§ 19. "That a sum, not exceeding £4,303,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for Expenditure in respect of the Air Services, namely:
|2. Quartering, Stores (except Technical), Supplies, and Transport||1,735,000|
|5. Medical Services||298,000|
|6. Educational Services||493,000|
|7. Auxiliary and Reserve Forces||591,000|
|9.Meteorological and Miscellaneous Effective Services||245,000|
|10. Air Ministry||675,000|
|11. Half-Pay, Pensions, and other Non-Effective Services||266,000|
§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ "That further consideration of the said Resolution he postponed tilt after the Third Resolution.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ Second Resolution read a Second time.
§ "That further consideration of the said Resolution be postponed till after the Third Resolution."— [Mr. Kennedy.]
§ Third Resolution read a Second time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
I beg to move to leave out "£879,000," and to insert instead thereof "£878,900."
When the Secretary of State for War introduced the Estimates earlier in the year he revealed the disquieting information that the Army was 10,000 men under establishment, owing to the serious falling off in recruits. Answers which he has since given to questions put to him on that subject have not done very much to relieve our apprehensions. Therefore, I think it is right that, before we separate for the Recess, we should ask him to tell us whether there has been any improvement in the situation and what steps are being taken by himself and his advisers to remedy the situation. This is a matter which he cannot leave entirely to his subordinates. It is a matter so grave and so serious as to demand his own personal attention. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman boasts of being a pacifist. If I have misjudged or misrepresented him, I will gladly withdraw. Of course, anyone who accepts the office of Secretary of State for War is bound to do everything he possibly can to secure and maintain the efficiency of the great Service of which he has charge.
The right hon. Gentleman has a very great opportunity at the present time to help the Army. He is a trade union leader of distinction and influence, and he represents a part of the country where unemployment is severe. As Secretary of State for War he has, no doubt, visited many barracks and other military establishments, and he knows how 547 the soldier lives. He knows that to-day the soldier is well clothed, well fed and well paid, and I would suggest to him that he is in the best possible position for making representations and using his influence, where his influence will have very great effect, in pointing out to those young men who are finding it so terribly difficult to get employment that they would benefit immensely in every possible way by joining the Regular Army. Whatever our opinions may be on disarmament, every person with any sense of responsibility knows perfectly well that we must have an Army. It is because hitherto we have been able to get sufficient men to come forward voluntarily that we have been able to avoid any form of compulsion in time of peace. We must have an Army, and therefore it is necessary that everything possible should be done to encourage recruiting. There are various suggestions how that might be done and how the terms of service might be made more attractive. Some people advocate a return to the pre-War full dress of the Army. I should be very glad to see that done, but I am not sure that the result would be proportionate to the expense. That is a matter which the experts of the War Office are alone competent to decide.
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman ought to do everything he possibly can to make it easy for the soldier to obtain employment in civil life. I would like to see a system adopted by which a man who has served in the fighting forces and afterwards gets Government employment in the Civil Service can count his service in the fighting forces towards the Civil Service pension. It is most vital that nothing should be done which would tend to discourage recruiting at the present time and yet something of the sort is being threatened. It would be out of order for me to discuss in detail the question of the employment of ex-service men in the Office of Works and other Government Departments—that I understand will come up later—and I only mention the threat as being something which would undoubtedly be a very serious discouragement to recruiting if it were carried into effect. I hope that the Secretary of State together with his colleagues the Secretary of State for Air and the First Lord of the Admiralty will do their utmost to resist that attempt.
548 For the vast majority of men who join the fighting forces of the Crown, the men below commissioned rank, it is not a lifetime occupation. They serve a few years and then leave the Army and have to seek employment in civil life, and it may be that their having served in the Fighting Forces is to some extent a handicap to them in obtaining civil employment afterwards. However that may be, and whatever motives may have made them join the Fighting Forces, the fact remains that by serving in the Fighting Forces they are performing essential national service, for which some recognition is due to them from the nation. So far from any restrictions being placed upon them I should like if possible to see an extension of preferential treatment in respect to them in Government offices. The country generally, even after the late War, does not quite realise what we have owed to the fighting services for many centuries. I am not speaking only of their fighting capacity. I believe that one reason for the good reputation which this country enjoys in foreign countries, including the more remote parts of the world, is due to the behaviour of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in every part of the world. We saw something of that in the late War, we have seen it lately during the occupation of the Rhineland and we saw it not long ago in Shanghai. The personnel of our fighting forces is representative of the best elements in our population, and they deserve all the consideration that we can give them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am very glad to be associated with my hon. and gallant Friend in this debate on recruiting, and I would like to deal with the subject from two other aspects. I will deal first with the influence of recruiting on our Army abroad. We have many commitments in the rest of the world. Take first the question of India. It is common knowledge, and we have had an instance of it in our debate earlier to-day, that tremendous difficulties confront the Government with regard to India at the present time. There are in India some 60,000 Regulars who are recruited from this country, and the welfare of these effectives is clearly in the hands of the War Office. Anything that lessens the quality or the quantity of the 549 recruits will have a deep significance in the deliberations that are before us in the coming year. Not only is the British Army concerned in India, but it is also concerned in Egypt. I should not be in order in going into these questions, except from the point of view of their influence upon recruiting. It is well known that what keeps the Empire together, from the point of view of India, Australia and this country, is the free passage through the Suez Canal. Therefore, while we have 6,000 troops on the Suez Canal and 1,700 in the Sudan, it is obvious that there, again, recruting in this country has a great effect on the British Empire.
I should like to know what the Secretary of State is doing to promote recruiting. We have had troubles in Palestine; and they are likely to break out again. The Army, together with the Air Force, has been called upon to step in these. Then, in China we have a situation which is a drain on our resources. The Government has seen fit to maintain garrisons at Shanghai and Hong Kong. All these matters are affected by the state of recruiting in this country. The state of trade is also indirectly affected by the presence of a strong efficient garrison in these parts. When I say "strong," I do rot mean strong from the point of view of numbers, but a garrison which is effective and efficient. Take the question of Malta, which is the centre of a different kind of disturbance. It is a very handy place in which to keep troops because you can send them to many other parts quite easily. I want to know how these places are being affected by recruiting in this country, and to emphasise as strongly as I can the danger of a shortage of recruits in maintaining these many important garrisons abroad, which are so essential to the trade of this country.
Let me take another aspect of this question. For many years past the housing conditions in the Army have not been up to standard, but since the present Government have been in office they have been accentuated by the crowding caused by the troops being brought back from the Rhine. I say it with regret, but the Government do not appear to know whether the housing conditions meet the requirements of the troops, and especially the requirements of married 550 soldiers with families. It is rather unusual that a Socialist Minister should not have the facts as to the housing of the Army at his disposal. I regret it very much and I hope we shall not hear from him that it is not his fault. There is a tendency on the part of the present Government to blame the last Government for any neglect. What is the case with regard to housing? There are 2,000 married families in quarters which are altogether too small. When the Government say that they are out for a large building programme we must judge them by their actual deeds, and I suggest that as the facts with regard to the housing of the Army become known it will have a serious influence on recruiting. There are at the present time, due to the recent additions, some slum conditions in the Army—
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Since the men came hack from the Rhine. Let me give some figures. During last year only 100 houses were started. During the previous four years 700 houses were started. Why have the Government, in view of the shortage of houses, slowed up the construction of new houses? All parties in the House would, I am sure, assist the Secretary of State if he set to work on building houses for the Army, and especially for married soldiers. In some cases the barracks are old and, as I have reason to know, are not entirely satisfactory. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing for housing the rank and file? I desire to emphasise the importance of this matter. The Government are attempting to put up housing schemes all over the country, but if they do not put their own house in order first how can they expect these various housing schemes to be successful? I hope to hear that they are going on with a programme of housing development for the Army and for a recruiting campaign in order to bring the numbers up to standard.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I do not understand why hon. and gallant Members opposite who are dissatisfied with recruiting for the Army should want to take £100 off the salary of the Secretary of State for War. It would have been much better if they had pro- 551 posed an addition to the Vote so that the pay of the soldier might be increased and the Service made more attractive. With regard to housing, no doubt the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) is very well informed. If these slum conditions exist it is very disgraceful. I was in Aldershot last week-end, and I thought the soldiers looked very happy, well mounted, and I did not see anything wrong with the barracks, but there may be other places where the housing conditions are bad. If so, I am quite sure that the Secretary of State is looking into the matter, and will be able to deal with it.
With regard to the question of recruiting for the Forces, which is raised again and again by hon. Members opposite, may I ask my right hon. Friend what his theory is and how he accounts for the fact that men are not rushing into the Army? I have my own ideas as to why they do not, in spite of the fact that conditions are much better than they were in times past. The pay is better, and the food is certainly better, from all I hear—I apologise to my military friends opposite for intruding into Army matters', but they will see later on why I have done so. I should like to ask whether the glorious tattoos which my right hon. Friend has been staging up and down the country have encouraged recruiting? They do not show the horrors of war; they do not make war horrible. They show an ancient combat, and are a very wonderful and artistic spectacle; but will the Secretary of State consider presenting a tattoo representing some recent campaigns?
I have raised this question before, and the answer I have had from my right hon. Friend has been astonishing. He says that such things are too recent and may cause pain to the relatives of men who may have taken part in the particular engagement. Such an answer is simply preposterous. Regular soldiers are to-day being used for making war films, like the landing at the Dardanelles, which can be far more realistic than any tattoo can possibly be. These war films are being made with the assistance of His Majesty's troops, and yet when a tattoo takes place nit recent action is allowed to be represented. Why is that? What is the reason? The right hon. 552 Gentleman says that the sole reason is that it may lacerate the feelings of those who may have taken part. But he is allowing films to be made with the aid of His Majesty's soldiers! The fact of the matter is that these tattoos perform a useful purpose in raising funds for army chaplains. The Royal Navy has now copied the example of the Army. They are to have a great naval tattoo at Weymouth. Presently it will be a requirement of every man who desires to enter either the Army or the Navy that he must be a "good stager," and able to take part in these historic pageants. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look closely into this matter. Is he sure that men want to go into the Army in order to take part in these glorious displays? It is not putting their services to any serious use. In my opinion they are a deliberate propaganda to excite in the civilian population a warlike mind, they glorify war, and the methods of war, and that is their real function. I do not want to say too many hard things about them because they do raise money for the military chaplains.
There is, I think, another reason why recruiting is falling off amongst a certain class of the population. Young lads in our schools who have to go through compulsory training in the officers training corps get such a sickener of military drill and routine that they refuse to join the Army afterwards. In this way you are cutting off the best class of recruits for the Army. They are the type you want, especially now that the avenue of promotion has been widened. It is far easier now for a well-educated soldier to rise to commission rank, but you are sickening these young lads of military life by the compulsory training they have to go through in our schools. There are camps even now in many parts of the country subsidised by the right hon. Gentleman where many of these immature lads may be found, and who are unfit to undertake a soldier's career. Indeed, before they are physically able to carry a soldier's equipment they are herded into these kraals, and I believe that. recruiting suffers in consequence. The right hon. Gentleman apparently thought so too because he removed the grant to the military cadet corps. I am glad he did so; I congratulate him upon it; although 553 there was something to be said for the military cadet corps because the poorer class of boys received an annual sum for his camp expenses. But he continues the grant to the wealthier classes who go to the public schools.
When the Secretary of State is advised that in these officers training corps service is entirely voluntary, the advice that he is given is wrong. Service is not entirely voluntary. There is a very clear and distinct form of compulsion. There was a recent case at Harrow. I do not want to make much of it. One of the items of information which appeared was on the authority of the headmaster of that great school—that the parades were compulsory, and indeed that membership of the officers training corps was compulsory. I want to give my right hon. Friend an actual example, the details of which I know. I am sorry that the First Commissioner of Works is going out, because this case will interest him too. I know that his heart is softened by anything that is for the benefit of young people and I would like him to hear this case. A certain young man, a relative of mine at a very fine school, was in the lower school, and when he reached the appropriate age and passed his examination he was moved to the upper school, with five or six other young men no older than the cadets who used to be subsidised by the War Office but are not now subsidised. When my young relative went to the upper school, on the first day he was told to report at the drill shed.
I have tested all the facts of this case, and it may be taken as really typical. When he arrived at the drill shed there was a nice, genial, kindly, fatherly sergeant major to receive these young lads, the raw material of His Majesty's Army. He knew why they had come. He said, "Book your names now for the training corps. First of all sign this paper." This youth said, "Oh, but I do not want to join the Corps." "Oh," replied the sergeant major, "Not want to join the O.T.C.? It is not a question of what you want; you have to join it." That is really true. The young man, being very pugnacious and very obstinate—he was of a type which would make a splendid soldier later—got his back up, if I may use the expression, and 554 said that he would not sign the attestation form. "Oh," said the sergeant major, "that is all nonsense." He saw the form master and he tried to bring pressure to bear in that way; then the prefects, the housemaster and finally the headmaster, all of whom brought pressure to bear on this youth. The others followed his example and said that they did not want to join and would not join. There the matter rested. As a matter of fact pressure was then brought to bear on the boy's parents.
It is ridiculous for my right hon. Friend to be advised, as he has been advised, that this officers training corps service is voluntary, it is practically compulsory. If a youth is physically unfit, he is naturally excused, but it is only the youth of really strong fibre and moral character who can resist. Someone, I notice, interrupts with the remark that this young man was lazy. I asked this young man why he did not want to join the Army, and he replied, "I am going to be an airman; I hope to go into the Royal Air Force, and I do not want to waste my time learning infantry drill, which is out of date." I could show conclusively that there is far too much time wasted in infantry drill in the Air Force. I do not want to go into the matter, but it horrifies me to see the magnificent drilling of Air Force mechanics, the last people who should be taught infantry drill. They should have initiative encouraged. In some ways we have nearly ruined the Navy by adopting parade ground drill for our seamen in an endeavour to turn them into soldiers. It is a great mistake. Let soldiers stick to soldiering and airmen to flying and seamen to their own work.
The young man to whom I have referred was not lazy. He was a very strong, pugnacious, tough boy, who had the good sense not to wish to waste his time in the officers training corps. That, I submit, is one reason why recruiting is falling off. This veiled compulsion sickens young lads of military life. I myself am delighted to hear that recruiting is slack. It shows that the conditions in the Army are not attractive enough. I hope that my right hon. Friend, as soon as the finances of the country will allow, will improve the lot of the soldiers. If the falling off in recruiting is due to the fact that there is 555 a spread of pacifist feelings, I am equally delighted, because if there are no soldiers and no sailors there will be no wars, and if the pacifist feeling is so strong in our country and in other countries, there will be no more fighting.
§ Major GLYN
I think the House must have been interested in the description of the young gentleman who showed such spirit. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken said that the young man was a relative. From the description, I should think he was a very close relative, because one recognises in the young man certain attributes which most of us recognise in the hon. and gallant Member himself. However that may be, "one swallow does not make a summer," and there are other reasons besides the cadet corps which cause some of us anxiety on the question of recruiting. The Secretary of State himself, in Command Paper 3498 which he has issued, states that the position causes him some disquietude, and he adds that there should be an intake of recruits of 28,500 men. I would ask him, when he replies, to answer a particular point. Up to now, how many of those 28,500 men have in fact joined up, and in which branches of the Army is there the greatest shortage? I understand that there is no shortage in the Brigade of Guards or in some of the technical services.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. T. Shaw)
Generally speaking, there is no appreciable shortage in any part of the Service except the infantry. Generally speaking, the problem is an infantry problem.
§ Major GLYN
I am much obliged for that information. If the problem is a problem concerning the Infantry of tile Line, I suppose the Secretary of State and his advisers at the War Office have analysed some of the reasons why the shortage is confined to these particular units. It is perfectly obvious that as you have in the mechanical world to-day a certain amount of mechanised first-line transport and so on, you should encourage boys to join the infantry with the idea that they will learn something about mechanical science so that they may realise that when their time comes to leave the Army, they will have a 556 better chance of getting employment in civil life than they would otherwise have. I think this, to a very great extent, accounts for the fact that recruiting for the Navy and Air Force is in a far healthier state than that for the Army.
But there is something even more important in the general annual report of the Army, Command Paper 3498, to which I have referred. In page 5 there are mentioned certain factors which, in the opinion of the War Office, account for the shortage of recruits. I would like the Secretary of State to be good enough, in his reply, to let me have the views on these particular points. The first point is the expectation of a large increase in the unemployment benefit. That I believe to be absolutely true. I believe that the fact that there was held out to the people of the country a large increase in unemployment benefit, made every boy, no matter how good the pay in the Army might be, say, "At any rate I shall wait to see how much I shall get from unemployment benefit before I burn my boats or take the King's shilling by going into the Army." Surely we can assume that the country knows the worst and the best by this time, and knows that we are not likely, after the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to see any further increase in the amount of unemployment benefit. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the hopes held out by his party of increased benefit have now reached their saturation point, and that the people of the country are satisfied that they can now join the Army without any risk of losing some of those refreshing fruits which were to fall from a Socialist Government's table?
The next point was uncertainty as to the future of the Army owing to the publicity given to disarmament. That is a very important factor. I have spoken to some hon. Members opposite about this matter, and have been told that their feeling is not against the Army or the individuals in the Army, many of whom are their friends, but that they feel that the man who goes into so brutal a profession is often considered to be rather a lower being mentally. If they do not mean that, I do not understand how they can have anything but respect for the people who enter the Service to defend them and others who are not willing to fight. The Army is not an 557 aggressive force. It is used very largely for police work. It always astonishes me that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are the first to profess a desire for disarmament, and many of whom are believers in and upholders of the League of Nations, can enter into sanctions on behalf of this country which involve the employment of an Army, and yet, when it comes to the question of encouraging the very instrument on which they have to rely, they do not take sufficient steps to encourage the young man to enter the Army.
There is something altogether contrary to disgrace in being in the Army. It is a very good form of national service, good for the man and good for the country, and there is nothing disgraceful about it at all. The old idea that the Army was a brutal and licentious Service is, I hope, ended for good. If you see the young men at any military depot, or talk to the men when they are overseas serving with their units, you realise that it is through the Army and the behaviour of the troops and of the men in the other Services that the prestige of this country is what it Therefore, I think that we should do everything we can to encourage men to enter the Army, and that we should disillusion them once for all of the idea that if they join the Army, and a Socialist Government is still in office, they will wake up one day to find their unit abolished. Such an idea is complete nonsense, because this Government and the Secretary of State want to see the Army sufficient, efficient and able to carry out its task. Otherwise the right hon. Gentleman would resign his office.
