Orders of the Day — National Registration Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 4th September 1939.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

3.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

It has already been decided that in connection with the establishment of a system of national registration in the event of emergency the duty of carrying out the registration was to be entrusted to the Minister of Health in England and Wales and to the Secretary of State for Scotland as being the two Ministers responsible for the census. It has further been decided to adopt the technique of the census for collecting the information necessary to the compilation of a national register. The fact that the Census Act of 1920 made continuing provision for the compilation of population statistics has enabled a great amount of preparation to be made for a national register without requiring recourse to fresh legislation. Consequently the Bill which I am introducing to-day is one to put into operation a piece of machinery which has been carefully worked out in preparation for just such an emergency as that in which we now find ourselves. There is no doubt as to the necessity for a national register. I think that is agreed in all parts of the House. In time of war up-to-date statistics as to man-power and as to the general population both on the producing and the consuming side of the nation's activities are absolutely essential.

The only statistics now available in the country are those of the 1931 census. Therefore, the object of this Bill may very reasonably be stated as that of producing up-to-date population statistics in substitution for the stale census statistics of 1931, in order that we may make the best use possible of the man-power and the woman-power available for our national activities, and also to facilitate other measures such, for instance, as the distribution of food, food supplies, and the preservation of contact between members of families which have been dispersed for example under the evacuation scheme. The national register will cover all persons in the United Kingdom at the appointed time with the exception of members of the armed forces and the Mercantile Marine. We are using the technique of the census and have divided up Great Britain into a great number of small districts, 65,000 in all. In each district there will be an enumerator, who has already been chosen and instructed. The enumerator himself or herself will distribute the returns shortly before the zero date—that is to say National Registration Day, the day on which each person must register. The enumerator will personally collect the returns immediately after the zero date.

Clause 3 makes provision for the creation of the enumeration districts and the larger areas comprising a group of enumeration districts. The enumerators will be under the supervision of an officer in charge of the area. The enumerator will first go round with the returns to every household in his particular district, and will distribute the form and give notice that he will come back the next week to collect it and to check it with the householder to see that it is properly filled up. When the enumerator pays his second visit for the collection of the form he will leave an identity card, which will be personal to each individual. An identity card will have to be left for every person. Nothing could be more useful and more essential than such a card. It will afford means by which if families become separated they can easily be checked off. For instance, a lost child whose parents may have moved since the child was evacuated could very easily be traced and parents and child could be brought into touch with each other.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The right hon. Gentleman says that the enumerator will discuss the manner of drawing up the form before the zero date. May I take it that if the householder wants information, the enumerator will be prepared to wait there in order to give the necessary information?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Yes, Sir. That is the object of the personal visit. It will afford an opportunity whereby the enumerator can explain, if necessary, the purpose of the form and the proper way to answer the questions. It may well be found that the householder has not been able to grasp the instructions and has filled up the form wrongly. The collection of the form will afford a second opportunity for another personal visit of the enumerator, and will ensure that the form has been filled up correctly to comply with the requirements and to supply the information sought. That is the gist and purpose of the Bill.

Clause 4 makes provision for keeping the register up to date when it has been once compiled. It enables returns to be made of changes in particulars on the register, such as persons newly entering into or passing out of the scope of the register. For example, it will provide for removals, for the 'registration of newly-born children, of people landing from abroad, of people who have been discharged from the armed forces, where they did not come into the register, and of those who have passed from the register through death, through going abroad or passing into the armed forces, and so on. The Board of Trade will establish a Mercantile Marine register for certain classes of the Mercantile Marine, which will be operated by the Marine Department of the Board of Trade. Persons entering the Mercantile Marine will pass out of the National Register on to the Mercantile Register, and vice versa.

Clause 6 provides for the identity card and the conditions as to its custody, its renewal if lost, and its production on authorised demand. The uniformity of the procedure throughout the whole of the United Kingdom will be ensured by joint regulations which will be made by "The Ministers," namely, the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and with respect to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, the Home Secretary.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

In dealing with the Mercantile Marine where do inshore fishermen come in?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I am afraid I cannot answer that question offhand, but I will look into the matter and let the hon. Member know. The provisions in Clause 3 have, as I have said, already been largely anticipated under the authority of the Census Act of 1920. The actual management of the enumeration has been entrusted in England and Wales to the clerks of the councils of the boroughs, the urban districts and the rural districts, who are appointed for this purpose as the registration officers, and in Scotland and the Isle of Man to the local registrars. The management of the local maintenance registers afterwards is being entrusted to the clerks of the appropriate councils appointed as the registration officers. Obviously an organisation of that kind has taken some time to build up, but it is in existence, and when the Bill is passed registration can be taken 12 days after the decision to compile a national register has been made. All that is needed after the Bill is passed is eight days to send out the papers to the enumerators and five days to distribute them to householders. Zero day will be when the public have to fill up the forms, and in the following week the enumerators will collect the forms and issue the identity cards. All the information will then be in the hands of the authorities and can be entered on the central register. That is all the detail which I desire to put before the House.

