I do not propose to say more on that subject, not because it is not exceedingly important, but because the House is in general agreement on the issue, but I wish to take the opportunity that this Vote of Credit provides to raise a question on a decision which, I think I may say without offence, was sprung on the House of Commons on the day of the Adjournment before the Recess. I hope that the Secretary of State for War will be present because it is to this question that I am proposing to address myself with, I understand, the general agreement of all sections of all parties in this House—that of the proposed compulsory posting of members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service overseas.
In my opinion, there is no question but that this does represent a fundamental change of policy, and, as such, surely it is essential that it should be discussed and debated in this House before final adoption by the Government. I am aware, of course, of the point to which the Secretary of State for War drew attention when he made that statement, that the W.R.N.S, already go abroad, but I would point out to him and to the House that the conditions of service of the W.R.N.S. are substantially different from those of the A.T.S., and therefore I still consider that in spite of the fact that the W.R.N.S. have been going abroad for some considerable time, the present proposal is a fundamental departure, and as such, merits the careful consideration of this House.
Before I come to the specific point, I would like to say a general word with regard to the service of women in the Armed Forces of the Crown. I should like to pose and to answer the general question why it is that in civilised countries women have not taken part in the combatant Services. Is it because women are incapable of bearing arms? I think the answer to that may be in doubt in the minds of some people, but it is undoubtedly "No." Women are capable of bearing arms, they have borne arms in previous wars, some of them are bearing arms in other countries to-day. Undoubtedly women could bear arms and many of them would be willing to do so. Is it because women are less courageous than men and less willing to face risks? In view of the fact that the women in the Services in this country have faced exceptional risks in some cases, in view of the marvellous service women have rendered in the Fire Service and in other ways, where they have taken great risks and shown very great courage, I do not think that that view can be maintained. Is it because they fall behind the men in patriotism and in a desire to secure the success of this country in the war? I do not think anyone will answer that question except in the negative.
The real reason why civilised nations in general have refused to employ women in the combatant Services of their country is because it is not the wish of the country that women, who have a pre-eminent service to render, should be taken away from that and run risks of death and injury when that service is so essential to the life and to the continuation of the country.
I leave that to the Secretary of State for War, but I should have thought that in a sense they were. I am talking of the problem in general, and I am just coming to the point I was making. I have dismissed three reasons which might be put forward and I want to come to the real reason: it is because the essential function of child-birth is so necessary to the preservation of the race that civilised nations have in the past almost invariably excluded women from the danger of the fighting combatant Services. In a lesser degree we take the same view in regard to the service which men render in other occupations. We exclude—I think we should have done it earlier to a greater extent—coalminers from going into the Services because we recognise that the getting of coal is essential to the continuance of the economic life of the country, and nations have chosen to exclude women because they have realised that for the preservation of the race women must not be allowed to face the dangers of war to the same extent as in the case of men.
Of course I am not under the illusion that the proposal of the Secretary of State for War is to send women into the combatant Services overseas. I recognise that he is proposing to send them there for other duties. I am not in a position to judge the comparative danger to the women who are being sent overseas as against the women who are utilised at present in the Auxiliary Territorial Service in this country. The hon. Member who interrupted me just now pointed out one individual case where women were undoubtedly in a very dangerous combatant position, and I certainly accept that view, but those are individual cases and the House is well aware of what is going on in that respect. Whether the danger to which the Government propose to subject women in sending them overseas is greater or less is a matter which I cannot judge, but undoubtedly it is opening the door to an entirely new conception of the use of women in war.
The first question I should like to put is: Is it really necessary to make this very considerable change? I think the House ought to demand from the Government more evidence than it has yet received on whether this step is really necessary. Is the Army really using its present resources to their full capacity, or is there a waste of manpower, and is there not a good real of slack which could be taken up before these fresh reserves are tapped from a hitherto excluded class?
Undoubtedly. When I say "the Army" I mean all the Armed Services of the Crown, but the right hon. Gentleman who will no doubt reply can speak only on behalf of the Army, and it is in regard to the Army that this proposal has been made. Therefore, it is on that point that the House needs full assurance and some further facts and evidence. Undoubtedly this proposal is not merely one of general politics, it is a great human question. When we are dealing with great human questions many considerations arise, and different Members of the House will see the matter from different human points of view. I am speaking to-day for my party, but obviously I cannot represent exactly every member of the party. What I am going to say however does, I think, cover in the main the point of view of all who belong to my party. In principle, for the reasons which I think are generally realised, my party do not favour the principle of compulsory posting overseas in the case of women. They regard it as a step of a very serious character, and unless it is really necessary they do not favour it. It is not that we think that women are unwilling to go overseas. It is not that we think that they must be wrapped in cotton wool and kept from aiding in the larger patriotic services which are rendered to the country. It is that we do believe that in the main human considerations make it less desirable to send women abroad compulsorily than in the case of men.
Now I come to the question of age. In the statement that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War made on 21st December he definitely promised that no woman should be sent overseas compulsorily who was under the age of 21, but I gathered that he was not proposing to make that the age for those who volunteer to go overseas. I want to call that point in question. I shall show later that a good many dangers are facing women in going overseas, and though some girls are willing to volunteer at an age below 21, it is, after all, a question which this House should decide. When this war began this House, remembering the last war, very carefully laid down rules about the age at which men were to go overseas. The House was aware that a great many young boys would have willingly volunteered to go overseas below that age, but the House said that the perils and dangers of life overseas are such that they could not know what they were facing and that we should lay down a limit of age for them. I venture to put it to the right hon. Gentleman, that however willing young girls may be to go overseas, he should bear in mind that there is an age below which they should not go even voluntarily. For my part and in the view of most of those who sit on these benches the age of 21 is, we should have thought, an age which would have been a reasonable one to fix for overseas service in the case of women, quite apart from whether they go compulsorily or voluntarily.
I have said that I am not in a position to judge the danger from enemy action to the young women who are to go overseas under this proposal, but we all realise that there are other dangers besides those arising from enemy action. I do not want to exaggerate and I certainly do not want to take a prudish view of these matters, but we have to face realities in this House, the one place where realities can be talked about quite openly and frankly. We all know that the conditions and the attitude taken overseas are not precisely the same as in this country. There is a good deal of laxity. I am not making any charge against the splendid fellows in our Army, but the conditions of war are such that certain restraints which prevail at home under normal conditions are somewhat relaxed when we get into foreign countries. I am well aware that the girls of to-day are able to take care of themselves in a way that they would not perhaps have been able to do in days gone by. We have some splendid young women. The great bulk of our young women in this country, in spite of a great many things that are said against them by people of a former generation who do not understand the vitality, the determination and the nobility of the young womanhood of our country, are able to take care of themselves in a way which people have not believed possible in days gone by. At the same time I do not think we can altogether shut our eyes to what I have already said about the greater laxity in matters of this kind which prevails overseas. That is the reason why I think this House, without being prudish and without being unduly sensitive on the matter, should exercise its judgment and wisdom in dealing with this question. I have said enough in regard to that, and I will pass on to the next point.
The Secretary of State for War, in his statement on 21st December, said a good deal—as far as he could in a short statement—about the conditions of welfare and position of the A.T.S. forces when they go overseas. I think the House is entitled to have a good deal more information about what he really intends to do, because the welfare of these girls is one with which we, as Members of Parliament, are very properly concerned, and when the time comes, if there have been conditions which are undesirable or unsuitable for women, it is to us that they themselves, or their parents, or their husbands, or their brothers will come to make very proper and desirable complaints, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can assure this House that such conditions will prevail that, if there are complaints, they will be very few and far between. But now is the time when we can get assurances from the Government as to what they are proposing to do, and we have got to be satisfied—indeed, it is our duty to demand to be satisfied—that the conditions shall be such as we shall approve.
There is another point that applies equally to volunteers and, if the proposal to conscript women continues, will apply to those conscripted. As I have said, when we are dealing with women in this way we have great human considerations to take into account, and the matter of leave, important as it is to men, becomes of even greater importance when we are dealing with women, and my party feel that leave should be even more generously accorded to women who go overseas than it is accorded to men.
There is another matter which bears on this question, though not perhaps directly part of it. There is a feeling among those who have been in touch with the A.T.S. that there is a greater gulf fixed between officers and privates among them than in the case of men. Let me not be misunderstood. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Hen- derson) shakes his head, but I have not explained what I mean. I do not mean that there is less fraternising, or whatever it may be, or intercourse of the proper kind, between officers and the ranks. What I do mean is that there is less opportunity of promotion from the ranks in the case of the A.T.S. than is true of the men. There is a tendency, and there has been throughout, for the lower ranks of the A.T.S. to consist of people from the lower ranks of the social order in the country, and the officers to be almost exclusively persons from the higher ranks of society. Broadly speaking, the girls who come from the elementary schools have less chance of promotion than in the case of the men. That is the feeling which has been expressed, and it is one which does play a part when we are proposing to deal with the matter of sending women overseas on the same basis as men.
Now we come to the question of conditions generally, and pay. I think it would be disastrous if it comes to be the idea that the Government are sending women overseas because they are cheaper soldiers than men. If women are to go overseas to replace men, if they are to take over duties behind the lines that men would otherwise perform, I think this claim that they can be paid at a lower rate than men, whatever grounds there may have been for it before—and I do not think they were very strong before—becomes weaker than ever, and the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question made after that statement, as I understood it, definitely turned down the suggestion that women going overseas to take part in the Army abroad should receive equal pay with the men. But I believe the time is coming when this House, willing as it is to allow women to be employed in all sorts of occupations, will refuse to allow the Government to get away with this idea of using women because they are cheap. Women's lives are, as I have already said, of equal, and in one respect, of superior importance to men for the purpose of the race, and it is getting contrary to the public opinion of the country, and to a large part of opinion in this House, for the Government to continue to employ women on the cheap. I would go further in this particular case and say that if the right hon. Gentleman wants women to volunteer, wants to recruit these additional forces abroad by volunteers rather than by conscripted women, then I suggest to him that he should look to the pay and general conditions of the women in the Services and see whether—even if he is so hidebound that he cannot strike right through and institute equal pay—he can, at any rate, get nearer to it than he has done up till now.
I will now sum up our point of view. We do not look with favour on this new proposal, not because we think women are not willing to serve abroad, not because we think they will not succeed in the task, but because we think, first of all, that the case for it has not been made out and, secondly, we are not satisfied that adequate safeguards will be provided. We shall listen, therefore, with great interest and attention to the case that the right hon. Gentleman makes out. Unless it is a very good case, we shall feel unwilling to accept this proposal without opposition. We desire that the age limit of volunteers, as well as of conscripted women, if conscription is to come about, shall not be as low as I think the right hon. Genteman has indicated before, and we think he should re-examine, with an open mind, the old shibboleth of "Unequal pay for women" in one of the essential Services of the country.
I find it very difficult, indeed, to understand the reasons which have prompted some hon. Members to ask for this Debate. Having fairly close contacts with all the three women's Services, I am afraid I do not share many of the fears and apprehensions which have been so sincerely expressed by my right hon. Friend who has just spoken. Surely, there is only one overriding consideration to-day. How can both men and women most speedily help to win the war? When the Secretary of State said, in his very full statement before Christmas, that the A.T.S. would welcome the opportunity of making a still further vital contribution to the war effort, he was only saying what all of us who are in contact with that Service know to be true. When he added that it was a contribution on which will depend in no small degree the maintenance of Britain's war strength, I should have thought there was really nothing further to be said and that it completely answered the question which my right hon. Friend, the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), put this morning.
Had the House been asked to agree to some new policy I could have understood the wisdom of insisting on a Debate, but what are the facts? We all know that large numbers of women in the three Services have already volunteered and gone abroad. Although I have not been there myself, I am assured that the greatest possible care is taken of their welfare and I think hon. Members who are worried about the matter can feel reassured. In addition, it is only fair to say that W.R.N.S. officers have already been posted abroad compulsorily for the last two years. It has been a condition of service for the last 18 months that ratings should serve abroad. This is common knowledge, and it was done for exactly the same reason as the Secretary of State is now asking that A.T.S. can be posted abroad to-day, namely, that at that time there were not sufficient volunteers in the trades and categories necessary to fill those jobs that were required.
