§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Sir Walter Monckton)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a small Bill, affecting only a tiny fraction of the community, but it involves the important principle of the universality of National Service, for it is important that the system should be fairly administered and be seen to be manifestly fairly administered. The purpose of the Bill is limited to extending the upper age-limit of liability in certain cases, and the aim is only to prevent evasion of their obligations by a number of young men who are abroad for most of the last year in which they would otherwise be called up to perform these obligations. It is a matter to which my attention has been called by Parliamentary Questions from both sides of the House, and I think that I should be failing in my duty if I did not take steps to prevent it before it assumed greater proportions.
The Bill deals with matters arising from the present conception of National Service which, as long ago as May, 1946, was presented to Parliament in a White Paper on the call-up to the Forces in 1947 and 1948, by the then Minister of Labour and National Service, the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs). Perhaps I may be allowed to comment on the fact that it has only now become necessary to consider amending legislation, which is a tribute to the foresight of the right hon. Gentleman.
There are two fundamental principles to be found in that White Paper. They have always formed since then the background and basis of our system of National Service. The first was the call-up of men on reaching the age of 18, and, the second, which I will come to later, was the deferment of call-up on account of professional and industrial training.
I will say a word about the first class of men who came within the purview of the legislation which followed the White Paper. They were the men born in 1929. 2301 That is the first class. They became liable to call-up in 1947, and they will begin to pass out of liability, if they have not been called up, from 1st January, 1955, as they attain the age of 26, the upper age limit of liability in the normal case.
The present, therefore, is a convenient time to take stock of the position in relation to the 1929 class. There are about 300,000 people who are in that class. A count of them was made in October this year. I can give the House the basis of the calculation, but it is probably enough to say that when we had dealt with 78 per cent., who have been called up and entered into the Services, the 13 per cent. or thereabouts excused on medical grounds, and a number of others who can be accounted for on perfectly good reasons, there remains what I would call the final residue of 1,000 men, that is one-third of 1 per cent. of the total of the 1929 class, whose absence from this country gives rise to, or may very well give rise to, a presumption of intention to evade.
It is those men and similar men in the later age classes with whom this Bill is concerned. It may be that if nothing were done in relation to the 1929 class, more young men might be encouraged to take the same course in future years. I spoke a moment ago about a residue of 1,000 of whom there might be a "presumption" of intention to evade, and I used the word advisedly for this reason. Of the young men born in 1929, there will be a number who return to this country before they are 26 years' old and do their National Service.
But I cannot avoid the presumption that there will be some—and it is impossible to quantify them exactly—and a number worthy of consideration, who intend to stay away until they have passed out of liability. I have been convinced of this, not only by the Questions which hon. Members have put to me in cases to which they have specifically drawn my attention, but also by the volume of public criticism.
One always finds, if a boy goes to do his duty and the boy next door escapes, that that is a matter which comes to one's attention, as it ought to; and although I think that the number is not very large it is a source of great and legitimate dissatisfaction which merits the attention of the House.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
We understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot give the figure exactly, but can he give us an estimate, an idea, of the number involved?
§ Sir W. Monckton
I have worked the figures down to a residue of 1,000, in whose case a presumption may arise. The figure I have in mind is about 300 in this year, but it is quite impossible to do more than say, having looked at the whole problem, and found 1,000 cases which I cannot explain, that it looks as if it will not be less than 300.
There are men who have already enjoyed a considerable period of deferment, and then they apply for a further period of deferment to continue their studies abroad, and are refused it, because if we were to give the deferment they would come back after becoming 26 years old, and thus avoid liability; and then they go abroad before the machine catches up with them. They are people who manifestly intend not to do their service. There are others who, without asking for further deferment to continue the studies for which they were deferred, go abroad immediately after those studies, and before the call-up machinery can possibly operate in their cases.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman any information as to where they no? Do they go to Ireland or Germany? Where do they go?
§ Sir W. Monckton
They go to different places. I know of cases where they have gone to the United States and Canada, but I have not in mind any other Particular cases. I am sure that hon. Members to whose attention this matter has been brought in their own constituencies will know of some.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
As to the men who go to the Dominions, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how the citizen of this country who goes to Australia would fall to be dealt with compared with the citizen who goes to Canada? In Canada there is no compulsory military service, whereas in Australia they have a very limited form of it. It may be that the citizen of this country who goes to Australia quite 2303 legitimately there undergoes his compulsory military service and then comes back to this country. Would he, in those circumstances, be liable for call-up in this country?
§ Sir W. Monckton
Those cases fall for consideration on an individual basis because the liability is there; but, by arrangement with the Services, the service which they have done abroad is taken into account.
§ Sir W. Monckton
No, he is not completely exempt. He is amenable, if he comes back within the period of his liability, to the Act here, but his service is taken into account by the Services, and he will find that full credit is given for what he has done. Except where individual cases are brought to my notice I cannot say whether what a man has done would be enough to exempt him here, but in the sort of case the hon. Gentleman has in mind I should doubt whether the whole of his service would be remitted. The cases would be treated individually.
I think I have said enough to show that there is a problem which has to be considered, and a problem which might increase if we did not deal with it. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the young men in this country perform their service as a national duty, and the fact that some men avoid their duty by temporarily leaving the country tends to destroy the whole idea of universality of service.
I have said something about call-up at the age of 18, and I want to say a word about the second principle to which I adverted, namely, the principle of deferment of call-up on account of professional or industrial training. I think it will be clear from what I have said in answer to interventions by hon. Members that there are persons who have been given a period of deferment to complete apprenticeships or to finish studies or training, and who then go abroad 2304 until they become 26 years' old, in order to pass out of the scope of the Act.
No one would want to suggest that the present system of deferment should be restricted. Indeed, I am constantly under pressure to extend it, but, of course, it could be argued that one way to deal with this problem of evasion would be to call up all people at the age of 18 without deferment. That, I think, would be much too drastic. There is no reason why men who honourably carry out their responsibilities should be penalised because a few break the bargain, because it is, in effect, a bargain. If a man applies for deferment of call-up on one of the grounds, he is impliedly saying, "I shall be available to do my National Service, if you give me deferment, when my deferment is over."
In what I have said in answer to interventions I have dealt with the more obvious cases, but there are others in which men go abroad after the age of 17 years and eight months, which is when they become subject to registration, and then maintain—in individual cases, and I do not want to give names—some links with this country, and make frequent visits here, but who stay abroad long enough to raise doubts as to whether they can be said, in the language of the Act, to be "ordinarily resident" here. Ordinary residence is one of the tests of liability.
In addition, there are some men who avoid the service of the enlistment notices by going abroad for short periods, particularly during the last months of their liability. These methods of avoiding call up normally can be adopted only by men with a certain amount of financial resources, and it is quite wrong that the question whether a man should do his National Service should depend in any way upon the length of his purse. This is the problem with which this Bill seeks to deal.
It does so by keeping a man liable for call-up until he reaches the age of 36 if he has been abroad for a substantial part—28 days is taken as a "substantial part," and I shall come back to that—of his last year before reaching the age of 26. If, during that last year, he has spent as much as 28 days abroad, on his return he will still, if the Bill passes, be liable to call-up until he reaches the age of 36 years, whether or not he ceased to be ordinarily resident in this country.
2305 I shall come back to the point about ordinary residence, although I have already dealt with it in part.
I want to deal, first, with the period of 28 days. We have to fix some period. I do not want to say that a man who goes abroad at all in his last year must have his liability extended for an extra 10 years, but we need to specify a period, and this is a period which is long enough to allow for a normal holiday abroad but not long enough to place any undue difficulty on the authorities in effecting a man's call-up. If he is in this country as much as 11 months in the last year of liability then the machinery for finding him and calling him up should have enough time to work, but if he is away for long periods of that year the operation of the machinery is very difficult.
I have been dealing with the case of the ordinary young man whose upper age limit is 26. There are others, registered doctors and dentists, whose limit is 30 years, but either of those age limits can be extended, both 26 and 30, by any period of postponement of call-up on hardship grounds which a man may get. In the case of people whose upper age limit is now 30, as well as in the case where the upper age limit is 26, we propose to extend the upper age limit to 36.
I now return to the matter of ordinary residence, which is dealt with in Clause 1 (1, b). As I explained, the existing liability for National Service applies only where the man is regarded as ordinarily resident in Great Britain. I said that one method of evasion was to go out of the country and, although maintaining links with it, to stay away long enough to raise doubts as to whether the man concerned could be taken as still ordinarily resident in Great Britain.
The Bill meets that position in Clause 1 (1, b) by saying that that by itself, will not in future be sufficient to avoid liability, provided that the man has been ordinarily resident in Great Britain at some time after reaching the age of 17 years eight months; that is, he has been ordinarily resident in this country at some time after he came within the scope of the original Act. If he has been and then goes off, maintaining the links but largely keeping away, then he will come within the scope of the Bill.
2306 I want now to deal with those who are excluded from the provisions of the Bill. They are dealt with in Clause 1 (2). Obviously, we do not want to bring within the Bill persons who are not now liable to National Service. They are specified in the First Schedule to the principal Act. They include persons in the employment of Her Majesty's Dominions outside Great Britain, the circumstances of which employment are to be found in the principal Act; men in Holy Orders or regular ministers of religious denominations; and persons of unsound mind, or blind persons. Those classes are to be found in the First Schedule to the principal Act, and the Clause maintains the situation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is there not a possibility that in order to evade military service a man might decide to become a clergyman and enter Holy Orders?
§ Sir W. Monckton
If a man decides to take that step, which is, for some time at least, irrevocable, he will not be brought within the scope of the Bill. If he had been a clergyman he would not have come within the provisions of the original Act, and, therefore, this extension will not affect him.
Among the exclusions are persons who are nationals or citizens of or domiciled in Her Majesty's Dominions outside Great Britain. A young man who has gone to a Dominion—the House may remember this concession—as part of a family group, and has settled there and become domiciled there, need have no fear that if he were to return to this country for a holiday he would be caught by the Bill; he will not be.
Provision has also been made—it would be elaborating too much to follow it all through, and so I will not trouble the House with it—to the effect that persons who are nationals of the Republic of Ireland or the Republic of India shall be treated in the same way as persons who are nationals of Her Majesty's Dominions overseas.
Finally, there is a small number of cases, which I mention for completeness, in which 36 years is already the upper age limit under Section 23 (1) of the 1948 Act. These are men who have ceased to serve in the Armed Forces before they completed their whole-time and part-time service and are liable to be called up to complete it. We have 2307 excluded them because they are already provided for.
I must add a word about administrative action. It is proposed to deal by administrative action with those classes of men whose call-up has been suspended because of the nature of their employment. The House will be aware that it is not the practice to call up to the Forces, for instance, merchant seamen, who would be needed in an emergency to man our merchant shipping. By reason of their employment they are expected to be away from our shores for more than 28 days in their 26th year, and no suggestion of evasion arises in those cases.
I can give a clear and definite assurance that no action will be taken under the Bill in respect of them. This matter is now dealt with administratively, and it will continue to be dealt with administratively, with the assurance that I have just given.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
If a man joins the Merchant Service at 16 and decides to leave it at the age of 25, is he still liable for call-up under the Act until the age of 26?
§ Sir W. Monckton
Yes, certainly he is. That is covered by the principal Act. Merchant seamen are only treated administratively in this way while they remain merchant seamen. Let us take a much simpler case, that of a merchant seaman who joined the service at 16 and then left it at the age of 18 or 19. It would be a very surprising thing if, under the original Act, he were not called upon to perform the same obligations as fall upon his brethren.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
Might we be quite clear about this? If a young man joins the Merchant Navy at 16 years of age and leaves at 26, is he then brought into the 36 years' old upper age-limit, or does the fact that he performed service in the ordinary way until the age of 26 satisfy the requirements of the principal Act, so that he is not caught by the extension?
§ Sir W. Monckton
I will take note of what my hon. Friend asks me about the future. The assurance that I was giving was limited to this, that there is no intention to alter the present administrative 2308 position under which so long as a merchant seaman remains in the Merchant Service he will not be treated as liable to the Act. I shall have to look at the words of the Bill, and I will do so, to see whether he is technically within its scope if he leaves the service and comes back to other employment.
§ Sir W. Monckton
Miners who work underground will still not be called up under the Bill. My assurance covers them as well.
Some hon. Members will also be interested in the position of fishermen. Fishermen who up to the age of 26 are enrolled in the Royal Naval Patrol Service will be treated similarly, as will also men who go abroad to employment in the scientific Civil Service or the Colonial Civil Service.
One other thing that I must make plain in order to explain the Bill properly is that 36 will be the absolute upper age-limit. There is no question of periods of postponement for hardship reasons, as is the case under the earlier Act, resulting in the age limit being extended because of those periods. The age 36 will represent the final date for liability.
I have no doubt that the Bill will receive the publicity which it ought to get, but, nevertheless, some people who are affected by it will come back to this country in the mistaken belief that National Service is no longer a matter with which they need be concerned. They will, in a sense, get a salutary shock, but under Clause 2 (2) there is provision to ensure that any man who is summoned in such circumstances to medical examination will know why he is liable for service up to the new limit, and the effect of the service of the notice upon him.
There is not much more that I need say about the Bill. The increased expenditure which is involved is very moderate; it is not likely to exceed £1,000 a year. I have dealt broadly with the main provisions. The Parliamentary Secretary will be available to speak later, and will be happy to reply to any questions which may be raised in the course of the debate.
I repeat what I said at the outset, that the problem tackled by the Bill is not a large one but it deserves the attention of 2309 all of us who are concerned to ensure that the system of National Service is fairly administered and the obligations are fairly shouldered by all concerned. The proposals in the Bill are designed to assist in that, and I commend them to the House.
§ 11.59 a.m
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has explained the Bill with his customary clarity. It was, of course, proper for him to say that the provisions are of a limited character, but it seems to me that what emerges is that the more we Look at the National Service Acts and their administration the more we realise that there are considerable anomalies which require rectification.
If ever a case was made out for an inquiry into the operation of the National Service Acts, it has been made in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Before I come to that, however, I want to express my great surprise at the submission for the presentation of this Bill and, in particular, about something which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said and of which I took note for the purpose of greater accuracy. It was, "We have had to take stock of the position and there are about a thousand men involved, probably 300 this year; but the presumption is that there are many more, and undoubtedly there is considerable dissatisfaction about the position."
§ Sir W. Monckton
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, I may have spoken inaccurately, but what I intended to say, and what I am sure he will wish to deal with, was that when I made my breakdown of the 300,000 figure there remained a thousand men about whom the presumption might arise. Then I was pressed to qualify what was an informed guess of the numbers of those to whom this would apply, and I said about 300.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but that does not vitiate the argument I am about to present, because what, in effect, he has said is that it was important that this Bill should be presented because of dissatisfaction. But that was not what his colleague the Parliamentary Secretary said on 16th March. In a reply to my 2310 hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), he declared that the dissatisfaction was confined to a very small number of persons, that indeed the number of persons concerned was almost negligible. Perhaps I had better quote what he said, because there is nothing like establishing the facts. I am aware that the Parliamentary Secretary always bases himself on facts when he is replying to hon. Members on this side of the House. This is the first opportunity I have had of dealing with what he said. There is a great deal in his speech, but I will telescope it. He said:There are not a large number of people escaping the call-up"—what he meant by a large number, it is difficult to say.There are not escapes through any channel like medical examination or education.But that has not been completely established—that is what I say, not what he said. He went on:The numbers who escape their just obligation by going abroad"—it is to that category we are addressing ourselves—are very small and I hope that they will come back to do their service in due time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 354.]So the hon. Gentleman dismissed the case presented—the case about Mr. Hawthorn, Mr. Stirling Moss and a number of other spectacular racing motorists who, according to some people, were rendering useful service abroad, much more useful service than they could have rendered if they had undertaken the liability of National Service. Now, however, only a few months later, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with commendable understanding, presents this Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I am not sure how he was referring to racing motorists. It is a small point, but does he take the view that they incorrectly avoided National Service?