I should like to call particular attention to the usefulness of the identity cards in present circumstances. Each identity card will bear a code consisting of four letters and two numbers—A, B, C, D, 12, for example—which will be peculiar to the individual. Thus the register will identify each one of the 46,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom. Nothing could be more useful at the present moment than that young John Smith who has been moved to the Cotswolds or to Norfolk under an evacuation scheme should have an identity card which distinguishes him clearly from any other John Smith in the whole of the United Kingdom, and also that his father, William Smith, should have the same kind of identity card identifying him from any other William Smith. It means that the two can be brought into touch even though William Smith may move to Coventry, to Glasgow or to Bristol, on munition work for example, or may go overseas in the Mercantile Marine.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

What about the Schedule?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

As soon as the Bill is on the Statute Book I shall be prepared to show hon. Members the terms of the regulations. The particulars required on the returns are given briefly in the Schedule to the Bill. The returns will contain only simple questions requiring information on points which we should all expect to find in such a return. I hope that with this information the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill.

3.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hastings Lees-Smith Mr Hastings Lees-Smith , Keighley

The subject of a national register has, fortunately for the present Debate, been fully discussed in this House long before the outbreak of war. It happened that some hon. Members 12 months ago demanded that a national register should be created then, and in the Debates on that occasion the broad outline of this Bill was foreshadowed. I have also noticed that in the last month the Press, and particularly the "Times," have had almost all the details which the right hon. Gentleman has just given to the House, but in one respect the right hon. Gentleman has announced something which is even more complete than that which has been stated in the Press. It was stated that from the word "Go" the national register would be complete in three weeks. I have heard a statement that it could be completed in a fortnight, but I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that it can be completed in 12 days. I think it is right at this moment to express satisfaction with the work of the Department concerned. It shows efficiency and effectiveness which are very reassuring in the general situation. Looking back on the past discussions, there is one decision which time has justified. It is now evident that it was better to wait for the national register until the outbreak of war, and I think the House was right in not agreeing with those who wanted a register made 12 months ago.

As a matter of fact, a great redistribution of the population is now taking place, and although the register contains provisions for correcting the redistribution, it is obviously far better to wait until the main stages of the redistribution have settled down. We have been told that one of the reasons for the register was the needs of compulsory service, but the Minister for War now tells us that for these needs it will not be wanted for a considerable time. Another reason given was on account of rationing, and on that I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give the House an assurance. Of course rationing, no doubt, will before long be more general and complete, but before the register is finished there may be a temporary shortage of certain commodities. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the House an assurance that if that is so there will be preliminary rationing before the completion of the register in order that these articles may be conserved.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I can give that assurance now. If necessary, part rationing can take place before the date when the register is completed. We need not wait merely because there is this more detailed scheme coming afterwards. Obviously, it is desirable that no temporary embarrassment should be caused to the citizens because a more general scheme is coming along later.

Photo of Mr Hastings Lees-Smith Mr Hastings Lees-Smith , Keighley

I am glad to have had that answer, and with that answer I may say that, so far as my hon. Friends are concerned, the Second Reading of the Bill need not entail any lengthy discussion.

3.30 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Edward Grigg Lieut-Colonel Sir Edward Grigg , Altrincham

I am glad to learn from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health that the machinery necessary to bring the register into operation immediately is ready. I am one of those who for a long time have agitated for this machinery to be at least ready against an emergency. There was a time when we were told that even the machinery could not be prepared before an emergency arose, but I am glad that that opinion has been revised. With regard to the making of the register now, I, personally, regret that John Smith should not have been able to take his identity card with him immediately on going to new quarters where he may be away from his family. I should like to have a little more information on one matter. It is clear from the statement of the Minister that the actual taking of the register should be complete within 12 days from the time the order is given. I presume my right hon. Friend means that that is the time when the cards will be collected in the hands of the collectors. Of course, that is not the date at which the register will be complete. There will remain all the work of tabulating the cards and getting out the information which the register will be supposed to contain. I should be glad if my right hon. Friend would tell us when, after the 12 days necessary to take the register, we may count on the register being available for use.

3.32 p.m.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

I wish to congratulate the Government on being ready with this Bill, which, I think, will have a comparatively easy passage through the House. With great respect to the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), I think that, on the whole, the balance of advantage is weighted on the side of taking the register after war rather than before it. If it had been taken before, obviously, war conditions would have upset the information somewhat; for instance, there have been immense changes in the movement of population during the last few days, and those changes will continue. I am glad the Government have decided to do this work through the local government authorities, for that, of course, is what it amounts to when they decide to make the clerks of boroughs and counties the principal enumerators. The local authorities are accustomed to this type of work in making up the Parliamentary register; they have accumulated experience, they have men who are already trained in the work, and efficiency and success will be assured by using that machinery rather than going back to the old precedents followed in making up the register for population purposes.

