I beg to move,
That this House, recognising that the taking of measures to protect the lives and homes of the people at all times transcends in importance all party differences, welcomes the decision of His Majesty's Government to rely upon the voluntary services of the people, but recommends that the results of the scheme for National Service proposed by the Government be reviewed by this House at the end of March.
The House will see that the Motion is in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal and myself. My function is to say something about the industrial aspect of the matter and give the House such details as I can, in advance of the publication of the Guide which my right hon. Friend announced to the House and of the Schedule of Reserved Occupations which is now in course of preparation. The House will see that this scheme is a plan for the effective utilisation of the resources of the nation for national voluntary service. The national service scheme has two aims. The first is to encourage, inspire and guide a free people to enrol themselves to undergo training in peace time for the services they could best render on the outbreak of war. The second is to ensure that volunteers for service should not be enrolled if they would not be available to be called on for such service in war time owing to the essential nature of their occupation. We have for some time been working at the Ministry of Labour on the preparation of a guide to the many and varied services needing volunteers and the details of a classification of occupations which would be reserved in time of war. I have noted a few sneers outside the House at these documents which are being prepared, but I want to say quite plainly that, in my judgment, those sneers are not well-founded.
Those who sneer overlook the fact that on whatever basis a modern war be conducted, a double balance has to be preserved; first, a balance between the many and varied defence services, both active and passive; and, second, a balance between those defence services and the industrial and agricultural services which are vital to the nation if the defence Forces are to be equipped and sustained in a long struggle. It is, therefore, essential, in our judgment, to fill the ranks and the resources of all the many services, and not merely of one, two or three. If that is to be done, full information is necessary to those who are asked to come forward as volunteers. The object of the National Service Guide is to set out, as simply as possible, for the information of members of the public, all the different branches of service for which volunteers are needed. I believe that a Guide of this sort is urgently needed.
Large numbers of people are anxious to serve but are not clear as to the best way of serving, and they want to see the best way clearly set out. The Guide includes the armed forces and their reserves and various auxiliaries, and also the various forms of civilian defence: police and auxiliary police, fire brigades and auxiliary fire services, various branches of A.R.P., nursing and first-aid services, services in connection with the evacuation of children from dangerous areas, a women's land army, and a war service list for the Mercantile Marine. There are plenty of services to choose from, and the Guide will contain a table setting out the services available to younger men and also to older men and women. It will contain the age limits for the various services, classifying separately those that require certain special qualifications or experience. This table when read will enable the readers to find quickly the types of service that will suit them and their gifts best. It will set out the main qualifications for each branch of service, information about training in peace time and the conditions of service in war time, and directions how to join each branch of service. We have tried to keep the Guide short and concise. I think that the information it gives under these heads covers the important points and will be enough to enable a reader to make up his or her mind. Always, of course, it will be possible to get further information from the particular service itself. For the convenience of the readers the Guide will contain a form of application for enrolment which can be detached and sent to any of the services that the reader wishes to join, or to the local office of the Ministry of Labour.
The National Service Guide will be delivered next month to every household through the post, and it will also be available at the local office of the Ministry of Labour and at the post offices, so that it will have the fullest possible publicity. Although we have done our best to make the Guide easy to read and understand, we cannot expect that every reader, whatever his or her circumstances, will have no difficulty in making up his or her mind as to what he or she should do.
The hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), who is accustomed to organising men and women, will understand that readily. [An HON. MEMBER: "Girl Guides."] I have no doubt that even Girl Guides sometimes go to their leaders for guidance. Some people may be in doubt as to whether they are justified in leaving their occupations for a different form of service in war time, and others may be doubtful as to which of the services best fits their own particular circumstances. We have, therefore, arranged for the giving of advice by local national service committees, and in addition the local office of the Ministry of Labour will be prepared to give all the information possible. Our aim is to fill all the ranks of all the services and to ensure that all of them have trained reserves. They cover a very wide range and are very diversified.
There will be guidance given in each local area as to the numbers for each particular service. There are now two problems in any preparation for war. One is the national problem of the national services, and the other is the problem of what services are needed in each locality when the circumstances differ from district to district
Let me turn now to the industrial side. Apart from guidance, it is equally vital that industry should have available the workers necessary to maintain all defence services in the field, at sea and in the air, and to sustain the civil life and effort. The schedule of reserved occupations is designed to meet a three-fold need—the need to retain in industry and agriculture all whose skill and ability are vital to the maintenance of the defence services, active and passive; the need to protect industrial centres and to have defensive personnel ready at the works concerned; and, in view of the large demand in modern conditions upon labour compared with the demand even 20 years ago, it must be realised that the industrial side of the nation's effort must become ever more important. So the list of reserved occupations will be much longer and more varied than that compiled in the late days of 1917 and used in 1918. That will be so because of the changed circumstances of any new struggle and the variety of new inventions and industries now in use, compared with 20 years ago. These all demand new methods and many instruments of defence and attack, active and passive, for both national and local use. The industrial front in the next war will be the key to the defensive front.
Warfare has become mechanised to a vast extent in the last 20 years. That means an increasing demand on industry and labour, industrial capacity, industrial skill, industrial good will. I am glad today to see indications that the nation is to have that good will, as it knew it would have. There are very responsible people who speak with authority for labour and who are speaking with no uncertain voice on the matter, and the House is glad to hear that voice. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) might let me develop my speech in my own way when I am trying to give a clear picture of the background of what is a formidable undertaking. Warfare which has become mechanised makes the industrial front the key front. It is not now a question of service uniforms only, but a question of dungarees as well, and indeed, in any future struggle, if it should come, there will be a larger proportion of those wearing dungarees in the Navy, Army and Air Force than in any struggle this country has known through the centuries. So I would ask the House to pay the utmost attention to this side of the nation's problem, for it is a vital side. A nation can employ forces in the field for long periods only if it can provide sufficient food and goods and weapons in order to sustain effective action, and give them to a fighting force in sufficient quantities.
As I have said, this is to preserve a true balance between the fighting services and the industrial services which sustain them. One of our biggest problems in this Schedule is directed to solving the problem of that balance. I am glad to say that discussions are now proceeding between my Department, the Confederation of Employers and the Trades Union Council as to whether we have the details in the Schedule right. Those discussions are proceeding satisfactorily. We are to have the co-operation of both sides and I have no doubt that these discussions about these practical affairs are much more important to the national effort than a good deal of abstract discussion about abstract problems that has taken place. Fighting forces in modern conflicts have become dependent on the general activities of highly specialised and highly mechanised industrial production.
The demand for skilled workers has increased, is increasing and will increase as manufacturing production increases in skill and in variety. It is brought home to me every day as demands are made and met for labour, that the potential armed strength of a people depends not only on the fighting factors but upon the industrial factors behind them. It is a very great satisfaction to the House, I am sure, to know that in the great efforts made in the last three years or more we have never had occasion for central discussions about large difficulties in labour supply, but that apart from sporadic and specialised temporary shortages all our problems have been solved with the good will existing between those who represent the employers and those who represent the trade unions, with the assistance always given by the Ministry of Labour.
The Schedule of reserved occupations when available will make it clear that in appealing to the nation for volunteers for civil defence and for auxiliary armed forces, the Government are aware of the necessity for conserving the country's productive capacity. One of the clearest lessons of the Great War of 1914–18 was the necessity for conserving the supply of skilled workmen employed in war industries. During the earlier part of the War great damage was done by the indiscriminate recruitment of men who would have been invaluable in making war material and in maintaining essential services. Indeed, efforts were made to recover men from the Army. Let me relate my own experience. When I was a corporal and was one day drilling not far outside London early in 1915, I was called to the orderly-room by the serjeant major. The adjutant gave me a railway warrant to go to South Wales. The House will remember that recruiting in those days was in the hands of a recruiting committee. In South Wales there were those taking part in recruiting. The adjutant told me that it was not an order, but it was desired that I should go down and take my part. In To days the late Colonel Watts-Morgan and I recruited from the Rhondda miners 30,000 men for the Army. What happened? Within nine months the Government were raking the whole Army to get the miners back to the pits.
The hon. Member who comes from the North knows that volunteers from Northumberland and Durham came in so fast that the Durham battalions could not take them. I actually commanded a company of Durham miners who had come to fill up the ranks in the Somersets. These are facts, the lessons of which we have learned in advance, and it is because we have learned these lessons that the House is asked to consider the plan which the Government have put before it, with the assurance that it is vital to all concerned that such a Schedule as I am now outlining to the House should be made as efficient and as effective as possible. It is for that reason that we welcome to the full the co-operation now promised of the Confederation of Employers and of the Trades Union Council in working out the details of the Schedule to see whether or not we have the details which expert industrial experience would show would be the accurate way to draw up the list.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can he explain to us how it is that the Government's proposal for an incomplete register is going to prevent the very difficulties about which he has just told us, that is to say, the wholesale recruitment of people who ought to be left out?
If the hon. Member will allow me to develop what I am going to say he will see quite clearly what guidance will be given when the Schedule of Reserved Occupations is made available to all those concerned with industry and the Services, and what categories are marked out as reserved, as I will explain later. It is useless to talk about a register of 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 of names. We have to make sure that the Services recruit those who will be available in war time, and without the Guide of Services on the one hand and the list of occupations on the other, it will be quite impossible.
It is from this practical end that we have approached this issue. It will be common ground that the lessons to which I have referred ought to be applied to the development of our present plans for active and passive defence. The House will see that a good deal of time and thought has been devoted to this question. We have reached the firm conclusion that it is in the national interest that recruitment for the various forms of national service should be on a selective basis. Men are required to maintain the peace-time strength of the regular armed forces and the regular police force and the fire brigade. No restriction on recruitment for them is contemplated in peace-time. Subject, however, to this overriding consideration, men and women who are engaged in occupations which are essential for the production of war material or for the maintenance of the life of the civil community will not, as a rule, be accepted for other forms of service that would involve whole-time duty in war.
There is no shadow of compulsion or conscription in what I am describing. No man or woman will require in peace-time to join any service, nor is there any intention of imposing any obligation upon anyone to remain in employment against his will. We are appealing for the voluntary offer and service of free citizens, but we say to those whose ordinary occupations are of great importance to productive industry or agriculture, or in carrying on necessary services, that, in the true interests of the country, it is right that they should not offer themselves for whole-time war service, if such service would prevent them in war-time from following their ordinary essential occupations.
We say—and I hope I shall not be misunderstood—that for the great majority of people the patriotic duty is to join one of the services described in the National Service Guide. But those who are in what I term the reserved occupations can render the best services by remaining in their civilian employments. My Department has been making some estimates of the supply of skilled labour of the many different types which will be of importance in war-time, and, as far as it is possible—and it is not easy—to make estimates of the volume of labour for ordinary production and for the maintenance of the necessary civilian services. It is as the result of this examination that the list of occupations to which I have referred has been drawn up, and this now constitutes the provisional Schedule of Reserved Occupations. We propose in general to be guided by the Schedule in accepting recruits who offer themselves in time of peace for whole-time service during war. Certain of these occupations are of such importance to civilian industry and for tradesmen's jobs in the armed forces that men engaged in them will, as a rule, be accepted in the military forces or A.R.P. services requiring full-time service in war-time only in their trade capacity.
In another group of occupations included in the Schedule, men will be accepted for any form of service if below the specified ages; if above the age specified for his occupation, a man would, as a rule, be reserved for civilian employment or for service in his trade capacity whether in the auxiliary forces or on whole-time A.R.P. duties. As regards A.R.P. services requiring only part-time duty in war time, it should be understood that men in the reserved occupations can be accepted, but only on the clear condition that their normal work for which they are reserved has the first claim upon their services in war time. Everyone, of course, without exception will be at liberty to undertake any A.R.P. duties at their own place of work, and I am sure that they will do so when needed.
I want to be quite clear about this point. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there will be no compulsion, but he implies that men may be compelled to remain in civil occupation if they desire to take part in the fighting forces of the Crown. I wish to be clear on this question. If a man is in a reserved occupation, has he or has he not the right to fight?
The answer is that he has the right to volunteer, but he will understand that the Service has a right to say whether or not he ought to come into the ranks. There is a double right here, and that is the answer to the question of the hon. Gentleman. That is the whole reason why the Guide is especially necessary. I have no doubt whatever that the patriotic citizen will take such guidance as is available to him through the Advisory Committee, and will decide for himself whether he is serving his country best in one service or another.
On a point of Order. The Motion before the House refers to a scheme of voluntary service, the details of which the right hon. Gentleman is indicating to the House, but the papers relating to which are not available to hon. Members in any way. We do not know the list of reserved occupations as we do not know the details, and yet we are asked by implication—in fact we are asked explicitly—to approve the scheme, the details of which are not made available to us. If, on the other hand, we are not asked to approve of it, how does the speech of the right hon. Gentleman relate to the Motion on the Order Paper?
If that is the case I submit, with every respect, that we have not before us the details of the scheme which we are asked to approve, and ought not the papers relating to the scheme to be available to Members in the Vote Office?
I made it quite clear that these details are not available, but are in process of compilation. I am giving the House what I thought the House would like to have, namely, such information as I have which will be presently available, and I am sure that this is what the House would desire.
We are not competent to debate a matter the details of which are not made available to us. We cannot examine them from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that they are not prepared yet.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will await the conclusion of my speech, and I will show him that the facts I am putting before the House will make it competent for the House as a whole to judge. I do that on the ground that they have a bearing on the experience which hon. Members in every part of this House have on this problem.
References are made by the right hon. Gentleman over and over again to papers, schemes, schedules and categories which are not made available to hon. Members on this side of the House. How, therefore, can we debate intelligently a scheme, the details of which we are entirely ignorant? That question has been raised here. I submit that it is not fair that we should on this Motion be asked to approve a. scheme, the details of which we are in entire ignorance, and which the right hon. Gentleman says are not yet fully complete.
The House is not asked to approve the details of the scheme. It is asked to approve a scheme for national voluntary service, and I am indicating the mind of the Government on this matter and giving such details as I think the House would like to have, so that the House and the country may know how the scheme will work out.
We are asked to-day to approve a scheme which is to be reviewed in March, and is there no way by which, before we are asked to approve that scheme, we can have the scheme before us? At the present time we are being asked to approve a thing when we have no proposals in definite form before us.
Perhaps we might have an explanation from the Government as to why the terms of the Motion which was before this House last time we debated this matter have been changed. Those terms asked the House to approve certain proposals, and it would help us in this whole matter if we knew whether we are in fact approving these proposals by this Motion or not.
I have stated the facts, and I would point out that the Motion says nothing about approving the scheme at all. What the House is asked to approve is that it
welcomes the decision of His Majesty's Government to rely upon the voluntary services of the people, but recommends that the result
of the scheme for National Service proposed by the Government be reviewed by this House at the end of March.
How can we review the scheme in March unless it is approved to-day? The scheme that comes before us in March must be approved before March, and we are approving it to-day, and I ask in all fairness, that before any Motion or Vote can be taken in this House the details of such scheme ought to be put on the Paper.
May I put two points of Order? The first is that, if the House is not really doing anything but merely listening to the entertainment by the right hon. Gentleman, and to what could be put into operation by administrative order, why is the time of this House wasted in this way? The second point of Order is, as the Minister declares that he is explaining the scheme, how are Members on this side of the House to separate from the mixture of pleasant jokes, personal reminiscences, and other matters which he has laid before us, that which is really the scheme?
The Motion is:
That this House welcomes the decision of His Majesty's Government to rely upon the voluntary services of the people.
My right hon. Friend is trying to give an outline of how this voluntary service is to be used, together with some details, and it seems to be a perfectly reasonable attitude to take up.
On the point of Order. Is it not the case that the Minister himself has spoken of himself as the author of the scheme and that the final words of the Motion are:
but recommends that the results of the scheme for National Service proposed by the Government he reviewed by this House at the end of March"?
We have not the scheme that has been proposed by the Government before us, and the points of Order that have been raised are that this House cannot properly debate a scheme which is not before us,
but is merely being described by the Minister as something that is being prepared and that will be laid before us when we meet again at the end of January.
As I read this Motion, there are two points in it. The first is whether we shall have a voluntary service or a compulsory service. I think that arose out of the Debate which we had a fortnight ago, and I fancy it has come about rather earlier than was expected because of the Christmas Adjournment and because the House was anxious further to debate the scheme expounded by the Lord Privy Seal. That, of course, has not been printed yet and so is not in Members' hands. The question at the moment is voluntary service as opposed to compulsory service. On the other hand, I suppose that when we have had the scheme in print, we shall know more about it, and we can review it in two or three months' time.
May I submit that the only thing that the House is in order in discussing is the principle which is embodied in the Motion, as to whether we are in favour of the voluntary principle or the compulsory principle, and, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman is out of order in outlining the details of a scheme which the House is not asked to consider in order to vote upon it, but that, by including details in his speech, he implies that the House, not having rejected what he says, is in favour of the concrete scheme as well as of the abstract principle? I submit, therefore, that the only thing that the right hon. Gentleman is in order in doing is to direct himself to the virtues of the principle of voluntary service as against conscription.
Mr. J. J. Davidson:
May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Labour has definitely referred to certain co-operative efforts with regard to formulating a scheme? He has also stated that, arising from those efforts, he welcomes the support given to such things as local advisory committees, of the composition of which this House knows nothing, and I submit that he is definitely laying before the House a definite scheme of voluntary registration and is attempting to give some kind of details and, therefore, is completely out of order, in view of the wording of the Motion.
We are asked to review the results of a scheme, and if we have to review the results of a scheme, that implies that that scheme has been formulated, adopted, and put into operation. I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether this House is now being asked to consider a scheme which will be put into operation and the results of which will be known at the end of March, and, if so, why it is that this scheme or its details are not before this House in a proper Parliamentary Paper?
I have tried to explain the position to the House. The details have not been printed because there has not been time, and I think the House would have resented adjourning for the Christmas Recess without having had an opportunity of debating the second part of the Motion.
The Minister, referring to the hon. Member who asked him about a man who desired to join the fighting forces apart from remaining in a necessary place, replied that that man would be advised or directed by a local advisory committee. May I ask the Minister the composition of this local advisory committee and who has agreed to its formation? [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not a point of Order."] I only asked a question.
I am always glad to answer questions. The House will know that my right hon. Friend made certain announcements about committees in the Debate in this House. So far as this matter has gone, we have invited the lord lieutenant of each county to be the president of these committees in his area, and the chairman of the county council or the lord mayor or mayor of the county boroughs, the lord provost or the provost of the large burghs in Scotland to be chairmen; and it is proposed that a committee shall consist of approximately 30 members, with varying representations of all those whose interests will be concerned in the working-out of these schemes. With regard to London, we have had preliminary consultations with representatives of the London County Council, the City Corporation, and the borough councils with a view to getting their advice as to the best means by which to constitute a committee or committees for London. That is my answer to the hon. Member.
All that I am trying to do is to give the House such indications as I fairly can as to the necessity of the preparations which we are making and the vital necessity of a voluntary basis for the effective carrying-out of those preparations. Perhaps industrial Members would like to have one or two points about particular industries. We are suggesting that the principal occupations in all the essential industries should be included. Although I do not desire at all to weary the House, if it is helpful I will mention the effects upon one or two of the main industries of the country. Restrictions will not apply to enlistments or enrolments for whole-time service in the regular forces, the police, or the fire brigades. Reservations in the Schedule apply to enrolments for service which will be whole-time in war but not in peace. That is what I mean when I say that men are reserved. In coal mining some of the most essential occupations, hewers or getters, for instance, would be entirely reserved, except that the men of any age in those occupations may be recruited for their trade capacity, for instance, as tunnellers. In other underground occupations, men are not reserved up to the age of 23 in some cases and 25 in others. In shipbuilding men in many of the occupations, such as shipwrights, rivetters, and others, are reserved except that they may be recruited as tradesmen. In other shipbuilding occupations men are not reserved below the age of 21, such as caulkers or up to 23 such as "holders up." Similar considerations also apply in the case of men employed in the building, engineering, iron and steel, vehicle building, and transport industries.
They have not. What has been done is that we have made our preliminary preparations, looking ahead for a provisional draft. The House will have noticed that I have used the word "provisional." We have invited the Confederation of Employers on the one hand and the Trades Union Council on the other—[An HON. MEMBER: "But not the House of Commons"]—and now the House of Commons, to give support to a scheme of voluntary service.
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman has now said that he has placed before the employers and the trade unions the details of a scheme which he is now placing before the House of Commons, and I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to protect us in this matter. What scheme is before the House of Commons, under what authority is it before the House of Commons, and why should the House of Commons be the one body not to be provided with the details of the scheme? I submit that this is for the protection of the House, and I say to the Government that the well-being of their scheme requires that we should be protected against this sort of procedure.
All hon. Members who sit for agricultural constituencies will be interested in this point. In the draft of the details, not the scheme, it is proposed that men over 21 in agriculture should be on the reserved list, but we understand that this might make difficulties in some localities for Territorials, and the problem is being considered with a view to a balanced solution. In certain other industries not so directly connected with armament production, such as paper and printing, textiles, boots and shoes, and food manufactures, men in the principal skilled occupations will be reserved at the age of 30 or in one or two cases, such as flour and grain milling, at the age of 25, and skilled men employed in the public utility services are in the main reserved.
May I put a question? I am very interested now to hear some details of the important industries to be scheduled, and I am rather surprised that I, at any rate, have had no consultation at all, although we are very large employers.
I was in the middle of a sentence, and the right hon. Gentleman should note that I have used, not the word "industries," but the word "occupations." There are occupations here which are common to the whole range of industry. What we are now discussing is not an industry but the occupations concerned, and surely it is the common practice of all those who desire to work out the practical details of a scheme of any kind to make sure that they have had the expert advice of those who represent both the employers and the employed before finally determining what the balance of that scheme shall be.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves agriculture, can he explain in a little more detail how he proposes to deal with the difficulty he indicated? His reference has been very brief.
We have already dealt with that. The House was desirous of having a Debate on the further details of the plan before Christmas, and the House knows that I am doing my best, as my right hon. Friend did, to give guidance and to show how our plans for voluntary national service will work out, their implications in regard to the organisation of recruiting for the service, and the determination of the proper balance in the interests of the nation between the service itself and industry. All that I am trying to do is to give the House such light as I can in order to show how the plan will work out, and how vital it is to have a free people and a voluntary effort behind this great undertaking.
I am not complaining of the right hon. Gentleman. I have not taken part in previous Debates. What I am asking is a plain question. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman if he can say whether the House of Commons at any time, and if so at what time, will have an opportunity of expressing its own view as to what he calls the practical details of a scheme.
