied Power— on or after the date of the passing of that Act and has not been duly discharged therefrom …. We will take the two Amendments to this clause together if we may do so. Their object is to give the right of joining the British Army to those people who were enlisted in a foreign Army on the assumption that the Allied Government responsible for that Army had the power and the right to insist on their services. Many joined under the misapprehension that their services would be demanded of them. They found out directly they were in those Forces that there was no legal power to retain them there, and they left the Service. Possibly they had been in that Service for a day or a week when they left, and they have not been worried about their leaving ever since.

I am afraid if you take the words as they appear in the Bill at the present time, every one of those people who have been freed for perhaps a year or a year and a half, but who in some time past may have served for a day or longer in the Polish Army, will now be claimed by the Polish Government and forced to join their Service. It may be said that an unwilling recruit of that sort is not of much use to any Service, and that desertions would be frequent. That is where the difficulty comes in. In some of these foreign Services—I think it is so in the Polish Service—the penalty for desertion is to be shot. We cannot have that sort of thing going on in this country, particularly in regard to people who have lived here possibly as good citizens for the last thirty years. I think we are bound to look after the interests of those people who, after all, are as much Britishers as ourselves, except that they were not able to pay ten pounds, or seven pounds, or whatever the sum is, in order to become naturalized British subjects.

If we are to have these people who cannot speak a word of Polish taken forcibly into the Polish Army, we shall have an undesirable situation. And we are giving power under this Bill to do that. We give the men no alternative of joining the British Army. Surely they should have a chance to join the British Army, if they wish to do so. I hope the Government can accept these two Amendments in order to make it possible that people who have been enrolled in a foreign Army under a misapprehension and under the assumption that the Government of that Army had powers which it did not possess, and have since left that Army, shall not be penalized by being deprived of their right of serving in the British Army. They should not be compelled to serve in some other Army with which they have no connexion, except the purely accidental one that many years ago they were born in the country of that Army. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 46, leave out ("duly").—(Lord Wedgwood.)


The Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, are apparently designed to safeguard the position of certain Allied Nationals referred to during the Second Reading debate by the noble Lord. These men are alleged to have joined Allied Forces in the belief that the Allied Governments could enforce their calling-up notices. They served in those Forces for a time and apparently left them, or rather deserted from them, and returned to civilian life. In such cases the British authorities persuaded the Allied Governments to take no steps to recall them. The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, considers that Clause 5, subsection (1), will make them liable to be forcibly recalled, and twat this may withhold from them the alternative open to other Allied Nationals. The object of Clause 5 (1) is to make it clear that a man is not deemed to be a member of an Allied Force merely because he has received calling-up papers and has failed to respond, but only if he has actually served since the passing of the Allied Forces Act in August, 1940, in that Force. It is necessary to make this clear in order to prevent the Allies compelling their nationals to join their Forces and also to prevent members of the Allied Forces who fall within the new definition from arguing in our Courts that they are not members of those Forces within the meaning of the Allied Forces Act. Careful consideration was given to the possibility of using a less precise form of words than the words "duly discharged" in line 46 on page 3, but it is considered essential that an expression should be used which will enable the Courts to apply the test to a formal document in any proceedings which may arise under the clause. The omission of the word "duly" as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, would not apparently help, as they cannot be regarded as discharged at all.

The second Amendment the Government regard as unacceptable because the men were not irregularly summoned. His Majesty's Government have recognized that the Allied Governments have a perfect right to send calling-up notices to their nationals in this country. Nearly all continental States call up their nationals resident abroad for military training even in peace-time. This is a rule well recognized between friendly States. Moreover, it would be a fatal blow to discipline in the Allied Forces if desertion therefrom were to be legalized in the Bill. It is difficult to imagine that an Allied Government would wish to take action in such a case against the wishes of the British Government, but even if this did happen ultimate sanction would be in the hands of the British Government. A man could only be arrested by the British police and any sentence of imprisonment served on him would be served in a British prison. I am sorry that I am not able to accept the Amendments which the noble Lord has put on the Paper.


I am not quite clear even now what is the exact position of these people. Under this Bill the British Government will normally make a list of the people who are, say, Polish subjects not yet serving in the Polish Army; I presume not serving according to this proposal. Then the Polish Government will appeal against that list and say that So-and-so for a time served in their Army and therefore the British Government have no right to put him on their list. Take the case I have suggested of the man who has got cut of the Polish Army thinking he was included in it irregularly. He is at present free. Which Government the British Government or the Polish Government, will approach that man and summon him now to serve? I gather from the noble Lord that it will be the British Government. The British Government will bring an action against him and he will be arrested by the British police for not joining the British Forces. If that is the position by all means let the British Government summon him and get him, but do not leave him in the position of being summoned by a foreign Government when he prefers to serve with the British Army.


It is obvious that I cannot give a decision on a technical matter affecting the wording of an Act of Parliament, but what I will do is to convey the noble Lord's feelings and doubts to the proper quarter to see if his points are really valid, and, if they are, whether they can be met.


Perhaps if I put my Amendments down again upon the Report stage the matter could be made quite clear. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendments now.


If there are no Amendments there will be no Report stage.


There is really an important point in what my noble friend has brought forward. Will the noble Lord opposite undertake to give an answer on Third Reading? The matter could be put right on Third Reading.


I believe the Third Reading will be taken at the next sitting but I think that will allow sufficient time.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.