I attach great importance to the character and form of the regulations, which, I assume, are in draft already. I hope the House will have an opportunity of seeing them at an early date. I make that remark from a constructive point of view. In the light of war conditions, I hope that the information to be obtained will be much larger than it would have been if a register of this character had been taken in peace conditions. There is an immense amount of voluntary service being given throughout the land. In most parts of London, immense numbers of men and women are giving their services freely, as special constables, air raid wardens, in the social services, and in a hundred and one capacities. I suggest that space should be provided on the registration forms for persons to supply information as to the voluntary services they are giving. We should then have an opportunity of knowing, in respect of each area, what work is being done voluntarily by the persons to be registered.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

The hon. Member says that will be done. If so, I am glad to know it. There should be, also, an opportunity for people to say what voluntary service they are willing or desire to do. All hon. Members have been receiving letters from all over the country from men and women who are anxious and eager to give voluntary service in one form or another. That applies specially to the older members of the population. Many of us are almost embarrassed to know where to direct these people to go and offer their services. If the register contained information not only as to what people are doing but what they are anxious to do in future, I think it would be a great help to the Government and would set aside those people who want to give their service to the State in its hour of need.

There are in this country a great number of people having highly technical qualifications. During the last War, only too often those technical qualifications were wasted. Perhaps because of modesty, or because of ignorance of the procedure to be followed, those services were often not used, and those people were diverted to less useful occupations. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that the registration cards should be so drawn that not only the occupation but the kind of work which the person is anxious to do in the conditions of the day should be available to the State in a convenient form. I hope that something of that kind will be done. Last night a suggestion was made by an hon. Member above the Gangway on this side that the services of Members of Parliament should be used in many ways in addition to their performing their duties as Members. The same thing applies equally to a large percentage of the population. If the machinery of the register could be used to canalise that information, it would be a very great contribution to the successful prosecution of the war.

3.37. p.m.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) must be very proud that this Bill is before the House to-day. For two years he has urged the setting up of a national register. On a great many occasions I have tried to find out from him and from others what would be the purpose of such a register, but I have never yet discovered. This is not an occasion for resisting Measures proposed by the Government; we can only sign on the dotted line, for debate is a waste of time. [Interruption.] Largely, because obviously we have to get the Measures through quickly. In due course, I hope that all the legislation we have passed in such a great hurry will be critically examined. Obviously, it will need amendment. I am surprised that many of these Bills are being produced, because I think that a great deal of what they do could be done under the Emergency Powers Act by means of regulations.

What this Bill is for, I have not the faintest idea. The Minister of Health says that he wants it for rationing purposes. Why? There is no difficulty in finding out approximately what is the population in any district. If the Minister got the local authority on the telephone, they would tell him immediately. How long will it take for it to be done by this means? How long will it be before the register is completed? It may be quite a good idea to give identity cards to people, so that if one wants to know who a person is, that person will be able to produce a paper to prove his identity. But how long will it take to sort out 48,000,000 cards? When they are sorted out, what is to be done with them? Nobody knows. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said that we do not want round pegs in square holes, and that these cards will prevent that. Will they? How many questions would the hon. Baronet need to answer in order that I, who presumably had never seen him, examining his card —without his photograph, which I presume would not be attached—might be able to fit the square peg precisely into the hole to which it belongs? The whole thing is unadulterated nonsense, but the Minister wants the Bill and he will get the Bill, and he will employ thousands of people in going round the houses and filling in masses of particulars which will be of no use to any human being. He will have thousands of girls, presumably, sitting in front of tabulating machines and punching innumerable holes in small cards so that it will be possible to find out how many ladies with size-eight feet, have pink eyes.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

That is the kind of thing it will be. You turn a handle and immediately get some information of that kind which is supposed to be of some use to somebody. You can put any sort of nonsense into regulations if you try hard enough, especially at a time like this when people are not too critical. This is one of the things which a long agitation has induced the Government to accept, when they had not the guts to stand up at the right time and say that it was nonsense. When we introduced conscription what were people asked to do? They were asked to register themselves, and the British people are so law-abiding that they did so. That was a remarkable achievement under the Military Training Act. The men registered for a specific purpose, when they were asked to do so. Now we have passed a general Conscription Act covering the ages 18 to 41. In due course, it will be necessary to call up particular classes, but if you ask the people in a class to register, the bulk of them will do so and will notify the addresses at which they are then living.

This is not only a question of the registration of 48,000,000 people. People will be moving about all the time. This will be a gigantic organisation. I ask hon. Members to think how many questions they would have to ask themselves, before they could satisfy someone who had never seen them, on all the points which have been mentioned, in such a way that some use could be made of the information. If it is said that this is for the purpose of rationing, then that is just nonsense. The quickest way to find out where there is a shortage of food is by means of the complaints which will reach the appropriate department. That will be a much quicker method than the method of statistics. If there is a shortage of sugar in Croydon, my right hon. Friend will hear from me about it much more quickly than he will find it out from statistics—and he will hear about it, perhaps, in plainer terms which will probably produce better results.

The argument about rationing means nothing, and the argument about placing people in the right jobs means nothing. If you want 500 people to do navy work at a particular point, there are two ways of getting them. You can go to a great department—which, incidentally, may be bombed in the meantime—where there are all these cards and have them examined in order to find 500 men in a certain area, say, within so many miles of Charing Cross, who will do this work. That will take some days. But if you simply put up a notice outside the Employment Exchange, you will get them with much greater rapidity. You will get them by self-selection, which will be much quicker than selection by civil servants, however eminent, sitting in a Government Department with all these cards in front of them.

