Pay, etc.

Army Estimates, 1931. – in the House of Commons on 10th March 1931.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £9,343,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army at home and abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions (other than Aden), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Birmingham Erdington

I beg to move, "That Sub-head A be reduced by £63,300."

I move this Amendment in order to register my protest against the linking up of religion with war, and against com- pulsory church parades. As an old "Tommy," I know by personal contact with those who were forced to attend these church parades what the feeling used to be in the Army. The experience of my Army colleagues, who were all of the lower ranks, was that there was more blasphemy than religion about compulsory church parades. The men were between the devil and the deep sea, for if they dodged church parades, they were given dirty fatigues like washing greasy dixies and cleaning out latrines. The feeling in the Army about compulsory church parades was therefore very strong. The men detested the idea of compulsory attendance at church. On Sunday nights, when they were free, they could be seen wending their way to the churches of their own denominations. By moving this Amendment I am not attacking religion or suggesting that religion should be denied to the men who are serving in His Majesty's forces, if they want it. I carefully refrained from moving a reduction in the number of chaplains. I am moving to delete only the remuneration of the chaplains, so that if they still desire to carry on their ministrations to the troops without pay, there will be nothing to prevent them doing it, and they will be following the example of their Master.

Many chaplains I met during the War were very fine fellows; they took risks and cheered up the men, giving them cigarettes and words of comfort. The attitude of the chaplains was quite different from that of the old ladies who used to go round the hospitals saying, "Well, Tommy, don't you want to get better quickly and go back and kill some more Germans?" If you said "Yes," you received two packets of cigarettes; if you said "No," you received none. That was not the spirit of the chaplains with whom I came in contact. My point is that by the very nature of their official connection with the Army, the chaplains have to compromise their Christianity. One of the best of them, if not the best, "Woodbine Willie," towards the end of the War repudiated the action he himself had taken during the War—

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

The point before the Committee is whether we should have paid chaplains or not; and it is not in order to put forward suggestions as to what is and what is not Christianity.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Birmingham Erdington

On a point of Order. I desire to keep within your Ruling—

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

My Ruling is perfectly clear. I cannot allow a speech to be made which may lead to a Debate on whether Christianity supports war or is opposed to war. The question before us is the very simple one whether this money should be granted to chaplains or not, and the hon. Member must confine himself to that point.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Birmingham Erdington

I am trying to put forward reasons in support of my contention that the official recognition of Army chaplains, the official control of Army chaplains by the War Office, should be abolished. I object to militarism and Christianity being mixed up, and I am attempting to quote the view of one of the best Army chaplains during the War, who, after the War, said that on thinking things over he could not reconcile—

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

The hon. Member himself pointed out only a few moments ago that he had no objection to chaplains and that he was only opposing the payment of chaplains.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Birmingham Erdington

I was objecting to the official connection between the chaplains and the Army, the official connection and the official control. I was pointing out that as long as there is such official control they are precluded from teaching the true principles of Christianity.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

I am not prepared to allow that Debate to take place. Whether they are teaching the true principles of Christianity is a question that does not arise here. The question is whether this sum of money should be voted for the purpose named, and the Debate must keep to that point.

Photo of Mr Edward Wise Mr Edward Wise , Leicester East

Is it not in order to put reasons to the Committee why the State should not pay chaplains in the Army? That is the point the hon. Member is trying to put.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

It is perfectly in order for the hon. Member to give reasons why this money should not be voted for a specific purpose, but it is not in order to embark on a Debate as to whether Christianity is compatible with war. That would lead to an indefinite Debate and one that, if allowed to be developed, would go far beyond the scope of this Estimate.

Photo of Mr James Hudson Mr James Hudson , Huddersfield

Is it not the case that the chaplain is paid in order to teach Christianity to the men, and if it can be proved that he cannot, by the nature of his office, teach Christianity to the men, may it not be argued that he should not be paid?

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

That is not a matter capable of proof in this Committee.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Birmingham Erdington

Then I will continue along the lines that if chaplains are to be appointed they should be paid by the Churches to which they belong and controlled by those Churches in order that they may have complete freedom as to what they preach at Church parades and in carrying out their duties. If that were done, the Church would be freed from a very awkward position in the event of the outbreak of another war. As long as the Church can appoint men—

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

The hon. Member is now trying to evade my Ruling. The question with which he is now dealing is not under the control of the Government.

