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I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill is intended to carry into effect the proposals which the House heard last week. We are taking the opportunity afforded by the passage of the Bill to rectify certain anomalies in the existing law. I shall refer to them when we reach Clauses 4 and 5. Clause 1 is mainly declaratory. It sets forth clearly the obligations imposed upon all persons of either sex in Great Britain.
I will refer to aliens presently, if I may. The obligation, so far as British subjects are concerned, is not limited. Legislation for aliens has been the subject of consultation between Governments now in this country and His Majesty's Government. Aliens are not included in the Bill, but when the negotiations are complete a separate Bill will be presented to Parliament.
We have to remember that we have passed legislation recognising certain Governments on British soil, under which in certain matters in relation to maritime affairs, the Governments resident in this country are given certain powers over their own nationals. If the Bill is not clear, hon. Members can attempt to put it right in Committee. I am trying to explain that negotiation is proceeding on the question of aliens with Governments resident in this country. When agreement is reached, it will be embodied in a Bill. The intention of the present Bill is to deal with British subjects. The declaratory Clause makes clear what obligation is imposed. There are phrases relating to various Services and the liabilities upon the subjects who have to serve in them. The term "National Service" includes service in the Armed Forces of the Crown, Civil Defence and industry. I will deal with the limitations that are imposed in those respects.
Clause 1, paragraph (a) sets forth the limitations within the National Service scheme that will be placed upon service in the Armed Forces and the Civil Defence Forces. Those are subject to the limitations of the National Service Act, 1939, the Act of 1941 and the present Measure. There may be a little confusion about the difference between a Civil Defence Force and a Civil Defence Service. The term "Civil Defence Force" means any organisation which is declared, by Order of the Ministry of Home Security, to be a Civil Defence Force. At present, the Ministry of Home Security has declared the following to be Civil Defence Forces: The Police War Reserve, the National Fire Service and the Civil Defence Reserve. Therefore, persons called up for any of those Forces, that is to say, the Armed Forces or the Civil Defence Forces, will have the same right as is set forth for men. It will be remembered that, in the 1941 Act, compulsory service was introduced for Civil Defence, and in order that it might be made clear where men were being posted, a distinction was made, by Order following that Act, between a Civil Defence Force and a Civil Defence Service. Power exists for the Ministry of Home Security to make other Civil Defence Services into Civil Defence Forces, and it will be open to them to do so by Order.
The second point in Clause 1 of the Bill is that it is proposed to give power to the Minister of Labour, under Defence Regulations, to direct persons into Civil Defence, as he now has power to direct persons to industry. In the case of the Civil Defence Forces this will apply to part-time duties, whole-time service being covered under the National Service Acts. In the case of Civil Defence Services, as distinct from Civil Defence Forces, the duties to be performed may be either whole-time or part-time. Also, as was explained last week during the Debate, power is being taken to make a further Defence Regulation to enable persons to be directed into the Home Guard for part-time service, but I would reiterate what was said previously, that before such a Regulation becomes operative there will be a White Paper and an opportunity of debating it in the House. All that is being done in this Bill, as far as the Home Guard is concerned, is to take power to make the Regulation and I have no doubt when the time comes and the Regulation has to be made, hon. Members will be given an opportunity of discussing the whole question of the Home Guard on its merits and in proper perspective.
Will the House have an opportunity of considering these proposals before the Defence Regulation is published? My right hon. Friend will realise that this House has no power other than to accept or reject such a Regulation in toto. We have no power to amend it. I, therefore, ask how are the opinions of the House on the actual proposals which will be contained in the Regulation to be made effective?
I think I can say that the intention of the Prime Minister was not to handicap the House, but I cannot undertake at the moment to reply on the exact procedure. I assure the House that there is no intention to take advantage of the power to make Regulations on this matter of the Home Guard, and I have no doubt that, through the usual channels, an accommodation can be arrived at as to the manner in which the question will be dealt with by the House.
Two of the most important amendments of the law made by this Bill are contained in Clauses 2 and 3. Clause 2 raises the age from 41 to 51. This will have to be done by adopting the same procedure as that taken in connection with the other age groups, that is, the step will have to be preceded by the process of Proclamation. It will enable men up to and including 50 years of age to be called up for military service or for the Civil Defence Forces.
I will tell the hon. Member outside. We adhere to the statement made last week that it is our intention to utilise men of this age mainly in the static and sedentary part of the Forces. We are faced with this situation, which I would ask the House to appreciate. All the time, in handling this problem of manpower, it is a question of selection and choice. Very often you have to decide —and certainly, you have to do so now when man-power is becoming more and more in short supply—whether it is not far better sometimes to take a rather elderly man or a man over the forties and put him into sedentary work in the Services, than it is to take a young woman who would probably be far more useful in industry and tie her down to purely sedentary work in the Forces. This proposal gives a wider choice. Indeed, we have had many representations asking why we did not use men of this age for sedentary and static work in the Forces.
It has another advantage. When you are building up a tremendous organism such as that represented by the Forces, the administrative side is of vital importance, and when you are enrolling thousands of young people and putting them into sedentary and static jobs, it is very helpful to be able to have a call upon older men and indeed older women to act in supervisory capacities. In that way they can bring to bear the experience which they have gained in private industry, to assist your organisation on the office and administrative side. I am not raising the question of whether men are better supervisors than women, though I know that is often suggested. My own view is that in the realm of supervision and management women have never been given a fair opportunity. It is extremity difficult when you are rushed into war to devote that time to training in management that can be given normally in peacetime. However, with university help and in many ways, we are rapidly extending the field of managerial opportunities for women, and we are particularly anxious to be able to draw on the available supply which we think we can lay hold of for the war effort. This question will, of course, arise more acutely when concentration is carried further, and we must carry concentration further. I would say to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we must carry it into the realms of banking and insurance and ancillary services of all kinds, in order that those who have great experience on the administrative side in those matters can give their quota of help for the Services, just as we have had to get the aid of managements on the industrial side, in productive enterprises.
The raising of the age opens up a field of opportunity for service which will, I believe, be of great value. It will enable us, first, to transfer younger men who may now be engaged in this static and sedentary work to the front line. This war is of such a character that I think the House will agree that, with the manpower problem as it is, we cannot afford to leave a single front-line man back among those who are engaged in sedentary or static work. We have to try and organise the services and maintain them in the highest efficiency. We have been asked about the men who -served in the last war, and who may be called up, and about their physical condition. I think the declaration which I made last week on behalf of the Cabinet will allow that matter to be dealt with adequately when the full pensions question is under review. The Government adhere to that declaration.
Clause 2, Sub-section (2) is intended to adjust the position of men who have applied for postponement or who have been medically examined and have subsequently passed the age of 41. Under the present law they would be prejudiced, and this Sub-section is intended to put them in exactly the same position as if they had been called before they were 41 in order that their position should not be in any way prejudiced.
Clause 3 applies the National Service Act to women and will make women liable to be called up for the Women's Auxiliary Services and Civil Defence Forces. I trust that the House will be unanimous on this point. Quite frankly, I have not liked the present method, and I think, if the House examined the facts, they would not like it either. It was assumed, following the last announcements which I made to the House on the second stage of the development of man-power, that the Ministry of Labour had power to direct people into the Services as well as into industry. It was afterwards discovered that that was not so. There has been an increase in the number of women entering the Auxiliary Services, and I do not deny that there has been a good deal of indirect pressure. There has been a good deal of arguing with all kinds of people regarding the release of women, and it has been a little unsatisfactory. This is a far better and more honest method from the point of view of everybody concerned. Women will be called up, and if their employers think they have a case for retaining them, they will be able to put in an application for deferment just as they can for men. If, on the other hand, a woman says she has conscientious objections to going into the Services, this Bill gives her the right of conscientious objection just as is the case with men. If the woman says that there are circumstances of hardship which ought to be taken into account, to save her having to argue with a clerk in my Department she can go to the hardship tribunal, which I think is a much better method of settling the matter than with a member of my staff. I do not think it is wise in the public interest to allow the staff of my Department to be placed in a position of using indirect pressure, and I therefore came to the conclusion, in consultation with my colleagues, that this was a much better and straighter method of dealing with the whole problem.
Then we have the question of married women, and we had to decide whether married women should be called for the Services or not. We have retained the right for all women to volunteer, but it is no use ignoring the fact that in the Services themselves, particularly overseas, there is great concern about the conscription of women for the Forces. There is little or no opposition to directing them into industry. It would be very easy for hon. Members in this House to dismiss that opposition as if it did not exist, but we must put ourselves into the position of a man on a ship in the Navy, or abroad, who expects society to be looking after his woman while he is out there fighting. It is a human problem, and I could not dismiss the representations that were made.
Neither is it possible to take up the question of degrees of marriage in the sense of varying domestic responsibilities and so on. When, therefore, it is said that a distinction can be drawn between childless women and women with children, I can only remind the House that the question of being a childless woman is very often only a matter of date. Because a woman is childless, it does not mean that she always will be childless. This problem of married women in relation to the Auxiliary Services was a very difficult one, and in the end we decided that it was better to exempt them from the provisions of the Bill, while making it quite clear that they are still free to volunteer. Many of them will. There are many wives of men in the Services already in the W.R.N.S., in Civil Defence, in the A.T.S., and in the W.A.A.F.S., and I have no doubt that many will continue to volunteer.
I recognise that this House is a very difficult place, and if I had left this matter to be dealt with by regulation, I am afraid I might have been accused of having something very terrible up my sleeve. I think it better to face this matter quite squarely in the House. The Act can always be amended if we have to go back on our decision; I emphasise the point, because I prefer that the House should pass another Act rather than that it should be dealt with by regulation. Representations came to us through the Service Ministers, who are in touch with the officers and men. The case was made most strongly from the Navy and the Air Force—I am putting the facts frankly be- fore the House—and I had to take note of what the Departments said.
I would like to say that, after all, I regard a married woman as playing just as great a part as a citizen as if she were in any other avocation. We have had a system which has never paid her for her services, I admit, but, on the other hand, as a trade union official, I argued for years when I had to calculate wages and payments in industry that industry has had the services not only of men but of women, who kept the men fit to work, a service for which they had never been paid in the whole of their lives. I say that quite advisedly, but it does not mean that the State must not recognise the important work as a citizen that the wife is doing. I cannot, however, deal with that in this Bill. I yield to none, not even the most extreme feminists, with regard to the work I have done for women in this country through the trade union effort, in lifting them out of the sordid sweated industries on to a better basis; it is work on which I look back with pride. That was at a time when we did not get very much assistance. Therefore, I am sure there will be no dispute about the fact that we do not propose to enrol married women or women with children of their own.
I want to explain the steps that are to be taken in the call-up, about which there have been, I think, misgiving and misunderstanding. The 20–30's are first named. That, again, will have to be dealt with by a procedure of Proclamation so as to get order in dealing with this problem. That does not mean that at later stages, if the demand makes it necessary, that later Proclamations will not extend the call-up. But we have found from practical experience that the age-group method is the most orderly way of dealing with the matter, and one which enables the machine to work effectively and efficiently.
Administratively, we propose to give women an option, as we explained last week, rather wider than for men. We have to deal with all kinds of difficulties, and the option will probably reduce to a very large extent the difficulties that would otherwise occur under the deferment machinery. Therefore there will be the call-up for the Women's Auxiliary Forces, but women will have an opportunity of going into certain forms of Civil Defence or certain jobs specified by the Ministry of Labour. We have to get a large number of what have been called mobile women, to fill the filling-factories, to deal with the wide expansion looming ahead in aircraft and in other forms of munition production. To do that, it is felt preferable to transfer, under this Bill, the younger and more mobile women, using those who are married, or married women with children who can work, in their locality or in filling up the vacancies caused either in the commercial life or otherwise. That applies also to older women who are less motile through their responsibilities at home.
We shall try—we cannot pledge ourselves to be exact—to post women called to the Women's Auxiliary Services as near to their homes as practicable. That is very desirable; it makes for efficiency and reduces discontent. We have also straightened out the business about the use of lethal weapons. We feel it desirable to separate the call-up for compulsory service from the obligation to use lethal weapons. So that is segregated and made definitely a voluntary force. I have no doubt we can get a goodly number, and the women are showing a very great spirit in that direction.
There are other steps by regulation which we propose to take under this Bill which, if I do not mention them now, may lead to questioning later. I thought I should save time if I mentioned them on the Second Reading, because they have to be dealt with by regulation. We propose to arrange for one woman to serve on every hardship committee, and for a woman to sit as assessor when the umpire hears appeals. We propose that at least one woman shall sit on conscientious objectors' tribunals and appellate tribunals, and that one woman doctor is to be present at the medical examination of women. I think, therefore, that we have taken every step to see that the women are properly cared for in this business.
I think it is quite adequate if you take the proportions of men and women that have to be called up for the Services. I do not, however, regard it as a question of proportion. I am quite convinced that on appellate tribunals one woman is sufficient. On the question of women doctors, if I tried to get more than one to be present at the medical examination of women, having regard to the limited number of women doctors, I am quite certain I could not do any better than is proposed.
Regarding the woman member of the hardship tribunal, would that be in addition to the present constitution of a chairman, one representative from the employers' panel and one from the workers' panel?
Would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for special tribunals to deal with women? As there are large masses of women to be dealt with, it might be advisable.
If you do that, the woman has no protection. From the industrial point of view the employer will put the point of view to retain her in industry. The labour representative, a trade unionist in most cases, represents both men and women. If you have a woman specially appointed, I really think that meets the case.
I have found a great number of people interested in this matter of conscientious objection as applied to women. Women can be directed either into the Fighting Services or into industry. Do I understand that the conscientious objection of a woman may be sustained even if she is sent into the production of lethal weapons in industry, or is conscientious objection solely confined to a woman directed into one of the war Services?
Women are in exactly the same position and categories as men. I will not weary the House by giving a list of these categories; it is a fairly long list. Some women will be so absolute in their conscientious objection that they will not touch anything associated with war. They will be regarded as absolutists, and they will not be directed.
I want now to deal with Clauses 4 and 5, which are designed to remove anomalies under the existing law. Clause 4 deals with discharge from the Forces and transference from one Force to another. Sometimes, lads who have joined the Army when they are under age are discharged, and we cannot deal with them except by a further Royal Proclamation. Then there are people discharged for certain other reasons; and there are people who may be unsuitable for one Service but quite capable of serving in another. Instead of having to go through all this procedure of discharging them and calling them up again, provision is being made for their transference. But I desire to make it clear that if a person is discharged for medical reasons, this Clause will not apply to him. In other cases, this will simplifying the procedure, and in many cases it will be a considerable help to the men themselves who desire to be transferred.
Will my right hon. Friend make it quite definite that if a man has been discharged on medical grounds he is finished with, once for all, and cannot be called up again?
I cannot allow myself to get drawn into a conflict on medical questions. I think that if a man is discharged on medical grounds, I had better take a clear-cut line. [An HON. MEMBER: "You will lose a lot."] They will be directed into industry, and will go back into the pool. Doctors differ so much that I cannot be asked to decide between them. Clause 5 seeks to remedy an anomaly in the treatment of conscientious objectors. In the 1941 Act, we introduced an amendment regarding medical examination. Where a man refused medical examination he was brought before the court and could be sentenced to imprisonment. If a man is put into the Army notwithstanding his objection to serving, and he is court-martialled and receives three months or more imprisonment, he can then appeal back to the appellate tribunal. On the other hand, the man who is called for a medical examination and receives three months imprisonment for refusal, may then be subject to a sort of cat-and-mouse procedure. We have not yet exercised that procedure, but I think the House will agree that it is objectionable. Under this Bill, we have put a man who refuses medical examination in the same position as if he had been in the Army and had been court-martialled.
I do not want it to be assumed that the fact that we have had to introduce this Bill is any reflection on the response made by women to the appeal to assist in the war effort. As was explained last week, there has been, since the war broke out, a transfer of over 1,000,000 women to munitions production and vital war industries and services in this country. I have no doubt that the number might have been more, but an awful lot of prejudice has to be got over. It must be remembered that there is an awful prejudice against the employment of women, and that is not confined to one side. The other factor is that there was such a wide area of industrial plants in this country which had no provision at all for the employment of women. Owing to the lack of rest-room and lavatory accommodation, it was very inconvenient to employ women in them. An enormous amount of time and effort were necessary to make the factories suitable for women. But it is rather interesting to note that of those 1,000,000 women—and I say this because there is a lot of talk about one lot idling and another lot doing something else—250,000 have been transferred to war work from the less essential industries, and 750,000 came from married women, unoccupied women and domestic servants. I think that is a pretty good response from people with domestic responsibilities to the appeal to come into industry and help the war effort.