A third point in the Command Paper which deserves attention is the statement that there was an increase in employment in certain industrial districts in England. That is not true to-day; I wish it were. A curious feature about recruiting is that it never moves in relation to the curve of employment. You would normally think that the greater the unemployment, the greater the rush there would be of people to join the Service, but for some extraordinary reason that is not so, and I think the Army owes a great debt of gratitude to the hon. Member who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour for that when he occupied an office at the War Office 558 in the previous Socialist Administration, he did more than anybody else to bring the trade union leaders into line in regard to the question of the training of men prior to leaving the Colours to enter social life, and that did an enormous amount of good, because even at the peak of unemployment, as we then thought it, men who obtained that training were able to pass, with the help of the trade unions, into work. I should like to see that process extended.
There is one other matter for which think a Socialist Secretary of State for War can do more than a Secretary of State for War from our party. The question of the employment of boys and youths in industry is one of paramount importance. There is no doubt that there is a large number of boys employed now in industry, and thus the pool from which to draw for the Army is to a large extent absorbed by the demands of industry, but there is one thing which is of tremendous importance. It is a terrible thing, and I will give one instance which came to my knowledge. It is that of a boy who had been employed as an apprentice in the furniture trade. He joined a unit at the depot not far from his home, did four weeks' training, was quite happy and showed great promise, and then his mother came and claimed him from the depot, partly because he was not 17, but chiefly because he would be enabled to go on unemployment benefit when he left the Army. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State for War shakes his head, but I will give him chapter and verse. The Army had no power to keep him, because he was under 17. We must not encourage a system whereby people are withdrawn from the Army after they have had partial training at the expense of the taxpayer—not to go to a certain job, but to add one more to the large number who are in receipt of unemployment benefit.
The other question to which we should like an answer is in regard to a curious statement on page 6 of the Command Paper to which I have referred, where it says:The Intelligence Test‖.has been given a thorough trial, but the results have not proved as satisfactory as was expected, and the scheme accordingly is in abeyance for the present.I think one of the most useful features that could be brought out in this debate 559 for the benefit of soldiers when they leave the Colours is for the Secretary of State for War to emphasise the wonderful system of education which a man can now receive when he joins the Army. It is one of the best features of peace-time soldiering, because very competent schoolmasters are employed in the Service, and any man can take either a first, second or third certificate—I forget their titles—and the effect of it is that a man can complete his education in a far easier way and with less trouble to himself than if he remained in civil life and went to continuation classes. I think hon. Members would be well advised some time to see the curriculum which is taught in the Army schools, so that they could realise the very high standard which a man attains if he succeeds in taking the highest certificate—so high indeed that any employer ought to go all out to obtain such a man when he leaves the Colours and is looking for a job in civil life. Not half enough testimony is paid to the work done by the Army schoolmasters in this connection.
I want to know what this intelligence test is. There are all sorts of intelligence tests, and some of the best men in the world, as the Secretary of State knows, are not those who are the most highly educated. You want a man with common sense and quick appreciation of a situation, and you will find many of them in the rural districts. No intelligence test ought to be such as to exclude a boy who has a full knowledge of weather conditions, of geological conditions, of animals and birds, of the movement of the air, and so on. All these are things which you want in an open air life. If you talk to a shepherd on a hill, and know how to get him to talk to you, you can learn much more from him than you will ever learn from the most highly so-called educated person who comes from the most modern school, and I hope that no intelligence test that may be re-set up will exclude this sort of people. You want every form of examination perhaps, but you do not want one which will exclude the type of person who comes from the rural areas and who may make the most admirable slodier.
§ Major CHURCH
Is not the hon. and gallant Member confusing intelligence 560 tests with examination tests? There is a very definite distinction between them.
§ Major GLYN
I quite agree. The words used in the Command Paper are "intelligence test." What I am trying to make clear to the right hon. Gentleman is that I hope he will consult his colleague the President of the Board of Education and other authorities to see that such a test will not exclude the type of man we most want to receive.
§ Major GLYN
Whatever may be the test, I want it to be a common sense test, which all of us would believe would be of assistance in obtaining the right type of man to serve in the Army. We all realise the difficult time through which the War Office is passing in obtaining recruits, and we all recognise that it is necessary to have these recruits and that the Army is going through a period of evolution when it is necessary to obtain very keen people, because, although the Army is small, it must be highly efficient. Nothing would be more harmful to the Army than any step taken which might encourage men in the belief that once their time with the Colours was over, they would not have the same opportunities for serving in Government offices and other places when they went into civil life. When I served in the Regular Army, when a man came to his time to go into civil life, we either tried to find him employment through our regimental association, or we did our best to see that the quota which we could claim for employment under the Government in civil life was filled proportionately from the different units.
If the Secretary of State for War will give an assurance that there is no question of cutting down the jobs open to people on leaving the Colours, he will do a great deal to establish once again that confidence in the future which to some extent may be shaken at the present moment. As the Secretary of State for War promised me personally in this House, earlier in the year, that he would, in conjunction with the Minister of Labour, see that people who went to Employment Exchanges were given facili- 561 ties with regard to recruiting, I shall be obliged if he will tell me to what extent, if at all, those steps have been successful in enabling young men who so wish to have every opportunity of joining the Army and serving their country in that capacity.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) has spoken with knowledge and authority on this question of the Army, to which he has devoted a great deal of time, not only when he was actually in the Army, but since he has been in this House too. We on this side of the House, in putting down this Vote, are mainly concerned to-day with the subject of recruiting, and I want to say at the outset that I am well aware that it is a subject in which there is very little public interest, In fact, that lack of public interest is reflected in the attendance in the House this afternoon.
I am well aware of that. The hon. and gallant Member is always very ready to put in a word. I will repeat what I was saying, that the lack of public interest in this subject is reflected in the attendance in the House this afternoon. That is due, in my opinion, to an entire misunderstanding on the part of the general public, and, of course, if the general public are not interested in a thing, I want to say, as an old Member of this House, that this House is never interested in it either. The reason for this lack of interest is that the general public do not fully realise that on the number of recruits which we can obtain literally depends ultimately our ability to defend the North-West Frontier of India and to protect British lives and property from Cairo to Shanghai. In fact, in other words, the very small and efficient British Army is in effect an armed police force. It cannot be regarded by anyone as a militaristic organisation. It is an armed police force, a police force, moreover, whose personnel, by their conduct and good bearing, have produced good feeling for Great Britain all over the world.
It is remarkable to know that the thing which has done more good than anything else—and this fact should be taken to heart by every pacifist in this House and outside—in the relations between this 562 country and Germany after the War is not the visits of pacifists to Germany, not those who were opposed to their own country in the War, but the good bearing, the good conduct, and the amiability of the British Forces stationed on the Rhine. On all sides compliments are paid by the ordinary German public to the British "other ranks" in Germany, and to the officers as well. I do not want to put it offensively, but that is almost peculiar to the Army of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, in reply to a question asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon, said that the shortage of recruits was mainly confined to the infantry, and my hon. and gallant Friend gave an interesting explanation of what I understood him to say was one of the reasons for that, and that was the fact that men felt that by going into the mechanised branches of the Army they would not only be dealing with something during their military life which was interesting to them, but that they would have a better chance of getting employment afterwards. I think that is very likely so, but it makes all the more reason for taking active steps to encourage recruiting for the infantry, because the day has not yet come when we can abolish the infantry arm in the Army, and it is very unlikely that it ever will come.
There is a serious shortage. The figures between October of last year and October, 1928, I am informed, dropped by no less than 3,792, which is, in the case of a small Army like ours, a very serious drop, and I understand that that decline in recruiting has been continued during the present year. One disturbing feature in connection with it is the fact that in the Brigade of Guards there is a shortage of men of some 2,000. It has been usually the case in the past that the Brigade of Guards has not felt a shortage of recruits to the same extent as the infantry of the line, but on this occasion, according to a Press report which I read, there is a shortage of 2,000 in the foot guards, and they have had to lower the type in order to correct the situation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the Noble Lord aware that we were told that one of the reasons why the pre-War uniform had to be reintroduced in the ease of the Guards was to encourage re- 563 cruiting and can he give an explanation of the fact that there is this shortage? Earl WINTERTON: Fortunately I am not the Secretary of State for War. If I were I would like to approach the problem in a rather different way.
No, I am not an expert in these matters any more than the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). Like him, I am this afternoon in what may be described, without offence to either of us, as an interrogative mood. I am asking questions. I do not in the least object to the hon. and gallant Member's interruption, and perhaps the Secretary of State for War when he replies, will deal with this point and give us the reason for this shortage in the Guards. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) called attention to the report of the Army Council (Command Paper 3498). He told us that in their report the Council said that one of the causes contributing to the decline was the expectation of a large increase in unemployment benefit. I wish to say a word on that subject. In my opinion the day has gone by when anyone wishes to see men driven into the Army by economic stress. At the same time, the man who is not actuarially entitled to insurance, and who prefers to draw what is in fact the taxpayers' money, rather than do service in an honourable profession such as the Army is hardly entitled to be respected for his character. Nor is he, shall I say, a good advertisement for us to those foreign countries who are very willing at the present time to say that our national morale is declining. I do not know whether there are such cases but there would seem to be cases at any rate among the parents of young men who are willing to join the Army, to judge from the example given by my hon. and gallant Friend.
I pass to the question which has been raised by several speakers as to whether, in addition to the reasons mentioned by the Army Council for the decline in recruiting, there are any agencies directed against recruiting. I have no doubt that 564 what I am going to say will be regarded with great disfavour by hon. Members opposite. I think that there are certain covert and concealed agencies hostile to recruiting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Moscow!"] No, not Moscow. In Moscow there is no such agency. On the contrary, Russia is endeavouring at the present time to produce the largest and most efficient army in the world. That interruption therefore is not very pertinent. But are there not covert agencies at work against recruiting here? I am bound to say that there are. It is an astonishing thing that wherever there is a Socialist Corporation, wherever Socialists are in charge of local administration, they do what they can to impede anything in the nature of military display. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I had hoped for that assenting cheer and I am delighted to know that there is no difference of opinion between hon. Members opposite and myself on that point. I repeat that wherever Socialists are in control there is this objection to military display and it can only be based on the ground that they object to the existence of an Army. If they object to the existence of the Army, then, obviously. by a logical process of reasoning, we must come to the conclusion that they object to people entering the Army.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Does the Noble Lord not agree that there is a difference between the necessity for having a standing army, and constant military display and the glorification of the Army as such?
I cannot admit that proposition. I do not consider that a military tattoo is a. glorification of the Army as such. There is an astonishing view held by extreme Socialists—largely in other countries I admit—that there is something wrong and unworthy in displaying the troops of a country. There is an idea that any "military display"—as the hon. Member opposite calls it—is something provocative but that idea is only held by a very small body of people in this country and those who hold it in this country are, almost invariably, those who themselves object to service in the Army. I do not think that any further proof is required of the fact that this is one agency against recruiting. I do not believe that there 565 is a single hon. Member sitting on those benches opposite now, except the two Ministers, who would go down to their constituents and say, as any of us here would say—"The Army is short of recruits and we hope you will join it because in doing so, you will be joining an honourable and useful profession." I do not believe there is a single hon. Member opposite with the exceptions 1 have mentioned who is prepared to do that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Again I am glad to have the assent of hon. Members. I go further and say that one of the agencies against recruiting is the existence of such hon. Members as those at present sitting on the benches opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is the situation, and at a later stage I shall ask the Secretary of State for War how he proposes to deal with that situation.
There is another contributory cause perhaps a small cause. I should perhaps describe it as something which is likely to be in the future a contributory cause, if it does not already operate against recruiting. I refer to the deplorable decision of the right hon. Gentleman, five or six months ago, to abolish the cadets. I do not want to say much about that subject except that the right hon. Gentleman's decision has met with great resentment from people who, for years have been doing all they could for this admirable movement—a movement which has been of benefit to the youth of the country. In concluding my references to the agencies which, in my opinion, are operating against recruiting, I wish to say that I do not suggest for a moment that hon. Gentlemen opposite—this being a free country—are not entitled, if they are conscientiously opposed to service in the Army, to say so and to discourage men from joining. They are certainly entitled to express their views, but we are entitled to express our view in the House and in the country, and they must not be as resentful as they were when I spoke in a debate earlier in the Session and said that there were very few friends of the British Army on the benches opposite.
I am obliged for the correction but to my mind in ninety- 566 nine cases out of a hundred when a man joins the Army he regards the Army as himself and if you are opposed to the Army you are opposed to the soldiers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I repeat that ninety-nine men out of a hundred in the Army regard an attack upon the Army as an attack upon themselves. I was about to say however that the Secretary of State for War is in a very different category from the hon. Members on the back benches to whom I have been referring. It is about the right hon. Gentleman's attitude that I want to speak particularly. I have asked several questions on this subject but I am hound to say that I have failed to obtain very adequate or clear information. The right hon. Gentleman has undertaken the obligations of the Minister who is responsible to Parliament for the maintenance and well-being of the Army. His position is to be sharply distinguished from the position of hon. Members on the back benches opposite. Not only that, but the right hon. Gentleman has accepted a certain strength of the Army as being necessary for the safety of this land.
I maintain, therefore, that it is the right hon. Gentleman's clear duty to resist attempts to prevent recruiting—especially attempts by his own party—and it is also his duty, when we have what is almost a crisis in recruiting, to take active personal steps to obtain recruits and to use his personal suasion in the matter. [Laughter.] That laughter is an interesting indication of the attitude of hon. Members opposite towards this question. They think it laughable that the Secretary of State for War should try to induce people to join the Army. Why, the late Lord Haldane, whom few people would accuse of being a militarist, who worked to the very last for peace between this country and Germany, carried on a personal campaign in the country, when the Territorial Force was started, and for long afterwards, to induce men to join both the Regular Army and the Territorial Force. Yet hon. Members opposite regard it as an outrageous and laughable suggestion that the Secretary of State for War in a Socialist Government should ask people to join the force for which he is responsible to this House. It shows how far we have advanced in, shall I say, the decrease of 567 patriotism, since the Socialist party came into existence. At any rate, I think the right hon. Gentleman will not take the view of his bon. Friends behind him—at least I hope he will not—and laugh at the suggestion that it is his duty to encourage men to join the Army. It is quite true that, as yet, he has not said anything very definite on the subject, but, knowing him, I am sure he will admit that his responsibility in this matter is a great one.
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might follow the example of Lord Haldane, who at meetings ad hoc, at ordinary political meetings, and at public meetings of all kinds throughout the country, referred to the need for recruits both for the Regular Army and the Territorial Force. Up to the present I have not seen that the right hon. Gentleman has done so in any of his speeches. It is quite true that he has changed his views in recent years. I have looked up the Votes which were taken in 1928, corresponding to those which will be taken this afternoon in Supply, and I have discovered that a vote was given by hon. Gentlemen opposite, on that occasion, against the entire Navy, Army and Air Force. Among those who voted for abolition I need hardly say was the present First Commissioner of Works, but the present Secretary of State for War also voted on that occasion in the same way. It is obvious that he must have changed his views since, otherwise, as an honourable man, he would not have accepted his present post. He would not have made himself responsible, as a Minister of the Crown, for the Army if he still wished to abolish it.
At some time between the end of July, 1928, and the fortuitous moment when the Prime Minister offered him the office of Secretary of State for War instead of the office of Minister of Labour, which he had previously adorned, the right hon. Gentleman must have become a convert to the need for a small standing army in this country. I only ask him to show the zeal of a convert. I ask him to go down to Preston, to his constituents—whom no doubt at the last Election were influenced for or against him, according to their views, by his vote for the abolition of the Army—and to say, "Now that I am the responsible 568 Minister my views have changed and I see the need for an Army. There is a serious shortage of recruits and I want the people of Preston to assist me in making up that shortage." If the right hon. Gentleman does not do so he is in an equivocal position. I do not consider that a man who is in favour of the abolition of the Army ought to be Secretary of State for War. If, indeed, he is in favour of the abolition of the Army, he ought not to be sitting on the Front Bench in the capacity in which he is there. It would he unconstitutional that a man should hold responsible office in this House if he were not in favour of the force for which he was responsible.
Nobody who is in favour of private enterprise has proposed the abolition of the Post Office—[Interruption.] Will hon. Gentlemen allow me to answer the question? I have already given way two or three times. A man may be in favour of the abolition of the Post Office as a public concern, but no one has suggested the abolition of the Post Office. The only question is whether it should be carried on by public or private enterprise. That is not equivalent to the position of the right hon. Gentleman. He does not want a private army.
§ Miss WILKINSON rose—
The hon. Member has plenty of opportunity of criticising her colleagues in the columns of the papers in which she writes. In the place where she cannot he answered, she does it very effectively. The difference between the Post Office and the Army is quite obvious. The right hon. Gentleman was in favour of the abolition of the Army, and I only say that I am very glad that he has changed his views. I want him, however, to go further, and show all the zeal that a convert should show, and to come forward, as his predecessors have done, and make an appeal, either by public meetings or by letters, to the mayors and the heads of local bodies to call attention to the serious 569 situation in which the Army finds itself. In doing that, the right hon. Gentleman would, I think, be likely to convince those who have not hitherto agreed with his views, because no one could accuse the right hon. Gentleman, even though he be in favour of an Army, of being a militarist. No one who is less a militarist ever buckled on a Court sword. There have been occasions in the past when the right hon. Gentleman has adopted a somewhat belligerent demeanour towards myself and others, but it is our experience that some of the most bellicose people in this House are conscientious objectors.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question some time ago on the subject of approaching local authorities and making speeches in favour of recruiting, and I distinctly understood him to say—I cannot find the answer, but it was in the last six weeks—that he had appointed a special Departmental Committee to advise him on the matter, and that until that Committee had reported, he was unable to say whether he would adopt the proposal or not or to indicate what steps he was taking. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) and I put down questions yesterday on the same subject. We asked him whether this Committee had yet reported, and to my astonishment the reply was:The examination to which the hon. Members refer is not being undertaken by a Committee but by those who are responsible for advising the Secretary of State on these matters. Consideration of the problem is still proceeding, and the subject continues to be closely watched. In the meantime no special steps are being taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1930; col. 255, Vol. 242.]I regard that as profoundly unsatisfactory. Here we have this most serious shortage in recruits. The causes may not be wholly those which have been mentioned this afternoon, although I believe that those that have been given on this side of the House are on the whole mainly responsible for the shortage. Whatever the reasons, it is the plain duty of the Secretary of State for War to show far more energy in this matter than he has done up to now. I must honestly say that I do not think his administration at the War Office can be described as distinguished or of a nature which entitles him to anything in the nature of jaunty self-satisfaction.