As far as I can recollect, no one questioned that decision. It was not raised in the House of Commons. Of course, it may be said that the W.R.N.S. do not come under the Naval Discipline Act, but, after all, that is merely a legal quibble. They are exactly the same girls as in the other two Services, and, as hen. Members know, they are now serving all over the world, in India, East Africa, Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. I might add, that no distinction is made between the married and unmarried, as I understand my right hon. Friend said would be made in the case of A.T.S. Of course, if a married woman requests exemption for any good reason, it is invariably given. And, then, what about nurses? No one has ever raised the question of the nurses.
No, it is a condition of service in their case. I think my hon. Friend will find that is so, and that they can be sent anywhere. In fact they are. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War does not intend to send A.T.S. to Burma where nurses are serv- ing. Nurses have also served at Singapore, at the Anzio beachhead, in Normandy, and many other places, and no fears have ever been expressed in this House about them. I think the main reason why members of the W.A.A.F. have not been posted compulsorily abroad, is that until last year only an infinitesimal number had been sent abroad and, therefore, they still had a large reserve of volunteers. My right hon. Friend explained very clearly that it was mainly signals personnel and clerks who are required to replace men for the fighting fronts abroad at the present time, and it is in those categories that volunteers are not forthcoming in large numbers. I think two things are quite clear. The first is that women are anxious and glad to go abroad.
I understood the hon. Lady to say that it was due to the fact that women had not volunteered in sufficient numbers that it had been necessary to resort to conscription. One of the statements she has made contradicts the other.
If the hon. Gentleman will only wait to hear what I have to say I may be able to answer him satisfactorily. Two things are quite clear. The first is that women are glad and anxious to go abroad, and I believe that doing it this way will be much fairer for the girls and will make it much easier for them if they are actually posted than if they had to make the decision for themselves, and risk worrying or hurting their parents. The only concern among the girls—and I am quite sure my right hon. Friend knows it—is in connection with compassionate posting. I feel quite certain that they will be dealt with very sympathetically in the same fair and understanding way which has proved so satisfactory in the W.R.N.S. However, I should be glad if the Minister would deal with this point when replying to the Debate.
It is quite clear that the cause of this Debate cannot be concern for the safety of the girls, for men and women have stood shoulder to shoulder in all the dangers which have confronted this country during the past five years. I believe that, fundamentally, what is worrying Members is the question of the parents. Of course, parents are concerned and worried but, then, in these days who is not? I do not know many parents who, realising the urgent and national import- ance of this matter, would wish to prevent their daughters from making their full Contribution towards helping to win this war in what we believe to be its final stages. Further, whether we like it or not, in war-time we all belong to the State, just as I hope and believe that in peacetime the State will once again belong to us. We know that the War Cabinet have agreed on the urgent necessity of the proposal under discussion. We know that the women themselves overwhelmingly support the proposal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not believe it."] Well, perhaps the hon. Member will get his chance of expressing his views later. It only remains for this House to show unqualified approval of a measure which will, undoubtedly, assist in the unrelenting prosecution of the war.
The noble Lady has a one-track mind. If Members are being swayed by emotion, they should think carefully before they express their views. I remember male Members of the House being incensed some time ago when they heard that women over 45 were to be registered. We listened to the reasons given, and waited for the outcry in the country from the women who were to be registered but I, at any rate, did not have one letter. There was no outcry from the women: it came only from the male Members, who seemed to know more about women than women apparently know about themselves. So I do ask male Members, sincerely, to let us know something about our own sex, how our sex feels, thinks and reacts on this subject.
I must say, however, that on many occasions the Secretary of State for War has failed to anticipate the mood of the House. His recent bold statement that the A.T.S. were to be sent abroad certainly showed a failure to understand the psychology of the House and of the parents of these girls. I am wondering whether it was courage or ignorance which led him to make that statement without any prior consultation with the Committee which has been set up by a Government Department to discuss these things and advise Ministers about them—the Women's Consultative Committee. We have discussed every question of the direction and registration of women, and although I agree that I happen to be a member of that Committee, with all modesty I suggest that we could have given the Minister a few tips which might have prevented this Debate.
We would have told him to take into account those powerful forces, prejudice and custom, which we all know play a big part in the life of women, and perhaps that would have made him walk a little more warily. I can quite appreciate what an outcry there was in the 19th century when Florence Nightingale decided to take nurses abroad. Listening to some of the male Members, as I have done, I felt it hard to realise that a century had passed since then. I realise now what opposition Florence Nightingale must have had to face, and what obscene innuendoes must have been bandied about. Fortunately, since the Secretary of State made his announcement on this subject, there has been an interval, and women of the country have been able to express their views on this matter. This interval has coincided with the announcement that the entry age of the A.T.S. was to be raised, and it has surprised us all to find that the A.T.S. has become more attractive than industry, although those now joining would be eligible to serve abroad. I would like some of the male Members to explain that. If these women objected to service abroad, why are they now volunteering to join the A.T.S.? How else can we find an index of the feeling of the country? I would like every male Member who speaks to-day, to tell us how many letters he has received on this matter. I have a fairly big post-bag from women and from all parts of the country I have received only four letters.
One letter was from an A.T.S. girl, who said she was engaged to a man in the Forces and who was afraid that, if she was sent away, they would not be able to get married. Two other letters were from men who were fond of girls in the A.T.S., and who did not want them sent away. There was no question of principle in it; they just wanted to protect their own interests. The fourth came from a mother who protested in very strong terms and who told me that she had told her girl in no uncertain fashion that she was not to go abroad. If the mother told her girl in the terms in which she wrote to me, I am quite sure that the girl would not have dared to volunteer. I wonder how many other Members have had the same experience, or whether for some reason or other women have failed to write to Members on this subject.
I want to remind the House that Members made little fuss when girls were sent from villages to towns 100 or 200 miles away and directed into work, sometimes dangerous work and sometimes night work, in vulnerable areas. I think the only real objections came from the Scottish Members, chiefly because they thought girls could work in Scotland without being sent to England. If that is accepted, I find it a little difficult to understand why these objections should have been raised because girls are to be sent 20 miles away or something like that across the English Channel. What is the proposal? We are not taking unhappy girls away from country villages. We are taking girls in the A.T.S., who have already formed friendships, who are well-clothed, well-fed and well cared for by responsible welfare officers and doctors. The Secretary of State said that they would be sent to comfortable quarters, well behind the lines, and would be provided with adequate hospital accommodation.
I ask Members to compare the lot of these girls with the lot of the friendless girl who is directed away from her home into industry. No wonder the A.T.S. has proved popular during the last few weeks. These girls would much rather go with their friends than be alone in a strange town. When it comes to this curious hint of danger, is not a girl in a town exposed to more danger if she is friendless than a girl in the A.T.S., who has her friends and who has responsible women to advise her? Let us look at the danger from the physical point of view. There is far less danger involved than there is in working in London during air raids, and we have directed girls to work in the London area during the blitz.
To be logical, those who are opposing this measure should have opposed women being directed to vulnerable areas. The right hon. baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), when the question was raised last week, jumped up and asked the Secretary of State for assurances that these girls would be protected, and would be well behind the lines. I wonder if he asked the Bethnal Green council that the women's A.R.P. services should be protected, and not allowed to run into danger. I wonder if he made representations to the Minister of Labour, that no girls should be directed to Bethnal Green during the blitzes. If he did not, he is illogical and is to be suspected of being swayed by his emotions.
Women's standards of morals are not determined by geographical boundaries. The weak and irresponsible girl will get into trouble in London, Bristol, Manchester or Wigan. If she is going to get into trouble, she will not wait until she gets to the other side of the Channel. Hon. Members must not think that the modern girl is unable to care for herself. She can protect herself. She has her head screwed on the right way. This is not the 19th century, when women had the vapours and were carried away by their emotions. You cannot live in the 20th century during a war of this kind, without having a real sense of values. I am a little surprised to hear so many Members express this interest in women's welfare. When we have had Debates on women's questions the House has been noticeably empty. Few of the male Members, who are now showing themselves champions of women, have ever, in my six years' experience, raised their voices on behalf of women. I hope that this may mark a new departure and that the interest aroused by this Debate will be sustained in the future when questions of the pay and conditions of women are discussed.
My last point concerns the conditions of these girls overseas. Why is the Secretary of State going to recruit a cheap army of women? I find it difficult to understand how a Government of men can accept this proposition, as it stands. Surely, it must be distasteful to them to send women soldiers abroad at cheap rates. This is a historic occasion. It is the first time in history that women have been sent abroad to help to fight a war on foreign soil. Yet they are to be sent at cheap rates, at two-thirds the price of a man, and we all know that the work of these women on the gun-sites demands a high degree of intelligence and skill. It cannot be argued that it is not combatant work. I am quite sure that the enemy would not scruple to bomb a gun-site because women were manning the guns.
Probably the Secretary of State will advance all the old arguments, but they are not valid. He will say that women are not in the same danger, that the degree of danger does not determine the payment, and that they are non-combatants. The men working in the War Office in Whitehall are not in danger, but they are not paid at the same rate as the private in the front line. If he says that the women are non-combatant, I would remind him that the R.A.M.C. are non-combatant, but they are not paid at a cheaper rate than others for that reason, and the principle of pay at equal rates is accepted because women doctors refuse to be exploited by the Services. They are the only women who get the same rate as men, and they are non-combatant. The Minister of Labour at the beginning of the war felt that he could not direct women to other parts of the country at cheap rates and he made it clear that when a woman undertook a man's job, she would be paid at the same rate as a man. The U.S. and Russia pay men and women at equal rates. Why should we depart from that principle? Is it in accord with the principles of the Atlantic Charter that we should send our women abroad as a cheap army?
There seems to be very great interest taken in this question, and rightly so. I do not think anyone, in or out of the House, would do anything to injure the war effort but I am bound to say that before I consent to this principle I require more information and guarantees than have been given by the Secretary of State up to the present. Women have done magnificently, and tribute has been paid to them from all sections of the community. They have risen nobly to the occasion, and to every obligation that has been imposed upon them. It is all very well to talk about the attitude of the parents. As a parent, I can appreciate their attitude in relation to the young people. I receive many letters on these questions, particularly from parents and sweethearts, and from the girls themselves. If the young people are bursting to go overseas, why is not the rate of volunteers higher than that of which we have been told? If they are all so anxious to go, why has the right hon. Gentleman been unable to get the necessary quota without resorting to this proposal of conscription?
The hon. lady is not a mother and does not appreciate the position as well as those who are. The hon. Member for East Islington (Mrs. Keir) has a right to her own opinion but she should not belittle that of parents. We should realise that some parents have been up against it, as regards sons as well as daughters. I have a letter from a man in the ninth Army—
He says he has no possibility of getting home for perhaps 18 months and, if the young lady is sent overseas, she will have to do three years. What possibility is there, if he should come home, of re-union and marriage? He hopes that I, as representing him in Parliament, will voice the views of the men in the Services as well as the women. I have also a letter from parents 74 years of age, whose daughter wants her release from the A.T.S. Of course, there are girls who will want to go abroad. There are high-spirited, adventurous girls who will do their bit in any circumstances, and many of them, like the lads, want to see the world. We all take it for granted that there is a need for man-power. I should like an assurance that the manpower available at present is being used to the best advantage. My correspondent does not suggest that it is. More- over, we hear about the call for another 250,000 men. I know a great many cases of young men of military age who have successfully dodged military service. I want to know why effective action has not been taken to implement the legislation that has gone through the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Edith Summerskill):
has raised the question of equality as far as pay, conditions and welfare are concerned. We have raised this question constantly ever since the war started. I had to put up a fight with the War Office years ago about women taking over work which had previously been done by men, while being treated as cheap labour and paid two-thirds of the normal rate. Why cannot we follow the example of America and be decent with our women about rates of pay? Why cannot we give them equality? In regard to conditions, reference has been made to the position of the W.R.N.S. I say candidly that I do not think the conditions in the A.T.S. come up to those in the W.R.N.S. The Admiralty has always had a better tradition, which came from the last war, with regard to the W.R.N.S. We know that they were able to have the cream of the women of this country, and had a long waiting-list, while the A.T.S. could hardly get volunteers. I put that down to the fine conditions and satisfactory position of the W.R.N.S. as compared to the A.T.S.