Another great difficulty which has hindered the response has been the physical one of the location of factory buildings. I am quite certain that if our war production had been of the same character as in the last war, with greater use being made of small buildings, nearer the people's homes, that 1,000,000 might well have been doubled. But it was impossible to do that. I visited the North-East Coast only a fortnight or three weeks ago. In the last war, the small munitions production on the North-East Coast employed practically every woman from Tees-side right up to the Tyne. To-day, thousands of women from that area have to be taken 20 or 30 miles to their place of work. I ask the House to appreciate this. I went out at night and saw these women tramping from their homes to go on the night shift in the black-out, getting to the bus stands, and then travelling 20 miles to their jobs. It takes a bit of pluck to do that. Before you shout about absenteeism or rake up every little thing against them, for Heaven's sake appreciate what they are doing.
In this work the Employment Exchanges are playing a very vital part. I cannot get a perfect staff, but the amount of tact displayed by our staff in handling this vexed problem will be found, I believe, when the history of this war comes to be written, to have played no mean part. They have been filling vacancies in the principal munition industries for 20,000 women a week. Over 3,000,000 women have been registered Over 900,000 have been interviewed.
I know there has been a lot of ridicule about this question of interviewing, but I wonder what would have been said if I had just adopted red-tape methods, and sent notices to these women, telling them to go to work at such and such a place, irrespective of their own lives and conditions. This House would have stormed at me, and the country would probably have turned indignantly on any Minister of Labour who attempted to do that. I decided, and, I think, rightly—and I propose to continue it—that women over 30 must register, and I must go on getting them into employment. I think it was right to talk with these young girls privately and then to give them a day or two in which to think it over. Let them go home and speak to their parents and let them say: ''What had I better do?" and then come back in a day or two, and, if they cannot make up their minds, then it will be for us to help them to do so. It is a far better British way than trying to impose upon them harsh methods. I do not apologise for the interviewing methods that were introduced. In handling this problem, I would ask it to be remembered that the most tender thing to deal with in this country, happily, is the question of the parents' consideration for their young people. I have to take that fact into account. At no point could you turn the people against the war effort more easily unless you handle that matter with very great care; and I decided to proceed on that basis.
At the present moment over 12,000 women a week from the registered age-groups are being transferred either to the Services or to industry. I say to the industrialists of the country who have to build up these works and big undertakings that I am entitled to ask them, "What is the ratio of women absorbed, and what is the ratio you can transfer?" I have seen most of the big industries do that throughout the country during the last 35 years. The transference that has taken place in this war—over 1,000,000 in just over 17 months—is more than that which took place in the four years of the last war and is an amazing compression of effort into a short period of the transference from peace to war endeavour in human personnel. Therefore, I emphasise that the bringing-in of this Bill cannot be said to be a reflection upon women or men but is in order to do what is right and to give them a clearer understanding of their obligations, safeguards and rights expressed in law and to remove the matter from bureaucracy by providing for appeal to hardship and conscientious objection tribunals.
Lastly, I have been told that our work has frustrated many women. As far as the mobile women are concerned, there has been no frustration. The criticism of employers and industrialists throughout the country has been that I have been too drastic: Hon. Members in all parts of the House have appealed to me time and time again to pay great attention to the distributive trades, to domestic service and to 101 things. To the best of my ability I have done it. But the immobile women do present a difficulty. I cannot put them to work exactly where they want to work. In war, conditions are of such a character as to make it impossible. Let me illustrate just one point. In the first plan that I worked out when I took office I based it on the assumption that aircraft factories particularly would largely remain where they were. I built up, with my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Health, an organisation for billeting and so on in order to house the people. Then came the air attacks and the need for dispersal. Everything almost that I had done in the concentrated areas was rendered null and void in a night, and then I had to carry out the dispersal of the garage and the little works. In London alone I had to disperse people over a 60-mile radius. Some of those who were near their work and billeted had to move again. We were immediately handicapped. You could move the men and the single women, but domestic difficulties immediately arose with regard to the married women. You could not automatically remove the 100 per cent. you had already fixed in the other places.
I assure the House that in handling this problem I had a pretty tough job. After all, the human is the most awkward animal of all to handle, and I have discovered that more particularly since I have been in this House. You have to handle people very carefully, and particularly when they are British. I once stood in a great arena in Vienna and a fellow trade unionist was showing me the beautiful and symmetrical movements of a gymnastic display and said, "You cannot do this in England." I thought it over for a minute, and I said, "I am glad that we cannot." It is true that if we have a procession in England, 90 per cent. walk on the pavement. It may well be that the fact that the British people are an awkward squad constitutes the salvation and protection of our great national liberty.
I wish to indicate the attitude of my hon. and right hon. Friends to this Bill after the discussion of last week, in which we expressed our opinion as to the background from which it ought to be viewed. Now that we have reached the Second Reading, our view is that the Bill is inevitable, for unless we can obtain the resources of man-power and woman-power which the Bill provides, we cannot either provide for the equipment of our own troops or fulfil the obligation we have undertaken to Russia. Indeed, those considerations have become even more urgent since the Bill was introduced. The Prime Minister, in his broadcast last night, said something which he did not say in the House of Commons, and he made it clear that the effect of the new war into which Japan has plunged us is that munitions in the United States which we had anticipated will be delayed and diverted, and I gather that there may be a gap in their undertakings to Russia which will have to be filled by ourselves. Under these circum- stances every available reserve is required, especially during the next few months, and without this Bill those reserves cannot be obtained. Our view of the background of the Bill is this: The provision for man-power is requisite, but it is not the only requisite. It is also equally a requisite to make better use of the manpower we have, and for that purpose the necessary coercion, compulsion and conscription must be applied where required to industry as implacably as they are being enforced on the lives of the men and women brought in under the Bill, I know it would be out of Order on the Second Reading to develop that subject in great detail, and I shall have something to say later with regard to the Minister's declaration.
Meanwhile, I wish to say something with regard to the Bill taken by itself. The Minister ended his speech by telling us some of the problems which confront him. I should think that this Bill would be the last major effort in this period that he will have to present. Indeed, it is the culmination of practically all his activities since he came into office. In one direction, particularly, I am not sure that the Minister has obtained full credit. Now we see the importance of a certain part of his activities—in regard to welfare. He has built up in the last 18 months a mechanism of welfare supervision, canteens, hospitals, billets, amenities and factory conditions such as had never been known before and of a standard from which we shall never be able to depart in the future. I am sure that if these provisions for welfare had not been established, the public of this country, and especially parents, would not have consented to young girls being taken away to strange places so far from their homes. In building up this part of the work, he has been making preparations without which at this stage our war effort would have been gravely hampered.
Undoubtedly this Bill will be accepted by the House as a whole, but a number of my hon. Friends have discussed it, and they have made it very clear that it will involve an immense amount of sacrifice in private life; they warn us that everything will depend upon its administration and that most grave discontent will be caused if it is not sympathetically administered. As the Minister has said, we are handling millions of human beings, and, therefore, I would put before him one or two considerations which have been put before me. He spoke of the system of interviewing and powerfully explained what would have been the result if he had not adopted it. Much will depend on the actual machinery of this interviewing, because on a quarter of an hour's interview will probably depend a girl's life for the rest of the war. In his closing words he said he intended to call up for interview women over 30. If you are to interview these fairly elderly women—[An HON. MEMBER: "Elderly?"]. Well, these women are not quite so young as they used to be. If they are to be interviewed, it seems essential that they should be interviewed by women who are not much younger than themselves, by women of maturity who are experienced and with sympathy for those older than themselves. They should be interviewed by women who are properly paid for their work. Interviewing is highly skilled and discriminating work and should be done by women who have fall time at their disposal and who have a freshness of mind. My information is that this interviewing, if carried on throughout the day, is a most exhausting type of work.
There is one question with which I do not think the Minister dealt and which has been called to my attention. It is the question of the reinstatement of the women who are to be called up. I understand that when men are called up for military service they have a guarantee of re-instatement after the war, but I am not quite clear whether that guarantee will extend to women as well. If so, it ought to be stated, but the general impression is that in that direction they are not being treated equally with men called up for service.
I would like to hear that explained in detail. As I understand it, a court is of the opinion that that protection under the National Service Act applies only to those engaged in actual military service, and while that position stands, it looks as if some amendment to the wording of the Bill is required to make sure that the intention of the Government is carried out.
I realise the distinction my hon. Friend has made, and that is why up to the present I have distinctly said, "women called up for military service." I do not think this protection is given to women who would be directed to industrial appointments. I feel that on the Committee stage of this Bill hon. Members could usefully devote themselves to an examination of this truly difficult problem. I appreciate its difficulties, yet we cannot leave it where it is. Nothing will do more to undermine morale than for us to pass Bills during the war which we find we cannot carry out after the war. When we come to the reinstatement of women called up, we must face the fact that certain industries will be concentrated out of existence by the time the war ends and that in other cases women will be faced with all manner of most baffling problems. We cannot pass the problem by; we have to face it. Some general obligation should be laid upon employers to understake reinstatement, and, if necessary, a tribunal should be set up to decide what shall be done in those cases where it is claimed that reinstatement is impracticable.
I was interested to hear what the Minister of Labour said in regard to the position of men of the older ages who are now being called up. He said that consideration would have to be given to them, and he referred to the Debate which is to take place on the position of soldiers and their dependants. I wish to emphasise that that Debate, as originally arranged, was for the purpose of discussing the treatment of wives and dependants of men in the Forces. But a new issue has now been raised, arising out of the fact that we are calling up men of the older ages, and, therefore, the issue which will be brought before the House is this: If the health of these men breaks down, the Government must accept their full obligation, and that obligation must not be accompanied by those evasions which have dogged us, cursed us and harassed the lives of Members of Parliament ever since the last war.
In broad terms, I wish to express our general attitude to the Bill as a result of the discussions last week. With a minuteness and precision never before attempted, we are imposing powers to conscript the lives of men and women up to 51. We are convinced if the same ruthless scrutiny was applied in the case
of property and industry, it would be found that in this direction there is an immense hindrance to the national effort. Last week we proposed that, if proposals were brought forward for the further conscription and requisitioning of property and industry on the grounds that it would help our national effort, they should be examined on their merits, and, if necessary, compulsion and conscription should be applied with as much ruthless-ness as in the case of men and women. Perhaps I may be permitted to read one sentence of the speech of the Minister of Labour in reply to that proposal. The Minister made a very important declaration, and it is upon this declaration that we are basing our action in future. He stated:
If the argument is seriously advanced that there should be further requisitioning of either property, services, or industry, in order to secure a more successful prosecution of the war, the Government will examine any specific claim, and will deal with it on its merits, guided by this one principle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1941; col. 1343, Vol. 376.]
We take note of that declaration, which obviously has been very carefully considered by the War Cabinet.
We recognise, therefore, the high significance attached to it, but what it means will depend entirely upon the degree to which it is implemented in the future. Proposals will be brought before the attention of the Government to carry out what we believe should be done, and the response to these proposals will undoubtedly have a very big effect on the future attitude of my hon. Friends to the Government as a whole.
I wish to call to the attention of the Government a series of events which fill me with a good deal of apprehension. The Minister of Labour stated that at present we were getting men and women, especially women, by indirect pressure which this Bill would enable us to remove. If properly carried out, this Bill will remove certain class differences which undoubtedly exist in the call-up of women. So far as I am aware, most working women are already in production, because they have been compelled to find work owing to economic circumstances. On the other hand, women who are in a rather more comfortable position have not been subjected to the same financial pressure, and I am sure that a far larger proportion of these women are outside production. One of the results of this Bill will undoubtedly be that of the 400,000 single women under 30 who will be taken into production, a far larger proportion will come from those who are rather more comfortably off, and whom we wish to bring in under this Measure.
These are the series of events which have caused me some disturbance. I have made fairly careful inquiries, and I wish to bring the matter to the attention of the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) has laid it down that in taking men from highly-paid occupations to lower-paid occupations, we must insist that in making this financial sacrifice there shall be no distinction between workers, technicians, managers and employers. I am sure the House will accept that doctrine. I have reason to believe, however, that it is being evaded in this way: There are two types of Government factories to which men and women will be transferred. Firstly, there are the Royal Ordnance factories, which are owned by the Government, in which everyone is directly employed by the Government, and in which the managers, technicians and supervising staff are paid on Treasury scales of pay. Secondly, there is the other group of factories, also owned and built by the Government, not directly operated by the Government, but handed over to private concerns. They are called agency factories. The agents are paid by the Treasury, and in this case the salaries of managements are far above the Government scales, in spite of the fact that the managements are paid by the Government, because the agency fees which are paid by the Treasury cover these higher scales of salary. Therefore it is a fact that in the same factory to which workers have been transferred, while the workers' wages have dropped from £8 a week to £4 a week, the managers, technicians and heads are receiving very high salaries as a result of this purely illusory arrangement whereby they are apparently paid by the firm but are, in fact, paid by the Treasury I say it is very urgent, because at this moment five immense factories are just about coming into production. They were certainly intended to be built for Government operations, and it was intended that Government scales of salary should be paid. That was expected and intended under the late Minister of Supply, but with Lord Beaverbrook the whole policy has been changed, and all these factories are to be handed over to be managed by private concerns.
I must warn the right hon. Gentleman that I really do not think we can discuss the administration of the Ministry of Supply. He seems to be going rather wide of the Bill.
I think I may say that the Government are fully aware of what I am referring to, and I am in a position now in which I know as much about the affair as the Government themselves. There are suspicions that under the Bill workers will be bandied about, in spite of their loss of wages, whereas certain sections of big business will assist the war effort only on conditions which include high salaries during the war and economic advantages when the war is over. We have now brought this to the attention of the Government, and it is undoubtedly one of the things that we shall take up, and I am not sure that everyone in the Government will be displeased. This is not a feeling which has just suddenly blown up. The speeches delivered last week and what I have been saying have voiced 12 months of accumulated feeling outside the House which has now come to a head in this Measure, which has given us the best, and perhaps the only, opportunity that we shall have of expressing what is so strongly felt.
I am in the position which has been shared by so many in the past that, after four days' discussion of the same subject, one finds that the majority of one's points have been dealt with, generally much more adequately, by previous speakers. However, fortunately there are three or four left, and, no doubt, hon. Members will rejoice that they will not have to listen to more than about half the speech that I should have made had I been lucky enough to catch your eye, Sir, earlier. I am glad in a way that those of our friends above the Gangway have decided that they will not interfere with the clear passage of the Bill by the suggestion that they introduced last week of cluttering it up with the subject of public ownership, not that I am biased one way or the other. As the war goes on, I feel that we shall all have to discard many traditions, shibboleths, old complexes and political views. We shall have to come down to bed-rock and ask ourselves whether a thing is right for the people or wrong. If it is right, adopt it; if it is wrong, let it go. We shall also have to reorient our views on the whole Russian system of government. We shall have to try and ascertain what there is in that system which has compelled or induced men to fight with such endurance, tenacity and courage. We shall have to find out whether there is anything that capitalist Britain and Communist Russia can learn from each other. However, that has perhaps nothing to do with the Second Reading of this Bill.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister or Labour and the Prime Minister on bringing in the Bill and dealing with it, on the whole, in a very humane and convincing way. It is probably a belated effort to repair the omission committed in September, 1939, but one can understand that, lacking the support or co-operation of the political leaders of organised labour in those days, it passed the wit, or the ingenuity, or the courage, of the Government of that day to face the situation squarely and conscript the nation. I am not satisfied that the nation is yet conscripted, but we have gone a long way, and the way that we have taken is, in my opinion, probably the best way for the very awkward squad, as the right hon. Gentleman called our people, and about which he is perfectly right. However, despite the delay which is the result of the timidity shown by the Government two years ago, and despite the fact that our fighting men are drawing a miserable wage of 14s. a week, whereas we see immature, unskilled young men drawing their £4 and £5 a week— [Interruption.] I am not trying to offer a way out. I am merely saying that these things have happened because of the delay that was allowed to occur in conscripting the nation. But, as the delay has been allowed to occur, it is not my position here to try and solve the problem or dig deeply into the reason. It is better late than never to have the Bill now, but it will have to be administered with great tact, justice and firmness, or else it will achieve more resentment than success. We do not know how it will emerge, but I hope, taking it by and large, it will have very little alteration. It is an experiment of which the right hon. Gentleman has had some previous knowledge as to its working, and therefore it will be better to let the steps in the experiment have a full opportunity of showing their worth before any changes are made. I hope the broad principles of the Bill will be maintained. I am glad my right hon. Friend has removed the rigid system of bulk reservation by age which has been the case hitherto.