When are we going to have the details of this scheme? Are we to spend the whole of to-day discussing something and yet nobody knows what it is, and then we are to leave it and wait until March? Is the thing to be put into operation for three months before the House of Commons can express an opinion on it?
The answer is, certainly, and so great is the faith of the Government in this plan that when the House does review its working in all its details, with the book before them, which is now in preparation, it will give hearty approval to the plan. I commend these arrangements to the House for three reasons: (1) because I believe they are practical plans for meeting our immediate daily needs; (2) because as a plan for voluntary national service they are based on the idea of the maximum amount of national unity. The House will know that on the industrial side the indications are, as always, that the good will which is vital to the working of our Parliamentary institutions and to great industrial efforts, will not be lacking. Finally, I commend it—
I commend it not merely as a plan based on voluntary effort and, therefore, likely to secure the maximum national unity, but I commend it to the House as a plan of free service, by a free people, for freedom.
On a point of Order. May I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to what will now be the scope of the Debate? Are we for the rest of the evening to discuss the merits of the voluntary as against the compulsory principle, or/and are we entitled to discuss any details which may occur to us as such that should be incorporated in any scheme that may be put into operation when the House is in Recess?
Let me make it perfectly clear, if there is any dubiety in the minds of any hon. Member, that there is no approval being given to-night to the proposals of the Government so far as we are concerned. If they like, in their own minds, to elevate this scratch lot of suggestions half-baked, inchoate, and call them a scheme, I cannot help it. I do not believe that they have a scheme; I am certain that they are not within miles of having reached a decision on the fundamentals which are necessary before a scheme can be proposed. I am satisfied
that, because of pressure from behind, a series of proposals which have not yet been settled and are not yet fully disclosed to the House, have been put together. When we had the last Debate on this question I asked that a White Paper should be laid before any final decisions were taken. That demand still stands, and until we have a full disclosure of the details of the scheme we on this side of the House are not committed. I would quote the words I used on the last occasion:
On the Government scheme, which is still not fully disclosed,"—
that statement applies to-day as it did on 6th December—
we retain freedom of action and freedom of criticism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December 1938; col. 1040. Vol. 342.]
Whatever may be the result of this Debate to-day, that freedom we still retain. That fact must be made perfectly clear, because if this Motion be accepted I do not want by implication it to be thought that my hon. Friends and myself are in any way committed to the proposals of His Majesty's Government. We have not heard the details of the scheme and, therefore, we cannot be committed to them.
I am glad that the Debate to-day is widening its scope. I am glad to think that the Lord Privy Seal is not to be left alone and forlorn to defend what is a very far-reaching and complicated problem, affecting not only his Department but a good many other Departments. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman whom we now hail as Minister of Labour and Minister of National Service has come into view. His Department in recent years has shaken off some very awkward responsibilities. It shed its responsibility for maintaining the unemployed whose benefit has lapsed because of the National Government's Unemployment Insurance Act, and placed them away from this House on to the shoulders of the Unemployment Assistance Board. It got rid of some of the trouble arising from the problems of the distressed areas by describing them as Special Areas and handing them over to Commissioners.
Since then the right hon. Gentleman has been a sort of super-office boy, counting the numbers of those in work and those out of work, and by his own curious method of arithmetic trying to prove that all is well with the country. I think we are all agreed that that is a job which is not really worthy of the right hon. Gentleman's capabilities. It is true, as he informed some people whom he was addressing the other night, that there are over 15,000 Ernest Browns who are insured against unemployment. He does not fall into that category, but it may be that any one of those 15,000 could have performed the task which up to recently fell on the Minister of Labour, who now emerges in his new glory as Minister of Labour and Minister of National Service. I am bound to say, in all frankness, that I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman during his tenure of office has shown any conspicuous capacity for national service. He has left 2,000,000 unemployed in the lurch for a very long time; he has got rid of the most awkward problems in his Department, and if he succeeds in this new task we shall look to a new kind of Minister who has had some transformation of mind and spirit.
I should like to know by whose authority the right hon. Gentleman changes his title and his functions. His office was brought into existence by legislation in 1916. By Act of Parliament he is described as Minister of Labour. Now, apparently by some fiat issued by him, vetted by the Prime Minister and approved by the Cabinet, he assumes this new title of Minister of National Service. He has no more right to call himself that than we have officially to describe him as the Minister of national disservice. On what constitutional authority is this Department in future to be known by its lengthened name as the Ministry of Labour and National Service? I hope the Lord Privy Seal will find some effective answer to that question.
We are glad to have brought into this discussion the Minister of Labour and National Service. In our last discussion, meaning no disrespect to the Lord Privy Seal, I said that this was not a one-man band, but that it was a question of broad national policy. It may well be that before the discussions of this shadowy scheme are completed we may need the contributions of the three Defence Ministers, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, and even of the Prime Minister, who a few days ago entered into this arena by shouldering the responsibility for answering questions regarding the phantom panel of business men who are to be concerned with defects and delays in supply and production under the armaments programme. It may well be that early in the new year the Prime Minister will take another burden on his shoulders and begin to answer questions about national service, in spite of the new Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides. There is a fundamental question affecting the Government as a whole to which an answer is required. The right hon. Gentleman's speech, a great spate of words, threw no new light on the proposals of the Government. He skilfully evaded the major points which are at issue.
My first question is: To what purposes is national service directed? In the House of Commons yesterday, much to the dislike of many hon. Members opposite, we expressed the gravest uneasiness about the Government's foreign policy. I do not want to-day to cover the ground so admirably covered by my hon. Friend yesterday in moving the Vote of Censure, but at least one can say this, that in the last resort the effectiveness of any form of national service, whether compulsory or voluntary, depends on the confidence of the people in the cause to which they are called to give service. I will not pursue that topic further because I might be out of Order. My second fundamental question is this: Can the Government on its present showing of such odds and ends and scraps of information as have been put before us, make such a national service which is called for now effective? In the last Debate we declared our desire for an effective defence of the civilian population. I quoted the official statement issued by my party; and by that statement we stand, but we have not yet had, certainly not this afternoon, any indication of the Government's policy on some of the major aspects of this problem.
The House is aware of the appalling muddle in anti-air defence during the recent crisis, including that dreadful farce of a balloon barrage, which fortunately took place after the crisis had been temporarily dispelled. We are aware of the chaos regarding the hasty provision of trenches and shelters and of the vacillating indecision of the Government on the question of evacuation. Notwithstanding these tragic lessons of the crisis, we are still not clear what provision is being made to-day against air attack for the defence of the civilian population. We have no idea yet what the Government propose to do regarding those extemporised trenches and shelters which are now derelict and waterlogged. We do not know whether they are to be completed as a form of national service or completed by bringing into the ambit of employment those who are now out of work. We have no idea as to the Government's policy with regard to evacuation. Do they mean at all costs to keep the civilian population, including the industrial workers, in the centres where they live and work, or have they in mind large scale evacuation to less vulnerable points? Are they contemplating distributing industry so that certain fundamental and basic industries will be taken to places where the risk is less? On this question alone depend the nature and the distribution of the various services concerned with civil defence. Until these major questions are settled the idea of a plan, a detailed plan, of national service is just so much eye-wash, and until the Government declare their policy on these questions we are not called upon in this House to accept the details of a scheme which might be completely inadequate when the time comes.
On these and many other questions we have no light whatever from the Government. Nor have we had yet very much information about this register and about certain industrial problems which are bound to arise. The right hon. Gentleman referred twice in the course of his speech to this scheme as a preparation for war, and we are entitled to ask what will be the conditions of those who under this scheme are called upon for service in the event of war? What will be the terms of their employment, the conditions of their engagement, and what will be the position of their dependants in case they should lose their lives? Even more important is the question: Suppose an auxiliary fireman or some other person enrolled in one of these services, happens during his training and as a result of his training to be the victim of an accident, what is his position regarding workmen's compensation going to be? I mention this because on the first occasion when these proposals were brought before the House the Lord Privy Seal said that he did not think there would be any increase in expenditure, and that they would not entail legislation. I always doubted both those statements, and the questions which I am putting now will inevitably involve legislation. The question of trainees, people who are enrolled now, calls for legislation at once. It is no good waiting until the dread event of war to settle the terms upon which people are expected to give their services, and it may be their lives. On these matters we have had no information whatever, and the more one probes into it the more obvious it is that there is no scheme upon which we can be asked to give our opinion to-night.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to his provisional list of reserved occupations. I draw attention again to the fact that the trade unions received no invitation to be consulted on this question until the day after the Lord Privy Seal made his speech in the House on 6th December. That was much too late. I do not believe that people in an office have quite the practical knowledge of what should be reserved occupations as people who are engaged in them, whether employers or workmen, and, if I may say so, it is a little offensive to employers' organisations and trade union movements for office boys to try their hands on these questions before they are discussed with responsible people. I want to ask the Minister of Labour and National Service—
That phrase has never been used. I happened to attend the twenty-first anniversary of one of the departments at Kew, and in the course of a friendly speech expressed the opinion that doubtless the Ministry of Labour would come to be known as the Ministry of Labour and National Service—but not the Minister.
It is a little more complicated. I do not mind the right hon. Gentleman making friendly speeches: it is proper he should, but he should not make pronouncements which rings through the whole of the week-end Press as though it were a great pronouncement of policy. It was treated with all seriousness, not knowing that the right hon. Gentleman was in one of his playful moods. If I had realised that, I might not have made any comments, but I think the right hon. Gentleman's explanation is somewhat inadequate, and that we should get from the Lord Privy Seal a much more serious explanation of this departure from existing statutory legislation.
I want to ask the Minister of Labour and the Ministry of National Service whether this elaborate list, this constantly changing card index, is intended to be used only when war is upon us, or is it intended to organise the man-power of the nation for the purpose of increasing national prosperity in time of peace, which will provide us with great assets in time of war? Or, alternatively, is there to be an effective organisation of our industrial population for purposes of defence? The right hon. Gentleman in his speech referred to the effective utilisation of the resources of the nation for national voluntary service. I suggest that before they can be effectively utilised you have to utilise the resources for more than voluntary service. You have to utilise your human and material resources for effective production. That is the whole basis on which any kind of service alone can be effective. He told us that the industrial front is the key to the defensive front. I am not sure about the metaphor "key" and "front," but I gather the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's intention, that in the dread event of war industry will play a far more important role than it did in the last Great War. If that be so, the mere compilation of a list of reserved occupations is not going to make us more industrially strong after the dread event has happened.
I am entitled to ask this question. I have referred to the problem of protection against air attack. Is there any plan on the part of the Government to increase our national efficiency and our national preparedness against attacks by absorbing the 2,000,000 involuntarily idle men who would only be too glad to be engaged on wage-earning occupations, or are these 2,000,000 men and women to be used as fodder for so-called voluntary service, to be pressed into work just because they are out of work and into forms of activity which might, perhaps, be distasteful to them? When compiling this long list of reserved occupations, I wonder whether the Government have in contemplation, as part of this organisation of the national resources, a similar list of people whose wealth might be readily put at the disposal of the State. I wonder whether, as part of this great programme and plan, the Government have any list, not of reserved occupations, but of a host of rampant profiteering concerns which are exploiting the national necessity to-day in the interests of private persons. Clearly, if any sacrifice is to be asked of organised labour, then organised labour will demand a quid pro quo in sacrifices of material wealth. The Prime Minister has indicated that he will come into the picture to answer questions and so on, but so far the Government have not called in the experience, interest and knowledge of organised labour. I put it seriously to the Government—and there are implications attached to what I say—that the powerful aid of labour is essential to the success of any scheme of this kind.
I think the hon. Member shows a little undue optimism; he is marching before the band. The Trades Union Congress General Council was not consulted yesterday. Having met the Minister of Labour and the Lord Privy Seal last Thursday, the Trades Union Congress met yesterday and considered the answers to a number of questions which they had put to the right hon. Gentlemen.
I have explained already that the first invitation to a consultation came after the scheme had been put before the House. Since then, there has been one meeting between the Trades Union Congress and the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Yesterday the Trades Union Congress General Council met, and they admitted that they were prepared to co-operate, but it was to be on conditions; and I am suggesting to the House—
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Hon. Members opposite are always complaining that other people are consulted before this House, and now the right hon. Gentleman seems to be complaining that the House was consulted before the trade unions. Which does he want?
The hon. Member is mistaken in suggesting that we get it both ways. Often enough, because of our weak voting strength in the House, we do not get it either way. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken as to what I have in mind. There was a question of the right hon. Gentleman ultimately producing a scheme with regard to reserved occupations. I said that before bringing it to the House, his business was to consult people who know more about it than he does. My criticism is that that consultation was left much too late. We have not yet had a list of reserved occupations, and I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that it is purely tentative and provisional up to the present, and indeed, I think the view of the Trades Union Congress General Council would be that it should remain provisional until they have had more time in which to examine it in detail.
The Motion before the House, as was affirmed by the right hon. Gentleman, asserts emphatically that what proposals may emerge from these discussions are to be based on the voluntary principle. In a previous Debate, I explained that that is the principle by which we, as a movement, stand. In so far as such scheme as may be evolved is effective, in so far as it is sustained by freely-given services and governed by representative and responsible people, then such a scheme, based on those principles, and having regard to what I said concerning the wider issues, would meet with general support. But in this very imperfect society and—this has been used against us on many occasions—human nature being what it is, voluntary service so-called may be secured, if not by the methods of the press-gang, by more subtle methods. I can imagine the excessive patriotism of certain employers being expressed at the expense of their workpeople. I have in my possession documents concerning a man who does not want his name to be disclosed for fear of losing his job. On two occasions, this man was ordered to attend a meeting to be addressed in support of the Territorial Forces. And at what price? At the risk, if he did not do so, that he might, for one reason or other totally unconnected with that—for there is no victimisation in these days—find his services disposed of.
There are all sorts of methods of indirect compulsion. There may be open victimisation, but more often than not, indirect pressure may be brought to bear upon people to join this, that, or the other service. It may be, in some areas at least, that the plight of the unemployed, who in this matter ought not to be treated any differently from the employed, will be exploited, and that they will find themselves driven, very reluctantly, into forms of service which do not appeal to them. Hon. Members on this side of the House will be ever watchful of any voluntary scheme, and we shall use our power to prevent that subtle and demoralising form of conscription masquerading as voluntary service. I say that because of the depth of feeling among my hon. Friends about the possibilities of compulsion being effected by social and economic pressure. In our view, such pressure is revolting, and the Labour movement will always, as during the Great War, use its influence to resist pressure of that kind.
We have not yet been given very many details about the machinery of these rather vague outlines of proposals which have been put before us this afternoon and on a previous occasion. However, it appears that this Department, which in future will doubtless be known as the Ministry of Labour and National Service, is to have within it a machinery for the administration of such scheme as may emerge; in other words, there is to be a central bureaucracy which will run the scheme in accordance with the wishes of the Minister. So far, there has been no proposal for any kind of central committee. When, in answer to a question in the House, the Lord Privy Seal made his first statement on this subject, he spoke of a national organisation. Now it appears that the national organisation is to consist of officers seconded for this purpose in the Ministry of Labour. Why is there not to be some representative central committee, for in certain spheres of activity within the ambit of discussion there are central committees, which are still to continue? One would have thought that in a large enterprise of this kind, there should have been some authoritative and representative body to keep a watch on the scheme and to influence its attitude and general direction, and, if such a body could be established, to give confidence to the great mass of the public. Apparently, that is not in contemplation, and I should like the Government to tell us why there is to be no body of that kind.
There has been a good deal of discussion about local committees, their powers and their personnel; but I am still not quite clear about them. Who is to appoint these committees? Are they to be appointed by the chairman of the county council? Are they to be appointed after consultation with the Ministry of Labour and National Service? Are they to be appointed, as regards some persons in them, at the whim of the chairman of the county council, and as regards other persons, from a panel submitted by the Minister? Those are questions which ought to be answered to-day, because the right hon. Gentleman intends to proceed to the establishment of these committees forthwith, and a good deal depends upon how they are to be constituted. Statements have been made and published about the precise functions of the committees, but I am still not quite clear about those functions. We are informed that they are not to be recruiting agencies, but apparently they are to stimulate and encourage enrolment in certain services. There appears to me to be a very thin line drawn between recruitment and advice. As the right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon, the committees are to give advice. Here I hark back to a question that I have raised already—at what point will the advice they give become pressure? In the answer to that question, a good deal depends upon the composition of the committees.
In the view of hon. Members on this side of the House, these committees should be so constituted as to prevent the exercise of social and economic pressure, to prevent the possibility of victimisation and to prevent any chance of the use of direct or indirect pressure on people to enlist in services not of their own choice; for once that happened, we should be on the slippery slope towards compulsion. It appears to me that in the constitution of the committees, the emphasis is all wrong. It would appear that, under the grand umbrella of the lord lieutenant of the county, there is to be a chairman; in the case of county councils under the grand umbrella of the lord lieutenant of the county, the chairman of the county council; and in the case of county boroughs, without the grand umbrella, the lord mayor or mayor.
Is my right hon. Friend sure that that is the case? Is not a county borough within the lord lieutenant's county although it is not within the county council's county? Is it not the case that the lord lieutenant of the county has equal jurisdiction, such as it is, over the county borough and over the administrative county?
I am not sure of the details, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the lords lieutenant in relation to the county councils. I understand, however, that the effective person is to be the chairman of the county council or the lord mayor or mayor of the county borough, as the case may be. Where is the emphasis placed? It appears to be placed, first on these various kinds of recruiting agencies. Secondly, it is placed upon an undefined set of "people of standing." When I hear references to "people of standing" I am bound to say that I begin to feel suspicious. I am satisfied of what the general view of the rank and file of the ordinary working-class people will be when they are told that these committees are to consist predominantly or very largely of "people of standing." They will shudder at the thought of appearing before those people or seeking their advice. Then, apparently, we are to have thrown into the scale, as odds and ends, one or two people from the local authorities, one or two from the trade union movement and one or two from the employers' association. I say that a committee of that kind will fail completely to command the respect of the Labour movement.
The right hon. Gentleman objects very strongly to these committees being composed of people of standing. Are we to understand that it is his view that more respect would be paid to committees which were composed of people of no standing?
I understand that in certain circles in this country the term "people of standing" is, so to speak, a term of art. Those are not circles of the kind in which I move myself but I am certain of this—that when the Lord Privy Seal speaks of "people of standing," he does not mean directly representative persons. He means people drawn from a relatively narrow social class who are known to the lord lieutenant of the county and to the master of foxhounds.
The right hon. Gentleman misrepresents the Lord Privy Seal. The Lord Privy Seal has specifically said that the committees are to include representatives of the local authorities, of the trade unions and of the employers' associations and I fail to see how it can be said that those are not elected persons. But the right hon. Gentleman himself has not answered my question. Does he expect that these committees will receive more respect from the workers, if they are composed of people of no standing?
If the hon. Gentleman has followed my argument, he will know that I have been explaining that these committees are to consist predominantly of representatives of the recruiting agencies and of those who are called "people of standing." It is not for me to define who those people are. It is for the Lord Privy Seal to do so. I am certain, however, that the "people of standing" referred to here are not representative people. I agree that the Lord Privy Seal has said that we are to have one or two people representing the local authorities, and one or two representing the trade unions, and so on.
Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest:
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree this year that in the city of Plymouth, for instance, the occupant of the office of Lord Mayor, who is a dockyard employé would be the most suitable man to place at the head of this committee?
Yes, but I am afraid that he would not come within the Lord Privy Seal's definition of a "person of standing." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not want to thresh out the point, neither do I shirk it, but it is perfectly clear that the Lord Privy Seal has drawn a distinction between representative people and people who are not representative and the non-representative people are called "people of standing." The whole of my argument is that the emphasis in the composition of these committees should be on the representative character of the people who serve upon them. The price of Labour co-operation, as I understand it, is effective partnership in the administration of the scheme and confidence in the spirit of the administration of the scheme. Labour cannot be fobbed off with one or two places on a committee, the membership of which may run up to 30. The emphasis, as I say, should be on elected representative of the people and on responsible persons with industrial experience. If we could have positive assurances from the Minister when he replies that a preponderating part of the membership—I myself would say the whole of the membership—will be drawn from sources of that kind, it would facilitate the right hon. Gentleman's work in the near future.
Now I want to refer to finance. On this question Ministers, so far, have been cautious and indeed silent. When this subject was first brought before the House my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked certain questions about legislation and about finance. The Lord Privy Seal was very naive in his reply. I cannot blame him, because he had not been long in the job at the time. He said he did not think that this would involve either legislation or finance. I put that point in the previous Debate and it is a serious one. The financing of a good deal of this work will, unless otherwise determined, fall upon the local authorities. There was a great tussle before the last crisis when the local authorities were called upon to undertake responsibilities for air-raid precautions. We fought for the view that that charge should be a completely national charge. We know the muddle that existed at that time. We know that very little of an effective character has been done about air-raid precautions work.
Apparently, the Government now propose to call upon our local authorities to take effective steps for the protection of the civilian population. Part of this preparation will be the primary responsibility of the Government—anti-aircraft battalions and so on—but a good deal of responsibility will fall upon local authorities. They are to be asked to perform duties which lie outside their normal everyday peace-time work. They are to be asked to carry out what is in effect, as important a part of national defence as the work of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. It would be a scandal if the effectiveness of the protection of our people against air attack were to depend upon local resources. That is an intolerable and entirely untenable position, and before we go much further into this scheme, we want to know what definite provision the Government mean to make in order to ensure that poor districts shall not suffer from the Government's act because of their poverty. In other words, what steps do the Government propose to take to make this great range of services a part of national defence, the expenditure in relation to which will be nationally borne?
We have previously expressed our deep suspicion of the Government's foreign policy. We are convinced of the Government's muddle-headedness. We are convinced of its incompetence and we are convinced of its tragic state of unpre-paredness. We realise, and it is a very sad thought, that if, through mess, muddle and retreat, this country is landed into war by this Government, we cannot be responsible for leaving the civilian population, defenceless victims of the Government's folly. But I want in all seriousness to make this clear to the House. If the scheme, when developed, is to win support, if it is not to meet with growing hostility, as it well may, it must fulfil certain conditions. In the first place, it must be voluntary in spirit, in intention and in practice. Secondly, it must be democratically inspired. It must not be left merely to "people of standing." It must be backed—and here I think the right hon. Gentleman will, on reflection, support me—by the proper utilisation of all our human and material resources for the national benefit. It must be a scheme which will deal drastically with the owners of wealth, deal drastically with the profiteer and the racketeer. It must, as I have already explained, cast no further burden on the local authorities for we cannot submit to a situation in which the efficiency of civil defence is made dependent upon rateable value.