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is for the hon. Gentleman to say. I am not in a position either to analyse their motives or to inquire into their conduct while abroad.
§ Mr. Watkinson
As it is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman is inferring that, perhaps I may tell him that, after the most careful inquiries—it is only fair to these young men to say this—in both cases they were not called up because of complete physical unfitness.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That surprises me when I read about these daring young fellows, whose daring I commend and applaud, because we want more daring among our young people. When I hear of these young, daring, courageous people going abroad, racing round tracks to the danger of their lives, and when I hear of their physical incapacity, I wonder. It bewilders me still more when I venture to ask the question—and I venture to give the answer myself—whether they are likely to encounter, because of their inferior physical capacity to which the hon. Gentleman refers, greater hardship and inconvenience and discomfort while undertaking National Service than when they are racing round these dirt-tracks and motor tracks in other countries.
I should have thought that if they are capable of doing one thing, they are certainly capable of doing the other, unless men undertaking National Service are wasting their time and rendering services which are of no consequence whatever. Indeed, that is our suspicion about a large number of them. Anyhow, the Parliamentary Secretary has apparently persuaded the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour to change his mind and to come forward with a Bill which he thinks is essential.
There has been a great deal of muddling about this matter for some time. It is not so long since the Under Secretary of State for Air had to stand at that Box, along with some other of his colleagues, and inform us that 15,000, 30,000, perhaps a great many more in subsequent years, instead of undertaking their Auxiliary Air Force liability under the National Service Acts in the Air Force, were now to be seconded or transferred to Civil Defence because a use could not be found for them. Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman comes forward and says that we have to make another provision in order to prevent evasion. The whole thing calls for an inquiry, and that is what the Labour Party and the 2312 Opposition have been asking for for quite a long time.
But, of course, there are other reasons. A great change has taken place in recent months. When we discuss National Service, and when some of us venture to ask that there should be a reduction—I am not asking for that just now, although I believe we could effect a reduction without serious difficulty; that is my view, and I believe it is held by many people on this side—we are told, "Well, the matter is under constant review"—the usual cliché we get from the Government.
As a result of the constant review, what has emerged? First of all, commitments by which the Government stood have been reduced. Take the Middle East. We had round about 80,000 men there and now many of them are coming back because room cannot be found for them all in the Middle East. If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War says it can, perhaps he will tell us where they are to be located? Many are coming back to this country to help to form the strategic Reserve which the right hon. Gentleman has been after for three years now and has completely failed to produce in spite of all the brag and boast and bluster he indulged in when he spoke from this side of the House. He has learned his lesson in the last few years—
§ Mr. Speaker
I dislike very much interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but I have my duty to do. I have considered the scope of this Bill, which is really very narrow. The scope of the Bill is to amend the main Acts, in one small particular, namely, to raise the liability to 36. This Bill would not support a general argument on military service as a whole.
§ Mr. Shinwell
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, the Bill provides for a substantial amendment of the National Service Acts as a result of the inquiry which was instituted by the Government. It raises the whole question whether National Service Acts are being carried out in a satisfactory manner. What opportunity have we of raising this matter unless on a Bill of this kind? I agree that the provisions are limited in character, but the implications are very wide indeed. With great respect, I think 2313 that I am entitled to refer to some of the reasons why the Government had so far failed to produce a Bill of this character. and indeed whether the Bill is of any value at all. The only way in which I can establish my case, with such language as I possess, is by using the terms which I have ventured to address to the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
I really think that the whole basis of National Service is set by the Acts of 1948 and 1950. All that I am anxious about is that we should not have a discussion on the principle of National Service, because that is settled by other Acts and not by this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with the Bill within its scope, finds some omission in it which he thinks is imimportant, it might be relevant to discuss that omission, but I do not think, and cannot bring myself to think, that the Bill will support an argument on National Service as a whole.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I submit that the Bill is quite unnecessary. It is just an afterthought on the part of the Government, who have nothing much else to do. I should like to say this in parentheses. With respect, I have been forced into parentheses because of your intervention, Mr. Speaker. The question is whether we need a Bill of this character to extend the period until 36 years of age. These men might be much more useful abroad than in this country undertaking National Service. If we have a young man of 20 years of age who has passed all his examinations in relation to a particular vocation or profession and who wishes to go abroad for five or 10 years, perhaps to some of our Colonial Territories or to some other country in which we happen to be interested, he might be rendering far more useful service. [An HON. MEMBER: "Than peeling potatoes."] Yes, in the absence of the necessary machinery, although no doubt the Secretary of State for War after three years will at least have been able to provide machinery for peeling potatoes. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Not perhaps in every unit.
Surely we have to consider when the Bill comes forward whether it is of value at all. Would it not be far better if young men are going abroad for any purpose, even for motor racing, that they should submit themselves to the Ministry of Labour and National Service or a 2314 tribunal of some kind in order to give cogent reasons why they think they should go abroad and escape National Service? Why not? If they violated the law to some extent, instead of extending the period of 36 years of age it might be better to penalise them, as we do in the case of conscientious objectors whose appeals are turned down. Some conscientious objectors whose appeals of a genuine character have not been established by tribunals have been sent to gaol or fined.
There may be a good case for rejecting the Bill and for saying that we should let these men go abroad when it is considered necessary in the interests of the country and of the men. That is my case. In order to establish that case I want to show what a muddle the Government have been in. I will not ask you to agree with me, Mr. Speaker, but merely to permit me to say it to the House and to establish the facts.
We have commitments, such as the Korea commitment, being reduced. I shall not go into the numbers, in the interests of security, but commitments are being reduced all over the shop. In addition, the Government have reduced the commitments of seven battalions and have practically abolished Anti-Aircraft Command, which absorbs a large number of National Service men. In heaven's name, why do the Government want these men, unless it is because of a decline in Regular recruitment and the complete failure of the Secretary of State for War? I excuse the Minister of Labour and National Service.
A great many arguments can be adduced, but I know that my hon. Friends are much more familiar with this subject than I am, particularly with the details, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) who has done valuable work in exposing the deficiencies of the Secretary of State for War, my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons). They have a lot to say on this matter. I hope that they will support the case which I am putting that, first, the Bill is quite unnecessary.
I hate to put the second point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour and National Service. We have a great affection for him. He 2315 is one of the most popular members of the Government. There are not many, of course, so perhaps it is not a mark of great distinction, but I put it the best way I can. We are really not complaining about him so much. It is the other people. Besides, I understand that there was some question whether he should leave them. I can understand that question being posed. However, it is a matter for him to decide.
We are not blaming the right hon. and learned Gentleman so much, but here are the Government coming forward on a Friday at the end of the year, just before Christmas, with a fiddling little Bill which can do nobody any service, which will not stop the evasions and will not stop up the holes. It will not stop people escaping service. Despite what has been said by the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, who no doubt have spoken from genuine conviction, a great many evasions must be taking place. The proper thing to do, instead of bringing forward the Bill, is to have an inquiry into the question of evasion, into the question whether National Service is of any value and whether we can adopt any other method to build up our defence organisation. Those are wider issues for some other day, but they are issues which should have been raised, instead of bringing forward this Bill.
We shall not vote against the Bill, largely because the right hon. and learned Gentleman presents it. Perhaps if the Secretary of State for War had done so we should have voted, but we should not like to let the right hon. and learned Gentleman down, particularly on a Friday. We shall not oppose the Bill, but really the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have given it second thoughts before producing it.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has shown a partial Christmas spirit, a Christmas spirit towards my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service, but not a general Christmas spirit towards his colleagues. I am surprised at that.
I am sure that the Minister is wise in bringing the Measure forward. It is a very small Bill, which has certain com- 2316 plications, but compulsory National Service is only tolerable when people are assured that they are being treated fairly, and that everyone is being treated alike. If it becomes apparent that even among a very small section of those involved there is a loophole, and people, especially people with means, can escape National Service, it is the urgent duty of the Government to stop up that loophole, however small it is.
Nothing undermines the confidence of the people in the fairness of the National Service call-up, not only the young men but more especially their parents, than the knowledge of these loopholes. In many cases there must be some hardship which cannot be dealt with by the tribunals granting extensive postponements. But if these examples are allowed to exist side by side with some exposed scandal, then the whole system falls into disrepute.
That is why I am really astounded at some of the irresponsible remarks which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to the House, particularly when I recollect that only a short time ago he was Minister of Defence in charge of these very matters. He suggested that the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service that the evasion was very small was inaccurate, but 300 out of 300,000 would, I should say, be on a very small scale. Nevertheless that does not mean that the evasion should be allowed to continue because it is on a small scale.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. My complaint against what the Parliamentary Secretary said on 16th March when speaking in an Adjournment debate is that he rejected the proposal that something should be done about this. He said that he was quite satisfied with the position.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I do not agree with the deductions of the right hon. Gentleman. What I want to complain about is that he went so far as to cast doubt—and serious doubt, too—on the accuracy and the honesty of the medical grading and arrangements. I took down his exact words, and he said, "I wonder if everything is all right?" That is a very serious charge. That expresses a doubt, which he did not go on to prove in any way, as to whether the medical authorities, who only a short time ago 2317 were under his charge, and who constitute largely the same board as when the Labour Party was in power, were doing the right thing. I am sure that on further consideration he would not pursue that any more, but I think the expression "I wonder" was unfortunate.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously believe that the people we send out as racing motorists to represent this country axe the halt, the maimed and the blind?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
It is not fair in this House to go into particular cases of people who are medically unfit, because it might react against their future careers. Therefore, I do not propose to pursue that subject. I happen to know something about it personally, and if the hon. Gentleman likes to speak to me afterwards I shall tell him about it. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that this person is medically unfit, and I think we should rest assured that that is so, and not express a doubt with the word "wonder".
I would further challenge the right hon. Gentleman as to whether this Bill is necessary or not. He says it is unnecessary because the people concerned may be better for service overseas than here. But that is a matter for the committees. No Bill about National Service is unnecessary if it stops up a loophole by which people can unfairly escape National Service. In exactly the same way, year after year, Chancellors of the Exchequer of different political complexions take steps to stop up loopholes, some of them very small, by which taxpayers evade their responsibilities in the payment of taxation.
The principle here is the same, and for that reason criticism of the efforts of the Ministry to stop up a loophole may have dangerous consequences in the lives of the young men who are being called up and upon whom so much depends in connection with the safety of this country. I disagree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the undesirability of the Bill. I think it is a very necessary and good Bill. Since the position was disclosed that this sort of evasion might happen, my right hon. and learned Friend was under an obligation—I am very glad he is performing it—to 2318 come down to the House and say, "We will stop up this loophole."
I am glad that the Bill is not to be opposed, and I am sure that the overwhelming mass of the people outside the House, particularly those whose sons are being called up, will applaud my right hon. and learned Friend for his action in stopping up this loophole, even though it is a very small one.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) took exception to something my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said when he cast doubts on the strictness or adequacy of the medical examination in certain cases. For a long time I have had doubts in my mind about these racing motorists, or at least one of the racing motorists. I do not know his medical category or grade, but the House has got to recognise that although justice may be done it has got to be shown to be done. There is considerable doubt in the minds of many parents, some of them my own constituents for whom I have to speak in presenting their cases to the Ministry of Labour, as to whether this Act is being operated fairly.
I am not going to say that it is not operated fairly, but what I do say to the House, and in particular to the Minister of Labour, is that I imagine this doubt was in the mind of my right hon. Friend when he made the remark to which the right hon. Gentleman for Epsom took exception. We read in the newspapers that one particular racing motorist goes racing in different parts of the world and on more than one occasion has experienced what appears to be very serious accidents, accidents, Which I might say, would not be likely to occur if he were doing his National Service. Then for a time he goes into hospital, he comes out, and he resumes his racing career.
One wonders what is the test which rejects him for one of the Services and yet permits him to engage in a most strenuous occupation which he seems to carry on with success. Small wonder, therefore, if some of our constituents raise doubts about the National Service Acts. I have one case in mind of a young man who has been asthmatic for years, who has been ill for a number 2319 of weeks recently, and who has been off work consistently. Now he is graded as Grade 3 and will be called up for one or other of the Services. Why is that man called up for some insignificant duty, if he can be of any use in the Army, and yet this other person, of whom we know and to whom I have been referring, seems to be able to get away with it?
The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that he is unfit. Would somebody please explain to the House what is the test which marks that man unfit and enables him to indulge in motor racing, while at the same time it takes a young man who is asthmatic and who has been in Grade 3 and passes him into the Army.
§ Sir W. Monckton
I have always made it a principle not to disclose individual cases and reasons. I do not intend to depart from that now, but the right hon. Gentleman would do me the justice, I am sure, of saying that I would not be likely to accept unfairness in relation to medical grading. All I will tell him is that I have looked at this case and I am prepared to show him what has happened. This man was carefully medically examined, thoroughly examined by a consultant and so forth, and I am quite satisfied that it was right that he should not be accepted for service. I will show this to the right hon. Gentleman with pleasure.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am prepared to consult the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not cast doubt upon the bona fides either of him or of his medical officers. What I am saying is that when the general public read what is happening to this young man and compare his life with the lives of their own sons, whom they know have been consistently ill but nevertheless are called up for what may be arduous National Service, they cannot understand it.
There may be some adequate reason in this case which, as the Minister of Labour and National Service says, he is not able to give to the House because he will not disclose—and I think rightly—the medical history of this young man. All I say in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington was quite right in saying 2320 "I wonder." Not only is he wondering, but thousands of our constituents are wondering too.
So much for what I might call an aspect of this Bill as it affects one particular individual. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom said that it was a small Bill. No doubt it is a small Bill, but there is enshrined in it a very vital principle. Unfortunately, if we are to keep within the rules of order today we are limited in what we can say, but what I should like to ask the House to consider is this.
What are we trying to do in this Bill? Are we trying to bring into the net those 300, or whatever the number may be, who have so far escaped it, or are we trying, because it is necessary for the country, to get more men for National Service? If the latter is the reason, then I think that it will be in order, subject to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, to refer to some aspects of the 1948 Act, because, even if we pass the Bill, those whom it is envisaged will be caught when it becomes an Act will have to be called up by the operation of the machinery set up under the 1948 Act.
It would be out of order, I agree, to say anything today about recruiting for the Regular Army, but, as the whole purpose of this Bill is to call into the Services some individuals, I should have thought we were quite entitled to say that we think that too many individuals are being called up for National Service, whether under this Bill or under the 1948 Act to which it refers. Obviously, one does not want to debate that issue at any great length, but it is part of the whole case—although we are arguing a very small part of it today—which has led Her Majesty's Opposition on more than one occasion to suggest to the Government that the operation of the National Service Acts, of which this Bill forms part, should be investigated more closely than it hitherto has been.