I thought, when my right hon. Friend was describing the processes by which calling-up would take place, that it would perhaps have been better if there had been three groups so that the first group should consist of unmarried men and women up to 51, the second group of married men and women without children, and the third group of married men and women with children. I realise the psychological value of what my right hon. Friend stated in regard to the effect of this Bill on the fighting troops. I have had letters from men serving on the sea and serving away, in Egypt and elsewhere, in which they express grave doubt about their young wives being thrust into munitions or the Services. I suppose that the jealous young husband naturally thought of the satyr of a non-commissioned officer who would be waiting to attack the virtue of his wife. That is most improbable, of course, but when a man is young and far away and separated from his young wife such a feeling is very natural. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has recognised that and has done his best to minimise it. On one occasion he stated that he had directed a fatherly eye on the methods by which young girls were called up and on their treatment afterwards. I would ask him to go on consulting with the Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office and the Secretary of State for Air in regard to the treatment of these girls after they are moved into the Services. All of us have received letters from mothers expressing anxiety and concern about the unjustified rumours and gossip that go round. If the Service Ministers will develop their paternal instincts a little more and make sure that these girls are protected morally, spiritually and physically, it will do more to help recruiting and to comfort the mothers than all the speeches they may make.
There are one or two anomalies to which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will direct himself. We see young men occupying managerial positions in war producing firms, which no doubt they farsightedly obtained at the beginning of the war, and for which they are often unqualified. The very few labour troubles from which we are suffering are to some extent connected with the untutored and unskilled managements of the war producing firms. There are young men in the Civil Service, the B.B.C. and other public utility corporations occupying positions which women could equally well fill. I make no apology for saying that there are many young clergymen whose jobs could be done by older ministers who have retired and whose faith in God and ability to preach the Gospel are still strong. The same thing applies to teachers and still more to the young women who have done nothing so far. These are all people whom my right hon. Friend could bring into his net. I would ask him to exercise some discrimination in regard to the young women who have been trained to take older men's jobs and who for over a year have been occupying themselves in business so as to "be able to take the place of men who have gone to more active jobs. I would ask him to leave them by the individual deferment scheme until others who have been trained for nothing have been absorbed.
I want to draw attention to a question that is agitating a number of businesses; that is, the apparent lack of co-operation between Ministries. One is the lack of co-operation between the Department of my right hon. Friend and the Home Office. My right hon. Friend wants to get young women out of the shops, but, at the same time, the Home Secretary closes the shops at 4 o'clock. That means there are more shoppers in the restricted hours and, therefore, more assistants are necessary. The very aim of my right hon. Friend is thereby frustrated. That can be easily overcome by co-operation. It does not make sense to me as it is. There is another lack of co-operation between the Board of Trade and the Treasury. The Chancellor is trying to get money direct from the pockets of the saver to the Treasury. The President of the Board of Trade seems to be waging a lone and losing fight in trying to guide that money from the pockets of the saver through the retailer, through the manufacturer, and, finally, by means of the Excess Profits Tax, Income Tax and Purchase Tax, to the maw of the Chancellor. During its journey the money will have created a living for many people, and for many older people, who are now dependent on some form of work outside purely war work. I do not know what the policy of the Government is in regard to trade. I do not know whether they want trade to go on or want to strangle the small man and drive people into bankruptcy. That, however, is what in many cases the present policy is doing. If the Government really want trade to go on and want Britain to be on the ball of the foot, able and ready to take advantage of peacetime conditions when they come, they will have to alter their policy to some extent. In fact, as I see it, the only solution is a Minister of Production who will co-ordinate the duties of the Treasury, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour.
I would end my remarks on a rather difficult and delicate point; that is, the question of the conscientious objector. I have studied a great number of the reports of the tribunals before whom conscientious objectors appear. I have read their views and studied the arguments that were devised sometimes by themselves and sometimes by others, as to why they should not be called upon to fight. I want to make it clear that I completely accept their reasons. They boil down to two. The first is that they are pacifists; in other words, that they do not believe in war. The second is that they do not believe a human being should kill. Are we not all pacifists in that we all want to live at peace? Is it not because we want to live at peace that we are fighting this war? Surely, therefore, there is nothing between the rest of us and the conscientious objector on that point. As to the other reason, that they do not want to kill, who wants to kill? We do not want to kill. Have we not capital punishment for those who kill? It seems to me, therefore, that there is nothing between the conscientious objector and the rest of the community on this point either. One is forced to the harsh conclusion that if the conscientious objec- tor wants to eat and to wear clothes, it simply means that he encourages fighting men to kill and to be killed so that he may be so fed and clothed. It might well follow from that that the only true and logical conscientious objector is one who commits suicide. The other day I was talking to an old Home Guard, a member of a company with which I am associated, and I was congratulating him on the number of drills that he attended, the interest he took in the job, and the readiness that he showed to undertake any hard picket or other job; and he said to me, "Well you see, Sir, every night I say to myself, ' Have I left anything undone to-day? Is there anything more I should have done for victory?" I myself have never been able to answer that question satisfactorily.
I think the Government may well feel, in bringing forward this Bill, that they have the whole country behind them and that the country desires to see it passed as soon as possible; in fact, in most quarters it is regarded as being long overdue. A point was raised during my right hon. Friend's speech about having a discussion on the Home Guard and I should like to rein- force what was said. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that the House should have an opportunity of discussing the proposed changes in the Home Guard before any Government decision is taken. Otherwise, we shall really not have a chance to participate in the decision or to give the Government the advice which so many hon. Members are in a position to offer. I would urge him to make representations to the Government that the House should not be presented with a fait accompli. At the beginning of the Minister's speech I raised a point with reference to the wording of the first Clause of the Bill, where it refers to:
All persons of either sex for the time being in Great Britain.
The Minister said that it was not intended to include aliens in that definition. I think that some alteration will be required during the Committee stage, because the words as they are seem to include aliens, and aliens are far better dealt with, under the Allied Forces Bill, by negotiation with the Allied Governments in this country. Another point arises there in connection with the words, "for the time being in Great Britain." I do not see why British
subjects who happen to be in other countries, particularly the United States, should be excluded from the operations of this Bill. There is feeling about this in the United States. It may be said that they are outside our jurisdiction and that it will be difficult to bring them back here, but I venture to say that there are sanctions which could be applied—deprivation of British nationality and others which perhaps I may have an opportunity of mentioning during the Committee stage— which would bring those people home. In the last war British subjects who were in the United States were brought home to this country. Recently I was talking to a friend of mine whose job it was to go to the United States and by force, by arrangement between the two Governments, to bring back British subjects who came under the conscription laws.
After. I quite appreciate that that point has not arisen yet but my right hon. Friend will also appreciate that Congress yesterday declared war on Japan, and it may well be that in one way or another we can deal with this matter. Within the last month I have taken the opportunity of making an investigation in my constituency, which I suppose is typical in many ways of others throughout the country, of the attitude of the people there towards the conscription of women. I found the general opinion to be favourable to it, provided that it was fairly applied to all persons. There was a feeling that everybody will be on an equality and that nobody will be able to escape. But I do not think conscription for women would be regarded as fair if it meant that a large number of the young men who are now in reserved occupations remained reserved. From what the Minister said I understand that it is intended to deal with that position and to substitute older men or women for those young men.
Then there is the point that a number of parents have considerable reluctance to allowing their children to join the Services, in many cases, no doubt, partly because they have never left home before, and the unknown is always to a certain extent alarming. For that reason they are anxious, if young women are called up, that they should be posted as near home as possible. The Government are proposing to do that so far as they can, although it will be very difficult in practice, because from a Service point of view we must have people who are mobile. I am not myself convinced that the feelings of the parents are in all circumstances justified. When these young people really do get to their units they will be well protected and looked after. In many cases they will be under far better discipline than they have ever been under in their lives. There are many excellent parents who take great interest in their children and do everything they should, but there are also a number of parents who do not, or, it may be, the children do not take any notice of their parents. When young women go into the Services there will be no question of their not taking notice of those who are, in loco parentis to them for the time being, and in talking to women I have found that they do realise that these young people will be better cared for and better looked after than they have been in many cases.
The Government have also announced that they will deal with the question of pay and allowances, which at present are not considered to be adequate. The gap between what is earned in civil life and the pay in the Army is very wide, and it is right that steps should be taken to close that gap, not by reducing wages but by increasing the pay and allowances. There is no doubt, also, that among husbands, sweethearts and fathers there is a very real anxiety—I will put it that way—as to their womenfolk joining the Services. I do not find that there is the same anxiety among the women themselves, among those who are in the Services or among their mothers and relatives, but undoubtedly the men do feel very keenly about it. For that reason it is vital that my right hon. Friend should carry out to the full the undertakings he gave last week, and has given to-day, about the provision of amenities and welfare arrangements and skilled and careful supervision. He has shown a splendid initiative in welfare activities since he took office. His name will be associated with that work for ever, and I hope that he will go on with it after the war. If we are to get this scheme accepted with good will it is essential that everything possible should be done now that this opportunity is with us.
The question has arisen of why women show a preference for one of the three Services above the other. The real shortage is in the A.T.S. I suppose women are to some extent influenced by the attraction of the uniform. They like to look their best and it is quite right that they should. It is a fact that a blue uniform is more becoming to a woman than a khaki uniform; steps have now been taken so to alter the khaki uniform that it will be very much more attractive than it has been in the past.
While he is drawing this picture, would the hon. Member mention that the W.R.N.S. and the W.A.A.F.S. need a good deal fewer numbers than the A.T.S.? The matter has a good deal less to do with the uniforms than with the number of women required in these Services.
It is probably not a matter with which the hon. Lady needs to concern herself. She would look well in any uniform. Many women are attracted by the spirit of adventure. They are interested to know what kind of work they will be called upon to do. It has appeared in the past to them that something of an interesting character would have to be done if they got into an operational unit with the Royal Air Force or with the Navy, but the same certainly applies now to the A.T.S. Women are serving with gun units, and although not actually handling lethal weapons, they are doing work which is of vital importance to the country. The work makes a strong appeal to their spirit of service and adventure. From all the information I have, it appears that, after they have gone through their training, they do the work every bit as well as any man could do it.
So keen are they, that some of them would like to be considered as members of the Royal Artillery. That matter is discussed in those circles. I heard of a case the other days which illustrates the keenness of women to do these jobs properly. Some provision had been made for them which had not been made for the men— wardrobes, I think it was. As soon as they found out that they were being treated more favourably than the men they said: "Take those things way. We do not want to have anything that the men have not." That shows the fine spirit of service among these women. While it is true that no favours are desired by the women, they nevertheless want to be treated with justice and equity. I hope that the Minister will give attention to the question of equal compensation for women with men. There is strong feeling in the House, among persons of all parties and irrespective of sex, that this matter should receive the most serious consideration of the Government.
A further point which arises concerns Income Tax law. If large numbers of women are serving and earning while their husbands are earning, too, there may be a reluctance to direct such women into industry and
This is certainly a matter to which the Government will have to give attention, and I should have thought Amendments could be made to set up some income limit below which the two incomes would be kept separate.
A good deal has been said by the Minister about his reasons for excluding married women from the Bill. No doubt there are good psychological reasons for it. I will content myself by pointing out that there is a good deal of feeling among unmarried women about the inequity of the position in many cases. They feel that the matter might have been dealt with on the lines of going to tribunals, without making this general and widespread exclusion—although I well understand the reasons for it. I hope that the Government will take steps to see that when soldiers come home on leave their wives, whether in the Services or on munitions, shall be given leave at the same time. I believe it is customary to do this in the Services, but it is sometimes a little difficult. There is no regulation on the subject in industry, but it is very important that instructions should be given to enable the two paries to receive leave at the same time.
We shall later be discussing the exclusion of women with children. Perhaps that is not the happiest way of dealing with the matter. These people must have either their own or adopted children. I should have thought a great deal was to be said for excluding those personally responsible for the care of a child living with them. Some women may be in charge of evacuee children and thus be doing essential work. There is a very strong case for excluding them, as well as those in charge of nursery schools or looking after the children of people working in factories. Those points are just as important as the provisions made in the Bill. The Bill will bring home to us the fact that we are engaged in a great, vital struggle for our lives. Women are being asked to play their part more fully than they have done in the past. We know that women are capable of the greatest self-sacrifice and devotion, and I am sure there is no cause in which they will be readier to show those qualities than in the great cause of humanity.
I was very glad indeed to hear what the Minister said about the importance of interviewing at the Employment Exchanges, and it is to this matter that I should like to confine my remarks. The work which is being done by the interviewers is among the most important and human of war jobs. They are helping to decide the future lives of countless women, and I should like to pay a tribute to them. But I cannot help thinking that the work is not all equally good, judging by the number of complaints which are brought to my notice. I quite agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite. I am sure that this work is more especially suited to women over 30 than to women under 30. After all, most of the girls who go for their interview are either very frightened indeed or very defiant, and I think that they are far more likely to be reassured by the advice of a woman with experience owing to her age than by the advice of someone younger and less experienced. I am quite certain that the salary connected with this work is most inadequate; as far as I can gather, it seems to be on the same level of that of the ordinary counter clerk, which I think is far too low for this kind of work. I would like to ask whether it would be possible for the Minister of Labour to have some kind of supervision over these interviewers during the first few weeks. Would it be possible to have a probationary period, so that the unsuccessful ones could be weeded out? After all, it is impossible in one interview to know whether people are going to be good or bad in these positions, and in this particular work we want the very highest possible standard throughout.
I would also like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will look into the question of over-work. I know that interviewing people all day is a tremendous strain, and it seems essential, if these women are to be really effective, that they should mix with and know the employers in the district. During the time they are so engaged they need to be quite sure that their relief staff is competent and adequate, and not just taken from among people who happen to be working in that particular exchange. I would also like to ask the Minister whether he would consider making arrangements for all applicants, whether they are registered or not, to have personal interviews in a separate room when they come to the Employment Exchanges. I think by this method far the best results would be obtained, not only for the individuals but for the country.
There are just two other question to which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to refer when he is replying to-day. Can he say what will be the position of a woman who joins the Services as a single woman and who marries soon after she has joined? Will she have compassionate leave, or will she have to continue in the Forces? The second question concerns the appointments board. I am not quite clear from what the Minister said in his winding-up speech last week exactly what this appointments board is going to do. I hope that when the membership of this board is considered the Minister will not feel obliged to have only one woman member. If he were to start with an equal number of men and women I am quite certain it would be in the best interests of all concerned. I should be very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he could answer these few questions.
I listened to the Debate last week and heard every speech during the whole three days, and I gathered, as we all gathered, that the House was prepared to give the Government these extensive powers to conscript everybody, of any age, who can be of service to the State in this crisis. If the House felt that last week, the events of the last 48 hours must have impressed upon all of us how urgent these powers are to-day, and how necessary it is to use every bit of productive capacity we have in view of the war between Japan and ourselves. We now realise that we cannot rely on the productive power of the United States for some time to come. We have to rely on our own productive power almost entirely for many months. We now realise that the shipping problem will become more acute, and that we must have more productive power directed to shipbuilding, both for the Royal Navy and for the Mercantile Marine. Therefore, while the House agreed last week to this proposal, there are still more reasons for full agreement to-day.
