§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, the Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading marks a complete change in the attitude of the citizens of this country to the question of defence in peace time. In the past, British people have had the strongest objection to the introduction of compulsory military service in any but the most exceptional circumstances, and, indeed, have resented the very idea of introducing it under conditions of peace. All our instincts in the past have been to live in such a peaceful manner, that we entered the last two wars quite unprepared whereas, on the other hand, almost every country in Europe which could directly be invaded by land had a system of national service which provided them with large military forces. Up to the last war, the two major countries—Britain and America—coud not have been so invaded and had large navies to protect them. These countries only of the major Powers did not deem it necessary to introduce compulsory service.
In this country the Labour Party has, since its inception, consistently opposed 4 conscription. It is, therefore, noteworthy that now it is a Labour Government which take the significant step of introducing legislation for compulsory service in this land. In taking this step, the Government have the support not only of the Parliamentary Party but of the Labour Party as a whole. This has been made manifest at the recent Party Conference, where an overwhelming vote in support of this measure was given. Notwithstanding that, I should stress that conscription is asked for, not because the Government, Parliament, or the people of the nation, welcome it, but because of the changed conditions which have made it necessary. Before dealing with these changes, I should like to emphasize the significance of the Bill, which lies in the fact that it introduces a universal obligation to give service in the Armed Forces during peace time.
The new system of peace-time compulsory service contains much of the principles of democracy, for it provides for the universal calling up of men of every class and Party, rich and poor, each having to discharge an equal liability in time and under the same conditions. It marks that the safety of the nation is the responsibility of all its citizens, regardless of their social and economic position. None the less, the universal obligation to give such service in the Armed Forces during peace time must necessarily cause a great deal of interference with the lives and the liberties of our young men and with the whole industrial machine. Clearly, no Government, of whatever shade of opinion, would undertake such a course lightly or, indeed, without the strongest justification.
Let me explain as briefly as possible why the present Government have found it necessary to introduce this Bill. There are two major reasons. The first reason, and the one generally accepted as predominant, is the imperative need to build up substantial reserve forces to ensure our continued preparedness in the event of a major emergency. We must be ready at all times to defend the security of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and to support the United Nations organization in any collective measures they may decide to take in the interests of world peace. For these purposes, in particular, we need a large and adequately trained Reserve. The increasing com- 5 plexity of modern weapons and the enormous technical developments in arms for the Forces make it essential that every man using them should have a period of full-time training, if he is to reach even an initial minimum standard of efficiency in his job.
This was stressed in the opening pronouncement of the Government on compulsory service. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in another place in November:First of all, the development of modern warfare has made this country more vulnerable. We are now part of the Continent. We can be reached by attack from the Continent. While in the past we always had a long breathing space on which we could depend, that breathing space is most unlikely to be available should any war arise in the future. The logic of that is that while we keep our first-line forces as low as we can, consonant with efficiency and the jobs they have to do, we must have trained reserves who can take their part right away without waiting for initial training.The second reason is the special necessity for maintaining adequate Forces during the difficult years ahead, and to assist the Regular Forces, so far as may be possible, in meeting our numerous military commitments. As a result of the war, we have had imposed upon us new military liabilities in various parts of the world. Some, we hope, are of short duration; others will continue for at least some years to come. In the aggregate, and taking full account of such reductions as may be necessary in the years immediately ahead, our overseas liabilities are substantially greater than they were before the war. A general description of the current overseas commitments was contained in paragraph 9 of the White Paper Statement Relating to Defence (Cmd. No. 7042), issued in February last. Those commitments still remain.
Let me examine briefly what Forces are available and will be available in the near future to meet those military commitments without having compulsory national service. The Regular components of the Army and the Royal Air Force are seriously depleted, owing to the suspension of Regular recruiting during the war. The Regular Army now numbers little more than 100,000 men and the regular Air Force rather less than 70,000 men. Many of those now serving are nearing the end of their Regular engagements, and the rate of wastage will be high. The Royal 6 Navy, who had the advantage of some recruitment throughout the war through the junior entries, have about 90,000 Regular men at the present time. But even in that Service it will he several years before the pre-war manpower position can be fully restored. In the meantime the Forces have been losing trained national service men in large numbers, and it is estimated that the run-out in this respect, between now and the end of next year will total no less a figure than some 750,000 men. The Auxiliary Forces were maintained before the war on a voluntary part-time basis. By the end of hositilities they had virtually ceased to exist, because their members were embodied during the war and the engagements, mostly short-service, have now expired. It is true that these Forces have been reconstituted, but it will be a long time before they can be built up on the new basis and made fully effective.