Photo of Mr Charles Simmons Mr Charles Simmons , Birmingham Erdington

If the Government pay, they control what the chaplains preach and, in doing that, we are likely to have a repetition of what happened before when the Church crucified Christ on the Cross of Armaments—

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

The hon. Member must not proceed along those lines.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so because I think it is wrong that the State should pay ministers of religion. Under this Vote, we are proposing to spend £63,000 on what is undoubtedly a type of officer. While in many other directions the Government say that they cannot afford to pay just wages in other departments of the State, they are now inviting us to vote this money, and I think we are entitled to ask whether we are getting value for our money in regard to this particular type of officer. It is well known that chaplains are recognised as belonging to the officer class. I know that an army chaplain is supposed to represent the religious department of the War Office, and it is not surprising to find that, in those circumstances, the average soldier looks upon religion as a sort of sentimental habit like collecting stamps or cigarette cards. I seriously suggest that we are not getting value for our money. If we want certain officers to perform the task of seeing to the creature comforts of the soldiers and preach kindliness to the men we should make it plain that the money is being voted for that particular purpose. To engage these men as chaplains to preach religion and to circumscribe and indicate that they must preach a certain class of religion is to engage them under false pretences on the one hand and to impose blasphemy upon them on the other.

My second point is that it is not a wise spending of public money to spend £63,000 on employing this section of the officer class to preach a diluted and perverted type of religion. It would be far better to employ the money in engaging certain types of officers who will say that it is a high task to prepare for war. I am not suggesting that there are not those who sincerely take up that position, but I am pleading that if we want the particular function that these chaplains are supposed to fulfil performed thoroughly, we ought not to engage Christian ministers at all.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

I have little doubt that we cannot debate whether Christianity is compatible with war on an Amendment of this kind. If I allowed that to be discussed, I might have to allow some other hon. Member to get up and denounce Christianity itself, and there would be no end to the Debate. The discussion must be kept within reasonable limits.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

I would not dream of arguing with you on this point in this Chamber, but I am really arguing as to whether we are getting value for money. I am arguing that we are not getting it, and that we cannot get it, in this connection, and therefore we are wasting our money. In these times of national stringency we must exercise the greatest economy, and here is one very obvious way of saving £63,000 or of employing it to much better use. I am certain that many hon. Members opposite could think of many better ways in which this money could be spent than in the employment of what sometimes they themselves no doubt think is a third kind of sex. I do not want to argue the matter now—it would be out of place altogether—but I am simply saying that we should face this question from the standpoint of efficiency and of value for money. It is late, and I have lost my train, but I do not wish further to detain the Committee.

I will say, in conclusion, that, after all, the chaplains whom we employ now are simply officers empowered to employ religious coercion or, on the other hand, ministers of religion who are employed to sanctify the weapons of destruction. Have we got in these chaplains what we need to give the Army the right inspiration, such as a late writer described in a poem during the War, when he said: Ho! A man can do some killing when he's been horn again. That sort of religion is to me absolutely degrading and blasphemous; it outrages religion. Yet what is it that we want from these chaplains? We want efficiency from them, chaplains who will do their job well, who will enable those who join the ranks to be filled with a real sense of the dignity of their occupation and the valuable function they are performing for humanity; and, that being so, I really feel that this money might be spent in some better way.

Photo of Mr Thomas Shaw Mr Thomas Shaw , Preston

I hope not all Members here will lose their trains. This £63,000 covers a number of denominations. I cannot answer for the Roman Catholic, whether he considers his priest is as good a priest whether he is in the Army or not; that is for him. I cannot answer for the Nonconformist, whether he thinks he is the better for the ministrations of a Nonconformist minister; that is for him. I cannot answer for the Established Churchman, neither can I answer for the religion which is older than any of them. All that I know is that, so far as I can see, these men do their work efficiently. A man must live, and in the present circumstances he must have money to live. It is quite wrong to assume that in doctrinal matters these men are under the instructions of the War Office. I have the honour to be Minister of War, and I can assure the hon. and reverend Gentleman who has just spoken that I have opportunities of judging whether these men would be prepared to allow even a hint of any instruction from the War Office as to the doctrine that they should preach. On the whole I think the influence is good. I am positively certain, so far as one denomination is concerned, that it would bitterly resent the taking of these matters out of the hands of the minister, and I ask the Committee to vote in favour of this amount for the service for which it is put down.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? Would he object to an arrangement whereby the chaplains were provided by the denominations and paid by the denominations?

Photo of Mr Thomas Shaw Mr Thomas Shaw , Preston

I cannot answer hypothetical questions. The point is whether the custom should be maintained, and I advise the Committee to maintain it.

Photo of Major George Davies Major George Davies , Yeovil

I cannot let the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment pass without any comment from these benches. Even though you, Mr. Dunnico, have managed to keep their speeches in order, it is deplorable that such speeches should be made on this topic in the spirit in which they were made. The men in this Service have taken on a certain job, just as those in other walks of life do. I happen to be the father of a cadet at Dartmouth, and, when I was down there recently, I had the opportunity of attending a service and listening to the ministrations of the chaplain. All I can say, as the father of a small boy under those conditions, is that it is a great gratification to a parent to think that he has the advantage of such ministrations and such sermons as that to which I had the privilege of listening. I do not believe that there is a Member in this House, including the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, who would suggest for a moment that, because a man took on the responsibilities of this particular professoin, he should he ruled outside those ministrations which many of us value so highly. I only wish to protest against the tone of the speeches that have been delivered in opposition to this Vote.

Question, "That Subhead A be reduced by £63,000," put, and negatived.