I think the other note that went throughout the whole of the Debate was the feeling that while we are prepared to give the Executive these full powers, the Executive are not utilising with the fullest efficiency the man-power they already possess. Therefore, we should have assurances from the Executive that, in return for our granting these very great powers, they will look at the whole machine of production from top to bottom, and examine every possible means of bringing it up to the fullest state of efficiency. In looking at the machinery from top to bottom, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) said, in the course of the Debate, that he felt that the structure of the governing body of the nation, the War Cabinet, was not fully effective and that there were Ministers in the War Cabinet who were overburdened with Departmental work, above all my right hon. Friend who has charge of the nation's man-power. He suggested that this Executive should consist more of people relieved from Departmental pressure. There are many in the country who agree with that. May I say in parenthesis that the nation feels that when this Bill comes into operation the Executive must be thoroughly efficient? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in forming his Government, naturally had to pay attention to party considerations, party balance and party loyalties, but the great body of sober opinion in the country to-day feels that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has rendered such great services to the nation, and has so established himself as a national leader, that to-day he should choose his Government quite regardless of party considerations or party services.
I bow to your Ruling. I will now turn to the actual question of man-power and woman-power. As regards the conscription of women, they are to be conscripted for industrial purposes and for the Services—two very different things. I approach this question of conscription for women as one holding old-fashioned views, old-fashioned traditions. I do not regard the factory as the ideal place for a woman. I feel that, in a healthy State, woman's place is in the home and that a healthy home should be available to every citizen who does his job for the State. Many social services now performed by the State should be performed by the woman in the home. But I recognise the necessity of industrial conscription for women. We must utilise our man-power to the utmost. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is evidently prepared, as his speech to-day indicated, to use this power in a flexible and understanding manner. If there is too much rigidity, too much centralised control, it might easily lead to discontent. It is quite obvious, for instance, that many married women without children who could work five days a week could not work six days a week, for this reason. They could work for the five days, but they must have one day for shopping and for household duties. In addition, they must have one day's rest. Therefore they can work for five days, not for six. I hope that point will be borne in mind.
I believe that the Minister is prepared to allow women to work for half-days. I hope that will be extended both to men and women, because I believe that in the country there is a great reservoir, in all classes, of elderly people who would go into the factories to-day and work for four hours a day; they could not do more. I believe that would lead to an immense increase in production. They are full of enthusiasm, they want to do it, but the rigid rules prevent them. I hope, too, that we may see consideration given to married women with children, to allow them to work so many hours a day, perhaps mornings only.
I come to conscription for the Services, and frankly, to me, as an old-fashioned believer in tradition, conscription of women for the Services is repugnant. But if it has to be done, as I am afraid it must be done, I do hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will take the utmost care to look after these young women of 20 to 30 who are to be conscripted for the Services. Do let us remember that the average man will take quite kindly to the communal, rough, hard-disciplined barrack life. The average man is a club-able animal, a communal animal. The average woman is not club-able. She is far more individualistic than the average man, and far more averse to being in the mob under discipline. I hope that when these young women come up for their medical examinations the woman doctor will pay regard, not only to the physical health suitable for the Services, but to the whole mental outlook, the whole mental make-up, because I fear that if you get certain types of young women of all classes into barrack life under this rigid discipline, with a lack of amenities, it may have permanently bad physical and psychological after-effects.
Do let us remember that these young women of 20 and 30, whom we are now going to conscript into the Services, are the future wives of the young men now in the Army, Navy and Air Force. They are the mothers of the next generation, and there is an enormous responsibility on the Minister of Labour to see that conditions in the barracks are so arranged as to work no harm to those young women in their future lives. There is another aspect of conscription for the Services— the use, by women, of lethal weapons. I was very glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said that no woman will be forced into this combatant Service —to use lethal weapons. To me, the whole idea of women using lethal weapons in warfare is utterly repugnant and distasteful. I would add that there has been no ruler of England in the last thousand years but would agree with me, from William the Conqueror to Queen Victoria. I am glad that only volunteers are to use lethal weapons. But let the Minister see to it that no pressure is put on any woman. I know how cases can occur where volunteers are called for, and pressure may be put which makes it almost compulsion. I hope that nothing of that kind will occur in this case.
Turning to the conscription of men, these men of 41 to 51, veterans of the last war, who are to be conscripted into the Army, I do hope they will be utilised properly. Some sedentary occupations in the Army are most necessary and most useful. Others, as those of us who have been in the Army know, mean hanging about doing nothing, pretending to do some- work, which is the most heartbreaking thing in the world. We have to remember that many men between 41 and 51 are to-day doing very useful and valuable work in civil life, and if you take them over from work useful to the nation and put them into sedentary jobs in the Army which mean just fooling around, it is a waste of their services. I hope, also, that now we have got this new mass of labour, men and women, called up for the factories, there will be decentralisation. In the Debate last week, requests were made from all sides of the House that the district production committees should each have a full-time chairman and be granted full executive powers. I strongly support that request. I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary a case of decentralisation of production successfully carried out. I do not think the Minister of Agriculture would have used his available man-power in the efficient way he has done, and increased production, except for the fact that he has decentralised on to the county agricultural committees the powers to organise production in each county. I would like to see these district production boards in the same position with regard to munitions of all kinds.
I conclude with this: I believe that we shall want, during the coming year, every available ounce we have of productive capacity in men, women and machines. I believe we may go through very difficult times in these coming months, when the strain may increase and privation increase, when we may have to meet difficulties and dangers. I hope that the Executive, now that they are being given these powers, will so organise production during these winter months that next spring every section of our Armed Forces, the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force, will be adequately equipped to meet every possible contingency.
Althought I cannot agree with many of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), I agree with him that, unless there is a number of safeguards, this Bill will almost certainly fail to achieve its objects. We cannot disregard the fact that this Bill indicates a failure on the part of the Government to mobilise women during the first two years of the war. I believe that the mistakes were made during the first six or 12 months, when appeals were made to women, women came forward and offered their services, and were told that the appeal was premature. As a result, many women were disheartened, and went back to their jobs, saying, "We will wait until we are wanted." I feel that the fault was not on the part of the women. They have been patient—perhaps a little too patient. I feel that the fault has been on the part of the Government, with their clumsy attempts to deal with these problems. Now they are to be given fresh, and very wide, powers. I hope 1hat this will not mean that they will be given fresh opportunities to make another series of blunders.
I am very glad to see the Undersecretary for War here to-day. I feel that the War Office is a little out of its depth in dealing with women. One can understand that. The War Office is traditionally masculine. It must be a great shock for many people at the War Office to find the Army suddenly being supplemented with women. Now that we have conscription, I feel that we ought to review one or two of the mistakes, and ask whether the War Office is now going to adopt different methods. I feel that conscription would have been entirely unnecessary if the A.T.S. had been differently organised from the beginning. We are still trying to live down the past. We are still trying to weed out those women who, because of wealth or influence, were allowed to patronise the higher positions. The Under-Secretary for War shakes his head. I feel that this is so. The A.T.S. are looked upon with a certain distaste. All this talk about the uniform is beside the point. In fact, I think the A.T.S. uniform is extremely attractive. The War Office simply do not understand the psychology of women. I think I am right in introducing this point, because we are dealing with woman-power.
There is a new proposal, emanating from the War Office, that boys of 16 should be allowed to go into the Home Guard. It is being made to sound very romantic, because the boys are being dubbed "powder monkeys." To me, that is a 19th century term. In the 19th century, we also had chimney boys, we had half-timers, we allowed our boys to be used in a way that they could not be used in to-day. This relates to woman-power, for this reason. The War Office have been, and will be, offered hundreds, or thousands, of tough women in this country, who are willing to do this kind of job in the Home Guard for which small boys are to be used. This new policy is bound to fail, because a 20th century woman regards a boy of 16 as a child. Is it conceivable that she is going to send him off to school as a little boy during the day, and at night give him a poker with which to face the Germans, while she hides under the table? The whole approach to this question is quite wrong. The muddled gallantry of the War Office is something that the women of this country cannot understand. I understand that, as a result of this Bill, you are going to ask for 100,000 women, out of the women who are conscripted, to be put on the gun sights. A woman on a gun sight may not be holding a lethal weapon —this term "lethal weapon" is bandied about rather inconsistently—but she is going to wear a battledress, with a tin helmet on her head, and she will literally stand on the target. When the invasion comes, the Germans will swoop down on this target. They will not come down on this House: that will have little attraction for them. Is it conceivable that they will say, ''That figure looks rather small: it must be a woman; we will not touch her''? The Government are conscripting women to put on the gun sights. It is no good saying to me that they will volunteer—I know women, and, of course, they will volunteer. But be consistent. Do not put 100,000 on the gun sights, and then say that in the Home Guard you will not take women, as they are much too delicate, but you will take small boys of 16.
Are we to be assured of more coordination between the Departments? I am mindful of the fact that during the past year the Ministry of Information organised meetings calling for women. These meetings had been organised at great expense, and the speakers, having given their time and energy, had found that, because the other Departments had not been consulted, no transport arrangements had been made for the women and no day nurseries had been provided for their children. This is a waste of money, effort, and woman-power. Let me refer to another example of lack of consultation between Departments. We have the Ministry of Health wondering why women do not come into the nursing profession.
One school of thought suggests that it is because nurses do not like hostels, and I think that that is a real grievance, but another Department in a watertight compartment comes along and spends money, energy and labour in putting up colossal hostels in the country for women workers which are not being used. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft said that perhaps women were more individualistic. I do not know, but one Department has already proved that they do not like hostels. Another Department is wasting a colossal sum of money in putting up hostels. Why cannot we have coordination? Why are there these problems with regard to women.
On the question of the Ministry of Health, I would like to know whether all women working in hospitals will be exempt as a result of this Bill. Women have protested again and again to the Ministry of Pensions against inequitable treatment. This rather concerns the present Bill, because if these women are to be conscripted, then the Government and every Ministry should undertake to treat women more equitably. The pronouncements of the Minister of Pensions on women have revealed a woeful ignorance of the modern woman, and it would be the only just thing to pension women at the same rate as men in the event of their being injured as the result of air raids.
I am sorry. In three or four Departments of State where women's problems are dealt with there has been no consultation and very little co-ordination, and I ask why? I have studied the matter rather carefully and have come to the conclusion that one answer is that able women in Government Departments are kept in subordinate positions. That is a matter of some seriousness. Ministers should concern themselves with the promotion of able women. The conscription of women is a very thorny question. This is something which will concern every individual in the country; it is a matter of great interest to every family in the country. How are the women to be chosen? I think we are all agreed that women with children and heavy domestic responsibilities should be excluded, but I must ask, in spite of what the Minister of Labour has already said, What of the childless married women? Is a wedding ring to act as a magic charm to release its owner from all obligations?
These women can be divided into two classes. There are those whose husbands are in the rank and file. They try to exist on the Government allowance. The Government have pushed these women into industry because the childless married woman who is poor has to work. I come to the childless married woman of independent means. Think of her perhaps living in a country district in a reception area. Are we going to create a privileged group of well-to-do camp followers? Are we going to exclude those women who are wealthy enough to choose a delightful town in some reception area and say to them, "You are married. You have a wedding ring. You have enough glamour to attract some man, and therefore you need not go into industry or the Forces"? We have heard that these women will be directed into industry, but if you have a childless married woman, a woman with wealthy parents living in a delightful country town or a hotel in a reception area, where is the industry into which you can direct her?
Are you to take a spinster of 30, living with her parents, and leave a bride of 20 living in a reception area with parents of independent means? If this Bill is passed without Amendment that injustice will be perpetrated. Is that equality of sacrifice? How can we justify such an attitude towards the women, especially the spinsters, of this country. I hope the Government will not be influenced by the prejudices and traditions of the past to recognise man's proprietary interest in woman.
The Bill which as are now considering is very revolutionary in character. I do not suppose that in all history there has been an order by Parliament or by a king which has gone so far in dealing with the lives of women as this particular Bill seeks to do. That may not be against it but it means that we must consider its terms with particular care. The Government must be careful not to be drastic merely to give the appearance of energy and ruthlessness. In war-time the extreme view is usually popular but it is not always wise. I think that in this Bill the Government have shown moderation. There was a certain amount of interruption of the Minister of Labour when he was dealing with the question of married women in his speech but I am sure he is right. I know the strong feeling in the Services against the conscription of the wives of serving men, and it is a very understandable feeling. I am sure it would have affected the morale of our fighting Services if their women-folk had been sent away from home. I think the Minister has exercised a very wise discretion.
I would support the view which has been expressed in this discussion to-day, namely, that these very wide powers must be used with sympathy and moderation. They contain, within themselves, elements of considerable danger if they are not used wisely. It would be very easy, by exercising these powers too severely, to affect the morale of the country and cause more harm than good. We all know cases of a girl living at home with her aged parents and I hope and believe that hardship committees will say that such girls arc not to be sent away from home. My principal objection to the Government's attiture towards this question of women is that there is too great a tendency to take a woman away from her home and send her to a distant area. I think it could be arranged that a woman might do war work and still go home at night but I will develop that point a little later in my speech. There is another case—that of aged people whose sons are in the Services, whose daughters have probably volunteered, and who have lost all their domestic help, with serious consequences to their health. This has caused great sorrow and anxiety to their children serving abroad and I hope that point will meet with consideration
While one welcomes this Bill, one would like to make some conditions in return for granting the Government these wide powers. I should like to obtain a promise from the Government that certain matters will be reconsidered. First, I should like the Government to reconsider the position of the enormous number of skilled people whose services are not being utilised and to deal with the problem. I would point out that at this moment an enormous number of skilled men are standing idle in the Civil Defence forces. At this moment there are, probably, 100,000 or 200,000 skilled men on duty waiting for bombs to fall. We know what has been our experience in regard to daylight raids, and I think the House will agree that here is an enormous loss of man-power which, in present circumstances, is not justified. I have great admiration for the work of rescue and demolition squads. I have visited a considerable number of these men, and I find that they are anxious to work, but have to stand by trying to fill in their time. I know of one case where 500 skilled men have been standing by for two and a-half years, during which they have had little or no work to do. The Government should reconsider this question and should at least direct that during the day these men should be allowed to work near their centre, to which they would be able to return within a few minutes without endangering the community.
The second matter which I should like the Government to reconsider is the organisation of the A.T.S. I wish this had been a Secret Session, because then I could have replied to some of the Members who have asked the reason for the unpopularity of the A.T.S. Is it beyond the capacity of the War Office to overcome this unpopularity? One of the reasons is that girls from clean homes have, in some cases, been put in the same room with others who have not the same standard of cleanliness. This has nothing to do with class, but it is a matter which causes great revulsion. It is known that in some cases the conditions under which some of these girls are forced to live are unsatisfactory. I am sure that if the Government arranged for friends to work together, and kept girls from the same schools in the same platoons, it would go a long way towards solving this problem.
Those in authority have adopted the principle that, as far as the A.T.S. is concerned, girls are to be taken into the Army. I do not object to that, but I suggest that it would be of advantage to the country and to the Service if, in places like London where, say, 1,000 to 2,000 typists and 5,000 to 10,000 cooks are required, arrangements were made whereby the girls could return to their homes at night after attending to their duties during the day. I am sure it would be to the advantage of the Service.
The objection, of course, is that the War Office is facing a problem quite different from anything to which it has been accustomed. It is accustomed to the fighting man, whose time has to be filled up. With the man in the Army, it is not that he should do a particular job in the shortest time. It is that his time should be filled up so that he does not get bored. It does not matter in the Army whether you use 100 men to do a job that 20 men could do, so long as the troops are kept from being bored. In the case of women we want the smallest number to do the largest amount of work in the shortest time and under the most congenial circumstances. There are a great many women who would be willing and glad to serve in the A.T.S. if they could go home at night but who cannot owing to home circumstances be transferred from London to, say, Scotland or to Wales. I hope the Government will reconsider their policy in that respect. Also I do not know whether they are right in thinking that all the drills now performed are necessary for women. One agrees that the barrack square is an advantage to the fighting soldier but I am not so convinced that it is good for the cooking woman.
The Prime Minister held out some hope that a policy would be adopted under which more use would be made of women who could only give a few hours a day to war service. I hope this will receive sympathetic consideration, but it requires an entirely different approach from the ordinary approach in the case of the whole-time pre-war worker. It requires a sympathetic and understanding approach and I hope something will be done to meet that problem. I am sure the Bill will receive the approval of the House. We are giving the Executive great and novel powers. I hope those powers will be used wisely and will prove beneficial in the meantime and not disastrous in the future. I particularly beg the Government to review the present organisation and methods of the A.T.S. and if they do so I feel sure that the time will not be wasted.