I ask the Government to give us specific and frank assurances on these very difficult points, which are, I realise, very troublesome to them. But I would say that on the answers to those questions to-night, must depend our final attitude towards such proposals as have been put before the House. I began by saying that we were not committed to this scheme, that we kept our freedom of criticism and of action while declaring our view that all effective steps should be taken for the defence of our civilian population. By that we stand. That commits us to no more, this afternoon, than the acceptance of the voluntary principle and in no way binds us as to our criticism in the future.
We are in some difficulty in discussing this subject to-day, because there are two matters before us, as was clearly brought out by the interruptions during the Minister's speech. We could of course discuss merely the general question of the relative advantages of voluntary and compulsory systems of national service, but I feel it is much more important that we should devote time to a discussion of the details of the Government's proposals for a voluntary scheme. Unfortunately, as I say, we are in a difficulty because we have not these details before us. We have to rely upon statements which have been made in the House previously and on the Minister's speech to-day. I was anxious to find what were the reserved occupations. The Minister of Labour has told us something about them, but, clearly, the Ministers concerned have not yet made up their mind upon this point and the scheme is not at a very advanced stage. I take it that primarily the object of the scheme is to assist in filling the gaps in personnel which still exist in the various services which members of the public may join. As the Lord Privy Seal said in winding up the Debate the other night, his object is to find people for the jobs which exist already and not jobs for the people. I feel that some hon. Members do not wish that to be the case. They wish to have a compulsory system of training in which there shall be jobs for everybody so that the scheme should be put the other way round and jobs made which the people can occupy.
That leads to a certain amount of confusion, and I will mainly confine myself to the question of what the Government are doing to fill the services as they exist to-day, on a voluntary basis. It is important to know more of what they will do, because in the second part of the Motion there is something of an implied threat to the whole voluntary scheme; that is to say, if the voluntary scheme of the Government falls down on an administrative point we shall have the voluntary system condemned, although it might not be the voluntary system, but merely the administrative arrangements, which were insufficient. Therefore, I hope that it may be possible to have two days' Debate when the House reassembles—a Debate at an early stage when the Government scheme will be published and when we might have a White Paper on the subject, when we can discuss the scheme in detail; and a further Debate in March when we can discuss whether in the time which will have elapsed the voluntary system has been justified by results. The idea of a Handbook is excellent in its way, for it will give the public information about the services about which they are not yet sufficiently clear, but there is a general consideration which over-clouds even the value of a Handbook.
One reason which is delaying recruitment to the various services is that people are not quite convinced that the Government themselves know what they want. Deeds are more convincing than words, however simply phrased they may be, and however well broadcast to every household in the form of an attractive Handbook. The deeds of the Government in the last two months have not impressed the public that the Government have made up their mind what they want and have the intention of pushing through their programme. What really convinced the people of the country that there was a crisis was the distribution of gas masks and the digging of trenches in the parks. For two months those trenches have remained a monument to indecision on the part of the Departments concerned, and the public is beginning to wonder whether the Government themselves know what they want in air-raid precautions. Two months have elapsed, and the only really constructive decision, as far as passive defence is concerned, is the decision to issue a Handbook. That is very good, but we expect more, and I do not think the Government will get volunteers in really large numbers until the Government themselves have given a different impression to the public.
More than a year ago I spoke in the House recommending that we should prepare air-raid shelters. The finance of that problem is difficult and it has not yet been completely faced. Many other Members on all sides of the House have pressed the Government to make some decision about it, and until some decision is made, not in panic in a crisis, but as a well considered decision, the public will hang back. After all, this is a country which has built up its greatness on mining. If I go to the miners in my area and ask them to volunteer for various services, I find a high proportion of them are out of work. I cannot do anything but tell them that I think they would be better employed usefully on making shelters in London and on the north-east coast than being unemployed. It is useless to go to these men and ask them to volunteer as air-raid wardens when they are just standing idle and when this is a time, if there is real danger, as we believe there is, to this country, when they should be employed on jobs which could be done now and which would be much more difficult to do if we were involved in a war.
We hear from various sides of the House about the proposals of the Government for the evacuation of children and the civil population. My district is one into which refugees will be evacuated, and it is some concern to it that the preparations which were made during the crisis were lacking in any arrangements for the care of the refugees when they arrived in the districts.
While I admit that the question of air-raid shelters is a little away from the subject, the question of evacuation is not, because I want to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether any plans are in being for a service by which the refugees will be looked after in the districts into which they go. That will be a serious problem and it must be faced. It is no use making arrangements for children to go into the country unless plans are made for them when they arrive there. That is an important point, especially if it is the intention to evacuate children in groups into buildings and not only into private houses.
On the general question I am sure there is a great willingness on the part of the country as a whole to volunteer for service if the people feel that the problem is being grappled with energetically by the Government. If the Government will set an example and will lead with a scheme which is more drastic than anything foreshadowed at present in their Handbook, I believe their policy will get the support of as many volunteers as they need. There is a suspicion that the danger which faces us—those of us on these benches regard it as a menacing and immediate danger—may be used in some way to remove our democratic rights from us. I want to ask the Lord Privy Seal to assure us that his conception of the effort which is to be made is that it is a democratic effort. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) complained of the type of person who may be asked to join the local advisory committee. I would like to suggest that while one would naturally welcome outstanding local figures on these committees, the committees should be widely representative of all sections of life in the districts concerned. They should be representative of organisations, such as, for instance in the country districts, the National Farmers' Union, Women's Institutes, road transport organisations, and so on, in addition to outstanding individuals.
I should like to ask what exactly is the function of these committees. The right hon. Gentleman asked who was to appoint them. They are not apparently to be recruiting committees, but they are to have some quasi-judicial function. As far as I can see, all they can be are committees for general propaganda in favour of National Service. If that is their entire function, I do not know that they will be very useful. I would like the Minister to give them far more responsibility than that. I have heard that scientists themselves are taking the initiative in organising the scientists through the universities and their own organisations. I should like to see this effort devolve upon this organisation and existing organisations so that it will be a truly democratic movement and not one that is left either in the hands of a bureaucracy in Whitehall or in the hands of a few outstanding figures in the districts. It should be in the hands of as widely representative a body of people as possible.
May I turn to agriculture for a moment? There seems to be no decision about that as yet, and I can well see that it will be difficult to make a decision, for the simple reason that the Minister of Agriculture has not made up his mind what he wants agriculture to do in time of war. If it is to carry on with its present output and the same type of output, it will mean more or less the same labour force as it has to-day. It may be possible to substitute some women and some persons of less physique than those engaged in the industry, but, on the whole, it will mean something like the same labour force. If it is to make a greater contribution to the nation's food supply it will mean additional mechanical power or an increased labour force. Naturally, therefore, it does not depend on the Lord Privy Seal or the Minister of Labour, but on the Minister of Agriculture to tell them what he wants British agriculture to do. As soon as he has done that local committees representative of farm workers and farmers will, no doubt, get down to the problem, but until they are told what is expected it will be exceedingly difficult for any such committee in an agricultural district to make any recommendation.
Lastly I would say a word about the Amendment which stands in the name of myself and other hon. Members but which, I understand, it will not be possible for you, Mr. Speaker, to call. I am glad that the Government are not contemplating, at present at any rate, a compulsory system, because it would in fact be an attempt to force many individuals to accept in practice a foreign policy which very many of them believe may be disastrous to this country. I know that another view is held on the opposite benches; but we on these benches believe that the Government's foreign policy may very well lead us to disaster; and at least half the population of this country believe that with us. In these circumstances, to press a compulsory system upon the country would be disastrous. The Government ask us for a great national effort. There are many individuals who feel that it is they who will have to bear the effort while the Government make the mistakes which make that effort necessary, and while that is their opinion I think it would be unfortunate not to give the voluntary system the fullest possible chance.
After all, when we on this side ask what are the Government's detailed proposals and intentions in foreign affairs, what is to happen in the next few weeks in connection with important consultations, we are told that we cannot be trusted with the Prime Minister's intentions. There are many people who feel in response that they cannot trust the Government with their lives and with their future, and until we have a foreign policy which does unite the country they are not prepared to offer their services. I am not saying whether that is right or wrong, but merely saying it is a fact that many people do feel like that. There are those in this country, represented by hon. Members on this side, who very much doubt whether the democratic traditions of the country are really very much prized by some hon. Members on the Government side, whether they prize them any more at home than they appear to do in some foreign countries abroad. And when we are asked for great efforts we remember that we have asked the Government to make great efforts in the past to solve the unemployment problem and that they have refused to do so.
I very much hope that the Government are not going to introduce the compulsory system at the present time. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett), whose name is attached to the Amendment, said the other day that he hoped there would be more pageantry, but he gave two cogent reasons why there should not be compulsion. I do hope that the pageantry will be of the right sort. We do not want a sort of Chamberlain youth movement, like the Hitler youth movement. We do not want the umbrella to be the symbol to take the place of the swastika of Germany. Finally, we do want a democratic and a voluntary effort, and we believe that behind a foreign policy which would unite this country such a democratic effort would be fully sufficient to meet the needs.
I am told that it is one of the pleasant traditions of this House to treat a newcomer with indulgence, and I am sure that indulgence is all the more necessary when the newcomer has, as I have done, delayed his coming until years of such maturity. In spite of my feelings, which I am sure must be appreciated by everybody who addresses the House for the first time, I consider that it is a privilege to be allowed to speak on the present occasion when we are debating what I might describe as one of the facets of that very complex problem which overrides all our thoughts to-day. I am also particularly glad to be able to speak on this occasion as one who is supporting the first step which has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal since he took over his new and very important duties. It has been my privilege in the past to work in close connection with my right hon. Friend. I have seen him in action in conditions of appalling difficulty, and, if I might be allowed to pay him a tribute, I would say, speaking in the simplest language, that he is a man whom I cannot possibly imagine ever doing a job badly.
That, perhaps, is one of the reasons why I feel confidence in supporting my right hon. Friend's proposals to-day. I support them as representing a determination to give a fair trial to the voluntary system. I also support them because they seem to me to represent a step which is appropriate at the present stage for dealing with this particular part of the very complex and wide problem which is before the country. In the Debate a fortnight ago things were said by hon. Members which appear to have been based on a tacit assumption that the immediate mobilisation of man-power for emergency purposes on a large scale might be regarded as necessary, and I think my right hon. Friend's proposals have been criticised on that assumption. I should like to submit, on the contrary, that our chief requirement at this stage is what I might describe as good staff work, and direction from the top, to ensure that the work of the nation, employed mainly in its normal occupations, should be directed to the right objective and produce the maximum results. What are the right objectives? I submit that in order to judge of these proposals we have to see them in their proper setting and to consider the purpose which is behind them.
Some hon. Members have spoken as though our purpose to-day is to prepare for war. No doubt that is true in a sense, but if we feel justified in making preparations for war it is surely because we think that is the best assurance of peace, and we must not forget that side of our problem. I would suggest, rather, that it puts our task in a truer form if we say that it is to keep our place to-day and preserve our way of life in the face of conditions which have been profoundly affected by the policies of other countries—countries that under compulsion are able to produce a co-ordinated national effort which can be effective in the preparation of power for war as well as trade,—countries which are prepared to sacrifice their standards of living for the sake of producing power for those two purposes. But we do not want either a trade war or a real war with those countries. What we have to do is to be ready to deal with them on equal terms and, as I have said before, to preserve our way of life. There are some hon. Members who have suggested measures which would involve our meeting that difficulty by imitating the methods of those other countries, but surely that would be to sacrifice just those very things we are all agreed would be worth fighting for.
There is another sense in which we ought to try to visualise this particular proposal in its setting as part of a general plan. We have to consider what is the task that we have to fulfil in order to achieve the purpose which I have just described. It seems to me that that task is threefold. Not only have we now to be ready to perfect our armaments and our organisation for defence, but we have also to have ready a plan for the economy of war and for a smooth transition from the economy of peace to that of war. Thirdly—and this, in a sense, is the most important balancing task of all—we have to manage somehow to accomplish our armament effort without too much disturbance to our normal peaceful economy. All these three parts of our general task hang together. If in the event of war we are not ready with plans for the home front, then our population may be thrown into confusion, which may dangerously affect our fighting power. If we cannot preserve our normal economic existence at a sufficient level of prosperity, not only shall we weaken our power to finance the rearmament effort and to sustain with sufficient vigour the strain of war, but we may even, if we preserve peace, find that we have destroyed the very thing we wish to defend in having destroyed the economic foundation on which our standard of living and our social services have been built up.
In order to fulfil that threefold task we need to have a balanced policy. Much forethought is necessary, particularly as regards what I have described as the third part of the task. It would, obviously, be out of order for me to attempt to go into detail on that matter to-day, but I have raised this issue and have ventured to deal with the matter in this way for particular reasons. I want to appeal to my right hon. Friend to see that, as he comes before the House relying on the voluntary principle, he gives to that voluntary principle the widest possible interpretation. I believe it would be possible to make our policy, both in its planning and in its execution, more effective if the Government would in greater measure and with clearer direction than hitherto evoke the cooperation of private enterprise and give a lead to its activities.
I venture to put it to my right hon. Friend that what is required if we are to succeed is to enlist not only the voluntary services of individuals in the special services in the case of emergency, but to use every power of voluntary cooperation. I would appeal to him, therefore, to devise means of utilising to the fullest extent the good will which, I believe, exists in the country to-day, so that business concerns, or associations of trade, or agencies of various other kinds, may be told how they can render useful service, and, under the lead of Government, direct their energies to the fulfilment of a common purpose. I trust that my right hon. Friend may be ready to listen to practical suggestions on these matters. There is, obviously, not time to touch upon them to-day.
There is another aspect of this matter of co-operation which appears to be of great importance. A good deal has been said in this Debate about the need for equality of sacrifice as between wealth and service. That topic was brought up again by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). With the ideas underlying these remarks I am in the fullest possible sympathy, and with reference to one aspect of these ideas—I recognise that it is only one aspect—I should like to say something, as one who carries some responsibility in directing the policies of profit-earning corporations. I have no hesitation in saying that the general feeling among those who to-day carry similar responsibilities is a desire to serve the national interest, combined with a detestation of those who see in the nation's need an opportunity to increase their own profits. In this matter the furtherance of the nation's purposes can, I submit, be made much more effective if the Government will arrange to co- operate more fully with the leaders of private enterprise. Many of them—and I speak in this matter for myself—have practically no financial interest in the enterprises that they direct. It is their duty in that capacity to do as well as possible for their shareholders. But if the Government were to come to them and say, in effect: "We rely on you to take such and such a course in the public interest," then they would have the foundation on which to justify to their shareholders a course which might involve some sacrifice in immediate profit.
There are many difficult problems arising in this field, for if we are to rely on the driving force of private enterprise to achieve the production which is necessary, and if the requisite capital is to be available, investment must be made not wholly unattractive. If profits are to be limited there must be some compensating assurances that plants constructed for special public needs will not be left high and dry when these needs are fulfilled. I do not believe that these problems are incapable of solution, a solution which will satisfy the conscience of the country, if business leaders—and for this purpose I would most certainly associate with them Labour leaders—were asked to work out proposals for the regulation of these matters, and perhaps to form their own vigilance committees against abuse.
I have been pleading for giving a fair trial to the principle of voluntary service and have added a plea that in order to achieve our whole purpose that principle should be interpreted as widely as possible. If people are told clearly what service is wanted, if the Government are ready to make use of that service when it is offered, if it is clear that property is making its contribution comparable with that asked of those who have only service to give, and if the Government are ready to mobilise voluntary co-operation in the widest sense, I have not the slightest doubt that we shall succeed in our preparations without invoking compulsory measures.
I am fully conscious that there are some hon. Members who press for a compulsory national register of man-power, not as a prelude to compulsory service in peace time, but as a means of surveying our national resources, so that the Government may shape their plans and be prepared to mobilise those resources if a real emergency justifying that course should arise.
There is obvious force in that idea, but it seems to me important that its significance should be tested. On the one hand, surely, the purpose that is stated is somewhat beside and different from the purpose of my right hon. Friend, which is, as I understand it, to take stock at the present moment of the volunteers available for special purposes, rather than to propound a plan for the survey of our whole national resources. On the other hand, as part of a general plan which the Government may in due course have to consider, there is clearly value in the idea of a survey of national resources. But if it is to be of full value it must be a full survey. Our resources in man-power are not the only resources on which we should rely for success in war. The Prime Minister himself reminded us in the speech which he made only last week of the importance of financial strength for this purpose. I agree that there is much to be said for undertaking, as a part of our general plans, a survey of all our resources—manpower, factory resources, and wealth, and under the last named I would include a survey of our foreign investments which would certainly have to be mobilised to help us in external purchases. But it would be a great mistake to put this purpose of the plan before the purpose of mobilising voluntary effort.
We have heard much to-day of the difficulties in the plans of my right hon. Friend, and I am sure that we could all of us, without the slightest difficulty, have made speeches on those lines. Anyone who has handled a proposition of this kind must realise that it is impossible to launch new plans which are not open to criticism, and I would suggest to speakers like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, who is not here, that, having accepted the voluntary principle, they would be rendering much greater service to the country if they combined in finding ways over those difficulties, instead of criticising the plan because it does not afford an obviously perfect solution on every point. I should like to put this to the House: Do let us stand before the country clearly as supporters of this voluntary principle, and work for the success of the scheme of my right hon. friend with single-hearted purpose.
We hear a great deal of alarmist and depressing talk in these days. I hate to hear it, because if we allow these things to affect our spirit of enterprise in trade and other matters, we are playing exactly into the hands of our possible rivals. Nothing suits them better than bad business conditions in the world, with low commodity prices and unabsorbed surpluses of production. If we could only have our plans clearly defined and feel that they were being pursued as effectively as possible, we should be able to overcome any despondency by the stimulus which comes from working with a clear, and I would add, a disinterested purpose. Moreover, I believe that the difficulties in which we are placed to-day are a wonderful opportunity to advance a great stage in our social evolution from a state of acquisitive competition towards a different and more public-spirited interpretation of our daily tasks in business and in every other walk of life. That is the need of our times, whether those times are to lead us into peace or war. Even if, by some miraculous dispensation, all the forces of international trouble were to disappear, we should still be left with grave evils in our civilisation which would need all our ability and good will to overcome.
Therefore, I think we should regard our present conditions which call for national co-operation as an opportunity rather than as a curse, and we should take this opportunity to use our voluntary choice for such a common purpose. If we do that, we shall produce not only a better society than we have ever known, but something which will outstrip and outlast all the regimented discipline of the dictators.
It has fallen to me on several occasions in the last 20 years to be the first speaker called after a new Member has made his maiden speech and, as the House well knows, it is customary in more or less conventional terms to give that Member congratulations and a welcome to the House. I think that every Member present here to-night who has had the privilege of listening to the hon. Member who has just spoken will agree with me that any compliments which might be paid to him are not by any means the conventional ones to which we are accustomed. When a Member in his maiden speech to this House has kept interest alive in us during the duration of his speech and has left us regretting that he has sat down, I think we may say that we really have in him an acquisition to our House. With very much of what he said I am in the fullest agreement. Indeed, much of what he said I should have said myself, but in much less eloquent language. I was particularly struck with his remarks about the necessity of endeavouring to maintain every bit of the voluntary system as long as we possibly can. It seems that the Lord Privy Seal and the Government have had that fact very clearly in their minds in the proposals which they are putting before us.
So far as the Lord Privy Seal is concerned I must admit, that with several other Members of this House, I regard him with a certain degree of fear. To introduce a civil servant of well-known efficiency and drive on to a Government bench, which, with all its virtues, is perhaps a little deficient in both those qualities, is to make a very dangerous experiment indeed because it may ultimately result in the right hon. Gentleman's Department being the only Department of State which will survive. Confronted as we probably are with a period of the gravest national danger, I do not like the idea of air-raid precautions and the mobilisation of our civil population becoming the most important thing in the mind of the Government at the present time. A very grave danger which is already evident and which the efficiency and drive of the right hon. Gentleman may actually increase is that the people of this country are beginning to believe that war consists in putting on gas masks and getting into a hole in the ground. If that idea is allowed to form itself in the minds of the people of this country, we are beaten from the very start. The Government in this matter have been very much to blame for allowing that idea to spring up, because, in order largely to draw a veil over the deficiencies of the fighting services, they have concentrated the criticism of their own back-benchers upon the admitted failure of the Air-Raid Precautions Department in the crisis. I hope in all seriousness that the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman himself, will take note of that very grave danger. After all, any form of passive defence should always be a secondary consideration in war. If our active defence had proved efficient—and it proved totally inefficient when the crisis came—if our active defence had proved efficient, and if it proves sufficient in the future, then the degree of passive defence necessary in war would be of comparatively minor amount, and not the overwhelming proposition that we have before us in the Debate to-night.
I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the speech which he made to the House when this Debate was started some days ago, and in which, as I think we all agree, he showed those two qualities which I have attributed to him. I do not think any of us remember—certainly we do not remember in the case of a newly appointed Minister—hearing such a very clear exposition of intentions and policy, and even of matters of detail in that policy, as he laid before us on that occasion. In fact, if I may compare the right hon. Gentleman to Pygmalion, the Galatea that he presented to us on that occasion was perfect in all her parts and in all her proportions, but unhappily—and this is why I am criticising him—his Galatea had no life whatsoever; she was simply a cold marble statue; so much so, indeed, that even a prayer to Aphrodite herself would be quite unavailing. I very gravely fear that his great scheme will never come to life at all.
The reason, surely is that it is based entirely upon common sense and nothing else; and, if one thing is evident more than another, it is that the war which we have every reason to believe and fear may come upon us, perhaps not now, but at any rate within the next generation, will not be a war that will be won by common sense alone. May I give an example of what I mean? The right hon. Gentleman has firmly in his mind, and so apparently have the rest of the Government, that we must, while avoiding conscripting people to fight for their country, introduce a sort of anti-conscription. It is perfectly obvious in the scheme of the right hon Gentleman. We must use compulsion to prevent men from fighting for their country because in our wisdom we believe that we have some better job for them. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman, confronted with this problem in the late War, would have said that Rupert Brooke and Julian Grenfell should have been kept at home to write poetry for the front page of the "Times," instead of "wasting" themselves by getting killed in War. The right hon. Gentleman's scheme will never come to life on lines of that sort in a country like this, nor does it ever deserve to. I think the Minister of Labour tonight has sufficiently shown the truth of what I have said on behalf of a vast number of the people of this country, and I wish the Government to understand that we resent this attitude and will fight to the last against any compulsion that prevents us from deciding that our place is in the front line when it comes to fighting.