§ Mr. SHAW
I understand that it is for the convenience of the House that I should speak now, although, obviously, if I do I shall not be able to reply to the criticisms of the ex-Secretary of State for War. I have no objection to following his desire to speak now, so that the House may know exactly where I stand in this matter. There are certain things which I should like to say in introduction. As long as the Government of this country decide that a certain number of men is necessary for the Army, I look upon it as my job to provide those men. About that there is no difference of opinion. There may be some difference of opinion as to what ought to be done to find the men, and as to where the men should come from, but I frankly admit that, as long as the Government have a policy, it is my duty to try to carry it out. In the Memorandum which accompanied the Army Estimates, I called attention to the fact that recruiting was a source of disquietude from the point of view of those who desire to see the ranks filled with the numbers determined by the Government of the day.
It is not a new problem, however. From the speeches that we have heard this afternoon, one would think that it was a new problem which has arisen during the past year, while the present Government have been in office. It is a problem which every Government has had to face, and it is no more serious to-day than it was when the last Government were in office. It is a problem which is well over a century old. It has always been a problem since the country had an army, and the question arises, is the matter of sufficient gravity to need different methods from those which have been pursued in the past, and if it is, what are those methods to be? In addition, if we have a shortage, what is the reason for it? If I address myself to these two questions, we may be able to find something like a common level of agreement as to the facts. As to policy, probably we should never find common agreement at all. Let us try, in order to keep the discussion on the high level on which it has been conducted to-day, to agree to the facts. The numbers required are, roughly, 30,000 a year; the part of that 30,000 which is required for the infantry is 571 17,000. Generally speaking, in the Technical Corps and in the Guards, there is no problem. It is not correct to say that the Guards are 2,000 under strength. What is true is that what is called the wastage is over 2,000 a year, but at the present rate of recruiting for the Guards, when the recruiting year finishes, there is no reason to anticipate a shortage. Rather are we likely to be slightly over-establishment. That is my information. I think that the misunderstanding has arisen through a newspaper statement, which has confused the wastage of the year and turned it into a shortage.
Let us see what is the most vital problem we have to face. There is no problem as to the men offering themselves for the Army; overwhelming numbers offer themselves; that is not our problem. Our problem is to get men who are physically fit, and the appalling fact is that something like 67 per cent.—I speak from memory—of those who offer themselves for the Army have a reduced standard of height, chest measurement and dental requirement.
§ Mr. SHAW
Yes, 61 per cent. failed to reach the very moderate standard of physical efficiency that is required to enable a man to join the present-day Army. That, I think, is one of the most appalling facts that a country could face. That ought to go home to this country and every Member of the House ought to try his level best to concentrate on that problem, because if we have a deteriorating race, no army in the world can save us from going down.
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of a very moderate standard, is that a true description of the situation? Is not the standard one of the highest of any army in the world?
§ Mr. SHAW
That may be, but I am not at the moment concerned with other countries. In our standard the height is small and the chest measurement is comparatively small, and we ought not to have 61 per cent. of applicants who want to join the Army unable to comply with these requirements. That is a problem for the country which is even greater than 572 the problem of recruiting, because you cannot build a nation on inefficient physical material. We must attend to this apart from any question of whether this or that policy is good. During the nine months of the present recruiting year, 19,213 recruits were taken in. The last month shows an increase over the previous figures, but, compared with the numbers of those who offered, this number is small. The difficulty of maintaining the strength is complicated by another striking fact. I do not know whether the physical condition of the people who offer themselves for service is due to the War or not; probably it is, because many of the young men who are now offering themselves for service were War children. During the War years there was a diminution in births Which limits the number of men of military age, and possibly that in itself might be responsible for some of the shortage.
It is impossible to deal at length with all the questions, but let me give a few details regarding the difficulties of maintaining the Army. As I am asked by the Noble Lord to interest myself in recruiting, and to try to find men, let me point out to him that he can help very considerably. It seems to be assumed that the only people who will join the infantry are the so-called working classes. What about the middle classes and the wealthy? I have during the last few months been in places like Winchester, Oxford, Cambridge, Rugby, Harrow and Eton. There are hundred—thousands—of young men there in excellent physical condition who would gain inestimable benefit by a few years service in the Army, most of them not needing to fear that they will ruin their economic future. Why not ask that in the present state of shortage 2,000 or 3,000, or 4,000 or 5,000, of these excellent young men, excellent in physique, should join as infantrymen pour encourager les autres? [HON. MEMBERS: "They did in the War!"] I intend before I finish to deal with a question which will interest the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies).
The fact of the matter is, and we may as well face it, that the present day working man is better educated, has a better knowledge, and requires a higher standard than, I am afraid, the Army offers. As long as I am responsible for the Army I believe it is my business to 573 try to do as any decent private employer would do, that is, to assure, so far as it is humanly possible, that the man who works in the Government service in one line shall have a real chance in another line if for the moment his first line dries up. As a worker in the cotton weaving sheds I always expected an employer to do that, and what applies to an ordinary decent employer in a private industry ought to apply in a public industry, and, above all, should apply to anybody working for the State. I am perfectly certain, whether one be a pacifist or a non-resister, which is an entirely different thing, or be in favour of militarism, that there can surely be no question about this, that the working man is entitled, as far as it is humanly possible to give him the opportunity, to return into civil life and not to find himself the fifth wheel on the coach. Whatever my views about war—and my opinion about war is that the sooner we can abolish it the better—my duty as long as I am in my present position is to do whatever I can to secure that the men who come out of the Army shall come into civil life with a real chance, and I shall do all I can to secure a job for every man who leaves the Army, of whatever rank, from the private up to, if necessary, the field marshal. The question of the Reserve has not been specially mentioned. We have talked about the men we are taking in now. The Reserve itself gives, I think, no reason for any undue degree of disquiet, but the figures of the Reserve are not normal, because of the extraordinary "run out" that we have had lately, and I think that will have to be taken into consideration. [Interruption.] I can get the actual figures as we go on.
What are the causes why men do not join the Army? I think it is perfectly right to assume that men do not join the Army because they do not believe in it. What is the use of shutting our eyes to facts? There are millions of men in this country who do not believe in the Army; they would never join it voluntarily, and would only take up arms in case of a grave national emergency, and there are a large number who in no circumstances whatever would take up arms. I am not going to try to hide the facts from myself. I know that those are the facts. I personally believe that unemployment benefit has had little or no effect, but whether it has had or not, 574 this is the last Government to which to come asking that the benefit should be made less in order that men may be driven into the Army. I shall speak with the utmost possible plainness. This Government will not be responsible for attempting either to reduce the unemployment. benefit, or to make it more difficult to get it, because recruits are not coming into the Army. That must be taken out of our category completely, because we could not be responsible for a policy of that kind.
I know it is an opinion amongst many people engaged in the recruiting service that the unemployment benefit has this effect. All I know is what I can speak of from my own personal knowledge. I know one industrial county fairly well, and I am certain that the question of unemployment pay has relatively little to do with whether a man offers himself for the Army or not. I do not doubt, as has been said from the other side, that peace propaganda has a tremendous effect on whether men offer to join the Army or not. That is one of the things that is inevitable, and, again, I do not, think the Government can be asked, for the sake of recruiting, to deviate one inch from their peace policy or from the principles which they have always declared in regard to peace.
I spoke a few moment ago of the rejections, and I wish to give one or two figures in order to throw into relief exactly what they mean. Sixty-four per cent.—64 men out of every 100—were rejected in 1928, and 61 out of every 100 in 1929. In those two years 30,000 men and 28,000 men were finally accepted. Nearly all of the rejections were due to physical defects, of which I gave a picture to the House on the 16th April. In answer to a question, a table was given showing what those physical defects were. The height required is now 5 feet 2 inches.
§ Mr. SHAW
That is for the ordinary infantry of the line. In December, 1928, the height standard for the infantry of the line was lowered to 5 feet 2 inches. Again I make no apology for calling attention to these figures, because to me they are positively dreadful. Let me turn to another question which has been dealt with by the hon. and 575 gallant Member for one of the Berkshire divisions. He put in a claim that men, whilst they are in the Army, should have training of such a kind as would allow them to come back into civil life with a real chance. I agree with every word he said, and am prepared, so far as it is humanly possible, to adopt every suggestion that can be made for the improvement of vocational training in the Army in order to achieve the end he advocated. No party can look with equanimity on a state of things in which a man leaves civil life for a certain number of years and then comes back, not an outcast but, so to speak, different from the rest. I am prepared to help in every possible way, and to accept any reasonable suggestion. for the development of vocational training centres in the Army.
I am glad to say that those who have been trained in these centres show a very high percentage of success in gaining employment immediately they leave the Service. In 1928, 81 per cent. of the men who had been trained got employment immediately, and in 1929, 76 per cent. When one considers the abnormal state of affairs in the country to-day, those figures are very encouraging indeed. I thoroughly appreciate the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member about the type of man in the Army. I have seen one or two examples of the new soldier. I have been to two overseas garrisons, and I have made fairly extensive inquiries. There is no question that the old type of hard-drinking, hard-swearing, rapscallion kind of soldier—however attractive he may have been in other respects, that was what he was—has to all intents and purposes disappeared. As I said in my speech on the Estimates, the wet canteen, judging by the reports I get, is almost going out of commission, and a different type of man, a more studious type of man, and perhaps, on the whole, a higher type of man, is being evolved. It is my duty to help in that development.
I am anxious to abolish from the Army one of the things which, as it appears to me, must inevitably go as this country develops. Up to now there has been unquestionably a social gulf almost unbridgeable between the man and the commissioned officer. If middle-class men 576 and university men will come into the ranks for a few years there will be a tendency to bridge this gulf. If we can develop the Army educational system sufficiently, there will be a tendency to bridge the most important difference of all, the educational difference. If we can evolve a method—and I am not despairing of it, although frankly I have not yet seen the way to solve the problem—of a systematic rising from the ranks into the commissioned ranks then, I think, we shall have improved the Army enormously. These things are bound to come in the next few years and anything I do in the shape of recruiting will be done with these principles at the bottom of my mind.
I would like to run through very quickly questions which have been raised by various speakers in this debate. An hon. Member spoke about the soldier being well fed. It is one of the most pleasing parts of the experience of a Secretary of State for War when he hears that the men who join the Army develop in physique during the first 12 months of their service in a way which is simply marvellous. All that we can do in that respect is welcome, and I hope we shall be able to continue the good work. The question of returning to full dress has been raised, but I do not think I am going to recommend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the enormous expenditure that would be involved, because the House knows very well that what I would like to do must be tempered by what we are able to do, and that tempering must be, to some extent, the deciding factor. I have already spoken of employment in civil life, and I admit that there is a certain amount of difficulty and the soldiers arc handicapped in finding employment when they leave the service.
I will now turn to the question which has been raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Louth(Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) dealing with housing. Estimates have been presented as to what the cost would be of rehousing the troops on a modern scale wherever rehousing was found to be necessary. Of course, rehousing would have to be done in the most modern way, and to do it would cost a sum that it is quite impossible to find at once. I will do all I can to continue the programme that has been fol- 577 lowed, and I will try to accelerate it. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Louth that a soldier should be provided with decent accommodation, and I should not be doing my duty if I did not do everything I could to provide that accommodation. Every soldier ought to have a decent roof over his head and a healthy place to live in.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised the question of the Army Officers' Training Corps. This is a subject which has been discussed very frequently when the Estimates have been under consideration, and it has been definitely settled for the next 12 months. It is a question of policy upon which, I think, a declaration is properly made when the Estimates are before the Committee. My attention has been called to the fact that compulsion is exercised on the boys. May I draw attention to the fact that there is no compulsion on the parents to send their children to these schools, and I think that hon. Members ought to consider the other side of the shield. If parents have not the moral courage to say, "My boy must not go to these schools," I do not think that I should be asked to take action in a private institution which I do not think necessary.
As long as the Government policy remains what it is, I shall do my best to carry out the principle which I have laid down without compulsion. There will be no compulsion on my part, and I shall do my best to see that a man gets a square deal when he comes into the Army. Whether I like the job or not, it is my job and I have got to do it. On the subject of intelligence tests, I would like to point out that during the last few years a very valuable method has been adopted in connection with an organisation known as the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, which has certainly achieved some very remarkable results. One of the tests, supplied directly by the Institute of Industrial Psychology or by some body analagous to it, was tried, and it is at present in abeyance. I certainly have not closed my mind to the idea that a test of this kind might be useful. We have been told that what is required is a test as to a man's initiative. If an initiative test is applied, it should be applied in such a way as to show whether a man possesses 578 initiative or nor, and real knowledge, as apart from book knowledge, which may not be quite as valuable as the ordinary everyday science of common-sense.
With regard to recruiting, this question is not dead; but there is no need for panic, and there has been no sudden and serious worsening of the conditions. It has been frankly acknowledged that this question has to be tackled. I do not say that next week or the week after I am going on a personal recruiting campaign throughout the country, but even that is not excluded, and I may find myself in some of the centres of which I have spoken appealing to men who ought to come into the ranks and set an example to others. I give no promise, but the fundamentals of the case as I see them are these: You have the medical side of the Service understaffed. Judging from the information I have received from reports and information kindly given to me by some of the distinguished men in the medical profession, it is quite evident that that side of the Service is understaffed, and the reason for that is, I am told, that the terms are not good enough.
I do not know whether the same reason applies to recruiting, and it may be thought that we are not offering anything that is good enough for the men to accept. One hon. Member said that the men in the Army should have some degree of security. If by security is meant that the Army will always be kept up to its present strength, this Government can never give that security. If by security the hon. Member means that a soldier will have reasonable consideration at the end of his service, I say at once that there is no intention, and there has never been any intention, of breaking the contract which has been entered into. That plain declaration is as straightforward as anything I could say. I want every soldier in the ranks to have decent conditions and a healthy life, as I think he has now, and I hope the soldier will be looked upon as a servant of the State who should go from one job to another in the State.
I want to see the soldier receiving a good education in the Army and making rapid progress. I had an opportunity the other day of reading one of the examination papers which have been set for Army students. I am supposed to know something about one or two 579 sciences, and I have some knowledge of one or two languages, but I confess that, if those papers had been put before me, I should have been "plucked." I will not say any more on that subject. I have tried to state the position of the Ministry and the Government, and I must now leave the House to determine whether or not my salary ought to be curtailed.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I congratulate the Secretary of state for War on the speech which he has just delivered. The right hon. Gentleman has relieved a great many of our anxieties, and he has given expression to intentions which I feel sure he will do his best to carry out and which, in our judgment, are in the right direction. I was not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the recruiting position was serious at the present time. I know that when he published the Army Annual report he said that he viewed the position with disquietude. To-day the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that it is not a new thing because there has been a shortage of recruits for many years, and that the position to-day does not differ from the position of the last few years. I have here the figures for each of the last five years, and last year was the worst but one of all those five years. This year the figures for the first nine months are shaping to be worse still. The figures for the first nine months for all arms were 19,213, which is 2,400 less than for the first nine months of last year. Those figures are not really comparable, because it was at the end of 1928 that the height standard was reduced, with the result that an additional 3,000 recruits were obtained. A shortage of 2,400 in nine months, following previous shortages, is a most disquieting thing.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman called attention to the fact that it was not the number offering that had failed, but the number that could be retained on account of health. He mentioned that 61 per cent. were rejected. That, however, is not a new thing either. There have been rejections over 60 per cent.—indeed, as many as 65 or 66 per cent.—in previous years. The rejections last year were actually less than in the previous year, when they were 64 per cent. 580 I warn the right hon. Gentleman that he must not take consolation from the idea that he is going to get quickly a better type of recruit than he is getting at this moment. When you have dealt with the public health, when you have removed some of the underlying causes of ill health among the population, you may effect an improvement, but that is not a thing that is going to concern recruiting next year, or the year after. What we have to do is to maintain each year, not waiting for a longer period, the numbers that go into the Army. The right hon. Gentleman also thought that the War deterioration had commenced to operate. I am afraid, however, that that is not so. I do not see how it can be so. We are in the year 1930, and the War children would only be, at most, 16 years old; and, although some of them may offer themselves at 16, the number is very small.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
That, of course, is true, and it does affect the question to some extent, but what I want to point out is that the children who are now 16 or 17, and who would come to recruiting age during the next two or three years, are going to be fewer in number because births during the early War years were certainly fewer. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to get help in that direction, and he will have to face a still more serious position in the next few years. I am urging him, therefore, to treat this matter, not as one which is passing, or as one which is not serious, but as a really serious matter which requires continuous watching and continuous action on his part. As he said, the numbers joining depend largely upon what the pay and the prospects of the men are to be. I am not at all sure that pay is the first consideration, because there has been experience of higher pay, and of a reduction of pay, and we know the effect that that had upon recruiting. First there was a check, but, shortly afterwards, it seemed to be made up; while in the Territorial Army, when the bounty, or part of it, was abolished pretty much the same result was observed. There was at first a check in the numbers coming in, and then a gradual making up. 581 I do not, therefore, believe that it is really a question of pay; I believe that it is much more a question of prospects, and, when the right hon. Gentleman says that his ideal is that a man joining the Army is joining a national service, and that he wants the nation to see that that man gets continuous employment, I am entirely with him. If he cannot guarantee continuous employment, I should like to see a continuous pension if the man continues in the Government service, so that the Army pension should also count towards civil pension in the civil employment of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, let him maintain the preferences in employment in Government service which at present exist, and, if he can, extend them. There have been committees innumerable on this subject, and that fact confirms the right hon. Gentleman's statement that recruiting has always been difficult. There have been committees innumerable on the question of what we could offer to the soldier in the way of employment in the Government service. The last committee was set up during my term of office, and at my instigation, by the Treasury, and I understand that it was in consequence of that committee that the Treasury Circular was issued to Government Departments at the beginning of this year, the Government Departments being instructed to give preference to ex-service men in certain classes of employment.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will watch that question. A departmental committee has been set up, on which I have no doubt the War Office is represented, for the purpose of facilitating the employment of ex-service men, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman himself will put his words of to-day, which we welcome, to the actual test of action, and that he will himself see that the preferences enjoined by the Treasury, as a result of the committee to which I have referred, are in fact observed, and, if possible, increased. For example, there is the 50 per cent. employment in the Post Office. That will come up on another Vote, when, no doubt, it will be dealt with in greater detail, but, on the question of the inducements to recruits to enter the Army, I think that prospects are much more likely to be the deciding factor. In the Post Office there is an 582 arrangement whereby postmen and certain other classes are appointed on a 50–50 basis, the vacancies being filled as to one half by telegraph messengers who are promoted, and as to one half by ex-service men. There is, I understand, a suggestion that that arrangement shall be varied by promoting auxiliary postmen, and that might be done in a way which will not interfere with the 50–50 arrangement, or it might be done in a way which would interfere with it, by taking away some of the vacancies to which ex-service men are now entitled. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will watch that matter, because any disturbance of the preferences which now exist will, without doubt, damage, and not help, the prospects in regard to recruiting.