I suppose in order to please my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) we shall have to spend many tens of thousands of pounds in compiling this national register, but I hope we shall not be too much impressed by it. I hope hon. Members will realise that a great deal of it is pure unadulterated nonsense, and that it will serve no great purpose. It would be better, indeed, if at birth we could all be branded with a number, like a motor-car number, on some part of the anatomy not too visible. That would avoid the necessity, for instance, of calling the banns of marriage in church. It would only be necessary to ascertain beforehand whether No. X1234 was married already, and if he or she were not married then that would entitle the authorities to issue the necessary warrant. We are all registered when we are born, and perhaps the hon. Member opposite thinks that if he could have been registered by a number and not merely by a name, all his problems would be solved. I do not intend to vote against any Measure proposed by the Government at this time, but I think it well that those of us, who hold the view that some of the Measures which are being brought forward with such rapidity may be unnecessary; that some of them may be a waste of time and, what is even worse at this juncture, a waste of national effort and expenditure, should express that view.

3.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I hate to agree with the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), but I find myself in company with him on this matter. I wish to refer to one or two of the difficulties which will arise from putting this register into operation at this stage. The Minister said that this could be done in 12 days and my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) complimented him on his estimate. I think it a mistake to pass compliments on estimates. It is better to await the achievement before offering any compliments. This all depends on the number of enumerators. If my right hon. Friend had been as near to the electorate as I have been compelled to be; if he had been called upon to do his own canvassing and to send out forms, he would know that it is impossible to expect people to fill up forms requiring the answers to so many questions and return them within two days. I have a great deal of admiration for our education system and I have tried to do something to improve it, but we have not reached the stage yet, when we can expect that to be done.

This brings me to the question of the enumerators. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) mentioned the voluntary work which is being done at the present time. I fear that by instituting this register at this moment you are likely to put sand in the wheels of that work. The people who will be appointed as enumerators will not be those who have been doing voluntary work of this sort. In the past few days many questions have had to be asked of people, particularly in the reception areas, and many people have been voluntarily giving time and labour to the work of obtaining those particulars. They have done so at great inconvenience and sacrifice to themselves. Those people will now find others coming along and receiving payment for work of the same kind—indeed work which is, in my judgment, much pleasanter and not nearly so important as the work which they have been doing voluntarily. I hope that if this register is to be set up, great care will be exercised in the appointment of enumerators. A lot of grumbling is going on now because of the fact that people who are willing to do so are being allowed to work for nothing, while others who do the minimum amount of work receive the maximum amount of pay for it. Something was said here the other day about profiteering. There can be just as much profiteering in a matter of this kind as in selling an article at an excessive price.

3.48 p.m.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I do not wish to make a long speech such as I might be encouraged to make if this were a debating society, in reply to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams).

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

Because I think the points which the hon. Member raised were points for a debating society and not for this House at this time.

Photo of Miss Ellen Wilkinson Miss Ellen Wilkinson , Jarrow

On a point of Order. Is not this room in which we are speaking called a debating chamber?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I have heard it called by that term.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I agree with the hon. Member for South Croydon that we do not want to increase unnecessarily statistics and forms. One has to guard against that at a time like the present, when there is a general tendency, on the part of efficiently working government, towards the introduction of forms. But I believe that this register if set up in the proper way will be useful to all those who are concerned with the organisation of our civil life in regard to air raid precautions and other matters in which we are necessarily involved at the present time. I wish to ask whether the organisation which is to be set up will interfere with or impair in any way the enormous and historic Census which is to be taken in 1941? Apparently the figures which are to be taken under this register are to be so drawn up as to be in conformity with certain particulars of the ordinary Census, and are to be kept up to date. Therefore, presumably they will be in substitution, in those respects, for the Census of 1041. Is it proposed in the 1941 Census to duplicate this inquiry, which would seem to be unnecessary? If it is not duplicated, may I ask whether that Census, with all the other particulars which are so invaluable, not merely for present, but for permanent purposes, as a register of the conditions of the people, will still be maintained? We want to know that, not merely in case of the time of peace which we hope we shall have in 1941, but in case the war is still on then, as we sincerely hope it will not be.

I will refer to only two other points. They might come up in Committee, but I think they might be got over now. On this question of a register, you are making some exceptions for the Mercantile Marine, and I should like to know whether the very complete register that has been in existence for the last 18 months, and which has been kept up to date, for the medical profession will be duplicated, or whether the British Medical Association register will be incorporated in this census and will no longer be necessary, or whether the fresh information is to be kept up, independent of the registration that has already been done by the medical profession, so that there will be a duplication of the machinery. This point does not apply only to the medical profession, because there are one or two other professions that have followed suit, though I am glad to say that I think the medical profession was first in the field and has done the work most thoroughly.

There is one other point. Reference has been made to identity cards, and the Minister has made a considerable point about their value. It is all very well to claim the value of the identity cards as between Johnnie Smith and his father when those cards are clean and new, but these cards will not remain new, least of all in Johnnie Smith's possession after he has been away to the seaside or to the country for some months, where they have been subjected to the difficulties of the weather, not to mention the washtub.