I emphasise what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) has said in regard to promotion. I know it is a hard job for men who have been to elementary schools, to rise from the ranks and become officers. I know that from my own relatives and friends. It is a much harder thing for a young woman, no matter how clever she may be, who has been to an elementary school, to become an officer in the A.T.S. Some of the women Members of this House in the early days of the war raised, over and over again, questions about the officer class in the A.T.S. The welfare conditions are not respected in the A.T.S. as much as in the other Services. I would like an assurance that the personnel in the Services is being used to the best advantage before I agree to this proposal. I do not want anyone under 21 years of age to be sent abroad, and I do not want any woman who is married or engaged to be married to be sent out. (Interruption.) I have read parts of a letter from a man who has been overseas all these years, who is engaged and wants to come back.
No, the hon. Lady cannot ask anything, because she interrupts everybody. With regard to compassionate leave, about which my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mrs. Keir) spoke, if the War Office are not any more considerate with women, in regard to compassionate leave, than they are with the men, there will not be much hope of any substantial numbers of women getting leave. I can understand the fears that are expressed from all quarters about this question of sending women overseas, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman makes his statement to-day, he will treat the matter seriously and give replies to the points that have been raised, especially those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh. We all hope and trust that we shall be able to bring this war to a victorious conclusion at the earliest possible moment and that there will be no necessity to send women overseas to other countries where, perhaps, there are dangers—not dangers of the battlefield; but where the moral standards do not perhaps compare favourably with those of this country.
If that suggestion were adopted, would it not mean that there would be hundreds of people getting engaged so quickly, that there would be few women to go abroad?
I find myself much more in sympathy with the practical contribution to this Debate which we had from the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Edith Summerskill) than with the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson). I think that the misunderstandings which have arisen on this matter are due to the unfortunate handling of the question by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The way that this problem has been posed to the country has been very unfortunate. What happened? My right hon. Friend chose the last day before the House adjourned at Christmas to make an inadequate statement which gave no facilities for debate, and owing to the pressure of Parliamentary Business many of the questions which hon. Members desired to ask could not, unfortunately, be put. At the time of the statement, my right hon. Friend made no allusion to the fact that the military situation was such that it was necessary to raise an additional 250,000 men for the Army. He left that until after the House had adjourned, and announced it in a statement to the country, unrelated to the necessity for obtaining further personnel for the Auxiliary Territorial Service overseas. When the House resumed, I asked my right hon. Friend, in an effort to get at the facts of the problem, if he had formed any estimate of the percentage of volunteers required to meet his requirements.
On the Tuesday when the House resumed, in the form of a supplementary question. My right hon. Friend did not tell me what I wanted to know but he did so yesterday in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) and said that volunteers would meet only 25 per cent. of his requirements. I feel that if it had been possible for my right hon. Friend to come to the House and give a complete picture of the military requirements and conditions of service, it would have cleared up all these questions, which, after all, Members have a perfect right to pose, and large amount of the misunderstanding and anxiety which has existed would have been dispelled.
To come down to the practical problem, there is not the slightest doubt about the valuable work which members of the A.T.S. can do behind the lines of an expeditionary force on the Continent and in other parts of the world. They enable men who are employed as clerks at bases, and on lines of communication as well as the Signals Corps, to be replaced by women so that the men can be used for other military duties for which they are much better fitted. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have personal experience in this matter. As far as efficiency goes, I would venture to suggest that, in some cases, women clerks discharge their duties with a higher efficiency than men because they are able to bring to their duties a persistency and freedom from boredom which men employed on these duties often show.
Let me deal with the question of danger, which was raised by the deputy Leader of the Labour Party. I think it is true to say to-day that the physical dangers abroad are less than they are at home. At the moment, fortunately, our Allies, as far as one can judge from newspaper reports, are not suffering attacks from V.2 bombs to which we are subjected, and the numbers of V.1's which are launched successfully against the bases of military operations on the Continent are not of a character to bring undue anxiety to parents in this country. Therefore, from the point of view of physical risks, these young girls and women are perhaps safer across the Channel than they are on this side. The moral danger, again, I think is less. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say that advisedly, because at bases in this country, when these young girls get their leave they can enjoy it in circumstances of complete freedom and go where they like. In places abroad, the conditions do not allow of such complete freedom. The care which is taken for their welfare by officers and others is of a character which places temptation a little further from them than they would experience at home. On that ground alone I do not think that there is any abnormal danger.
On the larger issue, I might be old-fashioned, but I rather like to feel that before we take the step of compulsorily sending women abroad, every effort should be made to see whether there are not sufficient volunteers to fill the bill. I do not mean volunteers solely from the A.T.S. I think that every young woman in the country, whether they are serving in the W.R.N.S., the W.A.A.F., the National Fire Service, or any other conscripted service, should be given the opportunity of transferring to the A.T.S. if they feel so inclined in order to be allowed to volunteer for service overseas. If such steps were taken, my right hon. Friend's percentage of 25 would increase substantially. I find myself in complete sympathy with the views which have been expressed about extra pay for overseas service. I feel again that if such an inducement were held out to the women—an inducement which they have a right to ask—the percentage of volunteers would substantially increase.
The only other question I want to raise concerns the feminine personnel of mixed formations of the anti-aircraft batteries of the Royal Artillery. My right hon. Friend has assured us that only volunteers will be accepted for that service. I think that, in general, that is true, but I have had one or two letters, which I will privately bring to my right hon. Friend's notice, in which it is alleged that in some cases the women are not volunteers at all. It is hinted that a parade sometimes takes place at which it is suggested that numbers 1 to 20 will volunteer. We are all aware that that kind of method has not been unknown in the past, but I am sure that if I bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the cases that have been brought to my notice, for the accuracy of which I cannot vouch, my right hon. Friend will investigate them to assure himself that methods of which he would not approve are not being applied in order to produce the necessary numbers. On the general question, I take the view that in the last round of this fight and at the eleventh hour, the fine standard of service and sacrifice that has been shown by the women of this country will not falter, and that if they are given the opportunity they will place their services at the disposal of the nation at the time and in a place where their services are of the greatest use. I only ask my right hon. Friend to be generous, to give the opportunity to women in other services as well as the A.T.S., and to ask the Treasury to approve of an additional rate of pay for services overseas, which, after all, is their right and just reward.
Until my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cardiff South (Colonel Sir A. Evans) spoke, I confess I felt some trepidation about a mere male raising his voice on what is really a ladies' day at Westminster. I want briefly to say one or two things in favour of the proposals which have been made by the Secretary of State for War. I am in favour of them for two reasons. The first is that I think they are in the interests of the Army itself. There is not the slightest doubt that if carried into effect, they will save man-power. It would not be true to say that for every A.T.S. that goes overseas one male is saved for another, and perhaps more combatant, task, but I think it is true that for every four A.T.S. who go overseas, something like three men will be released for another form of service.
The second reason is that there is no doubt about the efficiency of the A.T.S. That has not been disputed by anybody. My hon. and gallant Friend has instanced the A.T.S. clerk. It has been my lot to serve as staff officer for nearly five years, most of the time at headquarters where A.T.S. are employed, and I know that the A.T.S. clerk—and I say it definitely—is infinitely preferable to the male clerk. I think A.T.S. drivers are better in many ways than male drivers, and the same is true of A.T.S. signallers. I can say nothing at first-hand about the work of A.T.S. girls on gun-sites, although I have seen their predictor work and I am told that it is of the highest order. There is no doubt that the efficiency of the Army overseas will be very greatly increased, if we are allowed to have a very large A.T.S. contingent.
I am anxious that the Army of Occupation of Germany itself should contain a large A.T.S. component. If we insist, as I am sure we must, that there should be no fraternisation with the Germans, we must do three things. First, we must see that our men live in barracks and are not billeted among the civil population. Secondly, we must ensure that they get as generous as possible periods of home leave. Thirdly, we must see that there is a large A.T.S. element in the Army. I simply put that point of view because I believe very greatly in the natural and healthy companionship of young men and young women in the Services. It can work and it does work. I have seen it working at headquarters perfectly naturally. It is the right thing, and it should be encouraged, if the Army of Occupation overseas is to be happy and efficient.
The second thing I want to say is that I believe in the proposals because I think they are in accordance with the wishes of the girls themselves. There has been talk in this Debate about the apparent lack of volunteers, but I can say, from many questions I have put to many of these girls, that having to volunteer to go, forces many girls to say "No," because they do not want, as they say, to let their mothers down. In many cases, girls have said to me: "I would like to volunteer and I want to go, but my mother does not want me to." Many girls have said—and this is absolutely true—since this announcement was made, that they were delighted now, because there was now no choice about it, and they were going to be sent. It will be in accordance with their wishes and they will have no objection whatever.
In all Home Commands there is a very excellent way of obtaining the opinions of auxiliaries. I think I can speak for two Home Commands and perhaps for others. They hold regular conferences for the A.T.S., at which senior officers of the A.T.S., very often down to junior commanders, are present, and problems concerning the administration and welfare of the A.T.S. are discussed. I know about those conferences because on more than one occasion I have been asked to talk there upon certain aspects of matters concerning the A.T.S. that have arisen in this House. I know that if there were any strong body of opinion in the A.T.S. against these proposals, it would, by now, have been brought to light. I have not the slightest doubt about that. My information is that it has not come to light at all. On the contrary, the experience is that these proposals have been very well received indeed, and that they have commanded much greater support in the A.T.S. itself.
Some of the objections which have been raised in the Debate have been answered by other hon. Members. One was about the difference between serving in this country and serving overseas. I cannot see that there is anything illiberal or degenerate in the decision of the Canadian Government, or of the United States Government, to send girls to this country, and there is nothing illiberal or degenerate about our sending our girls a comparatively few miles across the seas. Is it because there is an element of compulsion? I fail to see the difference between compelling a Cornish girl to serve in Inverness, and compelling an Essex girl to serve in Holland. Is it because a sea-crossing is involved? Have Britons come to fear the waves? Or is it because there is an element of risk or of danger in it? If that is suggested, ask any girl who served on the gun-sites through the blitz, or any girl who is serving now in the South of England, about that, and see what their answer is. I do not think there is any great or fundamental objection to this proposal. I do not believe there is a widespread objection at all. I support it because I believe it is in the interests of the Service and of the girls themselves and that it will be welcomed by a large majority of that loyal, efficient and splendid branch of the Service.
I will not attempt to follow the line taken by my hon. and gallant Friend, who has just made such an admirable speech. He knows so much more about this subject than I do. I must confess to a certain personal reluctance to sending a lot of young girls overseas on a compulsory basis, if it can reasonably be avoided. It seems to me that the crux of the whole matter was brought out by the hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Mrs. Cazalet Keir), who said that if it was absolutely necessary to the efficiency of the Army that these girls should be sent overseas, it was right that they should go. If it was not necessary, then it would be wrong.
I, therefore, feel that if my right hon. Friend can say, as he already has said in the House, that it is essential, then basically it is right that these proposals should go through. I agree however with the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) that the House is entitled to further explanations and assurances before we agree to the proposal, because the fact remains that parents are very worried. I have had a certain amount of correspondence with my constituents on this subject and I have interviewed a number of people. The curious thing about it is that they were all parents. I have not been approached by any members of the A.T.S. whatsoever on the subject That leads me to suspect that very likely the A.T.S. do not mind very much whether they go or not. They cannot be very keen about it or a few more of the types such as clerks would have volunteered, but I suspect that they do not feel very strongly against it. It is the parents who are worried, and it would help a great deal if my right hon. Friend could give them assurances which would remove certain misunderstandings which I believe to exist.