I am extremely anxious that, whatever the right hon. Gentleman can do to see that the ex-service man gets employment, especially in the Government service, and preferably with a continuous pension, should be done. The vocational training arrangements are not enough. At present, even if the places are fully occupied, they do not deal with 10 per cent, of the men who leave the Army every year; I think the figure is nearer 7 or 8 per cent.; so that, while a number might have the chance if they chose to apply for vocational training, a great many never get the chance. 11 the right hon. Gentleman could extend these arrangements I should be very glad indeed. As the right hon. Gentleman said that he was anxious for the continuance and, perhaps, improvement of education in the Army, it occurs to me that there might be some possibility that in the barracks themselves those who are capable of benefiting by it—and a great number of men in the ranks have very high educational certificates—might receive some increased education there, so that gradually the barracks, without becoming exactly a university, might at least be able to give, to those who were capable of benefiting by it, a somewhat higher education and training, so as to fit them more for civil life when they go out in the world. I think the right hon. Gentleman is quite right when he says that the type of those who are now joining the Army is improving year by year. Much as people loved the old type, and the friends of the old type must never be lost sight of, there is now a new type of men of a higher standard 583 of education, and accustomed to a higher standard of living; and I feel that there is a real opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman, if he will only put into practice the sentiments which he has expressed to-day. not merely to earn his salary, but, at this time next year, to receive our congratulations again. In the meantime, while we have had a most excellent and useful debate owing to my hon. and gallant Friend having put down this Amendment, I feel sure that he, like the rest of us, would dislike reducing the right hon. Gentleman's salary, and I have not the least doubt that at the right time he will withdraw the Amendment.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
; I am sure that the House, and especially Members on this side, will have listened with very great satisfaction to the speech of the Secretary of State for War, because we felt that he was dealing with the subject with a great sense of responsibility, and also with a sympathetic outlook which showed that the future of the Army ought to be very much better than the conditions of the present day. We on this side welcome the right hon. Gentleman's words to-day, and feel that, while they reflect our own admiration for the Army, they also reflect very great credit on the right hon. Gentleman himself, as showing that he has this deep sense of his responsibility.
We are exercised in our minds at the evidence of the lack of recruitment, particularly when we observe the high percentage of those cases which were refused on medical grounds. The fact that, although the height standard of to-day is only 5 feet 2 inches, 61 per cent. of the candidates could not come up to that physical standard, shows that there are in this country to-day a very large number of our young men who cannot be described as physically fit. There was one sentence of the right hon. Gentleman which struck me with considerable force. He spoke of his feeling of great satisfaction at the way in which these young men who had been introduced into the Army developed after about 12 months Or so.
The same thing was noticed during the Great War. During part of that time we had to take into the Army men who 584 could not by any means be called physically fit for the Service, and yet, after undergoing a certain amount of training and exercise in the open air, and with good food, the development which they made was astonishing. This was so not only in the case of youths, but of men of 21, 22 and 23, and 1 have been wondering whether the standard for entry into the Army could not be altered so as to take that into account. No one would suggest for a moment that anyone should be admitted into the Army who was organically unsound; but I wonder whether the test could not be made a little lighter for any man who is being refused on account of lack of height, or chest measurement, or dental requirements; because I feel very strongly that, if these men, who, perhaps, have been brought up in circumstances of great poverty, who, perhaps, have been living in slums, had the chance to lead a healthy life in the open air, with exercise and plenty of good food, they might develop physically and become really good strong healthy men, a credit to themselves and to the country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear this consideration in mind, and see if some slight extra benefit could be given to these people, with the idea that, with good food and the healthy Army life, they might improve in health and physical standards.
The point about which I am principally concerned is the marked shortage of medical officers. In reply to a question which I put to him yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman informed the House that there is at the present time a shortage of 140 medical officers. It is no use having an army at all, however small the army may be, unless it is a healthy army. The only way in which von can have a healthy army, and keep it healthy, is by having a sufficient and efficient medical staff. The health of the Army depends to a very great extent upon its medical service. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Question!"] I do not think even the hon. Member would like to think that all the doctors in the world were suddenly wiped out of existence and that he was to go in terror of his life.
The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger absolutely on the vital spot—that is money. The medical man is worthy of his hire. Medical men, to a large extent, enter the profession with the idea of 585 making a livelihood, and they are human enough to hope to make the very best livelihood they can, just the same as hon. Members opposite, if they can get a chance of an increased salary or a better job. The medical student, when he becomes qualified, can take a panel practice, which appeals to some, but nothing like it used to, because a man has to be very keen to be willing to work seven days in the week, nights included, for a very precarious existence, and a large number of panel practitioners lead a precarious existence.
On the other hand, more and more every year are attracted into the public services—the health services, tuberculosis services, venereal disease, and all the ether things that are offering very great inducements to the best type of men. I should like to give some of the salaries that are offered to some of these medical men. A hospital medical officer gets £600, and a senior medical officer from £750 to £1,000, a medical officer to a port is offered £800 a year, a district officer for tuberculosis £750 a year, and the medical superintendent of an institution, according to the number of beds, gets from £750 to £1,100, with emoluments. The best men are going to these appointments, and the Army is suffering accordingly. You cannot blame them when they are asked to go into work at a very much lower salary than that, to give seven years of their life, when they can have a gratuity and start a livelihood for themselves. Instead of going into the Army, as they did in the past, they are going into these public services. The pay is very much better and the outlook is better. One way to get an efficient medical service in the Army is to pay more money. If you offered sufficiently good terms, you could get them into the Army, whereas they are now going to the other services.
There is another method. The Government employ a large number of medical men in their Departments. Would it not be possible to arrange that any medical man who had been in one of the services should have a preferential claim to any Government medical service, and later on under a municipality? By doing that, you would possibly get them to go into the Army for the sake of the life and the experience and the opportunity of travelling about the world, and they would 586 come out with a gratuity and with the knowledge that they would have a preferential claim to Government or municipal service. You would thus fill up the shortage and attract the best type of man into the service, and in the other services you would get keen, enthusiastic, experienced men, and ultimately it would be to the benefit of the State.
The same trouble is to be found in the Air Force and the Navy. If the three Departments together could persuade the Government to work on that system and offer this direct inducement, the trouble would be over. You would not have to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for very much more money. The position is serious, and I think it is an urgent necessity that the Secretary of State should see that the medical services of the Army are recruited up to their proper strength. It is a duty that we owe to the men in the Army to see that there is an efficient and sufficient medical service, and the sooner that is done, the better for the Army and ultimately, I should hope, for the country, and for medical men also. I hope I have pointed a way out of the difficulty, which is not difficult of application if the Government apply their minds to it. I hope my remarks will be passed on to the Secretary of State and that he may think them worthy of consideration.
§ Mr. EDE
I think the hon. Member's doctrine is an exceedingly dangerous one to apply to a public service. It shows how far one can be pressed if one once departs from the sound doctrine of the best man getting the post when it is in the public service, I think the proper way to deal with the problem is to make the post in the Army sufficiently valuable in every way, not merely in emoluments but in status and everything else, to attract the right type of man to it.
§ Mr. EDE
The hon. Member's practical suggestion was that that should be postponed to the future and, as he has never revealed himself as an idealist, I am inclined to regard what he suggests as the practical step as being the one he rather anticipates will be carried out. I rise because I think this problem of recruiting presents us with one very striking sidelight on the attitude of the 587 country towards recruiting. During the past 25 years the work of the school medical services has revealed to us a steadily increasing efficiency in the physique of the people. When one compares the results of the medical inspection of elementary schools to-day with what they were in 1907, when they were first instituted, it is astonishing to find in most of the areas the increase in height, chest measurement, nutrition and in general physique. And yet, when these children reach the age when they become recruits for the Army, the physique of the recruit has very little improved over what it was then, and it would appear to prove that the physically fit in the population are less and less looking to the Army as a normal source of employment.
I think the education service is in another way responsible for the difficulties in obtaining recruits. There was a very valuable type of recruit who used to join the Army. I recollect, just after the Armistice, coming in contact with one of them who had risen to the rank of sergeant-major. I was sent round by the officer commanding my unit to collect the civilian occupations of the men. The occupations varied from day to day because wild rumours went round as to which was to be demobilised first. Finding that no occupation had been given for the sergeant-major, I went to him and, with the great respect due to a person of his exalted rank, I asked him what his civilian occupation was. He said, "Write my civilian occupation down as soldier." There was no doubt that that man's civilian occupation was a soldier. He was a soldier by temperament and outlook and by a long career in the office he then held.
The Secretary of State got very close to the real problem of recruiting when he suggested that one of the ways in which to secure adequate recruits would be for the youths in public schools to enter the Army in the ranks. When the Estimates were first introduced, I urged that that should be the one entry into the Army, and that the commissioned classes should be entirely recruited from the ranks. I believe, with the present organisation of our State and the outlook of our people on the problems of industry and employment, we shall find it 588 increasingly difficult to secure recruits unless it is understood that there is only one form of entry to the Army and one avenue to the commissioned ranks, and that men who are soldiers by temperament, by experience and training shall be the people who will go to the commissioned ranks. As the Noble Lord opposite said, our Army is merely a police force. To suggest that our Army of 149,000 men is in any sense a military danger to the people of the world is to say something that is palpably absurd. But we must maintain an Army at somewhere about this figure for police purposes. For such an Army to be recruited on two separate bases, as it is at the moment, first for the non-commissioned ranks and secondly for the commissioned ranks, is to create a difficulty in the way of recruiting for the non-commissioned ranks that we ought not to allow.
I was very glad to hear what the Secretary of State said and I can only hope he is going to apply the principle very speedily in one case where the matter has lately been presed on him. There is some difficulty at the moment in recruiting schoolmistresses for the Army. The Army schoolmaster has been given commissioned rank, and some of the nurses have been given commissioned rank, and with the existing shortage of Army schoolmistresses I am sure he would find that, if they were given commissioned rank as well, it would very considerably ease the problem. Difficult as social distinctions among men may be, I am sure they are far more difficult of adjustment when they operate in the case of women. The difference in social status between the Army nurse and the Army schoolmistress is one of the difficulties in the way of recruiting for that branch of the Service. I think an unnecessary amount of heat was thrown into the debate by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). Surely, he must realise that there are a good many men on this side of the House who served in the War and who were in the House when he spoke and made certain very general observations which were not, I understand, exactly meant to be friendly towards those who served in the ranks.
I do not know what the hon. Member means. On the contrary, I said that hon. Gentlemen on the back benches are entitled, if they 589 desire to do so, to advocate that there should be no military service of any kind. I do not know that I engendered any heat in that statement. I recognise that an hon. Member has a right to be a conscientious objector if he wishes.
§ Mr. EDE
I am afraid that the Noble Lord hardly realises the effect which his words sometimes produce, because, if he did not generate heat, the atmosphere was considerably warmer during his speech than it was during any other part of the afternoon. Hon. Members on this side of the House who served in the ranks during the War, who had experience of the War on a good many fronts, and whose interest in the Army is derived from the fact that they have served in the Army—I joined the old volunteers at the age of 17 and I rejoined when the War broke out—do not like general remarks of this character to be thrown at them.
Really. The hon. Gentleman must not go on accusing me. [Interruption.] I am not talking to the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) but to the hon. Gentleman who has referred to me. The hon. Member is doing me an injustice, and I know him well enough to realise that he would not desire to do anyone an injustice. I said deliberately that hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite were quite entitled to hold the views which they do hold. I have not suggested that hon. Gentlemen opposite as a whole did not do good War service. Of course, they did. If the hon. Member thinks that I did make such a suggestion I wish to make it clear that I am well aware that there are many on those benches who did excellent War service.
§ Mr. EDE
The Noble Lord drew a very sharp distinction between hon. Members sitting on the back benches whom he included in a general condemnation and the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench. I have not yet sunk to the level of the Front Bench, and I doubt if ever I shall. I feel that it is necessary to protest against the idea which, 590 at any rate, the Noble Lord conveyed to me, and, I am sure, to other hon. Members here who had similar experiences daring the War, that we were not supposed to take any interest in the Army or in the soldier. I wish to see the British Army, as a police force for the preservation of good order and government in the various countries for which this nation has accepted responsibility, to be a force which any intelligent citizen who does not hold the extreme view that an army is in itself bad may feel that he can join and that the highest offices are open to him on his military ability and his military ability alone. I am sure that all the time that the right hon. Gentleman for Preston (Mr. Shaw) is the Secretary of State for War, and while this party remains responsible for the Army, we shall be taking steps steadily towards the realisation of an ideal which will give this country, for the first time since the Seventeenth Century, an army in the organisation of which a democratic State can be proud.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
Though I take, perhaps, a more extreme pacifist view than most of my hon. Friends, I also recognise that we have to face things as they are and not as we would like them to be. Facing things as they are, we have to recognise that we have an army in our midst. As long as we have an army in our midst, I am anxious that those who serve in that army shall have the very best possible conditions. The Noble Lord opposite, who indulged in the passage of arms with my hon. Friend about what he said and what he did not say will remember that he said that we on these benches were not the friends of the soldier. He has said the same things in other debates in a very much more offensive manner, and that we were against the soldier.
I want to put forward the contention that the position of the soldier to-day is not comparable with the position of other employés of the community or of the Government. It is not the fault of the Government which is now in office. These things have obtained for years and years. If you compare the soldier with the policeman, the soldier has a much inferior job to that of the policeman. Take the soldier's pay and the soldier's conditions of life, and you will realise that they are not going to attract enormous numbers of 591 recruits into the Army. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) referred to the position of medical officers in the Army. I agree with the point of view and with the position he took up, that if you employ medical officers in the Army it is necessary to give them the best possible conditions and to make those conditions comparable with the conditions of medical officers in employment outside. If you are going to do that for medical officers, you ought to do the same thing for the privates and give them conditions comparable with the best kind of conditions of employment outside the Army. The party opposite, who charge us with not being the friends of the soldier, have been in the control of the armed forces of this country on and off and in and out with their friends below the Gangway for upwards of a century. I fail to see that they have made all the necessary improvements in the lot of the soldier which alone can remedy the present position.
I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that class distinction and snobbery in the Army is another thing you are up against as far as recruiting is concerned. If we have to have an army to defend this country or to carry on necessary police work under the League of the Nations, let us have a square deal for every unit in that army. I agree that every recruit to the Army should come through the one channel, the ordinary recruiting offices, and that sheer ability and nothing else should qualify him for the rank of captain or brigadier-general or field marshal. [Interruption.] We had one, I know, but what is one among so many. You have officers' servants in the Army—you have the old class distinction—men of the same race, colour and creed acting as menial servants to other men of the same race, colour and creed. When they go to India the ordinary soldier has the service of someone who, in the eyes of the authorities, is supposed to be just a little lower in the social scale. If that sort of thing was done away with, I believe that recruiting would be encouraged.
One of the reasons adduced on the opposite side for the decrease in recruiting was the action of Socialist councils in impeding the progress of recruitment. Socialist councils, along with any other borough councils, have not the function 592 which the War Office possesses in this House. Their function is to administer and to govern the affairs in their city. and I do not see that recruiting comes into the matter at all. We were also challenged from the opposite benches as to whether we would go into our constituencies and urge men to go into the Army. Why should we do so? The Army employ a staff of recruiting sergeants to do that work. That is their job, and it is not the job of Members of this House or even of the Secretary of State for War. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are so keen on recruiting, I take it that they will be able to use the platform of the Beaverbrook campaign or of any other campaign in which they are interested in order to make an appeal for recruits for the British Army, and nothing will be said about it.
I come to another rather serious aspect of this position which is an echo of a previous debate and which has been reiterated in this Debate, namely, the suggestion that men who are receiving unemployment insurance benefit in the transitional period should be compelled to join the Army on pain of losing their unemployment insurance status. This suggestion was made a few weeks ago from the Front Bench opposite, and it has been made again this afternoon. What is that but conscription in a veiled form? If hon. Members opposite believe in conscription, they should be honest and go on to the platform and advocate conscription instead of asserting that the unemployed are receiving money and doles because they are too idle to work, and that therefore they should be shoved into the Army as a kind of punishment for being unemployed. This is the fault of the economic system under which we live. Many men have no desire to go into the Army. Temperament differs. Some men enjoy Army life. When I was younger, I enjoyed the time I spent in the Army, except the War period, and there are young men who enjoy it to-day. It is a matter of temperament and you cannot dragoon people into the Army willy nilly because they happen to be on the unemployed list. The Noble Lord said that there was very little public interest in the question of recruiting, and he thought there was likely to be less. He said that if the people of this country—and here is a point which I think the House ought not to allow to escape notice 593 —realised that upon recruiting depended the defence of the north-west frontier of India and the possessions of this country from Cairo to Bombay—
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I would not like to go to a party of working-class men and ask them to join the British Army for the purposes which have been outlined by he Noble Lord opposite. I know the British working-man. The British working-man would turn round and say, "Tell the people who have got the property in those districts to go and defend their own blinking property." One would gather from that argument that you were to join the Army, not to act as a member of a police force under the League of Nations, not even to defend the shores of one's native land, but to go abroad and defend the ill-gotten gains of a gang of international capitalists on whose boards of directors there might happen to be a few Englishmen drawing dividends. Then we had given to us by the Secretary of State for War very alarming figures concerning the physical standard of the recruits in the British Army. We were told that 61 per cent. were rejected because they were under the physical standard, that the standard had been considerably lowered during the past few years, that the height was only 5 feet 2 inches—I should think that even the bantams we had during the War would come up to that. [An HON. MEMBER "They were only 4 feet 8 inches!"] Well, they were as good as some of the big chaps we had. How are you doing to encourage recruiting and inspire enthusiasm in men to defend a country which has to reject 61 per cent. of those who apply for entry because of their physical defects? We had the Noble Lord the hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), winding up his peroration with the statement that there has been a decrease in patriotism since the Socialist party came in. That was the declamatory statement which we had made in his very best form. What does he mean by that? My patriotism is to make it impossible in this country for 61 per cent. of the people who apply for service to be rejected because of their physical condition. My patriotism is to 594 raise the whole standard of life of the community which I represent, and I suggest that that form of patriotism, though it might not be so spectacular or so melodramatic, though it might not carry with it a beautiful uniform, is a kind of patriotism which will appeal to the people whom we on these benches represent.