It became clear to the Government when they assumed office that the need to build up Regular Forces was particularly urgent if the release of men already serving was not to be unduly delayed. So much so, that a special recruiting campaign, inaugurated over a year ago by the Prime Minister, has since been continuously assisted by advertising and Press conferences. This has already resulted in an increase in the number of men joining on Regular engagements. Excluding officers, 27,000 volunteers were accepted for normal Regular engagements during the first four months of this year. This figure shows some reduction on the intake towards the end of last year, but it is substantially higher than the total for the corresponding period of 1946. Every effort will continue to be made to build up the Regular Forces to the required level by voluntary recruitment, but it will inevitably be a slow process. The Government have, therefore, reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no alternative to the continuance of compulsory national service, involving a Reserve liability, if the Forces are to be maintained at an adequate level and if Reserves are to be built up without undue delay.
It is for this reason that His Majesty's Government have introduced the present Bill. No-one can at present foresee the results in the years ahead of the recruiting campaign, or what reduction or realignment of our military liabilities will take place. The Bill has accordingly been 7 drawn up to continue the National Service Acts for a period of five years from January 1, 1949. It cannot be continued beyond that period unless a later date is fixed by Order in Council. The Order in Council will only be submitted if it has the consent of both Houses of Parliament. The Bill is, therefore, to amend the present National Service Acts so as to provide for a continuance of national service with the Forces from January 1,1949, onwards. Under this Bill men will be called up for a shorter period of whole-time service than at present, but in addition they will be liable to part-time service. The period of whole-time service has been fixed at one year, and the part-time service at six years. During their part-time service men will be liable to be called up for Reserve training not exceeding sixty days in the aggregate, of which up to twenty-one days may be required in any one year. They will normally begin their wartime service at the age of 18, but they may ask to be called up from 17½if they have good reason. Alternatively, calling-up may be deferred up to the age of 26 in the case of apprentices and students, and provision is made for statutory postponement on the grounds of exceptional hardship.
Until the new Bill comes into force, call-up for national service will continue under the existing Acts. It is intended that men who were serving in the forces from January 1,1947, shall be released by the end of 1948—that is, before the new Bill comes into effect. Those who are called up during 1947 and 1948 will serve for not more than the fixed periods described in the White Paper Call-up to the Forces in 1947 and 1948 (Cmd. No. 6831), and it will be the aim of the Government to ensure that so far as practicable, and apart from individual exceptions, all men called up before the Bill comes into force on January 1,1949, shall be released from the Services before the first of the men called up under the Bill are released at the end of 1949. The methods by which the periods of service are to be reduced to achieve this object are being carefully examined. No man called up before January, 1949, will be liable for part-time service after his release from whole-time service. Men called up before January 1,1954, will still be liable to complete their whole-time and part-time service, and those who become liable 8 before that date will remain liable for call-up.
As I have already indicated, the period of full-time service has been fixed at twelve months. In fixing this period the Government had to reconcile the conflicting claims of defence and of civilian economy. The original Bill, indeed, gave power to reduce the initial period of training from 18 months to 12 months. From the defence aspect it is desirable to allow enough time for full initial training, together with a margin during which the individual can assist the Regular Forces and, at the same time, obtain some training on a collective basis with an active force unit. But in view of the serious economic position in the country, and the extreme shortage of man-power in industry, it was necessary to restrict the time spent in the Forces to the absolute minimum required to meet the essential needs of the Services. Clearly, the training of men could have been carried to a more advanced stage and the usefulness to the Forces increased had a period of rather more than twelve months been decided upon, and as I have just remarked—and as I am sure noble Lords are aware—a period of eighteen months was, in fact. originally proposed. When, the position was later reviewed, however, the Government, for the reasons which I have given, came to the conclusion that on balance of national advantage 12 months was the maximum which could be justified.
Looking at the Services as a whole, it can be said that the initial training can be completed within the twelve months, and there will be a margin during which the individual can be attached to a normal unit. In certain specialized branches it will be more difficult, and a greater intensification of training will be necessary. In general, methods of selection, posting and training, will be reviewed to ensure that the Services obtain the maximum benefit in the time at their disposal. As I have already explained, very substantial numbers of trained reserves are essential at the outset of an emergency. This is the only alternative to maintaining much larger Regular Forces in peace-time.