Photo of Mr Thomas Magnay Mr Thomas Magnay , Gateshead

Why does the hon. Member mention John Smith? Why not mention John Fremantle?

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I mentioned John Smith because the right hon. Gentleman used the instance of John Smith. I raised a question some six months ago of the introduction of identity discs. Our minds go back—those of us who served in the last War—to the identity discs of those days, which were small bits of metal that were hung round the neck, about the size of a sixpence or a shilling. They are permanent, and they are easily hung and kept under the clothing, without being noticed, but what will happen to these identity cards? If they are hung round a child's neck, they will not remain there for very long, and still less will they remain decipherable. Therefore, I hope we may get some possibility of identity discs being issued instead of identity cards. In those conditions—and I hope this registration will go through—I believe it will be useful as long as we make it thorough and complete and put it out in a form that is useful for ordinary purposes, not only by the State, as the hon. Baronet opposite said, but also for the general public and the administrative services.

3.54 p.m.

Colonel Arthur Evans:

I should like to support the plea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) with regard particularly to the identity discs. One knows from one's experience in the Forces, and particularly in the Territorials, that some identity cards are apt to get lost, whereas the identity discs which they had at the beginning of the last War generally remained with them on their persons until they were discharged. I do not think it is difficult to visualise circumstances whereby the all-important registration card will get lost or mislaid, and the expense to which the State has been put will be rendered of no avail.

I rose, however, for a few minutes, to put to my right hon. Friend a specific point, and an important point, as to the case of the registration of British coloured subjects domiciled in this country. My right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for the Home Department are perfectly well aware of the great difficulties which were experienced by their Departments in regard to this particular problem after the last War. We have a lot of coloured subjects registered in the ports of Britain who are, for all practical purposes, British subjects. They served in the last War in the British Mercantile Marine with great distinction. Many of them are proud possessors of medals gained in the last War, and yet they are still registered as aliens, and I do hope that under this new Measure the coloured subjects to whom I have referred will not be so registered. Some of them, of course, come under the category of British-protected subjects, and although they are regarded as British subjects from the point of view of the British shipping subsidy and the trade union regulations, nevertheless they are registered as aliens. If we are to look in the future, as we did in the past, to these men for the same valuable assistance as they ren- dered in our British Mercantile Marine, I hope my right hon. Friend will take some care to see that proper regard is had to their national status, if, owing to conditions outside their own control, they are unable to produce birth certificates from a colony dating back 30 or 40 years because at that time births were not registered.

3.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

I will not go into the merits of the Bill, but I think I am correct in saying that, in anticipating this legislation, the right hon. Gentleman asked the town clerks and the local authorities of the country to establish some form of committee, and I regret to say that in one particular case that is within my knowledge, when the council met, they were not in a great hurry to set up a committee, and I think they were treated in a rather cavalier fashion when other people were appointed on the committee who were not appointed by the borough council. Having regard to the changed circumstances of to-day, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the advisability of agreeing that if any such committee has been set up outside a local authority, there will be another opportunity for the local authority to set up a committee.

Photo of Sir Stanley Reed Sir Stanley Reed , Aylesbury

Will the Minister be so good as to pay earnest attention to what fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson)? I think we all feel that when millions of men and women are doing this kind of work for nothing, it would be a scandal to pay to have it done.

3.58 p.m.

Miss Rathbone:

With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), as to whether this Bill is justified, I think its utility will really very much depend upon the exact nature of the questions asked and the wording of those questions. As to that, we are given exceedingly vague information. It may be my fault, but I do not really understand whether the facts asked for in the Schedule mean only what they say, whether they are questions to be directly answered in one or two words, or whether they are to be regarded as headings. Unless they are merely headings, I am completely puzzled as to what their value will be. To take the right hon. Gentleman's own instance, if this is to be a way of coupling up John Smith in the Chilterns with his father William Smith in Bristol, that will not happen unless the relationship between the two and the fact that Johnnie Smith's normal address is the same as that of William Smith is recorded, yet there is nothing here to indicate that William Smith and Johnnie Smith belong to the same family. In regard to the heading of "Occupation, profession, trade or employment," will there be any indication whether that refers only to the normal employment, or whether the person is employed or unemployed? If it does not record the fact of unemployment, I can imagine that there will be considerable difficulty, because the figures received will supplement the figures known to the employment exchange and will by no means indicate the number of people available for employment who are not employed.

The point was made by one speaker as to what was to happen to coloured people. There is nothing here about birth places, so that there is no information as to the number of aliens. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill should tell us whether we shall have an opportunity of seeing and criticising the questionnaire before the Bill is passed. In the absence of that information the general observations that Members are making are probably not very valuable. We should have the exact questionnaire before us and so be able to point out the lacunae or the things that are obscurely worded. People sitting in Whitehall are rather apt to use expressions that are not clearly understood by the general public. Let me give one example of what can happen owing to the absence of a question. At the time of the last census but one there was a question as to the number of dependent children in each family, and as to the absent members of a family at boarding schools and so forth. The information thus obtained was enormously valuable to eugenists and others who were interested in the trends of the population, but for some reason at the next census that particular question was omitted or was put in a different form, with the result that those of us who are interested in statistical particulars of that sort have been inconvenienced ever since. So I ask the Minister whether we are to see the questionnaire and to have an opportunity of criti- cising it; and if not will he give more information as to what are the questions that are to be asked?