Question, "That £879,000' stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
Postponed First Resolution further considered.
§ Brigadier - General Sir GEORGE COCKERILL
I beg to move, to leave out "£409,670," and to insert instead thereof "£408,570."
It is a pleasing custom that a Member rising to speak for the first time may crave the indulgence of the House. I do not know whether it would be possible to crave a similar indulgence when a Member rises for what may well prove to be the last time in this House. The length of life of the present Government does not depend on me, but, if this does prove to be my Swan Song, I am glad that my voice should be raised for the last time here on behalf of the regular soldier with whom a great part of my life has been served.
I wish to raise a question of vital importance to men now serving in the Regular Forces of the Crown—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The question arises directly out of an official statement issued a few days ago by the Office of Works. It was a perfectly frank statement. The First Commissioner announced that he had recently received a deputation from the trade union side of the Office of Works Joint Industrial Council on the subject of the preference of employment which is now given to ex-regular sailors, soldiers and airmen in the Office of Works. Evidence was apparently laid before the First Commissioner of some feeling against what he calls, in his statement, a new system among the men of his Department. The right hon. Gentleman explained with perfect truth that the policy he is observing was laid down by the Treasury and applied to every Gov- 595 ernment Department alike, and he added that he would take immediate steps to have the policy reconsidered.
That statement has struck consternation in the minds of everyone connected with the business of providing employment for ex-service men. After listening to the Secretary of State for War my apprehensions have been greatly allayed. There is, however, some fear in the minds of some of us on this side of the House that there is some movement which the First Commissioner might find it difficult to resist. Other Departments besides his own are affected, among others the Post Office, and it is for that reason I believe that the Post Office Vote has been put on the Order Paper to-day. I shall confine myself to the question of employment in the Office of Works. I do so for this reason. It is over 30 years since the Cabinet of the day decided that 50 per cent. of the vacancies for postmen should be assigned to ex-service men, and I doubt if such a long subsisting arrangement is likely to be upset without the fullest consultation with all concerned. I have not quite the same feeling of security in the case of the Office of Works. In a statement the right hon. Gentleman issued to the Press, reference is made to "a new system." It is easier to modify or destroy a new system than one which has its roots fixed in a longer past.
I should like to explain to the House, and to the right hon. Gentleman if he is not aware of it, that the so-called new system, if it can be called a new system, depends on a principle which has been accepted for many years past by every successive Government. That principle emerged for the first time from the proceedings of a Select Committee of this House which reported as long ago as 1877. That committee was set up to consider the question whether a better class of men would be induced to enter the military or naval services if the prospect was held cut to them of civil employment after a certain period of meritorious service. In the case of the Army, the committee answered the question with a very decided affirmative. They reported:There is good reason to believe that if it were well understood that a considerable 596 number of suitable civil appointments were to be given to soldiers when their term of service expired, the effect on recruiting, would be good.They recommended that the appointments of permanent messengers, for which they said, soldiers and sailors appeared especially suited, should be exclusively made from persons who had served. They recommended also that the practice of reserving appointments as park-keepers for ex-soldiers might be made an absolute rule, and that such a rule should be extended to analogous employment. A second Select Committee was appointed in 1894, and they suggested further measures for extending the employment of soldiers and sailors in the civil Departments, and for helping them to obtain service with private employers of labour. They were very dissatisfied with what had been done to carry out the recommendations of the earlier committee, which they said had not been commensurate with the necessities of the case, and they added:In sending back annually into civil life so many thousands of reservists, the State contracts towards these men a moral obligation which it should not hesitate to discharge.The principle on which successive Governments have acted for many years past cannot be better stated than in those words. Much is heard in these days of dead-end and blind-alley occupations and the injustice of employing young people in such occupations without taking steps to fit them for further employment as they grow older. There is surely no more complete blind-alley employment than that of service in the Forces. Men are withdrawn from civil life at an age when others are just entering into profitable employment, and at the end of their time of service they are returned to civil life gravely handicapped for the pursuit of other employment. Every opportunity is now taken of improving their qualifications for employment, but it still remains a fact that the Army and Navy are dead-end or blind-alley occupations in a more real sense than any other occupations unless the State intervenes to find employment for the men on their discharge.
Clearly the Select Committee of 1894 took a very serious view of the moral obligation of the State towards those who had given the best years of their 597 life in the service of the State. The report went so far as to say that service in the Colours should be, under ordinary circumstances, a condition of appointment for employment in all State Departments, and it stressed the suitability of soldiers and sailors for employment in a variety of occupations, such as watchmen, store keepers, caretakers and similar posts of trust. If for no other reason, the men leaving the Services are physically better fitted for employment in civil life than the rest of the civil population. We have heard this afternoon that 61 per cent. of the men who offer themselves for recruitment have to be rejected through some physical infirmity. That clearly means that those who are accepted are the very pick of the basket, and when they return to civil life they are, naturally, men who can render valuable service in the industrial life of the country.
I hope that there is no illogical prejudice in the mind of any hon. Member opposite as regards the employment of ex-service men merely on the score of any pacifist opinion which he may hold as regards the abolition of war. I am sure that every soldier who has served, whatever his rank, would share with hon. Members opposite the dislike of war. No soldier wantonly provokes war, but so long as the State has an Army and a Navy—we are not discussing the merits of that question now—quite clearly it has a moral obligation towards the ex-Service men to place them in a position not less favourable than other men in civil life. Since their competitors have had from youth upwards much better opportunities of securing and retaining situations in civil life than they have had, it is surely only just and right that ex-Service men should be compensated, even by receiving preferential treatment from their one and only employer, the State. Such has hitherto been the accepted view. To me it seems the natural and just view. It certainly still persists, for as recently as 1926 the Treasury appointed a further Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Warren Fisher, to consider the cognate question of finding suitable employment in civil life for men who had served in the Forces of the Crown. Amongst their recommendations was this very important one.It should be an accepted principle that in filling subordinate positions for which 598 adult recruitment is the rule, consideration should first be given to duly qualified candidates who have served in the Regular Forces of the Crown.The Committee recommended—in addition to a long list of types of posts to which this special arrangement should apply—that there should also be found posts in industrial establishments for which ex-regulars possessed suitable qualifications. That admirable principle rests on the high moral ground of doing justice to men who have rendered faithful service to the country, and it is this principle that underlies what the right hon. Gentleman has called the new system, in the statement which he has issued from his Department. It is a principle which has been long accepted and it is a principle which he is, apparently, being invited to reconsider or modify by the trades union side of the Joint Industrial Council. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman may have the strength to resist that pressure, such as it is.
The Secretary of State for War has expressed himself this afternoon in terms which, to me, leave nothing to be desired. He said that the men who come out of the Army should come back into civil life in a decent position. That is what we want to secure. Apart from any question of right and justice, and considered merely on economic grounds, it would be wise for Parliament to ensure as far as possible that men on whom we rely for service in the Reserve Forces of the Crown should not be exposed to the risk of that demoralisation which so often follows in the train of unemployment. If we do not do justice to our ex-regulars, there is no question but that the State will have to offer ever increasing rates of pay in order to attract recruits for military service. That is a question which may appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Already, there is some comment in foreign countries as to the scale of armaments indulged in by a Socialist Government in this country, and the cost of our services is being compared, to our disadvantage, with the cost of services abroad. That is a further point that might appeal to the right hon. Gentleman.
I prefer to base my appeal on the higher ground which I have already stated. The right hon. Gentleman is credited with a kind heart. These men 599 have served their country well, they have no trades union to plead their case, and they can only look to this House and to the Government of the day to do them justice. Their service to the State has very gravely prejudiced their chances, on returning to civil life, of quick absorption into the industrial life of the country, and they have every right to expect, what the Secretary of State for War has described as, "at least as decent treatment from the State as they would get from a good employer." They have every right to expect some compensating privileges in respect of further employment under the State, and I hope to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he admits the moral obligation which the State has contracted, and that he will not hesitate to discharge it.
§ Major COHEN
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think I may follow the hon. and gallant Member in saying that in all probability this will be my swan song, and it strikes me as rather curious that we should both liken ourselves to this particular bird, because his name begins with Cock, and mine ends with "hen." As the chief representative of the British Legion in this House, it is necessary to me to say something in respect of the proposed reduction of the Vote, because the Legion is very much concerned at the suggestion that there is an attempt to deprive ex-service men of employment in a quarter where they have always looked, and where they are entitled to look, for employment. Up to now the present Government have followed the precedent set up by the previous Government, and by other preceding Governments, in giving preference in certain quarters to ex-service men. The Legion has always been perfectly satisfied with that.
The Unemployment Grants Committee insists, whenever it gives loans for relief works, that 75 per cent. of the men employed shall, where possible, be ex-service men. The Employment Exchanges have instructions that, all things being equal, preference should be given to ex-service men. Up to now the Post Office have reserved 50 per cent. of their vacancies for ex-service men. In addition, there have been various committees 600 which have been set up to deal with the finding of employment for ex-service men in the Civil Service, such as the Lytton Committee, the Southgate Committee, and the Guinness Committee, and they have all recommended that preference should be given to the ex-service men in appointments to the clerical staff. Moreover, in January this year the Treasury issued a circular saying that preference should be given to ex-service men. For this purpose it divided the ex-service men into three categories, (1) ex-regulars who enlisted before the 11th November, 1918, (2) what they call hostilities men, the men who joined up in the Great War and fought in the War only, and (3) the men who have joined the Army since the 11th November, 1918. We hear now that it is proposed to upset that circular, and it is because of that suggestion that this debate is taking place. The Legion fears that if the suggestion to upset the circular should be acceded to, it may be the thin end of the wedge and the beginning of the end so far as giving preference to ex-service men in Government Departments is concerned. For that reason it is deeply concerned.
At the present time there are, roughly, 7,500,000—I am speaking only of the men over 18—in industry in this country and there are 1,400,000 unemployed. There are 4,250,000 ex-service men in the country. if the unemployed ex-service men are in the same proportion as the total unemployed are to the total number of those employed, there are to-day 800,000 ex-service men unemployed. That number is likely to be exceeded in the near future, because the King's Roll Committee, which has done its work, as every one will agree, extremely well in the past, is now faced with a difficulty in getting employment for what they call the "B" and "C" categories—the worst disabled men. The "A" category consists of men very slightly disabled, and the King's Roll Committee have considered whether they ought not in the future to concentrate entirely on the "B" and "C" category men, and let the "A" category men look after themselves. In other words, let the "A" category men join the other ex-service men in the labour market. It is possible therefore that the "A" category men—I do not suggest they are going to lose 601 their jobs if they already have them but those who have none—may have to come on to the labour market.
This is not the time to put any obstacles in the way of finding employment for the ex-service men. I realise fully that at a time when unemployment is rampant, the ex-service men must suffer with the others, and I realise that it is extremely hard that when a certain number of young men are coming to the age when they want to find employment they cannot find it, but I do say that the case of the ex-service man deserves more consideration from the country than the case of the young man who escaped the War and is now coming to an age when he wants work. We all owe a debt to the ex-service men, and the finding of employment for them is one way in which we can pay them for their service, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to refuse the request made to him to alter the present regulations.
§ Major TRYON
I desire to support my two hon. and gallant Friends, and I am glad to have this opportunity of reinforcing the appeal which has been so well made by the hon. and gallant Member who speaks for the British Legion. I must congratulate the First Commissioner of Works on the remarkable development of his opinions since the date, almost exactly two years ago, when he voted for the total abolition of the Army. Now he fills a responsible position in a Government which is maintaining considerable naval and military forces.
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Lansbury)
On a point of Order. Are we going to repeat the discussion which took place on the previous debate? I am perfectly willing to discuss it.
§ Major TRYON
I was referring to the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for this Department, and I was saying that, in view of his responsibilities as First Commissioner of Works, in a Government which is spending over £100,000,000 on armaments, that he should do all he can as First Commissioner of Works to give employment to those men to whom the Government and the country owe so much. I understand that, in reply to the deputation, he said that he would see that this question was immediately reconsidered. I hope he will 602 not reconsider this question, but will carry on the tradition of his predecessors and give employment to ex-service men. I speak with some claim, because I have been head of a Department in which 97 per cent. of the male staff were ex-service men. We were faced with incredible difficulties on a reduction of staff, but we so reduced the staff that 97 per cent. of the male staff were ex-service men, and en that ground alone I have some personal claim to ask the right hon. Gentleman to do his best for these men.
There are special grounds why he should. The State, the Government, asks these men to give up the best years of their life to the service of the country. They are being trained under the present Government to defend the country in case of war, and in order to do that they have to give up the best part of their lives, sometimes three years, sometimes seven years, in some cases more; and it is those very years in which they would have been able to build up employment in some other industry. It is because these men have missed their chance of getting established in some civil industry that they should receive special consideration from the State. The First Commissioner of Works, especially can help, because he has so many of these posts which are suitable for ex-service men. I understand there was considerable feeling by the deputation against filling these posts with ex-service men. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is a feeling in the opposite direction. People when they see men employed in the parks, who can be recognised from their medals as having rendered valuable service to the State, do not want to see them replaced by men who have never rendered any kind of service whatever. Therefore, I ask the First Commissioner of Works to do all he can through his Department, which has special opportunities, to give employment to these men after their service in the military forces of the Crown.
I do not think there is any Member of the House who would not listen to the appeal which has been made on behalf of the ex-service men with sympathy, but I should like to ask the right hon. Member for Brighton (Major Tryon) what is an ex-service man. What do we mean by service? I cannot make this great distinction between service with the Colours and service on the 603 high seas with service in the mines. When an appeal is made that no ex-service man shall suffer unemployment I cannot stop there. I want no unemployment for any man. It so happens that I know something about this particular question, and I feel that there is a great deal of misunderstanding in regard to it. The right hon. Member for Brighton has appealed to the First Commissioner of Works to carry on the policy and has suggested that the circular of this year has made no change in policy. If that is so then there is no feeling and no disagreement, because the men who are concerned are not opposed to the ex-service man being employed. The ex-service man is a man who has served with the Colours before the War, during the War or after the War.
This is one case which has been brought to my notice. It was the case of a man who had served in the Office of Works for seven years when his employment was terminated. He was unemployed for 10 weeks, and when he applied to the Department to know whether he could be re-employed, he was told that there was no work for him in the future because they must employ ex-service men. In the meantime an ex-service man with a pension of 42s. or 48s. per week secured employment, whilst the other man was left on the street with a wife and family to keep. I put it to hon. Members opposite; does this claim for preference for ex-service men mean no employment for the civilian? I cannot think that hon. Members really suggest that. As I see it, after the Treasury circular the ex-service men are in no way prejudiced, their rights of employment as cleaners, watchmen and doorkeepers, is in no way prejudiced. There is no dispute about those particular posts. The dispute arises in connection with the industrial classes, and even there, as I understand it, there is no opposition to the ex-service man having a fair share of that employment. I put it to hon. Members that a fair share is the right basis upon which to approach this question.
There is just one other point I should like to make. In the case of ex-service men there are those who are in receipt of pensions and there are those who have no pensions at all. The order of selection for employment often means that an ex-service man without a, pension with a 604 wife and family does not get employment at all, but that the other man, without a wife, without a family, but with a pension, gets employment. This whole problem might well be considered again, and if the unions concerned had been taken into consultation in connection with the particular circular the misuderstanding would not have arisen. From what I have heard in this House I feel convinced that there is some misunderstanding. The men in employment are under the belief that when they are "stood off" for the summer period opportunity is going to be taken to dismiss them in order to take on the ex-service man. No man, however much he desires to give preference to ex-service men, desires to dismiss other men in order to make places for them. That misunderstanding has been removed. My final point is this, that if this question is closely examined it can be cleared away. The Treasury Circular and the policy of the Government as I understand it has never been to exclude civilians entirely from employment in Government Departments but to see that the ex-service man gets a fair chance and a square deal; and all that the men in the unions concerned are anxious to see is that the ex-service man does get a square deal, but they are opposed to civilians being excluded entirely from employment in Government Departments.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
I should like for a few moments to put one or two points forward as one who has studied the present needs of a service in which I have had the honour to serve. The hon. Member for Walthamstow East (Mr. Wallace) commenced by asking for a definition of an ex-service man, and he then proceeded to give what he considered to be a definition. It was one which put all men on a basis of equality if they have given service to the State either in the mines or in the factories or with the Colours.
I do not think the hon. and gallant Member wishes to misrepresent me. What I said was this, that I could not make this great distinction between men who serve with the Colours and men who serve in the mine, and that an ex-service man was a man who has served with the Colours.
§ Captain BALFOUR
I do not desire to misrepresent the hon. Member, and I 605 therefore accept his explanation. I do not agree that a man who has served with the Colours, whether since the War or in the War, is in any way comparable as regards the consideration which he deserves from the community to men who have worked all their time in civilian life. The hon. Member asks for a square deal for the ex-service men. There is a definition of a square, a definition of a rectangle and also a definition of an oblate spheroid; and from his point of view that seems to come nearer his idea of a square deal for the ex-service men. It may be said that in the indication the First Commissioner of Works gave when he had the interview on 11th July with the deputation from the trade unions there is no difference in words. I will not argue that. You may say there is no change in policy; I will not argue that. But what I do say is that it indicates a change of spirit and a change of heart, and one which threatens the welfare of the ex-service men.
There were allegations at that meeting of strong feeling on the part of the trade union side at the preference given by the Office of Works to ex-service men. Nobody wants to discharge men in order to give preferential treatment to one class, but we want to safeguard the ex-service men in the future. They deserve more for the service they have done for the country. Conversely to the strong feeling expressed to the First Commissioner of Works there is an equally strong feeling from representative ex-service organisations as to the employment of ex-service men. The First Commissioner of Works said that he was going to reconsider the matter. The indication that he is prepared to reconsider the matter is a justification for my contention that there is a danger in the spirit if not in the actual words of the right hon. Gentleman. The ex-service men do deserve a far greater consideration; and by ex-service men I mean those who have served with the Colours in some form or other in the years 1914–1918.