I remember, some years after the War, speaking to another engineer, a man some 15 years younger than myself and healthy in every respect. I happened to say to him, "In what regiment were you during the War?" "Oh," he said," I was not in any; I was engaged on work of national importance." The one thing that I hope this country will refrain from doing is getting again into that detestable contemptible state of mind which regarded serving at home and drawing wages or big salaries as work of national importance, while fighting was regarded as an inferior sort of business, fit only for those who had not the brains and experience to do something more important. I make no apology to the House for putting forward what is, after all, pure sentiment and nothing else, with no common sense in it at all. Nevertheless, as I have already said, common sense will not win the war that is before us; something far beyond common sense is necessary to that end.
I am in entire agreement with the view of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I entirely agree with him that, if you are going to win any war that may occur, it will be necessary that people should have the courage to abandon themselves to fighting in that war, and to reject any claims that may be made by mere self-interest. And, because I take that view, I am going to say a few things that may be regarded as unrepresentative of the point of view of many Members who sit with me in this House. A fortnight ago this matter was debated in the House, and the Resolution was withdrawn in order that there might be another opportunity of discussing the matter when we should have concrete plans before us. We are meeting to-day, a fortnight afterwards, and we still have plans which are as nebulous as those of a fortnight ago. We are in no position to form any judgment about their efficacy, and we are certainly in no position to form any judgment as to the extent to which there will be co-operation between the various parts of the House.
It seems to me that the House is in grave danger of being tricked. We have before us to-day a Resolution which is one of the most dishonest that I have ever seen on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. There is a scheme which is partly through, which has been partly negotiated; there are hon. Members in this House who have provisional copies of the scheme in their possession. Employers have been consulted, trade unions have been consulted, and the Minister of Labour told us to-day that he had already been assured of the loyal co-operation of the employers and of the leaders of the trade unions. There is, therefore, a scheme sufficiently in being to enable two important representative bodies to form an opinion about it, and, although it is almost certain that there will be further discussion and further negotiations between those bodies, and although some modifications will be made in the details of the scheme, the scheme already agreed to will be the scheme which will be operated during the Recess, and until March. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Does he mean that he is going to scrap this scheme also?
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman interrupted me, because he has confirmed what I was saying. There will be negotiations and modifications in details, and, once those modifications in details have been made, the scheme will be launched and will be in operation before the House has an opportunity of discussing it. Indeed, if the Resolution does not mean that, it means nothing at all, because it asks the House to recommend:
that the results of the scheme for National Service proposed by the Government be reviewed by this House at the end of March.
It speaks of the results of the scheme, not the scheme itself, being reviewed, so that the scheme which is being negotiated by outside bodies will have been in operation, and we shall be reviewing the results of the scheme in March.
What is the reason that is obviously behind this Resolution? It is that the House of Commons is being by-passed, that we give our signature by implication to a scheme neither the details nor the principles of which have been scrutinised and examined by the House, but which will have been negotiated by, and the architects of which will be, persons outside this House; and when we come to discuss the matter in March, we shall be discussing a scheme in which we shall inevitably in the meantime have become involved. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, accept many of the proposals in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). Unless he is mad—and I am sure he is not—he will democratise and broaden the basis of the committees who will have charge of this matter. There is not an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House who would not earnestly implore him to do so. I do not understand why my right hon. Friend has such apprehensions about it. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman will eventually include on his local committees representatives of trade unions and trade councils. Indeed, they would be the best recruiting sergeants he could get, and, if they are not included in the scheme now, it is because even he was not optimistic enough to believe that the Opposition was so docile as to be likely to give him that support. But now we are in the position of imploring him to allow us to become his recruiting sergeants. I must say I felicitate the Government on the position into which they have got the Opposition in this matter. There can have been few examples in history of an Opposition which so effectually abandoned its obligations, and which so misled the people, as to ask for the opportunity of appearing on platforms with generals and colonels and majors and lieutenants of counties in order to implore the people to put themselves under the leadership of its opponents. There has been nothing like it in history, and I do not think we shall ever see its like again.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for Mossley that, if you are going to fight the war which I understand is now to be avoided only by a miracle—we are informed by one of the great leaders of industry this afternoon that the National Government have brought us to a position when only a miracle can avoid Armageddon—if that war is to be fought successfully, it can only be done by a nation with such a devout belief and with such a spirit of abandonment to the course which the war will have to take that its forces can be mobilised for waging it successfully. But does anyone suggest that we shall have reached that situation in Britain? We are placing part of this job under the Ministry of Labour, with a Parliamentary Secretary who, just after he was appointed, declared himself a supporter of General Franco. The Ministry of Labour's Employment Exchanges are going to be the centres where the recruiting is to be done. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Gentleman can shake his head, but, frankly, I do not think he knows quite how the scheme will work out. There are very nearly 2,000,000 men unemployed in Great Britain. All will be asked to volunteer, and the Employment Exchanges will be, to a large extent, the venue at which pressure will be exercised. The right hon. Gentleman may say "No," but we know precisely how this machinery works. My hon. Friends are supposed to go on platforms in this country. We are supposed to invite the organisations to which we belong and with which we have been brought up, to place our people at the disposal of the avowed enemies of the British workers.
Yes. There is no reason to cavil about this. I am saying that a man who says that he is the friend of General Franco is my enemy and the enemy of the British workers. I see in him—and thousands and millions of British workers think the same—an enemy of the British workers. Many hon. Members opposite will also see General Franco as their enemy if the Spanish Government lose the war. You are asking us to go on these recruiting platforms in order that the people of this country may place themselves at the disposal of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member
for Wakefield made a very good speech in the last Debate on this subject. He said:
if these calls for service are being made upon men and women, then there ought to be a call for the proper national organisation of our national resources. If people are being asked now to sacrifice some of their leisure, and it may be—who knows—some of their freedom, what about our inanimate resources? What about wealth? Is this scheme to go through, while, at the same time, the grossest form of profiteering is allowed to continue?
The answer is "yes." The scheme is to go through, and this profiteering is to be allowed to continue.
Are we to devote hundreds of millions of pounds of the nation's annual income to these purposes and see the cream taken off by people—I could give the names of some of them—who to-day do not know how to spend the money which they are making?
The answer is "yes." That is precisely what is going to happen.
Is wealth, during this time of national stringency and emergency, to continue to flaunt itself while poverty stalks the distressed areas?
The answer is "yes." Nothing has been done by the Government to relieve the poverty of the distressed areas. And, what is more, I and my hon. Friends will be asked to go down to these distressed areas and urge people living on 10s. a week to roll up and defend the homes they cannot live in, because, if they do, their relatives on the means test will be made to suffer.
If we are in this plight, we have our terms to make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1938; cols. 1050–51, Vol. 342.]
Why are those terms not made? If this party is to put its invaluable machinery at the disposal of the Government, why have we not made terms? Why do we not say, "We will give you our co-operation if you will give us what we want"? In the old days, no Opposition in this House ever gave its co-operation to the King or to the Government except on terms. This Constitution has been built up by Oppositions demanding redress before supply. In the past, wars were fought by mercenaries. The last War was the first, apart from the American Civil War, in which vast portions of the population were involved. I am told by some historians that only about 25 per cent. of the population of Great Britain knew of, or were involved
in, the Civil War which figures so largely in our history. The Thirty Years War may have decimated whole nations, but only because the populations were in the field of conflict—never because they were directly involved. But wars now are fought by the whole mass of people.
May I remind the hon. Member that the population of the Palatinate, which at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War was 500,000, was at the end of it only 50,000?
I accept that. But I intended to show that if you want your vast populations to mobilise themselves in modern war, they can be obtained only on the basis of a popular movement, a popular cry. In the past the moneyed people made their terms; they would find the money only if they believed in the war. If we have not money to provide, we have men to provide. We are the leaders of men, the leaders of opinion. If we go on platforms and exhort men to join up, they will do it. That is the burden of responsibility we have, and before we lead them to do that we should satisfy ourselves that the causes for which we ask them to do it are worth while. Are we to exhort our peoples the join the Army, the Air Force the Navy, A.R.P., any of these various arms of National Service, because we believe in the cause for which those people are to offer themselves? I say we are not to do so—the very reverse.
What use is it to ask my people in a distressed area to give their leisure hours and to sacrifice their lives to defend the country, while Members of the party opposite, for their own selfish reasons, throw away important strategical advantages in Spain? What use is it to ask that a few millions of workers in Great Britain should join up while the Government throw away the support of many more millions in Russia? They throw away national interests and then expect us to come forward to reap the bitter harvest which they have sown. We have no right to ask our people to mass themselves behind this Government, even though the Government put an attractive ex-civil servant as a decoy to lead them to do it. We should fight for the things in which we believe, the things for which we stand, and we must not put ourselves behind a Government which is leading us into a shambles for interests that are purely class interests: purely narrow interests. The other day the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in an article in the "Daily Telegraph," chastised his own party because, he said, they were putting the interests of property in front of the interests of the Empire. It was not we who said that; it was the right hon. Gentleman. Over and over again, you can see this happening; yet our own people are supposed to be so altruistic as to yield their bodies and give their lives for a policy of that kind.
In three months time we shall be on trial; the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) will be on his feet; we shall have a large number of Tories getting up and saying, "Obviously the scheme has not succeeded: look at the results," and once more the Opposition will rush to the rescue of the Government, and say, "That is not true: this scheme must go on. "All the running is made by the chaps who want conscription. They are the opposition; and we are defending the Government's plans because the Government are resisting the real opposition.
The hon. Member is quite wrong in saying that I want conscription. I have said, again and again, that I do not want conscription or compulsory military service in time of peace. If the hon. Member can find anything I have said or written to justify what he says, I shall be much obliged.
That is quite true. People find new words for such things. I would not accuse the hon. Member of such awkwardness, but he knows what he wants; he and his friends want a compulsory allocation of service in the State in time of peace.
I was coming to that. I said that the hon. Member wants a compulsory allocation. Next March, if we do not prove successful recruiting sergeants in the meantime, they will produce their scheme. The right hon. Gentleman perhaps will say, "Give us a little longer; we have not had time. When we get our demagogues to work it will be all right." We are on test. If we are not good recruiting sergeants, the Government will threaten us with conscription; if we are good recruiting sergeants, it will not be necessary for them to lead our people up the garden, because we shall have done it for them. If this job has to be done, let the recruiting sergeant do it; if he can persuade our people to join the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, let him do so. If the generals want that job, let the professionals do it. We ought to hold ourselves aloof from it. We ought to keep our machinery independent of the snare. We ought to preserve our rights of independence and keep ourselves detached and aloof, so that we can discharge our proper functions to our own people and not bind them hand and foot and hand them over to their enemies.
The hon. Member is always eloquent and always interesting, but I think his eloquence and his party zeal have led him into a position which, on reflection, I hope he will see is very difficult to maintain. I have listened to the criticisms by the Opposition of the Government's scheme and, so far as I have understood them, they resolve themselves into two points. The first is that the details are not disclosed to the House, and that the House is not in a position to criticise them line by line, to alter them and to approve or reject them. But this is a voluntary scheme. What they are really asking for is legislation. The whole essence of a voluntary scheme is that it does not require legislation, because it is dependent on the volition of individuals. They cannot eat their cake and have it. If you were introducing a system of conscription you would have an Act of Parliament, and Parliament would be able to deal with all those matters. That is the only way in which it can be done. A voluntary scheme must, by the nature of things, rest far less on cut and dried points and must be of a nature which does not lend itself to the minute definitions of an Act of Parliament.
But the hon. Member raised a far more important issue in the latter part of his speech. He said he was not going to cooperate in a voluntary scheme, because he disapproved of the policy of the Government, and he strongly urged his colleagues also to withhold co-operation because they disapprove of the policy of the Government. But where is a doctrine like that going to lead us, and where is it going to land democracy? I speak as a Conservative who more than once has found himself in strong disagreement with certain features of the policy of the Government. Should I be justified for that reason in not supporting a national effort when the country was in danger? Are Members who may happen to disagree strongly with the Government on this or that feature of their foreign or home policy justified in refusing all collaboration in a voluntary effort for a reason like that? If we are going to adopt that point of view, we land ourselves into conscription.
The Noble Lord can see in the annals of the Conservative party in 1914 a perfect example of how his party exploits national peril for its own party interests. One reason why German diplomatists thought that Britain would not be in the war was because of the Curragh incident and the disaffection in the Conservative party over the North of Ireland.
The hon. Member has drawn a very old red herring across the trail. What happened in 1914 was that Ireland was on the brink of civil war. The officers of certain regiments in the Curragh resigned their commissions, I understand, because they thought they might be involved in civil war. That has nothing to do with the sort of point that we are discussing at present, because the situation with which we are confronted is one of national peril. No one in the House, least of all hon. Members opposite, denies the danger of war. In almost every speech they make on foreign policy they warn us that Europe is drifting into war. Every one of us, of whatever party, agrees that there is grave danger of war in the near future. If that is the case, what are we to do? Are we to make any preparations at all? Does the hon. Member say that we are to make no preparations? If we are to make preparations, when we come to the question of man power is it to be tackled on a voluntary or a compulsory basis? The hon. Member, as I understand him, says, "I will have nothing to do with your voluntary scheme because I disapprove of the policy of the Government."
I say that that attitude is absolutely untenable by every canon of democracy. After all, the hon. Member does not disagree more with the Government than the Government disagree with him. That is what we have in this House—violent political disagreement—and periodically we have general elections, in which one side or the other is returned to power, and almost invariably the side that has not been returned says that the electors have been grossly mislead by something unfair said at the election. I have taken part in a considerable number of elections and I cannot recall a single case where that has not been said. Therefore what we have to-day is simply a normal part of our democratic system. You have a Government in office, which has been elected in the democratic fashion laid down by our constitution, and whether we agree with their policy or not has nothing to do with our obligations as citizens of a free country. What is more, if we found ourselves at war to-morrow, hon. Members opposite would be just as forward in their patriotism and in their endeavours to pull the country out of the mess as any other Members in the House of Commons. We should all feel that our party differences and disagreements were as nothing compared with the issues at stake. Therefore my first answer to the hon. Member is that in propounding that doctrine he is an exceedingly bad democrat. My second answer is that he is also a very bad supporter of the voluntary system, because if other people adopted the same attitude the Government would have no alternative whatever to conscription straightaway.
But there are one or two questions that I should like to ask the Lord Privy Seal in regard to his scheme. I am worried at the course that the Government have chosen. I do not really quite understand what they are driving at and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to enlighten us. I listened very carefully to his speech the other day, and also to the speech of the Minister of Labour to-day. As I understand their point, it is that for the time being they require only a comparatively small number of men and women for national service.
I refer my right hon. Friend to what I thought was one of the key points of his speech the other day.
I say, therefore, that there is no scope for compulsion in peace-time when the manpower available is so much in excess of actual requirements and when the selection that has to be made can best be effected by relying on voluntary efforts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1938; col. 1040, Vol. 342.]
There is another passage where the point is dealt with at greater length, which I might also quote.
By the words "for the time being" I mean in peace-time. I understand, then, that the attitude of the Government is that in peace-time only a small number of men and women will be required for these services in comparison with what would be required in wartime. I say at once that on that basis I think it is very difficult to quarrel with the methods that the Government have chosen in order to get this comparatively small number of men and women. I think my right hon. Friend made his case, that by the methods that he is adopting he will be getting in the simplest and quickest manner possible those who have the necessary technical knowledge and experience required for the different services, and those who have the opportunity of enrolling themselves in the general reserve. He will be getting this comparatively small number of men and women in the simplest and quickest manner. But what worries me now is that when we are at war, if we get into a war, we shall require a national organisation. It is impossible to get the sort of organisation that we shall then want by the methods that the right hon. Gentleman is now adopting, and the Lord Privy Seal said so in his speech. He said that a complete register, that is to say a compulsory register, would be necessary in time of war if only for two reasons, first for food rationing and, secondly, to enable the Government to have a strategic policy. There was an exceedingly significant passage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech in that connection which I really must read to the House. I quote from col. 1038 in the OFFICIAL REPORT:
Further, without a complete register and the statistical information that such a register would give, no Government faced with the terrible responsibility of deciding policy at the beginning of a war which might be prolonged would be in possession of the necessary information regarding the manpower resources of the country which it would be essential that the Government should have if it were to plan with full knowledge of the relevant facts and not to some extent in ignorance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1938; col. 1038, Vol. 342.]
Are we not going to start planning until "4th August"? Are we going to delay making these vital and fundamental plans and preparations until war is declared? That is the sort of attitude on the part of the Government that causes so much disquiet in the country not only among their political supporters, but the gravest disquiet among people in the countryside generally. We have now the opportunity at any rate of making our plans and preparations. Have not the Government a duty to make all their plans for food rationing down to the last detail? Is not it their intention to make all the strategic plans to the last detail possible? Yet the Lord Privy Seal has said that that cannot be done until you have a complete register. He went on to tell us that a complete register, in his opinion, could be produced in three weeks. When he was challenged by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir Edward Grigg) as to how such a work could be done in three weeks of continuous air raids the Lord Privy Seal corrected himself and put in some words of qualification which my hon. Friend accepted as satisfactory.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend if I have not stated it quite correctly. The qualification to which he called attention was a very important qualification of the period of three weeks. I do not think that any one in this House or outside it supposes that the first three weeks of a world war are going to be a period of quiet in the City of London, where the Government will be able to start making their preparations. I ask the Government, why are we doing this thing half-heartedly? For what are we spending £1,500,000,000 or £2,000,000,000?
I think that the hon. Member will not find it very easy to do so. We are making vast preparations because we believe that there is grave danger of war. Is it common sense not to include among those preparations steps which we have been told from the Front Bench will be necessary before any system of food rationing can be carried out or before the Government could build their strategic plans?
I am not arguing the case for conscription now. I say quite frankly that I believe that if a war occurs conscription will be found to be necessary. I believe that democracy will have to fight for its life, and, as I said just now, I equally believe that hon. Members opposite will be just as forward in their anxiety to take every necessary step, even if it involves conscription, as any Members on this side of the House or as the democrats of every other democratic country that has been to war. But that is not the point. What we are discussing now is the preparations that we still have the opportunity of making in time of peace to meet that disaster should war occur. I want to know why we cannot have this complete register, which would materially make things more ready than they would otherwise be. After all, three weeks (even though it were such a short period as three weeks) may be a period of vital importance in the history of a war.
My hon. Friend has anticipated the next question I was going to ask the Lord Privy Seal. Would the Lord Privy Seal tell the House—I am sure we would all be very grateful to him if he could—what would be the difficulty about having a procedure on the lines of our electoral roll, which really is simplicity itself. Every year every householder has to fill up a form. We are compelled by law to fill up a form.
If any householder refuses to fill up the electoral form which is left at his house he is liable to a fine of £5. Every householder gets this form every year and thereon he is bound by law to state the names, ages and other qualifications of the various people in the household who are entitled to vote. Why cannot we have the same principle here? Why cannot every householder be under an obligation to fill up a form giving particulars of every occupant of the house down to the smallest baby, because they will be required for food rationing. The form could also have a column stating the experience or occupation of the grown up members of the household.
They would be called upon to state whether they were chemists, doctors or agricultural labourers or whatever it was, and there could be a last column saying what service they would be prepared to render in time of national emergency. That, I suggest, could be checked with the index that the Lord Privy Seal is now compiling by the very simple expedient of every registered person having a number just like every soldier has his regimental number, so that there could be a cross check between the two indices.
The Government already have that information. Hon. Members opposite talk about the conscription of wealth, but wealth is already conscripted at the present moment. [Interruption.] It is simply a question of degree. The principle of the conscription of wealth has been conceded ever since compulsory taxation came into force, and wealth has always been conscribed, or various portions of it, by all Governments that have levied taxation.
There is a point which has not yet been mentioned in this Debate, but I cannot help feeling that it is very possibly in the minds of some hon. Gentlemen opposite, and no doubt in the mind of the Government themselves. It is the problem of the conscientious objector and how he could enter himself in a compulsory register of this sort. I am sure that if we had a compulsory register, as I hope we shall, or if we had conscription, as I believe we would be forced to have if war came, we would have to deal with the problem of the conscientious objector. I hope we would deal with it in the English way, which would be, to respect conscientious scruples. We learned in the last War that there were a certain number of men who were not shirkers in the least but who adopted a very definite and unpleasant attitude from purely religious motives. They will have to be dealt with somehow. I do not believe that the method to deal with them is to bludgeon them or to confine them in prison.
I am not going to be drawn into the details of that very difficult problem. I do not think that I quite agree with my hon. and gallant Friend about it, but I am sure that respect for religious scruples and real conscientious objection as opposed to evasion and shirking is not beyond the powers of statesmanship in this country, and that respect for those scruples and those convictions is not in the least incompatible with compulsory registration or compulsory service. The Lord Privy Seal in his speech the other day pointed out that there were a great many things which you cannot do by compulsion and never would try to do by compulsion in war. You cannot recruit your Navy by compulsion or your officers and many other things. That is perfectly true, but, after all, every country in the world that has compulsion gets over these difficulties. But I must not be led into arguing the case for conscription. I do not want to argue the case for conscription now and I believe that there will be no argument about it when the time comes. I beseech the Government to take every step that they can in time of peace, so that if this country finds itself at war we can at once, without having to wait for three peaceful weeks, set about those steps whether they are food rationing or the organisation of man-power or any other steps which are necessary. If the Government would do this, it would have a most beneficial effect on their voluntary scheme at the present moment.
The Lord Privy Seal, in his speech the other day, said that one of the things you could do by compulsion was to assist the voluntary principle by giving volunteers an assurance that shirkers would not get away with it. He will find when he is working this voluntary appeal, that that is one of the difficulties with which he is faced. Volunteers will demand some guarantee that shirkers will not get away with it. If he were in a position to reply, "I shall have a National Register ready at the time," I think he will find that that would make a very great difference. It would also, I submit, have this very important result, that it would give the country an assurance that the Government really were leaving no stone unturned and were making every possible preparation. At the present moment there is an impression that the Government are making these preparations with their left hand and that they are not throwing themselves into the task. As the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said earlier in the Debate, the unfinished trenches are a monument of indecision, and I say that an incomplete register is a monument of faint-heartedness. If the country feels that the Government are in earnest and are leaving no stone unturned, then the country will rally behind the Government, but if the country thinks that the Government are playing with these problems, then the country will not rally behind them, but will become exceedingly dissatisfied with the Government.