The voluntary auxiliary Forces, when fully reconstituted, will play an important part in meeting some of the reserve requirements, and the Government attach 9 the greatest importance to a maximum response of volunteers in the coming months. They hope especially to attract large numbers of men with fighting experience in the ręcent war, but the build-up of these Forces, even to their pre-war strength, will necessarily be a long process. Admittedly, there are at the moment many thousands of trained ex-Service men who would be available in the event of a sudden emergency, but for a variety of reasons these are a rapidly diminishing asset from the Services' point of view. A large and continuous intake of trained men over a period of years is necessary, and if the Reserves are to be built up without undue delay a fairly long period of Reserve service is unavoidable. For this reason, the period has been fixed at six years. In view of the amount of training which will have to be given during whole-time service, a reasonable standard of efficiency in the Reserves can be maintained by short spells of refresher training. The Bill prescribes 6o days' full-time training spread over the whole period of the Reserve service, of which not more than 21 days may be required in any particular year. The training requirements will vary according to Service and branch. In the Army, for example, it will he usual to arrange a camp period of about two weeks with evening or week-end instruction in addition. In some branches of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force it may be necessary to arrange for longer periods at less frequent intervals.
Briefly, the arrangements for the discharge of the liability for part-time service are as follows. On completion of whole- time service a man will be deemed to be entered into the Service in which he served his 12 months term of full-time duty or the final part of it. If this was in the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines he will be entered into the Royal Navy Special Reserve; if in the Army into the Territorial Army or the Army Reserve; if in the Royal Air Force, into the Royal Air Force Reserve. Since future circumstances may render desirable adjustments between the Services, the Bill provides for a certain degree of flexibility in operation by empowering the Service authorities to transfer a national service man's compulsory service from one of the Forces to another. It will be appreciated that these training periods will interfere very much with industry, and it is intended that the Minister 10 of Labour shall have conversations with industry with a view to arranging the best periods of the year in which the Reserve training can take place, so that the minimum of interference with the industrial life of the country may be achieved. National service men will be permitted to do their part-time service on voluntary engagements in the Auxiliary Forces if they wish to specialize or to continue in the Auxiliary Forces after their liability under the National Service Acts has expired.
I have outlined briefly the principles underlying the Bill and its main objects. The Government cannot be charged with rushing this measure, for before it came to your Lordships' House no fewer that eight long Parliamentary days were given to its consideration and many important changes were made in it. Your Lordships will riot, therefore, expect me to discuss each of the clauses and accompanying schedules in detail, but there are some important features to which I consider I should direct your Lordships' attention.
The Government firmly intend that, except for the few classes specifically exempted under the National Service Acts, all young men who are liable and are medically fit shall perform their period of national service. At the same time they are fully alive to the question of avoiding, so far as possible, the interruption of the training of those preparing for the professions and the skilled occupations, and of encouraging efficient schemes of professional and industrial training. A provision is therefore made—as I have already indicated—for deferment of the calling up of students, apprentices and learners who wish to complete their studies or training before undertaking their national. service. As men will be liable for calling up between the ages of 18 and 21 the Minister may call them up at any time within those limits. It will be to the advantage of the Services that a number of doctors and dentists wishing to specialize should be allowed to complete their training before doing their national service. In such cases the upper age limit for calling up may be raised to 29 years. The important feature is that the initiative for claiming postponement of calling up will rest with the individual.
It is not intended that deferment shall normally be granted on grounds of in- 11 dustrial need, now that calling up is confined to young men of 18 years, but exception is already made in the cases of underground coal mining, agriculture and certain building materials industries. In view of the special position of the coal mining industry the Government have recently announced that underground coal miners will not be called up to the Forces for the next five years. Accordingly, young men who are already engaged in underground coal mining, when they become due for call-up, will have their calling up deferred so long as they remain satisfactorily in that employment. The question of the deferment of young men of 18 in other industries, to which I have referred, will continue to be reviewed from time to time. The existing provisions for postponement of liability on grounds of personal hardship with regard to conscientious objectors will remain broadly unchanged, but in some cases will be slightly extended, or otherwise modified, to accord with altered circumstances. Under these provisions, application may be made at the medical examination stage for a certificate of postponement of liability to be called up. These arrangements worked exceedingly well during the last war.
The normal age for call-up will continue to be 18, as at present, but it is realized that there are cases where a young man has good grounds for wanting to be called up earlier, such as that he has difficulty in finding employment owing to his impending call-up, or because his career will be seriously affected if he has to wait some months before being called up, or because he wants to get his service over as soon as possible so that he may return to his training or studies at a convenient time. The Bill, therefore, empowers the Minister to make regulations under which young men who may desire to do their military training before entering a university may be called up at any time after reaching the age of 17½—if they so desire and if they show sufficient cause. To this end a provision has been made to permit the registration of young men at the age of 17 years, 2 months.