One point which is made in some of the correspondence which I have received is in relation to danger. People write and say: "Our men are being sacrificed; is it really necessary that we should sacrifice our daughters as well?" If my right hon. Friend could explain as clearly as possible exactly what dangers these young women will face and what they are in for I believe he could show that it is no more dangerous to be in France or Italy than it is to be in London at the present time. Another point frequently brought to my attention is the moral danger, referred to by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). Parents have come to me and said "We are worried about what may happen to our daughters when they go overseas." They seem to feel that the girls will be unreasonably exposed, as it were, to the importunities of the licentious soldier. Hon. Members know that that is not true. I have seen members of the A.T.S. and of other women's Services overseas, and I know from personal knowledge that it is not true. If my right hon. Friend will explain exactly how these girls will be looked after when they get overseas he may be able to convince those parents, who are now worried about the matter, that the danger to young women of being led astray on the Continent of Europe is no greater than it is in this country.
There is one other point that I would like to bring forward, and it is on the question of hard cases. The Regulations covering hard cases among men are very narrow. Hon. Members know that they have to make a very definite and overwhelming case in order to persuade my right hon. Friend to let a man out on compassionate grounds. I feel that it might be possible to draft rather broader Regulations to cover cases of hardship among the A.T.S. I hope that my right hon. Friend can make all these points clear, and so do quite a lot to remove misunderstanding, which I believe now exists.
This is a most interesting Debate and I wish there were more Members here to listen to it. The sad and tragic part of it is to see the Labour Party, which is supposed to be solidly behind equality of the sexes, putting up the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), the man who went to gaol to get women votes, to speak against sending our daughters abroad. The hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Edith Summerskill) made a most magnificent speech. I do not see how the men behind her can possibly vote against her, if they vote with their heads, instead of with their emotions. She said something which was not quite fair to the men. She said she had been in this House for six years and had not seen men fighting for the welfare of women. If she had been in this House for 25 years, she would look upon the men in this Parliament as almost angels from heaven, compared with men who were here in those days. Many men are as deeply interested in the welfare of women as we are. I think that was the only unfair thing she said. I want to get after the Labour Party.
I have always known they were humbugs—equality, serving their brother men, taking the profit motive out of industry and all that nonsense. They have to answer for it to-day. Here is the party opposite taking this attitude during a war, when there is a Government in which are their best men, and when the Government have made this decision, which I am perfectly certain no one wanted to make, unless it was absolutely necessary. I do not believe that people would send girls abroad unless it was necessary; I am certain they would not. There is no reason why they should. They know it is a military necessity, and after all we cannot at this time merely say that the parents do not like it. I do not like my sons going abroad. I dislike it very much. I am very apprehensive when I hear that one of my boys is jumping out of an aeroplane at night, with only a string between him and eternity. That is uncomfortable, but he has to do it, and it is no use talking about parents not wanting their daughters to go abroad. No parents want their children to go abroad and fight, but we know they have to do it, that it is a necessity, and we have to face it.
A good argument was advanced by an hon. Member who spoke earlier and who said he was certain that a good many of these girls would not volunteer because of their parents, because it might be awkward for them, because they love their parents and do not want to put them, so to speak, "on the spot." But after all the House cannot listen to timorous parents, and there are very few timorous parents. There are many heartbroken parents in this country. Every day one can see tragedies. Only a week ago a woman at Plymouth walked into the river and was drowned. The reason was that she had four boys serving abroad, and the fifth was going on a secret mission. She could not stand the strain. I can understand that; it is tragic; but do not tell us that because parents object to their children going abroad we are not going to send our women. Take the United States. Their women are over here, and they have had to travel thousands of miles to serve abroad. The more I listen to the arguments against this step, the more I am convinced there has only been one real objection against it, and I am astonished that we should have required this Debate.
On the aspect of physical danger, I can tell the House a very amusing story. A W.V.S. woman had to drive to a hospital a man who was to give a blood transfusion. This was during the bombing. On the way to the hospital the bombing was fierce, and the man became so nervous and fidgety that when they reached the hospital they had to take the blood of the woman driver instead of that of the man. I have always known that women have physical courage, and that they have moral courage. As many women as men have physical courage, just as a great many more women than men have moral principles. As for being nervous about their morals, the House knows that people do respect the uniform, and people abroad respect it. I was talking to one of the girls from America who has been out on the Devonshire moors in her Red Cross uniform. She said she had been out among men the whole time. She said "It is a most extraordinary thing to find the respect men have for the uniform." That is perfectly true. I think that a great many of these girls would be much safer in uniform abroad, than they would be in ordinary clothes here at home. Some girls who are at home have a very difficult time. The hon. Member for West Fulham said that if a girl wants to get into trouble, she will not wait to go abroad to do it. I hope the House will take a sane view of this question and will not be led off by an agitation. I do not know who is agitating. It is like that agitation over Greece. We come to the House and hear that the country is roused, but one does not hear anything in the country about it.
I wish I owned "The Times." I am not ashamed of "The Times." I am very proud to be connected with it. I do not always agree with "The Times" or the "Observer." I do not always agree with my husband. I really would like to know from whence this agitation comes. I want to call the bluff of the Labour Party.
Is the Noble Lady really doubtful about where the agitation comes from? It comes from a number of quite naturally agitated mothers and fathers who do not want their darling girls to run into danger. If the Conscription Act for men had been put to the mothers of the country, does she think it would have been carried? People will run risks for themselves but not for their wives, sons and daughters if they can get out of it.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I think the average mother of this country has been absolutely marvellous. The morale of the women of Britain has astonished every visitor from abroad. Hon. Members may have had letters about this matter, but I should not have thought they were enough to cause a Debate in the House of Commons.
It is much better to have conscription. If that is done, the officers can choose which women should be sent abroad. They can choose the best. If service abroad is voluntary, we shall get the wildest, the most courageous, the most daring women, and they may not be the kind of women needed to do a particular job. So far as the women are concerned, it is far better to have compulsion. I have great faith in these officers of the A.T.S. I have faith in the A.T.S. organisation. Some of the insinuations that are made are very unfair, such as "Of course, if you come from a council school you cannot get promotion." We all know it is difficult, that some people who may have a certificate, or who may have come from Oxford with the highest honours, have not the qualities to make an officer. They may be highly educated, well-born and with money in the bank, but they may not have the qualities that go to make an officer. I see the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) in his place. Let him go to Russia and see what they do with officers there. The ordinary soldier is not allowed to look an officer in the eye—he has to look above.
I get it from men who have been there. The hon. and learned Member has not been there lately. I hope he will go to Russia some day and stay there. In regard to this insinuation that in the A.T.S. there is favouritism and so on, I only want to say that I am more and more struck with the high quality of the officers they have got, and the intense interest they have in the welfare of their girls. We ought to be proud of them. Women have been for four and a half years in most cases doing a magnificent job. Do not let class prejudice creep into everything. We shall never get complete equality; we do not even get it in the Labour Party.
I put one point to the Secretary of State. I hope he will reconsider the present attitude towards equal pay. I want equal pay. I will not say anything about compassionate leave. I know that, as far as possible, one gets it, but in dealing with large numbers, one has to look very strictly into the question of compassionate leave. One wants to grant it when it is right, but very often a case is not what it appears to be on the surface. I have complete faith in the Secretary of State to do what is right in that matter. I am truly shocked at the attitude of people who at this time think that because the girls are to be sent abroad, they are to be put in more physical or moral danger than they have been in at home. Some women can "take it" and some women cannot, but at this late stage, and after the wonderful work women have done, I think it is positively insulting to make a plea that they should not go abroad to serve their country, as the men are doing. I do not believe that the men are making that plea. I think it is just a few "nervous nannies."
I will not detain the House long. I find it very painful to disagree with the Noble Lady who has just spoken, but I must challenge her statement that the men of to-day are angels, and compare favourably with the men of 50 years ago. Why are we considering this subject to-day, the question of sending women overseas compulsorily? Because we have had men in public life for the last 25 years through whose criminal complacency and lack of courage in telling the truth we are now in the sixth year of war. I say that is the crux of the whole thing. I have been most interested in the speeches to-day, but I am sorry they have been tinged too much with the sex outlook of men versus women and women versus men. To justify this step we have to look at it from the point of view of the State and the prosecution of the war to a successful conclusion. There is only one thing for us to do, that is, to demand and secure from the Secretary of State for War a definite statement, that can be microscopically examined, as to why this procedure is necessary at this late stage of the war.
It came as a shock and surprise to the people of this country to hear that women were to be sent overseas on a compulsory basis, because they had been lulled into a false sense of security by the standing down of the Home Guard. I have experienced that in every part of the country in which I have been since that order was issued. It was said "Oh the war is over". I am not one of the fools who thought that. It gave people the impression that the man-power problem had eased and that there was no necessity for the Home Guard to remain in existence, and they were stood down against their own wishes. If a vote of the Home Guard had been taken, they would never have agreed to it. The men who are now out, idling, want to be back in uniform, doing their duty to the country. That is the atmosphere which was created. It will take a lot of dispelling. The Home Guard would have been of tremendous value at this time, when we are told that the manpower problem is so critical. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with that aspect of the matter. I am now going to make a sensible suggestion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not care twopence for those sarcastic "Hear, hears." Up to now I have spoken sound commonsense, and no doubt I have stunned party politicians by my opening remarks. This question of sending women overseas on a compulsory basis should be postponed for three months, to enable the War Minister and the Minister of Labour, together, to see whether it is not possible to find more men to do the duties of other men who could be released to go overseas. I will take the War Minister, at any time he likes, around the West End of London and other parts, and show him able-bodied young men doing duties in luxury hotels and night clubs and in a hundred and one other places, who could be put into uniform.
Even if they are not, they are stronger than the frail young women who are to be sent overseas. There are thousands of men who could be released from clerical duties, in order to ease the man-power situation, if it is as serious as has been made out. I hope that if ultimately it is considered necessary to send these women overseas on a compulsory basis—and if the necessity is proved beyond argument, I shall be the first to support it—some better arrangements will be made for their welfare, particularly in regard to compassionate leave and transfer back to this country for duty when domestic and other circumstances merit it. In the case of illness, when there is a danger of an operation, I hope they will be returned to this country, so that, if they have to die, they shall die on their native soil. It is not so serious a matter for a man to die overseas, but parents would grieve if their daughters, who had been sent overseas, were buried on the Continent. That is a sentimental point of view, but, believe me, the parents will support it up to the hilt.
This Debate appears to me to be rather archaic. Not only has magnificent service been given already overseas by the women in the Forces from this country, but many hon. Members appear to have forgotten that in the last war the women in the Q.M.A.A.C., who were the A.T.S. of the last war, served in a very distinguished way, and very satisfactorily from their point of view, in France, under very similar conditions to those which my right hon. Friend is proposing this time. In my view, the whole trouble, which has made this Debate necessary in these busy days, is the way the notification was put over. There I associate myself with the hon. Member who said that there is a great deal of ignorance about what the women are going to. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should arrange for someone from the Adjutant-General's Department of the War Office and, better still, for the Director of the A.T.S. to broadcast to the nation, and say what these girls are going to do. From misty oblivion we should come down to earth, and remember that there are two things only which have enabled us to win the war. The first is the magnificent quality of our men, fighting on sea, on land, and in the air; and the second is the woman-power which came forward to fill the gaps, to enable those men to go overseas, and to get to close grips with a cruel and ruthless enemy. Without those two things no effort of the home front, no amount of leadership, of political unity, and so forth, would have been of the slightest avail. The ignorance to which I have referred exists, in the first place, among the parents, who in my view should be assured of the conditions to which their daughters are going.
