– in the House of Commons on 3rd September 1939.
On a point of Order, Sir Dennis. May I ask whether my Amendment—in page 1, line 10, after "subject," insert "or a refugee from Austria or Czecho-Slovakia —is not in order, and if it is not in order, may I ask on what grounds?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's Amendment is not in order.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "eighteen," and to insert "twenty."
In moving this Amendment, I ask the Secretary of State for War to recall that in the discussion which took place on the Bill yesterday, very strong feelings were expressed on all sides with regard to the proposal in the Bill to lower the age for enlistment in military service from 20 to18 years, an age below that which was fixed in the Act dealing with militiamen. I am anxious not to make a lengthy speech, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will remember the arguments that were made from all sides of the House. We feel very strongly on this issue. We hold that the Government, if it is at all possible, should be able to indicate to us, at a time when we want national unity, that they are prepared to accept this Amendment, in order to avoid any division on this issue.
May I ask the Secretary of State for War whether, in the course of his reply, he will be good enough to indicate the number of men affected between the ages of 18 and 20?
Naturally, I do not wish to break the spirit of unity in any way, and before I sit down, I hope I shall have been able to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman and all those who think as he does. I share the point of view of those who have said that it would be very undesirable to place the primary burden of war on those of this lower age group. That will show the Committee the attitude of mind in which I approach this question. It so happens that in the French Army the lower age is 18, whereas in the Polish Army it is 17. Therefore, I think that no good purpose would be served in carrying an Amendment of this kind, when boys of 17 are defending Poland, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this will be one of the last classes to be called up.
I hope that will satisfy the Committee, particularly in view of this, that we have now all the men we require, except in certain classes of tradesmen for whom an appeal has already been made. We have basically all the men we require, and all the men that we can handle, at the moment. There were 240,000 men registered in June last on whose services we have not yet completely called, and there will be many of the existing age group that is now under an obligation to serve who will have to be trained. Therefore, it will be some time, we anticipate, before we call upon any other age group, and the next age group we shall call upon will not be this one. We shall ascend from the point where we have now started. At least, that is our intention at the moment. We have those of the age of 20-21, and we shall go up the scale very considerably before we contemplate placing this obligation on this lower age group. Let us hope that we shall get through the whole war without having to call upon them at all, but in the last war, the age accepted by the House was 18, and their services were called upon.
I now assure the Committee that if we can, while meeting the necessities of the war, spare this lower class, we shall do so; but we wish to show the country and the world that we have included within our resources the whole man-power, fit for active service, of the nation. I hope the Committee will not press me to accept the Amendment. I think I have met the right hon. Gentleman in the spirit in which he spoke, and I hope that, when our Allies are actually utilising the services of men of this age for the defence of their liberties, he will not formally wish to strike out of the Bill the present limit of age, but will accept my assurance that it will be a long time before we shall call upon this class of men.
I did not make a long speech in moving the Amendment, because I was very anxious, if possible, that we should not have a long debate; but I am bound to say that my hon. Friends are very disappointed with the reply of the Secretary of State, which I do not think will meet the widespread feeling that exists not only on this side of the Committee, but on other sides as well. The purport of the Secretary of State's remarks was, first, that this is an age which has been adopted, in other countries, and secondly, that, if the circumstances arise, he must be free to call upon these men; and therefore, he could not accept the Amendment. We hold very strongly that on the question of personnel, from the military point of view at this moment, this age group is not necessary. We held very strongly that because of the kind of contribution that we must make—
I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman because I am anxious to avoid controversy. I told him what we intend to do. Would it further reassure the Committee if I told it that, at this very moment, we are taking out of the active Forces preparing for overseas all existing men—and they are very numerous in the Army—who are under 19, and we are not intending to send them to France, although they have enlisted as Regular soldiers. This will show the Committee the attitude with which we approach the matter.
Far from weakening our view of the position, the right hon. Gentleman's remarks strengthen it. I will resume very shortly the points of our argument. The contribution we have to make towards the successful prosecution of this war is by no means confined to the military side. Our spokesmen yesterday pointed out what is the contribution that we have to make in the industrial sphere in order to contribute to the equipment of those with whom we march in the coming fight for our objectives. At this juncture, when the Secretary of State says he is unable really to handle effectively and immediately any larger classes of men than those available to him in existing circumstances, we cannot understand why the Government will not meet us more than they have offered to meet us this morning. A large number of my hon. Friends regard is as a sine qua non that the spirit of the Amendment as it stands shall be adopted. For my part, I think the very least compromise that we can accept is an undertaking of a double character, first, that if the age remains as it is in the Bill, this will be the last class—I think the Secretary of State said it would be one of the last—to be called up and, secondly, that in no circumstances will men under 20 be sent out of this country to fight. That is the compromise we offer, and I do not think, from the consultations which I have made, that we could take anything less. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will be prepared to give an undertaking on those two points. Otherwise I think we must adhere to the Amendment on the Paper.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward:
I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will consider this matter very carefully before he accepts this Amendment. In the first place, these young men themselves are anxious to be trained and to take their part. Personally I would not object to the exclusion of men under the age of 20, if it did not mean "stepping up" the age generally. If it comes to a question of taking either men under 20, or men over 40, I say without hesitation that it is better for everybody in this country and for the Army, that the men under 20 should be taken in preference to the men over 40. Everybody admits that the man or boy of 18 or 19 has not the same stamina and staying power as the man of 23 or 24 or 25. On the other hand, he has far more stamina than the man over 40, and, apart from the family responsibilities which the older men have to bear, from the point of view of physique alone, the younger man will make an infinitely better soldier than the older one. When a man under 20 has to undertake arduous physical exercise to which he is unaccustomed, he very quickly becomes fit and is able to endure fatigue without undue suffering. On the other hand, when a man over 40 is called upon to endure unaccustomed and arduous labour he does not get fit—he merely gets tired and goes on getting tired. It is, I admit, quite a different thing if he has been accustomed to severe exercise all his life, but if a man who has been accustomed to a sedentary occupation is asked to march long distances carrying a heavy pack he simply finds that he cannot do it, and in a very short time it means his physical and, possibly, his mental breakdown.