Clauses 12 to 14 deal with the safeguards of a man's employment by adopting, with such changes as are necessary, the provisions of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944. This Act 12 has worked with great success while the release of over 4,000,000 persons from the Forces has been proceeding since the end of the war. Only a very small number of cases have occasioned difficulties. Under this Act volunteers, as well as men compulsorily called up for service, have reinstatement rights. In the present Bill these rights are preserved for volunteers joining before the Bill is passed, but thereafter will be restricted to national service men. The peace-time volunteer will join on a long-term Regular engagement with the intention, we hope, of entering on a career. Obviously it would not be reasonable to place an employer under an obligation to reinstate a person who might not be released to take up employment until many years later.
For men called up under this new Bill the obligation of employers will be to reinstate them for a period of six months after the end of whole-time service, instead of six months from the end of the emergency—as at present. Provision is also made for the imposition of penalties where employees are dismissed by reason of their liability for compulsory service. Provision is likewise made to safeguard men who are called up for training during their period of Reserve liability. In such cases the contract of service is not regarded as being broken; the Minister of Labour is empowered to make regulations adjusting contracts of service and of apprenticeship as necessary. It is envisaged that men will be granted leave after their full-time service. They can take their leave without losing their right to reinstatement. Clauses 1o and 11 make provision for the education of men called up under this Bill.
I would like to emphasize that the necessity for maintaining and increasing the present rate of voluntary recruitment to the Regular Forces remains as vital as ever, and His Majesty's Government will do everything possible to improve upon the present results of recruiting. Much has already been done. The pay and conditions in the Services have been improved, and much attention is paid to education and welfare, and to increasing the freedom for the individual man within the limits imposed by a disciplined force. We intend to improve living conditions to a greater extent, as time goes on. We believe that the Services will provide a healthy, open air and varied life, with 13 full maintenance and reasonable rates of pay, and we look forward to the growing success of our long-continued voluntary system.
His Majesty's Government do not minimize the importance of the effect of this Bill upon our national life, for it imposes compulsory national service, not as in 1939 when the nation was on the eve of war, but for a substantial period after the end of a long war. By so doing it will mean that we shall call up regularly for the period provided in the Bill some 200,000 men from their normal life for 12 months' full-time training, with a further liability of reserve training covering a further period of six years, and this must involve many new adjustments in the life of the individual, the family, and the industry in which the man is employed. I think that the large majority of those concerned will carry out the obligation imposed upon them under this Bill, fully realizing that by their service an indication is given to all concerned that it is the intention of the people of this nation to defend themselves against aggression at all times, and that we are prepared to give that ready support to the United Nations organization in any collective measures which it takes in the interests of international peace. I cannot too strongly emphasize that the main object of this Bill is to prevent war. That remains the purpose of His Majesty's Government, and we will bend all our energies unceasingly to that task. I beg to move that the Bill be read a Second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ LORD CROFT
My Lords, I think that this is the first occasion on which the noble Viscount has taken part in a major Defence debate in this House, and, if it is not an impertinence on my part, I should like to say how much I, on personal grounds, welcomed his appointment to his important office. For many years I had the privilege of working with him in another place and I always admired his balance and his wisdom. Moreover, I had the privilege of serving with him in the great Administration under which victory was achieved in the recent war. But I must confess that my congratulations and the pleasure which his presence here 14 in his high office gives me, are tempered (as I expect are the congratulations of a great many of your Lordships) with sympathy, on account of the difficult position in which he has been put. The First Lord with the Board or Admiralty behind him had produced an_ admirable plan, but they suddenly found that the Cabinet had thrown it back on the Service Ministers, who had to accept an entirely different scheme.
We are to-day discussing a National Service Bill. When a Bill under a. similar title was introduced in another place it was described by the Minister of Defence on April I as "being read a second time, on one of the most important debates which has ever taken place in this House." So vital a debate, I venture to submit, could not have been entered upon lightly, and for nearly two years His Majesty's Government must have been weighing up the pros and cons and deciding upon the basic structure of national defence, the economic situation with which they were then faced, their manpower requirements (all of which were obvious) and the extent of training essential to efficiency. Nor did that evidence come to them at a late hour. It is not an exaggeration to say that from the moment the defeat of Germany was certain, the expert advisers of His Majesty's Government were all working on the minimum needs of defence. Then came the time when, with entirely new Chiefs of Staff, entirely new officers upon whom to rely for their information, they again set to work to introduce a plan. The considered views of the Service chiefs were then screened, as we have been told, and reduced and again reduced, as the Minister of Defence confessed on March 20 of this year, "indeed to a still lower level."