I would like to have assurances from my right hon. Friend on four main subjects. The first is that they will go to suitable quarters, selected and passed by senior officers in the Service, to whom the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has referred, and whose judgment, knowledge, and self-sacrifice cannot be too highly praised by this House. Secondly, I would like to know that there will be sufficient capable medical advisers, and, thirdly, that members of the Service will go under the supervision of reliable senior officers, not below the rank of senior commander, and that they will go in sufficiently large parties. It was the small isolated groups, of three, four, five, and six, that caused so much trouble in the early days of the war. Then, I should like to know that their welfare and wellbeing would be as well looked after overseas as it is at home. I feel that if these four points receive suitable attention, the parents will have no grounds for putting any sort of spoke in the wheel of these girls going overseas.
I cannot help referring to the Report which was made to this House in August, 1942, on the amenities and welfare conditions of the three Women's Services. Paragraph 48 pointed out that the Women's Services only existed in virtue of the national need, and that if women were told that they had a national duty to fulfil, rather than the fulfilment of their own wishes, subsequent discontent might be diminished. I think that the women serving to-day in the A.T.S., the great majority of whom, in my view, are ready and willing to go if they are required, should be told plainly that this is their duty. The things that worry them are whether there will be compassionate postings home, and whether there will be an opportunity for leave on the grounds of marriage or proposed marriage. I hope that these two things will be made plain, and the answers will be in the affirmative. The British Army has always been our best ambassador abroad, and I believe that the members of the A.T.S. will be equally good ambassadresses from this country to the Continent I wish them luck and a speedy return.
As one of the few Members who opposed the conscription of women originally, I would like to call attention to the reasons given by the Prime Minister for asking for that Measure to go through. He stated then, in his usual picturesque language, that two vultures hung over us. One was the threat of invasion, and the other was the bombing which we were being subjected to. He based his argument on the need for women for home defence. Home defence was the whole reason for mobilising the women in national service. There was no suggestion that they would ever be required to go abroad and fight in other countries. Another point he made—on which I agreed with him—was that women taking part in combatant service would continue to do so voluntarily. He said that it was a matter of quality of temperament, of feeling capable of doing this form of duty, and that every woman must judge of this for herself. That reference was to taking part in combatant service, but my view is that the same argument applies to women going abroad. Some hon. Members, women Members particularly, have been very sure that they knew exactly how the women in the Services felt about this. I do not pretend to have any such knowledge. I can tell you what some girls think about it, and what some parents think about it, but I cannot speak for all of them. But I take it that if the girls were very anxious to go overseas, as some women Members make out they are, they would volunteer. No one can make me believe that women of 21 and over are so much under the control of their parents, especially if the women have been in the Services for some time, that they would not do what they themselves think right. I would like to think that woung women were as much under the control of their parents as some Members make out.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for War has not managed to slip this measure through without some discussion in the House, as he did the reduction of the age for boys. We are becoming very used to this method. When the Government want to get a Measure through the House, and know that it is not popular, they make all kinds of promises. Promises were made that the age for boys would not be less than 19. Promises were made that women would not be compelled to take part in combatant service. I regret very much that the same action was not taken when the age for sending boys away was reduced to 18½, although we were told that they would have a longer training to toughen them up for the war. Whenever it suited the Government, they came along and the Secretary of State got it through by putting up a "stooge" questioner, who, however, never turned up to ask the Question, so that the answer appeared as a written reply.
Another point I want to make is this. We were in a bad position when this particular Measure was put through. What is the position to-day? What about all the Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutch and all the rest? What about these people doing a little bit? Why should our girls be compelled to go over there and face all the horrors? Reference was made to the position of nurses. I have never claimed that it was any worse for a woman to be killed than a man, and I have never been the kind of feminist that looks only at one side of the position. Nurses always have gone abroad and faced dangers, and they have never been conscripted. That is a woman's job; but war is not a woman's job and never was. I do not know what the modern man is coming to, when we have to send women out to face the horrors of trench life, for that is what it amounts to. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that they will be behind the front line, but where is "behind the front line" in a modern war? The position changes from day to day. Again, nurses are under international control. Every soldier, whether enemy or Allied, respects a nurse, who goes out to nurse friend and foe alike because it is a woman's job.
I am not one who believes all the atrocity stories we are told. Some of the refugees who came to this country told stories about the Germans that did not make sense, and I never believed that kind of story. I never believed that all men are evil, and that women were running great risks. But there are certain risks which women run in countries in which there is a state of lawlessnes. Is such a country a place to send our young women? When this particular Measure was put through to conscript women for the Services, the feeling in the Forces was so strongly against it that the Government did not dare to take the married women, because it was feared by the men in the Forces that there was a possibility of their wives being sent away. Now it is the girls of from 17 to 20 who are to be sent away—the women who have no one to speak for them.
It is said that the young women will be treated in a proper way. If you take the conditions regarding tuberculosis, and the increase of this disease among young women to-day, you will find whether they are being treated in a proper way. It has gone up by leaps and bounds, and it is among women of between 18 and 25 that there has been the biggest increase. Now the Services are asking the young women to do more than they are fit to do, and are asking that they should be sent away to other countries. That was the Prime Minister's excuse for bringing it in. Any woman will defend her home, as any man will, but it is very different when you send her away to other countries. Why is it that this nation is expected to do so much in mobilising its resources? If you take America, there is conscription only up to 26, and no man or woman has been directed into industry. What about the Paris cafés being raided, because people were having such a good time? What about the Frenchmen and the Dutch and all the rest? There are also a good many refugees here—able-bodied men, who could do something.
I have been surprised at the way that some of the women Members of this House, particularly the older women, have offered up the young women as a kind of bloody sacrifice. The hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) was one of the first, and she is an old woman like myself. She said she believed that the young women would be glad to go and die for their country. It is all right dying when you are 70, but it is a different thing to suffer and die between 17 and 21. It is a nice new world that some of these women picture for the rising generation of women, who now not only have to produce innumerable children but fight wars as well.
I hope this proposal will be withdrawn and that the matter will be kept on a voluntary basis. Some women, it may be, would like this work, because they like adventure and do not care about hardships. If so, the road is open for them to volunteer. To say that young women shall be compelled to go away to foreign lands and face danger and discomfort is, I think, asking too much, and I hope the Government will think again before putting such a scheme into force.
I think it is fair to say that the compulsory system has always been anathema to the British temperament, but, in this war, we have had to take some weapons out of the enemy's armoury. We have come to realise the inevitability of compulsory systems of service, but we are fighting for certain definite principles, and I submit to the House that one of those principles is a proper place, as we conceive it, in the world for women. I cannot see that the time has yet arrived in this country when we should have to resort to compulsion for our women. I cordially endorse the arguments put forward by the hon. Lady opposite, in suggesting that it is not right for the Secretary of State to ask that this proposal should go through until we are quite satisfied in this country that, at least, some of our Allies are on something like a similar footing. We know that, in America, there is no compulsion for women, and that, as far as their men-folk are concerned, they are far away from having anything like the degree of compulsion that has been necessary in this country during the war. I feel that, until somebody else takes a certain amount of the weight off our shoulders, we should not be expected to go as far as this.
I would also draw the attention of the House to the fact that there are, to some of us, signs that the Minister might well apply a fine-tooth comb to good effect, in combing out some of our staffs—not just officers, but other ranks as well—employed in certain parts of the world. I have a considerable suspicion myself that there is a very large number of people in Cairo on military duties in the Army, and that the number might be considerably lessened without seriously impairing our war effort. I feel, too, that our military mission in America is getting rather top-heavy in these days. These fruitful fields might, I think, be considered before we get to such a degree of urgency as entails sending our girls, against their will, to foreign parts of the world. I hope that, before the Government asks the House to express its opinion, they will take further thought.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of this Debate has been the difference of opinion amongst the women Members of the House on this question. I refer particularly to the speech of the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor). I would dearly love to follow her characteristic digressions and irrelevances, but I refrain, except to ask her this. The Noble Lady has ventured to assert in the House that this Debate is nothing but a Labour Party bluff. I do not know what the Noble Lady means, and I doubt whether she knows herself, but, surely, this House is entitled, if it is entitled to anything at all, to consider matters that affect the youth of this country. This House is surely the guardian of youth and anything that affects youth is, rightly, brought up in the House. I am extremely surprised—I will give way in a moment; I knew I should have to—that the Noble Lady, who stands up as a defender of women's rights, should object to this question being debated in the House.
The hon. Member has answered his question when he said that I stand up for women's rights. We have put women into compulsory military service and, having done that, we have no right to say that they, any more than men, should be excluded from doing what is right. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the Labour Party has talked for years about equality among the sexes. This is an instance which shows that they do not mean it.
That is a characteristic, simple answer from the Noble Lady. What I suggest the Noble Lady said was that this Debate was unnecessary; in other words, that there is no occasion for the future lives of women in the Services to be discussed in the House. We say that there is. It may be that what is said will not alter the decision of the War Cabinet, but the point remains that the House expresses its determination to discuss these matters before they become the law of the land and are put into practice.
I have not yet said which side I am on. I wish the Noble Lady would not jump to these hasty conclusions, which generally lead her down the wrong lane. I have suggested that this House is the guardian of youth, and it is quite right that we should have a say on what is to be done with regard to young men and women. I well remember that in the Debates on the Military Service Act, we were discussing for many, long hours what should be the military age, and it was decided then that, although young men should be called up at 18, they should not be sent overseas until they were 19. The House registered its opinion, and I am sure the Secretary of State will raise no objection to having this Debate, because the right hon. Gentleman will be able to appreciate what the feelings of the country are.
Another extraordinary thing emanating from the lady Members is this. They have claimed that women of the A.T.S. desire to go abroad, that they are anxious to go abroad. If that be so, how is it that there are not sufficient volunteers and why the necessity for compulsion? The two things do not tally. I am not opposed, personally, to their going abroad, provided certain safeguards are entered into, on a voluntary basis, but I am, at the moment, opposed to their going abroad on a compulsory basis. So far, I have yet to have it proved to me that it is really necessary that they should go, and that is the important factor. It may be said that they should get their parents' consent, and you may have the strange and anomalous position of the parents dissenting and the member of the A.T.S. wanting to go, in which case one might ask who should decide—the father or the member of the A.T.S.? My answer in that case would be that, given certain safeguards and conditions, the member of the A.T.S. should decide, inasmuch as it would be she who would be endangering herself and taking on risks. We must make the stipulation and condition that only those young women over a certain age shall be allowed to volunteer. I understand that it is agreed that the age for compulsion shall not be below 21—I am willing to be corrected if that is incorrect—but surely, if there are reasons why no one under 21 should be compelled to go, just the same reasons apply whether they volunteer or not. There should be a definite age limit below which neither volunteer nor conscript should be sent.
There is, too, the question of the conditions of service. It is being asked that these girls shall be sent overseas and I notice that it is suggested by one hon. Member that they might be nearer home just across the Channel, than they are at the present time in this country. It is true, but it is not suggested that they are only going to be sent nearer home. Once they can be compulsorily conscripted for foreign service, I presume they can be sent almost everywhere, with the possible exception of India and Burma.
I do not know why there should be an exception in respect of Burma and India, except because of the climatic conditions. It means that Once these women are sent compulsorily they can be sent to almost any part of the globe and they will not be near their homes. There is this difference between a man and a woman. If anything goes wrong at home, if there is sickness at home, if there is distress in the family, it the mother is taken ill, it is not the son who is called back, but the daughter, who may be in one of the Services. Therefore, the home ties of members of the women's Services are much closer and stronger. Further, the justification for compassionate posting is much greater in the case of the women's Services. That being so, that factor has to be considered. It may be said that this is an agitation. In fact, the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton said it was an agitation. How she knows that, I do not know. I want to be perfectly frank. As far as my constituency is concerned, I have only had one letter of protest about it. Therefore it seems to us that there is no organised opposition, because had there been an organised opposition, one would have received a larger number of letters. The Noble Lady is interested in matters affecting temperance and licensing—
—with the result that we get on these matters organised protests from those societies all over the country. I assume that the Noble Lady approves of that sort of organisation. Is there anything wrong in people who are concerned about the interests of their children, organising themselves and trying to bring pressure to bear on their Member of Parliament?