In the middle of the last War it was my duty to take command of a battalion which had been raised some time after the War started and which consisted, to a large extent, of rather young men and rather elderly men. I had an unrivalled opportunity of seeing which class stood up best to the hardships and sufferings of war. I say, unhesitatingly, that the young men stood up to it far better than the more elderly men. In those days, men were sent out to war at the age of 19, and a large number of very gallant youngsters went out at the age of 18 and even younger. One could not help noticing that after a particularly strenuous march or after four or five particularly trying days in the line, the younger men completely recovered after a couple of days' rest. They showed amazing resiliency and recuperative power. On the other hand, the elderly men, even after a period of rest, were still in a state of mental and physical fatigue which in the long run—the not very long run— in many cases, resulted in their complete physical and mental breakdown.
If we are to win this war we want to get the men into the Army who are most suited to stand the terrible strain to which they will be subjected. It is no use having men who are likely to go sick at an early stage in the proceedings. The man who goes sick is not only a loss to the Army himself. It is not only a question of the loss of a rifle in the firing line. It means the loss of the services of the men who have to evacuate him to the base and of the men who have to look after him when he goes down there. If it is possible—and the Secretary of State has said that it is at present possible—to do without these young men, then, well and good, so much the better. But I think it would be a mistake to go without these younger men if it meant "stepping up" the age right through all the classes of men who are likely to be called up. I honestly believe that the more elderly men through their lack of fitness, suffer more in war than the younger men who are more resilient. War involves enough suffering without imposing its strain on people who are less able to bear it than others.
I wish to call the Committee's attention to the fact that the compromise offered by my right hon. Friend is that men under 20 should not be sent oversea. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, referred to his experience as a commanding officer. Let me speak of my experience, commanding a field ambulance and in the line generally. I gained a very extensive knowledge of the different ways in which men reacted to the strain during the whole period of the War, most of which I spent in France, Egypt or Palestine. I formed the definite opinion that men under 20 stood up very badly indeed to the strain of active service. I am not sentimentalising about this. I look upon it as a question of conserving the national resources and one of the most important parts of our national resources is the class of men under 20. If such a young man is taken into the Army and trained and used in this country, where many men will be required, he will be doing valuable national service. If, however, these men are sent abroad and exposed to hardships which are likely to be, if anything, greater than those of the last War a large number of them will break down.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any definite statistics or has made any statistical inquiry as to the proportion of sickness and invalidity and general breakdown among people under 20 who were on active service oversea during the last War. I can speak only of my own experience but it was, as I say, an experience almost entirely of conditions at the Front, and, regarding this solely as a matter of conserving men for use under active service conditions, I came definitely to the conclusion that the man under 20 was too soft in his bones, in his cartilages and in his general structure to stand up to the severe strain which was imposed by war at that time. I had no idea when I came to the House to-day that this matter would be raised in this form, but I have held this opinion for many years and I think I ought to express it as a view which is supported not only by my own experience but by the experience of a great many other medical officers. If the Secretary of State accepted this compromise offer of my right hon. Friend and men under 20 were not sent oversea, the men would be available in this country for doing duty which would otherwise have to be done by older men, and they would not be subject to the strain which would prevent them being used properly in later years. We have to plan in this way for the use of our reserves of power, especially manpower, over a prolonged period. It is essential that we should conserve our man-power by guarding those under 20 from the greater hardships to which they will be subjected if they are sent oversea.
There are one or two very short observations that I want to make. First I will answer the specific and clear and definite point made by the right hon. Gentleman that we ought to march in step with our Allies. The Poles, we are told, adopt the age of 17 and the French the age of 18. The answer to that is simply that different races and different people mature at different ages. It is quite obvious to any student that the ordinary Frenchman matures at an earlier age than the ordinary Englishman. I do not know the Poles as well as the French, but I imagine that they are very much the same. The test obviously comes in their physical utility in warfare. That brings me to the second of the short points that I want to make. As has been said, the real question is what physical use can you most advantageously make of these men? I always understood that the general, physical medical experience in the last War was that you did not want to put men to the strain of active service when they were under 20 if you could avoid it. The Secretary of State for War has demonstrated that conclusively by informing us that at this vital moment, when he obviously wants to send to France his very best troops, he has sorted them by taking out of the ranks, say, John Smith and John Jones, because they are under 20 years of age.
I would make an appeal to the Secretary of State to accept the suggestion of the Opposition that men under 20 should be kept at home or in the Empire for defence pur- poses. The Opposition have behaved nobly throughout these dark days, and it is not asking too much that this concession should be made. I am told on the best authority that in Germany all the girls and boys are in uniform. That is dictatorship. Let us show to the world a spirit of democracy by accepting the suggestion of the Opposition.