If it is not possible today to investigate the operation of the 1948 Act, we do urge on the Government that, at some time, they should give the House an opportunity—either by a Select Committee, which we would prefer, or in some other way—of seeing whether this defect—that some young men go abroad to escape their duties—is the only defect in the operation of the 1948 Act. We 2321 say that there are many other defects, and we should like to discuss all of them. In their own interests, and in the interests of the general public at large, the Government should give us an opportunity of seeing whether, by Amendment of the original Act, or by a completely new Act, or in some other way, we cannot get a better system than that which operates today.
Clause 1 of the Bill refers to absence from Great Britain for a certain period. Do I understand that, in its age limit, the Bill is only to apply to those who actually go aboad in an endeavour to escape their National Service obligations? I do not refer to such cases as miners and certain classes of agricultural workers—which, obviously, are exempted—when I say that I believe that some individuals have got deferment at some time, that that deferment will continue, perhaps, until they are 26 years of age—and after that age I gather than even this Bill will not apply to them—and that, providing that they do not go abroad for the 28 days, they will thereby escape their obligations.
§ Sir W. Monckton
Deferment is refused if it will take a man beyond his 26th birthday. That is the policy we administer. If the right hon. Gentleman knows of any cases where deferment has been given in the circumstances he has mentioned, I hope that he will let me know of them. I have had several applications where that would have been the result and have always refused them. This Bill deals only with absence abroad, because we do not defer after the 26th birthday.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am very glad to have that reply from the Minister. It is sometimes very difficult to bring individual cases to his attention, because one hears of them in, perhaps, some confidential way, and one feels that it is not acting honourably to give an individual away, as it were. I know of one case, in particular, where a young man has been deferred for agricultural reasons, and I am quite sure that he is not doing any agricultural work now. If the Minister tells me that that individual's deferment will be re-examined before he reaches 26 years of age in order to see whether he is eligible for call-up, I am satisfied.
§ Sir W. Monckton indicated assent.2322
§ Mr. Bellenger
During the war I came across a somewhat similar case, and the young man was eventually called up.
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House will understand that, in speaking for constituents, I also speak for myself. I have had four of my sons in the Army, and one is doing his National Service now. At my instigation he went abroad for three months' training, but I made sure that he came back when he was 18 years of age so that he could be called up. I am not so sure that there are other parents who may realise their duty—because there is a duty on parents as well as on their sons.
However, Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious that the general issue which many of us would like to raise today—and which must be, and ought to be, raised at some time—will probably come under your strict attention. I therefore conclude by saying that, although my right hon. Friend gave one reason, a personal one, apparently, there are other and more substantial reasons for further investigation. Though we are not opposing this Bill today, we are not at all sure that the National Service Acts are operating properly. We want to see them either amended or a new Act passed.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
It gives me a limited sense of satisfaction to support my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour. I am convinced that the Bill is necessary, and my satisfaction is limited only by the thought—which I think is common to all of us in this House and to most people in the country—that it is a great pity that in this free democracy of ours we should require to operate a compulsory National Service Act in time of peace at all. That is a feeling which we can share without dishonour, without disgrace, and at the same time accept the responsibility that the circumstances of the international scene force upon us.
In earlier speeches it has been suggested that perhaps this Measure is not necessary. I think that this is the point at which we should begin our examination of what is proposed. I hope that I may be able, without offence, to relate my belief that the Measure is a necessary one to the specific case of the racing motorist to which the right hon.
2323 Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) referred.
It was my unpleasant duty to draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend and the House in the first place. It came to my notice in a number of letters—not a large number, a small number—from the parents of young men who either were serving or were about to be called up for their service. Quite a series of inquiries, I think properly, took place privately before the position was established, not that this racing motorist was unfit for military service, but that at that time the racing motorist had not been medically examined.
The justification for this Bill is not that there is some doubt about the efficiency, or fairness, or equality, of the methods of medical examination, but that somebody was, or gave the appearance of, escaping the net. That was the beginning of this matter. It was because that situation arose, unfortunately, about a man who was both able and courageous, that it became very necessary for someone at the highest level to take note of the fact that there was a doubt growing in the minds of some members of the general public about whether these National Service Acts, which we accept without pleasure, were working fairly.
There was a case for something to be done, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) has suggested, to stop up the loophole. I do not want to be drawn into a discussion at this moment about whether there are other loopholes in the National Service Acts. I do not wish to follow the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) into a discussion about whether National Service should, for everyone, be 12 months, 18 months, or two years, or all the many other facets of this matter which might be discussed; because were I to do so, I should merit the disapproval of Mr. Speaker almost as much as the right hon. Gentleman himself.
§ Mr. Thompson
I do not want to do that this afternoon.
We must concern ourselves, if there be established that something is wrong about the way in which the present Acts are operating, with the fact that it lies within 2324 the competence of the Government to put right that wrong or inaccuracy. The Government have a bounden duty to the country to bring forward such Measures as this, to stop a loophole. I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend was able to tell the House and the country that the loophole is a small one, and is being taken advantage of by only a microscopic number of those liable for National Service.
It stands greatly to the credit of the ordinary people of this country, both sons and their parents, that compulsory National Service in time of peace is accepted so widely—I would not use the word "enthusiastically," because I think that would be going too far—but so widely throughout this land. It shows a sense of public duty and public responsibility greatly to the credit of the whole of the people of this country, and I do not think that we should exaggerate the size of the loophole with which we are dealing.
My right hon. and learned Friend was good enough to allow me to address a question to him while he was moving the Second Reading of the Bill, and I wish to direct the attention of the House to it. We have considered those who deliberately try to avoid their National Service, and I do not think that there are many hon. Members who would have a great deal of sympathy with them. We have considered those who, quite rightly, and for very good reasons, are deferred for a long period, and, in certain industries, exempted from National Service, in order that they may direct their skill and talents to what are considered to be duties more in the national interest.
Among this latter class at the present time are the merchant seamen. I have the honour to represent a great seaport—perhaps I may say, in the absence of any Scottish Members, the greatest seaport in the country,
§ Mr. Thompson
London, if I may say so—and I still use the facilities of this great city at my pleasure—battens on a much wider area than does the city and port of Liverpool.
§ Mr. Thompson
But we must take these things in all their vast context. During the war the port on the Mersey was the throat through which flowed the sustenance by which this country survived, and we must bear in mind that aspect.
This question of the position of merchant seamen in relation to their duty to the country is one of great importance in Liverpool, London, Glasgow, on the Tyne, and elsewhere. When a young man, particularly a young man from a port or a city which is traditionally maritime in its approach, background, and family connections, reaches the age of 15, 16, or 17, he quite often thinks of doing what his father did before him, and what that father's grandfather may have done before him—and he goes to sea.
When he is at sea he is performing a useful purpose, and is preparing himself for what may often be a more useful purpose should a further crisis occur in the affairs of this country. At present, if he goes to sea from any age at all at which he is liable for call-up under the National Service Acts, and if he continues at sea as a seaman until he is 26, he can then decide, with perfect freedom, to give up the sea and return to a civilian occupation. He is no worse for giving up the sea after a period of service. He is doing no wrong. He has performed his useful service to the country, and he has equipped himself for a useful job, should the need arise. He comes home as a man with a good record, and takes up his proper and honourable position in civilian society.
§ Mr. Thompson
The right hon. Gentleman is not unfamiliar with what seamen do at sea. I am not unfamiliar with what the organisers of seamen do ashore.
If this young man comes home after the age of 26, he is no longer liable, under the present Acts, to be called up for military service. What I wish to establish beyond a peradventure is that the merchant seaman who forsakes the sea at or beyond the age of 26 will not now find himself liable for National Service until the age of 36 as a result of the introduction of this Measure. I am sure that the House will feel that a 2326 merchant seaman is performing a useful function during his years of service at sea, and I hope that hon. Members will not want to add anything to his burden.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member is undoubtedly familiar with seafaring men. Suppose a young man goes abroad; suppose he sails on a British ship under the British register and then leaves that ship and joins a ship under a foreign flag—say the Panamanian flag, which is quite customary—and remains abroad a few years, sailing under a foreign flag Would the hon. Member then say that this man had been serving in a satisfactory fashion at sea, and that he ought not to be called up for military service?
§ Mr. Thompson
That is an important question, and I am glad to give my opinion. In such a case, I think that the young man should be liable for service under the provisions of this Bill. But, as long as he serves in the British Mercantile Marine, he should be absolved from the operation of this amendment to the existing Act. That is no more than my personal opinion.
I think we have established the need for this Measure, and I think we have agreed that it goes no further than it ought to go. With the qualification which I have put in the questions which I have addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend or to the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply, I hope that the Measure will obtain the approval of the House.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I approach the Bill with very mixed feelings because, while I realise the necessity for it to meet a particular case, I am one of those who feel that it is not more National Service that we want but much less. The Minister commended the Bill to the House on the grounds of the necessity to ensure fairness, and I am entirely with him, in principle, but we must bear in mind, when talking about fairness, that more than once we have discussed the unfairness between the National Service required of our young men in this country and that required of our allies, for example in N.A.T.O. There was a written answer on 3rd December which gave particulars.
§ Mr. Hynd
I was afraid of that, Mr. Speaker.
I was relieved to be given the assurance of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), which I completely accept, that he has some private knowledge of the medical state of the racing motorist who is in all our minds when we discuss the Bill. Nevertheless, I must repeat what was said by some of my hon. Friends—that however much assured the right hon. Member for Epsom might be, and whatever reassurance he may be able to give to me personally, it must still leave in the public mind a feeling of surprise that someone who can go abroad and take part in motor racing is not fit for any job in the British Armed Forces.
I have never been a racing motorist, although I will not say that I have never broken the speed limit; I have never been caught doing it. I imagine, however, that for anyone to take part in international motor racing he needs a pretty high standard of physical fitness in every respect, and when we look at some of the jobs which are performed by our constituents when they are called up for National Service, the two things do not seem to hang together. In view of the Minister's perfectly understandable reluctance to discuss personal cases in the House, I do not suppose we can pursue this any further.
When the Minister introduced the Bill he mentioned certain of the classes of workers who are automatically deferred. He mentioned miners and merchant seamen, but he did not mention agricultural workers. There is a feeling of doubt in many people's minds as to whether all the young men who are exempted as agricultural workers are genuine agricultural workers. There is a feeling of doubt as to whether some farmers' sons do not cease to be agricultural workers soon after the age of 26. It is a pity that the Minister has not found it possible to introduce provisions into the Bill to deal with such cases. It would be very difficult to do so, of course, and the title of the Bill may not include such people, but it is another loophole, and if we are to talk about loopholes then we ought to examine all of them.
The Bill will satisfy public opinion that the racing motorist type of case will be dealt with. I am very glad, therefore, to support it, but I hope that some of 2328 the points which have been mentioned will be examined carefully in Committee and that the wider debate for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has asked will be provided before very long.
I should have liked to go into some other aspects of National Service, but I see your eye on me, Mr. Speaker, and I understand that if I went any further into those aspects I should be out of order.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I intervene for only a few moments in order to welcome this small but, I believe, essential Bill. I could not help thinking that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) had his tongue in his cheek for quite a long time when he was criticising certain aspects of the Bill, because we know that he took a very important decision when he introduced the present Bill on National Service and we all know how strongly he and his party feel about fair shares for all.
If they are to take that policy to its logical conclusion in this case, it is a question of fair sacrifice for all. I believe that hon. Members opposite generally welcome that. After all, we all accept that National Service is a considerable sacrifice to a great many of our young people.
I have been very much concerned, as have a great many other people, about the publicity which was given to a particular case, and I must say that I felt that some hon. Members, probably because of the strength of their feelings and without any intention at all, have been a little ungenerous in view of the very categorical statement which was made, within the bounds of reason, by the Minister when he interposed about that young man's physical condition.
If what I am told is correct, then it is quite certain that this young man's physical condition is such that he is definitely not capable of carrying out military service, and I speak in this matter with some knowledge of the particular illness from which I am told he suffers, because, unfortunately, a very close member of my own family has the same sickness. I suggest that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) should look at those papers and that he should consider, if my view of the situation is 2329 correct, using his voice in settling the fears of a great many people that there has been evasion, and at the same time do justice to this young man, as I am sure we all want to do him justice.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I accept the Minister's assurance completely. What I was trying to say was that the general public, who have not the same possibilities of access to information as are available to some hon. Members, are not satisfied.
§ Mr. Burden
I quite agree that that is what the right hon. Gentleman said. I take the view that because of that and because the public know that Members of Parliament are most anxious that there should be no undue evasion, if hon. Members who had seen the papers would state that in their view this position is justified, it would help to resolve many of the fears which exist at present.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member must understand that, as far as I am concerned, I did not say much about the particular case. I merely mentioned the name, and. I have never taken part in the discussions. I fully understand that there might be sound reasons why the individual in question should not be called up, but the hon. Member will agree, as, I am sure, hon. Members on all sides will agree, that most of us hear reports of a large number of young men who are called up, who are medically examined and who suffer from various disabilities and yet are placed in a low medical category and are asked to undertake National Service, perhaps, in a clerical capacity or in canteens and the like. That is resented by parents and the boys concerned as much as, no doubt, hon. Members resent the discussion that has taken place about this particular person.
§ Mr. Burden
Most people, of course, resent the fact that there is National Service at all. I should be the last person to imply that the right hon. Gentleman is ungenerous, because I have found him to be extremely generous on most occasions in the House. If I implied otherwise, I hope that he will accept my apology.
This is a subject, of course, in which my right hon. and learned Friend must rely on the medical evidence. It is extremely difficult for the general public, 2330 without knowledge of the medical history, to assess the circumstances.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
The hon. Member seems to be going wide of the provisions of the Bill, which is intended merely to raise the age limit.
§ Mr. Burden
It is a question of raising the age limit, but it is also a question of getting in those people who have been evading military service. That is the fundamental reason for the Bill, and there is one aspect of it which I should like to bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
I welcome this opportunity to mention a certain individual whose activities have come to my notice. He is the son of an immigrant to this country shortly before the war. The parents are naturalised but the son was born before naturalisation or arrival here. When he was due for military service, he left the country because the family had obtained some wealth, and he went to Canada. Certain individuals were then called up for military service in the same circumstances as this young man, and it was found on appeal that they could not be called up.
The young man has now come back to this country and is working here. It is quite evident that he intends to spend the rest of his life working here. At the moment, he is beyond the normal call-up age, and I am wondering whether under the new provisions of the Bill, which raises the age limit, he will be liable to military service, even though he is not at the moment naturalised but has lived in this country for many years and, obviously, intends to remain here.
§ Mr. Burden
No. He came here with his parents from Germany. He has been here practically the whole of his life and he intends to remain here. At the moment, presumably, he has dual nationality, although his father was stateless but is now a naturalised British subject. I am wondering whether, under these new provisions, the son can be called up and asked to undertake military service. This is a difficult question of evasion, but it is well worth looking into.
2331 I think that all sides of the House are in agreement except on very small side issues and that this small Bill is one that the House should welcome.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It is a matter of great regret that the question of a racing motorist has been introduced into the debate, because it has detracted attention from the important question of principle upon which the Bill is based and to which the Minister of Labour and National Service devoted some attention, namely, the universality of military service.