I said that they had not, but the Noble Lady said it was an agitation. Even if that were true, it is unlikely that there would be anything wrong at all. Even if the Noble Lady were right, there would be no harm in organising opposition, particularly when it was something affecting the lives and well-being of their children. But it is not an organised opposition. It is quite understandable that parents do not want their girls to go overseas. They have had five years of war, they may have had several years of separation from their husbands and sons, and even their girls may have been separated from them and they do not want them to go further away. We should go very carefully into the matter and until it is definitely proven that the journey of the A.T.S. to foreign countries is really necessary, no further steps should be taken to enforce it in a compulsory manner.
One realises that it is not a question of danger. The women folk in this country have faced danger equal to the dangers of the battlefield. In the Battle of Britain and when the blitz was on, these girls in the A.T.S. and the other Services rendered magnificent and yeoman service. They flinched not against any dangers; they were courageous even unto death. Therefore, one is not going to suggest that it is a question of danger. It is not necessarily a question of the moral and physical aspect. There is a difference between the three Services. Possibly owing to the greater number of women in the A.T.S., there is less chance of promotion for the women of the A.T.S. than there may be in some of the other Services. I think I am right in saying that in the W.R.N.S. it has been a compulsory service, and one can understand that, because traditionally the Navy is an overseas Service and a service away from these Isles. That being so, one can appreciate that one who joins the W.R.N.S. has joined recognising the possibility—and the very likelihood—of their being sent overseas. In the W.A.A.F. it is a voluntary service, and I hope that it will be a voluntary service in the A.T.S.
There are two or three questions I would like to put to the Secretary of State for War reinforcing those of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I think that the majority of the Members of this House are, in principle, opposed to compulsion.
It goes against the grain and we resort to compulsion only when it becomes absolutely necessary and when it is proved that it is necessary. We should ask of the Secretary of State for War—if he is determined to carry on with the imposing of compulsion on members of the A.T.S.—that he shall justify the position he takes up. Is there no other way of meeting the needs of the Services? It has been suggested by Members who have much more knowledge than I, that in some of the military establishments, both at home and abroad, a certain weeding-out might be done, possibly to the advantage of the organisation, thus reducing the necessity for the employment of women abroad. We ask that no woman should be sent overseas compulsorily under the age of 21. Let 21 be the age of volunteers. We ask further that adequate provision should be made for the welfare of the A.T.S. who go abroad, from the point of view of medical services, and that there should be a good opportunity granted for leave. We ask that where women take on the duties and obligations of men, they should have the pay which the men receive for performing those duties. Here is a chance for the Secretary of State for War to stand high above his fellow-Ministers. He could introduce, in a very simple way, equal pay for equal work by seeing that the women who go overseas shall be paid the men's wage for the men's work they have to do. There might be a decided inducement to go overseas because of that.
I think that this has been a worthwhile Debate and that this House has lived up to its reputation of being concerned with the well-being of the people of this country. I am certain that the House will want real and adequate reasons why women should be compelled to go abroad, and should be given to understand what arrangements will be made for their security, comfort and health. Also, the House should be given the assurance by the Secretary of State for War that, as soon as the need disappears, opportunity shall be given to those who volunteer to return to this country. We want to restore as speedily as we can after the war the home life of this country of ours. If we are to recreate the home life in this country, it will be essential that the young women who have done so gallantly and valiantly in the past and who are working and serving their country at the present time shall be afforded an early opportunity of returning home so that we can rebuild the homes of Britain.
There have been inherent in this Debate throughout two dilemmas for the Government spokesman. The first is that, in justifying the need for the compulsory posting of A.T.S. overseas, if one pitched the need too high, one would of necessity rather decry the willingness of the A.T.S. to go, and cast some sort of aspersion on a very fine Service. That dilemma has been present in the Debate. Another dilemma will appear in the course of my remarks when, in trying to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the House the need for this particular measure, it will be impossible, for very obvious reasons, to give anything more than a selection of figures. Therefore those dilemmas will be present throughout my remarks. I imagine in this country the dilemma of Scylla and Charybdis is one of the fundamental conditions of political life.
The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) is extremely anxious that I should establish the need for this measure and I will do my best to do so. The essential fact in establishing this need is that the Army, even less than other Services, have never been given the allotment of man-power that has been asked for; never have we had more than a dividend on the allotments thought to be necessary. But, in spite of all that, we have throughout the last years, since the offensive on the part of the Allies started, put all our efforts into creating the maximum impact on the enemy, whether it be in Italy, in Burma or in Western Europe; and, of course, the question arose particularly in Western Europe, because that looked like being the final effort which would have a decisive effect on the war.
Therefore, we put everything we possibly could into the forefront of the battle, and we knew that we would have great difficulty in keeping the battle formations going, in replacing casualties, or meeting other needs which might arise in the course of the battle, and so it has turned out. The Prime Minister announced on 22nd December that we were going to make an extra 250,000 men available to nourish and sustain the troops in contact with the enemy, and as was pointed out in that announcement, that 250,000 will come from three sources: first, from a call-up from civil life; secondly, from transfers from the other Services, which must naturally, having regard to the needs of the other Services, be the smallest element of the three in this finding of the additional men; and third, there was to be a rearrangement of the known resources in the Army.
I do not need to say—and it would be very wrong for me to give any such impression—that the rearrangement of our known resources has not just occurred to us for the first time. It is a process which has been going on for months and years. In fact, I do not know any question on which I have been more chivvied or have done more chivvying, and even if at any time my own zeal for trying to make the most of our man-power showed signs of flagging, there was always the Prime Minister to make quite certain that it got another wind. I believe there was a factor even more potent than the Prime Minister in making quite certain that we should do our utmost to avoid any waste of our resources, and that was that on no occasion have we ever been given the full allotment for which we have asked in order to maintain our Forces.
The hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) talked about Cairo and the United States of America, and people sitting around and wasting time. The Middle East theatre goes a good way beyond Cairo, and Cairo has been, to my knowledge, combed. Special missions have been sent out, committees have sat, replacements have been stopped or restricted from time to time, and there is a very severe scrutiny going on there now to find men for this quarter of a million. As regards missions to the United States, every testimony I get from the United States, and from a very senior American general in the last few days, is that our missions in the United States are extremely overworked. The lamentable example of Field-Marshal Dill is only one of the instances which demonstrate that. Some other Members talked as if there were a large number of men in this country. I think the expression was "dodging the draft." Well, it is not the business of the Service Departments to produce the draft, it is the business of the Minister of Labour, and I have never yet heard it seriously suggested that he had not been extraordinarily successful in mobilising the man-power of this country. By universal consent and to the admiration of our Allies overseas, it is admitted that the degree of mobilisation of the men and women in this country has been higher than anything ever seen before, and higher than in any other country.
Now let me come to the actual process of finding the allotment towards the 250,000 which has to be found by a rearrangement of our own resources. Of course, one fruitful source is by a reduction, a reduction which the strategic situation permits, of our static defences. We have taken away from the static defences, and retrained for other occupations, tens of thousands of men in the last year or 18 months. Then we shall have to accept, in the places where it hurts least, a lower standard of administration. The third way is the one which has led to our Debate to-day, and that is by moving men in static occupations, or line-of-communication occupations overseas further forward, and replacing them by A.T.S.
This is where I have to be a little vague in my figures, for obvious reasons. The replacements in this last category are in number about one-fifth of the whole contribution to be made by the Army towards this quarter of a million. At present, only one in 30 of our A.T.S. are serving overseas, and all of those are volunteers. We shall, in order to produce the results I have described, have to multiply this number four or five times. At this period of time the known and identifiable possibilities of replacements are more than twice the number now overseas. Towards these known possibilities the volunteers available will cover in number only one quarter of the vacancies, and these are not all in the right place; I mean that in some trades or some occupations there are more volunteers than we require, in others there is a great deficiency, so the effective number of volunteers is probably less than a quarter. It is, I submit, clear that the possibility of finding volunteers from A.T.S. to replace soldiers who can be moved into a more active occupation is far below what is required of us if we are to continue to nourish and maintain the fighting troops.
So much for the need. Now let me come to some of the objections and misgivings which have been urged during the course of the Debate. The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh stated that this course represented a fundamental change of policy. A change of practice, yes, but to speak of a fundamental change of policy goes, I think, too far. I certainly consulted the Minister of Labour on this, as well as all the rest of my colleagues, and in particular I consulted him on the question of Parliamentary pledges to the country. The Minister of Labour assured me that there was no Parliamentary pledge against this, and I have now looked up what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said in the Debate on the original Bill. He made it quite clear that under the Bill women could be posted overseas. He made that quite clear. He said he expected that volunteers would be available in such numbers that the question would not arise. For a number of years it has not arisen, and from time to time announcements of current practice have been made in this House that women in the A.T.S. are not being sent overseas unless they volunteer. The practice in other Services may have differed, but I do not want to go into that.
Not in the slightest degree—to make quite certain. The assertion had been made when the matter was mooted inside domestic circles. I naturally said, "I cannot find any Parliamentary pledge which prohibits this. I will naturally take every precaution and go to those who, if pledges have been given, would have given them."
When the Government come to the House for general powers of that sort, that is the precise form in which it always occurs—the powers are presented to the House on the ground that they will not be used in certain directions, and two or three years later they say that no specific pledge was given that they would not be used and, therefore, it is taken as permission to do that.
Really the right hon. Gentleman just asks for trouble. Of course, the Parliamentary Secretary said that, but he also gave the assurance that it was not intended to use the powers in that direction, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said in his statement, and that is why general powers are usually conferred upon the Government without proscriptions against their use in certain directions.
That is not an assurance, that is a statement of fact, and the statements made later on were statements of current practice. No assurance was given which prohibits this and, in any case, the Minister of Labour is a perfectly good defender of his own conscience. Now let me come to some of the arguments addressed to the House as regards the practice and position in other countries. The practice in other countries I gave in reply to a Question in this House on Tuesday.
I do not know about Russia, but it is quite clear that several of the Allied Nations have power to post A.T.S. overseas, and I understand that the only one which has exercised that power is the United States. But all this springs, and the argument was specifically raised in this House, from the argument that we have done enough, let somebody else do their share. I must say that I do not think that arguments based on comparative sacrifices are going to get us very far. It is quite true that we alone of the major Allies have been in this war from the very beginning, and, moreover, we shall have to be in the war after the war in Europe has ended, but I submit that that is no reason for taking in the sail now. Surely, it is for all to do their utmost to bring the horrible business to an end as quickly as possible. Sacrifices, and disinterested sacrifices, will be one of our main claims to consideration in the post-war world, and, besides, I think it is a little late for us now, after having given so much, to begin thinking of the "nicely calculated less or more."
Then the suggestion has appeared, not very openly, it is quite true, but it has been made, that really this going abroad and carrying out war duties in a theatre is not a woman's job. But they have done at home precisely the same thing as they will do abroad, and what indeed have they not done since the war started? The women of this country are not on their trial, and there is almost nothing that they cannot do, as I think the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summer-skill) pointed out.
The next point I would like to come to is the question of the conditions abroad—whether the conditions will be suitable or not—and if the House will bear with me, I would like first to read what I actually said in the original announcement and then comment on it a little:
Apart from those who volunteer, no member of the A.T.S. will be posted overseas to any theatre unless she is 21 years of age or over, unmarried and medically fit for service abroad.
Accommodation for A.T.S. auxiliaries overseas will be of the best possible standard. In winter they will be accommodated in huts or billets; in the summer months tents may be used, but certainly not in winter. The Government recognise the need for welfare amenities and recreational facilities on a generous scale and the utmost care will be used to make every possible provision. The A.T.S. overseas will receive the same medical attention as at home, including their own women doctors, and accommodation in their own special wards. They will be eligible for leave on exactly the same terms as soldiers.