The Cabinet had, therefore, a wealth of evidence before them and must with great deliberation have set themselves to judge and to embark upon their policy, already reduced to a lower level in order—if I may quote the Minister of Defence again—"to approach the whole question of national service for military purposes from the view of the ultimate security of our country and the liberties we enjoy." That surely was very proper and one would have thought it was the only test, and thus far there seems no doubt that His Majesty's Government did their duty and 15 placed the safety of the realm and the Commonwealth and Empire, and also our responsibilities to the United Nations, where they should be—namely, far above Party politics on the supreme test of security.
I should like here to say that their weighty decision, so long probed, screened and sifted under expert technical advice, endorsed by themselves, and adopted and advocated by the Cabinet, did require courage. We all recognize that their action must have won the approval of all in this country who, after two terrible wars, intend, if it be humanely possible, to avert by preparedness the possibility of the slaughter of their sons and the appalling miseries which war brings upon those who sacrifice safety for softness and ease, and in the search for votes. The Government appealed for the support of Parliament, and the Opposition, unlike other Oppositions in our recollection between the wars, and even in 1938, gave them all possible support, not only in speeches but in the Division lobbies. No political Party in opposition would, for choice, embark upon a policy of conscription in peace time unless it was regarded as absolutely essential for the safety of the Realm.
The Opposition might, without opposing, have taken the easy vote-catching course, have abstained from taking part on the Second Reading and let the Government, which has not been too considerate of their opponents, take the onus and any political opprobrium, if there be any, on their own shoulders. I am thankful to say that the Opposition did not take that course, and I shall always rejoice that the Conservative Party, when appealed to by the Socialist Government, went in full muster into the Lobby in response to the call for the nation's safety in 1947, just as we responded to the call of the Liberal Government in 1914. On April 1 the Government carried the Second Reading by a very large majority—the figures were 388 to 87, a wonderful democratic decision and a fine example of national unity. One could almost hear the sigh of relief which went up from all the small nations who look to us as the champions of civilization and liberty and the backbone of the United Nations organization.
16 That was on Tuesday, April 1. What happened on Thursday? On April 3 the Government, in supreme contempt for the decision of Parliament, tabled an Amendment which completely changed the time factor in the strategic use of our Forces and altered fundamentally the whole basis on which our defence was to be built, by cutting down by a third the training of all three Services, with the result that instead of being instantly ready for war they would be six months in arrears of the training previously regarded as essential to meet an immediate emergency. The Government then blatantly announced that they had run away from their own Bill purely and simply on Party grounds. A few hours later they realized that this explanation had rather shocked the nation, and they amended the cause of their stampede to grounds of economic necessity. We are getting used to shocks and crises under the present Government, but it must have been an economic volcano to have developed so speedily in forty-eight hours.
The naked truth is, I think, that they yielded to a comparatively small group of anti-military defeatists united with the crypto-Communists who appear to desire the destruction, or at least the discredit, of the Government they pretend to support. Was ever a vote face achieved in such circumstances? Was ever the great deliberative assembly of Parliament made to look so ridiculous? Especially was this true of all those Socialists who had screwed up their courage, in answer to the exhortations of their own leaders, to vote for the safety of the State. How difficult it must be for these poor patriots to face their constituents and explain their conduct! Search the annals of Parliament as you will, I doubt if you can find any action of a Government quite so contemptible, or any major issue ever treated with such unseemly and indecent levity.
We were told that this somersault was achieved after "consultation" with the Chiefs of Staff. I hazard a guess that what really happened was that the Cabinet ordered the three Services to abandon the Cabinet plan, to which the Chiefs of Staffs had agreed, and gave them twenty-four hours in which to conform to this acrobatic feat. I venture to suggest that it was a grievous wrong ever to mention the word "consult," unless it meant agreement. At a very late hour, in the 17 opening of the Committee stage debate, the Cabinet felt bound to explain the truth, having realized, I think, that the country would not tolerate the hiding of their political cowardice behind the shelter of the Chiefs of Staffs. All the Service Chiefs were tardily exonerated from any responsibility for this base act of scuttle.