I should like to echo what the hon. Member has just said on the great and comprehensive powers given to the Government under the terms of the Bill. I see on the White Paper in large letters the words "manpower." When I look inside the Bill I find that it covers more than man-power because it brings within its scope every woman and child in the nation. We know the necessity for the Bill. We realise that its object is to increase production and, by the employment of women in the Services and in industry, to release fighting men for the Forces. The entry of Japan into the struggle increases our obligations to ourselves and to our Russian Allies. Our own production and our own equipment must be kept up to the mark. Our pledge to Russia to provide her with equipment must be honoured. I cannot imagine that the women of this country will be one whit behind the women of Russia in that great sacrifice towards victory.
If the women of this country realise, as I believe most of them do, that this Bill is necessary to ensure victory, they will answer the call of the country with no uncertainty. The choice is a simple one. It is a choice of victory or defeat. If it means defeat for this country and the democratic freedom-loving countries, it will mean that the woman of this country will no longer be mistress of her own destiny, but will become the mistress of one or more of the German thugs. Hitler's plans for women, our British women included, if he can win, is that they shall be breeding mates for the Germans. What a prospect—a honeymoon with a Hun, to be a mother of unwanted brats who will be brought up to spy upon and spit at the mother who bore them if she should stand between them and the beloved Fuerher. Now that conscription is well on its way the old glamour idea which surrounded womenfolk must be uprooted, and in place of the glamour of the Services let us put the glory of service. There should
be no coaxing of the women, no Little Lord Fauntleroy approach to them. The Minister of Labour tried all he could, by voluntary means, to be a Little Lord Fauntleroy, but he has found that that will not attract the women as he expected. There should be no coaxing through cosmetics. The women of this country are not asking to be coaxed; they are asking to be controlled. The women do not wish to be considered as timid, retiring, little creatures fit only for the tears of the Prime Minister's formula, "Blood and toil, sweat and tears. "It was said of them in "King Lear":
O, let not women's weapons, water-drops, Stain my man's cheeks!
Kingsley also said in one of his poems:
Men must work and women must weep.
We have got past the stage when women have to do the weeping. We have come to the stage in war-time when women must do the working, and in order to stimulate them, even under conscription, we must remind them sometimes of the great courage the women of this country have shown in the past—Boadicea, Grace Darling, Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and the unknown heroines of the recent blitz in London and other towns. You do not need to put courage into British women; it is innate, it is born in them. We must remind them of their forbears and the great courage they have shown. There is no need to urge the women of this country into industry because vast numbers of them have been born to hard work and understand all that it means. I beg Members of the House not to emphasise too much this forcing of women by legislation Keep away from calling it "Calling up by Regulation." Appeal to them on the higher plane so that conscience will do the conscription and so that they will be constrained to do their duty to their country. Most of them realise that they have a duty to their country, but along with that goes the duty of the Government to the women when they are conscripted.
Some of the problems have been already mentioned and I will not amplify them, but there is the question of transport, of which the Minister saw something when he was in the north-east. In my division there are girls getting up at 3 o'clock on these dark winter mornings and travelling 30 miles in order to be ready to start work at 7 o'clock. The next week they are on a different shift and reach near home about midnight. After the bus drops them they have to walk a mile or two miles in the black-out to reach their homes. Talk about courage. It requires some courage to walk two miles or so in the black-out at midnight in some of those lonely districts in my division, yet the girls are doing it. Of course they are complaining, it is their right to complain, and it is the duty of the Government to try to ameliorate the conditions. I know that my right hon. Friend will do his very best to improve the conditions of transport for those brave girls.
In addition to transport there is the question of wages. I shall say nothing more than has been said by hon. Ladies on the question of the wages of women as compared with those of men. For a long time women have leaned on men. It is all right to lean on men in love-times, but not in war-times. They have not been able to get equality of treatment, although they ought to have it in regard to wages, compensation and pensions.' Something will have to be done about it by the Government.
As to billeting, I do not believe in having big hostels in which dozens of women are herded together as though they were in barracks. They should be in small communities of half-a-dozen to a dozen in large houses. The Government must not be squeamish about taking over large houses for the benefit of the women. I have read of new "hutments" being built for women. What an ugly word is "hutments." There is nothing homely about it. Change the name and change the character of the place. Make these places more like homes for our girls who have to go away. Something must also be done for girls living singly in private billets. A girl may have a billet which is very desirable from all points of view except that of social companionship. We must have near the billets some social centre where they can join their comrades in the evening for proper recreation, because boredom and loneliness are the first things which will lead those girls away from the path of rectitude.
Then there is the question of medical attention. When the girls leave home to go to another district somebody ought to see that they take their insurance cards and get registered with a doctor in the vicinity. If there is a doctor in connec- tion with the works, they should be introduced to him. All possible aid should be given to them from the medical point of view. As to the supervisors, whether they be officers in the Forces or welfare officers, I hope the right type of person is being engaged for this important and responsible work. They must have tact in dealing with the human element and also initiative in providing recreation and social welfare.
The Minister said that the human element is difficult to control. It is far easier to control metals and inanimate materials. The personnel of the supervisors should be of the highest order. They should be women, wherever possible, and they should be neither martinets nor marionettes. We do not want aged, superior people who have lost all the joy of life, or painted dolls dressed up to look like officers. They should strike the happy medium between the severity of the martinet on the one hand and the frivolousness of the marionette on the other hand. It is for the Minister to find that happy medium, that supervisor who will do all possible to make girls and women away from home feel that they have not been left entirely outside in the cold.
There is another type of supervisor I should like to mention, not in the factories or in the Forces, but the supervisor of the children of those who are to be left behind, the children under school age. We do not want a lot of amateurs there. We want somebody who has been well-trained. I know that the Ministry is beginning to train girls to look after the younger children, and I suggest to the Minister that in this country there are many women teachers who married and are now available to take part in the very important work of nursery schools and classes. For a long time we have been behindhand in these matters. I know something about it, because I was for many years in the teaching profession before I came here. During the last 30 or 35 years we have done hardly anything about nursery schools or nursery classes, and we can learn a lesson in this respect from our Russian Ally. In 1935 they had places in nursery schools for about 5,000,000 children. We have places now, I understand, for about 6,000 children. Nursery schools ought to be provided.
It is considered difficult, especially in war-time, to do these things, yet in the schools of this country are many empty places. Owing to the decline in the birthrate, rooms are empty in many schools in the country and which could be used for nursery classes. They should be commissioned at once and trained supervisors should be put in charge of them. There is a lot to be said on the question of part-time employment of women. In my district, although not in my own constituency, the experiment has been tried. The matter is now past the experimental stage. If the Minister would make inquiries from a Bishop Auckland firm where part-time employment for women has been going on for some time, he could probably learn something from the experiences of that firm.
My last point concerns the registration of boys and girls between the ages of 16 and 18 years. I hope that this registration does not mean regimentation.
It is the last item mentioned in the White Paper. I believe it is also covered by the Bill. Clause 1 says:
It is hereby declared that all persons of either sex for the time being in Great Britain are liable to national service.
I take it, that that includes boys and girls of 16. I am submitting that this matter, which is mentioned in the explanatory White Paper, is covered by Clause 1 of the Bill. I take it that that includes boys and girls of 16 to 18.
You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have put a full stop to what I was going to say, but in conclusion may I point out that total war demands total conscription. I am not apparently allowed to go into what total conscription means, because I understand that it was very fully thrashed out during last week's Debate. What I can refer to, however, is the conscription mentioned in this Bill of the women of this country and of the men of the higher ages, and I say definitely, here and now, that the country itself is prepared for a scheme of total conscription so that we shall win a total victory.
My hon. Friend who has just spoken has shown in his speech that, like all other hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate, he is alive to the twofold responsibility of this House towards the Bill which is now before us. On the one hand, we have the responsibility of giving the Government the means which they say they require to ensure victory in the war, and on the other, we have the responsibility to those who are affected by this Measure of seeing that their interests and their well-being are reasonably safeguarded. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) repeated a criticism which is sometimes made of this Measure, that it is belated, and he even went on to say that it was better late than never. But I think the Prime Minister himself gave the answer to that criticism when he said that it was not necessary to call earlier upon those affected by this Bill to make the sacrifice which is now demanded of them. It was not tenderness on the part of the Government, nor disinclination to call for effort and sacrifice, but simply inability to absorb them either in the Services, in Civil Defence or, apparently, in industry.
I want to suggest, however, that there is some merit in the timing of this Measure. Coming at this time, it will bring home to a great many people in this country the fact that we still have a very long and difficult road to traverse. I find, and I have no doubt other hon. Members find the same, that there are still many people who suffer from what has been described as wishful thinking—those Micawbers who are always expecting Germany to crack up sooner or later. I think that a Measure of this kind, at this time, will bring home to them that we still have a long way to go before we achieve victory. It will also have the effect of telling the world that this country is determined to do everything possible to secure victory, that it is not going to limit the effort and the sacrifices it is willing to make. And I would add that this Bill will impose very great hardship and very great sacrifices on a great many people. It means that, by calling up men between 41 and 51, those who took part in the last war will find themselves compelled to fight also in this war, and many of them may reasonably think that they had already done their bit of fighting to make the world safe for democracy. I hope, with other hon. Members, that the Minister of Pensions will realise his responsibility towards these men, and if, after they have been taken into the Forces because they are sufficiently fit now to be taken, they have later to be discharged on the grounds of ill-health, that, without any quibbling on the part of the Ministry, their right to a pension will be guaranteed.
The great change which this Bill makes is in the conscription of women for war. Now it might be argued that the conscription of women for war is the logical result of the granting of the suffrage to women and the right of women to sit in this House; that those rights have given them the opportunity to influence the policy of this country, and therefore they must be prepared to face whatever results from that policy; that you cannot divorce obligations from privileges; that if you have given the women of this country the right and the privilege of voting, they must be willing to accept the obligations which go with it. That may be true, but at the same time there is a considerable amount of concern that a Measure of this kind is necessary. It shows to what a pass modern war has brought mankind, that women have to be brought into it. And if we accept, as we must accept, this Bill with its conscription of women, it will be with no light heart but because we recognise that this action is necessary to save the women of this country, and others, from an even worse fate.
The real author of the conscription of women in this country is the Nazi military machine. That military machine has to be destroyed, and we must do everything possible to achieve that end. But I hope the Government will recognise that the conscription of women exposes them to conditions, and perhaps dangers, from which hitherto they have been free. I join with other Members in reminding the Minister of Labour that we look to him to see that the welfare of these women is reasonably safeguarded. While we have confidence in our womenfolk, and while we have confidence in our menfolk with whom they will be serving, we ask that the women shall not be exposed to greater dangers and temptations than are necessary. By providing reasonable conditions for these women, and reasonable amenities, we believe that a great many of these dangers can be avoided. It may be argued that this Bill does not take the conscription of women very far, in the sense that it applies only to women between 20 and 30 so far as compulsory service in the Army is concerned.
No doubt, the Government are proceeding in the simplest practical way, administratively, in dealing with this matter. But hon. Members are aware that, although the Bill begins in this way, the conscription of women is not likely to end there. It has been said that it is only le premier pas qui coûte. Having accepted the principle, we shall have to accept the logical consequences of that principle. I would like to ask whether, under this Bill, if will be possible for women to be sent to serve abroad? I believe that that question has not been raised, and it is a matter of some concern to those who are affected by this Bill. The Nazi military machine must be destroyed because Nazi-ism is the most evil thing that this world has ever seen, and if it were not destroyed the lights of freedom, decency, toleration, mercy and of honour would go out, and if these were ever put out everywhere who can say when, if ever, they will be relit again?
I think that every speaker who has dealt with the Bill so far has welcomed it, and, indeed, the only criticism we have had is that it does not go far enough. I believe that it goes as far as it possibly could go, and I have a doubt whether it will be administered in the spirit in which the powers have been conferred. The House in the past has conferred very drastic powers upon the Government, and they have not been utilised to anything like the extent which the House expected. The Ministry of Labour has been in the position of being able to call up large numbers of women for industry, and although it has called up many age groups, the net result of the calling-up on the part of the Ministry of Labour has been very disappointing.
Therefore, it is time to draw a distinction between the powers that are being conferred upon the Government and the use that may be made of them. Take, for instance, in connection with registration, the number of women who have been interviewed. We have been told that not more than one woman in four has been interviewed, and one of the reasons for it has been that the organisation of the Ministry of Labour has not been capable of dealing with more women. This is a question which has been raised by a number of Members in the past. One realises the very important work involved in interviewing, and there has been some criticism of the quality of the people who have carried out these interviews. It has been said that some of the women who carry out the interviews are not old enough to deal with that task in a serious way, and I believe there is something in it, although, on the whole, I am bound to say that my own experience has been that the interviews have been carried out in a sympathetic and tactful manner, and I doubt whether there is any serious criticism of the manner in which it has been carried out. If the Ministry of Labour has found it difficult in the past to carry out the number of interviews that were really necessary, one wonders how it is going to carry out the very much larger number of interviews that will become necessary if this Bill is implemented in the manner which the House expects. We have been told that there has been difficulty in getting the requisite number of interviewers. I should imagine that it will be necessary to multiply the number of interviewers at present in the service of the Ministry of Labour by two and possibly by three. I wonder whether consideration has been given to this very important problem.
This Bill gives rise to very important administrative questions. The House will be very disappointed indeed if the Ministry of Labour, having taken these vast powers, does not act more promptly and more expeditiously than It has been acting in connection with the women who have been registered until now. I would like to ask whether it is proposed to send for training any of the women who will be called up. Unless you can secure a very substantial addition to the numbers of skilled and semi-skilled workers in the factories, you will not be able to use effectively the women who will be called up. I do not know the exact number of skilled and semi-skilled people required in proportion to unskilled. It varies with different sections of munitions work, but, as I have said, unless you get skilled and semi-skilled workers in the necessary proportion, it will not be found possible to use the unskilled workers who will be coming into the factories. Therefore, it is of vital importance to ensure that a substantial proportion of the women who will be called up are trained in Government training centres or technical colleges. Indeed, we know that industry to-day is suffering from a shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers, and we must not neglect the training of those who are about to be called up.
It is a corollary to the calling-up of more people for compulsory service that the best possible use should be made not only of those who are to be called up, but of those who are already in industry. Further, that is an additional argument for securing the maximum amount of training. According to the White Paper, I see that it is proposed to substitute individual reservation for block reservation and that it is not proposed to apply this to the Civil Service, which will have its own scheme. I would he glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us what is the scheme it is proposed to introduce for the Civil Service. In the Debate on the Address recently the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) referred to embusqués in the National Fire Service, but it seems to me that the right embusqués are to be found to a much greater extent in the Civil Service.
I am well aware of that. I was speaking of the large number of temporary civil servants of military age who have been included since the war, and I feel that there should be a drastic comb-ing-out by the Ministry of Labour of these relatively young men. We have heard a good deal of criticism about the Central Register. Every hon. Member knows that thousands of men and women over military age have offered their services to the Government. They could carry out the work that is being done by the relatively young people who have been introduced into the Civil Service. I know personally of men who have been introduced into the Civil Service through their personal influence with people in Whitehall. I say nothing about the permanent civil servants, because you must have a backbone of permanent people who are accustomed to administration. I think they are doing an admirable job and are working tremendously hard. I have no criticism of them to offer, but I make very serious complaint about the large number of relatively young men who have been introduced in the Civil Service during the war.
Local government servants have not the same privileges of reservation as Government civil servants. Another criticism which I wish to make is that insufficient use has been made of women. Many of the posts which are being filled by men could adequately be occupied by women. In answer to a Question in this House, a statement was made that only 13 women in the Civil Service had a higher rank than that of principal, and of these only one had been recruited since the war. It seems to me to be a very serious reflection on the women of this country that they should not be able to provide recruits for the higher positions in the Civil Service and other places. I believe that, given a chance, they could satisfactorily fill these positions and release the relatively younger men for more active work. I suggest also that insufficient use is being made of women in industry. A limited number of women, mostly show women, have been introduced in certain factories, and these women are always produced— very often the same woman is produced over and over again—to exemplify what women can achieve.