4.2 p.m.

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

I would like to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) in the interests of those individuals throughout the country who are doing magnificent voluntary work at the present time. A plea has also been made on behalf of local authorities, who at the moment are greatly overworked. One point emphasised in this Bill, which I much regret has been brought forward by the Government at this time, is that there is an obligation to keep the register up to date. That means that at a time when the energies and activities of the people are rightly-being directed to helping national interests as far as war is concerned, they are to be harassed and harried by officials in order to keep up to date a register whose value in my opinion is somewhat doubtful. I suggest that at a time when there is a considerable amount of anxiety in the country and when people are doing their level best, it is a pity that there should be put upon them an obligation to fill up another form which is not absolutely essential in the national interest at the present time. The subject of identity discs has been raised. I hope that the discs will not be of the same materials as those supplied at the beginning of the last War, which after they had been worn near the body for a short period deteriorated and rotted away and had to be replaced by others. The only point in the Bill that I appreciate and upon which I can congratulate the Government is in Sub-section (4) of Clause 12, which says that at the end of the present period of hostilities, which I hope will be soon, the Act shall come to an end.

4.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

I would like to draw attention to Clause 6 (4), which states: A constable in uniform, or any person authorised for the purpose under the said regulations, may require a person who under the regislations is for the time being responsible for the custody of an identity card, to produce the card to him or, if the person so required is unable to produce it when the requirement is made, to produce it within such time, to such person and at such place as may be prescribed. I trust that the Minister will be very careful about this kind of thing, because we do not want to be stopped in the street by any person anywhere and to be forced to produce a card. If that kind of thing begins we shall be afraid of people meeting us and asking us for cards. One thing that we do respect in this country is our freedom from being challenged on every occasion to produce something to prove that we are certain persons. Let the Minister tell the House what is meant by this proposal. Another point is in regard to cards being lost, destroyed or defaced. Apparently payment has to be made in such a case. If a person loses a card and he can satisfy the authorities that it is a genuine loss, I hope no charge will be made for a new card. If a card is wilfully destroyed or defaced it is another matter altogether. Under a new system like this, to which people are not accustomed, there will be many genuine losses of cards, and I hope that people will not be called upon to make payment for renewals.

4.7 p.m.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

One of the outstanding features of the crisis through which we are passing is the willingness with which this House and the country generally have accepted all the Measures proposed by the Government. That has been done. I am sure, in the belief that these Measures are necessary. But it is obvious from what has been said here to-day that the House is not convinced of the necessity of this Bill. I hope that the Minister will either be able to convince us now that the Bill is necessary, or that he will take steps to withdraw the Bill so that we can get on with other business. I support entirely what has been said about voluntary workers who are undertaking tasks willingly and working long hours for nothing, as against the persons who are to receive payment. On the other hand, if this work is to be done by other than voluntary workers, those others ought to be busy now and we ought not to impose upon them any further obligation or duty which is not absolutely necessary. If the Minister cannot convince us that this Bill is absolutely necessary would it not be wise for him to withdraw it and to let us get on with other business.

4.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Pierse Loftus Mr Pierse Loftus , Lowestoft

My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) raised the question of the fishermen, and the Minister, I understand, ruled that long-shore fishermen would be registered under the Bill and that deep sea fishermen would be under the Board of Trade. Could my right hon. Friend inform me that near-water trawler and drifter fishermen will be under the Board of Trade? The only other remark I wish to make is that I agree with the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb).

4.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Magnay Mr Thomas Magnay , Gateshead

Like every one else in the House at these times I wish to expedite all legislation that is thought necessary by the Government, but as I have sat here and listened to this Debate I have been confirmed in my opinion from the start that this Bill is quite unnecessary. To see the hon. Member who is the de facto leader of the Liberal Opposition at the moment get up on behalf of Liberals, who never tire of telling us that they are custodians of the freedom of the individual, and to hear him give this Bill his blessing, is one of the mysteries of life to me. Another hon. Member has suggested identity discs. The next suggestion will be finger prints. Logically, why not? You might as well tattoo people. What on earth are we coming to when we pass this quite unnecessary legislation in a hurry?

We are fighting now, we are told—and I believe it in my bones—for the rights and the freedom of the individual and for the sacredness of the person of the individual. It is an affront to do anything to the person of an individual without his free consent. Now our people are to be punished if they cannot find their identity card. It takes me all my time to find the letters I received yesterday. I have every right to put them in what pocket I like. I have a right to do what I like with my own stuff, and certainly with my own life. I understood that the idea behind this Bill originally was to get in conscription by easy stages, so that there is no necessity for it now. I make my solemn and emphatic protest against this nonsense and doing this thing, which is quite unnecessary, in time of crisis.