I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to our appeal and give it further consideration. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it is not desired that we should take guidance from other countries. It is quite true that men mature earlier in other countries, but I think that our stamina as a race is greater than that of France or Poland as men get older. I had some experience in the last War. I give all credit to the young men for wanting to do all that they could, and for doing it, but while a young man is immature it is very hard to get him to realise the full responsibility of having to carry on a war, and I sometimes felt that he was not able when under 20 years of age to carry on the arduous task of fighting. It is quite true that such young men matured more quickly. The question, however, is to get the right spirit in the men who may have to carry on for a long period, and I think that the older ages are far better in the long run. We shall get a lot of young men joining the Forces voluntarily at the age of 18. There will be others whom firms do not want to go until the age of 20. It would be a sad state for us now to compel these people to take on this work before they are 20.
I am anxious that we should prosecute this war with a feeling that we carry the whole of the people behind us, and I think that we should not be doing the best thing in the interests of the country if we forced young men in the way that has been suggested. We should have the mothers of the nation feeling very bitter against us. We are anxious to see a successful termination of the war. We trust that the Secretary of State will pay attention to our plea by waiving the point he has made and saying "I accept the offer that0020is made." I expected to go to a division against the proposal of the Government, but the Secretary of State has now made an offer and I would urge him now to accept our suggestion. We can reconsider the position at a later date if that be necessary.
I feel that it is a very bad policy to send boys who are under 20 to the front, but I do not see exactly how the Secretary of State could accept the Amendment There may come a time when these boys will have to go. To my mind it is quite enough that the Secretary of State assures us that they will be the last to go, except in an emergency. I happen to be a mother who, fortunately or unfortunately, has five sons all of a fighting age, from 21 to40, and all ready to go. I think the Amendment asks too much. From past experience the Government do not want these boys to go to the front, and I am sure the Secretary of State does not want to send them, but there might be an emergency when they would have to go and there would not then be time to come to the House in order to pass the proposal. I hope the House will trust the Government implicitly. We are far more advanced than we were in the last War. We have all the knowledge and experience of that war to help us, and assuredly the Government are considering the matter from every point of view.
One of the most remarkable things in the present crisis is the attitude of the mothers of England. It was that same spirit which inspired me in the last War. Heaven knows, the mothers would five times, 20 times rather lay down their lives than have a war. I hope the Opposition will not press the Amendment to a division, for it would look bad in the country and would really misrepresent what we all want. We want the Government to have complete power, but we do not want, unless it is absolutely necessary, to send boys of 20 into the fighting line, not because they are afraid to go but because it would be a bad thing from the country's point of view. I beg the Minister to give an assurance that these boys will not go unless it is a necessity.
The issue that we are discussing lies within a fairly narrow compass. The Minister has given us an assurance that except in the last resort these boys will not be called up and that they are not to be used in the early stages. Hon. Members who have put forward the Amendment do not suggest that the service of these boys may not be required, but they say that if they are required, we should have further legislation. Therefore, it does not seem that there is very much difference between the two sides. But I think we have to consider what the effect might be elsewhere if this Amendment were passed. I agree with almost every argument that I have heard from above the Gangway here, but I would ask those hon. Members to consider this aspect. It seems to me that the one thing that might cause disunity between ourselves and our Allies at the present time is any feeling that we were entering into this war on the principle of limited liability, that we were leaving the Poles and the French to carry the main burden and were not prepared to make equivalent sacrifices to those which are being made by our Allies. If we were to begin in that way, and if the first act of this House after the declaration of war was to pass an Amendment of this kind, limiting our liability, I believe that it might have that effect. Therefore, while in ordinary times I should agree with every argument that has been used in support of the Amendment, I hope that it will not be pressed and certainly that it will not be carried to-day.
I want to emphasise one point and to confirm what my hon. Friends on this side have said. I conceive that it may be possible that pressure may be put upon the Government by our Allies to throw all our forces into the fight at once. I say that it is very important for us to conserve our strength, and I can conceive it as quite possible that the idea may be pressed upon our Government that we can now, in the early weeks and months of the war, force an issue by a tremendous effort of man-power, as was attempted at various stages during the last War. It is our historical role, and we shall have to play it once more, as we have played it in the past, to be the conserver of energy for our Allies on the Continent. I do not deny that there is a strong case for those who argue that it does not look fair to our Allies. On the other hand, I must put the other side. Although I believe the Government will try to conserve our energies, there may come a time when pressure will be put upon them and when, even against their better judgment, they may feel that they will have to give way. Therefore, I think that now is the time to make a decision on this matter. We must not forget that the conservation of all our resources is just as important as throwing them into the holocaust in the early stages, and I do hope the Government will listen to this appeal.
I hope that if the Government do not accept the Amendment, my own party will press it to a Division. After all, this country, this Government, and this Parliament stand by liberty, and I disagree with the suggestion that we must always see what our Allies are doing and then do likewise. If they lower the age to 14, are we to follow them? If they enlist women, are we to do the same? The argument has only to be advanced for us to realise that it does not hold water. Therefore, I hope that on that point alone we shall recognise that we have not always to look to our Allies to see what they are doing before we do what we think right. I believe that we have our own point of view and that we should state it, and if in this struggle we are going to try and conserve a higher standard of living than other countries, here is one small, minor way in which we can do it. Further, I suggest that there is a large number of people in this country who are convinced, however much they may detest conscription, that on the whole conscription is a fairer and more logical method of securing recruits for the Army than the method of voluntarism. We have memories of the voluntary methods of the last War and of the sometimes mean and contemptible methods adopted on that occasion. As between the two methods, I think conscription is infinitely better and cleaner, but that applies to those who are virtually citizens of this country. When the previous National Service Act was brought in, it applied only to those of 20 years and upwards and not to those of 18. There were reasons for that, and one reason was that we recognised that those under 20 stood in a somewhat different category precisely because they were still young.