I do not think that my right hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and Bassetlaw (Mr. Ballenger) were very wise when they cast doubts upon the fair play of medical boards. Anyone who does that is faced with the challenge of finding something better, and I know of no other way of handling this problem than by taking men before medical boards. I have had my differences with the Minister and his staff on this point, and I have played some part in pressing him to set up what might be called a tribunal to which those of my constituents, and people who are not my constituents—there is a fairly long list of them—who have doubts about the findings of medical boards can have an opportunity to appeal, so that it can be clearly established whether or not a man is fit.
If the Minister wants a list of prominent people who have evaded military service, I have no doubt that he could supply a list. A considerable number of sportsmen—jockeys, for example—who earn very high salaries have never been called up, so why pick on this one individual and make a song and dance about it? Let us accept that we have medical boards and get down to the basic principle.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
Will my hon. Friend be kind enough to go further into the question of those who are evading military service and suggest how we can ensure that they do not do so? It seems monstrous that this should happen.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Wigg
When we had that essay into simple arithmetic, I was trying to point out that we had a debate not long ago in which the Under-Secretary of State for Air made the point that the Government had renounced the principle of universality. He admitted that the National Service Acts were bound to work in such a way that they would be unfair. That is my answer to my right hon. Friend.
The Government have moved right away from the idea of administering these Acts fairly. We have been saying for years past that the National Service Acts as originally conceived are no longer working as was intended. There is one indisputable piece of evidence, and I am astonished that the point has not been made already. It is the lawful liability of a young man at the age of 18 that he should do two years' military service and 3½ years' service on the Reserve.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This is too wide of the provisions of the Bill. What the Bill provides is the raising of the age limit to 36.
§ Mr. Wigg
With great respect. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman opened the debate he said that the Bill was introduced to establish the principle of the universality 2333 of National Service. Surely, it is only common sense that if I am to discuss the Bill at all in real terms, I must be allowed to establish the fact that the principle is not working. I am drawing in these matters only by way of illustration.
My point is that there has been no universality about the application of the National Service Acts for a very considerable period. I am going further, and saying that the Under-Secretary of State for Air himself admitted that. If I am wrong about that, and if I am going out of order, I shall be very glad to be corrected, but the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, from that Box admitted that that principle was not being maintained.
Today, the Minister of Labour, who has apparently not read what his hon. Friend said, spoke of maintaining the principle which the Government have specifically renounced. This is the moonshine into which we have now wandered by dealing with the case of a racing motorist. I am not concerned with the racing motorist, but with the defences of this country, I want to see a well-trained Army, a well-trained Navy, a well-trained Air Force, and a competent and well-trained Civil Defence organisation, that are within the economic competence of the country.
I am not going to wander too far. The point that I am seeking to put, and from which we have been allowed to slip away in our concern for the racing motorist and such nonsense, is that there is no universality in National Service. Let me prove it. Out of more than 100,000 men called up for the Royal Air Force who did their two years' service, only 8,000 did any part-time service last year. Let us not pretend that the slipping that has been going on started only this year, because we have been moving away from the basic principle of the original Act for a very long time.
The reason the Government have to introduce this Bill and pretend that they are still concerned with the principle of universality of service is that they have departed from their principle. The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) was absolutely right. It would be very wrong if, unjustly, one created the opinion in the public mind 2334 that there is no fairness, but, in fact, there is no fairness, and the Under-Secretary of State for Air himself said that there was unfairness. He said that it would be wrong to continue to call up men whom we did not want, or, in actual fact, to call up young men to do two years' service and then, for 3½ years, have to order their affairs in order to cope with their liability for part-time service, when young men who join the Royal Air Force do their two years and that is all.
That fact is not widely know but it is becoming known and will eventually become widely known in every street throughout this country. The point will be reached when the great mass of our young men, who are not only browned off now, but badly browned off, will know that young men Who, by some means or other, can serve in the Royal Air Force, will evade their responsibilities, or, if that is too strong a term, be fortunate enough to have a lesser burden to bear than young men going into the Army.
On that point, we have departed from the principle of universality, and the Government have to come back to this House with a so-called important Bill because they have departed from the principle upon which the original Act was passed. This is a very serious matter indeed. There is an increasing lack of confidence in the Government's defence policy, but I cannot go into the wider issue now, and I want to confine myself to the Government's manpower policy.
There is widespread distrust of the Government's manpower policy, and it was expressed this week by a learned judge in the High Court. I will not go into the details, but, talking about the Army, he said it was a matter to which the War Office should pay attention. He also said that it affected the morale of the troops. That is one case, but hardly a week goes by without producing one case or another about which there is public concern either about manpower problems or other and wider issues.
I had hoped that we should have had a somewhat wider debate than has been the case so far. If you had been in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and had listened to the course of the debate, I think you might have been a little more liberal in the Rulings which you have given.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am only looking at the provisions of the Bill, and, as I understand it, what it does is to raise the call-up age to 36 for specific classes of people.
§ Mr. Wigg
Surely, then, in order to discuss that, it is necessary—and this is my whole case—to show that the reason given by the Government that they are concerned with the principle of universality is a false reason, and I think that I have demonstrated already that this reason is not correct. Surely, I am entitled to go one stage further, and discuss why it is necessary for such an agreeable personality as the Minister of Labour to make the statement—because the right hon. and learned Gentleman must know the position perfectly well—about the training of part-time reservists in the Royal Air Force? The Minister must have known about the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
On a point of order. As a great number of us will want to enter into this debate, and as it would be valuable to get the matter clarified, may I put a point to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? As I understand it, the object of the Bill is to increase the number of persons who will go into the Armed Forces. If it has not got that object, that would be a reason for not passing the Bill at all. If anybody else is to be called up, and if the Government do not need any more people being called up, surely it is important to discuss whether it is desirable to call up more people?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This Bill is not concerned with National Service, which—rests upon other Acts. This Bill raises the age to 36 for certain classes, and it does not deal with National Service.
§ Mr. Bing
The object of the Bill, surely, is to increase the numbers of persons who can be called up, and what my hon. Friends and I are interested in is whether, in fact, it is desirable to call up anybody else at all. It may be desirable to call up certain classes and not other people, in which case this Bill is deficient in not making provision for calling up other people in place of those who are not to be called up, such as apprentices and so on.
§ Sir W. Monckton
In introducing this Bill, what I am seeking to do is not to increase the number of people who ought to do National Service and who were intended to do it, but to maintain the principle by preventing evasion by some people who come within the other Acts.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The Minister has told us that the purpose of this Bill is to stop a leak. Is it not strictly relevant to the question of stopping a leak, and whether it should be stopped or not, to discuss the amount of pressure which there is to evade National Service? That surely depends incontrovertibly on the whole position of the National Service Acts and whether they apply universally in the period for which they operate. It is almost impossible to argue the merits of whether it is right or wrong to stop a leak without being able to allude, at any rate, to the universality of service and to the period of service. I am sure that you could not object to hon. Members giving reasons why it is right or wrong to oppose this Bill, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not want to restrict the debate unduly, but it seems to me that to discuss defence and the question of National Service, which is governed by other Acts, would be out of order, and that all that is involved here is the question of raising the age to 36 for certain classes of people.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
The reason for promoting the Bill is to ensure fairness as between one young man and another. What we have to consider is whether this is a good method of ensuring fairness, and whether we are being only selectively fair to a narrow section of people.
§ Mr. Beswick
Then, when we are considering the fairness of the position, is it not proper to have regard to the fact which my hon. Friend is putting forward, namely, that we are being unfair over a very wide field of National Service, and to take that into consideration in deciding whether to accept the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I felt that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was going too far into the question of defence.
§ Mr. Wigg
If I did so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am very sorry. I must make some reference to the defences of the country because we cannot talk about National Service in a vacuum. If we attempt to do so we end up by talking a lot of nonsense about a certain racing motorist. I want to bring the debate back to the question of fairness.
I have made the point, which has not been controverted, that the Government, through the earlier pronouncements of Ministers, have made no pretence of maintaining the principle of fairness. That principle has long since gone, not because hon. Members opposite want to be unfair—although they are incompetent—but because they have been pushed into this position by circumstances beyond their control. Had you been present throughout the debate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I feel that you would not have been quite as narrow in your interpretation as you have been, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) referred to commitments, as did other hon. Members.
I have never held the view that the reduction in our commitments provided a case for a reduction in the length of military service. The question of commitments is only part of the issue involved. I claim no gifts of prophecy—my claim is no more than the gift of common sense—but I had long foreseen the point arriving at which we should liquidate some of our commitments in the Middle East, and that when that happened we should still not be able to reduce military service; that it would merely mean taking away an alibi for its retention by the Government.
Do not let us rely upon anything that appears in the "Daily Herald," or anything that is said from these benches. Let us go to that great source of authority upon military matters, the "Daily Telegraph." This week it contained an article from its military correspondent, who said that although we have now shed some of our commitments it would be disastrous if we attempted to reduce the period of military service.
I agree that we cannot reduce the period at the present time, but my hon. Friends and I say that we ought to have an inquiry into the workings of the National Service Acts. I am sure that I shall say that again, for as long as the 2338 present Secretary of State for War is in office, these points, together with new ones, will continue to be at issue. I am content to rest on the record. When the Secretary of State for War took office, he, together with the Prime Minister, formed the Home Guard, which has not made much progress. Then they formed the seven second battalions, and now those have gone. So we could go on, with point after point after point.
I am content to put down a Question asking for the recruiting figures for 1954 as compared with 1953. I shall put it down to be answered on the day when the House resumes. I know what the answer will be, and so does the right hon. Gentleman. I intend to put down the same Question three months later, then again in six months, and so on, so that we can judge the developing situation. In 12 months' time, this Bill will have become law, and we shall have spent another £1,500 million or so on defence or, if that reference is out of order, another £1,000 under the Bill. What shall we have got for it? This Government's policy is based upon "Peace through strength" but the Defence Forces of the country have never been weaker than they are at present.
That brings me to another reason for protesting against this discussion of the case of a racing motorist. From the tips of my toes to the top of my head I am a democrat. I do not believe that we can take effective action as a democracy unless we precede it by discussion, because democracy in action means an informed democracy. We ought to have debates upon this vital question of the manpower policy of the Government in relation to the Armed Forces, so that the great mass of the public can understand the mess into which we have got.
I do not make the point to secure any political advantage. I specifically renounce any desire of that kind, but until we have debated the matter, and until the Press and the B.B.C. have discharged their responsibility, we shall never be able to take the necessary action to solve this problem—and every month that goes by, with the alarming returns of recruiting figures, makes the situation worse and worse.
There can be only one end to this. If we do not face up to the problem the day will come when we can no longer 2339 hide from our people the fact that it is too late to put the matter right. That is why I regard this Bill as a piece of window-dressing nonsense. I am very sorry that the right hon. and learned Member, for whom I have the greatest respect, should have tried—unsuccessfully—to pretend that the Bill is based upon a principle that the Government have specifically rejected and have done absolutely nothing about when, all the time, the situation goes from bad to worse.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the, Member for Easington has left the Chamber. He said that it was the intention of the Opposition to press for a debate. There is no earthly reason why this subject should not have been raised in the debate upon the Gracious Speech. We could have demanded an inquiry into the workings of the National Service Act. That debate could have taken place if there had been the will, but among hon. Members on this side of the House military matters are not taken quite so seriously as they are alleged to be taken by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Wigg
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am dealing with the Bill. I am saying that it shows that there is some sort of a crisis when the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to introduce a Bill of this kind and pretend to defend a principle which no longer exists.
Let the Government have the Bill. It does not do them very much good, because it does not alter the facts. It gets no new recruits or extensions of service. My party has a great nonmilitary tradition. It does not like National Service. I am not suggesting that hon. Members opposite like it, but I would remind the House that they have always made the claim that they produce much better defence policies and Ministers than do hon. Members on this side of the House. It is no accident that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) was subjected to the most vicious and low attacks when he was Secretary of State for War. Those who read about the way in which 2340 Lord Haldane was treated will know that it can bring no credit to anybody marching under the Conservative banner.
The reason for this piece of nonsense is that when the Ministry of Defence was born the Prime Minister posted himself at the head of it. How many dozen telegrams did he say the other day that he had sent out—all personal telegrams? Once again, we were asked to recognise that we were again coming under the influence of our great military leader. The Prime Minister then discovered that during the five years that we were in office we really had established a Ministry of Defence—when the Prime Minister discovered that he gave up the job and appointed a field marshal. We have been told that field marshals always serve, and if they always serve how can they find time to turn up as members of a Conservative Administration? And whilst on the subject, how did Field Marshal Ironside manage to turn up as Chairman of the Central Norfolk Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I have just come into the Chair, and I stand open to correction, but it seems to me that all that this Bill does is to raise the age limit. Field marshals are over it anyway.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I was only admiring the way in which the hon. Gentleman keeps his verbosity within the rules of order.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am much obliged. I have to deal with the problems with which I am faced.
I think that earlier interpretations of what was in order were a little narrow. All my remarks have been directed to show that this Bill, although it has been put to us as a small one, is in fact concerned with a vital principle which the Minister of Labour himself pat forward, namely, that it is to continue the principle of universality of military service.
My point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, was that that principle had been specifically 2341 announced by the Government through the mouth of the Minister. In those circumstances, I thought that I was in order in dealing with this problem. I was going on to say that, in fact, there was a responsibility on hon. Members on this side of the House to press the Government with vigour about this problem. Of course, we want discussion, but we have to do a sort of balancing trick inside the rules of order to enable us to make ourselves heard.
We ought to have taken the opportunity to press for this inquiry. I realise the difficulties of the Government, and that they are in very great difficulty in coming to the House because they then have to admit that they are in a mess, and that they will not do. I was going on to say how the mess arose. I know that I have often, perhaps too often, pinpointed the responsibility on to the Secretary of State for War, but it is only fair to go back to the person who appointed him. What I am concerned about is not merely the business of focusing responsibility. What I want to do is to get informed discussion, which I consider essential if we are ever to get this problem righted.
At the moment there is still a dispute between myself, together with hon. Members on this side of the House who share my views, and the Secretary of State for War and many of his colleagues on the other side of the House. They still do not admit the validity of the facts that we put forward. My reply is that we have been disputing that for the last three years, and the record speaks for itself. I should be out of order if I widened the list which I have already given.
In the months that lie ahead it will become increasingly obvious that the defence of this country and its manpower policy in particular—which I submit keeps me within the rules of order—is in a very dire and dreadful condition. I say that, in my judgment—I have said it before and I shall go on saying it—the Government have got into a state which cannot be put right again by depending upon the support of one side of the House only. I have no authority to speak for my hon. Friends on this side of the House—I speak only for myself—and I say that this Bill today conceals, and is intended to conceal, a malaise in our manpower policy in relation to the Forces which goes very deep indeed.