There is a sort of inferiority complex abroad now—that anyone who has served from 1914 to 1918 should wipe that all away with his past life, and should be rather ashamed of it, instead of being very proud that he has rendered the greatest service to his country that he 606 would probably ever have an opportunity of rendering. We try to deal with the sentiment of hon. Members opposite in their policy, and we are quite willing to grant sentiment in this case. Let us be proud of sentiment even at the expense of the ordinary letter of the law. Let us exercise the national sentiment in this country towards giving preferential treatment in every way possible to those who rendered service with the Colours, and particularly from 1914 to 1918. As regards suitability, we all know that people have technical qualifications for work and have experience. That is all to the good in any employment. If hon. Members opposite are either employers or employed they must know that the one fundamental thing needed is soundness of character and honesty. Every ex-service man who has come out of the Forces without a stigma has proved that he has these fundamental necessities for success in commercial life. Let us give sentiment a run. Do not let us be ashamed of it. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite has least to be ashamed of it. Let us be proud in every way possible to advance the employment of ex-service men and give happiness and security to those who have rendered service to the country; and so justify ourselves as representatives of the people in giving some form of recognition to those who best deserve it amongst the people of the country.
§ Mr. LINDLEY
I want to support the point of view advanced by the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. Wallace). He reminded the House that it was necessary that we should have some clear definition of what we meant when we spoke of ex-service men. The hon. Member who has just spoken indulged in a geometrical definition which it was very difficult to follow, and he failed to answer the question of the hon. Member for East Walthamstow. We have been told that we have a moral obligation in respect of the ex-service man. I think every Member of the House will agree that we have that moral obligation, and I do not think it can be said that Members on this side have forgotten that moral obligation. We have done as much and probably more to keep that moral obligation to the front than Members of any other party inside or outside the House. But there are moral obligations in respect of others than those who were ex-service 607 men who served with Army or Navy. Are not the whole of the unemployed in this country ex-service men? In your definition of ex-service men you mean only those who have served the interests of the propertied and moneyed classes in this country, who have probably run the risk of making the supreme sacrifice, and you neglect altogether the moral obligation to the industrial worker, whose effort alone made it possible for you to maintain the Army in the field.
§ Captain BALFOUR
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member entitled to address me as "you" the whole time, as if I had made some accusation?
§ Mr. LINDLEY
If that is a point of Order you may have many raised before the discussion is over. If you are going to differentiate between these ex-service men who are unemployed and the civilians who are unemployed and who never had an opportunity during the Great War, it would perhaps be as well to draw attention to the order of preference laid down in Circular No. 1–30. The first preference is given to ex-regulars, including boys who enlisted on or before 11th November, 1918. It is rather difficult to find boys who enlisted before 11th November, 1918. Departing from that question of moral obligations, if it be denied that all the unemployed people who have already given service in the industrial sphere of life are to be set aside as being of less consequence than those who gave military service, is it not true to say that there is an endeavour being made by hon. Members who have spoken on the other side to raise a conflict of interests between those who may be described as ex-service men in the military sense and those who were civilians and are seeking work, and whose needs are just as great in every respect?
We were told that those who had joined the Army or the Navy or the Air Force were the pick of the basket. That may be true, but it is not a reflection on those who, because they were not in the pick of the basket, were unable to join. There are many of them. Records show that there is a very substantial number of those who endeavoured to join the Forces and were not accepted for service. 608 But they are still unemployed and still needing something in the way of employment or maintenance. Hon. Members opposite deny the right of any man to ask for maintenance unless he is prepared to work. We say that if people are prepared to work and there is no opportunity to work, it cannot be expected that they will rot in the gutter. We have heard again and again arguments to the effect that there is need for a surplus of unemployed labour in order to meet the fluctuating demand of the labour market. If that be true, then the unemployed people of this country have a case. If it is necessary that there should be a margin of unemployed people, whether they be ex-service men or civilians, some attention should be paid to the demand that work or maintenance should be found for them.
In any case, surely something more than mere physical qualities should determine the selection of a man for a particular job. The trade unions of the country have pointed out again and again that when competent men have been available for given jobs, unless those competent men have been what are described as ex-service men, they have been passed over, and incompetent men or men unfitted for a particular job have been given the work. We have been told that compensation should be provided for the ex-service man. But if military service is as attractive as the posters would indicate, why talk of compensation for those who join the Forces in such favourable circumstances? "See the world for nothing." If compensation is to be claimed, surely it should be claimed by those who have been the victims of industrial life equally with those who have been the victims of military service. It has been said that the trade union attitude is not the only thing to be taken into consideration. We do not expect it to be the only thing. But we do suggest that the attitude of the trade unionists of the country and the representations made by the trade unionists are just as much entitled to respect as the representations made by any other body.
It seems to me and many others that this is simply an endeavour to offer an undue preference to men to join the Forces—men who otherwise would not he likely to join. It is an endeavour to 609 acquire the pick of the basket for a particular purpose, and largely at the expense of those who are not physically fitted for that purpose. Of those who did not fight for the country many never had an opportunity, and many, although they had. an opportunity, were prepared to suffer in other ways for the sake of their country. We have been told that these last-named people were beneath contempt. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yet they displayed a courage which perhaps hon. Members opposite who cheer that statement may not have displayed. It is impossible for some men to differentiate between physical courage, which might be merely brute- courage, and moral courage, which may be of a much higher order. While many of us wish to see every ex-service man employed, we also feel that the time has come when the determining factor in fixing men in any particular job should be their fitness to do the work.
It is said that we should regard this matter with a kind heart. How many of those who have been charged with malingering and with being work-shy and with standing at the street corners, are ex-service men? From the economic point of view the employers of the country ask, first of all, whether a, man is competent for a job. It is only when it is a question of dealing with Government Departments, when some job that is worth having is available, that we hear all this talk about preference for the ex-service men and an absolute disregard of the ordinary sense of fairness. The trade unions complain quite rightly that many of these positions are filled by ex-service men in circumstances that are not quite fair. We find that special forms are provided for the Employment Exchanges and that through Exchanges employers are asked what particular work they have available, the nature of the work, whether the vacancy is suitable for an ex-service man, the age limit, whether the job is permanent or quasi-permanent. All these questions have to be answered, but never a question as to the wages offered or the conditions of labour, and it is frequently the case that men who are sent to fill these particular vacancies, although we are told that they are entitled to the highest regard and that their services to the country should be rewarded when they have been dis- 610 charged from the Army or Navy by the provision of work which will be both decent in respect of conditions and remunerative in respect of wages, those are the particular circumstances that the ordinary employer ignores.
We feel that while these circumstances ought to be taken into consideration, the trade unionists of the country are having no sort of control over men who are pitch-forked into positions, frequently at half the rates of wages that ought to be paid. Then the employer comes along and asks that he should be registered on the King's Roll. From my own experience, I could state that very many of those whose names have been entered on the King's Roll have not complied with the conditions which are necessary in accordance with the original idea. We feel that these differentiations should now be wiped out. It is a case in which the trade unions are interested from the point of view that a very large number of their members are ex-service men, and it might be well to remind hon. Members opposite that during the War it was to the trade unions of the country that they went asking the trade union officials for help in inducing men to join the Army. Trade union members did join, and they returned to civil life, and thousands of them have been found work through their various trade unions at trade union rates of wages. We would like that to continue, and we see no reason why it should not continue, but there is no guarantee that the ex-service men who are to be taken into these various services shall receive a remuneration commensurate with the service which they are called upon to give.
We do not object, and we never have objected, to ex-service men coming into industrial life, or any other phase of life. Ex-service men were with us before the War, and we have ex-service men still with us, sonic of them who were seriously injured, and who have drawn substantial sums of money from the funds of the trade unions and friendly societies of this country. We think that, as trade unionists, we are entitled to ask the Government to respect our point of view. That is the sum and substance of this request made to the Office of Works, and I trust that it will be respected.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
I was a little at a loss to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Lindley), who has just sat down, because he began by expressing considerable sympathy for the ex-service man; he then took various further steps in the argument, and in the end he came back to an expression of sympathy for the ex-service man, but apparently it was only for the ex-service man who was already recognised and had had something done for him by a trade union. All these points are not exactly to the point, but are all rather wide of the mark. What really comes up under this Vote is the example that the Government will set to employers in the country. I think we all, in varying degrees, admit that there is something that is due over and above to the men who have borne the brunt and heat of the battle-field for us. I speak as one who, through ill-health, was not out on active service, and I always feel as such that nothing can be done that is too good for the men who bore the burden and heat of the day on the battle-field, as these men did.
It is these men who are first of all in my mind, but I go further and say that there is a distinction between those who have rendered service to the State definitely with the Colours, whether on land, at sea, or in the air, and those who served the State while earning wages for themselves in industrial employment, without which the business of the country could not be carried on, because in the former case there are undoubtedly elements of definite service for the State and willingness to take risks and to put up with hardships that do not exist in the bulk of civilian employment. Therefore, I feel that on moral grounds we are entitled to give a preference to the men who, either before, during, or after the War, served the State in that definite capacity.
As one who, although invalided during the War, has been associated with one of the best regiments in the country, and with ex-service men, I have been tremendously impressed with the type of men that the Service turns out. If you take some of these old regiments, you find that for generations father and son have followed into those regiments, and if you go to their homes and see their wives and children, and the men them- 612 selves, you feel that there is not a better type of man. They are breeding a race which in all the finer qualities of life cannot be beaten anywhere—a self-respecting and efficient set of men.
More is being done in Army training to-day than used to be done, and by ex-service men's associations, and so on, for them, and the trade unions, to do them justice, are doing what they can: but not enough is done for the men who have served for considerable periods with the Colours and, after being self-respecting men, with good pay and good positions, and able to provide for a wife and children, are then turned loose without the same kind of qualifications as others on the labour market. Where there are jobs to which their training entitles them, surely they should be given to them; they are entitled to a preference above the mere civilian. They do not join the Colours in a spirit of jingoism, but because the life appeals to them, because they take a pride in the Service, or may be it is a family tradition, but in the hearts of all there is that feeling of service to the State, and on moral grounds, I say that that has to be taken into consideration.
Reflections were cast by the last speaker—and I believe, in certain cases, deserved reflections—on some employers who have been using the King's Roll for their own purposes, who have been abusing this business of the King's Roll. I think there arc cases where they have not been paying these men as they should, and where they have been priding themselves that they are employing ex-service men. There are individual cases of that sort, I believe, though not on the scale indicated by the hon. Member, but surely that is the very thing that ought to be put right, and what can show a better example than a Government Department employing as many of these people as possible at the best wages possible? For that reason, I support those who have spoken on behalf of the proposal of the hon. Member behind me, and the hon. and gallant Member for the Fairfield Division (Major Cohen), who has now left the Chamber, but who has been such an example to us, not only in what he sacrificed himself in the War, but in his lasting interest in the ex-service men. I feel bound to speak as strongly as I can in favour of the proposition put forward by him, and I hope 613 it will not be misinterpreted by hon. Members opposite. I realise that many of them have done a great deal, not only in their own persons, but in their own industries, for their fellows who have served in the Colours, and I hope they will see that if they support our attitude they are setting an example to the nation to treat the ex-service men with that consideration which they undoubtedly deserve.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I should like, before the First Commissioner of Works replies, to refer very briefly to a matter which interests a large number of people, and I may say that I am speaking now at the request of two important associations. I wish to refer to the Roman wall, called Hadrian's Wall, which, as the House knows, runs from the neighbourhood of Newcastle across the country. There is a large number of people who are very uneasy about the future of that great memorial of the Roman Empire which ruled our country for centuries. It is the finest memorial of Roman times in Britain. There are many people who take a very keen interest in its preservation, and I am glad to think that, with the growth of education, with the spread of adult education, with the increasing interest taken by people in the things of the mind, there is much more interest taken in such things as the Roman wall in these days than there was in former times. For 50 men who take an interest in such a thing as the Roman wall to-day, not one man would have taken such an interest 40 years ago, and I hope the Labour party will not show itself more indifferent to such things as I am speaking about than any other section of the community.
We are uneasy about this wall, because of the quarrying operations that are approaching it more nearly every day. At one particular spot there is a quarry now within 100 yards of the part of the wall that is most nearly in its original condition. What alarms me most is the formation of a company which bears the very ominous name of "Roman Stones, Limited." That company is empowered to exploit the mineral rights over a large area to the west of the great Fort of Houseteads, up to and including the wall, and that company is hoping to turn out something like 100,000,000 tons of stone. There is a great demand for materials for 614 the making of roads for motor cars at the present time, and there will be, undoubtedly, a large demand for stone, but there are not very far from the Roman wall abundant supplies of whinstone quite suitable for the purposes for which the proposed company is going to quarry in the neighbourhood of the wall.
It is said that this company would give much employment. I should be the very last man to ignore anything which would give employment at the present time, but there is no doubt that the objects of this company could be gained by resorting to whinstone quarries at no very great distance from the wall, and yet not injuring the wall, which would give as much employment as would be given if they entered upon operations endangering the wall. I am not speaking in any spirit of hostility to the right hon. Gentleman. I, for one, am very thankful indeed that the office of First Commissioner of Works is filled by one so sympathetic as is the right hon. Gentleman to such matters as I am now bringing forward, and I only hope that during the period in which Parliament is not sitting the right hon. Gentleman will not lose his interest because he is not being asked questions about the wall. I am asking him for an assurance that during the next three months nothing shall be done to injure the wall, and that he will exercise his rights to protect this wonderful and magnificent memorial of ancient times.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) has introduced into this debate a plea for the preservation of Hadrian's Wall. The hon. Member appealed to the First Commissioner of Works, with confidence, to do all that he could to preserve this ancient monument. May I suggest. to the First Commissioner of Works that he ought to be as careful of the interests of the British ex-service men of to-day, as he is of this monument to the Roman soldiers of the past. The Roman civilisation at any rate, never forgot its soldiers: it grew and increased behind the shields of its soldiers and from it we have derived many benefits in laws and in many other ways. I suggest that the speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield ought to give the First Commissioner to think in that connection.
Having listened with interest to the speeches of hon. Members on the other 615 side of the Committee, I am not ashamed to stand up in this House and plead that perferential treatment should be given to the ex-service men. Let me say at once that I pay a tribute to those hon. Members on the other side who have splendid and gallant war records. Reference has been made to men who were unable to join up and, personally, I think that the case of the man who tried to join up in order to fight for his country but was prevented from doing so by ill-health is a very hard case indeed. He earned the opprobrium attaching to one who did not serve, and yet, all the time he was probably one of those most anxious to go. I have no desire whatever to penalise the man who tried to go into the fighting Services during the War but was unable to do so. At the same time we have to realise the plain fact, which is before us this evening, that a bargain is a bargain. The ex-service men were promised, quite rightly, certain preferential treatment. They took risks, and I venture to suggest that there is nobody sitting here now who, during the War years, would have dared to stand up in the House of Commons and suggest that anything but the best was good enough for the men who were fighting oversea.
Yet this evening we hear speeches from the other side, sincerely delivered as I believe, suggesting that the War is over, that the time has come to repudiate the bargain, that it does not matter what was promised to the ex-service men or what they did in the War, and that they are to be put into the sad pool of unemployment now, and are to have no preferential treatment. A reference has been made to the miners. I have always had the greatest admiration and respect for the men who work in the mines and I do not think that any body of workers has a finer war record. Some of the finest fighting regiments were recruited from the mining areas. But this is not a question of doing an injustice to any other unemployed men. This is not a question of doing any injustice to any men engaged in industry. It is only a question of doing justice to a particular class of men. A definition of the term "ex-service man" has been asked for. Well, it is only quibbling to talk about service in industry being the 616 same as service with the Colours. We are here facing the problem of the man who served with the Colours—the specific case of the man who served in His Majesty's Army, Navy or Air Force who undertook risks not undertaken by many others and who thereby has missed many of the sweets of life enjoyed by those who do not serve with the Colours. That fact might be remembered. These are men who were led to believe that the country's bond to them would always be honoured, and that they would always be given preferential treatment.
After all, the term "ex-service man" is not one of which anybody need be ashamed. These men deserve the very best from the State. I think it was the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. Wallace) who referred to men with pensions being allowed to compete in industry. I take the opportunity of putting this point to the Committee. Those of us who are interested in the British Legion, or in any of the other movements which look after the interests of ex-service men, often hear criticism because employment is given to an ex-service man with a pension, as if the possession of a pension should he a bar to employment. But a pension is deferred pay. It is, in fact, the savings of the ex-service man. He is paid less during his period of service in order that he may have a pension when his period of service expires. Would any hon. Member suggest that a miner or a factory-worker who saved money and put it in the bank, and who was drawing a little interest on it should he debarred from competing in the industrial world on equal terms with any other man? No single Member would, I think, make such a suggestion. Yet the ex-service man with a pension is in exactly the same case as the man who has savings. The ex-service man's pension is not something which is paid to him outside and above his earnings during his service and therefore it is perfectly just that a man in that position should he allowed to compete in the labour market with other people.
It is not as if the ex-service man was not deserving. While he serves with the Colours, every opportunity is taken of observing his character. When he leaves the Service his character is written on a 617 parchment sheet for all the world to see. That cannot be said of other competitors in the industrial world. The men for whom I am pleading are men of good character and proved character who deserve the best that the country can give them. If the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Walthamstow means anything, it means that the ex-service man, so far from getting any preference, should be at a disadvantage as compared with men who have not served. Well, whatever the views of hon. Members opposite may be with regard to pacifism and military service, I reiterate that a bargain is a bargain, and that the nation has made a bargain with these men.
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member does not wish to misrepresent me and I am very anxious that in discussing this question we should not get away from the real point. There is no objection to the ex-service men having a preference, but the particular case which I mentioned was that of a man who had served for seven years and who lost his job in order to make way for others. I assure the hon. and gallant Member that there is no objection to ex-service men.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I am very glad indeed that that correction should be made by the hon. Member. I am sure that no ex-service man would wish any other man to suffer in the way which he has indicated, but 1 am very glad to Lear it said by the hon. Member opposite that there is a preference due to ex-service men. It is just that preference for which we are asking. Many hard things have been said about the First Commissioner of Works, at least some of which have been deserved. The right hon. Gentleman has been accused of having a soft heart, but at any rate he has never been accused of having a soft head. I suggest that this is one of the occasions on which he might give his soft heart—if it indeed exists—free play and do justice to this deserving body of men. The House of Commons is here for the purpose of seeing that justice is done to the people of this country—a fact which sometimes we seem to forget. The ex-service men appeal to us for a fair deal and I do not believe that they will appeal in vain. Whatever the views of hon. Members opposite may be about 618 military service, I do not believe that they desire that the bond to the ex-service men should not be honoured. I do not believe that hon. Members, because their views are anti-militarist—to use a common term—are anxious to make the ex-service men suffer.