I rise on behalf of the few who sit on this bench to say a word or two on this proposal. I must confess that I cannot follow the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) in the line that he has taken, but I want first to raise the point put forward by the hon. Member who spoke from the back Labour Benches. We are discussing here to-day a Motion which in effect says two things. The first is that it approves of the voluntary system, and the second is that we should review in March the scheme that we are now operating. I am a House of Commons man, and I would say to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, who has not been so long in this House, that I hope that it is nothing to be ashamed of to say that you are a House of Commons man and that you will look after its traditions as best you can. I want to raise, first of all, what I term a House of Commons issue, namely, that we are asked to-day to approve a scheme or, to use the term used by the Minister of Labour, to approve "this plan." What is this plan? Does anybody here to-day know the plan that we are approving? We had a speech to-day from the Minister of Labour, who, after all, is not the most incompetent member of an incompetent Government. He is a very ordinary member, but who, with any common intelligence, could follow the right hon. Gentleman? I put it to the Noble Lord, Could he follow what the Minister of Labour meant to-day? It was difficult and almost impossible, with the Minister rattling off sentences, rattling off what he means here, and rattling off what he means there. But from the point of view of a plan, a scheme, it was not. Would any hon. Member on the other side, dealing with, say, agriculture or any problem with which he was intimately concerned, take that as a scheme? Would he not want, before being in any way committed to it, to have it down in detail in some more concrete fashion?
The Noble Lord and others may not think this is important, but people outside the House of Commons know all about this scheme, or parts of it. There are people outside who have been walking about with parts of it in their pockets. Trade union leaders have in their pockets parts of the scheme. The Scottish Chairman of the Employers' Federation walks about with it, but not Members of the House of Commons. You may be important, you may come here and think yourself important, but to-day, with all the denunciation of so-called dictators that we hear, this House of Commons is rapidly passing out of any kind of control into dictatorship of the most incompetent kind, because it is dictatorship that you can never place. Trade union leaders may be important. I am the chairman of a union, not a large one, that is somewhat important in these matters. You will get consulted as such, but never as a Member representing poor people. You will be told, "Come in and see this. Let us adjust it."
The Noble Lord said that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) had quarrelled because this House could not amend the scheme, but trade union leaders outside can make amendments to it. They can come along and say to the right hon. Gentleman, "This scheme is no good here." What do the union leaders do? Let us be frank. Each union leader fights for his men and fights often against other unions. That is not uncommon, and everybody who knows trade unionism knows that that is the case. I have seen a building trade union fighting against the others. Under this sketchy business which is not a scheme, we are to have some people exempt because their work is too important. What will every union leader do? He will fight to get his men to become the important men. Of course he will. The A.E.U. people and my union, the pattern makers, will go down, and they will all go down and say, "Our men are important, and they must be put in the branch that is outside compulsory service." That is what they will fight for, and then the big trade union leader will go back to his members and say, "I have won; you are out." They will meet and negotiate the terms and say who are to be in this scheme, who are to be in compulsory service. We have not to decide it, but the union men, in utter privacy, over which the democratic forces have no control, will decide this issue. And then we are told that this is a democratic country.
As a matter of fact, I want to say, quite frankly, that I have seen the House of Commons drifting, drifting, drifting, away from control. I know nothing more important than the custody of human life. Man invents the machines, the aeroplanes, but the one thing that man cannot yet do is to make human life, and when we are dealing with human life we ought not to leave it to any great men, inside or outside, without at least the elected representatives of the people having control. To-day, however, the control is handed over to other men, outside. They may be capable men—I do not deny it—and they may be the best brains outside, but the issue, in dealing with the question where human life has to go, is one that ought to be dealt with by the elected representatives of the people.
Next, I want to say a word or two about the issue of a compulsory register, and I must confess that I thought the Noble Lord never answered what I thought was the pertinent question put to him by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), who asked him, "What is this register?" I have listened to hear what it is, and I cannot follow yet what this compulsory register is. I wish somebody would tell me, but nobody has yet done so. Indeed, I do not know what the voluntary register is. What are we faced with? Let us be quite frank. I go back, as everybody has gone back, to 1914 for some guidance, but what have I found? I have found that the most important thing in making a decision is not your final step, but your first step. Once you have decided your first step, the other steps automatically take you on.
In 1914 this country did not decide for conscription. It decided, first of all, that certain firms or employers all over the country should voluntarily recruit their men. There was the flag, there was the pressure of all kinds put on the men at work. It got results, but there came a time when it failed, and then there was the Derby scheme, and again men were, in a way, partially compelled, to put it no higher, to join, and they joined. Then there came a demand for conscription, not merely a demand by those who were not in, because they did not demand it, but everybody who was in, through some voluntary method or alleged voluntary method, joined in compelling the other men to go in too. Then you had first the young men, the singles, then, when the singles had come in, it was as clear as the night following the day that the logical thing was to bring in the married men and the men of 30, and then the men of 40. It got to its inevitable end.
What are we discussing to-day? It is all very well for the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) to say that it is only a register. What we are discussing here is war and how to face it. Dodge it as you can, twist it as you care, but face the facts. This voluntary scheme is not to be for A.R.P. alone; that is a minor part of it. It is to get the Territorials, the Regular Army, the gunners, the ordinary men of the human race, to share in these things. Follow your flag. Once we agree to this Motion, the next demand will inevitably come along, "You must train your soldier. He is now a gunner, he is no longer an ordinary man who slogs along through life. He is a first-class mechanic, and he is to be brought in before war starts and trained." That is the next demand, and who can resist it when it comes? If you agree to it, if you go out on the voluntary platform for the voluntary men, and the voluntary men come up—so many hundred thousand volunteers—they do not partly volunteer. The employer comes along and says, "I am out every night addressing meetings on the voluntary scheme." Does he not want to see every employé he has join the scheme? Of course he does, and of course promotion goes to those who join, but when dismissals come, the first out are the men who do not join. Then take the town councils and the local authorities. To whom do they give preference for jobs? To the men who are in the scheme. Whom do they dismiss first? The men who are not in the scheme. By these means you have a form of the worst kind of compulsion that you can get, and it is behind this scheme. Do not let hon. Members say it is not there. It is there. It is part of it, and it cannot be helped.
Several hon. Members sneered at the reference that was made to the number of the unemployed. When the hon. Member estimated the figure at 2,000,000 he under-estimated. Unemployment turns over two and a half times every year. They are not the same people who are unemployed in a given year. Therefore, it means 5,000,000 of unemployed people in a year. Those people are to receive pamphlets. What will happen? A man goes before a court of referees to claim benefit. He knows that the chairman will be backing this voluntary register scheme, so that the first thing the man will say will be: "I am a volunteer under the scheme." When a man wants an extra shilling for his children and he goes before the Unemployment Assistance Board, he will say: "I am a volunteer." The chairman may also be a volunteer, and he will naturally place every advantage in the way of volunteers and every disadvantage in the way of the other fellows.
When the recruits have been secured, what will happen? A man may work at his trade from 8 o'clock in the morning until 5.30 at night, with 50 minutes off for dinner. He will leave home at 7 o'clock in the morning and may not get home until 6.30 p.m. He will have to take his meals, wash himself and then go to the drill hall. He will have to drill two or three nights a week. When he goes back to the shop, he will find other fellows who have not been drilling but have been at the pictures, or taking their girls out, and having all the fun of the fair. He will say: "I have been serving my country, because I volunteered. I have been drilling while you guys have been at the pictures." What sort of feeling will there be?
Once a man signs, he is a conscript. Do not forget that fact. This scheme is only partially voluntary. It is only voluntary until he has signed, and once he has signed he is a conscript. All that he needs to do is to write his name and he becomes a conscript. When that man has signed his name and has had to go two or three nights a week to drill, and to get ready to defend the country, which is as much the other fellow's as his own, he will go along to every political meeting and demand that the other fellow shall be compelled to serve. Today we are taking the first steps, and once we have agreed to them we shall have taken the inevitable step towards a conscription system.
Let me say a few words about the unemployed. I do not expect hon. Members to see things as I see them. I cannot expect the Noble Lord to see things as I see them, but I come here to try and picture the position as I see it. I represent a Glasgow constituency, I hope with some success. I live almost on the threshold of my division. It is almost unbelievable the difference that there is between fair comfort in the district where I live and the terrible poverty in my division, three minutes walk away. Where I live there are two stations of the Territorial Army. When the recruits come out they can walk south or north. If they walk south, they walk to the better-off area, but if they walk north they walk to the poorer area. I spent three nights with my wife watching, and for every man who walked south to the well-to-do area, three walked north to the poorer districts? Why? Is it because those men have some great love for the Army and some great desire to become fighting men? No. What makes them join is the fact that it is the only way at holiday times that they can get away from their grinding poverty. They live in the slums. In Bridgeton, Camlachie and my division that state of things prevails and in Govan, too, but things there have been a bit improved. There you will find decent, kindly people, old shipbuilding families, living under terrible conditions.
Only the other week I was in the Bridgeton Division, fighting, not against Germans or Hitler, but against rats, and the Government say: "We can give you nothing to get rid of the rats, which bite your children, but we will spend millions a day in preparing to fight some phantom enemy." To-day in my own division I see people herded like cattle, living under awful conditions. I see the children there dying three times faster than in Pollokshiels, and yet I am to be asked to invite these people to get ready to go out in their manhood and to kill and be killed. To-night, if I can get any one to support me, in addition to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), I intend to divide the House, because I realise that if we allow this Motion to pass we are starting a system, and the next step will be conscription. It will be said that the voluntary system is not sufficient. So the thing will go on.
People who are living to-night in dire poverty are to be told to join this scheme. Think of the position in the bitter weather of last night of a man with his wife and three children, having an income of 26s., with 3s. each for the children, sitting in the cold in Glasgow, with no warmth, and I as one of the Glasgow representatives am to go on a platform and invite them to join up and tell them: "Kill some German you never knew." Some hon. Members may be able to do that, but I cannot. I do not say that they are worse men than I am, but I see things in a different light. I view human beings differently. I see poverty all around me. Only the other day I wrote to the War Office, asking for pensions for two men. One of them had served 10 years, in peace, and he died in Hong Kong. The reply I got from a smug civil servant was that the man did not die in war service, but that he died in Hong Kong. That man, a gunner, leaves a widow and three children, who are living on Poor Law relief in my division.
The Noble Lord says that wealth is conscripted. It is not. Why do you not make a voluntary register of wealth? One hon. Member of this House, a kindly man, left a very considerable sum, £1,500,000. Why should not people who own such vast wealth hand over one-half or three-fourths of that sum? I know that there is a considerable portion taken in taxation, but if a man was left with £1,000,000, why should be not voluntarily give a portion of that to the country? You ask a man who is unemployed to place his life at your disposal. Is it too much to ask the Derbys and other great owners of wealth in. this country to come along voluntarily and say: "Here is three-fourths of our wealth. Do what you like with it. Raise the standard of the people"? To-night while we are discussing this question children are under-fed, and dying for lack of nourishment. Those who have the power and the wealth in this country should use it for the common good of the human masses who inherit these islands.
There are few Members of this House who speak more sincerely than the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and I hope he will forgive me if on this occasion I do not follow him in all the arguments which he has presented to the House. I wish to confine myself more closely to the Motion on the Order Paper in the name of His Majesty's Government. I wish to offer my late congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal and to wish him the very best of luck in his new office and in the very considerable venture which he is now called upon to undertake.
I have read with care the Debate which took place recently on the question of the voluntary national register, and I have listened with the greatest care to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. The arguments which have been used have centred round the question whether or not we should use compulsion for the register which it is proposed to set up. I do not wish to dwell for long on that particular question, because I feel that the real importance of the Debate and of the proposals of my right hon. Friend centre not around the issue whether or not this register should be made compulsory, but around the question of the actual proposals for national voluntary service which have been put forward. It is to that subject and the examination of the proposals that I wish to address myself, and in doing so I wish to offer two or three constructive proposals.
Before we can consider the question of Voluntary National Service, it is of the utmost importance to consider what it is exactly that we want. What are we aiming at? Let me put forward one suggestion at this point. During the initial stages of a war this country would no doubt be subject to very severe and sustained bombing attacks by enemy aircraft. The panic which would be engendered among the civil population of this country as the result of such attacks would be very considerable, and I ask myself whether the police, aided by the special constabulary, would be sufficient for the preservation of order among the civilian population. I am rather doubtful. It seems to me that the police and the special constabulary will require a considerable stiffening in order to undertake properly the work they will have to perform. Either we take the view that the police and the special constabulary are sufficient, as to which I have grave doubts, or we take the view that they will not be sufficient, and in that case it will be necessary for us to retain a certain number of Territorial troops or divisions of the Regular Army at home which might otherwise be sent abroad immediately on the outbreak of war.
There is no one in this House who will not feel that it is of the utmost importance that our Army, small as it is, should be free from the opening weeks of the war to go to whatever part of the world is necessary for the maintenance of order. Bearing that in mind I would propose that a new corps, a new form of Territorial Army, should be set up, of 10,000 men, 20,000 men or 60,000 men, according to what the Government might think desirable, to be called possibly the Civil Defence Corps, consisting of men not necessarily young men but preferably of middle-aged men whose sole responsibility would be during the opening weeks of a conflict to stiffen and back up the police and the special constabulary in the preservation of law and order Such a body of men would not require the same training as that undergone by ordinary Territorials. They would not require artillery, tanks or any knowledge of the strategy of war. All that would be required is that they should be a highly disciplined force and armed in the same way as an ordinary soldier. I put that suggestion forward for His Majesty's Government to consider as a matter of extreme urgency the calling of some such new corps together to be responsible for the preservation of order during the opening weeks of war, should it ever come.
Let me come to the second suggestion I have to make. Surely in using and developing to the utmost the personnel of this country, whatever form it may take, one of the most important forms is the utilisation of skilled and semi-skilled labour for our arms factories. I know that in the plan put forward the Government intend to deal with the reserved and scheduled occupations, but what I have in mind is that they should make a special appeal at the present moment for skilled and semi-skilled men to come forward during the next few weeks and months to go into the factories which are producing the equipment of war. I have no doubt that the Minister of Labour will assure me that skilled and semi-skilled labour is coming forward in a satisfactory way. The House is aware of the great work done by the Minister of Labour and the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence in the various talks and negotiations between them and the trade unions to acquire sufficient labour supplies for the arms programme, but, having said that, I feel that I should be more precise in laying down what I regard as a sufficient supply of skilled and semi-skilled labour.
Such is the solemnity of the moments through which we are passing, such is the appalling urgency of the times, that my yard-stick as to whether there is a sufficient supply of skilled and semi-skilled labour is that by the end of next month, at any rate not later than the end of February, every single factory in this country, with particular reference to the air factories, including the shadow factories at Birmingham and Speke, should be working on a three-shift basis. If they are not by then working on a three-shift basis I say that there is not sufficient skilled and semi-skilled labour coming forward quickly enough to enable three shifts to be worked. I have not heard any suggestion yet that there is any shortage of raw material, and therefore, if there is no shortage of raw material surely it is essential that we should run three shifts in all arms factories?
Has any hon. Member in the past 18 months ever suggested that there is a shortage of skilled engineers in this country? I have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that there are 5,000 skilled engineers in Britain unemployed.
If that is the case I say that they should be employed, and I do not mind whether we draw upon the people who are at present unemployed. If they have the necessary and requisite skill then obviously we should draw upon them, but if, having used all those on the unemployment list that we can, there is still not sufficient to go round, then I suggest that we should make a special appeal to the workers of this country, the skilled and semi-skilled, to offer their services for work in the arms factories. I hope my right hon. Friend will recognise this as really an important item in the scheme of voluntary national service that he is putting forward. The scheme which has been undertaken by the Government is one of the greatest ever undertaken by any Government Department in times of peace, but it is of the utmost importance, if I may say so, that it should really succeed. It is important for two reasons. If it does not succeed there will be many hon. Members and many people in the country who will feel in two or three months time that we shall have to resort to compulsion, which we wish to avoid if we can.
But there is a second and an even more important reason, in my opinion, why it is essential that we should make it a success. The foreign policy of the Government has the support of the great majority in this House and in the country. It is a policy of appeasement, but if there is one thing which we have been taught during recent years and months it is that if we are going to talk with the dictators and negotiate with them it is vitally essential that we should talk not only on terms of equality, but that the Government should be backed up by a people who are determined at all costs to carry out and implement the policy and decision arrived at by His Majesty's Government. If we can make a real success of this scheme, if two or three men come forward where only one is required, if every establishment is filled to overflowing, then from the psychological point of view it will be something of far greater substance and value in the field of foreign politics than if we have to compile a compulsory register.
Therefore, I hope the Lord Privy Seal will tackle this job, as I am sure he will, with real energy, and bring to his aid as much publicity as he possibly can through the Press and the British Broadcasting Corporation, and by appealing to hon. Members to support him. If he does, he is going to have a great success attending his efforts. But I do say that we must make a real success and proceed with this great scheme on the assumption of a sure and certain knowledge that within the next three or four months this country will be engaged in a first-rate European war. If we proceed on that assumption I believe the risks of any such war ever breaking out will be appreciably and sensibly diminished.
Hon. Members must have listened with some amazement to the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Stuart Russell). In regard to his suggestion that there should be a three-shift system at work in the arms factories, many of which have still to be built, and in the shadow factories which are still unable to cast any shadows, I would point out that there are already on the books of the Employment Exchange 2,000,000 people who are unemployed. We have never heard the voice of the hon. Member appealing to the Minister of Labour to formulate schemes which will attract some of these people into employment. It has remained for the so-called crisis in our foreign policy, the so-called policy of appeasement, to stir the heart and the brain of the hon. Member and make him feel that it is necessary to do something more for the unemployed than has been done in the past. The hon. Member should not study foreign politics so much but home politics a little more, and he would understand the problems which he was sent here by his constituents to solve a little better.
The hon. Member also made a remarkable suggestion about adding to the strength of the constabulary, the special constables and the Territorial Forces. What was his object? Was it to defend the country? Was it to ensure that the country should be provided with a great defence corps while the Regular Army might be abroad carrying on the war which evidently is so close to the hon. Member's mind? Was it for that purpose that he appealed for this additional Home force? No. It was to meet a situation in which there was civil disorder. From whom does he expect that disorder? Does he expect it from the owners of wealth, who, some hon. Members on this side have been saying, should be asked to give some voluntary service?
The force which I contemplated would be used to keep internal order at a time when there would be considerable panic engendered by hostile air raids. It would be for that purpose only, and for no other.
Evidently, the hon. Member did not fully elaborate his theory in his speech. His interruption puts a different complexion upon the matter. I am certain that every hon. Member on these benches who heard the hon. Member's speech understood him to mean civil disorder. By civil disorder we always contemplate such disorder that the local sheriff is called out to read the Riot Act, and the necessity for either the local police or additional police forces to be called out to quell the disorder. I think the hon. Member ought to have made himself a little clearer to the House, for by the manner in which he put his suggestion he caused a considerable amount of prejudice against his case.
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to make myself clear. What I said—I thought I said it clearly—was that at the beginning of a war we should be subjected to very heavy and sustained air raids by hostile Powers; that the result would ye very considerable panic—very much more panic, indeed, than many hon. Members and many people in the country imagine would ensue—that the police and the special constabulary might of themselves not be sufficiently strong to deal with the panic; and that they would have to be stiffened and strengthened by troops. The body which I contemplate would enable the Regular Army and the Territorial Army to carry on, if necessary, on the Continent of Europe.
I put it to the hon. Member that his reference to air raids by hostile Powers was not linked up in any way with his appeal for additional strengthening of the local police and the Territorials. His two statements were so far apart as to convey to hon. Members an impression different from the one which he is now seeking to convey. If he will read his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, I think he will find that the two statements were separated to such an extent that there was no connection between his reference to hostile air raids and his reference to the civil disorders which he believes will ensue. Moreover, I think that London was the place in this country which was most attacked from the air during the last War. Those of us who had occasion to visit London, particularly during air raids, saw the panic that resulted. Were not the London police, together with special constables who were called in to assist, sufficient to cope with that panic in London, the largest city in the world? If the police were sufficient in those days, I cannot see why the hon. Member should have made the suggestion which he did, unless his purpose was the quelling of other disorders that might arise in different parts of the country. I am certain that is the view that is held by hon. Members on these benches who heard the speech, but since the hon. Member has made an explanation dissociating himself entirely from any idea of there being any disorders that would require additional police to quell them, I shall leave that matter.
The Minister of Labour, in making his speech this afternoon, was subjected to a considerable amount of questioning. I felt a little sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, who was placed in the unfortunate position of having to introduce to the House a scheme which is not yet in existence. He had to explain to the House, and persuade the House to endorse, something which he had not before him in a concrete form. It may have been in his mind in the discussions which he had with the Lord Privy Seal and with other members of the Cabinet who are interested in this matter, such as the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence; but as far as we, as Members of the House, are aware, such a scheme is not yet in existence. Yet, to-night, we are asked to vote for a scheme which does not exist outside the minds of the three individuals I have mentioned, with perhaps the Prime Minister as a make-weight.
I am certain that if a Labour Government were sitting on the Front Bench opposite and brought in a scheme such as the Minister of Labour has introduced to-night, and if the Minister concerned had to admit that it was not yet down in black and white and not yet definitely fixed, one of the first individuals to jump to his feet and question the outline of the scheme and the Minister's appeal for support for it, would be the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. That was what he did at the time when there was a Labour Government before, and I do not suppose that he would do differently if there were a Labour Government in power to-night and he was sitting on the Opposition Benches. Of course, I can understand why the Government put up the Minister of Labour to introduce the scheme, apart altogether from the fact that he is now Minister for National Service, in addition to Minister of Labour. I pay the right hon. Gentleman the compliment—and I hope he will not take it as sarcasm on my part—that there is no man who can stand at that Box and put over a bad case for the Government better than the Minister of Labour. He can make it so beautiful, and put so many flowers around himself, that the Government expect the House immediately to accept the proposals which he puts forward.