When the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) was speaking—she has now disappeared, as she so frequently does after she has spoken—she said she knew something of the mothers of the country. I was reminded that before I came here to-day I saw 600 mothers in my constituency off to another part of the country, and I am certain, knowing them as I do, that if I went to them and said, "Women of Leyton, most of you believe that we must prosecute this war, and your men folk, your sons, in some cases your fathers, certainly your husbands, will go, but do you want those under 20 taken?" I am positive that 90 per cent. of them would say, "For God's sake, leave us our sons while they are still young. When they are 20, they may have to go and be poured into the vortex, and we accept that in a grim spirit of resignation, but leave us our sons while they are still young." On that ground, I plead with the Secretary of State for War to recognise that, whatever might be the validity of arguments used by other speakers, there is this extra argument, that the youth of to-day in this country, from the time when they leave school till they are 20, are still young. Let them have their youth before they die. On that ground we should recognise that 20 years is quite an early enough age for them to begin their training. If they want to volunteer before then, they can, and no one will say them nay, but let them have three or four years during which they may still live a civilian life if they wish to do so. When they get to the age of 20, they may be conscripted in order to serve this nation's need and purpose, as Parliament has determined. I plead most earnestly, in order to conserve the experience of youth, that we should recognise some distinction between citizenship and the preparation for citizenship, and I hope we shall not merely copy our Allies, but follow our own standard, and that the Government will accept the Amendment.
I remember that in October. 1914. I was adjutant of a Territorial battalion which was ordered to the Far East, and we were required to leave behind all our men who were under 20 years of age. That completely disorganised the battalion—an existing battalion. We had a number of lads of 18 and 19 who were non-commissioned officers, many of them fully trained. It so happened that we had months in the East in which we could re-train men before going on active service in Mesopotamia, but I think the Committee should realise, as regards existing units, that there is that question. I have not the least doubt in my own mind that it is highly undesirable to send men under 20 abroad, and that that ought to be, as it was in the last War, the policy of the Government. Wherever possible they should leave behind those under 20, and I should be in favour of a declaration that that would be their intention on this occasion, but when you come to an Amendment and to saying that there shall be no calling-up of boys under 20, or that in no circumstances should any of them be liable to go abroad, I think you are getting on dangerous ground. I have no doubt, in regard to no calling-up under 20 that you would get great difficulty in families between one brother who volunteers and another brother on whom pressure is put not to volunteer until he is called up. In such cases you will get difficulty as between conscription and voluntary service in many families and businesses. Therefore, I should strongly object to any acceptance of the Amendment in the first instance. On the other hand, those who volunteer and those whom it was thought necessary ultimately to call up should be turned into good trained soldiers at home for defensive purposes at home and in the Empire. In that way we should not only conserve the best of our man power, but make the best use of it.
Mr. J. J. Davidson:
I want to make an appeal in order that we may get some measure of agreement on this question. I served at a very early age during the last War, and I do not agree with the hon. Member who stated that the young men of 18 and 19 stood up under heavy bombardment as well as the men of22, 25 and 26 Almost any ex-soldier will agree that it was often the steadiness of the older men who kept the young men cheerful and in their positions. I want to say that to the Minister of War in order that he may not run away with the idea that a young man of 18 and 19, full of enthusiasm and feeling gay in his uniform, can withstand the circumstances of war to the same extent as a man who is a little older, who has had some experience and is much steadier in the light of it. The circumstances of the time will determine how soon certain classes have to be called up, and German aggression and methods may determine the time and kind of measures to be taken in order to achieve those things we have set out to achieve.
We have embarked on the defence of the democracies of the world. We on this side, as on the other, have agreed that every step must be taken. All that we are concerned about is that the country's youth shall not be sacrificed needlessly or promiscuously and that every step will be taken to conserve that youth. While I was in France during the last War, under age, my younger brother was in the Training Reserve Battalion and was guarding the Forth Bridge. I still have some of his correspondence, and judging from it he considered that he was doing as important a job as I was doing oversea. The preliminary training of these young men in home defence fits them very well for the heavier and more arduous and dangerous work abroad. I would ask the Secretary of State at least to give us two assurances. The first is that it is the intention to give these young classes adequate training in home defence; and, second, that in the event of the circumstances of the time determining that he must take this step, he will report to the House and give Members a full knowledge of the facts. We remember that the March, 1918, retreat necessitated calling on not only the young man, but unfit and wounded men and everything we had.
I appreciate the terms of the last speech as practical common sense. I am reluctant to let any division appear where no division exists. The discussion is really academic. Such things as we heard from the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), based upon his medical experience, as to whether the under 20's or over 20's had the greater physical stamina, may be of abstract interest, but I have already assured the House not only that we do not intend as an initial policy to send these young men under 20 to France, but that we do not intend to call them up. Therefore, while the hon. Member's speech may be of interest as to which class can endure longest, it is not really the practical issue. We do not want, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) said in his most powerful speech, to make our first act after the declaration of war a public limitation upon our liabilities.