The work which A.T.S. overseas will be doing will be similar to that which they have performed, with such success, at home; in particular, signal personnel and clerks are required. The majority will be employed at the larger headquarters and installations in the rearward areas.
They might, of course, I went on to add, at any time come under the same kind of bombardment as in London—I think rather less frequently and rather less probably, but there is always the possibility, if they are in large cities.
Here their work will be invaluable. The mixed batteries of anti-aircraft artillery and other associated formations will be strictly confined to volunteers.
Perhaps I should interrupt there and say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Sir A. Evans) that I shall be perfectly ready to look into the cases which he said he has had sent to him, but has not yet been able to check, of allegations that the volunteering was pretty near compulsion. I will certainly look into those cases. It is certainly against all intention. The statement continued:
and will, of course, be employed in any circumstances or stations in which the High Command may require them."—[0FFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 1957.]
I would now like to make one or two comments on the points raised during the Debate. The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh said: "Will you raise the age for volunteers from 19 to 21?" I would not like to give an assurance on that now because, for a long time a great many of the A.T.S. coming into the Army have been under the age of 21. We were only getting young women, but I have not the slightest doubt that the girls who volunteered to go overseas were between the ages of 19 and 21. Therefore, I would like to examine that point and see what is involved. I should be very glad to answer a question on the matter after I have had an opportunity of considering it. If it can be done without undoing with one hand what we are doing with the other by posting women compulsorily abroad. I would be very ready to consider the matter, but the dominating consideration must be, I think, the effort to strengthen the impact of our Forces on the enemy, and not merely to make changes which keep it stationary, or even reduce it.
On the question of the moral dangers, raised by the right hon. Gentleman for East Edinburgh, I, personally, thought that he was a little unnecessarily fearful, and I do not believe that there is any doubt of the truth of what the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham said, that these girls have their heads screwed on pretty well. But, in any case, what are their officers for?
I will come to that in due season. In regard to welfare, I was asked how I intended to assure myself that what I have promised here will be carried out. The answer is that we do not intend to send girls abroad until senior A.T.S. officers have satisfied themselves that conditions are suitable, and that the assurances I have given to the House are, in fact, fulfilled in advance. I have not the slightest doubt that if there is any uncertainty in the matter I shall hear about it before they go. Then, as a reassurance, there are some thousands of A.T.S. in the Middle East, and I believe it is true to say that nobody in my office has had a single complaint about the welfare arrangements there. I do not remember a single one, and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary confirms me in that experience.
Let me come to other questions which were asked and misgivings which were expressed. I was asked what would be the effect on compassionate posting. I now give an absolutely explicit assurance that A.T.S. who have been already posted in this country near their homes on compassionate grounds will not be compulsorily posted abroad, and that compassionate posting will hold good as long as the circumstances remain. As regards exemption from posting abroad on compassionate grounds, provision will certainly be made for that. Instructions are already on their way, and I think there is no doubt whatever that that exemption will have to be given, and will be given, on terms very much more lenient than can be given for men. On that, too, I will give an assurance to the House.
Then we come to the third class of case—of A.T.S. serving abroad—when compassionate circumstances arise after they have been posted abroad. Certainly, we will make provisions for that class of case, and I think—in fact, I am quite clear about it—that the rather severe standards that have to be adopted for men must be alleviated in the case of these girls posted compulsorily abroad. Then the question was asked—and it shows how easily misunderstandings can arise—"What is going to happen if a soldier who comes home on leave under the Python scheme, finds his wife has been posted to the Far East?" That shows how easy it is for rumours to get abroad and be disseminated. Wives are not being com- pulsorily posted anywhere, and nobody is being posted compulsorily to the Far East. Another question asked was whether A.T.S. abroad will be given leave to come home and get married when their fiancés come back. The answer to that is certainly, a far as possible. Marriage leave will certainly be admissible from Europe and from overseas theatres in so far as shipping and leave quotas permit, which should not lead to any serious delay in the achieving of the ideal state. Then the question was raised—I have forgotten by whom—of sending the girls abroad together.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of leave, I would remind him that I did ask that A.T.S. should be given a rather greater opportunity of leave, generally, than is given to the men. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer that.
I will certainly look into that. The tendency will always be that way. I said in my original statement, "On the same terms." Whether they should have a greater proportion of quotas, and so achieve the result which the right hon. Gentleman wants, is a matter I would like to consider, and certainly will consider.
I was asked whether friends will be sent together, and whether units can be sent as one draft. In the case of the A.T.S., where the unit organisation is much looser than in the case of the male Services, the opportunity for sending units abroad is not as great as it is in the male part of the Army. All I can say, therefore, about units is that we will do our best where the circumstances are suitable. If units are sent overseas, a certain number of them, of course, will be ineligible for posting and their places have to be filled with other people. They have to be filled with individuals, and not by truncating another unit. But, subject to this, we have every intention of making every effort to keep units together, and friends together, so that they are not starting a completely new existence without friends when they get abroad.
Then we come to the question of equal pay. I think the right hon. Gentleman must expect to get the answer from me that I am not in a position to give him any assurance on what is, after all, a matter of general Government policy, on which there has been a great deal of discussion, and on which, I think I am right in saying, there is a Royal Commission now sitting.
Of course it does. In any event, a parallel principle holds. The hon. Member for West Fulham was a little out in her facts. The whole object of this is to produce the maximum effect on the enemy and not to get a cheap overseas army. There is no idea of saving money by sending A.T.S. abroad. I think I must point out that in a good many spheres the replacements are not on a head per head basis. It takes more women to replace a certain number of men. Anyhow, the question is far beyond my competence.
I was referring to certain other spheres. If the hon. Lady likes to put down a Question about it I will give an answer, but it varies in accordance with the particular form of unit. Undoubtedly, in some kinds of work replacement is not on a head for head basis.
Yes, and a very good one. Now I come to a question which has been touched on a great deal in the House, namely, the attitude of women towards this question. A number of women Members have spoken here to-day, and although there has not been unanimity I think there has been a preponderance of view in favour of the proposals I have put forward. Even the hon. Member for West Fulham gave noble support although, of course, not without a due allowance of back-handers on side issues. A very important point, which has not been satisfactorily dealt with, is the attitude of the A.T.S. themselves. I think the nearest approach to what I regard as the truth of this matter was contained in the speech by my Noble Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley). It is very important to get this clear, for the reasons I mentioned in my opening sentences. It is true that the figures of volunteers are, at first sight, disappointing, but they are not as disappointing as they look, because there are all sorts of people who were not eligible to volunteer. In some trades at the time volunteers were called for there were no vacancies or requirements abroad. I think the main reason for the attitude of the girls is that they are, and regard themselves as, a part of the Army and think it is only fair that in this matter they should be dealt with as the men are dealt with and go where they are told that they are wanted. It is not fair to place on them the onus of distributing among themselves the harder work, the extra burden. That is a view with which I greatly sympathise.
No proof, because there cannot be proof of mass opinion, but I have a great deal of justification. The House does not suppose that I have not taken all the steps open to me to find out what the girls are thinking. I am told by those best qualified to judge that the overwhelming majority of girls are in favour of being told to go where they are wanted.
I have known it done. [An HON. MEMBER: "With what success?"] Varying. Now perhaps I may sum up by saying that I think I have demonstrated that this measure is very much needed to nourish and sustain the fighting troops who are in contact with the enemy. I have assured the House to the best of my ability that these girls will be well looked after. May I repeat that nobody under 21, no married member of the A.T.S., nobody who is not found to be fit after a proper medical examination, nobody who is not recommended by an officer not below the rank of senior commander, will be sent overseas?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that those who volunteered some months ago to go abroad, and who are being kept back on the ground that their work here is said to be essential, will not be prevented from going unless they are doing most exceptional work and must be kept back?
I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that point, because I heard yesterday for the first time that there was a feeling among girls who wanted to go overseas that they were being kept back on inadequate grounds. I will take up that matter, because it is quite wrong that that should be so. In reply to the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), nobody will go abroad who is not recommended by an A.T.S. officer not below the rank of senior commander. Further, nobody will go to Burma or West Africa, and only volunteers will go to India to which the assurances I have given about pre-satisfaction of conditions before they go in any numbers will apply. For operational roles, certainly only volunteers will go. I am a little sensitive about there being a certain amount of justification for the suggestions which have been made, that if I had not produced this announcement on the day we rose for the Christmas Recess a certain amount of misunderstanding and heat might have been avoided. I am quite conscious of that. I did my best to get the announcement ready before then, and I apologise to the House for having to produce it at that unseasonable time. But the House will remember that the need to take steps to nourish and sustain our Forces in the field at that time was very serious, and that must be my excuse. So I hope that with the further explanations and assurances I have given the House will agree that we might go ahead with this policy.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War on the most conciliatory speech I have ever heard him make? For reasons which I will not enter into now he has gained a reputation for being a combative, aggressive and most unaccommodating speaker. To-day, I congratulate him on his change of attitude, which I hope he will continue to practise when making announcements and speeches to the House. In all quarters of the House I think there was a feeling of dismay at the statement he made on the day the House rose for the Christmas Recess, and I think that feeling was justified because I shared it myself. We asked for a Debate and we have had it. I think the Minister has done his best to reply to questions and has given assurances, which are there to be carried out. I might have been speaking in different terms if my right hon. Friend had not polished up his manners in the House—
Yes, if my right hon. Friend had not honestly tried, as I believe he has to-day, to satisfy the doubts of the House I might have had to speak in harsher terms. Assurances having been given, it will be the duty of the House to keep my right hon. Friend up to those assurances. We are marking a development of policy about which people on all sides are uneasy. If it is necessary for the prosecution of the war, something must be done, but it must be done in circumstances and conditions which commend themselves to the people of the country and to the House. I am prepared to let it go now, warning the right hon. Gentleman that we shall keep a watchful eye on him in the near future.
So we are to assume that a discussion of this sort which has taken place on a Vote of Credit—against which it is practically impossible for us to vote—is to be regarded as a proper discharge of the promise given before Christmas, to have the matter discussed before action was taken? I should have thought it would be very much wiser if we had an opportunity of considering what the right hon. Gentleman has said, before action is taken. I am very reluctant to say this because I was hoping the right hon. Gentleman would listen to what I had to say, consider it, and, if he took serious exception to it, make representations through the usual channels so that we could have the discussion again in a form which might enable us to express our views. Instead of that, we have a number of general assurances given and now we are to assume that these blandishments from the Front Bench satisfy our case. I consider it Parliamentary humbug.
The Noble Lady gabbles and gabbles all the time. We really ought to have some protection, Sir. I see no reason at all why we should have a ragbag mind of that sort inflicted on the House. Before Christmas we had a discussion when a number of serious questions were addressed to the Secretary of State. One was whether A.T.S. under 21 were going to be conscripted for overseas service. We are told to-day that they are.
I gave an explicit assurance that no one under 21 would be sent abroad. The hon. Member had not been in the House for a second until my speech, and he did not even listen to that.
I listened to the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I withdraw the word "conscripted"—sent overseas under 21. That is one assurance that we wanted and we have not got it. We have heard from various sources that volunteering is not volunteering in the proper sense of the term, that pressure is being brought to bear upon them to volunteer. Many under 21 will have succumbed to that pressure and will have been sent overseas. I am not satisfied by the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will look into the matter. We have had assurances of that sort over and over again, and they mean nothing at all. Furthermore, there is this aspect of the matter which the House ought to consider. The reason why A.T.S. are required overseas is that the Government have dispersed our Forces in so many theatres of war and followed so many adventures that they now find themselves short of troops in France. I am not going to accept the assurances that have been given. The next assurance that we wanted was as to rates of pay. The Secretary of State says that equal rates of pay for equal work is a matter under consideration by a statutory Commission. There is nothing to prevent the Government altering the Royal Warrant, so as to give equal rates of pay for women in the Services. Before the Royal Commission reports and the Government act upon the Report, if they ever do, the whole thing will be completed. In the next place I am not satisfied with the statements made by lady Members, although they speak for their own sex.