The number of ex-service men in need of employment to-day is probably greater than it ever was before. Many of these men joined the colours before the War with the reasonable hope of advancement in the Service, but, because of reductions in armaments, we have arbitrarily denied them the right to continue their service with the colours and the opportunity to rise in that service and earn their pensions. Yet, when they ask for a small preference in a civilian walk of life, it is suggested that the preference should not be conceded. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Lindley) agreed that we have an obligation, and then he went on to make an assertion which I cannot think he really believes. It was nothing more than a libel on ex-service men. He said that they were in fact hirelings of the moneyed and capitalist class. The hon. Member knows quite well that that is an absurd point of view. He does not really believe it.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
if the hon. Member rises to a point of Order, he cannot make a speech.
The hon. Gentleman said that he war rising to a point of Order, and it was not a point of Order.
§ Mr. LINDLEY
I am sure that no hon. Member in the House thinks that I intended to speak to the effect that ex-service men were hired assassins or anything else.
§ Mr. LINDLEY
I said that many of these men were not free agents and were compelled to join the Services when there was no other employment, available.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
That is not the point. I made a note of it at the time, and what the hon. Gentleman said was that they were used to protect the interests of the moneyed classes.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
Then I cannot see that the hon. Gentleman has the slightest complaint to make that I have misrepresented him. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman did not believe anything so foolish or malicious, or anything that was such a gross libel on ex-service men as that the men who joined the Services did so in the interests of the capitalist class. It is a reflection on them which they would be quick to deny. These men have joined the Colours for the service of His Majesty and of this country, and for no other purpose, and nobody knows that better than the hon. Member. To say otherwise is to bring soap-box oratory into the House of Commons. I do suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works should stand up for these men. Whatever his views may be upon military service or pacifism, he is in the position of a trustee for their rights. Reference has been made to the men who, owing to their conscience, could not join the Colours during the War. I am prepared to admit that it might well be that a man required more courage to stand up and say that he was a conscientious objector than go to the Front. But that is not the point in question; that has nothing to do with this debate.
We are not discussing the question of conscientious objectors, but the fact that ex-service men have been allowed to believe that they should have certain posts which they were well able to fulfil in the Government service, and which, in many cases they were best able to fulfil by reason of their character and experience and tried capacity. The suggestion is that these posts should be taken away. There is no question of bringing into the question a man's conscience or moral courage or to decide whether he did or did not wish to join the Services during the War. If the specious 620 arguments that have been brought forward by the hon. Member for Rotherham mean anything they mean that now the danger is over, he wishes to repudiate the bargain. This afternoon it was my privilege to be in the company of a large number of men so wounded that they can never do anything again—men so broken and shattered by the War that there is nothing we can do for them except to make the evening of their days a little lighter and brighter. They are beyond our help in the industrial world, and all we can do for them is to maintain them in what comfort and ease is possible for them. But for the men whom we are discussing the men, who are fit, able and willing to work, and who, by reason of the fact that they are ex-service men, should be given a preference for these jobs, we can do something.
We do not seek to give these men treatment above what they have had in the past, but we can at any rate maintain the preferential treatment which they have had as a bare measure of justice to men who deserve nothing but good of this country. I have had a case brought. to me in the last few days of a man employed in one of the Government Departments, who served in the South African War, and who has spent 22 years in the Department. He had six sons, five of whom served overseas and one at home. He is 60 years of age, and his appointment has been terminated in the Government Department. Because of his having to bring up a large family, it has been difficult for him to put anything by, and he only asks that he may be kept on five years more until the insurances which he has effected will mature. That is the case of a man who has deserved well of the country, and I quote him as a typical instance. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not be deaf to the sincere appeal that has been made from this side of the House to do the just and fair thing for the 4x-service men.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It would be convenient if I first replied to the question put by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser). Only to-day we have heard from the gentleman who wishes to do some quarrying, not on the Wall, but near the Wall, that he thinks that he will be able to satisfy us in regard to the 621 conditions which we laid down in a letter some weeks ago as to the preservation of the amenities of the district. I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman and his friends that, so far as the Department is concerned, they will use every scrap of influence and power to see that the very least damage is done if the quarrying operations have to go on. I do not complain at all that this debate has been raised, but I think that many of the speeches have been delivered under an entire misapprehension of the whole circumstances. I should like to say to two hon. and gallant Gentlemen who have spoken that I am sorry that their swan song, if it be their swan song, should be in the nature of a very gentle complaint in regard to my administration. We differ fundamentallv, but I hope that I can respect men who hold their views as strongly as I hold mine.
I would like to say in respect to ex-service men, that long before the British Legion was formed, long before the late Mr. Hogge formed his organisation, my wife and certain workers in the East End of London and myself, together with Lord Bethell, formed a tiny organisation to look after the men who were then coming back, and the wives and dependents of those who were at the War and of those who never came back. In Bow and Bromley I leave them to judge me as to my action on those matters. In regard to this particular question, even with the reversal that took place in the case of industrial workers, which is the only point at stake, I am only carrying on the policy of my predecessor. [Interruption.] The hon. and gallant Member should accept my word about that, because I am stating the cold, bare fact. In the case of industrial workers it has been the custom of the Department to act in conformity with the King's Roll and on the rule that the Employment Exchanges should choose the men, on the understanding that where possible an ex-service man or woman is to have the preference. We have not interfered with that, we have no intention of interfering with that, and if you took a census of our industrial workers you would find that a very considerable proportion are ex-soldiers and are ex-service men—I am differentiating between the two, because we must differentiate, as I will show in a moment.
622 The Department has not altered and does not intend to alter—certainly while I am there—the conditions which prevailed when I took office; but it is perfectly true that in April last we thought that in the case of the men we require on the industrial side of our work—bricklayers, engineers, electricians and so on—we could extend this preference by laying it down that only ex-soldiers or ex-service men should be engaged. Directly we began to increase the staff for the summer, and to consider, as we have to at this time of the year, the coming autumn, we were up against the fact that in our Department there are a considerable number of men who are what are called "temporary casuals." They are men who work at one job for a season and go off to some other employer, and then come back in the autumn, and the winter to take up jobs as stokers, and so on. Many of those men have been in our employ for years. When I first considered this Circular I did not realise what we should be up against in administering it.
We now propose that the circular shall operate everywhere—but in regard to the industrial workers; this has nothing to do with ex-service men of the kind the hon. and gallant Member spoke about just now; it is the time-expired soldier, airman, and sailor that I am talking about now. We propose to revert to the conditions that prevailed up to last April. We shall take the men from the Employment Exchanges, and we all hope that the ex-soldier—if he is competent, because we can only take competent and efficient workers for posts in the electricity, engineering, bricklaying and carpentering branches—will then be able to get his chance with the rest of the people who are registered at the Exchange.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The preference, I understand, that the Employment Exchange gives; but it must be a condition that the men are efficient at the particular jobs. I am laying stress on that, because even in the week or two that we tried to operate this circular we had to send back several men who it was a pity were ever sent to us for these jobs. Over the whole period of years the Office of Works has been taking these men, in the 623 way I have described, from the Employment Exchanges, and the ex-soldier has come in, as can be proved by the very large number of ex-soldiers engaged in the Department.
When we come to ex-service men, whose case has formed the chief part of the discussion, I am extremely sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) is not here, because I think if he heard me he would agree that the Office of Works is doing really splendidly by the ex-service men. Before I took office we reserved for ex-soldiers 168 jobs as park-keepers, 97 as depot clerks, and 280 as night watchmen, a total of 545. Now, under my administration, there are reserved for them as entirely new reserved appointments; caretakers, county courts, 67; caretakers, ancient monuments, 93; surplus property caretakers, 15; warders, 109; attendants in Royal parks, 40; Scottish Royal parks, 10. That makes a total of 334, and, with the earlier total of 545, gives a grand total of 879.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Very nearly all—90 per cent. or more. I will put it another way. Here are posts that are reserved for ex-regulars: park-keeping staffs 168, caretakers 67, other caretakers 79, seasonal ones 14, caretakers of surplus property 15; warders, attendants, guides 109. Out of that number we reckon that before I took office 50 per cent. were reserved; in the future the whole 100 per cent. of those appointments will be made from ex-regulars or ex-service men. That is apart altogether from the ex-service men. We have 70 messengers, and these vacancies are filled by the Joint Substitution Board. My Department has not the least objection to these messengers being recruited from ex-soldiers. We have a considerable number of other people who fill the sort of occupations I have mentioned. On the industrial side 130 liftmen are employed and 114 places are filled by disabled ex-service men. As to charwomen, hon. Members may think this is a small thing, but we have 334 of these women in our employ, and 98 per cent. of them are widows of ex-service men. Under the King's Roll 5 per cent. is supposed to be the normal qualification.
624 We have been appealed to by suggestions that we should set an example to other employers. Of skilled men we employ 7 per cent. and unskilled men 16 per cent. That is on the industrial establishment. I am giving these figures because the debate has gone along those lines. In the non-industrial establishment we have got 20 per cent. of disabled men in occupations not connect with industry in the sense. If you take the Government service as a whole those holding appointments as messengers, warders, park keepers, attendants and other non-clerical appointments in the years preceding the War 30 per cent. were ex-regulars. If you take Office of Works figures before the War it was between 33 and 48 per cent., so that the Office of Works has always given a good lead to other departments. If you take the percentage of ex-servicemen including ex-regulars since the War it is 80 per cent.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
Am I to understand that on the industrial side the position now is that the ex-service men, if competent, will have their applications considered, with the addition that they will have a preference because they are ex-service men?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I must not mislead the House. We have reverted to the position which obtained before April of this year. That is to say we are taking our men from the Employment Exchanges. We are bound under the King's Roll to take a certain percentage of these men, and we take more than our percentage. When it comes to the selection of ordinary men for employment, that is in the hands of the Employment Exchange authorities, and I understand that where they have an ex-service man or an ex-soldier he has the preference if he is qualified for the job. We do not take our people on in the ordinary way. We get ex-soldiers sent to us from an organisation in Victoria Street. What I want the House to understand is that in regard to men on the industrial side I am doing exactly the same as my predecessor.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman employs men sent to him from the Employment Exchanges, and those Exchanges exercise a preference in favour of the ex-service men. Will the right hon. Gentleman see 625 that it is made quite clear that the officials at the Employment Exchanges are expected to exercise that preference in the case of appointments in the Department of the Office of Works.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The whole of the front page of that report, which ends with "night watchmen" and over the leaf down to "caretakers" are categories which are being reserved for ex-service men, partially disabled ex-service men, and ex-soldiers. The only change is that when we come to posts on the industrial establishments we have gone back to exactly the position that prevailed before these proposals were put into operation.
§ Sir G. COCKERILL
The right hon. Gentleman is not going back upon the principle by which his predecessors have been guided?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Certainly not, but I wish the House to understand that the operation of that principle is in the hands of the Employment Exchanges. I am sure that hon. Members would not expect my Department to dismiss a man under the conditions that we have just heard, where the man has been in our employ for seven years. I want the House to understand that the Office of Works is doing as much if not more for ex-service men than any other Department under the Government, and we are carrying out the pledge which we have given to look after these men. I have just been told that the Employment Exchanges always act on the principle "Ex-service men preferred." As the House has just decided that the Secretary of State for War is worthy of his salary I hope hon. Members will think the same of me.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
I wish to thank the First Commissioner of Works for the sympathetic speech which he has just delivered, because he has reassured many people who were rather anxious about the proposals of the Government in regard to ex-service men. Certainly, no one desires, or could expect, that a man who has been employed for, say, 10 years in a Government Department, or in any branch of private employment, should be dismissed to make 626 way for an ex-service man, but what alarms us is that the number of recruits is being lowered, and, as I think the Secretary of State for War said earlier, the men are not certain as to their future. The best method of getting recruits is to give the men a reasonable prospect of stability in the Government service.
The country will have been reassured in this respect this afternoon. I am glad that the park-keepers and so on are still be recruited from the regular service. It is a fact that men who have been in the Army, Navy, or Air Force for, perhaps, seven or eight years, find it difficult to get back into work, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, so far as he can, to instruct the Exchanges to recommend soldiers, sailors or airmen who have had vocational training, because it is no use the country spending large sums of money in giving vocational training to regular service men if they cannot get employment when their period of service is over. I hope that not only the Government Departments, but also private individuals, will do their best to give these men a chance in life after they have served their country for several years, when they have had an opportunity of learning a particular trade, so that they may be able to earn a livelihood in the future. The right hon. Gentleman has reassured us, and, after his satisfactory statement. to the effect that there has been no change from the course of action followed by his predecessors, I do not think we should care to press to a Division the reduction. which has been moved.
§ Mr. McKINLAY
As one of those involved in the question of the extension of the fourth paragraph of the Committee's recommendation to embrace craftsmen, I feel that the position taken up by the workers' side of the Whitley Council ought at least to receive consideration from this House. As is usual, hon. Gentlemen opposite have made this the occasion for telling the world that they hold a monopoly of interest in ex-service men, and some things have been said which place the trade union movement in a rather invidious position. I hope that, when we approach the other side on the question of giving those same ex-service men who are getting a preference in the occupations which are 627 scheduled—even the liftmen employed by this House—an increase of wages, we shall receive their co-operation. We have no desire to prevent a soldier from obtaining civilian employment, but we do say that the fact that a man is an ex-service man or an ex-soldier is no reason why he should be paid a lower rate of wages than is paid to the regular craftsman.
The position of the trade union movement in relation to ex-service men and ex-soldiers of every description is that it welcomes them into the industrial army, provided that their disability pensions or service pensions are not used as a lever to get them to work for less than the average craftsman. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment used a rather peculiar argument when he said that our military expenditure is being watched throughout the world, the suggestion being that, if you can reduce expenditure in connection with the War Office Votes on the wages side, it will make an appreciable difference. That, at least, was my interpretation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement, and I think that those who consult the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow will bear [...]t out.
§ Sir G. COCKERILL
I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent me. I said no such thing, and I meant no such thing.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. McKINLAY
I accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's disclaimer, but that is how his argument appeared to me. The arguments put forward by Members on the other side were all to the effect that preference ought to be given, and a most amazing thing was that the ex-Minister of Pensions put forward the plea that we should exercise sentiment in this matter. He asked, what greater spectacle could there be than to see our parks policed by men whose breasts were covered with medals? Our objection is that they have all medals and no wages, and, if hon. Gentlemen opposite had treated the ex-service men in the immediate post-War period with sentiment instead of cold, hard logic, I suggest that the post-bag of every hon. and right hon. Member of the House would be lighter on the question of the treatment of ex-service 628 men. The hon. and gallant Member smiles, but there is no hon. Member of this House who does not know that the assurances given to the men who went to the War have not been fulfilled, and that there never was any intention of fulfilling them. The building trade unions gave a solemn undertaking to the immediate post-War Government that they would accept for training in the building industry so many thousands of ex-service men. They were taken, they were trained, they were paid unemployment benefit until they were excluded, and then no private employer would employ them, and the major portion of them finished their days playing tin whistles in the streets. If this condition is going to be imposed on Government Departments, I suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to have the courage of their convictions, and ought to say to every employer who employs labour for the purpose of making profit, "You will honour the agreement we gave to these men when they joined the forces, and pay them the standard rate of wages whenever you employ them."
Question, "That £408,670 stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in tile said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
Postponed Second Resolution further considered.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I will not make a speech on this occasion, but perhaps the Postmaster-General could make just a brief statement as to the position, so far as he is concerned, on the matters which were raised in the last discussion.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Lees-Smith)
It will take me a few minutes to explain the position which has arisen in the Post Office, but I think the explanation which I shall give will show that I feel that I have an obligation to two groups of men, the ex-regulars and the auxiliary postmen in my own Department, and that I am considering the question—I am not at the moment doing more—whether certain arrange- 629 ments can be made which will hold the balance of justice fairly between the two. The Post Office, by a long standing practice, arranges that 50 per cent. of its positions for full-time postmen should he given to ex-service men in the largest sense of the term, and that 50 per cent. should be given to its boy messengers, better known as telegraph boys. In giving those 50 per cent. of positions to ex-service men, we divide them into three categories in a certain order of preference. The first preference is given to ex-time expired men, who enlisted either before or during the War, the second preference is to en-service men in the popular sense of the term, the volunteers who fought during the War as civilians, and the third preference to ex-regulars who have enlisted since the close of the War. Practically all the positions go to ex-time expired men because, when they have occupied all that there is work for, there are very few left for ex-service men in the ordinary sense of the term.
The problem I have to deal with is the problem presented by auxiliary postmen. The Post Office has to employ postmen on part-time labour, because the work of collecting and delivering letters comes in peaks in the morning and in the evening, and we have to employ these auxiliary postmen to deal with the surplus of work during those periods. They are part-time servants and are paid a part-time wage. We endeavour to secure that as many of them as possible shall have some other occupation, but in fact a great many of them have not, with the result that the Post Office is employing many thousands of men who do not in fact obtain a living wage. I feel that this is a most depressing feature of employment in the Post Office and a standing reproach to postal administration. I receive continuous complaints from Members on the other side of the House, I receive continuous criticism and attack in the newspapers, and certainly every three or four weeks I read observations by magistrates on the bench who have to sentence for theft auxiliary postmen earning, perhaps, less than 30s. a week and who express their astonishment that the Post Office should employ men under such conditions and frequently say they would prefer, rather than the postman, to see the Postmaster-General standing 630 in the dock. I have thought about this question for a year and I think I can do a great deal to deal with this reproach to the postal administration. I can do a great deal along two lines. I have discovered that the problem differs between the provinces and London. It is far more serious in London.
This is what I have done. I have made arrangements by which, throughout the country, every post and every man has been examined with the purpose of seeing how far it is possible to combine two or more auxiliary posts in order to create one full-time established postman with pension rights. I have gone further than that. I have instructed the surveyors all over the country to send up particulars of all those cases where this combination could be brought about even though a completely full-time post was not established in its place, because I have felt that it was better to spend money, within reasonable limits, rather than continue the system of part-time labour. In London the solution is far more difficult. I have turned to the possibility of dealing with this matter by opening out an avenue of promotion to full-time postmanships for these auxiliary postmen. However many years they serve, under the present arrangement they can never get an established position. 50 per cent. of the posts must go to our boy messengers in order to save the scandal of blind alley employment, and 50 per cent. must go to ex-time-expired men with the result that those men who have served the Post Office for years, and who are mainly exservice men in the popular sense of the term, find when a postmanship is vacant that they have not a right to apply for it. They must not apply for it, because that postmanship must be given to an ex-time-expired man, who has never served the Post Office at all and is very often getting a pension from the War Office at the same time.