It is not for us to judge the reactions of the Service Chiefs. They have to obey the Ministers in charge of their Departments. I wonder, however, if they were even asked to give a considered view on whether any man in the technical branches of the Royal Navy could be trained in a year, and how useful the national service men would be in a Fleet action, even as able seamen—much less as technicians; whether the Royal Air Force would be ready for a second Battle of Britain, with lads of no previous technical training and of less than a year's service; or whether, in the Army, a man in the Royal Armoured Corps, a highly-trained airborne parachutist, an artilleryman, an engineer, or a signaller could be trained, or even a modern infantry soldier (who has to master so many elaborate weapons and take part in mechanized transport) could be ready for war in twelve months—deducting leaves and periods of movement.
These questions appear all the more pertinent, if we are to understand the latest Russian expression of opinion on the United Nations Forces, that they must none of them be drawn from outlying stations in the Empire where so many of our Regular Forces are, of necessity, quartered. Who then, it may well be asked, will in fact garrison Germany whilst the bulk of our volunteer Army may be retained in India—I hope that will be so, though we may hear differently about it to-day—in Palestine, in the Middle East, and in overseas garrisons? Apparently it will be only partly trained national service men, and they will also have to wage immediate battle with an aggressor State should aggressive war commence. How can they complete their training in so short a space of time whilst scattered in Germany fulfilling the duties of occupation? Where is the strategic force which makes our contribution to the United Nations a reality?
All these considerations are vital, and surely they must have been exhaustively 18 examined and probed before the Government produced their original Bill. Why then was 18 months essential on Tuesday, and 12 months adequate on Thursday? I suppose that not out of your Lordships will deny that if the tragedy of war again afflicts the world, it will be without notice. Atom bombs, rockets, and other fiendish inventions of science would suddenly tell us, perhaps at dusk on some quiet summer evening in peace, that an aggressor had started once more the foulness of attack. No one who is wicked enough to make war again in this modern world would be good enough to give us five minutes' notice. No, next time there will be no year or six months of warning, and no "phoney" war of a year on top of that. It will be death from the blue, and only those who can act immediately in the air, on sea, and by airborne counter-attack will have any chance whatever of survival.
Insurance against sudden aggression is preparedness. All this was present in the minds of the Government—indeed it was present in the very able discourse by the noble Viscount on the principles affecting the need for this Bill. When they brought their Bill before Parliament two months ago the Government stated:the Regular element in the Services is likely to be insufficient to meet even a fraction of our minimum defence requirements.And the corollary follows, for speaking of the need for adequate Reserve Forces, Mr. Isaacs said:Otherwise, all that we shall be doing will be saying to the volunteer Force, which is inadequate to meet the strain, you go into battle. We will sacrifice you and will wait a few more months while we train the others that are to come on.'That was well said, but what a damning indictment of the subsequent change of plan, for now they will have to wait not "a few more months" but certainly six months longer while "we train the others that are to come on."
A noble Lord remarked to me the other day, coming into the House, that the Socialists are running true to form on defence. I think that that is unfair on former Socialists, for never did they run so fast or so far from their deliberate purpose and from their conscience as their successors ran in those two remarkable days. If—which God forbid—the tragedy of war again comes to our land, and once 19 more the cry goes up "Too late" or "Unprepared," there can be no doubt whatever of the judgment of history. Their's is the blame. It is not Parliament which has failed; it is the Government, on whom lies the whole onus for a decision of such far-reaching consequences.We are looking only for the security of our country and our ultimate power to support the general development of the United Nations organization.Those were the concluding words of the Government spokesman on April 1. Now the security of our country may be jeopardized to placate those who would not fight, and those who would not cooperate in the defence of our country. And the United Nations, upon which so many countries place their only hope for this major purpose, is being largely deserted, it appears to me, at birth, and Great Britain is being deprived of her ultimate power to make it a reality.
In conclusion—I know that your Lordships have further important business before you in a moment, so I will not delay you any longer—I say to His Majesty's Government: "On your conscience be it: on you must rest the supreme responsibility for an action for which you are condemned out of the mouths of your own spokesmen, and for which you have earned the censure of all who place first the safety of our country and the lives of our people." We were prepared to support the Bill which was introduced originally, and we showed that in another place. We shall support the Second Reading to-day, not because we believe that the emasculated Bill now before us is adequate, but because without it, even in its attenuated form, we would be courting immediate disaster, imperilling the fate of our country and betraying the United Nations, and because without universal service the whole defensive machinery of our country would break down in eighteen months.