House Of Commons
Friday, 31st March, 1939.
The House met at Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.
Sea Fisheries Provisional Order (Tolles-bury and West Mersea) Bill,—
Read the Third time, and passed.
Oral Answer To Question
(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he can make any statement on the European situation?
Yes, Sir, but I would prefer to make the statement later in the day, and, if it were convenient to close the business shortly before the House rises, I would reply to the right hon. Gentleman then.
I feel quite sure, in view of the gravity of the situation, that nobody would wish to press the Prime Minister to make a statement until he thinks it is possible; but may I ask him whether, in view of the wild rumours which are floating round, he can say a little more about that, to allay any further rumours; and whether he can give some approximate time when it would be convenient for him to make a statement?
I should anticipate that I would be in a position to make a statement shortly before three o'clock this afternoon. With regard to the rumours to which the right hon. Gentleman has just alluded, I am aware of them, but they are not confirmed by any official information in my possession, and the Government must not be taken to accept them as true.
Orders Of The Day
Army And Air Force (Annual) Bill
Considered in Committee.
[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
Clauses 1, 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 4—(Billeting Of Vehicles In Emergency)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
As this Clause is an Amendment of the Army Act, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will explain just what is its meaning? As far as I can make out, the Clause deals with the billeting of mechanised vehicles, and there is a schedule of prices for that billeting. This is a totally new thing, due to the fact that the mechanised Army is using vast numbers of vehicles of various kinds, and it may lay a heavy burden upon certain people. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would explain upon what basis the prices have been fixed, and what call may be made upon certain people with garages in view of the large number of vehicles now used by the Army. If he will give that explanation, I shall be very much obliged.
The object of the Clause is, as the hon. Gentleman says, to enable vehicles to be billeted in any building or on any land when a state of emergency exists. The classes of vehicles which may be billeted, and the prices to be paid for billeting, are to be prescribed in regulations made by the Army Council with the consent of the Treasury. The payment will be fixed in accordance with the classification of the size of the vehicles, and the normal rates will be paid, except where land is vacant land, in which case, of course, no payment of compensation will arise. I do not think that any hardship will be placed upon anybody, because we shall pay what is just and fair in an emergency in which the country has to be protected and the soldiers have to be moved.
May I ask a further question? I suppose that in these cases advance notice will be given to the people who have garages which it may be necessary to take over? One can imagine that in travelling say, from the North to the South, unless proper notice is given, an extraordinary demand might be made on some persons for the space at their disposal, particularly in view of the fact that, in a time of emergency, there may be a great call upon the space at the disposal of these people for private vehicles. It would, therefore, be desirable to give, if possible, considerable advance notice.
:I think it has been one of the features of military administration never to do any acts which cause annoyance to the general public, and it will be our desire to give notice wherever that is possible; but of course the hon. Gentleman will understand that in an emergency one cannot always be so mindful of private interests as one would normally be. Naturally, it would be our desire to take into account all the difficulties that might arise, and to inform in advance those who might be expected to put up these vehicles.
:I think the prices to be paid under this Clause are covered by the Schedule on page 8 of the Bill. If that is so, I take it that these maximum prices will not be paid in every case, but only the prices which the billeting officers consider appropriate to the accommodation provided?
Yes, Sir, that will be so.
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Clause 5—(Amendment Of Schedule Ii Of Army Act)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
I think the right hon. Gentleman might give us some explanation of this Clause which I understand is a new provision dealing with the meals of the soldiers. I gather that the general reason for it is that new arrangements have been made, which are very satisfactory to the soldier, who now gets tea and supper in addition to the meals that used to be provided.I understand that that makes some difference in the arrangements that have to be made for billeting. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has looked closely at the charges that are to be made. The charge laid down in the Schedule for billeting is 10d. a night for the first soldier, and 8d. a night for each additional soldier. For breakfast, the charge is 8d.; for dinner, 11d.; and for tea, 3d. I wonder what kind of tea the soldier is to get for 3d. He is not going to get a mixed grill, say a sort of high tea. For supper, the charge is to be 5d. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to say what is the intention in respect to billeting arrangements of this kind, and to explain why the amending Clause is put in on this occasion.