May I point out that as late as 1916, two years after the other War started, there was a specific proviso in the Military Service Act that men under certain ages would not be sent abroad?
I am saying something better. I am saying that not only are we not going to send them abroad, but that we do not intend to call them up until very late. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) has said with what pride young men, whose lives are precious to the nation, guard vulnerable points in this country and perform training which at a later stage will be useful to them. No doubt young men of 18 and 19 will clamour to join the services, but we are not proposing to call them up. We are proceeding entirely by age groups. In the last War hundreds of thousands of young men were allowed to volunteer and they went abroad, but they cannot go this time. We are not allowing them to do it. They are only tube called up when their class is proclaimed. I heartily reciprocate the spirit of the suggestions that were made to me by the hon. Member for Maryhill, who said that the country wanted to know that our youth would not be sacrificed needlessly. It is the last intention we have in the world to sacrifice them needlessly. The hon. Member asked whether the younger classes, if they were called up, would be given adequate training before they were sent abroad. Certainly that will be the case. The mere fact that we had to call upon the younger classes under 20 would not mean that they would be plunged into conflict overseas. They would be adequately trained.
We start the war in a much better position this time. We have on our hands as many men as we can handle at the moment. When the time comes to call up a further class it will not be the 18 or 19 classes. We have the 20's and the 21's, and we shall call the 21's and 22's and so go up the scale. It will be only in the event of enormous pressure when we are defending our liberties that we shall have perhaps to take, as all other countries have had to take, our whole man-power. We may have to extend the age beyond 41, but pray God that that will not be the case. I can completely satisfy the hon. Member who asked me those questions. I have given him quite candid answers, showing that there is no difference between us except an academic difference, and that I do not want at this stage, as the hon. Member suggests, to start the war by sending these young men to France, or on the other hand to say that, if the need comes, we shall not do whatever is required of us, however great the sacrifice. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I would not say this if the Government did not mean it. I am the first to be guided by the sentiment of this House, which I completely appreciate.
I have on the Paper an Amendment which expresses the view of a large number of my party, but I offered a compromise because I did not want to have a Division, and I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would give an assurance that men under 20 would not be sent out of this country. I ask him now to say whether he will give that assurance, or say that they will not be sent out of the country unless he comes back to the House and asks for permission to do so.
In one respect I went further than the right hon. Gentleman asked me. We are dealing with this Bill and not with Regular soldiers. We not only do not intend to send out of the country those under 20, but we do not intend to call them up until very late in the day, so that goes further than what the right hon. Gentleman said. In any event we could not send them out of the country without training them, so even if they were called up it would be a considerable time before they could get out of the country, and they might be useful in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) by guarding vulnerable points and they would be trained. So I have gone further than he asked. He asks me to say that I will not call them up without coming back to the House.
I do not wish to give that assurance, for a reason which I do not wish to develop. One does not know what the course of this war is going to be, or whether this Parliament will be capable of being held in this building at all, but I have told the right hon. Gentleman what our intention is, and I do not want to commit any Government which may be in office to a pledge to discuss this matter in Parliament in circumstances which I cannot foresee. I say it is not our intention to do that thing, and that I would consult with hon. Members if I was holding my office then. It is not our policy, and the question cannot arise, at any rate for a year or two. One does not know what the circumstances will be then. I do hope, as I have gone even further in one respect than the right hon. Gentleman asked me, that hon. Members opposite will be satisfied.
None of us wants a Division if it can be avoided. The right hon. Gentleman has given an assurance that these men will not be called up until other classes have been dealt with. That assurance is satisfactory so far as it goes, but what we are anxious to secure, as my right hon. Friend indicated, is that men under 20 should not be sent abroad. The right hon. Gentleman has demurred to that suggestion, and there may be, I confess, sound reasons for rejecting such a proposal. For example, the circumstances may change. We may be in a situation in which even the right hon. Gentleman may be compelled to reverse his assurance and call up men of 18. He may be compelled to send them out of the country, because of those circumstances which may arise; but can we have this assurance, that in the event of its being necessary to call up men between 18 and 20, and in the event of its being necessary to send any of those classes abroad, he will, so far as the latter consideration is concerned, come to the House, explain the circumstances and ask theHouse— [Hon. Members: "If possible."] Obviously everything depends on that assumption— if it is possible. That, I think, would go a long way to satisfy my hon. Friends. We are not asking very much. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed that he will not call up these classes, and I venture to say to the right hon. Gentleman that although he gives that assurance he might not be able to stand by that assurance six months from now. Circumstances which might arise might render it necessary to reverse that view. We accept that. But if it is necessary, having called up those classes, then to send them out of the country, will he come to us and say, "Here are the new circumstances and in those circumstances I ask the consent of the House to send them out of the country"? If he will give that assurance I think we may be satisfied.
I have a recollection of similar problems during the last Great War. There was then a very strong feeling, just as there is now—my right hon. Friend opposite will remember it—about lads being sent oversea, and undertakings were given, and given with equal sincerity, that they would not be sent; but we all remember the terrible tragedy of March, 1918, when our forces were in retreat and of course, that pledge was more or less violated, was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. I do think that at a time like this we must have a good deal of confidence in the Government. We have to give them discretion. If they abuse that discretion, in due course they will be called to account. Having heard the views expressed from this side of the Committee and by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), and knowing the feeling of the House, the right hon. Gentleman has given an undertaking to interpret it, and I think that in these circumstances we should accept his assurance.