I want to say frankly that I do not intend to accept this scheme which the right hon. Gentleman has outlined. This is not voluntary service. Why do the Government require to ask people to register and to state what they are prepared to do with regard to occupations? No one knows better than the Minister of Labour that there are almost 2,000,000 people who have registered and stated the occupations they are prepared to follow if he will find them work at the present time. The Minister cannot find work for them, even in normal times, in the production of that wealth which would add so much to the comfort of the people of this country. But now he wants them to register, in order that he may know the particular jobs to which they may be put in the manufacture of arms or in other capacities in connection with national defence. The Minister has been long enough here to know that when schemes are put forward in this House, although only a formal Motion may appear on the Order Paper, there is always in the Vote Office a White Paper giving details of the proposed scheme. Members of the House get the particulars of the scheme and when they listen to the Minister's speech advocating it, they have a copy of the scheme before them and are able to form a picture in their own minds of the effect of the proposals. To-day the House has no White Paper giving any particulars of this proposed scheme. We are in the dark. We must take what the Minister of Labour told us at the beginning of the Debate or what the Lord Privy Seal may tell us at the end of it.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) spoke of what would amount to conscription under the guise of a voluntary scheme. The Government are asking the men and women of this country, from the age of 18 upwards to register so that they may be fitted into particular grooves either at their own request or at the discretion of the Ministry. The Government are calling upon the man-power of the country. In three months time they are to give a report and if that report is not satisfactory, in the sense that a sufficient number of offers of voluntary service are not forthcoming then the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. S. Russell) suggests that there should at once be a system of compulsory service. I do not know whether the Government intend to introduce compulsory service if their voluntary service scheme fails.
I do not like to interrupt because I do not regard it as fair to put a speaker off his line of argument, but may I say to the hon. Member that we hope it will not fail? The hon. Member has referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I think the hon. Member for Gorbals also said that trade union leaders and employers had had particulars of this scheme before them. If that is the case, then it is all the more reprehensible that Members of the House of Commons have not also been provided with copies of the scheme.
I agree, and that is the ground of my protest. The Government hand out details of their scheme to people who are not in the House and ask those people to consider the scheme and to consult with Ministers of the Crown upon its details, but Members of this House are denied access to those details. I agree with the hon. Member that it is most reprehensible. I do not think that in normal circumstances a Debate would be permitted under those conditions. Ministers themselves, in ordinary circumstances, would be the first to see the anomalous position in which they were being placed by such a procedure and would bow to the indignation of the House and agree that the matter should be adjourned until the necessary documents had been placed before the House. The hon. Member for Gorbals referred to what might happen if this scheme was not a success. If the Government in that case come forward with that compulsory scheme which seems to be at the backs of the minds of a number of hon. Members. is it intended only to bring the man-power of the country compulsorily into your forces. Are you going to do as you did in the past, namely, leave the wealth of the country to be defended by the majority of the citizens of the country who are working-class people? Are you going to conscript the majority in the country to defend that which is owned by a minority in the country?
I would be the last to throw any slight or slur upon the courage of those who, owning wealth themselves, are prepared to take their share of the fighting but that is not the end of the matter. It is when the fighting is over and when we are counting up the losses in the homes of the people, that the shoe pinches. No one knows better than Ministers of the Crown sitting on that bench how often we on this side have to come to this House appealing for pensions for the widows of men who suffered in the last War and who became tubercular as a result of their sufferings. We know of cases of men who carried from the time of their service to their death, wounds which were never healed and were constantly suppurating, and who suffered in other ways from the after effects of war service. We have had cases in which a man died from tuberculosis following upon war injuries and the doctor signed a certificate stating that he had died from bronchitis. When we ask for a pension for the widow of such a man, the Minister of Pensions tells us, "The death certificate shows that this man died from bronchitis, which is not the pensionable disability." That man's widow is robbed of a pension because the certificate states that the man died from bronchitis and not from tuberculosis. We find the same thing in cases of shrapnel wounds. The death certificate does not show that the man died from his pensionable disability and his widow is left destitute.
How does the right hon. Gentleman expect us to accept a scheme such as that which he outlined verbally to us this afternoon without knowing its ultimate implications? I say, frankly, that I, for one, do not accept the scheme as it has been explained to us. I am not finding fault with the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. I am finding fault with the fact that the details of the scheme are not there for us to read and to consider so that we may have a proper understanding of all its implications from a study of the printed word. For that reason, if there is a Division on this Motion to-night I intend to go into the Lobby against the proposed scheme.
Without following the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), I think this Debate is one that gives an opportunity for hon. Members to help the Government by making suggestions. I would like to think that hon. Members on the other side of the House have looked at the matter from this point of view. I rather got the impression from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that their attitude was that of somebody who was pointing a pistol at the head of the Government. I hope I am wrong in that idea, but one's experience two or three years ago was that Members on the other side often refused to assist the Territorials in their various forms of activity, and it would be a great pity if they did not help to-day to do all they could to make this scheme a success. I am a whole-hearted believer in the voluntary system, and I believe that it commends itself to the people of this country. If the Socialists are unwise enough to put a spanner into the works, they may find that as a result they will get the thing they least of all want—compulsion.
I hope I am justified in thinking that the hon. Gentleman will not try to throw a spanner into the works when the scheme is formulated. The House will, I think, be unanimous about the first part of the Motion welcoming the decision of the Government to rely upon the voluntary services of the people. With regard to the second part of the Motion, which recommends that the results of the scheme proposed by the Government should be reviewed by this House at the end of March, it is only right and proper, when we are considering the whole question of voluntary national service, that there should be an opportunity of discussion after some provisional form of scheme has been started. The attitude of those who like the voluntary service and want it is to criticise the scheme—and I propose to do it—with a view to helping the Government from the point of view of the individual who is dealing with this matter.
The first question to which I desire to refer is that of equipment, which is very important. I would like to know whether any equipment is available for the expected rush, as I hope it will be, that will materialise when the scheme is launched in the next few weeks. Otherwise, I fear that a large number of volunteers will go off and say, "They have no use for us, they have not enough equipment; it is no good wasting our time." That is something that I fear, because it has happened to my knowledge in one or two cases in regard to the Territorial Army. I hope that that question will be dealt with carefully by the Government. Another point of great importance is the skeleton numbers of each service for which the Government propose to ask for volunteers. It is possible that various services may be popular and others not so popular. I will illustrate from my own constituency. I am proud of the fact that in air-raid precaution work generally, we had 82 per cent. of the full complement of volunteers, but, unfortunately, the number of volunteers for the fire prevention part of A.R.P. services was a much lower proportion. We shall have some difficulty in arranging matters in such a way that people will know what they can apply for.
There is another criticism on this point which concerns the question of the advisory committees. I do not know how a body of 30 persons, which is the number mentioned, will get the information to deal with the various applicants. It is highly desirable that there should be a majority of impartial people on these committees, people of whatever class, who carry the confidence of the general mass of the public in any neighbourhood. Some are bound to have political connections on both sides, but the essence of the thing is not what social or political class they belong to, but whether they are the sort of people whom the public will respect and whose opinion they will value. Whom shall we get to advise these committees? I think 30 is too large for a committee of this character. From where are they going to get their advice, and who will direct them? Who is the responsible person who will give them the information on which they can advise the people who desire to offer their services? It is highly desirable that the officials for advising the committees and for dealing with volunteers should not be connected with and anchored to the administrative of the Unemployment Fund. I would like to suggest that there should be an entirely separate body of officials to deal with this matter, although it may involve more expense. I consider that of first-rate importance, because it will be a mistake if the information that is obtained for one purpose is used by the people who had the information for a different purpose.
Then there is the question of overlapping. I have been informed by a responsible authority that some prodigious percentages of overlapping were discovered in the mobilisation of the services during the crisis. I have been told by one commanding officer of a unit that it was discovered that about 25 per cent. of his men were key men for industrial purposes, and that the representative of my right hon. Friend who was present when the men were called up said they could not be allowed to go in the Army, although they were very efficient Territorial soldiers, because they were wanted in industry. If that is the case or anything like it, it is vitally important that the position should be dealt with.
Then, there seems to be no provision for discovering whether people are physically fit for the particular service which they hope to render to the State. That, again, is a vital question, because some of the services are of a strenuous character and it would be a disaster if physically unfit people were allowed to volunteer for them. Another point which I wish to put concerns the date for a review of the position by this House, which is to be the end of March. This is a prodigious task and I believe that the Government will do it. I believe that the Lord Privy Seal and the Minister of Labour are two Ministers in whom this House can have every confidence that they will do their best, and that their best will be a good effort, but I am a little disturbed at the provision for a reconsideration of this scheme at the end of March. I have a feeling, though I hope it may be wrong, that its full effects, good, bad or indifferent will hardly be felt by the end of March, and I should like it to have a fair run. The reason I want a fair run for it is that if this scheme fails I am convinced that the only thing is compulsion, and the one thing I do not want is compulsion.
I hope that title will never be applied to the Ministry of Labour, which should have other duties than that of considering what is known as National Service. I wonder whether it is true, as stated this afternoon, that it is the intention to utilise the services of the Ministry of Labour in order to see how many people can be recruited for air-raid precautions, the police forces, the special constabulary, the Territorials and this new corps of 60,000 which is to keep our people in order when, as it was put, they panic because of air raids in this country. He may excuse himself in interventions such as he made when the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) was speaking, but it was clear from his statement that all the time he had in mind organising, from the Register, forces which were to be armed. It would be a corps for the holding of the people in check—he did not get to the word "suppression," though he came very near it—and the one thing it would not have to consider would be the strategy of war. He left that out. I hope that when we hear the Lord Privy Seal to-night we shall be told whether it is intended to utilise this Register for that particular purpose.
On the last occasion we endeavoured to find out the occupations for which labour was required. If the Lord Privy Seal knew it he never told us and to-night we have not been told. The Government are asking for a registration, for people to be visited in their homes and to have their names put down for work which they feel they could engage upon. What is meant by these people being handed a form and asked to put down the work they feel they could engage upon? Have the Government made up their minds about any piece of work for which they require people, apart from service in the Forces? An hon. Member referred to the shortage of skilled and semi-skilled labour. Believe me, there is nothing more dishonest in this country than the statements which have been made for the last two years about the inability to procure the labour required for production in the factories. Those in control of the factories have not been working them to full capacity. I have told the responsible Ministers of certain places where even now they are not working to full capacity; and, worse than that, as disclosed in a question in the House within the last fortnight, there is one establishment from which they are actually discharging people at this time. Yet the Government come to the country and say, "We require a register in order that we may take people into industry—I suppose it is industry, though we have not been told—or into commercial pursuits—again we are not told. The Government, while asking for the right to organise people into occupations, are permitting men to be discharged, engineers being among them. I think the hon. Member who will be winding up from our side will be able to point to other cases. I ask what is behind this appeal, an appeal which says that we require this registration because we wish to know what certain people are thinking. Where are they going to place them? Is it in trades, is it in manufacture or where is it?
I have made that quite clear to the House, as did my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on a previous occasion. This is a Guide which we are compiling for both active and passive defence, and it has nothing to do with industry. The Schedule, on the other hand, as we have also made clear, is concerned solely with reserved occupations which will be vital to keep the active and passive defence services equipped and sustained. It has to be compiled in such a way that men will not be enlisted for whole-time service in war who will not be available for that service. No such idea as the hon. Member has been putting forward is in the mind of the Government.
On that point of the reserved occupations I have recollections of the last list of reserved occupations, that great book that we had during 1914–1918. It was a pretty large one.
Perhaps it is, compared with what the right hon. Gentleman may be engaged on at the present time. It may be that the Ministry have found hundreds of occupations that will be considered reserved occupations. If it is a question of stating that certain people will be better occupied under war conditions in following a particular employment or occupation, why cannot that statement be issued without our having to engage upon this registration? The Ministry of Labour at the present time has pretty well millions of people ticketed and docketed, if I may use a term from 1912.
The hon. Member seems to have misconstrued the idea entirely. A large range of services will be required in a war emergency—a very large range, not only services for the regular Forces, but for the auxiliary Forces. There will be the great range of services that come under civil defence, including those which are undertaken by every local authority. It is to fill the ranks of those services with volunteers that we want this scheme to go forward. I am sure that it is a purpose that the nation wants carried out.
Then the claim made by the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench is incorrect that you are not seeking to fill the aircraft factories, engineering establishments, shipbuilding yards, His Majesty's dockyards, and the Royal Arsenals with a three-shift system as was being asked for? I take it that this scheme is not for taking people into employment at this time, and is not a register for the purpose of the production that you are demanding at this moment, but is to be kept in reserve for some period that is to be called an emergency. "Emergency" is the word that was used in war time.
Very good. At least we have this explanation this evening that it is not for this time and period that this work of registration is being engaged upon. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal when he replies to tell us why the Government have not been able—whether they are incapable of it or not, I do not know—to utilise to full capacity the establishments now existing. In the last Debate reference was made to machine tools, quite a favourite topic with people who know nothing of engineering. It was said that there had been a shortage of machine tools and that we had to go to Germany to supply us with them for rearmament. It is true that machine tools are made close to Munich. I see an hon. Member opposite connected as an officer with the Machine Tools Association at this moment.
Well, used to be. That was in the days when I knew him better than I do at the present time. Many machine-tool makers of this country have not been fully occupied during the last two years, yet we are asked that our people should be registered so as to be brought in to make machine tools. We have heard about the shortage with regard to the auxiliary fire brigade, and the hon. Member who spoke last referred to the fact that less than 82 per cent. of the number required in his constituency volunteered for the fire service.
I can assure the hon. Member that that is what I intended to say. Perhaps it was as well that he did not have the proper number, because the Government had not the equipment for them. I know of firms in this country who are willing, and whose business it is, to manufacture all the equipment that is required by such services but who have not even been working full time. Engineers have been idle and working at less than full time during this period.
Some people have asked that this proposal should be revised in March and considered for revision. I have heard them speaking in public and asking for this system so that they could get people under such control that they would be able to secure the services of those people without expensive payment. They are not Ministers, but they are Members sitting on that side of the House who have been asking for that reason. I am very doubtful, because there is no necessity for this. I see no need for it. There is at this time an offer to people to come into employment where employment can be offered to them, and I ask the Government whether, instead of engaging upon these schemes, they might look round and see how they can employ the people who are visiting the Employment Exchanges of the Ministry of Labour day by day. If the Government propose still to rely upon employers for their enterprise, I suggest that the Government see how the employers can be given an opportunity to give the production that is required. I think this scheme is a mistake on the part of the Government and that it is being brought forward only to satisfy certain people who have little knowledge of what is required in the country.
I will not follow the argument of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but I would like to make one comment. In talking about a national register, to which he devoted a considerable portion of his speech, he showed that really he had no conception at all of what a national register is. I do not think that he followed the statement which was made by the Lord Privy Seal in the previous Debate that we had on this subject.
The hon. Member says he was here, but he does not seem to have grasped the implications of what the Lord Privy Seal said. Many of us, and I am one of them, do not feel able to accept with enthusiasm the proposals put forward by the Government, but it is only fair to point out that the Government's scheme bears no relation to the scheme outlined by the hon. Member. Now there is some confusion about what we are debating to-day and what exactly is meant by the Motion that we are being
asked to pass. We had a Debate on this subject not very long ago, and we were told then that we should have a second day's Debate on the same subject, that is to say to consider the Motion which was put down on the Paper at the last Debate:
That this House approves the proposals of His Majesty's Government for National Voluntary Service.
That was a definite request by the Government to the House to approve of certain proposals which they put before it. My feeling is—I do not know whether hon. Members agree with me—that the Government had no need to ask for our approval of such proposals, because they require no legislation and no special powers; but, having asked the House for its approval of specific proposals, I think the Government should have given the House the opportunity to express a definite opinion on those specific proposals. We had a Debate, and I must say that, listening to the whole Debate, I formed the impression from almost all the speeches from all quarters of the House that there was considerable disapproval of those proposals, though perhaps for very different reasons. On the Opposition side, the feeling was one of suspicion about the entire scheme, while on this side there was a general feeling that the proposals were inadequate and might prove ineffective. Nevertheless I fell that, after a Debate in which disapproval and uneasiness had been expressed in all quarters of the House, it would have been right for the Government to put down the same Motion, in order that we might pass a definite verdict upon the proposals. But, as I see it, the Motion before us to-night is not one to approve these proposals, although the Minister of Labour did suggest in one remark that we were to pass our judgment on the Government's scheme. As I understand it—and I propose to support the Motion to-night—we are not being asked to express our opinion upon these proposals, but are being asked to give our consent to the setting up of the machinery and to its being put into operation. We are, however, to review the whole position again in March. On that basis I am prepared to give the Motion my support. If I am misinterpreting it, I trust that my right hon. Friend will interrupt me.
I should like to devote the remarks I now propose to make to the need for a National Register. I warmly welcome the proposals which were contained in the statement of the Lord Privy Seal for the better organisation of our peace-time recruiting system. That, as I see it, is what these proposals amount to. But let nobody suggest that they amounted to a National Register. There was no kind of Register at all in the whole of the suggestions put forward by the Lord Privy Seal, although the word "Register" was frequently employed. All that that part of the proposals amounts to, in my opinion, is a glorified waiting list—a waiting list for people who have volunteered for the various military and civilian defence services, and for whom, for one reason or another, there is no job immediately available. This proposal of the Government's is not a Register at all. It would have been far more frank if the Government had not used the word "Register" in this connection. They know perfectly well that it is not a Register. Many of us on this side of the House have been clamouring for a Register for a very long time—
As my hon. Friend has been trying to speak all the evening, I must assume that he has acquainted himself with the subject on which he proposes to address the House. I could speak for an hour on the advantages and characteristics of a National Register, but one must assume that Members of this House, especially when they have come prepared to take part in the Debate, have generally acquainted themselves with the subject that we are discussing. I was saying that it would have been more frank if the Government had not used the word "Register" in this connection. A great many people have formed the impression that the Government have in fact acceded to the request for a National Register put forward my many of their supporters in this House and by the Central Council of the Conservative Party. That is not the case at all. The Government have merely instituted a waiting list for volunteers and have exalted it with the name of "Register." That is most misleading. I am not suggesting that it is deliberately misleading; if I did I should probably be called to order by the Chair; but I do say that the result is most misleading. I think it is very hard to conceive that the Government did not foresee the possibility that the public might thereby be misled.
The Government have admitted, the Lord Privy Seal himself has admitted, the need for a National Register, that is to say, a complete compulsory register, in the event of war. That, I think, is accepted by everyone as a necessary part of our war-time machinery. Why not have it now? What is the advantage of delaying the setting up of this machinery if it is eventually going to be necessary? After all, we do not need an Air Ministry, or an Admiralty, or battleships, in peace time. Yet we do not wait until there is war before starting to build battleships and aeroplanes. The position is exactly the same as regards a National Register in war-time. I say that that machinery ought to be set up now in order that it may be ready in the event of war. Otherwise we should be wasting precious time. The Lord Privy Seal told us that it would take three weeks to set up this machinery, and, when he was questioned more closely, he added "subject to the physical conditions prevailing then." He was referring to the process of turning over from the present machinery to that of the compulsory National Register and he said that "the transition from the voluntary register to the complete compulsory register would be smooth, easy and expeditious." I do not know what hon. Members think, but in the event of war, with bombs raining down, perhaps on his very office, with Government Departments, perhaps, scattered in different parts of the country, with the population in process of being evacuated to the four corners of the land, it seems to me far more likely that it will not be "smooth, easy and expeditious," but chaotic, difficult and dilatory. As for the "physical conditions prevailing then," my own view is that the conditions will be the most difficult imaginable in which to carry through a complicated administrative operation such as this. What is more, I submit that the period of three weeks which has been given to us as the period required to put this National Register into operation in the event of war is a wholly meaningless estimate.
As for the Government's arguments against a National Register, I think it is worth while to examine them. The Lord Privy Seal told us that a National Register in peace-time was not necessary. In a speech on 30th May last, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence referred to the lessons of the War. This is what he said:
The first thing we must appreciate is that any Government in dealing with the use of man-power to-day would be almost criminal if they did not take account of the lessons of the Great War.
The Minister of Labour this afternoon supplemented that remark by telling us what were the lessons of the Great War. He told us about the recruiting of key men who ought never to have been recruited, and of people being allocated to entirely wrong and useless jobs. What is the Government's National Register which is only going to come into operation, at the best, three weeks after the beginning of a war, going to do to stop this confusion in the recruiting system in the first few days of an emergency? I cannot see how anyone can argue that if a register is necessary three weeks after the beginning of a war, it is not necessary on the first day.
My hon. Friend means that the people recruited in peace time will be sufficient to deal with the emergency when it arises. I will deal with that later. I have not overlooked that argument. The second argument advanced by the Lord Privy Seal against a complete National Register referred to the initial disturbance at the beginning of a war. He said it was better to wait until this initial disturbance was over, that is to say, until after the population had been evacuated to its various destinations; and that in his view this census or registration should not be taken until the population was settled down in its new quarters. But I put this to my right hon. Friend, and I hope that whoever answers for the Government will deal with this point: Surely, one of the most useful purposes of a register is to assist in preparing schemes for an evacuation? Surely, it is desirable when people are to be evacuated from the centres of industry to know whether or not they are key men? It is no use evacuating essential workers to Cornwall and Wales, and then taking a register and bringing them back again. The whole problem of evacuation must clearly play an important part in any scheme of registration.
Then, we are told that the register would be no good at all because it would get so quickly out of date. That is an argument which was used recently by the Lord Privy Seal. At the same time, he went on to say that we really did not need a register because we already had sufficient information available from the last census. The most recent census took place in 1931! If that is not considered out of date, I ask my right hon. Friend to drop this argument about the National Register becoming out of date. Another argument which has been brought forward by the Government is the question of uncertainty. The Lord Privy Seal said that the circumstances of a future war were so uncertain that the information we already possessed was, for the purposes of the Government, accurate enough. On this subject, he said, there must necessarily be much that is conjectural in regard to the future conditions of war. He went on to say:
In planning it serves no purpose to be exact, beyond a certain degree.
That may be so; of course, there is a great element of uncertainty about any future war. But exactly how conjectural are the circumstances in relation to our man-power needs, which is the problem with which we are concerned to-night? It seems to me that, broadly speaking, there are two types of war in which we might have to engage. One is a war in which we would have to send an expeditionary force abroad—it might be a small one or it might have to be a large one—and the other is a war in which we would be able to concentrate our efforts on the Navy and the Air Force. Is it too much to expect the Defence Departments to prepare a certain number of schemes, A, B, C, and D, which in certain eventualities could be put into operation, and for which it would be known what resources were available, and how they could be used? My right hon. Friend says that we cannot foresee the circumstances in which we might have to wage war. Whether he is correct or not, surely, it
is only wise, that the Government should try, at least, to reduce to a minimum the elements of uncertainty, the conjectural factors in the problem. I should have thought that the one thing about which there need be no uncertainty is the extent of our own resources of man-power.
I will deal now with the point raised by my hon. Friend, which was also mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal in his remarks the other day, when he said that the register which he proposes and the personnel which he hopes to recruit through that register would be sufficient for the earlier weeks of a war. He said that the time required for the compilation of the compulsory register
would be not more than three weeks, and during that period and for some time afterwards the man-power provided under the system of the voluntary register already described would be fully adequate to meet the needs of the situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1938; col. 603, Vol. 342.]