The hon. Member has already explained why it is necessary to revise the prices to be paid. Soldiers are: now better fed, and provided with a meal extra. That is an alteration since the previous Schedule was drawn up. The hon. Gentleman will realise that we have raised the prices in all cases. The price previously paid for breakfast was 7d.; it is now 8d. The price for dinner has gone up, and tea has been added; it was not in the previous Schedule. Supper, of course, is an additional meal. Prices are based on what is conceived to be the approximate retail cost plus a margin; and the margin has been increased in every case. It is very difficult to lay down in an Act of Parliament a precise schedule. That is one of the difficulties of proceeding in this manner, but it is thought that the increased prices should be an adequate compensation to those who have the privilege of offering hospitality to soldiers in an emergency.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to breakfast and dinner. Does he mean breakfast and lunch? "Dinner" is interpreted in different counties to mean different meals at different times of the day. I know that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be prepared to welcome all sorts of interjections to-day, and to give elaborate explanations. If the soldier is to be billeted in an ordinary house and given tea, I see that 3d. is allowed. If that is the ordinary afternoon tea—a cup of tea and a look at a piece of cake—no doubt that will be enough, but if it means tea as it is taken in Yorkshire, where it is regarded as the most important meal, perhaps, of the day —a high tea—I should like to know what the lady is going to provide for 3d. Much has been said recently about people not being able to cook, providing too much out of a tin can, and that sort of thing. Whether the tea is to come out of a tin can or a butcher's shop, it is still a mystery how it can be provided for this price.
I do not know how advantageous it is to the Committee for one to delay as long as one can over the culinary proceedings of the Army. In the case of breakfast, we are adding one ounce of butter and one ounce of marmalade to what was previously in the Schedule. In the case of dinner we are adding two ounces of potatoes, eight ounces of other vegetables, and four ounces of pudding, t do not know how the housewives are going to calculate this precisely, but I am sure it will be done satisfactorily. From the old Schedule two ounces of meat and three ounces of bread are being subtracted, to compensate for the additional provisions I have described. I quite agree that the use of the word "dinner" creates a feeling of class-consciousness, and that what some people call dinner more respectable people are in the habit of calling lunch (HON MEMBERS: "Respectable!") —people who consider themselves more respectable. We still use the word "dinner" in the case of the Army to mean a substantial meal. For tea, which is an additional meal, we are providing for one pint of tea, two ounces of jam, and four ounces of bread; and for supper, we are adding four ounces of meat, which we are taking away, to some extent, from the dinner. From this meal two ounces of bread and two ounces of cheese are being subtracted, to compensate for the addition of the meat.That, roughly, is the bill of fare to be provided for the soldier. It is on a more liberal scale than has prevailed before, and I think experience will show that those who receive the soldiers in their homes will treat them well. It has generally been found that when soldiers have been subjected to these sudden moves the population has been most hospitable and generous. I do not want to describe in fuller detail how the soldiers will eat these meals. I realise that in different parts of the country different habits prevail, and the soldier may have different articles of food according to whether he finds himself in Yorkshire or in Sussex, but on the whole I am sure he will be well treated.