Surely the lesson of the last War ought to have convinced the Government not to include boys of 18 under this conscription—
I very much hope that the House will do what the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) suggests. I do not want to use words which may be misinterpreted at any later stage. We could not send these men abroad without calling them up and training them, in any event, and therefore there will be plenty of time, if we should violate our present intentions, for this House to express its view on the matter. Furthermore, the class cannot be called up at all without a Proclamation, and it is always open to hon. Members opposite to raise any matter in this House and if they feel strongly enough upon it, to move a Vote of Censure on the Government. I do not see why I should go further. There is no difference between us on the merits, none whatever.
I do not think that is fair of the right hon. Gentleman. I have done my best and I cannot say any more.
It seems to me that we really are disputing on nothing at all—I do not say as between one side and another. If the right hon. Gentleman has been asked to come to the House of Commons—if it is possible—if he decides that it is necessary to send those young men overseas, surely he can say, and I think he has perhaps intended to say, that he will do so. I cannot see the slightest constitutional difficulty in saying, "If possible I will come to the House." If he will do that it seems to me that that might meet the position.
I see no reason why we should be forced into the Division Lobby, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the Secretary of State for War should be so adamant on this subject. I hope that even now the Secretary of State will re-consider the need for meeting the reasonable request that has been made from this side. For the life of me I cannot understand why he cannot make that promise. It is a reasonable promise to ask and it is not committing him unduly. It is simply asking that before doing these things he shall again come to the House, and there were the saving words added by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), "if possible." If we do not exist it will not be possible, but we are hoping at least that, if this Parliament does not exist, some other will, and some of us are confident that this Parliament will still be here In the circumstances it is not unreasonable to suggest that, if possible, he will come to the House before taking steps to send these lads overseas. I ask that we may have a more straightforward promise from him and let the Committee feel a spirit of confidence in him and the Government at this tragic hour.
I think the Secretary of State is showing a rather inaccurate sense of proportion. The final suggestion made to him is one that he can so easily accept and avoid a division. He says that he does not intend to call up these young men, and when they are called up they will take time to train. All we suggest is that if he sends them out of the country before 20 he shall, if possible, come to the House and explain the circumstances and then allow us in the ordinary way to express our opinion.
I sincerely hope that at this early stage we shall not be going into the Lobby on a point of obstinacy. What are we fighting about—whether a body like this House or a group of people meeting in secret shall settle the affairs of the world. That, as I understand it, is what the war is about. My hon. Friends have endeavoured to make this pledge as elastic as possible if the position of the House is to be preserved. There are many issues that are involved in the question. Those of us, like some hon. Members on those benches and hon. Friends of mine like the hon. Member for Mary-hill (Mr. Davidson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and others, who were in the last war, have only too painful memories of the way in which on occasion, if we are to judge by the books of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), life was squandered in the last War. We believe that, with those lessons in front of them, this or any other Government which takes its place will wish that in making their omelettes they break no unnecessary eggs. We have agreed that the right hon. Gentleman may have to call up these classes. The last thing we desire is that any man should go abroad untrained, but if he had to send them abroad, having trained them and if the House is meeting, surely it is not very much to ask that he should come to us and explain the circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith)and the hon. Member who has just sat down have made it quite easy for me. I understand that what hon. Members require is an assurance from me that, if possible, before sending any man called up under the Bill out of the country when under the age of 20 I should, if still in my present position, make a statement to the House, or my successor would, explaining the circumstances which have rendered that course necessary. That, I understand, is the sense of the request. I hope there has been no ill will in the discussion, and I do not think there is any real difference between us, and therefore I can give an affirmative answer to the question.
I hope that on any further Amendment we may get a quicker acceptance when we offer a reasonable compromise.
The original request was different or there would not have been a difficulty.
The Secretary of State, in an interjection, made a statement with regard to the policy to be adopted in regard to Territorials who have already volunteered. There are a great many men of 18 and 19 in the Territorials and other volunteer forces. I think it would be of use if he would expand that interjection and let us know what his policy is with regard to men under 20 in those forces, which do not come under the Bill.
I am afraid they do not come under the Bill at all and therefore it is not really relevant I said earlier that we were withdrawing from any units to go oversea all men under 19, which was the war practice. That, of course, will apply to the Territorial Army. These are men already in the force and trained but, despite that, we do not intend to send them oversea under 19. I very much hope that, as far as the Territorial Army is concerned, we may be able to carry that further, but that is the policy.
I should like to ask for your guidance and advice, Sir, and I hope it will be as generous as possible remembering that we are working under difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) had an Amendment which has been ruled out of order. In the new situation in which we find ourselves I hope we are going to be given an opportunity on some Clause of the Bill to raise that issue. This Clause appears to provide the best opportunity of raising it. May we be allowed the opportunity?
I hasten to respond in the same spirit and to assure the whole Committee that I want to do all I can to enable the Committee to get on with the business. I should be quite ready, with the general assent of the Committee, to take any course within the rules of Order with reasonable elasticity in order to obtain the end we all desire, but this particular point is so definitely outside the scope of the Bill that I see no possibility of allowing a discussion upon it at any stage.