The Government maintain that we shall not have to use our full resources of manpower at the beginning of a war, and that those who are being recruited in peace-time, through the proposals put before us to-night, would be sufficient to meet the needs of defence during the first three weeks, and for some time afterwards. That implies that we are going once again, as we did in the last War, to make a late start. It means that we are not going to get off the mark at the beginning. How is it that we should not need all our forces at the very outset? Personally, I am not a believer in the theory of a knock-out blow. I believe that if the nation which is attacked is ready and organised, the knock-out blow will not come off. But the knock-out blow theory is a much more attractive one if the country being attacked is not going to bring its forces into operation for three weeks, or for "some time afterwards." With the entirely new technique of warfare, the aerial attack, which may have devastating effects in the first few days, or the first few hours, I cannot see that it is wise to base our defences on a system which does not bring our resources of man-power into operation until three weeks after the beginning of the war, or perhaps even later.
The object of this proposal, as I see it, is to schedule certain areas and jobs and then to find the people for the jobs, so that everything is ready, not at the end of three weeks but on the day that war breaks out. That is a factor which, I think, has not been apprehended by those who are advocating a compulsory register.
As I see it, if it is a fact that we need certain forces three weeks after the beginning of a war, we shall equally need them on the very first day of the war. If my hon. Friend were to argue that we needed no National Register at all, not even after the outbreak of war, and that nothing more was required for the entire duration of the war than the forces which had been recruited in peace-time, that would at any rate be logical. But I cannot follow the argument that three weeks after the war has started we shall need a large accession of force which we did not need in the first few days. But there is another point, which is very disconcerting to many of us. This policy implies that we are not going to get off the mark for some weeks. It implies that once again we are going to rely upon our allies to ward off the first attacks. What should we think if the French were to tell us that they were going to postpone the mobilisation of their man-power until three weeks or more after the outbreak of hostilities? Surely that would very much disturb the mind of the Government. They are not easy to disturb on matters of defence, but the thought that the French were themselves going to do no more than is proposed in this scheme would undoubtedly disturb them very considerably. This scheme is framed upon the assumption that France is going once again to bear the brunt and burden of the war during the first few weeks while we are attempting belatedly to put our house in order.
In common with other hon. Members of all parties I intend to support the Government's proposals not only here to-night but also in the country. We shall, I am sure, all do our best to make them a success. I reserve my right, as I presume they reserve theirs, to press for more effective measures as time and occasion permit. Meantime, we have the duty to make the best of these proposals whatever we may think of them. I agree with the words of the Motion, which says:
The taking of measures to protect the lives and homes of the people at all times transcends in importance all party differences.
I was very sorry to hear some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and those in the none the less very sympathetic speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). They may disagree with the Government's foreign and social policy. That disagreement is not confined to members on that side of the House. We all want to see a foreign policy adopted, which will command the support of the country as a whole. We do not want to be divided on questions of foreign policy. Many of us also feel that in these critical times, when the mass of the people are going to be asked to make extraordinary sacrifices and to render service which may entail the risk of their lives in defence of democracy, they must be assured that it is a real democracy that they are being asked to defend and one in which social justice exists. But, whilst we are striving to achieve these ends we have all of us a responsibility to see that the country is not left unprotected. I am confident, therefore, that, however much many hon. Members may disagree with the Government's foreign policy and however much others may doubt the efficacy or the adequacy of these proposals, they all recognise in matters of national defence where their duty lies and will do it.
The question that we have before us is of such a character that I am sure all of us would desire, if it were possible, to approach it in a spirit of constructive criticism rather than with a pure negation, and I should be glad to be able to make a contribution along those lines. Unfortunately the position has been made difficult for all of us by the methods, or the absence of method, adopted by the Government and, with every desire to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, the manner in which the case has been presented to-day is not making it easier for those of us who would be prepared seriously to consider any proposals that he had to put forward. I do not think, whatever impression the Lord Privy Seal may carry away from to-day's discussion, that he can be under any doubt that there are aspects of this case which, in the mind of many on both sides of the House, are very disturbing indeed. It would be absolutely idle to deny that, in regard to the proposals which he has outlined rather than dealt with in a precise way, there has been something in the nature—the metaphor is not a good one—of an ante-room to compulsion, a sort of preparatory school for conscription at a later date, and that some of us are unable to free our minds of the suspicion that there is more than a small measure of justification for that view.
There can be no doubt whatever in the minds of many that the need for such action as we are now literally compelled to contemplate arises from the tragic policy in the field of foreign affairs which the Government have initiated and pursued. That policy has led to the growth, if not to the actual enthronement, of the dictators of Europe, against whose possible further aggression, in all probability next time against ourselves, we are now called upon to contemplate defensive action. Those protective measures are to be carried through along the lines which are indicated or suggested, rather than definitely laid down, in the proposals, or the plan—it is difficult to select the appropriate term—which is before us to-night. However, a number of us, I think, would desire to be realistic about the situation. We recognise our responsibilities in the matter of the provision of reasonable protection for the civil population, and also perhaps in other directions. The Labour party is under no illusions about those dangers and difficulties. We know that if and when the trouble comes the workers will be required to take their full share of both danger and difficulties and to carry the burden of responsibility in full measure later on. We stand, I need scarcely say, for voluntaryism. We believe, and we have good grounds for our belief, that free men are better than pressed men, and we do not contest the declaration which is contained in the Motion now before the House that it is desirable that there should he a voluntary system to secure the aid necessary to meet the situation that threatens us.
We have no difficulty in subscribing to the principle that the resources of the nation should be organised in the interests of the nation. Something similar to that has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, to-day, but there are notable omissions from his interpretation of that proposal. We say without hesitation that the resources must be all the resources for all the nation. The Minister of Labour spoke of the utilisation of national reserves, but it became clear as he proceeded that his main consideration was not that all the resources of the nation should be organised in the interests of the nation, but that the manpower of the nation, and a limited measure of man-power, should be so organised. Nothing was said about the utilisation or the organisation of the wealth of the community, although I gladly recognise the preparedness which has been indicated in some quarters of the House to consider that aspect of the case. The present limitation of organisation will not do. If skill and knowledge, human effort and life itself are to be requisitioned, wealth must come in as well.
The Minister of Labour said that a good deal of time and thought had been devoted to the consideration of the scheme. There is too much evidence to show that too little time and thought has been devoted to a consideration of either scheme, plan or proposal. Had the Minister come down to the House to-day with more definite proposals than those with which he has been provided, a different situation and reception would have been encountered. The Minister made reference to the vast number of dungareee wearers in the Army, Navy and the Air Force. I respectfully invite the Minister to make a little clearer what is meant by that statement. There has been in other quarters some talk of a dungaree Army which has been interpreted to mean that the men will not only be required to make profits for the profiteers but must also be prepared to risk their lives in protecting the property of employers. I fail to see any justification for that and I hope that the Minister or the Lord Privy Seal will give some further information.
I was referring then to the changed conditions of modern warfare. It is clear that if you have a great many machines in defensive forces you must have a larger number of trained men in those forces than were necessary in simpler days. There is nothing sinister of any kind.
There has been talk in some quarters of the men who are engaged in manufactures being regarded as members of a dungaree army prepared not only to do their share and to discharge their duties at the bench; but, when danger comes, to protect the property. If that is not the idea which the Minister has in mind the sooner we hear of the proposals in that direction the better able we shall be to deal with them. I take it that the compilation of the Schedule of reserved occupations to which reference has been made, should not be on the basis of a book quota arrangement regarded as applicable without discrimination to all quarters. I have the responsibility of sharing with six other hon. Members of this House the representation of the City of Sheffield. The Government will not expect, I anticipate, that places like Sheffield will be able to make a contribution to the Services of a character which could much more easily be made in places like Cheltenham or Harrogate, although I am not sure what kind of response will come from those places.
In the words of a once famous Member of this House, I think we had better wait and see. I do not think it has been made clear yet whether the scheme is to be national or whether the local authorities are to be required, as suggested in some quarters, to carry on a large measure of responsibility. Again I am interested in this aspect of the case from the point of view of the citizens of the city of Sheffield. Sheffield will be the subject undoubtedly of considerable and special attention at the hands of those who may come across to this country for other than friendly reasons. That special attention will arise not from the fact that the people are citizens of Sheffield, but because the men there are engaged in the highly important service of the provision of armaments. The responsibility of protecting those who are engaged upon enterprises of that sort should rest upon the national authorities rather than upon the local authorities. I would like the Minister to say whether a national committee, charged with the responsibility of giving direction and exercising supervision, and of dealing with appeals from the local committees, will be set up. These local bodies must, if they are to be effective, be as thoroughly representative as possible, and not a collection of local big-wigs and people with an eye on future favours such as O.B.Es. and so on, but men and women with local government, industrial and trade union experience. It is vital that definite attention should be paid to that point.
There is one other comparatively small but important point to which I would ask the Minister to give his attention. I have no doubt that so far as large numbers of workers are concerned reasonable provision will be made for the continuance of their pay or a portion of their pay when they are engaged in the services, but large numbers also will be deprived of any assistance, and I suggest to the Government that, in the case of men who are going to play their part and take the risks, and who enrol in the service of their country, but who by the nature of their positions are burdened with responsibilities of a domestic kind, with mortgages, insurance, responsibilities associated with education or the maintenance of their children, there ought to be something in the nature of a moratorium in respect of which the interest should be paid by the Government. I hope that the Government will be able to give more attention to this question in order to enable us more fully to consider the proposal when it is put forward.
I am sure that those who have listened to the Debate to-day, judging from the speeches of Members of my own party, will have noticed the feeling of anxiety that exists among Members of this House and representatives generally as to what is intended by the Government in regard to national service. When I was privileged to have the opportunity of saying a few words for my party at the end of the Debate, so far as our side was concerned, I was more concerned about what I should leave out than about what there was to say. I am certain that there is ample material for quite a long discussion and that many other Members have points of view which could be given to the House, and given with considerable advantage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I find that that view is echoed from some of my hon. Friends behind me. When, on 12th December, the Prime Minister informed the House of the formation of an Industrial Advisory Panel in connection with the rearmament programme, it was said specifically that labour questions would
be outside the purview of this panel, and I ventured to ask the Prime Minister this question:
Will the Prime Minister kindly explain what he meant by saying that labour would be outside their consideration? The right hon. Gentleman said that the question of the execution of the programme will be under consideration. Seeing that labour is most likely to have a predominant part in the execution of a programme of this kind, how will labour be consulted and how will it be able to put its point of view?
The right hon. Gentleman replied:
I thought it best to exclude labour questions from the purview of this body. It is intended to get assistance from prominent men of business on the side of production and supply. I think that questions of labour will really be better dealt with by the employers and the employed, and of course, the Ministry of Labour will always be ready to assist"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1938; cols. 1616–17 Vol. 342.]
Frankly, I was dissatisfied with that reply. While it is very pleasing for Ministers and others to speak from the Front Bench when they want support and to say that they have consulted labour, it is usually a very belated consultation, and the consultation is not initiated by the Government. I will give, as an instance, the building programme of the Government in regard to rearmament. It was left to Mr. Coppock and myself to initiate the discussions with the Government to see how far labour was interested in the matter of building, where trade union rates and conditions could be maintained, and whether the programme could be facilitated. I am certain that there is no member of either of the Departments concerned, and certainly no member of the Civil Service, who had the advantage of those consultations who would not testify to their value, but they had to be initiated from our side. There had already been consultation with the employers, but no consultation with the operatives, and no proposed consultation.
Again, in this matter—and this is where I lay my complaint—we are being consulted at a very late stage. I am certain that the Lord Privy Seal will not be able to give all the information that we want here to-night, and it is pretty obvious, although I question very much whether they would be as generous to us if we were to occupy a similar position, that he has a range of work with which he is unfamiliar and into which he should be initiated, and if he is wise, he will listen to suggestions from time to time and, if necessary, revise and improve the methods that he will employ for quite a long time to come. The point that I want to stress is that the policy of belated consultation with labour is a policy which should be changed. The attitude of the Government appears to be to say to the workers where they are to go and that they are to comply with all their physical and mental powers, abilities, skill, enthusiasm, and everything else which are necessary for effective work, but without consultation.
I want to say, here and now, that the consultation which the Trades Union Council had with the Minister had to be asked for by the Council and that the consultation was one of inquiry as to what was really intended by the general proposals of the Government. Later on, if the House will give me the opportunity, I will mention some of the reactions of the members of the General Council to the published statement that appeared in the Press on the next day. The Government appear to want to say to the workers, "Come," and they come, and "Go," and they go. I am speaking of the general mental attitude of the Government towards the workers of this country, which is that they should be asked to come and go just as the Government appear to think necessary for carrying out their plans. That may be all very well in Fascist countries, but we have not yet reached that stage here, and it is eminently desirable that we should take effective and efficient steps to prevent it arising.
It is not as though the Government are unaware of the supreme importance of the workers in all matters of defence. I am sure that the list of reserved occupations such as have been tabulated now, but which are, I am sure, by no means final and, therefore, still a matter for the Government to deal with, will show that they are scattered well over industry. Many of the industries, or a great number of them, as they appear now to be covered would change entirely in wartime. They would become war-time industries, and exemptions either below or above the age indicated in the Government's present proposals would have to be revised in the case of urgency and necessity. The compilation of that list indicates that the Government have gone into the matter fairly extensively. We are all well aware that during 1916, 1917 and 1918 a list was compiled, and this list undoubtedly has been based upon it and brought up to date according to the difficulties of the present time.
I submit that this attitude of lack of consultation will, if persisted in, lead to weakness and disaster. We must get in our minds in this country—and I speak now as a worker—that the workers perform all the vitally essential services of this country, in peace no less than in war. Not a loaf, not a garment, not a house, would be produced, not a ship, not a train would go, without the workers. The workers of to-day are not robots. They have feelings in their hearts and intelligence in their heads, and when we were told that the workers would be outside the purview of this panel, it seemed to indicate to me—and I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong—an attitude of mind on the part of the Government that they have only to give the worker some tools in his hand and some material in front of him, and to say, "Go on, produce that, and you will have performed your task." Labour has quite a different outlook upon its functions in life from that, and quite a different mentality. If the workers are informed of the services which they are required to perform, and become interested in production, you will get service, but treat them as robots and not as men, and they will think of you as unqualified profiteers and exploiters, and the nation will suffer as a consequence.
It is time to tear away this mask of indifference, in the interests of the nation. Labour will not be content to wait on the doorstep while its fate is being decided. Let that be perfectly clear. The Government and Members of this House are aware, and every understanding person in the country is aware, that labour to-day finds its organised expression in the Trades Union Congress on the industrial side and through the Labour party on the political side. Both organised and unorganised workers look to the Trades Union Congress to ensure their welfare and safeguard their interests. Trade unionism as at the present time organised has in its ranks something like 6,000,000 members. All the key workers of industry, who are vital to the conduct of the economic life of the nation, belong to the organised labour movement.
Let there be no further boggling, delays or hesitations in consulting a body that has had a century of experience and has been through great travail. The Government ought in the interests of the nation to engage in the early stages in consultation. We are not asking to be the authority to give a decision. It would be wrong for us to say that any outside body should make the decision, because it is the responsibility of the Government to make decisions; but there are exploratory ways and means by which the Government could find out what is necessary. They cannot be other than helped by these discussions, and I hope that in the future such consultations and discussions will be looked upon as a primary condition. Labour insists on the right to determine what shall be its part or lot in any scheme of national service.
At the meeting of the Trades Union Congress with the Lord Privy Seal and the Ministry of Labour the discussions were very frank, and the Trades Union Congress considered what could be done in regard to the matter. They were prepared to consult with their affiliated bodies and discuss with them the question of reserved occupations. Necessarily, they would have to be dealt with in groups. The transport and railway groups would have to be consulted in regard to their side; the textile, mining, building, engineering and all the other groups would have to be consulted. It would be necessary to discuss with them and find out what their practical reaction would be to the proposition that would be put before them in regard to the question of reserved occupations. Then they could go back to the Minister of Labour and give him the benefit of their examination and suggestions in regard to that matter.
When it comes to the other question with regard to the composition of the local committees, they want an unequivocal answer as to its being a voluntary scheme. There has been some doubt, particularly after the discussion that we had the other day when it was stated in a very definite way that it was a voluntary scheme, and as such it was intended to be worked. The next day, however, there appeared in the newspapers the statement that the scheme while being a voluntary one would be reviewed in March. Knowing full well that whatever speed the Government worked at, they would not be able to get the scheme applied until the end of January, they realised that if it had to be reviewed in March it would mean that there would be only a lapse of a period of two months. There was a feeling in the minds of the men who had examined the matter that this was a sop to those who were demanding compulsory service. It meant that at the end of two months there was to be an examination and if the thing had proved unsuccessful then compulsion would be applied. That is a perfectly legitimate deduction from the statement in the Press.
Our Council members, who are accustomed to speaking their own minds when they meet the employers, who also speak their own minds, expressed their views about this. In industry generally we are able to evolve a vocabulary of our own, and one sometimes wishes that Mr. Speaker was not so thin in the ear, so that we might get a chance of expressing ourselves in our own vocabulary here. Since the discussions that we had in regard to the question of voluntaryism or compulsion, the Trades Union Congress have had very grave apprehensions. I want to make that point perfectly clear. It would be ridiculous to attempt to examine the scheme at the end of two months, in view of the fact that it will not be possible then really to say whether or not it has been successful.
The local committees should be made really representative. Busybodies and certain people of standing have been referred to, but no one is able to define them. They are very pleasant people to meet in a private capacity, but so far as understanding the economics of the system and handling the system, they are not the best people. If effective agents are to be employed to make the national voluntary system successful, it is far better for the Government to base their scheme definitely upon representative people like the employers and the operatives, the others to be called into consultation when they may be required. Therefore, I would press for some answer to the question as to how the local committees are to be constituted and how adequate representation is to be given to those interests which ought to be on those committees.
Now I come to the question of a national committee. Perhaps I am disclosing something that I ought not to do, but in our interview with the Minister of Labour we put this question to him, and he said that he had not closed his mind to the question of a national committee. On the other hand, he did not say that he had opened his mind to it. The desirability of having a national committee was generally felt, so that the work of the local committees could be reviewed and suggestions could be made in regard to any deficiencies in policy. The General Council of the Trades Union Congress said that on condition these things were provided for in the scheme they were quite willing to give support to a voluntary system provided it was for civil defence and riot for imperialist aims. That was the result of a genuine, workmanlike examination not only of the discussions we had but of the proposals put before us, and the general implications that flowed from it.
The workers have watched with growing concern the process of recruitment and enlistment during the past few years. They have seen the numbers of the fighting Forces swelling. They have seen the numbers in the Territorial Army increasing, and they have seen colossal organisations of voluntary service, such as the A.R.P., fire-fighting, etc., established. They are aware of the fact that there are five times as many people under military or quasi-military control to-day as there were two years ago. They are watching these things and are much concerned. They want to know what it is for. Ministers will recollect that one of the first questions we asked them when we went into conference was why all this was necessary. We had a very clear statement from the Ministry of Labour and the Lord Privy Seal in regard to the matter. They told us that it was to prepare for the event of war. We asked whether it was of a temporary character during crisis, but they were not able to say whether it would be of a temporary character. They would not say whether it was to be permanent, but they said that so far as they could see it would have to be a standing organisation for some time. Necessarily, we are concerned when we see these things mounting up and we know the large number of people who are coming under military or quasi-military control.
In regard to the National Service Register, the workers are entitled to recall 1914. The first effort which they remember was that of obtaining volunteers. They remember the second attestation and the campaign of the young men against the old and the married men against the single men They remember the Derby scheme, and they are wondering, quite legitimately, whether this scheme, innocent as it appears on the surface, the desire to set up committees to co-ordinate all efforts and to assist the civil population in the event of an air raid, is to be taken in relation to the general scheme and the general attitude and policy of the Government. It is because they are not satisfied with the policy of the Government that they are apprehensive. There is a growing feeling—perhaps Members of the Government do not know it—that the best national service which could be performed at the moment would be to get rid of the National Government. This widespread suspicion is creating just those conditions which those concerned with real national service most desire to avoid.
We do not want this to be made compulsory. Hon. Members and the people in the country are sufficiently acquainted with the fundamental changes which have taken place in the art of war to realise that a new approach has to be made to the matter of national service. The old approach is as dead as mutton, and in the light of modern conditions a new approach has to be made. I am a workman in the ordinary way and a layman in military matters. I know, and everyone else knows, that in the event of war it is more a question of workers than of soldiers with which the Government will have to be concerned, and I can appreciate the concern of the Minister of Labour when he was speaking of the workers being in dungarees. Modern war will have to be carried on by the workers. The strength of the nation is in its factories, its workshops, its engineering concerns, its aircraft, and in its chemical laboratories. The nation will have to depend on those who man the roads and the railways, and the sea and air transport services, for defence in the event of war. All great industries make their necessary material contribution to modern war. Agriculture, coal, iron and steel and textiles, and as regards the industry I am specially honoured to represent, the building industry, it would be ridiculous to conceive anything practical being done in the matter of air-raid precautions and other services without the aid of the million of workers in the building industry to construct shelters and repair the wreckage and destruction which might ensue. Consequently, it is a matter primarily for the. Government to consider the question of early consultations with the people who know something about the job, who can give them advice, and then for the Government to make their own decision.
In the last War it was said that one engineer was worth a dozen lawyers, and so to-day one worker in any vital industry is worth a dozen outside who talk glibly about national service but are not much in touch with industry. There is a great apprehension that this proposal is a stepping-stone to conscription. I want the Lord Privy Seal to make a clear statement on this point. I am not going to ask him too many questions. It is a mistake to ask too many questions, because some are selected for reply, and generally the most important are left unanswered. I will, therefore, leave one or two questions with the Lord Privy Seal, and perhaps he will allay a great amount of suspicion which exists among the people of the country. They think that this is a stepping-stone to conscription, to brass-hat control of factories and industries. Heaven help us if we get under the control of brass hats. If anyone challenges my statement I will read a passage from the Memoirs of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) as to what happened at Passchendaele and other places. It would be a fatal mistake ever to let any idea of compulsion enter into the question of national service. I candidly and sincerely believe that if this matter is properly put to the country and they are told the purpose for which it is required, you will get a response—there is no question about that. But if people get the idea that conscription is mixed up with it, then we shall riddle it to the best of our ability and frustrate the evil designs of those who support such a policy. Those who remember the Great War will reflect on the matter of the Welsh miners and the Munitions Act and the formidable shop stewards movement.