I feel that it is rather a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) is not here, as only he could do adequate justice to the scale of rations or feeding arrangements laid down in this Clause. I would like to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that in many cases, probably, soldiers may be billeted in quite small houses, with perhaps one or two soldiers at the most in the house. I am wondering whether the housewife in such case will be adequately paid by the scale of prices laid down in the Schedule. I believe that the rations which the soldier gets now are adequate, but I am not quite sure whether he will be able to get the same type or quantity of food when he is billeted in private houses under the prices laid down in the Schedule. For instance, what is intended by the provision of supper? The right hon. Gentleman lays down the sum of 5d. for the payment of that meal, and it is proveded in Sub-section (1, d) that supper shall consist of a certain quantity of bread, one pint of tea with milk and sugar and four ounces of meat.I am very conversant with the supper of a lot of people—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that they are respectable people—but I believe that there is a large section of the community that has fish and chips for supper. I wonder what amount of fish and chips one would get for 5d.? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can elucidate this point, but, if they are to get milk and bread in addition, is it possible for the ordinary housewife to provide a meal of this nature and substance for 5d.? I really do not think so. What I wish to do is to provide proper feeding arrangements for the troops when they are in billets, but at the same time the Committee should not lose sight of the fact that we ought to recompense the civil population, who, under the Army law, are bound to provide these arrangements, in time of emergency. And I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has been liberal enough in the scale of prices which he has laid down in the Schedule for the provision of meals specified in this Clause.
I appreciate the force of the point which has been put by the hon. Member for Bassettlaw (Mr. Bellenger). As I said before, it is extremely difficult to lay down exact prices in the Schedule, particularly when prices vary. It has been our desire to pay what is adequate and proper without, of course, rendering the soldier liable to any exploitation. The hon. Gentleman asks me a very intimate question as to how much fish and chips I could get for 5d. I can assure him that I could get more than I want.
Where does the right hon. Gentleman make his purchases?
My purchases, unfortunately, are made vicariously and I cannot speak with authority on the subject. I wish that I could. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell the Committee exactly how much fish and chips you can get for 5d. I imagine that it is dependent to some extent on proximity to a coastal town. I understand that there is a certain amount of cheaper fish provided on occasions from the supplies in seaports; I am speaking subject, of course, to expert advice.
May I, as an expert, tell the right hon. Gentleman that as a rule, the nearer you are to the sea, the less fish you get.
It appears to me that tea will constitute a good deal of the ingredients of these meals in the day, probably at breakfast, the tea meal and again at supper time, and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will use his apparently great influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25th April to drop the Tea Duty.
My contribution to this discussion will be a very brief one, but I would like to suggest that on this side of the Committee, and, I believe, on the other side as well, there is an impression that these scales are not over-generous; in any event, if they are to be agreed to, we on this side hope that the Government will take whatever steps they can so that, at the time when these scales will more largely operate, that is, in days of emergency, there will be a control placed upon the raising of prices. That is really fundamental. The scales at the moment are not over-generous, but in time of emergency, or at least in time of war, there will be the likelihood that rising prices will have a great effect, and I hope that the Government will use all the influence they can to restrain prices.
Really the hon. Gentleman, in a gallant effort, has gone rather over the fence which is the boundary of what is legitimate in this Debate.
Thank you, Sir Dennis, for the indulgence you have shown to me.