It is certain that insufficient use is being made of the skill which women are acquiring in the realm of industry. We have to secure not only numbers but quality, and, unless we make the fullest use of our woman-power, we shall not obtain the maximum output. When people are called up they must be found work. I know of a number of cases of men who have passed through a Government centre, and have passed their tests, who have waited for months before they could be found work. In the meantime these men have been asked to attend a Government training centre, and they have been drawing £3 15s. a week while waiting for a job to turn up. There is a number of cases of this sort at one training centre that I have in mind. I have written to the Parliamentary Secretary's Department on this subject, but the fact remains that it is useless to call people up for war work unless work is available for them. It will require a good deal of imagination and organisation. Perhaps the best use which can be made of the large accretion of man- and woman-power which will be available as a result of this Measure is to make better use of our factories and plants. Far too many factories are doing a one-shift system, working for nine to 11 hours a day and then closing down. We are going to be very short of machine tools, and it is essential that we should save factory space.
I submit, and I should have thought it axiomatic, that the most economic use of factories and machinery is to work them, so far as is possible, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Unless we work these factories and machines to the fullest possible extent, we shall not get the best out of them. We know that all over the country factories are being built at enormous cost of man-power and money which would not be necessary if existing factories were fully used. At the same time we are bringing over from America, and producing ourselves, machines which would not be necessary if existing machines were fully used. Therefore I hope the use that will be made of the women who are called up will be to increase the number of shifts, so that you get in every factory so far as possible a three-shift system working seven days a week. I should like to ask what is to happen to men over military age who have registered under the Industrial Registration Order and have been directed to take up employment and are now working in munitions factories and other places. They are subject to this Bill, but is it proposed, having uprooted these men once, to uproot them again and put them into the Army?
The Bill provides that women may be directed to go into the service of private employers. When the Government take control of the lives of these people, they must also accept responsibility for their welfare and conditions of employment and secure that there is equity as between one person directed to one job and another directed to another. Unless you can secure this equity and these suitable conditions, you will not get the best out of the workers who have been directed to private employment. It is essential that you should secure their good will, and, therefore, there is a greater need even than in the past for a wages policy. We must remove the anomalies which will be increased as a result of the power taken to direct women to private employment.
We must ensure that unskilled people do not receive more pay than skilled, and we must secure that wages are not unduly low. Cases have been reported of women who had been sent to training centres and received a subsistence allowance and had then been sent to a job where they received 3s. a week less than while at the training centre. Where wages are unduly high and services are not being rendered for those wages, something must be done about that. I have no objection to high wages if adequate services are being rendered for them, but there are cases where no adequate service is being rendered.
It is essential that the Government should adopt a wages policy, and I think the fundamentals of such a policy are clear. There should be a minimum wage for the unskilled worker, the pay of the skilled worker should be higher, and there should be more pay for essential than for non-essential work. It would be simple to frame a policy which would be equitable to those who are about to be directed into employment and also to those in the Fighting Services. I believe that the trade unions would welcome a sounder, more rational and more equitable wages policy. Such a policy would make for increased production, and it is essential that it should be introduced. I believe that the Bill is a good and, indeed, an essential Bill. It should be vigorously and energetically carried out. If it is, I believe that it will be the opportunity for constituting the most important step that we have so far taken towards winning the war.
I do not propose to make the speech on the subject which I had thought was possible, because I believe that you, Sir, would rule me out of Order. I was wanting to raise that end of National Service which has so far not been mentioned by any speaker except my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton), who tried but failed. As this is an important question which may cause a profound modification of the whole education system, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can give a pledge from the Government that we shall have before Christmas a full day to debate it? If you rule out of Order any discussion on the proposals to register those between 16 and 18—
I only want to get the position clear. If it is ruled out of Order, I must ask the Government to give us a full day before Christmas, because I understand that the young people between 16 and 18 will possibly be forced to register in January. Reference to this whole question is only in the White Paper and not in the Bill. We are suffering at the moment from a lack of pre-training for all the Services for men and women, and here is an opportunity which has never been given to the country before to do something which is bound to change the whole education system of the country. There can be no two opinions about it. There are 750,000 young people between 16 and 18, and 160,000 of these are in the Air Training Corps. I want to ask the War Office what they are going to do with these young people and what their plans are for cadet corps and the Home Guard. I also want to ask the Minister of Labour whether he is proposing to go on with the 56-hour week and similar questions which would clearly be out of Order to-day.
My last question is in Order. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) made a sinister remark when he said he hoped more teachers would be called up. Does he realise than 20,000 teachers have been called up and that the 16 to 18 scheme will be impracticable if another man is called up? The hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) talked about interviewers, but there will be nobody to interview these young people if more teachers and leaders are called up. When we debate this question there will be great differences of opinion. My hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey), for example, has other views. Therefore, I ask the Government to give us a pledge that before Christmas we shall have a full day to discuss this important aspect of the problem.
I want to focus the attention of the House upon one particular problem which is likely to arise under this Bill. It concerns the water problem of the country. In the opinion of all those engaged with waterworks, it is a very vital question. I was asked to speak on behalf of the Waterworks Association, which represents all municipal and private enterprises, and many hon. Members have asked me to represent them and say they will support what I am about to say on the subject. I hope the House recognises how vital it is to maintain our water supplies, first for fire-fighting purposes, secondly for the needs of industry, including the manufacture of munitions, and, thirdly, of course, for the health and convenience of the community. The. fact that the water supplies are likely to be cut off as a result of air raids presents a terrible problem. We saw it during the intense air raid attacks in the winter of 1940–41.
Those who are responsible for ensuring the water supplies of the country feel that sufficient attention is not being paid to the needs of this industry now that more people are to be called up for the Services. The water undertakings are managed by a comparatively small personnel. Altogether there are about 13,000 for a population of 40,000,000 people, which works out at about three persons to every 10,000 people. Gas and electricity undertakings require 10 persons for each 10,000 people. As much as possible has been done, I am informed, to replace regular personnel by women or older persons, but there is a large number of employees who cannot be so replaced. These include not merely the technical and engineering people to whom reference is made in the White Paper; it is very difficult to find those required for the heavy labour which can be done only by youngish, keen men. The repair of mains during a blitz and sometimes in the worst possible weather is hard work and requires tough workers, and despite all that has been said during the Debate about women workers, I think there are not so many of that sex who would be competent or prepared to undertake this heavy work.
Certain exemptions will be made, and it is possible that my right hon. Friend the Minister may have referred to this aspect of the matter in introducing the Measure, but I did not quite catch the suggestions he made, and the White Paper indicates that there will be only certain exemptions for certain industries, and they do not include water undertakings. Agriculture, building, coal mining and the Civil Service are mentioned, but not water undertakings. If these are mentioned, why is water not mentioned? It must mean that less attention is to be given to the water supply than to coal mining, building and the Civil Service.
This is not attacking the Government at all. The water undertakings recognise the needs of the other side, but they suggest a reasonable compromise between the two, worked out in co-operation. We fear that insufficient attention will be given to the essential needs of the water industry. It is suggested that any arrangements come to must be by individual application. I have had a lengthy communication from the manager of the Sunderland Waterworks saying that he has already acted on those lines, that he has applied for forms and that he has to fill up 200 forms for the employees in his waterworks. Each of those applications will have to be inquired into separately. Who is to inquire into them? Although he understands the position, he maintains that only people who understand the waterworks industry could make that inquiry and not people outside, however competent and trained they might be in such matters as engineering. Perhaps that is taking the argument rather far, but it is certainly true that there will be great difficulty in dealing with individual applications.
Why cannot some arrangement be come to similar to that made in regard to coalmining and agriculture? Apparently an arrangement has been proposed. A circular letter has been issued by the Ministry of Health in regard to the transfer of skilled labour to war industry, in respect to the statutory water companies. The Circular, dated 13th November, 1941, appears to suggest that there has been a tussle—a friendly tussle, I am sure— between the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health on the subject. The Minister of Health appreciates that many water undertakings are essential services and says that if arrangements are made to reduce their staffs, sufficient staff must be left to deal with such matters as breakdowns in the supply of water. At the same time, he stresses the point that men should be spared wherever possible. In the ordinary way, the officers of the two Ministries are to work together, but the letter says:
it should be noted, however, that the return of former miners to coalmining is to some extent an exception to the general arrangements.
What is to happen about this exception? Apparently the two right hon. Gentlemen are not able to agree upon the subject. The letter states:
The officers of the Ministry of Labour and National Service"—
the Minister of Labour having won this round—
cannot take the initiative in consulting the
Ministry of Health…. If any case arises in which a water undertaking cannot reach agreement with the local office of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, they will probably think it wise to make a report to the senior regional officer (or one of the regional engineers) so that the latter may be in a position to discuss the case, if necessary, with the Regional Controller.
It is possible to make an arrangement with the Regional Controller. If that can be done, why should there be this exception in the case of coal mining? Coal mining is essential to the country, but water is still more essential. Both are essential to munitions production, but coal is not essential for putting out a fire, whereas water is. I hope that we shall be able to discuss this matter with the Minister of Labour. We have asked for a special deputation but have not yet had a reply. We hope we shall have one soon, so that a meeting can take place to thrash this matter out. Special consideration will, I hope, be given to water as well as to coal.
I hope, after the arguments that have been put forward by the last speaker, that my right hon. Friend will concede the point he was making, though I am unable to see what the reference to coal putting out fires and water has to do with the case he tried to press upon the Minister. In all seriousness, I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister of Labour, who has had to introduce this very undesirable and unsatisfactory Bill. He knows as well as most of us in this House know that this Bill would not have been tolerated for one moment if there had not been a sense in the House of the direst necessity and of the country's needs. We know it, but, as the Minister has said if his advice had been taken before the war, it might not have been necessary to have come to- this stage. He said in the last Debate in which he took part:
I have never been under any delusion about the German war machine. Nobody in the Labour party can accuse me of that. For years past, when many would not face up to the position, I stood up at conferences, year after year, and tried to make it plain."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1941; col. 1358, Vol. 376.]
My right hon. Friend may not know that I was also of the same opinion as he before the war, and that is one of the reasons why I did no1 vote against the original Bill that was brought in and why
I do not propose to vote against this Bill to-day. But let the House be under no illusion whatever: I am not satisfied with it, and I shall want many guarantees and safeguards before I shall give my wholehearted support to a feature of our life which I think is entirely objectionable. To compel women—our daughters and our wives, if you like—to go into filling factories is something we ought to consider seriously before we send somebody else's daughter or wife into that job I wonder how many daughters or wives of hon. Members here will go into the filling factories. How many hon. Members have seen these filling factories? I say quite frankly that I should not like my daughter to go into one of them, and it would only be under the greatest urge that I should allow her to go there. But even if I did, I should insist, as I think the mothers and fathers of this country will insist, upon every possible safeguard for her moral and material welfare. I am not satisfied either in that respect, or with the Defence Services that we are getting the utmost we can in that connection.
I speak with a good deal of knowledge of the military machine and of the War Office, and I say that the War Office and the Army form one of the tightest bureaucratic machines we have in the country. I therefore say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who must depend on our support and on that of our constituents if he is to obtain the greatest effect from this Bill, that we must have a different system from that which exists at the present moment, not a system which, when we bring forward complaints, simply meets us with a blank wall as the War Office so often does. There are many features of this Bill that one could speak about to-day, but I do not want to speak for too long, and so I shall only deal with the general principle.
One thing I have in mind is, I think, likely to have a powerful influence in the country in mobilising effort, thought and morale behind our war machine, and that is the way in which we are going to treat these old soldiers who will be called up as a result of this Bill. We have no guarantee that they will be properly treated. At the present moment we are dismissing men from the Forces on the ground that they are too old. We are dismissing officers. The other day I saw a letter from the Army Council to a certain officer giving him his congé. The officer came to me. I am quite certain he would have been of immense value in an operational rôle in the field. It is true that he is over 50. I myself am getting on for 48, and at the beginning of this war I was told by the Secretary of State that I was too old for a commission. Now I am told by my right hon. Friend that I am one of the elderly men coming under this Bill.
There are many exceptions to the general rule which has been laid down about age, but the trouble is that the War Office will not recognise that. Why, they dismiss Sir John Dill because he is 60 years of age, but they appoint as G.O.C. of the Ninth Army another officer who is the same age. This is the sort of thing we cannot understand. Although we have no objection in principle to giving the Government these powers, what we do insist on is that they should be properly used. Are they properly used? The Minister to-day gave a very illuminating illustration of the Government's lack of foresight, even after the war had started. He told us how he had made all sorts of provision for hostels and billets because they were going to be placed near to certain factories, but the blitz came and he had to scrap the whole scheme. I remember before war started, when all sorts of estimates were made as to the effects of enemy air-raid action. In spite of all that evidence collected—and the blitz has never come up to pre-war expectations—we go on with plans which we have to scrap right in the middle of the war. Can it be wondered at if some of us are disturbed in our minds about the way in which these men and women will be used? We have read the Beveridge interim Report. We have not seen the Beveridge full Report. I can well understand, if it deals with some of the ways in which the Army misuses men, the doubt which will arise in the minds of many Members when they come to consider this Bill.
Continuing my example of the officer who has been told to resign because he is over age, that officer, a capable efficient officer, against whom there is no adverse report, who has been complimented on his work, will now be eligible to be called up in the ranks. If you are going to have that sort of feeling among many officers who are dismissed in that way, that they are to be turned out of the Army as officers one minute and called up the next minute as other ranks, I do not think you will get the best possible response to the Bill or the best possible war effort. These might seem to the House just trifling anomalies, yet the Army is full of anomalies like these. They could be multiplied 10,000 times if I had the time, and if the House cared to listen.
We have to be quite certain that this Bill is going to be accepted in the country. I think sometimes that Members talk far too glibly in this House about the acceptance of legislation in the country. There is not the slightest doubt that all over the country mothers and fathers are up in arms against it. I can understand that. You have to convince them, first, that it is entirely necessary, not an easy job by any means, in view of the many statements they have heard of both inside and outside this House about the misuse of man- and woman-power. Secondly, you have to convince them that, when you take their daughters and their wives, you are going to make proper use of them and will not misuse them industrially or militarily. Thirdly, you have to convince that large, well-meaning body of people that this is not to be merely a sausage machine for our man-power, that it is to be something which will help us to win the war and not continue the series of muddles, disasters and mistakes that have continued ever since this Government and its predecessor have been in office. It would be out of Order to discuss the issues raised in my previous sentence, but they are in the minds of the country, and you have to find some answer. This will not produce a pincer movement. Any hon. Member who understands military tactics knows that no pincer movement can be successful without the two prongs operating. If one is not followed up by the other, it means a flank attack. The mobilisation of man-power and woman-power is one prong. There is one other which is lacking. We are not allowed to mention it to-day, but it is coming up at some future date, and the Government had better take note.
It is not always easy, on an occasion like this, to make up one's mind whether one should make a speech or answer questions which have been put by hon. Members. I think that the best plan to-day is for me to answer as many of those questions as possible. My right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) began by reminding the House that the circumstances of the war at the present moment made this Bill even more urgent than it was before. I do not think anyone will disagree with that. He referred particularly to the matter of reinstatement, and I should like to say here and now that the provisions with regard to women are exactly the same as they are with regard to men, in so far as women are to be called up under the National Service Acts. I do not think this is an appropriate occasion to deal with that very difficult matter fully. We all know the difficulties in which we are involved, and my right hon. Friend is doing his best to think out some plan for solving them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley also referred to the question, which had been raised in last week's Debate, of further State control. I have nothing to add to the two very careful replies given by the Lord President of the Council and the Minister of Labour last week. The test in these matters is the winning of the war. This is not the time to debate the theoretical merits of one particular form of organisation or another. After the war, no doubt, we shall have plenty of opportunities of doing so. So far as I am concerned, I believe that the notion of unrestrained and uncontrolled capitalism, divorced from all social duties and obligations, is as out of date as that of complete State ownership. Let us apply to the present situation the lines of Pope:
For forms of Government let fools contest,
Whate'er is best administered is best.
There were a number of questions from the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr.
Silkin). He asked whether men who were over military age who have registered and been put by the Minister of Labour into work of national importance, will be moved from that work. The answer is that in all ordinary circumstances they will be left where they are. The hon. Member also made a criticism of the arrangements for combing out the Civil Service. I thought at first that he was criticising civil servants for not having gone to the war. I want to make it quite clear to him that the Schedule of Reserved Occupations does not merely give an excuse for not going to the war, but it says definitely that people who come under it cannot go to the war; so it is unfair to criticise civil servants or anybody else, if the Schedule of Reserved Occupations has prevented them from going into military service. The criticism which my hon. Friend made, I think, was directed to those who have entered the Civil Service since the war began. They, like permanent civil servants, are now coming within the review carried out by the Kennet Committee, and the age of reservation for administrative, executive and clerical classes is being raised by five years on 15th December, following the recommendation of the Kennet Committee. This raising of the age by five years takes the place of the progressive age-raising scheme by one year which the Minister described for other occupations, and the question of raising the age still further is a matter for consideration by the Kennet Committee in due course. I do not think that the House need have any anxiety that this matter will not be pursued in the terms of the Kennet Committee's Report.