4.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

We welcome the hon. Member's sporadic intervention on behalf of the rights of the subject. For the last two days my hon. Friends and I have been endeavouring to put forward Amendments to various Bills in order to safeguard the rights of the people of this country, but the hon. Member has not been here on any occasion to give us his support. I rise to draw the attention of the Minister to one small practical point. Even in the legislation which we are passing now there ought to be some relation between the offences which are created by a Measure and the penalties which are prescribed. We ought not, if we can help it, to insert penalties which are out of all proportion to the offences which are contemplated. I would draw attention to Clause 8 and to the penalties there prescribed. All the offences under the Bill are dealt with en bloc, and it is provided that a person guilty of an offence will be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding £50, or on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine not exceeding £100. That may be a proper provision where we are dealing with somebody who with intent to deceive has forged an identity card, for that may be a serious matter. There are, however, many lesser offences under this Bill, because in the preceding Sub-section the words occur: If any person fails to comply with any requirement duly made under this Act or contravenes or fails to comply with any regulations made under this Act, he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act. Then he is liable to the penalties which I have mentioned. I do not say that the courts would in those cases impose the maximum penalty, but there ought to be some restriction, and we ought to give some guidance to the courts as to the seriousness which we attach to these offences. The requirements here vary a good deal. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) referred to the constable or authorised person who might require a person to produce his identity card. Presumably that is one of the requirements which may be infringed, but if somebody failed when required by a police constable to produce his identity card it is fantastic that he should be liable to penalties of this magnitude. In Clause 3 there are all sorts of things, some important, some not so important, which the Minister may do by regulation. To say that a man is liable to imprisonment up to two years for some of these small matters seems to ignore any kind of proportion in setting out the penalties. I hope that before we reach the Committee stage the Minister will consider whether, without interfering with the structure of the Bill, it is possible to put in a simple Amendment providing for a lesser penalty where there is a simple failure to comply with one of the requirements.

4.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

The first point I must make is that the Government which must take the responsibility for the introduction of this Bill, have very carefully borne in mind the objections that might be raised to it; but we are in a time of great emergency when the whole power of the nation must be organised to meet the immense task which is in front of us. If our military effort is to be complete we are satisfied that we must have as early as possible a complete and accurate picture and not depend on voluntary registration or on the out-of-date Census of 1931. I hope in these few words to convince the House that the Government did not bring forward this Measure without having fully realised that the natural reaction of people in this country against the filling up of forms and the answering of questions is a deep and sincere one. But, having in mind the knowledge that we are facing a trial which will require all our forces and all our strength of man and woman power in the work of Defence, we are satisfied that we must have this Bill.

Hon. Members have raised a number of points to which we shall give our consideration as quickly as possible. We wish to get the Committee stage of the Bill early, so as to enable us to get on with the register. We do not wish to lose time, but my right hon. Friend and I are prepared to pay close attention to all the points that have been raised and to see whether there are any of them which we can justifiably meet. I will mention one or two of them. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) asked whether it would be necessary for doctors to register as there is already the full British Medical Association register. It will be necessary to have this additional information. As regards fishermen, the point has not been finally decided, and we are looking at it in the light of what has been said. The present view is that inshore fishermen should be included in the national register. The important thing is that the information should be available whether they are included there or in the Board of Trade register. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) asked about the trawlers. I am speaking without having verified it, but I should think that they would come on the Board of Trade register.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

When I spoke of inshore fishermen I meant the large section of people who have experience at sea such as yacht hands and people of that kind. It is essential that the Board of Trade should have speedy knowledge where to put their hands on these people for war purposes.

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

I should have mentioned that yacht hands are included with inshore fishermen and men of that type, and I agree that it is important we should have accurate information about them. Some hon. Members have suggested that it is unfortunate, at a time when so much voluntary effort is being gladly and freely given, that we should cause payment to be made for this work. I can see that that argument can be used, but this is a piece of official work which we are determined must be carried out thoroughly and accurately, just as the Census is, and I do not see that we can depart from the ordinary practice used in taking the Census and sending round enumerators who receive payment. We must pick our enumerators carefully. They have already been selected, I understand. We must get people who can help householders to fill up the forms, for it is not just a matter of leaving a form and going back for it later. Assistance must be given in filling it up accurately.

That brings me to the question of the time required for the compilation of the register, about which I was asked by the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). My right hon. Friend has explained that it would work out in this way: After the decision has been taken to compile the register eight days will be required for instructing the enumerators and four or five days for the distribution of the forms to the houses. Zero hour will be the day when the public will be required to fill in the form—that is 12 days from the beginning. Another seven days will then be needed for the enumerators to collect the forms and make the necessary transcript for the central register.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Edward Grigg Lieut-Colonel Sir Edward Grigg , Altrincham

The right hon. Gentleman has not quite answered the point. I understood about the period which will be needed to issue the cards and get them collected and tabulated and return them to the Registrar General or the local authorities who represent him. What I wanted to know was, When will the register be completed and ready for use?