These Schedules represent a very considerable improvement for the serving soldier on what has been the practice hitherto, but I am sure that if any general billeting has to take place, the men will be received in the homes of the working classes of the country in the same way as they were in 1914. At that time I happened to be a billeting N.C.O. on No. 1 line of communications, and I never had any difficulty about securing accommodation for the men, or for securing that they should get the food laid down in the Schedule that then existed. I do not know that the housewife ever troubled about the Schedule. The men were taken into the home, and they had the same meals as the rest of the family. That is one reason why I regret to see brought into the Schedule the word "margarine" that is always pronounced in this House differently from what the housewife calls it. She always sounds the "g" soft, as in "gentleman."I also regret with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) that the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) is not here this morn- ing, because I am sure he would have been most eloquent on that point. In those families which the right hon. Gentleman may not regard as respectable, but which are very well conducted, and where the amount of income is not very high, I am sure that it would be regarded as lowering the standard of living to put margarine on the table for tea. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that, in very few cases in actual practice, where men are billeted on working class families, will margarine be served with the third meal of the day. I am sure that in nearly every case they will get butter. If the soldiers have the misfortune to be billeted in a large house and are expected to take their meals with the domestic servants, they may then be relegated to margarine, but I am quite sure that no working class housewife is going to ask the soldier to accept margarine with any meal of the day. I think it is a very great advantage that the meat served during the day is spread out. So far as the soldiers who are billeted with working class families are concerned, I do not think the Schedule matters. The soldier will get at least what is in the Schedule, and in most cases he will get everything that is regarded in the family as being appropriate at each meal. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider the allowance of 3d. decided upon as the appropriate fee for the tea meal, because I do not think in many cases it will represent anything that will be adequate remuneration for the housewife. The improved bill of fare and the greater range will be a great advantage to the soldier and will make the task of billeting even easier than in the past.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has assured the right hon. Gentleman that we are not straining at a gnat in this matter. If, unfortunately, the need to billet the soldiers should occur there can be no doubt whatever, as my hon. Friend said, the men would be received warmly in the homes of this country, as my hon. Friend said, some of the best and pleasantest memories which the soldiers had of the last unfortunate War were those relating to the way in which they were received in the homes of the people, and the friendships they made up and down the country. I know one officer in this House, a born Cockney, who usually salutes me in what some hon. Members from down south regard as a strange dialect. It is the Northumbrian dialect. The officer can speak the dialect perfectly, and that is because he happened to be billeted with some Northumbrian miners. He never loses an opportunity of speaking warmly of that occasion and the memories he has of that time. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has put this point. We have not raised this matter to-day because of the particular prices fixed, but rather because we want to take the opportunity of saying that if the soldiers have to be billeted there can be no doubt whatever of the treatment they will receive and the reception that will be given to them in the homes of the people.
There is a great change nowadays in the way in which the Army is fed compared with what was the position a few years ago. I can speak from experience of my own Territorial battalion. When they go to camp on their own and when they go at Easter to the Regular Army—this year they are going to the Irish Guards—I know how much they appreciate the food they receive and how they come away-admiring the food served to the soldiers at the present time. I am sure that it is a very great recruiting asset, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that has been done in this connection. There is only one further point to which I should like to direct his attention, and that is that there are times of emergency, or unusual times, when his Department might be a little more elastic in their scales and money allowances. Sometimes we receive orders to make a special move, orders to mobilise or to call up key men, and then we have to go through the interminable process of getting rations and money for the people who have been called up. It is not his Department that is at fault so much as the people with whom we are always striving, namely, the finance departments.I am full of admiration for the normal scales, but if my right hon. Friend could arrange that in such times of emergency there should be more elasticity and prompter attention shown by the authorities, it would be very much appreciated by commanding officers and others who have to deal directly with the men. The food is excellent, but I should like my right hon. Friend to pay a little attention to some of the utensils, particularly where the Territorial soldiers are concerned. I will mention one matter only, and that is the kind of mug out of which the Territorials have to drink in camp. They are all respectable men who in their own homes are used to drinking out of a cup with a handle, and they would like to have the same type of utensils in the Army, instead of something that looks as if it had been thrown out of a Borstal institution.
I appreciate the very generous words used by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). It is an undisputed fact that the soldier always has most pleasant recollections of his sojourn with private families under conditions of emergency, and many friendships are formed which make the Army better understood by the civilian population and vice versa. I was glad to hear from the hon. Member for South Shields that he thinks the Schedule-is an improvement. I share his abhorrence of the word "margarine," but there it is, and it keeps spreading itself into our discussions. I should be the first to welcome the day when some more popular substitute is found. The word "butter" does also come in, although it does not attract the same attention. In section 5 of the Schedule, while the precise list is given it is indicated that the provision should be substantially equivalent to what is here specified. I do not know whether or not margarine is substantially equivalent to butter, but I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields that most housewives will not hesitate to provide butter. Nobody knows the life of the soldier better than the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, and I am glad that attention has been called to-day to the better conditions under which he lives and the better meals that are now provided for him. I will certainly inquire into the suggestions made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara). The point about the mug had not been brought to my notice before. I did not know there was any feeling of discomfort attached to temporary use of a mug in the place of a cup.