2342 It can only be put right by the joint and responsible action of Members on both sides of the House. If anyone thinks that I am talking nonsense, we shall see in the weeks and months that lie ahead who is talking sense—the Secretary of State for War, or myself. There I am content to let the matter rest.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
The problem, looking at it from a purely Parliamentary point of view, that the House has to consider today is whether we ought to pass this Bill or not. That is really the whole essence of the Second Reading debate. One of the considerations which the House should bear in mind is, assuming, as I think it is fair to assume, that there is only a certain amount of Parliamentary time available for military and Service affairs, whether the procedure of considering this Bill in Committee stage and allowing it to proceed to Third Reading and all the other processes which it will have to go through if we give it a Second Reading today is worth while, or whether it would not be better to spend the time discussing other Service matters.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, we have a number of very important Service matters which should be discussed at once. It would, I suggest, be much better to withdraw this Bill and take the time which would be thus saved in discussing other Service matters. I do not want to go into these matters in great detail. I only want to make one or two suggestions as to the sort of thing which, I think, might very properly be discussed in the time that would be saved.
We might discuss the very important question of recruiting. I know that the Secretary of State for War laughs, because this is a problem which is always with him. After all, it is his problem; he created it. Surely it is his duty to take an early opportunity to explain to the House where his policy has got us.
§ Mr. Bing
In that case he is reinforcing my argument that we should withdraw the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman should do it now and give us another half-day in which we could pass on to 2343 this subject. If he gave up the Bill altogether, we should then have an opportunity to discuss this question. It is a question which, I think, is far more fundamental than this particular issue, which is a very narrow and small issue, and assuming, as I think it right to do, that there is only a limited time available for discussing Service matters, surely the proper and responsible course for the House would be to discuss the more important rather than the less important matters first.
But there is another reason why we should consider and look with some care at this Bill. There is another question which we should ask ourselves. This Bill is designed to deal with people who are evading National Service. It is designed, as the Minister said, to stop a leak. Why are people trying to evade National Service? The effectiveness or otherwise of the Bill will depend upon the pressure that there is to evade National Service. If people have very strong reasons for getting out of National Service, the Bill in this form is insufficient. If, on the other hand, we could by some effective means do away with the reasons for which people are trying to evade National Service, the Bill would be unnecessary. Therefore, it is important to examine for a moment the reasons why persons are attempting to evade National Service.
One of the means by which they evade it, an expensive and difficult means, is going abroad and not being here when the call-up notices come. What is so extraordinary about our Forces that people are induced to go abroad, to incur great expense, to leave their homes, to evade serving in the Forces? That is the question which the House ought to answer. Why is it people are trying to get out of their obligations? If there are only a few people trying to do it, then we ought not to enact this Measure, which will, I think, give rise to all sorts of anomalies which are, perhaps, not fully appreciated by hon. and right hon. Members opposite yet. If, on the other hand, the Secretary of State for War tells us that there are great numbers of people, or important numbers of people, evading in this way National Service, we ought to look into the reasons why they are evading it.
2344 Let me suggest some to him. I think everybody must feel a certain disquiet, whether he is right or wrong in so feeling, about events now in the Navy. There is a number of cases, one of which the right hon. Gentleman will have seen mentioned in the paper the other day, of people apparently indulging in deliberate acts of sabotage, so unhappy are they at the moment in the Navy. These may be exceptional cases, but one of the difficulties in dealing with this matter, one of the reasons, possibly, why people are attempting to evade service in the Navy, is that this House has never faced up to its responsibilities face to face with the admirals. We have never insisted on reviewing the Naval Discipline Act. We have never had any proper Parliamentary control over the Navy.
I think that there is a quite clear connection between the sort of things happening in the Navy at the moment and the failure of this House ever to be able to investigate naval matters in the same way as it investigates Air Force or Army matters. If we are talking about stopping leaks, about people going abroad to avoid being called up into the Navy, we ought, as well as merely passing a Bill to catch up with them at some time, to see what are the reasons why people are evading service in the Navy. One of the reasons, and one of the most important reasons, I suggest, is that we are not able to review in this House what is going on in the Navy. Until we can investigate the Navy as we investigate the Army and the Air Force, we Members of Parliament cannot fulfil our duty as Members of Parliament, and I should say that it is absolutely essential that the same steps should be taken in regard to the Naval Discipline Act as have recently been taken in regard to the Air Force Act and the Army Act.
However, people are evading service, presumably also in the Air Force and in the Army. Why are they evading service in the Army? May not one of the reasons be the failure of the right hon. Gentleman's recruiting policy, and another that there are insufficient trained N.C.O.s available to make certain that life in the Army is tolerable and that there is a proper organisation? We have already come across a number of cases in which 2345 there was obviously a considerable lack of discipline on the part of the N.C.O.s.
It is no use trying to stop a leak, to push people into the Army, if at the same time the situation is such that those are the same people who will desert. There is not much point in catching somebody who is determined at all costs to avoid being in the Army, because he is a potential deserter. What we really want to do is to see why that person deserts. There are possibly all sorts of reasons, from the highest religious motives to the most criminal, in some cases. I see my hon. Friend—if I may still so call him—the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) smiling.
§ Mr. Bing
My hon. Friend has been court-martialled five times, and I think we should have to get into touch with the presidents of the various courts-martial to discover. However, there are people who for various reasons do not wish to go into the Services. These may include people who would not fit in anywhere, who are misfits anywhere. I am not saying that of my hon. Friend. He has found his niche here. Whatever else he was at the courts-martial, he is certainly one of the most skilled Parliamentarians here. Indeed, he may have been as good a barrackroom lawyer as he would have been good in the courts, I am sure, if he had taken up that profession.
However, there are people who, for all sorts of reasons, would desert if they were called up, who would not in any circumstances serve. It is not really desired, presumably, to pass a Bill to push those people in. The only argument for pushing in that class of person is merely—and it is a quite good argument—to show to the country that we are being fair and not allowing anyone to escape. That, however, is only half the argument for the Bill.
The real argument for it is that there is some substantial degree of evasion, and the House would be doing less than its duty if it did not examine the question of what makes the Army so unattractive that this degree of evasion exists. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the reasons is the failure of his 2346 recruiting policy. We in this House ought to be very serious about that, because it is quite obvious that we are facing a period of crisis in the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Head
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would develop this theme about the failure of Army recruiting? Perhaps he will say what he means? We have no knowledge or understanding of what the hon. and learned Gentleman calls the failure in recruiting. In my opinion, the charge of failure has been completely blown up. One in every four called up stays at the moment. Would the hon. and learned Gentleman explain what he means?
§ Mr. Head
I am most obliged. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) made great play with the allegation that the prolongation had failed. The hon. and learned Gentleman has taken up that play without thinking, perhaps, very much about it. Why should he? I should like to make this clear. The hon. Member for Dudley said that 487 took on out of 13,000. He was quoting figures from November to March. I would point out that the only ones who have so far been forced to make up their minds are those in November and December. In those two months the five-year engagement was still continuing. During that period 2,000 men took on the three-year engagement and 2,000 men the five-year engagement. So the field for three-year engagements was skimmed milk. Those are the only two months so far on which we can judge.
2347 The hon. Member for Dudley has taken up the howl of 487 out of 13,000 up to March. That is unrealistic. It has started a scare in this House and in the Press, and hon. Members are saying that it has started a crisis. Hon. Members should wait and see and not cry havoc before it has happened.
§ Mr. Bing
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure the whole House is. It is very valuable for us to get the figures. I am sure that no hon. Member on either side of the House wishes to use his position in the House to say something which is not borne out by the figures. However, this bears out the argument that I was making, that we should not pass the Bill but instead should devote the time which will be taken up by its other stages to a fuller debate on the matter than we have so far had through interventions by the right hon. Gentleman and myself.
It may be that one of the reasons—it may not be; the right hon. Gentleman says it is too early to say—is the failure of recruiting. The position may be much better than some of us have been led to believe, and we all hope that it is much better, but there must be some reason why the Army is unpopular. If the reason is not that there are not sufficient trained N.C.Os., then what is it? That is what the right hon. Gentleman really has to tell us.
It may be that there still remains in the Service too much of the tradition of the pre-war years. I do not know, but there may be too much of a return to the Odd type of officer-man relationship. If there is a desire to this degree to evade National Service, there must be some reason for it, and we ought to know what it is. It may be an entirely irrational reason. It may be that people believe that the Army is different from what it actually is. If so, the right hon. Gentleman has failed as a propagandist. Surely there are other ways of dealing with the matter than by the mere enactment of legislation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is not one of the reasons the fact that the young man completely realises the futility of modern war and knows that while he may be fighting overseas atom bombs may be dropped on his wife and family at home? The 2348 young man knows that if he is called up he is not really defending his wife and family if that happens.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If we get on to the subject of atom bombs we shall be going too wide. Hon. Members have been doing fairly well as it is.
§ Mr. Bing
That was my impression also, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
This is an important problem. I do not want to go into it any further than that, but I do wish to ask why there is this degree of evasion, if there is this degree of evasion, and, if there is not this degree of evasion, why we are bothering about the Bill at all.
Various anomalies will result from the Bill, and I want to put one or two specific questions about them to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. There is the rather anomalous position of people who serve in the Kenya Regiment. I have two constituents who, as far as I can see, are not persons exempted under the First Schedule to the original Act. One young man is a forester in Kenya. He is now due to be called up in the Kenya Regiment. It seems to me that, with the Bill as it is drafted, when he returns to this country he will be liable to be called up here. That seems to be an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to deal with it.
§ Mr. K. Thompson
I cannot take the place of my right hon. and learned Friend, but if the hon. and learned Member had been in the House when the Minister of Labour made his opening statement he would not have been troubled with such doubts.
§ Mr. Thompson
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member does not wish to defame one who sat here while he bored many of us with his interminable and unnecessary speeches until 8.30 this morning.
§ Mr. Bing
If the hon. Gentleman is one of the three or four Conservative hon. Members who stayed during the 2349 debate, he deserves to be congratulated. The only surprising thing is that, having heard all the arguments, he did not join us in the Lobby, where we should have noticed him.
My recollection of what I heard of the speech of the Minister of Labour is that he did not deal with the problem. It does not seem to me to be an issue which has been covered by the Bill. If I am wrong—
§ Mr. Watkinson
The problem is clearly dealt with in the Schedule of exemptions in the original Act. That was mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. Bing
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. This is where we are at cross-purposes. The Schedule deals with persons who are domiciled in a Dominion. The position of the people who are called up to the Kenya Regiment is quite different, for they are not domiciled in Kenya at all. If I give the hon. Gentleman two examples he will be able to understand the position.
I have a gentleman living in my constituency who is a forester, in which capacity it is part of his duties to go round to various colonial services. In some rather mysterious way he has become liable to be called up for the Kenya Regiment. It may well be that it is correct that he should do his military service in Kenya, but the Bill will mean that he will be liable to be called up in this country when he returns after having done service in the Kenya Regiment. He has never been domiciled in Kenya.
I have had considerable correspondence with the Colonial Office about another case and in it I have dealt with the very problem of the Schedule. I have a constituent who was engaged on contract by the Kenya Government. He went out there with his family—he was not domiciled in Kenya at all—and when his contract terminated he returned to Great Britain. Two or three days before he was due to come back, his son was called up for the Kenya Regiment, in which he is now serving, although the rest of the family has left Kenya and the only reason why the family was there at all was that the father had a three-year contract there.
Under the Bill as drafted—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to avoid this—it seems that the young man will be caught under these provisions because he has never been domiciled anywhere 2350 but in this country. He cannot come back here to do his National Service because he is already held in the Kenya Regiment doing it there, but as soon as he returns he will be liable to service here. These are small points, but if we are passing a Bill of this sort we do not want to create a lot of new anomalies.
There is another case, which may have been dealt with by the Minister before I arrived, on which I should like some guidance from the Parliamentary Secretary. This relates to the position of people who during the National Service period have served in the Merchant Navy but have terminated their service for some reason. One of my constituents has written to me and asked what his position will be under the Act. He was in the Merchant Navy. He attained a certain type of skill and at the age of 26 or 27 left his position as an officer in the Merchant Navy to take a shore job. Will he be liable or not? What will be his position under the Bill?
If I may, I should like to mention the subject of Northern Ireland. This is always a difficult problem, but one ought not to pass the Bill without calling attention to it and, as usual when Northern Ireland matters come to be discussed, there are no Members present representing that part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Bing
Splendid, and in that case I withdraw what I said. I am very glad indeed to see the hon. Member here and I welcome him to the distinguished family seat which he now holds. I hope he will deal with this problem at a later stage.
One of the difficulties which arises in connection with National Service is the flow of labour between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At times, labour from Northern Ireland comes over here where there is a demand for it. For instance, it might come from Messrs. Short and Harland in Belfast where there is unemployment. Very often it is made a condition of getting unemployment assistance under the Northern Ireland unemployment assistance rules that applicants should seek work in England. They are held not to be genuinely seeking employment under the Northern Ireland regulations unless they take a job in England.
2351 What is going to be the position of people of that sort? It is all very well to say that under the original Act it depends on whether they were living in Great Britain up to the age of 18, but in connection with Northern Ireland it becomes a bit complicated. I think we ought to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary whether there have been any discussions with the Northern Ireland Government as to the problems which are likely to arise.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with the individual matters which I have raised and also with the more general question as to why it is there is this degree of evasion. To what reason do the Government attribute it? Does the hon. Gentleman think it is necessary to promote this Bill from the point of view purely of morale and because there has been a certain amount of publicity about it, or do the figures suggest that more and more people are for some reason or another trying to evade National Service? If that is so, what is the reason for it?
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Like the former Minister of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I doubt very much whether this Bill is any contribution to solving some of the defence problems and National Service problems. I understand that it is hoped that this small Bill will prevent people from evading their liabilities for National Service. I am not concerned with defending people to whom the Minister has referred as wealthy people who leave this country in order to escape conscription. I am against conscription, and my admiration is for the person who takes a stand and says, "Rather than accept National Service I am prepared to go to prison and to endure the penalties of social ostracism which that involves."
However, I try to put myself in the place of people who are apparently trying to evade National Service. Apparently the Minister is thinking of those people who go to another country at a certain time and so evade the call-up. As has been suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), it may be that they go to Ireland.
2352 It could be that some young men, on reaching National Service age, decide that they prefer the delights of Ireland to going into the Army, and I can understand that position, because although I prefer a man to stay at home and face the music, I can also understand the preference of a man for Ireland, which has no conscription, which was not in the last war, and has, therefore, no national debt, and whose future is not endangered through being a base for the Americans in Western Europe.
I understand there has been quite an exodus of wealthy landowners from the West End of London to Ireland, there to buy estates in order that their sons may live on them and so evade National Service. They will be safer in Ireland than in this country in the event of war, because that island will not be a provocation to the enemy at all.
What I do not understand is why, if those men go to Ireland and spend six or seven years there, the Government should go to the trouble of coming to the House of Commons and taking up our time to pass a Bill under which such men can be called up at the age of 35. Why bring pressure to bear by such a complicated procedure on a very small number of men? The Minister has told us that they number only about 300 in a year, and I cannot conceive that men who go to another country to escape National Service are likely to be much good as soldiers at the age of 35.
What is more likely to happen is that, once having been to Ireland, and knowing they are liable to be called up and conscripted into the Army as soldiers, they will either stay in Ireland, or else, having been conscripted during a visit to England, on their first leave they will evade further service by going back to Dublin. I cannot conceive of this Bill being an effective instrument for preventing the evasion of National Service under those conditions.