I acknowledge the obligation of the Post Office to ex-time-expired men. In view of certain observations that fell from the late Secretary of State for War, I might explain the extent to which this obligation is carried out. In addition to the 50 per cent. of positions that we give to postmen, we give a whole host of positions to ex-service men exclusively—doorkeepers, liftmen, night telephonists, 631 cleaners and a number of other positions—with the result that, out of 170,000 men employed by the Post Office, nearly 110,000 are already ex-service men. We fulfil our obligations to the time-expired men, but we also have our obligations to men who have served the Post Office itself, and I have my obligations to the ex-service men in the Post Office, who constitute the vast majority of this auxiliary grade.
The position, broadly, is this. I propose to endeavour to create a sufficient number of full-time postmanships to give our auxiliary postmen a prospect of an established position with pension rights after some years service, to give them some hope and, I am convinced, entirely alter their outlook upon life. I believe that I can do that without trenching upon the 50 per cent. of positions which are practically now held by ex-regulars—I cannot commit myself to absolute figures—or, at any rate, for several years, and to an almost insignificant extent. The reason is, that we are not at present filling up all the 50 per cent. of the positions to which we are entitled for our own boy messengers, for reasons into which I need not go. That gives me a margin, and I propose to utilise that margin for this purpose. I may say that I have submitted the matter for discussion to officials representing the Post Office, the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Air Ministry. I anticipate fairly confidently that agreement will be reached. By using that margin, and by certain other adjustments, about which I need not trouble the House, I feel fairly sure that it will be possible to satisfy the policy I am endeavouring to work out for providing an avenue for our auxiliary postmen and at the same time not make any substantial encroachment upon the 50 per cent. of positions which have been reserved for ex-service men.
§ Sir BERTRAM FALLE
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the number of boys is to be limited? Is he aware that boys are being limited in the Navy, and if he limits them in the Post Office also, the outlook for boys will be extremely black. Do I understand that he is limiting the employment of boy messengers in the Post Office?
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I did not say that it was limited. I merely said that for certain causes, with which need I not trouble the House, the number of boy messengers has diminished so that we do not get the full 50 per cent.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I wish to lay a complaint before the hon. Gentleman, and I think that this is the most suitable opportunity. I listened very attentively to the, claims made on behalf of the ex-service men. I do not always believe everything I hear from the other side in connection with this matter. I wish to make a complaint with regard to the village of Hart-hill. The Minister has particulars of the case. It is the case of an ex-service man who has acted as a temporary postman at a wage of 30s. a week. His left hand was destroyed in the War, but the pension which he received, and the 30s. enabled him to get along fairly well. The time came for the appointment of a regular postman. Naturally, the ex-service man who was fit for no other work than the sort of work on which he was engaged expected to be put into that position. Unfortunately for him, the Post Office officials did not seem to exercise a great amount of humanity. This alteration occurred in a village in Lancashire where fully 50 per cent. of the men are unemployed. They brought in another postman from a village in the Western Highlands to supersede the temporary postman who had expected that, owing to his long service to the country and to the Post Office, he would have received promotion. The Assistant Postmaster General assured me that, according to the methods adopted in the Post Office, it was not possible to take on a man who had been acting as a temporary postman. But in a neighbouring village where there was a vacancy it was decided to appoint a postman who had been acting in a temporary capacity. I cannot say whether that man was an ex-service man or not.
Another point I wish to raise is with reference to work in connection with the Post Office. I have heard that most of the repair work or structural alterations are put out to contract. 1 should like to know if hon. Members on the other side are prepared to insist upon the tractors as are put upon the Govern-same conditions being put upon the con- 633 ment. It is a very easy way of avoiding responsibilities if, instead of carrying out work direct, you give it to a contractor who can introduce whatever labour he likes to the detriment of other workers. I also object to the method of farming out sub-Pest Offices. I believe that in the country, and in some parts of cities, the Post Office give so much for the carrying out of the job. It may be £30 a year, £100, or £500 and those who get the appointments can pay whatever wages and impose whatever conditions they wish. It is a vicious system. It is not a healthy system. We have had complaints made by public authorities. Often these people who are subcontractors try to avoid their responsibilities. I do not want it to be assumed that the Government are responsible for the introduction of this system, hut I complain that they are not altering the system, which is a bad one. We were elected to try to remedy these things, and to introduce more of the human touch into the public services than exists at the present time. So long as we hold office it is our bounden duty not to be bound so much by precedents as to treat cases on their merits.
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few moments. First of all, I would like to welcome the declaration made by the Postmaster-General, and I hope that very soon he will be able to announce that he has at last solved these problems. I would like to make a plea for the auxiliary postmen and part-time men now regularly under-employed, who should he given a chance after years of service of having full-time employment. I believe the House will share the view that. any ordinary employer who has a man in employment on part-time, who has shown himself a good and faithful servant, would feel that when there was a full-time position vacant that man ought to have some consideration. The House may know that the arrangement by which 50 per cent. of vacancies were given to ex-service men was fixed about 1890. The postmen's force has increased since that date from 25,000 to over 50,000. The number of boy messengers has diminished because of the development of the telephone service. The auxiliary postmen, according to evidence given by the Post Office before the Committee, were receiv- 634 ing each year about 500 full-time posts. In the year 1927 that figure had been greatly reduced. If you take the allocation of vacancies between the boy messengers and the ex-service men, you find that in the year 1921 the boy messengers received 386 appointments while the ex-service men received 4,453, showing that the ex-service men had been considered. We are all glad to do something for the ex-service man.
The last point I wish to make is this: It is a bad thing for the public service, for the Post Office and this House that magistrate after magistrate has expressed sympathy with these men when he has to sentence one of them to imprisonment for stealing. Only the other day a man was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment and the magistrate expressed sympathy with him. I do not mind saying, for I have said it and will go on saying it, that every time I see one of those men standing in the dock I always feel, and still feel, that it ought to be the Post Office in the dock to explain this vicious system of under-employment. These auxiliary postmen and ex-service men before the War were in good employment. They took employment in the Post Office and looked forward, hoping it was going to lead to full-time employment. They start at six in the morning and do not finish their day's work until 10 at night, and their wage is something like 32s. a week, out of which they have to pay a rent of 10s. to 15s. a week. There is the man who is often living in a small room with his family and unable to preserve the decencies of life. I am glad to hear the sympathy expressed for ex-service men in this House to-day. Here is something which can be, done for the ex-service men, and I hope that it will be done quickly. The prospects and the wages of these under-employed men might have been improved. We hear expressions of sympathy from the benches opposite, but I find it difficult to understand the attempt made in the year 1927 to reduce wages. I hope hon. Members opposite will be prepared to do something to end this terrible problem of under-employment.
§ Mr. MIDDLETON
I understand that it would be very inconvenient for me to speak more than a moment or two on this subject, but, as this is the only opportunity that some of us will get for ex- 635 pressing our views regarding the Post Office, perhaps I may be forgiven for taking up a minute or two. The Post Office to-day has a unique opportunity of showing the country what a State-owned Department can do, and it is with very grave disappointment that we find the opportunity has not been readily seized to demonstrate in all aspects that the Post Office can more than compete with private enterprise in serving the public in regard to essentials. I want to give the very greatest praise to the Postmaster-General for the way in which he has stood up to the attacks made on the service by private interests, but he can go very much further in a positive sense. I sincerely hope that when the time comes for him to lay down the seals of office he will be able to register very much more to his credit than we have been able to give him credit for up to the present. I should like to see the interests of the staff play a very much greater part in the consideration of the Postmaster-General and the Treasury than they receive to-day.
It was with the greatest disappointment that we found. in the Budget that not only bad the Post Office to earn £9,000,000 in the current year, as last year, but that an additional levy of £1,000,000 was laid upon that Department. That means that there is no hone of any concession being made to the immense staff employed by the Postmaster-General, because the money is required for the Treasury. Surely the State, as an employer, ought to put the interests of the men and women it employs first? We ought to have no more of those scandals of which the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. Wallace) has spoken. A case was brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General the other day where a man was actually receiving 17s. 7d. per week, and, finding himself suddenly under the pressure of temptation, he threw up the job, only to find that he had no recourse to unemployment benefit because he was regarded as having voluntarily surrendered his employment. In these circumstances, he was denied the right to get unemployment pay and was forced to seek Poor Law relief. I say that, under a Labour Government, that is no credit 636 to those of us who preached in the past that if we got an opportunity we would at any rate give the first consideration to those who really needed it most, namely, the lowest-paid section of State employés.
I would like to suggest to the Postmaster-General that he would relieve himself of a great deal of the difficulties if he took the staff representatives more into his confidence. Some years ago, Mr.Kellaway, who was then Postmaster-General, appointed an advisory committee of business men. That committee was a success, in so far as it served the interests of the people whom it was intended to serve. I would like the Postmaster-General to reconstitute the advisory committee and bring on to it representatives of the staff. He would then find that when he was laying down a policy or considering great questions of management he would have the advice of all sections of his great Department, instead of, as now, only the official point of view. The Postmaster-General is something more than the mere head of a Department, who has to cross the t's and dot the i's of official decisions which are made by his own officers, and he should try to hold the balance fairly between the community, the Department and the people who are employed in a subordinate capacity. If that were done, I do not think there would be any loss of dignity or any surrender of prestige if the representatives of the trade union, the representatives of the National Union of Post Office Workers, with its 100,000 members, were called into consultation. I ask the Postmaster-General to give formal recognition to such a state of affairs by asking those representatives to sit on the Advisory Committee.
I should like to refer also to the case of the Post Office servants who sat for the 1926 examination. Probably every hon. Member has been deluged by complaints from men who sat for that examination. They are for the most part ex-service men who now find themselves denied the right to be promoted into the clerical class because the claims of the Southborough and Lytton candidates have preference. I was a member of the Southborough Committee and I have a complaint against the way in which the recommendations of that Committee were treated by those responsible for carrying 637 them out. We were told by the Treasury, the Post Office and other Departments that at the most they could only find 5,000 posts for the people who were to sit for these examinations, and after getting some of us to accept that as a fact and to pledge ourselves to the report accordingly, we find that not only 5,000 of those people have found posts, but many thousands besides. They were given a fairly easy examination to pass, and the men themselves neither in experience, nor capacity, nor education are on the same plane as the Post Office candidates who sat in the 1926 examination.
While we are very grateful to the Treasury and Postmaster-General for having recently called 50 more of these particular men up to the promoted class, we think that they might go much further and bring into the promoted class men whose qualifications and capacity are undoubted. It would be only an act of justice if the Postmaster-General could induce the Treasury to agree to give more appointments to these men. They ought not to be turned down because of the fact that the Government are pledged to employ a number of ex-service men. These men are ex-service men. I suppose that at least three out of every four of the candidates who have qualified served in the War, many of them with distinction, and from that point of view they have a claim that, when superior posts are going, they shall be given at least the same consideration as men whose only claim to the consideration of the Government is that they have been employed as ex-service men in a temporary capacity in civil employment.
I would urge the Postmaster-General to recognise that he is the trustee of a very great interest in this country. On the experience of the Post Office, whether it succeeds or fails, people will regard other State enterprises. According to whether the Post Office has succeeded or not, people will say: "There is an experience by which the country can profit." The Postmaster-General has a glorious chance of showing the country that he can have the full co-operation of the whole of his employés, if he will give them a fair deal and, having got that, he will he able to produce such results in his Department as will silence once for all any criticism that the Post Office is not an efficient institution. I am sorry that from these benches we have to 638 strike a critical note, but men and women are going short of food and clothing and the necessities of life when they might be employed by a great public Department, and those who are responsible for their interests would be failing in their duty if they omitted an opportunity like this to give voice to the grievances under which these men and women are suffering.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put and agreed to.
§ Fourth Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House does agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ Sir K. WOOD
There are a few questions that I should like to put to the Financial Secretary to the War Office He is new to his office, and I wish him every success in it. As far as the ordnance factories are concerned, I am afraid that when he has approached a consideration of the position, more particularly at Woolwich and Enfield, he has found a state of considerable anxiety there. We have had a spell of short time at Woolwich which has involved a heavy cut in the pay of the lower-paid workers. The minimum rate has, for the first time in the history of Woolwich, been violated recently, with the result that many of the poorer paid workers in the ordnance factory at Woolwich have been reduced to the sum of £2 3s. 10d. a week. No wonder that there is depression and anxiety there! While it is true that short time has been terminated at Woolwich, I would like the Financial Secretary to say what is the exact position so far as the factory at Enfield is concerned. Curtailment in the remuneration of the workers there has resulted from Government action, and I understand that curtailment in remuneration is still going on. I would like the Financial Secretary to tell the House how much longer that state of affairs is likely to continue.
With regard to Woolwich, an assurance was given when short time was instituted that there would be no discharges, but since the 1st January over 70 young men and young women under 21 years of age have been discharged. A large number of the young men have been employed there, 639 I think, for five years, and others have worked at the Arsenal for a period of, I think, three years. After short time has been instituted, when there has been at Woolwich a considerable rise in the unemployment figures, when no scheme has been instituted by the local council with a view to finding extra employment, and seeing that there are no training centres for young men and women in Woolwich, it is most unfortunate that the Secretary of State has thrown 70 young men and young women on to the labour market. What are these young men and women to do? They have spent four or five years training at the Arsenal, it is the only work they know, and by the action of the Secretary of State their service is terminated. Both they and their families are now placed in a most unfortunate position indeed. In fact, as far as these young men and women are concerned, it is turning the Arsenal into a blind-alley occupation.
May I remind the Financial Secretary that his predecessor, when short time was introduced, said that whatever happened there would be no discharges. In the face of that definite undertaking it is difficult to understand the action of the Secretary of State for War. It is no use saying that other people have done this or that, or that some committee has been appointed to consider these matters. The fact remains that since the 1st of January, 70 of these young men and women have been put upon the labour market at Woolwich at a most unfortunate time, and I do not know what the Government expects to happen concerning them. Let me mention one other matter. What is the position, so far as the Government is concerned, in relation to the recognition of the Government Workers' Industrial Union, which consists of 3,000 members? It represents the majority of the lower paid men at the Arsenal, who, in connection with short time, suffered very much. When this question was raised his predecessor said that owing to the conflicting claims of another union he was going to ask the two organisations to table their claims and that when he had them before him and was able to get at the truth he would be only too pleased to make a pronouncement. That is some considerable time 640 ago and there has been plenty of time for these inquiries to be made.
I want to know whether the Financial Secretary has made inquiries from these organisations, what is the result, and what steps he proposes to take in the matter? Apart altogether from the negotiations, and apart altogether from the conflicting claims of these two organisations, is he prepared, in respect of anything which raises matters of moment at the Arsenal, to receive representations from any duly constituted body? I wish I had time to put further questions to the Financial Secretary but I have occupied half the available time and I will leave the other matters in the hope that he will give me some reply to the questions I have been able to put.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Sanders)
I regret very much that I have so little time to deal with the highly important question of the administration of the magnificent factory which the State possesses at Woolwich. I want to say that in the State factory at Woolwich we have as a nation not only one of the finest, best equipped and highly rationalised factories, in the world but also a body of men whose skill and devotion to the public service in my opinion cannot be excelled; and it is very largely due to that devotion and skill that the Woolwich factory has been able to compete so successfully with some of the most highly organised private enterprises in the country. That applies not only to the organisers and superintendents who are responsible for the factory but also to the men who are engaged under them. I have said that the factory has been rationalised. That is one factor of the highest importance which must be remembered in connection with the question of short time. Hon. Members must also remember that there has been constant pressure from all parts of the House, and from all parts of the country, to reduce the amount of money spent on armaments. The amount of money to be spent on armaments does not rest with the authorities at Woolwich. A reduction or increase in the amount to be spent at Woolwich rest with three or four Government Departments, and Woolwich is dependent on the amount of money these 641 Departments can spend. That must be clearly understood.
Under the pressure of rationalisation, and under the pressure of the demand for economy, the Government was faced with a situation in regard to the staff which had to be met, and, as explained by my predecessor, it was a question whether there should be a reduction in the number of the staff or whether there should be a period of short time. That was the dilemma; and it was decided by the War Office, the Secretary of State and my predecessor that the most merciful and wisest way was to try the experiment of short time, and at the same time endeavour to discover new sources of supply of work for the Arsenal. We were not satisfied merely with appointing the despised committee mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. We have discovered new ways. We have discovered not only work of a temporary character but what I believe will prove to be new work of a permanent character continually coming to the Arsenal and supplementing the work upon which the Arsenal was formerly fully engaged.
§ Mr. SANDERS
I will answer that in due time. We have not been able to secure sufficient work to cover all the staff existing at the Arsenal, and it was necessary not to institute a new method but to follow the method which has been applied over and over again by all Governments of dismissing or ending the engagement of young men and women at the age of 21, when it was understood their position would be reviewed. It is not a new thing for these young men to go out at the age of 21. It has always been the case under all Administrations, and we felt that it was better, if we had to sacrifice a few people in order to keep the great mass of the factory going, to follow the example of our predecessors and end the engagements of people who knew that their engagement would probably be ended at the age of 21.
§ Mr. SANDERS
An undertaking was given that this Government would do all that it could to prevent dismissals at any of the national workshops and arsenals, 642 and we have kept that undertaking to the best of our ability. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about not referring to the past methods that had been adopted at the Arsenal, we did not adopt the method of dismissing 1,500 men in one fell swoop in one year, as the later Government did. We did our best to find new work, Which has enabled us do keep the Arsenal working and employing the same number as when we came into office, with the exception of the few dismissals mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the other changes at Enfield—Enfield, unfortunately, is in a very special position, because most of the skilled men there are highly specialised men who, with certain exceptions, can be placed only upon a certain kind of work, and in order that no dismissals should take place there we reverted from piecework to time work and have dismissed no one. It is true that under time work, as in all cases, a less sum can be earned than under piecework; but here, again, we submit that it was better, instead of dismissing men from Enfield, that we should give to the Whole of the staff an opportunity of retaining their jobs, although at some little loss caused by a difference in the method of payment.
I do not want to raise any false hopes with regard to a return to the method of piece work, and thereby bringing the wages of the men up to the level at which they were before we introduced the system of time work, but I can say that we have not appointed one of the committees dispised by the right hon. Gentleman, but together and personally, with the staff of the War Office connected with the factory, I am exploring every avenue, not only in this country but in our Dominions as well, for the purpose of getting a special kind of work which can only be done by the men at Enfield, and I hope that our efforts will be successful. The House can rely upon this that the Government will do everything it can to keep the staffs of what I have called, and repeat, these magnificent institutions belonging to the State up to the level they were when we came into office, and we shall do our utmost to see that as disarmament proceeds we provide new work to take the place of the old.
§ It being Ten of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolution under consideration.644
§ Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 265; Noes, 149.645
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions, That this House dog?, agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to X of the Civil Estimates, and of the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, the Air Estimates, and the Revenue Departments Estimates.