That is not exactly what it means. The age has been raised by five years, and the men within that five-years group are subject to a special examination. Under the other system which is being applied to the rest of industry the age is being raised by one year at a time, and the same principle applies. I do not think that I can fully answer here the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) with regard to waterworks. The matter will be carefully considered.
I can assure the House that we gave the closest possible attention to the matter which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans has raised and regard it as of great importance, but I do not think it is particularly wise here to pursue this subject.
As there is great interest taken in the reservation of civil servants on both sides of this House, would my hon. Friend be good enough to devote a little more time to this subject in explaining what is intended, as it appears, on the face of it, to be a very astonishing situation?
The Minister of Labour tells me that he stated last week that he would make a special statement on this matter later, but the report of the Kennet Committee was made some little time ago, and already, in answer to Questions by Members of the House, the position has been made clear. It the Noble Lord will be good enough to study the Report and see the reply that the Department has given to that point, I think that the matter will be clear to him. The age is being raised by five years this month, whereas under the other scheme the ages are to be raised by one year each month.
Will the hon. Gentleman say what will be the actual age of calling up local government workers and officers after this Bill becomes effective? Will it be raised or lowered, or is there to be any alteration at all?
There is nothing in this Bill which governs that point at all, but under the scheme which the Minister described to-day the Schedule of Reserved Occupations hitherto governing these matters will gradually come to an end, and a system of individual deferment will take its place. When that happens, officers of local authorities will fall to be dealt with under the scheme. The manpower Boards for deferment that are being set up by the Department will deal with the matter.
Will the hon. Gentleman state his reasons for using individual reservation in the case of the vast man-and woman-power of the country, and yet, when it comes to civil servants, including temporary civil servants, he is to use the block system?
The hon. Member evidently has not quite understood what has been done. Individual deferment will be given to civil servants, but a wider stretch of years will he taken at one step. That is the recommendation of the Kennet Committee, and that is what the Minister proposes to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), in an interesting speech, took the view that women were not well suited for military life, but I think he should be reminded of the choice which is given to women under the terms of the Prime Minister's announcement. He also drew attention to a matter to which we in the Ministry attach great importance—the greater use of women for part-time work. It is a matter which needs organisation, which employers find difficult and not without disadvantages, but it is something which we have to ask them to do, and I hope very much indeed that there will be an increasing effort on the part of employers to meet the Government's wishes in this matter. It is a question of organisation more than anything else. Great reserves of woman-power such as can be brought into the war effort by that means can only be used if this is done.
Throughout the House there has been general acceptance of the proposals which have been put forward. One or two points which were raised could, I think, be best dealt with when we come to the Committee stage. The object of this Bill is to declare a general liability for National Service for every person in Great Britain. I will deal with one point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) when we come to the Committee stage. It is a slightly technical matter which we must go into carefully.
The other two main objects of the Bill are these: to give the Government power to call up men between 41 and 51 for the Armed Forces and to give us power to call up women for the Armed Forces. Men between 41 and 51 will be called up for static military duties and not active military duties, and provision will be made for the usual rights to apply for postponement of calling-up if they had already registered when 40 and if they have since ceased to be liable. That is a small, but not unimportant, point.
So far as women are concerned, there has been a certain amount of criticism, particularly by women, as to the exemption of married women. I hope the House will appreciate that it has not been done merely on sentimental grounds. In the first place, from a purely mechanical point of view, it has very great advantages. There are something like 2,500,000 married women between 20 and 30, and the House will appreciate that by far the greatest number would have to be exempted whatever system was devised. Of course, the real reason for exempting these women from military service is because military service involves their going away from home. We must not forget that home is still the greatest "Q" organisation in the country. It manages to feed, clothe and look after a great number of men and women who are working. To take away the people who are running the homes would mean that you would find it impossible to carry on the war effort. Married women are, on the whole, immobile, and that is a point which must be remembered. They are, of course, liable to direction to work if it is available near their homes, and as the war effort intensifies the chances of such work being available are very much greater.
Who are these married women whom we are exempting? They are the wives of soldiers, sailors and airmen, the wives of workers and the wives of citizens in general. My right hon. Friend said, so rightly, that you have to consider the position of men in the Forces, and consider their feelings and what they are fighting for. The average man who is fighting for home and country is not thinking of England at large; he is thinking of some little house in Glasgow, Manchester or Swansea, and he is thinking of going home to that little house one day. The hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) talked about the proprietary right which men thought they had over their wives.
As the Parliamentary Secretary is referring to what I have said, will he deal with the point which is at issue? I am quite willing to exempt all these women, because I value the home just as much as he does, and just as much as any other man or woman does in the country. But, does he not think it is unfair that young married women who are living in reception areas with their parents should be exempt?
I have pointed out already that these women are available to be directed to work, but I think if the hon. Lady thinks this matter out she will form the view that it is sensible to frame a law to deal with the great majority of people, rather than to cover just a narrow section of the community. There may be something to be said for her view that there is a lacuna in that particular respect, but there are very few women who are not taking their full part in the war effort. Far the greater number of these wives who are being exempted are doing a very full day's work; in many cases their husbands have been taken away from them, and they have no moral support from their husbands in their anxieties in bringing up their families. Therefore their work has not been made any easier. We must not forget that these married women may volunteer for the Services if they are in a position to do so, and that every encouragement is given to them to volunteer.
I do not think the House as a whole feels that women are not doing what they should in this war. On the contrary, I believe that the House as a whole are very proud of them, and feel that they are doing a great deal more than anyone could have expected. Think of the feelings of the men in the Fleet, in the Air Force and of the men, perhaps in Libya, when they come to hear about this Bill. They will be relieved when they hear that their wives are not to be taken away from their homes. One hears a good deal of talk about a lot of young women gadding about, going to cocktail parties and enjoying themselves, but I do not believe that there is so much in that as some may think. Not every woman you see walking about in a smart hat, with lipstick on her lips, is an idler. In these days women like to be smartly dressed, and it is quite right that they should. It is quite right for them to enjoy themselves and to go to the "movies" after a jolly good day's work. As a rule they are just spending their time off. The point which, perhaps, has not been entirely appreciated by Members who criticise the Bill—and they are not many—is that there is a choice before women who come under this Bill. If a woman thinks she is temperamentally un-suited for the Services, she has the alternative of doing certain war work in industry or certain duties in connection with Civil Defence.
We must not forget that women engaged on vital war work will not be called up. There is not to be a list of reserved occupations as there was to begin with in the case of the men—we are bringing it to an end for them—but there will be a list of vital industries and services from which women will not be taken, and into many of them women will be put. No women will be taken away from munitions industries, transport services, agriculture, nursing services, full-time Civil Defence Service; and those doing domestic work in hospitals will be left where they are. Teachers will not be disturbed.
The authority for saying that it will be so must be what I have just said, which will be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but a full list of industries and services will shortly be issued. That, of course, is an administrative act and is not part of the Bill.
No, I did not say that. [Interruption.] I do not think it would be possible or wise to give an exhaustive list on this occasion. It would take too long and it would be quite out of place. I have given a few examples to illustrate the system.
It will be an administrative act, exactly the same as the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. It will change from time to time as the circumstances of the war demand, and it is not a thing with which the House of Commons would wish continually to be bothered.
I do not know whether the House has fully appreciated the new machinery of man-power boards which is to be set up. They will have the duty entrusted to them of deferring men and women who would otherwise be called up, and they will have the advantage of a woman member, and any woman who wishes to have her calling up deferred will have the opportunity of making representations: so will her employer.
Will the Ministry of Labour make inquiries as to the industrial experience of members of these boards, or is the Minister going to continue to rely on the absurd practice of putting thousands of people to do work similar to this who have had no industrial experience at all?
The boards will be staffed to some extent from experienced officers of the Department, and I do not think the hon. Member need have any anxiety that these posts will be filled with the greatest care indeed.
I should like to say a word or two on the question of interviews, which was mentioned by the hon. Members for East Islington (Miss Cazalet), Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton), and Peckham. I think that the House as a whole has formed the conclusion that this interviewing has been well done. I have received a number of letters from hon. Members and a certain number of complaints, but in relation to the number of interviews conducted, which is over 900,000, the number of complaints is not large. I should like to suggest that the staff which has been engaged on this work has been doing it very well. It was largely new work for which no one had had previous experience. It was a duty put upon a staff which was not created primarily for this purpose, in the early part of this year, and was a duty which they never expected. I am not going to deny that there may be odd cases where interviewing officers have given cause for complaint; and the suggestion that older women should not be interviewed by youngish interviewing officers is one which the Minister has already had in mind, and he is making arrangements to try and see that it does not happen. I altogether deny the suggestion that on the whole this work has not been well done.
There has been criticism on both sides. I have had complaints from people who say that the interviewing officers are much too slack, and others who say that they are much too severe. There are different points of view, and when people have to consider cases where they are personally concerned their judgment is not as good as it would be if they were considering other people's cases. A good many of the complaints have come from employers. I have sympathy with them and can understand their point of view. It has not been an unusual thing for the girl who is interviewed to put a little more stress on the instructions which she has been given by the interviewing officer than the facts of the situation warrant. One can understand that point of view. A domestic servant, for instance, may go back to a mistress with whom she is not anxious to stay, and say that she was told at the Employment Exchange that she had to go. At interviews there are always two sides, and unless I hear both sides of the interview I find it difficult to make up my mind which is the right side.
The hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Mr. Craik Henderson) made some criticisms about the use of man-power in the Civil Defence Services. There have been a number of men in those Services who have fortunately not had so much to do in the last few months as they had last winter, but it is not right to suggest that these men should not be allowed to remain, because the same sort of circumstances might easily recur. There is a time when it may be thought that it is not necessary to have such a large A.R.P. staff, but there are other times when we are very glad that the staff is there. I am not denying that there might be better arrangements for making use of these men at a time when they are not doing anything. If there is anything we can do in conjunction with the Ministry of Home Security we shall certainly do it.
The point there is that he was aware of the circumstances at the time. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) asked whether the Government would give a day to debate the case of those from 16 to 18 years of age. That is not a question which I can answer but something which must be arranged through the usual channels. The matter is an important one, but my hon. Friend knows well enough that it is no good asking me that question.
I had taken expert advice and I did gather that there was a declaratory Clause including the 16–18 group but in toe Bill there is no such reference, and it is important that we should know where we are. I would press my hon. Friend to bring this matter to the notice of the usual channels.
Under the Bill any woman in the women's forces can be sent abroad. I believe at the present time there is competition to be sent abroad, that many more are anxious to go than the Services require, and therefore there are not likely to be any practical difficulties.
As the hon. Member is so anxious to clear up these points, will he give me some information on the point I raised as to why there is so little apparent collaboration between his Department and the Home Office, whereby his Department wants women and the Home Office closes shops and thereby prevents women being available?
I am sorry, but I was absent for a very few minutes during that part of the hon. and gallant Member's speech, and I have not had opportunity to give attention to that point. I think the House has come to the conclusion that the Bill is a good Bill. The better organisation of the man-power and woman-power of the country is a matter always calling for the very closest consideration of and constant action by the Department. We know well that we are not perfect, but the House must realise the gigantic task which is imposed upon us. The Minister has said that we have been called upon to register and to order the lives of 17,000,000 men and women, to tell them where they ought to work and what they ought to do. That in itself is an enormous task and I suggest that on the whole it is being carried out well. I feel that in the circumstances of to-day the House is very ready to give the Bill a Second Reading and I do not think there is any occasion for me to say more.
This Bill is really a continuation of the man-power Bill. The Bill purports to ensure that there shall be no limit to national obligation, but there is, to my mind, a very grave defect, in Clause 2. In line 2, on page 2 of the Bill, there appear the words "fifty-one years of age." The meaning of that Clause is that every man 51 years of age will be told, "You are too old." That, of course, is nonsense. I appeal to the Minister not to include that limit of 51 years of age but to frame the Bill in such a way that it shall carry out the intention of the House. There are men between 70 and 80 years of age who are physically and intellectually fitter than many men of 51. There are risky jobs to be done; men over 51, or of 71 or 81, ought to have the right to volunteer to undertake that risk.
Youth has deficiencies as well as old age. It is not always right for men from 50 to 80 to be passed over for a young man. Some very gallant men risked their lives to discover the secret of the magnetic mines, but, had the Admiralty listened to one man over 60 years of age, there would have been no risk to anybody's life, because those mines were not new. That Swedish invention was known many years before the war broke out. The man of 60 was evidently considered to be suffering from old age or some other infirmity. The Bill confirms that attitude of mind, and it underestimates the value of age. If men over 51 years of age desire to serve their country, their desires will be frustrated. If a man who is over 70 desires to serve his country, he ought to have the opportunity of doing so. We are told that men between 40 and 51 will be employed only in static and sedentary occupations. Will anybody deny that thousands of men between 70 and 80 could do such work perfectly well? Why should not men between 51 and, say, 81 be engaged on work regarded as clerical?
Let the young men come out of the sections of the Army where no great physical exertion is required, and from municipal offices as well. We have been told on the wireless and by various hon. Members about the extraordinary amount of physical violence which men are called upon to undergo. It is represented to us that in the Army every man has to march 24 miles every day and work perhaps 60 hours on end. It is not true. It never was true, and it never will be true. Such statements only arouse contempt in the mind of any man who has served in the Army and derision in the minds of our foes. When did men in the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Army Medical Corps or the Royal Army Ordnance Corps march 24 miles every day? This undue worship of the physical is deplorable, although it is all very well as far as it goes. I should be the last to decry the value of physical instruction, but there are other things besides physical exertion which men are called upon to undergo in connection with this war. And in my view all men ought to be allowed to volunteer for dangerous work.
If we are going to measure the capacity of men by the age of 51, what will happen to many hon. Members of this House? Are they to be regarded as too old? Are they to be retired? Will anyone suggest that the Prime Minister, at his present age, is too old? Let me give an example from the last war. Lord Fisher was 74 when he was recalled to the Admiralty. I think we must agree that he did a very good job of work. I do not say that everybody over 51 is capable of great physical exertion; that depends entirely upon a variety of circumstances. One man of 50 may be a better man than another of 30, and one of 70 may be a better man physically than another man at 40. This Bill is an attempt to draw a line at the age of 51, and I want to appeal to the Minister to carry out the intention of the country, and that is to rope in everybody, irrespective of age or sex. It a man has the technique, the knowledge, and the ability, let him volunteer to give his services to the country, and do not let the Minister turn him down under this Bill, and save us from the exhortations of those who evaded military service in the last war.
I do not intend to follow the argument of the last speaker, because I am afraid that when I get to 81 I shall not want to go into the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. I do not think any man who has had 25 years at the coal face, cutting coal himself, will want to go into the Army when he is 81. I will leave it at that. I am very sorry that I have not been able to intervene previously; I have been trying for three weeks, but there is an old adage which says, "Better late than never." I never like to be behind the Government's winding-up speaker, because I had wanted to put a point of view—and I hope the Minister will take note of this—which has not been raised seriously in this House, either on the Motion last week or on this Bill up to now. Before I come to that, I should like to say that I disagree almost entirely with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). I do not know where he gets his valuable information from. I live in my division every week. I go up there for a discussion and come back in 24 hours, and I have not found what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is repeatedly trying to put across this House. He has told us to-day that this Government is no good, that it is not worth a pinch of salt. Let me say—and I want it on record— that no Government that could be formed by the House of Commons would be any good unless some of those men were in it.
I mean it, and I am getting about sick of it. I want to put it on record that I do not agree with what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said. Now I would like to say a word about what was said by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). This water question—I know somebody made a joke about it, and said the water was wanted to make beer—is a serious question. There are only 30,000 men engaged, and they are very important. I have received a circular from my own division, which belongs to the National Water Board, and it says that unless these men are left, it will be a very serious matter if the waterworks are damaged by bombing and there is no one there to help put them right. I do not know whether the Minister himself has looked at that matter. I hope that, if he has not looked at it, he will do so now while the Bill is going through.