May I make a very few more observations, Sir Dennis, that may assist you in coming to a decision? If you look at Clause 1 of the Bill, the object of which is to make provision for securing and controlling the enlistment of men for service in the Armed Forces, you will see that it relates to every man within Great Britain. Owing to what has arisen in the world in the last few years, a large number of men have come to this country desiring to serve this country and that for which it stands, but the Bill does not enable them to do so. They want to rally to the Forces of good will as soon as possible. We are working under a big handicap, and I suggest that we ought to have a reasonable opportunity, within limits to be decided by you, to raise "this point on behalf of thousands of men in this country and other parts of the world, who want to support what Britain stands for.
The hon. Member has to some extent been discussing that very point which I have ruled out of order. I have as much sympathy with him as any person. So far as I am concerned I would be only too glad to give him an opportunity of discussing that matter as soon as possible, but it is clear that I should be going outside my duty if I allowed discussion to take place on that matter on this Bill.
On a point of Order. I have not the slightest intention of voting for the Clause unless I can get some statement from the Government as to the assistance they hope to get from people who are not British subjects. We are voting money—
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is making a speech, but I did not call him for that purpose.
We are now voting a Clause which compels an indefinite number of British subjects to serve the country in the Army. Before I vote for insisting upon all these various categories of British subjects fighting compulsorily in the Army I want to know whether the Government will accept the voluntary service—
Let us be clear about this matter in one way or another. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman rose to a point of Order, and I have given my decision on that point of Order. Now he is apparently endeavouring to make a speech on the Clause on lines which I have ruled to be out of order. I cannot stop his voting as he chooses, but I must keep the Debate within its proper limits.
It is not out of order on a point of Order. I am not arguing that I should be allowed to move my Amendment, which is for the compulsory service of these people. I want to —
I must remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that I have ruled that discussion on that subject is out of order on this Clause..
On that point of Order; are we in order in discussing on this Clause the need there is for the Clause at all? Why is it necessary for the Government to demand these services from British subjects? I put it to you, Sir Dennis, that it is necessary for the Government to prove their point that they need these men. If there are people willing to come forward voluntarily—
The right hon. Gentleman rose to a definite point of Order. The answer to it is that what he said just now as to the principle of the Clause is certainly within order to be discussed, as he knows perfectly well. If he puts the question in that way, I must remind the Committee that if a discussion upon that principle goes beyond the limits which I have already ruled, I shall have to stop it.
I intend to keep entirely within the Rules of Order. I want to know, before we decide to give the Government this power, whether they contemplate using the voluntary sources that there are in and also outside this country among the refugees. In the last War directly the Government got power to conscript Englishmen and Scotsmen the people in the War Office immediately said: "Now we have all the real, true Britons we need, and we can avoid calling upon the services of black men, half castes, Maltese and Cypriots." I want to know whether that silly business is going on in the War Office again. Now that they have these powers of conscripting Englishmen will they still think that only Englishmen are fit to be called up? Will they not accept the voluntary offers of British subjects or of people who are refugees in this country? Are the Government contemplating accepting these services, and will they do all they can to persuade the generals at the War Office to accept such offers and not to restrict their attentions to Englishmen?
I must remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that he is going outside the Clause.
I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him again. Let him give me a chance of saying what I wanted to say to him just now, and that is that the principle of the Clause has been decided on Second Reading. He knows very well that a Second Reading Debate is not allowed upon a principle which has been carried on Second Reading.
Yes. The only way in which the right hon. and gallant Gentle- man can raise that question is by doing something which I have ruled is out of order.
I deny your Ruling, Sir Dennis. [Hon. Members: "Order."] It is perfectly right to say so.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was allowed some liberty to develop his argument, and I trust that I may be permitted very shortly to put the same point, which is whether the Secretary of State in framing the Clause had in mind the possibility of enlisting the services voluntarily of a large number of aliens—
The hon. Gentleman heard my Ruling, which I did my very best to explain. He cannot raise that matter.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said so much that I thought I might say just that much. There is one other point which was raised yesterday and answered, on which I think more information is required, because there is a great deal of public interest in it. The point is whether there will be any difference between the calling up of married men and single men. It has been definitely said that the Secretary of State is to adopt the usual practice and make no difference at all, but he will find that there will be great controversy and feeling in the country upon the subject. What the Government intend to do ought to be made quite clear. I quite agree that it will not be possible to lay down a hard and fast rule about all single men being called up before all married men. It is a question of dependants and obligations. Those are the considerations that ought to guide the Government. I am sure the country will desire that some general indication should be given, in order that people may be satisfied and that a lot of quite unnecessary suspicion may be avoided.
Earlier today the Leader of the Liberal party made a remarkable speech, in which he paid a very special tribute to the French people. In the course of that speech he said that out of every ten people in France eight knew exactly what they were required to do in war. He very properly said that in this country we had not attained that degree of service. I hope that nothing that has been said in the course of this Debate will allow the impression to grow, either in France or in Poland, that this country is prepared to make a lesser sacrifice than they.
I will try to avoid any issue which is controversial and not in order. 1 feel I must say one word about the land workers. I wish the War Minister would tell us what is going to be the policy of the authorities in this connection. One of the most important methods by which we shall fight this war is by raising food in this country, and so avoiding having to purchase from abroad. Therefore, I hope it will be possible to get an assurance that land workers, particularly in the higher categories, will be kept working on the land, and that we shall avoid what happened on the last occasion, when men in important key positions were taken away and had to be brought back. Now, when it is important that we should produce more food, everything should be done to keep our key men—ploughmen, stockmen, men who are essential to the efficient running of a farm—at their posts. I hope the Secretary for War will bear in mind that that work is a war service.