Make no mistake. Tie the manhood of this country to an obsolete class-controlled military machine and you get the appearance of martial strength, but it would be an appearance only. I recognise the need for national service. Anyone who intelligently reflects must be aware that national service is necessary. We are all aware—at least I think so—that the fate of Abyssinia awaits an unarmed nation. Where should we stand against an armed nation unless we had the means of defence? Brigand Powers are loose in the world seeking new territories, with a complete abandonment of the rights of humanity and ready to crush the weak and defenceless without a moment's consideration. In order to adopt defensive methods our people have to become expert in the use of gas masks and in making their homes gas-proof; they have to undergo training and to submit to discipline in a communal measure of protection. I believe that every adult in the land is conscious of this, and I am positive also that after September of this year very few of them put much faith in those responsible for our defences. The Government have a tremendous leeway to make up to overcome the disappointment which came to the people when the defects in our defences were pointed out. They have very little faith in those who were responsible for those defences.
The word "evacuation" is now accepted and mumbled out on all sorts of occasions. I do not decry the use of evacuation, but it is absurd to think that evacuation in itself is a solution of the problem of the safety of the civilian population. Suppose that the citizens of London were taken to small towns and country places; we know that, just as in the wars in Spain and in China, just as was done at Guernica and other towns, where the attacking forces bombed open towns where there was no question of objectives of military importance, so they would certainly bomb open towns, railway centres and main roads in this country. Evacuation would have its use, but if those in authority regard it as a solution of the problem, then they must do some harder thinking.
I am anxious that everyone shall serve the nation. We stand for that on this side of the House; we have stood for it for a very long time. The first essential to national service is national health and fitness. Only the strong and the fit can best serve the nation, and it would be folly to encroach on the social services in any way. I believe they could, with credit to the nation, be extended, and certainly they ought not in any case to be diminished. Secondly, national service embraces nothing less than the most complete survey of the country in the light of world experience and of what this country might be subjected to. What is needed is the replanning and thorough modernisation of our equipment and the physical layout not merely of some of the worst of our towns and cities, but of practically the whole country.
Thirdly, I would say that the basic essential is to get into the minds of the people the need and purpose of national service. Deep down in the hearts of every citizen of this country is a willingness to respond to an intelligent appeal, but the people ask for honesty in declarations. There is an evasiveness from time to time when questions are asked, and when supplementary questions are put Ministers ask for notice of those questions, because they fear to slip up on this or that thing. I believe it would be a good thing if plain, outspoken words were employed on all occasions, whatever the subject and however unpleasant it might be. Provided that we know what the situation is, we can tackle the worst, but to mumble out things and to conceal reasons is to create that suspicion that is being unnecessarily created. Therefore, I say that it is a basic essential to get into the minds of the people the need and purpose of national service.
The "brass hats" will not be able to do that. We need more democracy, and not less. We need more democracy in industry, more democracy in politics, and certainly more democracy in the Fighting Services. We need to democratise our Army so that it may be used on behalf of the nation. Gone is the age of human automatons. The men and women of our country have risen to the true dignity of manhood and of womanhood. To get real national unity, there must be equality of service and sacrifice. It is unfair simply to look upon the supply of labour at a given moment and think that is the contribution that must be made to the national sacrifice. I am certain that if the Government were to make a proper survey and a real examination of the wealth and resources and the industry of the country, and to say that they must be utilised to the full for the nation, every person in the country would stand behind them. But if while asking labour to do its part you are, side by side with that, getting big change-overs on the Stock Exchange where millions are being made in a day—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—where extraordinary profits are being made, then it will not be national service in the real sense. Big profits are being made in industry and if we are to have national service, we must have national control of our industry and resources. We want a national service to apply to every section, and not to one section of the people. We cannot ask one section to make its contribution, while profits are bounding up to the advantage of certain other people.
I would like the Minister to state clearly to the House the answers to the points I have indicated, in order to help our trade union movement to understand exactly what is intended. The right hon. Gentleman can do so with the full knowledge that his answers will be sympathetically and not facetiously examined, and provided the trade unions are satisfied upon these points which we have raised, they will use their authority and power in order to assist in giving the maximum amount of support to a voluntary system for the defence of the civil population. That can be relied upon. If a Division is forced to-night upon this question, I want to make it perfectly clear, as far as I am concerned, and I think as far as the majority of my hon. Friends here are concerned, that we shall go into the Lobby on behalf of the voluntary system. We believe that the voluntary system is a wise one; we believe that we can defeat the compulsory system, provided we intelligently work the voluntary system. We ask for more consultation upon these matters and a response to our points. The Minister will be asked to give a statement upon finance and on how the local authorities are to be helped in this matter. My right hon. Friend who opened the Debate asked that the poorer constituencies should not be left undefended merely because they cannot raise much money from their rates to help. If it is a question of national defence, then national support should be given. I want to have it made clear, beyond any doubt, that the scheme is a voluntary one, that that is the policy of the Government and that they will not deviate from it and, further, that consideration will be given to the adequate representation of trade unions and employers' organisations on local commit- tees; I also ask that consideration shall be given to the setting up of a national body to receive reports and perhaps to coordinate, and to offer suggestions, which will make the voluntary system work.
Before I deal specifically with some of the points which have been raised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in the course of this Debate, there are two comments of a general character which I should like to offer. In the first place, complaint has been made—and the matter seemed to be one which exercised considerably the minds of hon. Members opposite—at the lack of detail furnished by the Government with regard to these proposals. I thought I had given a good deal of detail in the two speeches which I made in the previous Debate and I thought that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, in his speech to-day, had added still further details of a sufficiently precise character. It is no doubt true that the House has not been furnished with a complete documentary record of what the Government propose in the matter of National Voluntary Service, but in order to assess the value of the criticism to which we listened in the early part of this Debate, one must, I suggest, pause for a moment to recall the circumstances in which the Debate is taking place.
The proposals which have been adumbrated in this House all concern matters falling within the administrative competence of the executive Government. The question of voluntary service, however, is a subject in which this House is naturally interested. Realising that, I made, with the approval of my colleagues, a considered statement at the end of questions a fortnight ago. On that statement the request for a Debate was made through the usual channels. The Debate was not asked for by the Government, but the Government gladly acceded to the desire that was generally expressed. In these circumstances, it seems to me hardly reasonable that the Government should be criticised for not having furnished in advance full or documentary details.
The second point I want to make is this: We have been dealing during these two days with the organisation of National Service. We have not been ranging over the whole field of civil defence—a different and a much wider subject which I, at any rate, do not claim to have dealt with at all fully in the course of such remarks as I have made, although I have, in response to questions from the other side, given answers which supplied a certain amount of information with regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in his speech to-day, in which, I think, he covered to a considerable extent the ground which he covered in a speech on the previous occasion, made a number of references to matters of defence. He talked about guns and shelters. He talked about what he called the vacillating decisions of the Government on evacuation. I do not know that there has been any vacillation on that subject. If there has, I am not aware of it. I cannot this evening, in the time available to me, deal with so large a subject as evacuation. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the trenches that have not been filled in as evidence, in his opinion, I gathered, of the incompetence of the Government. The House knows perfectly well that, so far as the Government are concerned, a clear decision was communicated to local authorities some time ago on the subject of these trenches. Local authorities have the matter now in their own hands to go ahead and complete the trenches, or to fill them in, as they may be advised. I dare say the weather has played some part in postponing a final solution of that problem. The right hon. Gentleman introduced into his speech such questions as the dispersal of industry, which is certainly not a matter of National Voluntary Service. He expressed the hope—and this does touch National Voluntary Service—that information will be supplied to intending volunteers regarding the terms of their employment in civil defence, whether for part-time service or whole-time service. That information must certainly be supplied, and will be supplied, before the recruiting effort which we intend to undertake begins towards the end of next month.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to something I said on a previous occasion when he said that I had made two statements neither of which he was prepared to accept. Those statements were, first, that the proposals of His Majesty's Government for the organisation of National Voluntary Service would involve, so far as local authorities are concerned, no expense; and, second, that they would not require legislation. I adhere absolutely to the statements I made on that previous occasion. There is nothing in the proposals that have been put before the House, in the matter of the organisation of National Voluntary Service, which in any way enlarges the scope of the responsibilities already resting upon local authorities in connection with civil defence—nothing. These proposals are designed for making it easier for local authorities to discharge their responsibilities efficiently. The scope of those responsibilities remains exactly as it was. In regard to the expense falling upon the local authorities, there has been no proposal for varying the distribution of the burden of expense between local authorities and the central Government as laid down by Act of Parliament.
I pass now to another very important topic on which the right hon. Gentleman touched. He raised the question, and it is a question which has been raised in every speech: Is this voluntary system going to be really voluntary? For example, are the unemployed to be subjected to undue pressure; are they to be pressed, just because they are unemployed, to do some form of voluntary service or some work which is distasteful to them? Are we going to do anything to prevent subtle forms of compulsion masquerading under the guise of voluntary service? Are we going to prevent the exercise of social and economic pressure? Those are all very important questions. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) raised the same point in the somewhat impassioned speech that he delivered a short time ago. The Government are alive to the possibility that a voluntary scheme might, in the hands of enthusiastic collaborators, assume some undesirable form. One of the main purposes of the national service committees which are being set up in connection with this scheme is to bring public opinion to bear on the working of the scheme in all its aspects. We intend these committees to be broadly representative. They will be in touch, and will have the means of keeping in touch, with everything that is being done. They will be available to hear complaints and to satisfy themselves whether such complaints are well founded. If we succeed in securing upon those committees the proper representation of the various interests in the localities, I think we shall have gone a very long way indeed to guard against the sort of abuses to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded.
The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) spoke about the importance of seeing that these committees are properly constituted, and raised the question whether it might not be desirable to have a central committee, a national committee. That is a matter to which my right hon. Friend and I will give full consideration. I fully recognise that such a committee might conceivably serve a very useful purpose.
I would now come back for a moment to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. He told the House, and I was glad to hear him say it, that he and his friends stand by the voluntary principle. He said that, so far as we could apply it effectively, and so far as we could satisfy them that the effort was being sustained by voluntary service freely given and conducted by responsible people, we could rely on the support of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I welcome that declaration. The right hon. Gentleman asked one or two questions about the committees, questions of detail; as, for example, how they will be appointed. I think I said before that they will be appointed by the Government, by the appropriate ministerial authority, after consultation with the chairmen. Local authorities will be represented—
I did not say that he would be the sole representative; but I must get on. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the representation of local authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman was inclined to criticise the representation of local authorities as being inadequate. It has to be borne in mind that, in the matter of voluntary service, local authorities are the recruiting authorities, and therefore we must not give undue representation to the local authorities as such. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because they are recruiting authorities competing with other recruiting authorities. I entirely repudiate the interpretation that the right hon. Gentleman put on the words that I used about "people of standing." I accept the interpretation that the right hon. Gentleman himself suggested.
I pass to something which fell from my Noble Friend the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). He made a speech in which he raised a number of points, with some of which I will deal later. In the course of that speech he said that he was left with the impression that the Government were making preparations with a laggard hand and that if he were satisfied that the Government were going to leave no stone unturned he would give the Government his whole-hearted support. I see no point in turning stones unless one expects to find something under them, and I can assure my Noble Friend that there is nothing half-hearted about the determination of His Majesty's Government in this matter.
Now I will deal rather hastily with a few points of detail made by other speakers. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) expressed the hope that it was not the policy of the Government to induce the people to put on gas masks and get into holes in the ground. I can reassure him on that score. In war, we require the active co-operation of all sections of the community, and I do not, myself, think that much effective work is likely to be carried on below ground. I was interested and amused to hear the hon. Member say that he objected to the scheme of His Majesty's Government because it was based on common sense. I gathered that he would have preferred a scheme based on sentiment. There is no reason why a certain amount of sentiment should not be superimposed upon common sense, but I certainly do not want to see common sense excluded in favour of sentiment.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) asked whether National Service would include in its scope service designed to provide for the needs of persons evacuated from vulnerable areas. When he has had an opportunity of studying the Guide which is in preparation, he will find that the answer to his question is in the affirmative. We fully recognise that an adequate scheme of evacuation would involve, not merely the physical transference of people from vulnerable areas to relatively safe areas, but all necessary provision for their welfare in the areas in which they are received.
I come now to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), and I should like, if I may, to congratulate him very warmly upon that speech. I know the ripe experience that he brings to this House, an experience gained in many fields, and I had no doubt that he would prove a notable addition to our debating strength. I am sure that the manner and the substance of his speech made a deep impression upon those hon. Members who had the privilege of listening to him. I hope that his interventions in debate will be frequent. The speech that he delivered this evening merits, in my opinion, close study. He said in the course of his speech, and I was glad to hear him say it, that we ought not to attempt to imitate the methods of other countries. He said that, if we did that, the only result would be the sacrifice of our own ideas. I believe that to be profoundly true. He expressed the hope that the widest possible interpretation would be placed von the words "voluntary service." In what he said in that connection I entirely agree with him.
I come now to the more pointed criticisms that have been directed this evening and previously against the proposals of His Majesty's Government, and I should like to refer in that connection to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said in a speech which he made in his constituency on, I think, 9th December. I want to refer specifically to that speech, because I think I am justified in regarding my right hon. Friend as the most distinguished exponent of a point of view that has been expressed, not only outside this House, but by several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in the House. I have worked with my right hon. Friend in the past in very close association in the discharge of many tasks. I trust that he will not think it impertinent of me if I say that it is impossible for anyone to work with him, as I have worked, without taking away an immense and lasting admiration for his great qualities. I have on occasion before now ventured, with great reluctance, to disagree with my right hon. Friend, but in the past when I have done so it has been behind the veil which invariably enshrouds the relations between a civil servant and his political chief. I now have to disagree publicly with my right hon. Friend. I do so with even greater reluctance; and with a reluctance, I confess, not untinged with anxiety, because I realise well that the contest is somewhat unequal. My right hon. Friend develops his case always with the rhetorical graces of which he is the acknowledged master; I, on the other hand, have to rely on the pedestrian phraseology which happens to be what I understand best. But the issue has been joined, and I must not shrink from the performance of my task.
The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech at Chingford on 9th December, made reference to this scheme of National Voluntary Service that we are debating this evening. He referred to the Guide which is to be distributed. He said, "Twenty million booklets will be issued in a few weeks." He added, "Precious weeks." If those words meant anything, they meant that the weeks that are going to elapse before the booklet is distributed will be lost weeks, that they will be wasted time. In everything that has been done since I assumed my present responsibility, my colleagues and I have been most anxious to avoid the most obvious risk of setting back the work already in progress. We have succeeded, I think I may tell him, in that endeavour. It is a fact that the latest figures for civil recruiting show that the months of October and November are the two best months we have had. If, instead of proceeding on the lines of the Government's proposals, we had made radical changes, and adopted an entirely new system involving a compulsory register, would there not have been a very great temptation for people to hold back, to wait to see what was going to happen? There would have been, not only a risk of delay, but I think a certainty.
Then my right hon. Friend went on to talk about the Government's proposals for
getting ready to make a complete register if ever the need should arise. He joined with others who have spoken—some of them in this House—in making some rather scornful references to what I have said about the possibility of completing the preparation of a compulsory register in a period of three weeks after the outbreak of war. I made that statement; I adhere to it. I have no apology to make, and I will ask my right hon. Friend and those who think with him to bear this in mind. The concluding stages in the preparation of a compulsory register would involve a comparatively simple operation—the distribution of forms and their collection, an operation not tied down to any particular moment of time. Admittedly conditions at the beginning of a war might interfere with that operation, but those conditions which might interfere with the making of a compulsory register then would to a very much greater extent falsify any register which had been brought into existence before. To be of use for the purposes for which it is required, a complete register must give accurate information, not as to totals, but as to the geographical distribution of the population. What would be the value of a register made in advance if it had to be the basis of action by the Government after the initial redistribution of the population which would inevitably take place on the outbreak of war? My right hon. Friend asked:
Is it not incredible that such propositions should he made to this great English nation?
I am sorry to have to say that what I find almost incredible is that a great statesman, undoubtedly anxious to promote the country's welfare, should have to rely on arguments so flimsy.
Now I come to deal with a point in connection with the Government scheme which was not raised by my right hon. Friend but which has been raised by a number of speakers in this House. It has been said, If a national register is required as a basis for exact planning in war time, why not make it now? Are you not neglecting your opportunities? My Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot made that point. My answer is the answer that I gave on the previous occasion. We have already in existence records of our available resources in manpower sufficiently accurate to form the basis of any plans that can be prepared in advance. The conditions with which the Government of the day would have to deal on the outbreak of war are not conditions which can be estimated with any great precision, and any inaccuracies which might affect such records are small by comparison with the margin of error in other factors which have to be taken into account. That is my answer, and I think it is a complete answer to that form of criticism.
What did my right hon. Friend mean by saying that no Government with the responsibility of deciding policy at the beginning of a war, which might be prolonged, would be in possession of the necessary information regarding the man-power resources of the country?
I will tell my Noble Friend exactly what I meant. I meant that a complete National Register would be necessary. I indicated on the previous occasion that in my opinion the best time at which to compile such a register would be shortly after the outbreak of the war, when the conditions could be measured with some degree of precision. I see no alternative. If a complete register were prepared to-morrow it would have to be revised after the outbreak of war in order to secure a record of the actual distribution of man-power.
I should like to say something about the wording of the Motion which the Government have submitted to the House. The Motion has been criticised, in particular the second part of the Motion has been criticised, and I should like to explain exactly why the Motion was submitted in this form, which differs from the form of the Motion that was submitted on the previous occasion. The point was put to His Majesty's Government from various quarters that it was perhaps not quite fair to invite the House to pass a Motion which could be held to commit Members to the support of the plans of the Government in all their details.
From various quarters. Hon. Friends behind me made that point. In fact, some words not exactly corresponding to the last part of the Motion, but on similar lines, had appeared in the Motion which was put down by private Members. The purpose of the Motion is to secure the support of the House for the application of the voluntary principle which is of the essence of the Government's proposal. The Motion in its new form does not involve any weakening on the part of the Government in their support of the voluntary principle. I give the hon. Member for East Woolwich the fullest assurance on that point on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and I feel greatly encouraged by the robust speech delivered by the hon. Member—a speech, I think, expressing the authentic voice of Labour. This scheme that the Government put before the House is not to be regarded as a stepping-stone to conscription, the control of industry or anything of that sort. Speaking for myself, if I had thought that a compulsory register taken now would best serve the interests of the country, I would not have hestiated for one moment to advocate that course. I am not one to turn lightly to compulsion if I do not think it necessary.
In my opinion, for what it is worth, if the voluntary principle fails, so in this matter we fail. I believe that the only reason why it might fail would be on
account of lack of faith and of confidence, and I think that some of the speeches to which we have listened in this, connection are calculated to produce just that lack of faith in the intentions of the Government which might conceivably lead to failure. I have very little misgiving on that point after the speeches to which we have listened from hon. Members opposite. I have no doubt, after the Debate to-day, what the verdict of the House will be, but I make this appeal. Let it not be merely a formal verdict. I appeal—and I appeal with confidence—for a united effort in support of the proposal of His Majesty's Government. Such a united effort is surely not possible if there is a sharp cleavage in the supreme council of the nation, this Commons House of Parliament.
That this House, recognizing that the taking of measures to protect the lives and homes of the people at all times transcends in importance all party differences, welcomes the decision of His Majesty's Government to rely upon the voluntary services of the people, but recommends that the results of the scheme for National Services proposed by the Government by reviwed by this House at the end of March.
|Division No. 25.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Butler, R. A.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Caine, G. R. Hall-||Duncan, J. A. L.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Eckersley, P. T.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Gartland, J. R. H.||Ede, J. C.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Channon, H.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W E.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Apsley, Lord||Charleton, H. C.||Emery, J. F.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Christie, J. A.||Errington, E.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Erskine-Hill, A. G.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Cluse, W. S.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Collindridge, F.||Everard, W. L.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Colman, N. C. D.||Fildes, Sir H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||FIndiay, Sir E.|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Fleming, E. L.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Fox, Sir G. W. G.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Cox, Trevor||Fremantle, Sir F. E.|
|Bellenger F. J.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Furness, S. N.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Critchley, A||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Bird, Sir R B.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cross, R. H.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Brass, Sir W.||Cruddas, Cal. B.||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Culverwell, C. T.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Dalton, H.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Day, H.||Grenfell, D. R.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||De Chair, S. S.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Denville, Alfred||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.|
|Bull, B. B.||Dixon, Capt. Rt. Hon. H.||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.||Debbie, W.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Burke, W. A.||Dodd, J. S.||Guest, Mal. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Milner, Major J.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Hangers, Captain F. F. A.||Moreing, A. C.||Scott, Lord William|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Munro, P.||Silkin, L.|
|Hicks, E. G.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Higgs, W. F.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Holdsworth, H.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)|
|Hollins, A.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Hopkinson, A.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hask., N.)||Parkinson, J. A.||Spens, W. P.|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Peake, O.||Storey, S.|
|Hulbert, N. J.||Pearson, A.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Hunloke, H. P.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hunter, T.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Hutchinson, G. C.||Petherick, M.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Kirby, B. V.||Ponsonby, Col, C. E.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Poole, C. C.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Latham, Sir P.||Porritt, R. W.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Lathan, G.||Price, M P.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Lee, F.||Procter, Major H. A.||Touche, G. C.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Radford, E. A.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Turton, R. H.|
|Levy, T.||Ramsbotham, H.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Liddell, W. S.||Ramsden, Sir E.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Lipson, D. L.||Rankin, Sir R.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Logan, D. G.||Rayner, Major R. H.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Lyons, A. M.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Westwood, J.|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||White, H. Graham|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Romer, J. R.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Ridley, G.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Riley, B.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|McKie, J. H.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Macnamara, Lieut.-Colonel J. R. J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Magnay, T.||Rothschild, J. A. de||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Rowlands, G.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Young, A. S. L. (Pertick)|
|Markham, S. F.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Marshall, F.||Salmon, Sir I.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mathers, G.||Salt, E. W.||Captain Hope and Mr. Grimston.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Bevan, A.||Kirkwood, D.|
|Cove, W. G.||Maclean, N.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Stephen.|
Resolution agreed to.
That this House recognizing that the taking of measures to protect the lives and homes of the people at all times transcends in importance all party differences, welcomes the decision of His Majesty's Government to rely upon the voluntary services of the people but recommends that the results of the scheme for National Service proposed by the Government be reviewed by this House at the end of March.