Then there is the case of Canada. I cannot see how, if a man decides to go to Canada, this Bill could be effective. It is very difficult for a man of National Service age to get to Canada, and the same applies to Australia. I have a constituent who wants to go to Australia with his family. But just at this moment he is of National Service age, and the 2353 family cannot get to Australia because this son cannot get the necessary permission owing to the fact that he is of National Service age.
I maintain that there are sufficient safeguards against evasion of National Service, and that this legislation, judged by the number of soldiers it will bring into the Army, and what leakages it is likely to prevent, will do very little, and certainly does not justify the trouble that the Government are taking to get it enacted.
When anyone in my constituency does not wish to go into the Forces, what does he do? He goes into the coalmines. Far more people go into the coalmines for a short time in order to avoid being called up than go to Ireland or to the Colonies. The Government do not say, "That is evasion of National Service." Let us take the case of a plumber, plasterer, or building worker, liable to be called up. He decides to go into the coalmines, and no attempt is made by the Government to prevent that leakage, because the Government simply will not face up to the possibility of a struggle with a powerful trade union.
I have questioned the Minister about the people who are exempt from National Service, and he has told me that among them are clergymen and people like that who are clerks in Holy Orders. If the Minister really wishes to prevent evasion of another kind, why does he not say that he will take steps to introduce in this House a Bill which would prevent young men of military age from going into the Church?
I have never been able to find out why, if war is sanctioned by the Church, ministers of religion and clerks in Holy Orders should be exempt because they are clergymen. They ought to go before the tribunals as conscientious objectors, like other people who have religious objections. I am not advocating the conscription of clergymen, because I do not believe in the conscription of anybody. I am talking of the hopeless illogicality of the National Service Acts and the complete irrelevance of this Measure to the manpower situation.
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch asked why men wished to avoid going into the Army, and he gave certain reasons. Following your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will not go into the question of the general position that 2354 would come about in the event of an atomic war, and I shall not introduce the question of the atom bomb. However, I do say that when young men sit down and think seriously of what another war would be like, they ask themselves how they can possibly defend their wives and children and their homes if they are in, say, Kenya, or Western Germany, in time of war.
I cannot see how enlisting in the national Forces today can appeal to an intelligent man who reads the newspapers, who reads the speeches made in this House, and who tries to imagine exactly what modern warfare is like. I can understand the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). If he is obsolete, he has his loyalties, quite understandable loyalties, to the Army in which he spent so many years. He has had a long and distinguished career in the Army, even if it has been in a rather minor capacity. as the Prime Minister suggested. I suggest, however, that in his Army career the hon. Member for Dudley rendered at least as distinguished and as long service as the Prime Minister.
Although the hon. Member for Dudley has his loyalties, they are not realistic in the world of today. Are we justified in saying to a man who wishes to go to Canada to work in agriculture there, "No, you must stay home and do National Service"? I think that a man engaged in growing food in Canada is doing more good to the community than if he is carrying out futile and irrelevant exercises in uniform.
If the Government were convinced that they could get men into the Army by mass recruiting, this Bill would not be necessary. The Secretary of State for War has suggested that his recruiting campaigns have been successful, but if they are so successful, why are the Government going to the trouble of stopping a leak of only 300 men? I do not understand it, because if the young people of this country were convinced of the necessity for joining the Armed Forces, there would be no need for this small, pettifogging Bill.
I can conceive of a young man thinking of the Air Force today, and saying, "These are not duties which an intelligent and civilised man could undertake." I see the Under-Secretary of State for Air 2355 on the Front Bench opposite. I know that the hon. Gentleman has his loyalties too, but a young man called up to serve in the Air Force might want to know, before accepting his responsibilities, what was his duty in the event of war. And his duty might be to be in an aeroplane which is going to drop an H-bomb or an atom bomb somewhere in Eastern Europe, and he might have enough imagination to realise that the moment he set forth in an aeroplane in order to guide it to drop the H—bomb on Moscow, there would be a reprisal the following night, at home.
Therefore, there are a large number of people who are not pacifists, who are not opposed to war on principle, but who look at the grim realities of war today. Although hon. Members have their experiences and loyalties, at the present time I do not see how a young, intelligent man can go into the Forces believing that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force serve the same purpose as they did 20 years ago.
This is not a temporary phase. It will continue. We shall not go back to the old ideas of war, to the old military traditions. We are in an era of absolute destructiveness, in which the intelligent man says, "Well at least pacifism is just as good as any other 'ism' because the logic of armed conflict today is, as so many statesmen have pointed out, that nobody wins a war, and we are faced with the fact that victors and vanquished are both ultimately involved in the complete destruction of civilisation."
I suggest, therefore, that we revise our ideas of the Armed Forces in the light of that important, inescapable fact, and I submit that this is a trifling Bill. It has no relevance to the situation. It will not bring more manpower into the Forces, and it will not make the National Service Acts more efficient. Faced with this situation, we have to revise our ideas, and the sooner we revise our ideas, reflected in a new foreign policy, the sooner will the time come when this legislation will be irrelevant and unnecessary.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
I have listened with great interest to what has been said by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).
2356 Whilst I disagree, for fundamental and varied reasons, with most of what he said, I want to follow up one point on which I find myself in agreement with him, but for completely different reasons from those which motivated him.
About three years ago there was introduced into this House the Empire Settlement Bill, the object of which was to encourage the settlement in the Commonwealth of people from this country, in many cases with financial aid. That Measure provided that up to 1½ million could be applied by the home Government to enable people to migrate to other parts of the Commonwealth. It is a dismal fact that only one-tenth of that money has been utilised for this laudable purpose. However, the application of this Bill to that Act is a real one.
I have been looking through the list of those who are exempt from the provisions of the Bill. I understand that they are persons who are already exempt from call-up, and also nationals or citizens domiciled in Her Majesty's Dominions overseas. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, I had a case brought to me of a young man who, entirely within the meaning of the Empire Settlement Act, was desirous of emigrating with his family—to New Zealand, in this instance.
He was precluded from accompanying his family. The result was that the whole family were precluded from emigrating, in the national interest, not only of New Zealand, but of this country, merely because he was retained here to complete his National Service, which in fact he has not commenced. I consider that that was not acting in the interests of the country and that it was acting against the spirit of an Act of Parliament.
The result is far from satisfactory. It is that we shall have serving in the Forces a man who, through no fault of his own, has destroyed the ambitions and hopes of his family, and who will serve as a reluctant and sullen member of the Forces. I cannot believe that that is in the national interest, or that it was in the mind of Parliament when it passed the Empire Settlement Act three years ago.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I am afraid that the time of the House is being wasted in considering the Bill. There is no reason at 2357 the moment to suppose that the Army want to have the extra 300 or 400 men whom we are now supposed to be chasing. At any rate, we know that some of the Services do not want some of the men whom they already have. That is one of the considerable problems with which we are faced. There is certainly absolutely no guarantee that if we manage to catch these men who so far have escaped the net their time will be usefully employed.
From the point of view of abstract principle, I might have been prepared to agree to the Measure if the assumption which has been made by several hon. Members—the assumption of universality—was being carried out, but I do not think that there is anybody, and certainly nobody on the Government Front Bench and hardly anybody in the country, who still believes that the idea of universality of National Service is being applied. Nobody believes that it has been applied for many years. I shall not attempt to place the whole responsibility for that on Her Majesty's present Government.
It is deplorable that ever since National Service was extended after the war we have steadily moved further and further away from universality. More and more modifications and qualifications have been introduced, and that has been combined with an ever-widening disillusionment amongst our citizens. A large number of citizens have come to believe that although National Service has been advocated to them on grounds of high principle connected with the fairness of spreading military obligation to serve the country, in fact it has been simply a way of obtaining an Army on the cheap in manpower, and of enabling those who have responsibility as Service authorities to avoid the question of how to get rid of compulsory military service.
Some hon. Members have actually said in this debate that compulsory service is only tolerable in Britain if it is universal. I believe that those who have followed right up to the presentation of this Bill the development of the National Service scheme will have seen two features. Side by side with the lengthening of the period of service we have had inevitably to make more and more modifications in the scheme of call-up, which has made the scheme more and more widely open to evasion. If we had been able to have 2358 a scheme of National Service with a short period we could have had strict universality. We need not have exempted even mine workers. That would have been the best thing.
People would have agreed that that was just. Everybody without exception, save for those with conscientious objection, would have made the equal sacrifice. The more we have prolonged the period of compulsory service the more inevitably, for this reason of domestic hardship or for that economic reason, we have had to have more exemptions. We have had to have exemptions, with some classes getting out of the obligation altogether, and more and more complicated schemes of deferment. The result has been that some people, including some well-known people, have escaped altogether and there have been more and more evasions. As a result we have had a considerable increase in disquiet and the spreading of rumours about evasions of National Service such as have compelled the Minister to bring this Bill forward.
One of the subjects on which the Secretary of State for War has always played consistently, both in and out of office, has been that what we wanted in the Army was fewer men for a longer period. He did not want more men or more Bills in order to obtain more bodies for the National Service period. In fact, the only solution to the manpower problem of the Services, according to him, was to have fewer men for a longer period. That is what we would have supposed the Service authorities would have been tackling all the time up to the introduction of the Bill. They should have been tackling the problem of reducing the period of National Service and moving towards the abolition of National Service, as the nation has been consistently promised, every time the period has been lengthened it has been said that it was only temporarily and for an emergency and that everybody wanted to get rid of compulsory service altogether.
The responsibility lay on the Service authorities to produce constructive proposals to move towards the abolition of National Service, which was simply accepted by the citizenry as a temporary measure. They were supposed to do so on the policy put forward by the Secretary of State for War of obtaining fewer men for longer. That would enable us 2359 gradually to sweep away this increasingly anomalous scheme of call-up, with all its variations of regulations and provisions for exemptions and deferments.
What progress has been made along those lines? That is what we should be considering, instead of considering a Bill to call up a very few more men for a very short period. It is about time that the Government and the House listened to one or two of the things which are said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). It is no good the Secretary of State for War intervening in a speech in this debate to pretend that the facts to which my hon. Friend has recently given publicity are not correct. Those are facts given by the Minister himself. The figure that was attempted to be foisted on my hon. Friend about those who signed on for three years and who now have, or have not, decided to prolong their service was given by the Minister himself, and I understand that he refuses to give any more recent figure.
§ Mr. Head
As this is an important point, and one which has received a great deal of publicity, may I just make it quite clear, once again, that the figure given was the figure asked for; that is, how many three-year men had prolonged? The answer was 484. I never gave any other figure. It was left with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) to apply that figure to the total number who joined for three years between the November and the following March. It is totally misleading to apply that figure to a large number of men whose service has not yet terminated.
§ Mr. Swingler
Nevertheless, we should stick very strictly to the figure which the Minister gave, which was that of 13,000 men having the opportunity to prolong their service during a period ranging from November, 1951, to September, 1954, I think—
§ Mr. Swingler
Yes—only 484 men signing on for three years' service, who could, since that time, have prolonged their service—that is, in the period given by my hon. Friend—I beg pardon, from November, 1951, to March, 1952.
§ Mr. Swingler
Of the men who signed on for three years in that four-month period—so that it dates from March, 1952—only 484 out of a total of 13,000 decided to prolong their service. I think that my hon. Friend is entitled to say, from that, that the policy of persuading men, who signed on for three years—which, in fact gives the Minister only an extra year on what they would in any case have served under conscription—has not been highly successful.
§ Mr. Head
I think that the hon. Member may have been out of the House, but, as this has been given much publicity, I am glad to be able to try and explain the position. The only men in that bracket who could choose to prolong their service were those joining in November and part of December. During those two months the five-year engagement was running concurrently. If one takes November and December it will be seen that half, that is, 2,000, were on a three-year engagement, and half, or another 2,000, were on a five-year engagement. Therefore to take that section of 484 and say that it is applicable to all the rest, when a large proportion meant to stay in the Army on a five-year engagement, is entirely misleading, and an entirely wrong inference was drawn, whether deliberately or not, I do not know, by the hon. Member for Dudley.
§ Mr. Burden
On a point of order. Are we not getting a little wide of the debate? The terms of the Bill are closely drawn.
§ Mr. Wigg
As I have been attacked, I should have thought that I would at least be allowed to defend myself.
The basis of the test should be not in terms of numbers of men but of man—years. The figures are quite plain. The right hon. Gentleman himself is on record as saying, on 9th March, 1953, that the test would be that he had to get 33⅓ per cent. of the men who enlisted for three years—
§ Mr. Wigg
Both he and his Under-Secretary said that, on 9th March, 1953. They both said they wanted 33⅓ per cent. We have waited until the end of the three-year period, which started in November, 1951, and the first men would complete their three years in November, 1954. I asked how many men joined on a three-year engagement in the relevant period of November, 1951, to March, 1952. The answer was 13,000. I asked how many of that 13,000 had prolonged their engagement. The answer was 484. The right hon. Gentleman now claims credit for the five-year engagement—
§ Mr. Speaker
I really cannot allow an intervention of this length. The hon. Member has had his say. It may be the effect of not having been in bed last night, but my mind absolutely refuses to see any connection between the subject now being discussed and the scope of the Bill. I have said what the scope of the Bill is, and I hope that hon. Members will keep to that.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Do you now recognise, Mr. Speaker, the force of what I said at the outset of the debate; that what we should have is an inquiry into the whole matter?
§ Mr. Speaker
Certainly if an inquiry into wider aspects should take place it should be in some place other than in this House on a Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Swingler
I am sure that we all sympathise with you in the rigours of your task, Mr. Speaker. I realise that you have only just returned to the Chair. I was arguing, I think in line with some previous speakers, that we have to consider this Bill, which is, as the Minister of Labour has said, a Bill to call up an additional number of men under the National Service scheme, in relation to whether the Forces want an additional number of conscripts. Whether or not they want an additional number of conscripts can only be considered in relation to the number of volunteers they have, because, if they had more volunteers, they would not need so many conscripts.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. Member and I are at cross purposes here. This is not a Bill to call up an additional number of men. Its purpose is to extend 2362 the upper age limit for liability to National Service of men who, but for residence abroad, would normally be liable, under the existing Acts, to National Service. There is no extension of liability to call up.
§ Mr. Swingler
The Minister of Labour, in explaining the effects of the Bill, said that if it was not passed a certain number of men might be able to evade National Service by going abroad. It was necessary, therefore, for the House to pass the Bill in order to stop that leak, because otherwise a certain number of men who ought to do military service would not do it. He said that the effect of the Bill would be that those men who had been successfully evading their National Service would be called up, and that thereby we might get an additional 300 men.
The question is whether it is so important for the House to insist on those men not being able to evade their obligation. I submit to you, with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that one can only consider that—as a number of hon. Members have already done in this debate—in relation to the present state of the military forces and what manpower is really required for them.
§ Mr. Speaker
My recollection is different from that of the hon. Member. I heard the Minister introduce the Bill, and he did not do so on the grounds that he wanted more men compulsorily called up. He said that the National Service Acts were being evaded by a certain number of men, and that he wished to stop that loophole. But the reason which he advanced—and I am sure that, on recollection, the hon. Member will agree—was not that he wanted more men to serve, but that he wanted the burden of service to be shared more equally all round. That is quite a different proposition. I therefore do not think that a discussion on other forces raised by voluntary recruiting is in order on this Bill.