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

At any time after that date. As far as I can see, it will be under 21 days—18, 19 or 20 days from the word "go." There are the 12 days and the seven days, and I am allowing an extra day or a couple of days for grace. For such a very big task I do not think that is a long period. Several hon. Members have asked whether we could lay the draft regulations before the House. I fear that my right hon. Friend and I would find it difficult to do that, because of the delay which would be involved. What I will say is that we will bear in mind very carefully all the points raised—including those put forward by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) who put some points which were of interest and importance—in framing the regulations, which will be based broadly on the lines of the Schedule on the back of the Bill. We have tried to take into account all the information which is wanted. The hon. Member said that she was anxious that we should be able to identify any child who will be living with other people in a distant part of the country as having come from a certain district. We shall have that point in mind.

As to the voluntary work which is being done at the moment by individuals, that would be noted on the register, but I do not think it would be possible to make the register itself a medium for applying, so to speak, for further voluntary workers. That will have to be done through the existing channels. I do not think we could make enumerators persons to whom individuals should apply for getting voluntary jobs; but where any person is at present engaged upon a voluntary job that fact will, of course, be noted. A number of other points were raised which I have not answered because I want an opportunity to look into them to see whether we can meet them. They are points of detail rather than of large principle. On the main principle of the Bill I repeat that we should not have brought this Measure forward had we not thought that it was absolutely necessary to have, and to have as early as possible, a full picture of the present position of the population.

4.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Stirling and Falkirk District of Burghs

A very important point was raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) to which a reply has not been given. The liberties of the subject are very much imperilled when we are at war, and we are willing to give up many of those liberties, but the hon. Member emphasised the fact that whilst we are willing to give up liberties we must know who will have to deal with these questions of liberty. Under Sub-section (4) of Clause 6 it is provided that not merely will a constable in uniform be entitled to demand to see the registration card but any person authorised for the purpose under the regulations will be entitled to do so. Some of us feel very much perturbed about that. We are quite willing to allow a constable to challenge us and to demand the registration card, but not any other person not in uniform, who might make a false claim to see it. Some of us would like an assurance on that point.

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

I hope the hon. Member will acquit me of any discourtesy in not answering before. A moment or so ago I was shown by a Member of the Front Bench opposite an Amendment which, I understand, hon. Members have it in mind to put down on the Committee stage to deal with the point raised in Sub-clause (4), where it refers to: a constable in uniform or any person authorised for the purpose under the said regulations. Between now and the Committee stage my right hon. Friend and I will give close consideration to that point. We are anxious to see that these Regulations work effectively, but at the same time we are anxious to see that they work fairly from the point of view of the British public.

Photo of Mr Hastings Lees-Smith Mr Hastings Lees-Smith , Keighley

When is it proposed to take the Committee stage?

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that this register will not interfere with the ordinary Census of 1941?

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

The year 1941 seems a long time ahead these days, but the 1941 Census, if it is possible to take it, will be taken on the same lines as previously.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

On the point of a person being required to show his registration card to an "authorised person," I do not know whether the proposed Amendment which has been referred to meets the point, but would not some part of the difficulty be covered by providing that persons who are so authorised should be under an obligation similar to that which police constables are under to produce their warrant card or some similar authorisation?

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion, which we will bear in mind in considering the Amendment which we shall discuss to-morrow when the Committee stage is taken.

4.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Nevil Beechman Mr Nevil Beechman , St Ives

I was a little disturbed, as I think other hon. Members were, by the reluctance, indeed the refusal, of the Minister to promise to let us have the draft regulations before we decide this matter. Like other hon. Members, I do not want to be troublesome, but I cannot see how we can bring our minds to bear upon this vital matter unless we know what the regulations are to be. Otherwise we shall be deciding the matter entirely in the dark. The House has been very generous, as it should be in regard to this legislation, and I am sure that when the regulations are before the House hon. Members will be most careful not to take up time by debating them letter by letter. I would urge the Minister to let us see the regulations before we finally dispose of the matter, perhaps on the Committee stage.

4.28 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I very much hope that the penalties provided by this Bill will be revised. At present they are very heavy indeed. They might be the penalties imposed by a Milk Marketing Board. I speak as a magistrate. When magistrates see that a very heavy penalty has been prescribed as a maximum they tend, naturally, to be somewhat more severe than when a lower penalty has been prescribed. With the greatest respect I must say that these penalties seem to be unnecessarily high.

4.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hastings Lees-Smith Mr Hastings Lees-Smith , Keighley

There is a great deal of apprehension in the House owing to the fact that the main features of this Bill are not really in front of us, and that we propose to take the Committee stage to-morrow by which time the Bill will pass out of our hands. I have not yet heard from the Minister what the urgency is for getting this Bill through —to a matter of days. He has rather indicated that he does not propose to take action immediately after the Bill is passed, and I would, therefore, ask him whether it is possible to delay the Committee stage until he can show us the regulations so that we can discuss the matter when we are really more informed about it.

4.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

I shall be glad to consider what has been said on that point. If it is possible to meet the right hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken, my right hon. Friend and I will be glad to do so. In reply to questions which have been put, I would say that the Schedule on the back of the Bill gives the particulars which we think important in order that a complete picture of the population may be obtained. I recognise that there is some anxiety about the nature of the regulations, but, if the House will allow me and my right hon. Friend to do so, we shall do what we can to meet hon. Members. If hon. Members will refer to the Schedule on the back of the Bill I think they will agree that what we wish to obtain is not unreasonable.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Grimston.]