The first Amendment was concerned with removing the possibility of men under 20 being called up under this Bill. Those men are mainly unmarried. Now, when we have disposed of that, I am asked whether we are going to exempt married men.
Whether there will be a distinction between married and unmarried men. I understand that that is the question. If so, I thought I had answered it yesterday, when I said that our intention would be to call up according to age groups. The higher the age group, the more considerable proportion there will be of married men. I could not give an undertaking that married men will not be called up.
It is no good approaching the Debate in this spirit. We want to come to an agreement, to understand each other, and if the Secretary of State deliberately tries to evade the point it will be difficult to do so. The point I am putting is not whether married men are or are not going to be called up, but whether there is going to be any differentiation in calling up men according to the number of dependants they have. [Interruption.] I did mention that, and the Minister of Labour, sitting beside the Secretary of State, heard it, and nodded his head when I made the remark. It is no good displaying ill-temper. We want to act in a good spirit, and if the Secretary of State—
I would make an appeal to the Committee generally that if something is said in a way that an hon. Member does not like he should not reply in the same hostile spirit but should endeavour to avoid creating ill-feeling.
I am endeavouring to raise a matter which is creating tremendous feeling in the country. I am sure the country wants some guidance. What I wish to know is whether there will be any distinction as between the calling up of one person and of another according to whether they have dependants or not. Up to the present I gather that the answer is that there will be no distinction at all as between married or single persons or according to whether they have dependants or not. If that is the Minister's view I just want him to say so.
I will do my best to give guidance to the hon. Gentleman. We explained yesterday that we intended to call up the whole Army in age groups, and the further you go up the scale the more married men there will be, and probably the more dependants. We do not propose to lay down any principle on that. There is in the Bill a Clause which deals with exceptional hardship. When an application is made under that Clause it can be dealt with. With regard to key men, there is a Schedule of Reserved Occupations, and from time to time it will be necessary to determine whether a man's services are better employed in the armed Forces or in assuring the productive capacity of the country. The Government will bear that in mind. Agriculture will not, of course, be the least important of the productive occupations. It is our intention to go in to this war, not with the idea of limiting our efforts but with the idea of putting them forward in the best direction to the maximum extent.
Will the right hon. Gentleman be able, on the Third Reading, to inform the House what efforts are being made, apart from conscription, to enlist the voluntary assistance of other people who are British subjects or who are refugees in this country?
I was going to suggest that if it lay with me—which it does not, as it will be when Mr. Speaker is in the Chair—the right hon. Gentleman would not be allowed to answer.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider it, and let me know privately?
I beg to move, in page, 17, line 11, after "service," to insert:
or by whom a member of His Majesty's reserve and auxiliary forces called out for service under the permanent enactments relating to those forces, whether before or after the commencement, of this Act.
This Amendment, and the following Amendments which stand in my name, need not occupy much of our time. I propose to speak only to the first Amendment, and the other Amendments, as far as I am concerned, will be left untouched, because they appear to be consequential. It will be recalled that when we were considering the Military Training Bill and the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Bill a
provision was inserted which entitled the men to be called up under those Acts to be reinstated, if practicable, by their employers. There is a provision of the same kind in the present Bill, but there appears to be some doubt as to whether the men who come within the scope of the Military Training Act and the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act are included. That doubt may be due to some technical difficulty in drafting the present Measure. We can all appreciate that the Parliamentary draftsmen have had a great deal of work to do in the last few days, and if there is some technical difficulty or some lapse we may readily forgive them. The purpose of the Amendment is to make sure that all the men are to be protected as far as protection can be afforded, and I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is entirely in sympathy with the purpose of these Amendments.
I am sure the whole Committee is grateful to the hon. Member for putting this series of Amendments upon the Paper. It is really a technical problem. A number of those in the age group under the Military Training Act have not yet been called up although they have registered, and it is doubtful whether they would retain their reinstatement rights. The same is the case under the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act. The Amendments of the hon. Member rectify what might have been a serious omission. This class of amendment also covers the Territorials called out for service, as I am sure the Committee would like it to do. As it is so technical I cannot be sure now that every little thing is covered, and the House will be able to do that in another Act if necessary. The Committee and myself are grateful to the hon. Member for putting down these Amendments. They meet the desire of the Committee, and remove what would have been a very serious flaw in the Clause. I am glad to accept them.
In line 33, at the end, insert:
(5) In this section the expression ' His Majesty's reserve and auxiliary forces "has the same meaning as in the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act 1939, and the expression permanent enactments relating to His Majesty's reserve and auxiliary forces ' means the enactments (including any proclamation, Order in Council, regulations, warrant, or other instrument) mentioned in Sub-section (3) of Section one of that Act; and the employer by whom a person called from his civil employment for service connected with the present emergency ' means the employer by whom a person was employed when that person was called up under the Military Training Act, 1939, called out under the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act, 1939, called up under this Act, or called into actual service, ordered to join the royal navy, ordered to serve in the royal marine forces, called out on permanent service, embodied or called out for service, under the permanent enactments relating to His Majesty's reserve and auxiliary forces." — [Mr. Shinwell.]