§ Mr. Swingler
Naturally, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Therefore, the question we have to argue is whether it is desirable that a certain number of men should evade National Service so that the Forces should have a lesser number of men called up. I am prepared to argue that, in view of the way in which this Government, and the previous Government, evaded their responsibility— 2363 because they did not strictly apply the National Service Acts—it is desirable now that a certain number of men should be able to evade the National Service Acts, because we know that the Forces do not require these men. They require a different type of man. I think that I have said sufficient, or provoked sufficient, to show that another sort of debate should have taken place today and not the one on this piddling Bill. It is clear—
§ Mr. Speaker
I would call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that this Bill is an Order of the Day, and that it is not an admissible argument to say that some other Order of the Day ought to have been discussed. This is the Order which we have to discuss.
§ Mr. Swingler
I think that I am right in saying, Sir, that you allowed my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to argue that there is a certain wastage of time of the House involved in considering Measures of this kind when there are so many more important issues which ought to be considered. I would merely say in passing that my reference to the statement of the Minister, just prior to your occupancy of the Chair, about these recruiting figures, in relation to what has been said in a previous speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, showed the great importance of considering this question of voluntary recruitment.
In view of the Ruling which you have given, Mr. Speaker, I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that there is no doubt that, having considered this Bill, which concerns such a very small number of men, it is extremely serious and urgent that the House should swiftly pass on to the consideration of issues involving a very much larger number of men, concerned with the manpower of the Forces. Nothing that the Secretary of State for War has said can conceal the fact that since, according to his own recent statement, the Army requires at the moment another 50,000 volunteers in order to make a six-month reduction in the period of National Service, the recruiting campaign for the Services has, to say the least, not been highly successful.
I feel, because we have to consider another Bill in relation to National Service, that we are entitled to demand 2364 that the Government should once again consider setting up a full-scale investigation into the National Service scheme by a committee of this House, or another committee which may be set up, before the inequality and injustice which is now involved in this system reaches disastrous proportions.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
The object of this Bill is to enmesh what my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who was the previous Minister of Labour, referred to as the "eels and butterflies." Of course, the responsibility is that of the War Office, but the Minister of Labour and National Service is left holding the baby—and the "eels and butterflies."
The Minister of Labour and National Service was told by the Secretary of State for War to "get his skates on" and to go after the racing motorists who are evading their National Service. That was the idea. But now we are told that the racing motorists are physically unfit for military service. They are not really the target of this Bill. The Government must be going after others less reputable than racing motorists.
We have reached a sorry pass when we have to search the highways and byways, send ferrets down funkholes, mobilise the rats to save the sinking ship, and gather the flotsam and jetsam from the streets, to make up the British Army. It is coming to a sad pass when it is necessary to bring a Bill before this House to do that. What an admission of failure on the part of the War Office and the Government, when they have, by this Bill, to bump up their figures by gathering up the scourings and scrapings. The old soldiers of 1911 with whom I served would weep tears of blood—
§ Mr. Burden
This Bill applies also to the Navy and the Air Force. There are very few "scourings" and not much "flotsam" and jetsam" in the Services, and I think that some of the adjectives of the hon. Gentleman are being used a little widely. There are not many of these people, and to imply that our Forces contain a great number of them, although people may be impressed by that sort of thing, is quite unwise.
§ Mr. Simmons
I am being entirely misrepresented by the hon. Member for 2365 Gillingham (Mr. Burden). I was making no reference at all to the men in the Forces. I was referring to the people whom this Bill is designed to enmesh, the people who ought to be in the Forces, and who are evading their responsibility. If the Government had an overall plan for Service manpower, these miserable little Bills would not be necessary.
When compulsory military service was, by legislation, continued after the end of the war, we all agreed that no one wanted it. No one was very enthusiastic about it. It was never envisaged as a permanent part of our national life. Here is a Bill to patch up military service. We believe that an Army raised by voluntary recruitment would be preferable to an Army of conscripts. I feel that if we go on having little Bills like this, piecemeal attempts to patch up a frayed garment, we shall have to wear it indefinitely, and in its present state it would soon be scrapped in the quartermaster's store.
So long as we have an obligation for the collective defence of Europe, we must have the necessary manpower, and I wish to ask what contribution is made by this Bill to getting that necessary manpower. If compulsory military service is to continue so long as it is necessary, we must have an efficient instrument. There is grave discontent regarding the administration of National Service. It may not be justified, but it does exist, and a Select Committee and an inquiry would clear the air. If instead, as in this Bill, of scrounging for scroungers, the Government initiated a general overhaul of National Service, we might be able to make it so attractive that National Service men would wish to become Regular soldiers. I think that is the way to deal with this problem. That is the real solution to the manpower problem in the Services.
Is the man aimed at by this Bill the kind of man we want in the Army? I ask the Secretary of State for War, does he really want in the Army the type of man which this Bill is designed to catch? Will such men make good soldiers? Will they enhance the prestige of the British Army? I think that it is all "poppycock" to insist that we need two years of National Service.
In 1911 I joined the Special Reserve Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, and we did six months' training, and a month 2366 at camp each year. All my 1911 comrades gave a darned good account of themselves when Kaiser Bill started his monkey tricks in 1914.
This Bill is a further pandering to the mental laziness and apathy of those who, having got a National Service Act on the Statute Book, have become so mentally retarded that they take the easiest way—that of enmeshing all and sundry, and hoping for the best. They are seeking to enmesh in the Army people who are trying to evade their service, and people who have not their hearts in the job.
Since the end of the war, all kinds of dodges have been tried to boost recruiting. In my young days we did not have bedside lamps, regimental "at homes," or "trick cyclists" to probe OUT inner minds, but the lads with whom I soldiered fought in a man's war, for the 1914–18 war was a man's war, not a machine war; and they gave a jolly good account of themselves, although they were only six-month soldiers. As long as we need soldiers we ought to have the best and not go after the scourings, as this Bill does.
It may be that since the war Governments have been concentrating on the wrong kind of incentives, so that men are evading the service which they are by law required to give. In 1911 we were only six-month soldiers, but we were taught the history and tradition of our regiment, and we became jealous of its honour and proud of its record. I feel that things of the spirit, the sense of vocation and service, are what we want to inculcate into men today, not only for military service but for general all-round service.
It is a bad spirit which is abroad that causes the need to discuss such a Bill as this—a spirit through which men evade their responsibilities and their duties. I want encouragement given to those men who are willing to serve the nation in the Armed Forces, and I believe that that can be done only by a thorough overhaul of the National Service system, a thorough inquiry into it, and, as soon as possible, a return to voluntary recruiting. If we had voluntary recruiting there would be no need for a Bill entitled "National Service," designed to sweep up the scourings, put them into the Army, and contaminate the good soldiers.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
At the beginning of the debate the Minister helped us by giving what he called an informed guess as to the number of men who might be affected by the Bill. He put it at about 300 men, or possibly one in a thousand of all the men who come under the review of the Ministry for this purpose. That informed guess was helpful because it enabled us to see the subject matter of the Bill in its proper proportion.
On the one hand, if that is something like the figure, it is quite clear that we need not alarm ourselves with the prospect that there is widespread or wholesale evasion of the law. On the other hand, although it is only a small loophole, it is clear that it is a loophole of sufficient size for us to give some consideration to it, although whether this Bill is quite the best way of doing it is still a matter for further discussion, and I dare say the Bill will be subject to amendment before the House has finished with it.
What sort of people is the Bill designed to catch? As my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) said, it is the "eel" and the "butterfly," or perhaps, in more general if less picturesque terms, people who put their pocket or their private enterprise before their duty to the community.
This is a Bill comparable with the kind of legislation and regulation which the late Government often had to introduce in the years of scarcity immediately after the war, because we were then faced with people who put their private convenience and their private pleasure before their obligation to share the burden of scarcity fairly among all members of the community. I hope that when they are supporting the Bill, Members of the party opposite may recall some of the language with which they attacked salutary and necessary regulations, made in the public welfare, during those years, because we have to remember that during those years the general line of propaganda of the Conservative Party was to present the country with a sort of caricature of liberty, and to depict it as the condition of a man who recognises no olbigation to his fellows and who looks after Number One and nobody else.
It was then suggested repeatedly in Conservative propaganda that there was 2368 something degrading and poor-spirited about the main who served the State. He was a serf, a stooge, a Mr. Puffington, and the person who could go out boldly and grab for himself was the kind of person who made England great; and people who were caught when breaking the law were held up by Conservative propaganda as martyrs to the cause of private enterprise.
I do not believe it is possible for a great party to conduct anti-patriotic propaganda of that kind for six years without it having some injurious effect on public morale, and if we have to consider the necessity of a Bill of this kind today, it is that type of propaganda which is partly responsible.
§ Mr. Stewart
The British people have a very fine record as a civilised, courageous and disciplined people, and not even the kind of stuff which the party opposite have been putting out for six years can produce very much effect. It is only recently, possibly only during the time that people like the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) have been closely associated with the party, that the Conservative Party has adopted this line.
There was a time when the Conservative Party, whatever other faults it had, stood for the belief that a man owed obligations to his country. The idea that the object of Conservative philosophy is to produce not a community but an assembly of individuals, each eager to fill his own pocket, is a comparatively recent development of Conservative thought.
§ Mr. Stewart
I was addressing myself to remarks made by the Minister of Labour at the beginning, when he pointed out that there were possibly 300 men who dodged their obligations. If there are no people of that kind, there is no point in the Bill at all.
I am addressing myself to the whole nature of the Bill, and I remind the hon. Member that we are not on the Committee stage, where we devote ourselves to a particular Clause. I am dealing with the Bill in general; that is what the Second Reading is for. I trust that the 2369 hon. Member will not interrupt me again, because I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House.
This Bill is a step towards greater universality of military service. Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that it is only a very tiny step in that direction, and I think it is proper to consider that, in trying to prevent this departure from universality, we may be ignoring others. We may be straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel. I admit at once that I cannot discuss the possible camels in any detail, or I should be out of order, but I might very briefly mention two by name.
If we are concerned with greater universality of National Service, then a Government who introduce a Bill of this kind ought at the same time to go further and give more consideration to the disparity in part-time service which now exists between young men in the Royal Air Force and young men who do their National Service in the Army. That is a rather bigger departure from universality than the one we are trying to cure by the Bill.
It should also be considered by any Government who introduce a Bill of this kind that if we introduce legislation to make service more universal, that is yet another occasion on which we might remind some of our Allies in N.A.T.O. that they do not make national service anything like as universal as ours. This country bears, perhaps, the heaviest burden, in terms of National Service, of the whole of the North Atlantic Alliance. I trust, therefore, that in introducing a Bill of this sort, the Government will bear those two points in mind.
We ought to ask ourselves the question that was put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). If the stage has come when we must have a Bill to prevent evasion, why is there this danger of evasion? Why do men seek to evade Army service, apart from the effects of Conservative propaganda which I mentioned earlier? If we were to make inquiry, we might see that there were things in the nature of present Army life which, perhaps, we could rectify, and that might be a more healthy way of preventing evasions than by further legislation and raising the age limit.
2370 If young men could be quite certain that their time in the Army would be used and not wasted, there would be less temptation to evasion and, possibly, the number of 300 men per year with whom the Bill is concerned might shrink considerably. We cannot prevent time-wasting in the Army by a single Act. There has to be a process of ceaseless vigilance by the Secretary of State, and from the Army Council right down, if wasting of time is to be prevented. This is one matter into which most stringent inquiry should be held.
The other question concerns the extent to which conditions in Army life are acceptable to a decent self-respecting man. Any episode that occurs which makes men feel that life in the Army is not consonant with self-respect is liable to tempt them to evasion and to swell the numbers of the 300 with whom the Bill is concerned.
§ Mr. Stewart
I will endeavour not to do so, Mr. Speaker.
We are here trying to prevent evasion by further legislation. It is often said in this House that it is better to persuade people to behave well than to penalise them for behaving badly. All that I was suggesting was that, side by side with legislation destined to catch the people who behave badly, it is desirable at the same time for the Government to consider why people behave badly, and whether they could not be helped to behave rather better in future.
The only point I wanted to make was to quote, merely as an example, that during the tenure of office of the present Secretary of State for War there have been a number of rather unfortunate episodes in the Army, which suggests that the necessity for keeping the Army, a civilised place has not been given sufficient regard by the right hon. Gentleman. One recent example occurred in the boys battalion. We are all very glad—
§ Mr. Stewart
It is a little comical, as soon as one begins to attack a Member of the Government Front Bench, how the hon. Member for Gillingham immediately tries to interrupt by a point of order.
The Secretary of State for War showed some understanding of the need to make the Army a civilised place which men will not want to evade when he appointed a committee of civilians to inquire into the incident in the boys' battalion, but it was a pity, when he decided to appoint a headmaster, that it had to be a rather elderly headmaster of a public school instead of a younger man from a secondary modern school.
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought I had made the position perfectly clear. I do not see how that is at all relevant to the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member will bring his mind back to the subject matter of the debate.
§ Mr. Stewart
The reason that I thought it was relevant is that the Bill is concerned with evasion from the Army. I suggest that the evasion of Army service occurs partly because incidents have arisen which suggests that life in the Army is not sufficiently civilised. I was merely quoting, and I had reached the end of one example. I am of opinion that the headmaster of a secondary modern school would have been more acquainted with the background of those boys, and would have been a more appropriate person.
§ Mr. Speaker
I could not allow the Minister to reply to a suggestion of that sort. In the interests of fair play, hon. Members should not raise topics of a controversial character to which no reply could be made within the bounds of order. That is my difficulty.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think perhaps the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) would be better employed in trying to persuade 20 more people to live in his constituency in order to bring it up to a reasonable size.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am very happy to say that I enjoy that opinion of the hon. Member for Battersea, South.
2372 I must not pursue this matter any further.
I conclude by saying that this Bill, dealing with Army evasion, causes all of us to think of the number of matters in Army life which overwhelmingly reinforce the plea that has been made today, as so often from these benches, for a full inquiry into the working of the National Service Acts and Regular recruiting.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
It seems to me that the chief interest in this Bill, which is certainly a small one, is that it is a symptom of what I am afraid many of us believe is the growing difficulty of administering and conducting the National Service Acts as they are today. The first of these symptoms was the recent Bill which attempted to deal, incidentally, with the very serious fact which had emerged that the immense majority of Royal Air Force National Service men escape their entire reservist obligation. Here we have another small Measure dealing with another anomaly, a smaller one affecting a very limited number of men who are seeking to evade National Service altogether by living abroad.
When we are given these figures, though they are very small, being merely 300 or about .1per cent. of the class of the year, I suppose, we should remember that this form of evasion is open only to a very small number and a very small percentage of National Service men—those, in fact, with private means.
§ Mr. Watkinson indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Strachey
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but it is very much easier to go abroad if one has private means than if not. I think that is an irrefragable statement. Though I am thankful to say that there is so far only a small number of those who are able to adopt this form of evasion, I would suggest that it is an appreciable number, and, in saying that, I am lending support to the Minister who introduced the Bill. If it were not an appreciable number, it would not be worth doing, and I for one have no objection to the principle of the Bill. If I had, I should vote against it, but neither I nor any of my hon. and right hon. Friends are going to vote against it, for that reason.