I know what has been said. My experience of public life goes to show that women can never be trusted to protect the interests of women. The last person to be trusted is a woman, when it comes to talking about the interests of her own sex, especially the feminists.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House how men in the past have protected the interests of women? If they had done so we should not now in 1945 be pleading for equal pay.
I should have thought that, if lady Members desired to protect the interests of the A.T.S., they would say, "If you wish the A.T.S. to go overseas in present circumstances, make their conditions so attractive that they will volunteer to go." Now, by their interruptions, they are helping to provide the Government with cheap women for overseas ser- vice. I do not consider, despite what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the state of the country makes it necessary for us to make this final concession. I do not consider that my right hon. Friend has made out that case. We would be ready on this side of the House to make further concessions, if that case had been proved. Has it been proved? All we had from the right hon. Gentleman is that he requires more men and women for France. He knows as well as I do that, if the disposition of the troops at the service of the Government had been intelligently directed, he would not need to come to the House for these further powers. He knows that very well. I make this charge, that when the announcement was made to the House before Christmas that 250,000 additional men were required for the Forces and that A.T.S. would be conscripted for overseas service, the Minister of Labour had not been consulted.
I repeat what I have said. The announcement was not made to the House first; it was made, as a matter of fact, to the Press first. I make the categorical statement here in the House that the decision to call up another 250,000 more men and to send A.T.S. overseas was a decision announced by the Prime Minister without consultation with the Minister of Labour.
Now we are having it. The Minister is now condemned out of his own mouth. He says that the Prime Minister read the announcement to the Minister of Labour. I am not going to be thwarted in this matter. I am now going to pursue it to the bitter end. We have been having so many lies in this House in the course of the last three or four weeks, and it is now necessary for us to track them down.
Read over the draft announcement in his presence. Whose draft was it? Was it a draft agreed, first of all, by the Minister of Labour? Surely that is the whole issue. My statement was that the announcement was made that a further 250,000 men were to be called up and A.T.S. were to be conscripted for overseas service without first consulting the Minister of Labour. That is what I said. The right hon. Gentleman said that the announcement was read over in the presence of the Minister of Labour himself. That does not contradict what I said.
Would the hon. Gentleman give me a moment? When the right hon. Gentleman made the announcement in the House on 21st Decem-
ber that A.T.S. would be posted abroad, I put to him this question:
While not disagreeing at all with the Government policy I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether the Women's Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Labour were consulted, in view of the fact that in the past we have been consulted on very many matters?
My right hon. Friend replied:
I certainly consulted my colleague the Minister of Labour at every stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 1962.]
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will direct himself to that answer.
What I want to know is this—Were there Cabinet discussions in the presence of the Prime Minister at which it was decided originally to call up 250,000 more men, and was there a Cabinet decision to conscript A.T.S. for overseas service before the announcement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was read out in the presence of the Minister of Labour himself?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to read what the Leader of the House said, for it would be a good
thing to have it on the record in view of the statements that have been made:
The announcement my right hon. Friend made this morning was one which was carefully considered by the War Cabinet before he made it, and I can assure the House it was made only after deep reflection by all my colleagues, because we felt it was absolutely necessary to do it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 1962.]
That is very conclusive.
I wish the hon. Lady would not persist in interrupting me in this entirely irrelevant fashion. I am not discussing the discussion in the Cabinet precedent to the Secretary of State for War making his statement to the House. If the hon. Lady will clear her brains, I am discussing the original decision and not that decision at all, and I am challenging the right hon. Gentleman that an announcement was made to the Press by a Government spokesman that 250,000 additional men were to be called up and the A.T.S. conscripted for overseas service before there had been consultation with the Cabinet and before the Minister of Labour had been consulted.
If a proper investigation were made it would be shown that what I am saying is correct and that, in fact, the Minister of Labour, although deeply involved in this matter, has made no appearance at all from the very beginning; I see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour has just come in. I am bound to say that his size does not carry equivalent authority and I cannot accept his presence as equivalent to that of the Minister. I say that it is not necessary to try to measure the extent of the sacrifice, because the case has not been made out for the House of Commons to give these additional powers to the Government. There is no justification for this further tightening up of the call-up of this country. I say to my right hon. Friends on this side of the House, with all seriousness, that, although ever since the war began I have put no obstacle whatsoever in the way of recruitment for the Armed Forces of the country, this proposal shows a frivolous disregard for the privacy and amenities of domestic life and that we should not acquiesce, without further investigation, in the proposal to send A.T.S., drawn almost entirely from the working class—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am saying that it is a frivolous disregard of domestic amenities to send them overseas without having far more assurances than we have had.
I am astonished at the lady Members of this House. Even their own Committee was not consulted. They have a Committee which is supposed to advise the Minister of Labour on these matters. If we are to assume that the Ministry of Labour had been consulted at every stage of this process, do hon. Members seriously believe that so important a decision would have been reached without first consulting the Women's Advisory Committee? The fact of the matter is that it was one of those impulsive, romantic and demagogic decisions reached for the purpose of impressing public opinion outside this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "America."] Yes, for the purpose of impressing America. Therefore, I say quite frankly, and I am sorry to have to disagree with my right hon. Friend—[An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member would be sorry to agree with him."]—that we should not assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will have the permission of this House to send A.T.S. compulsorily overseas until we have first had an opportunity of examining what he has said to-day, and of making further representations and providing additional safeguards for helpless people that we are too frivolously disposing of, according to our whims, in this House from time to time.
I propose to be very brief. I did not endeavour to catch your eye, Sir, during the earlier part of the Debate, but now I should like to make my position perfectly clear and plain. I support the Secretary of State for War entirely in this decision to post A.T.S. compulsorily abroad, and I really only rose to say that I hope my right hon. Friend will resist the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), and that we all should take our decision here and now. There was just one point in the hon. Gentleman's speech with which I should like to deal—if he will give me his attention for one moment. He tried to score a point over the fact that the Women's Consulta- tive Committee to the Ministry of Labour was not consulted on this matter—at least was not asked to give its advice to the Minister of Labour, for transmission to the right quarter. I felt that it was rather a mistake that that Committee, which had been in at every stage of the conscription of women, and the registration of women for national service, should find that its advice was not asked.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument I will give him the facts, and I do not think he will like them. I think he has made the most mischievous speech I have ever listened to.
Perhaps I might follow my argument. It was a mistake that we were not asked or invited to give our views or informed that this decision was going to be taken. In his speech this afternoon the Secretary of State for War said that he was conscious of the fact that the matter might have been somewhat differently handled. I am glad to find myself, on this occasion, on the side of the Secretary of State for War. On the point which was put by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale I must say in fairness that, in fact, the Women's Consultative Committee to the Ministry of Labour has no locus standi in this matter whatsoever, because once girls are enrolled in the A.T.S. they come under the control of the Service Minister and under the direction of the Secretary of State for War. A civilian committee has, therefore no locus standi whatsoever in the matter. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to score a point out of this he is, therefore, batting on a very poor wicket.
Does the hon. Lady really mean that a Committee consisting largely of women Members of this House has no means of intervening, and no locus to be consulted, on a matter involving the welfare of citizens of this country, once those citizens have passed into the Army? A more ridiculous statement I have never listened to in this House.
Well, largely, if it pleases the hon. Gentleman. The fact is, that there are nine members on the Women's Consultative Committee and that three members of the nine are Members of the House of Commons. I would again emphasise the point I was trying to make. The Advisory Committee is a civilian committee to advise the Minister of Labour on matters of policy affecting women appertaining to his Department. Once either men or women become members of His Majesty's Forces, they are no longer under the direction and control of a civilian Minister of the State. They then come under the control of the Service Minister. The hon. Gentleman is, as usual, wrong in his presentation of the case. He only came down this afternoon to make one of his mischievous speeches, and I deeply resent it. [Interruption.] I have a right to resent anything and I do resent the speech which the hon. Gentleman came down this afternoon to make.
I want to refer once again to the statement made by the Leader of the House, because the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale tried to make a point out of that, and it was a false one and it is just as well that it should be referred to again. He tried to make out that what the Leader of the House said was that the announcement was agreed to, but, in fact, the Leader of the House said that the policy that A.T.S. should be compulsorily posted abroad was carefully considered by the War Cabinet before the Secretary of State for War made it. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman, in all the statements he has made this afternoon in that whirlwind speech, was against the war effort, and I have the greatest possible pleasure in saying it. I hope we can come to a decision without any further discussion on this matter. The only things which really concern us to-day are the efficiency of the Army, the welfare of the State and the successful prosecution of the war.
Personally I thought that the assurances given by the Secretary of State this afternoon were extremely satisfactory. There is a vigilant House of Commons, and if any cases of difficulty do crop up, we can raise them on the Floor of the House. I was very satisfied with the assurances given. I am glad also to know personally from a fairly wide contact with women in the Services that they do overwhelmingly support this decision of the Secretary of State. I hope we shall now proceed to other business, and that the decision on which the Secretary of State wants the support of the House in the compulsory posting of members of the A.T.S. abroad, will be put into operation immediately.
I do not propose to allow the hon. Lady to have her wish in that matter. Nor do I propose to trouble to enter the lists in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) except for this reflection. If the views he expressed in his speech were, as I believe, in direct proportion to the popularity of those views in the country, I can only say his speech has been most effective. I was unfortunately not here at the beginning of the Debate, but I have yet to learn that it is necessary to sit through a Debate in order to make a speech; it is only necessary to hear the Minister's speech. [Interruption.] I have seen Members come in, read their speeches and go out. If the House of Commons were sitting at more reasonable hours, some of us would find it easier to be here.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale in this matter, in that I do not see from the right hon. Gentleman's speech what proper assurances we have got. I listened most attentively to his speech, as I always do. I am in agreement with the remark that it is the most conciliatory statement he has ever made, but there was nothing in it. On this very major issue of pay, we got no satisfaction of any kind whatever. It is all very well for the Minister to say that all kinds of protection are to be provided so that compassionate cases are properly reviewed. Perhaps he will pay attention, I want to ask him a question. He has said that all kinds of compassionate cases are to be properly reviewed. When I was out of the country recently, the following question was constantly put to me: "If I, a serving soldier overseas, do not wish my fiancée, who is in the A.T.S., to go overseas, if I dislike her going overseas, will that be regarded as a compassionate case, and will she be allowed to stay at home?" That is a perfectly reasonable question for a fighting soldier to ask, and if I were a fighting soldier myself, engaged to a member of the A.T.S., and I made that representation and did not get the assurance I wanted, I should feel most depressed and distressed about it. Can we have an assurance of that kind?
I can never get sufficient assurances from the Minister, because I am unalterably apposed to this course of action. We have not had the assurances for which we as a party have asked; they are not there. I ask the Minister whether he cannot possibly consider trying once more the voluntary system. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that a great number of people are probably not volunteering for the simple reason that they have heard that there is to be conscription, and that if that threat were removed, probably a great number of people would come forward. That seems to be a much more desirable way of proceeding. I am opposed to this system, because I think there has been quite sufficient breaking-up of family life. This will be another and perhaps the worst blow of all. I heard the Minister calmly telling this House that there has been a most careful rake-through of what I call the "base wallahs." Well, well. There is not a single responsible civilian—I will not say soldier, I cannot say that—whom I know in the Middle East, who does not think there are thousands of people in Cairo and the Middle East who could quite well be combed out and taken to other spheres of action. It is common knowledge in Cairo that almost a brigade of infantry could be recruited from superfluous brigadiers. It is regarded as a standing joke in the Middle East. I do not see how this House can possibly agree to this measure until we are satisfied that there has been a proper comb-out, and that at least we shall have the assurance that, before any further step is taken, we shall have a further Debate in this House, in which we shall have an opportunity of examining the statement which has been made in this Debate
Question, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.