I come to another point—and make no mistake about it, this is a burning question in the homes of the people of this country —that is, the question of wet canteens. The mothers and fathers of the girls who are to be called up, and of the young men in the Army, and the young men who are producing munitions, are afraid of what will happen if we thrust these young women and men straight into the risk of intemperance. I am raising my voice in protest even if it is a voice crying in the wilderness [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not "]. I have heard no one else say anything about it. I want to put this point of view. The Ministry of Labour belongs to the Labour Movement. This is a National Government, and I am as much National as anyone else for the time being. Outside the National Government the Minister of Labour belongs to us politically. The Home Secretary belongs to us politically. The Secretary of State for Scotland belongs to us. It is rather a peculiar thing that these three men should be directly responsible for the wet canteens.
Canteens in the munitions works. I think I am right there. Some of these women are going into these canteens. Someone says they cannot produce munitions without beer. I say that is bunkum.
I want to put my hon. Friend's mind at rest. There were thousands of canteens in the country allowed to sell intoxicating drinks. We extended the right to apply to every canteen in the interests of temperance. Experience now shows that if people can get a drink with their food, when they want it, it stops the overwhelming rush outside which was leading to disastrous results.
Am I to understand that the Regulation stipulates that no permission may be given to any canteen to sell intoxicating liquors until it shows to the satisfaction of the Home Secretary in the one case, or to the Secretary of State for Scotland in the other, that it is necessary for the prosecution of the war? The Minister's statement seemed to suggest that every canteen was selling liquor.
I am very pleased that the Minister has made this statement. I want to say that up and down the country the mothers and fathers of these young people feel that the temptation is there, and that young men and women who have never had alcohol are being given an opportunity to get it. Parents are very much afraid about this. Alcoholic beverages are not required to produce munitions. The licensees are up against it, and I know why. The Churches are up against it.
I am sorry if I have got out of Order. I thought I should before I had finished. I would like, however, to put this one point; I ask the Minister where this is leading? The Miners' Welfare Commission will not allow intoxicants in any of their institutions. A small sec- tion of the mining community may press that they should be allowed alcoholic beverages if these are allowed in the munitions canteens and if it is said that this will help the production of munitions. There is a law which prevents a man having alcohol in the mines, but you cannot prevent a miner having it, if you are not going to prevent a munition worker having it. I ask the Minister to help to dispel the idea of the mothers and fathers that these girls are being thrust into temptation, and that when the war is over they will come back home changed in this way.
All the persuasive tact and all the ability of the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that a general welcome had been given to the Bill, cannot conceal the fact that this is a great step forward towards a totalitarian State. His own statement, in which he spoke of the administrative acts which will settle the life course of hundreds of thousands of people, but which will not, in the ordinary course, come before this House at all, is an instance of the totalitarian trend of this legislation. I deplore this Bill, and I believe that a great many who accept it, reluctantly, as a necessity in view of the international situation, deplore it, too, deplore the extension of conscription, and, in particular, the introduction of conscription for women, even with all the safeguards which the Government, I am glad to see, have inserted in the Measure.
It is surely a credit to the Government and, I think, to our Parliamentary system, that under the shadow of this great crisis in the war we are still able carefully to consider these proposals. The Government are not endeavouring to rush the Bill through, and I hope that during the Committee stage it may be possible for them at least to consider favourably certain points put forward as Amendments to the Bill. But the fact remains that this Bill extends military conscription to a vast section of the population. It does so within the limits of that conception of the rights of human personality which has characterised our legislation hitherto, and I want to thank the Minister of Labour and his colleagues in the Government for the regard they have had to those rights. No other belligerent State in Europe, I believe, at this time would have made similar provision. That is something which opponents of the Bill ought to recognise with gratitude. But in this extension of the principle of conscription to the whole mass of the population there is a danger, which has not been alluded to by any Member who has spoken. With the removal of block reservation and the substitution of individual reservation, you have a real danger that in spite of the intentions of the Minister there may be a tendency, on the one hand, to favouritism and, on the other, to victimisation in the methods which are employed with regard to the reservation of individuals. The greatest care will be needed to safeguard the rights of citizens against favouritism on the one side or victimisation on the other.
With regard to the introduction of the principle of conscription to women, some hon. Members who have preceded me have spoken of what is very widely felt in many circles of the country where objections to the conscription of men are not raised. There is a special sense of reluctance that women should be compelled to come into the war machine in the way in which they will do under the terms of this Bill. Boadicea was, in some ways, a noble character but she has never been held up as the ideal of British womanhood. We do not want to see the ideal of British womanhood brought down to the pagan level of the Amazons or even to the level of a Boadicea. I am glad that the Minister has made the concession which he has done in this respect in providing that there shall be an opportunity for women conscripted under this Bill to opt for other than military service, but I hope that he will also put into the Bill an Amendment which will secure for women who undertake military service the right of withholding from service involving the use of lethal weapons unless they agree, in writing, to undertake it. The promise has already been made by the Government but it would give great satisfaction to many if it could appear in the terms of the Bill.
I am not able in view of your previous Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to deal with the very important point of the position of youths and young maidens of between 16 and 18, but I hope that at a later time the House may consider it. I want to speak about the general effect of the obli- gation that is imposed by the first Clause of the Bill—the general obligation of National Service laid upon every person resident in Great Britain. I accept the spirit of that obligation and I do so gladly. I believe it is a duty laid upon every citizen to give service to his or her country, to do it with the best gifts that he or she has, and to do it gladly. I am only sorry that that obligation is imposed under the circumstances of war service. It should be a continual and abiding obligation. Under this Bill, when it becomes an Act, I have no doubt that there will be a great measure of service given from all classes of the community at a time of need. My sincere wish is that service, in even wider measure, may be gladly and freely given in days to come, not for the beating of ploughshares into swords but for the reversal of that process, when the Ministry of Economic Warfare becomes the Ministry of Economic Welfare and when national service may be also service to the whole world.
I apologise for speaking after a Government reply has been given, but there is an important matter on which I believe the House and the country would be grateful for an assurance. I think the House is unanimous in its appreciation of the Minister's recognition that a large number of women who will be affected by this Bill are already described as being more or less fixed in their habitations. It would be an unnecessary hardship for them to be moved. It seems that the Minister is dividing women into two classes, those who will be mobile and those who are not mobile. The same can be said of men over the age of 40 who have had time to take root in their areas. Many of them will be affected by this Bill and they have just as much right as women to recognition of their local associations. Many of them are mainstays of various local religious, social, philanthropic and other institutions. I am sure that the Minister knows, from his own experience of trade union machinery, that if one man is removed the organisation may be upset, because that man is a man with a sense of responsibility and a key-man who has built up the organisation.
I would suggest that a general instruction should be issued to those who have to allocate these men that, as far as practicable, all men over 41 who are affected shall be stationed as near as possible to their homes. With regard to the Air Force, I think the impression is that men are stationed at aerodromes as far as possible away from their homes. This leads to considerable congestion on the railways and to unnecessary expense. It is my frequent experience when travelling North to see two men of the Forces, one going home on leave from his station somewhere in the North of Scotland and the other, a Scotsman, going home on leave from his station in the South of England. This is quite unnecessary. I do not see what purpose is served by it. Therefore, I hope we can be assured that the men who are to be allocated to static and sedentary posts will be placed as near as practicable to their homes. It would be of benefit economically, because all these men will be entitled to leave. The parents of many of these men whose children have grown up are old age pensioners. Some of these old people are infirm, and, therefore, the men would have a legitimate claim, not for exemption, but for special consideration. These men will appreciate it, when this Bill becomes law, if it is administered in such a way that all these human questions are taken into consideration. If the Minister could give an assurance on that basis, it would help us in our support for this Measure, and it would facilitate its passage with the minimum of discomfort.
I apologise to hon. Members for detaining them, but I will endeavour to meet the request of the Whip who asked me to "cut it short." I am sorry that we have no representatives of the Service Departments on the Front Bench, because I recognise that in the arguments that I wish to put forward, although they may be aimed at the Minister of Labour, it is the War Office which is really responsible for the position. Somewhere about July or August the Report of the Beveridge Committee was issued. The Committee dealt with the question of skilled men in the Services, and on page 5 of the Report appeared the following paragraph:
In order to throw light on the extent and character of any avoidable waste of scarce skill in the Services, we have invited associations of employers and employees to bring to our notice cases of alleged misuse of skilled men.
Round about that time trade union officials were meeting in conference and discussing this very important problem. I
have no doubt that the Minister of Labour will recall an important speech he made at Birmingham, when he was having what some of us on the Labour benches might regard as the Citrine-Bevin-"Daily Herald" war. My right hon. Friend stated:
No, Citrine, nobody can tell me that I shall not call upon skilled men. I mean to have sufficient of them for all the Services.
Sir Walter Citrine replied, of course, the next day, and the "Daily Herald" the day after. And so the matter rotated day after day. Round about that time trade union officials took up the cudgels. Officials began to get busy inquiring into what was happening in the Army and in the Air Force. I admit that in all the cases I sent to the Minister of Labour in connection with the Air Force I gained satisfaction—that is, men who were square pegs in round holes were transferred almost immediately to the particular occupations for which they were experienced and best suited. I wrote to the Minister of Labour on 29th August to ascertain how the machinery was to be operated in regard to combing out of industry all skilled men in the factories and in the workshops, and men in the universities who had been trained or had honours and degrees, who were well qualified for the various branches of the Services and for industry. The Minister assured me in a letter:
That the Central Allocations Committee collects the national requirements for men with such qualifications, and its duty is to allocate the available material to the best advantage.
The Minister stated:
The Central Allocations Committee judges where the men's services are most needed.
That sounds all right, and I have no doubt the Minister of Labour believes that it is perfectly genuine, but does he know what happens when the Whitehall warriors get hold of it or get the labour allocated to them, and not necessarily those in Whitehall but the various brigadiers and commanding officers? I inquired on 19th September about groups of men, and I was told that a particular group of engineers were posted to the Army in a capacity where their technical qualifications could best be utilised. There were men from my own division who were actually making the big and beautiful bombs and bombing planes and various weapons and projectiles which were
necessary for the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. They were combed out. I never disagreed with the combing out, because I believed that the Minister at that time was right, but a trade union official drew my attention to what was happening. I did not have to disguise myself to find out whether his allegations were true or not. I went to the depot, saw the commanding officer and interviewed some of these young engineers. I do not charge the Minister with responsibility for it, but I think we have a right to some better guarantee than we have had already as to what is to be done with these men up to 51 who are being combed out of industry. When I found out at the depot that these men from July to August were being utilised for picking potatoes, mangold wurzels and cabbages 30 miles away from the camp, I was very concerned. I do not object to university students or engineers helping in the war effort, if it is thought necessary, by gathering crops and digging potatoes, because I have done it myself, and I am sure that some Members even on the Treasury Bench do it at the week-end if they have a few minutes to spare.
I am afraid the hon. Member's opinion, not unnaturally, differs from mine. I must preserve Order to some extent, or we might discuss anything that affects the daily life of anyone in the country.
Perhaps I may be allowed to ask the Minister to give a guarantee, as far as the Service Departments are concerned, that the men who will be called up in the next few months will be utilised by the Army in accordance with the promise to which he has referred in his speech. I hope he will inquire why the War Office has utilised men who have been combed out of these factories for gathering the harvest and digging potatoes when they were engaged on a course of only 16 weeks to be trained as soldiers, and trained soldiers were available in the area. The course had to be interrupted because of the negligence of the area officer in charge. I therefore ask the Minister to give some assurance that far greater powers will be taken by him— not to interfere with the Army; I wish he could sometimes—
I apologise for the transgression and will conclude with this point. I believe that the Minister is sincere. I have never doubted that. I do not think that my hon. Friend who spoke about fears in the country as to the calling-up of women gave a fair picture. The womenfolk in my Division would have conscripted themselves months ago. They believe that you can conscript the kitchen fire irons and the shirts off our backs, if you like, but it must be clearly understood that if you are conscripting the older man and the available man-power from 51 to 61, proper use must be made of them. Guarantees must be given that proper use will be made of the man-power, and the Government will gain the kind of backing and confidence in the country that this Bill deserves.
My hon. Friend has referred to certain difficulties which I have in mind, and I shall, therefore, be able to cut down what I hope to say about the Bill. I will deal with only one aspect of it, and I am confident that it is the most important aspect. It is the part of the Bill that is hopelessly and pathetically defective. I am referring to the absence of any organisation, either existing in the country or adumbrated in the Bill, which can give the Minister and the country the results that we have every reason to hope for and that all of us desire. It is the big mistake which the Ministry of Labour have made from the beginning of the conscription of labour. They passed legislation through the House and took possession of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, but it never struck the Ministry of Labour that in order to get the best results out of these people an organisation suitable for the purpose would have to be established. Up to this moment that organisation is not in being, and the Bill does not propose to bring it into existence. When the Parliamentary Secretary was praising the manner in which the interviewing of women and men had been done, I interjected that the work had been done shockingly badly. I want it to be understood that I am not blaming the poor, inexperienced creatures who are forced by the Ministry of Labour to do this work.
May I illustrate what I mean? In my constituency, which has been highly industrialised for many generations, we have scores of people who could have been mobilised by the Ministry to do this job, and, incidentally, it would not have cost anything. Instead of calling upon the great experience of an area of that kind— and there are many comparable areas in the country—what did the Minister of Labour do when he was imposing industrial conscription? He just fell back upon a most elementary, inexperienced, quite ignorant machine, a machine which was never trained for work of this kind, just the Employment Exchanges of this country. There is the question of interviewing the women for work. Apparently the only qualification which has appealed to the Ministry of Labour has been something academic. I have seen young women doing their best in a very kindly way, tackling a job for which they were never trained. They have had no experience in the business of crafts and occupations and of such work as we want these new hundreds of thousands of men and women to do.
With his great trade union tradition and experience and with the courage that animates him on most occasions, why did the Minister not cut through this miserable red tape? Why have this vast structure which is to control the lives of millions of men and women founded upon this infantile inexperience? When I said the work had been done shockingly badly, I want it to be understood that it was done shockingly badly, and will be done equally badly when this Bill becomes law, because the Minister of Labour has no machinery, no personnel to do it effectively. In the result he has caused resentment, a sense of humiliation, almost a sense of mass frustration. The personnel that manned his primitive machine had no industrial experience, with the result that with the best will in the world they had to hurt the feelings of some and in very many cases did not know what to do. I have came across cases in which ex-coal miners, including men who had suffered from nystagmus, were withdrawn from most important national work and sent 200 miles from their own collieries and homes. I have felt exceedingly annoyed over things of that kind. The people are prepared in the circumstances of the day to go back on many of their old convictions, but the Minister of Labour has hurt and humiliated thousands of men and women, and he proposes to continue to work on the same lines. I say that it is a shocking exhibition of utter incompetence.
I appeal now to the Minister of Labour and say to him personally, "Why not use your great trade union experience?" Could he not in a very short time establish the machinery that would win the confidence of the people? The people are going to be uprooted by the thousand from their homes, parted from all their associations, and forced to submit to a great deal of discomfort. Now that we are dealing with women-power, the problem will require far better treatment than it has had up to now. I appeal to the Minister of Labour. If he does not take notice of my appeal, he may hear a good deal about this matter in the near future. I ask him to scrap the hopeless machinery that he has.
It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary saying that the Ministry has not received many complaints. Many of the women who are humiliated are drawn out from their homes. They are not connected with trade unions and are inarticulate. Because of that fact, advantage has been taken of their position. The Bill will not succeed. The Minister of Labour will create a great deal of resentment and indignation in this country. He will be responsible for much that will impair the war effort. Let him take back the Bill and lay down new machinery. Let him staff the machinery with men and women of great industrial and social experience. This will be as much in the interests of the war effort as selecting and directing the labour of the millions that will be dealt with. Up to now, the Minister of Labour has failed ignominiously. I want the Bill to succeed, and am as anxious as any hon. Member that when we take possession of the lives of these men and women, the best, kindliest and most effective use should be made of them. The Bill as it is will be a ghastly failure, and the Minister of Labour and Parliament will have perpetuated and enlarged upon the many humiliations that have teen suffered by the people of this country.