2373 We are, however, profoundly concerned to point out that, as we have pointed out all day in rather different ways and from different points of view, though completely united in purpose, this Bill is a symptom of the ever-growing difficulty of the position of the National Service Acts today. The system is being more and more shot through with anomalies, and is losing more and more its principle of even-handed justice and universality, on which it seems to us to be absolutely indispensable to base it.
I could not agree more with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). It is the case that, as the years go by and as the international situation changes, the task of keeping a two-year period of National Service in this country becomes ever more difficult. I agreed very much with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) when he said that it is the duration of the service and its two-year character which very largely gives rise to all these difficulties. It necessitates much dislocation in the life of whole classes of people such as merchant seamen, agricultural workers and the like.
It puts a very high premium upon acts of evasion such as those with which we are attempting to deal in the Bill, and if it goes on—not to meet a national emergency, for which it was introduced, but as a permanent part of our national life—I am afraid that the House will find itself confronted upon occasion after occasion with the necessity to try to patch up and stop leaks, and adjust the system in this way and in that way. I fear that those attempts will not be very successful.
I emphasise that it is the prolonged period of two full years, which seems to have become a permanent part of our national life, which is the root cause of the difficulty, one small part of which the Bill seeks to deal with. I recall to the House the fact that when the two-year period of National Service was introduced by my right hon. Friend and myself we were at great pains, in repeated statements, to say that the two-year period was not to be regarded as a permanent part of the system, but was to meet the emergency of the Korean war 2374 and must be regarded as of an essentially temporary nature. The years go on, and I think that we are all inclined to drift into the position of regarding this as a permanent system. It is because of this fact that these difficulties arise.
I was not one of those who thought that we could reduce the period of National Service while we had the full burden of our overseas commitments. That did seem impossible to me. But the Government, rightly in my opinion—after saying for many years that it was impossible—greatly reduced those overseas commitments, and I take the view that the time is now over-ripe to do what my right hon. Friend pressed for today, and a year ago, which is to have an inquiry into the whole workings of the National Service Acts, with a view especially to the reduction of the period of National Service. I regard that as the key to meeting all the anomalies which we shall otherwise have to meet by Measures of this sort.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not pursue that matter too far. I feel it my duty to remind hon. Members that the period of National Service is laid down by the Acts of 1948 and 1950, and we cannot discuss it in too great detail. It is permissible to say that this may have some influence upon the necessity for the Bill, but we cannot go further into the matter.
§ Mr. Strachey
I fully appreciate your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, which, in a nutshell, puts the point which I wish to make. It is impossible to discuss the merits of these adjustments in the nature of National Service without making some reference to the period of National Service, because evasion of a six months' period of National Service is a totally different thing from evasion of a two years' period, and the House would find it appropriate to provide quite different remedies for each case.
§ Mr. Speaker
Whether or not the Bill is passed by the House, it make no difference to the period of National Service as laid down by law. While it is proper to refer to the period of National Service, it is not permissible to go into the merits of the matter, because it is covered by another set of Acts.
§ Mr. Strachey
I fully appreciate that fact, Mr. Speaker. Your Ruling has clarified the point I wished to make more fully than I should have been able to do. However it affects the rules of this House and your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I cannot pretend that it does not seem to me to be the essence of the matter which is before the House today. For the rest, I would ask Ministers present, especially the Ministers for the Service Departments, not to overlook the other aspect which we have discussed very fully today—that of the difficulties of manpower in general. That must be related to the shape of the defence forces and the defence situation in general of which this is a very tiny segment and a very tiny part of the general considerations.
I think that sometimes Ministers show some impatience at the language used by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, and feel that he is engaging in hyperbole when he describes the situation of manpower in the Army. I think that my hon. Friend is on good ground when he asks them to "wait and see." It may be, and I hope it is not so, but the figures look to me as if it will be in a few months' time, that they will find that there is at any rate an element of substance in what he has been saying. I would agree that we cannot prove it, and we shall not be able to do so until about next March, but then we shall know what the situation is, and I think that it is unwise to brush off these Cassandra-like predictions of my hon. Friend as entirely unfounded, 'because the Government may find that they have been premature in doing so.
These were the two essential matters which seemed to me to be brought up by this small Measure. As I have said, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington has said, we have no objection to the Measure in itself; in fact, I think that it would be wrong not to deal in some way with the element of evasion which has grown up. Granted the National Service system as it is, the period of National Service as it is, no doubt this Bill is necessary, but we regard it as a symptom of the growing difficulties which the perpetuation of National Service on a two-year period in this situation is leading the country, and as one more symptom of the imperative need to yield to the demand which we began to put forward over 12 months ago—the need for full 2376 inquiry into the National Service Acts with a view to a reduction in the period of service.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I think that I can best answer the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and, indeed, most of his colleagues who have spoken in this debate, by congratulating them on keeping so much quite irrelevant argument within the rules of order. Whilst I have sat here admiring the ingenuity of their arguments—some of which I may be able to turn to account myself one day—it has not left me a great deal to answer on the subject of this Bill.
However, there were points bearing on the Bill, and I shall endeavour to answer those as briefly as I can. I must answer, first, the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, when he said that this was a fiddling little Bill. That has been the theme of several other speakers. That, however, misses the point altogether, because the reason why my right hon. and learned Friend has come to this House and introduced this Bill has nothing to do with the size of the Bill, nothing to do with the numbers involved as such.
It is quite right to answer the hon. Members who have raised this point by saying that, as nobody passes out of liability until 1st January, 1955, for National Service, it is at this moment impossible to say how many people will evade service and how many will not, because the relevant date does not arise until 1st January next year. The figure of 300 which my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned is the best guess that we can make.
That, however, is not the point. The point is, as both my right hon. and learned Friend and I have said in the House a good many times, that the whole fabric of the National Service system rightly rests on the belief of everybody in this country that it is fair, that it is equally applied, that it does not allow backdoors for rich or poor men to escape their justifiable obligations. That is the reason why we have brought in this Bill, and I am surprised that no hon, or right hon. Member on the other side of the House has taken that point, because that is the crux of the whole matter.
2377 How could we, in a free country like this, maintain National Service, how could we in justice allow this burden on young men—which may mean their going abroad, which may mean an interruption in their careers, and means all the distasteful things we in the Ministry have to do in regard to call-up—if people were not quite satisfied that it is regular, just, and equally applied? I stress this, because I hope I carry the House with me when I put it to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that I am quite sure that they did not mean, in any of their speeches, to imply that National Service is not being equally, justly, and fairly applied. If they did mean that, perhaps they will interrupt me to say so.
§ Mr. Wigg
I should like to make it perfectly clear that the original intention of this House was that National Service should be equally and fairly applied. Under force of circumstances, however, we have reached the point where a young man who serves in the Royal Air Force is at a considerable advantage compared with a young man who serves in the Army or the Navy.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I was coming to that point raised by the hon. Member, but I would first deal with that raised by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). I am glad he raised the question of medical grading. I shall not go back again over the one case I think he had in mind. My right hon. and learned Friend dealt with it in an interjection. I would say only that there are, after all, two sides to every case, and it is just as important to be fair to the man who is debarred from doing National Service by reason of health after specialist examination as it is to be fair to the general public opinion on this matter. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not disagree with that.
On the general question of medical examination I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what I am sure he will remember, that not very long ago my right hon. and learned Friend carried out a very searching examination into the medical boards, and into the general question of medical examination. He and I went round the country visiting boards, and saw them at work. We found it necessary to make only one or two very minor alterations in procedure, and we were then, and are now, quite satisfied 2378 that a man who goes to a medical board gets as fair a deal as it is possible to give him.
Where there is some conflict of opinion or some difficulty he goes to a specialist; and he has also the chance of going back to the board again. I thank the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for saying that he thought the medical boards were fair and just. I think that they are, and I think it only right to say so, as the right hon. Gentleman raised that question.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I wonder if it would be possible in some way at some time to indicate how this grading is done? We Members of Parliament have to answer our constituents' questions when our constituents cannot understand why they are called up, despite the disabilities they have in civil life, and we should like to be able to answer them.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I respond to the right hon. Gentleman by saying that, although I will not trouble the House with it now, because we are already working overtime, I will send him—
§ Mr. Watkinson
I was thinking of the earlier occasion.
I have the gradings here, but I do not want to read them out and so detain the House. I would mention grade 4, however, because that is relevant to the individual case which the right hon. Gentleman raised. Grade 4 is composed of those who suffer from progressive organic disease, or are for other reasons permanently incapable of the kind or degree of exertion required for grade 3. Grade 3 also, in part, allows exemptions. There are 50,000 men in grades 3 and 4, of whom we took only 7,000 men in grade 3 regarded as suitable for certain sedentary duties.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
Would the hon. Gentleman mind placing copies in the Library for the use of hon. Members? I am sure that my right hon. Friend's problem is shared by many of us.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I hope that hon. Members will not pursue that point now. It is beyond the scope of the debate.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, and will certainly do so.
There are one or two other detailed points which I will try to answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) and other hon. Members inquired about the position of merchant seamen. I can best answer the point by giving an assurance that no action will be taken under the Bill in respect of a merchant seaman who stays in the Merchant Navy up to the age of 26. In other words, if he discharges his obligations under the main Act up to the age of 26, the Bill is not designed to catch him above that age.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Of course. That also applies to one or two other detailed classes who get some relief from National Service, such as coalminers and agricultural workers, in respect of whom the provisions of the main Act are not disturbed.
The hon. Member for Dudley raised a very important point which I must answer. Apart from a lot of matters which were certainly not ones for me to deal with, and which, I suspect, really had nothing to do with the Bill at all, he said one thing which bears on National Service as a whole. He stated that we as a Government had departed from the principle of universality. That is quite untrue, of course. The actual point on which he raised the issue was not one for me, but it refers to a certain number of airmen who are now going into Civil Defence—he would be a brave man today who would say that Civil Defence is not a very necessary Service in time of war—and there are others who, I understand from my right hon. and learned Friend, will be used in other ways. I am sure that the hon. Member did not mean that, in calling up young men for National Service, we had departed from the tradition of his Government and our Government of complete and utter impartiality as between one man and another.
§ Mr. Wigg
It may well be that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House in the early stages of my speech, but I went out of my way to make it clear that I 2380 did not charge hon. Gentlemen opposite personally with having been unfair. What I said was that, under the pressure of circumstances, they had reached a point when the principle of universality had been departed from in that Royal Air Force reservists are not required to do their Reserve training, and thus enjoy a marked advantage over men serving in the Army and the Navy.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am not dealing with that point. I am dealing with the duty of my Ministry to call up young men for National Service. I take it that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that we are in any way unfair, or treating the men unequally.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is a point of substance. As I tried to make clear at the outset, we are not placing the responsibility on the Ministry of Labour and National Service. It is clear that the Ministry has to carry out the provisions of the law. The trouble is that the anomalies which have been created by the difficulties in the Service Departments have forced the Ministry of Labour to present the Bill. That is our case. We say that to some extent the principle 48 universality has been violated.
Perhaps I might explain that. In the case of the Air Force, the Ministry has departed from the original purpose of the principal Act. The Parliamentary Secretary was not in the House in 1946 and 1947, when the original Measures were introduced. The purpose of the original Act was to provide a large body of reservists for the Forces—not for Civil Defence. Now it has been discovered—perhaps the hon. Gentleman is right when he says it is essential—that men are required for Civil Defence. Indeed, I believe we shall discover that more and more men will be required for that service instead of for the Forces.
Surely the right thing for the Government to have done in those circumstances was not to have dealt with the matter piecemeal, but to have come forward with an entirely new National Service Act, making it quite clear that not only men in the Royal Air Force should be seconded or transferred to the Civil Defence organisation, but that everybody called up under the Act should be in the same position.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I admire the right hon. Gentleman for pursuing his attack on National Service as a whole even in an interjection to a speech of mine, which is dealing with the call-up and a very narrow point on the call-up. I do not blame him if he can get away with it, but it has nothing to do with the case at all.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Universality when the men are called up and enlisted properly in the Forces. That is a very different matter to the universality of the National Service call-up. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Dudley are trying to confuse the issue in what I accept is a quite legitimate attempt to pursue this afternoon a sort of backdoor attack on the whole principle of National Service, and the length of National Service in particular.
§ Mr. Shinwell
There is a misunderstanding, and I think I ought to clear it up. Under the National Service Acts men are called up to undertake 18 months' service, now two years, with the Colours, and then there is a 3½-year period of Territorial or auxiliary force service. That is part of the principle of universality, and applies to everybody. The Royal Air Force have found it impossible to employ the men during that 3½-year period in the Reserve, and they have been allocated to Civil Defence. That is the position, and I say the same principle should apply throughout to the men in the other Services as well as the R.A.F., or not at all.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am not pursuing that point at all.
Perhaps I may put quite frankly to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and just explain again, if I may, the point that I am pursuing. I do not apologise for saying it again, because I believe the success of the National Service Acts rests on the fact that if a young man is called up—and although he is called up by my Ministry he is, of course, called up by the act of the Government as a whole—he can be satisfied that he is equally treated with every other young man; and that there is no loophole available to the rich man, the specially-trained man, or anyone of that sort, to avoid conscrip- 2382 tion. In other words, he can feel that he is having a square deal, in line with everybody else. I see I carry the right hon. Gentleman with me in that, and that is as far as I want to go. The other matter is something which the right hon. Gentleman can pursue on another occasion. It is certainly not one for me to deal with.
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) asked me three specific questions, and I want to answer them briefly. I have already answered his point about the Merchant Service. That brings me to the Kenya Regiment. This Bill would apply where there was service in any other military force in the Commonwealth, as my right hon. and learned Friend has explained.
A man may be called up, and serve, in the Kenya Regiment. He then comes back to this country, having performed certain service in Kenya, and finds himself liable to the provisions of the main Act, or to the one that we are discussing now. That service will be administratively set off against whatever service he is called upon to perform here. I cannot say what the extent of the set-off will be as that will depend on individual cases, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman would like me to look at an individual case, I will do so.
The hon. and learned Gentleman then asked me about the position of Northern Ireland. This Measure applies to men who go to Northern Ireland, as to any other part, and, therefore, there is no possibility of any evasion of the Act or any difference in treatment between men who go to Northern Ireland and men in England. I think that answers the three points.
§ Mr. Bing
But the people of Northern Ireland are not liable to be called up and, therefore, this question only arises when it is made a condition of receiving unemployment assistance in Northern Ireland that they should come to this country. Probably the position is clear, but it is something which needs looking at.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I will certainly look at it, but a man cannot evade liability for National Service by going to Northern Ireland. I will undertake to look at the point.
2383 I do not want to delay the House further, and I think I have answered the specific points which are relevant to the Bill. I pass over those which are irrelevant.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I think they are irrelevant to this Measure, and had better be pursued on some other occasion. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that National Service should be shortened—or something like that—it is not a matter for me; but it can be pursued later.
I have answered the specific points put on this Measure. I repeat that it is aimed at one purpose which is important to the entire issue of National Service. It is an important purpose in any free country, namely, that if men are called upon to make a sacrifice, if they are called upon to interrupt their careers, and, in some cases, to undergo great risk and hardship, they ought only to do that in circumstances which leave no doubt that there is no risk of their being unfairly treated, or of anybody else escaping the obligation. It is for that reason we have brought the Bill before the House, and it is in that spirit that I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).