It is not so much a mug. The tea is dished up in an open pail more like a soup tureen than a mug.
I accept what my hon. and gallant Friend says, because he has intimate experience of this utensil, and I will see whether we can find some substitute for it. As regards the better provision of kitchen equipment, crockery and other facilities for the meals of the Regular and the Territorial soldier, I will see at once what improvements can be made; but under the aegis of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) a vast expenditure is now being incurred to provide the soldier with something which will rival what is in use in the best modern kitchens. I was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member's reference to the Irish Guards and to the advantages which the Territorials had received from association with them. The new experience which they are about to have will possibly suggest further improvements which I have no doubt will be communicated to me by the hon. and gallant Member in due course. I thank the Committee for the kindly words they have used about the soldier.
I should like the Secretary of State for War to give us some assurance in connection with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara), as to more elasticity in the amount of grant allowed when soldiers are billeted on civilians. I have lived in various parts of the world, but I have never had the opportunity of being billeted in England. During the crisis a number of men were billeted close to my home, but they had no food and no utensils, and the amount of food which they consumed cannot be met by the scales in the Schedule. I am certain that the Schedule is not adequate to meet the requirements of hungry soldiers, and I think there should be more elasticity both in kind and in cash in the case of billeting. I think it would go a long way to allay much of the dissatisfaction which at present exists.
I am sorry that I omitted to answer that point. I think that in the last crisis a sum of 3s. per day—or was it 4s.?—was allowed to those who participated in that emergency, but, however adequate the sum may be, it does not, of course, prevent a soldier, whether a regular or a Territorial, from being hungry; that is one of his enduring characteristics. But I agree it is important that the allowance should not only be adequate but that it should be promptly paid. I readily admit that there were delays in the last crisis because we had no previous experience of dealing with a problem of that kind, but I will bear in mind what has been said on the matter.
In view of what has been said to-day of the soldier being filled with admiration for those upon whom he is billeted, and for the admiration for the soldier on the part of those upon whom he is billeted, may I ask whether there has ever been anything to justify the suggestion made by hon. Members opposite that the womenfolk of this country are ignorant of cooking?
The point put by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara) is rather important. The question of providing adequate rations in case of a sudden mobilisation is certainly complicated. It is a question of issuing rations in time, and that is probably the reason why men in the last crisis were billeted without any food and at such short notice. I am wondering whether it is not possible for every unit to have in store an extra iron ration, not the ordinary ration which is turned over periodically, but an extra iron ration to be used in case of emergency, which consists of compressed meat tablets and Horlicks malted milk tablets such as were used during the War. They can be kept almost for ever. I can remember on manœuvres on one occasion on the South Coast, where the invaders were coming from the sea, that the sea got rather too severe for the rations, and when the men got inland they had nothing left at all and operations had to be brought to a standstill because the invaders were completely starving. If a few compressed meat tablets or Horlicks milk tablets had been issued they could have kept on. There is at first a little grumbling inside the "tummy," but you get accustomed to that, and men have actually kept going for several days doing full work on these compressed tablets, which, I think, should be used in case of emergency. I suggest that units should have issued to them this extra iron ration.
I hesitate to give an authoritative answer on a matter which is the subject of fierce controversy, as to whether the British housewife is the best cook in the world. I can believe from the assertion of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that she is. I certainly have never made any charge that the British housewife cannot cook, although there may be room for improvement, as there is in every other branch of art and science. I do not know whether the Government are expected to make an official declaration on this subject, but I am sure that the British housewife generally keeps her family very well. There is another aspect of this matter which seems to be somewhat contradictory, and that is the point made by the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) who wants more iron rations issued. He says that Horlicks malted milk and certain meat tablets have a fortifying quality, and that the human frame can exist upon them for a considerable time. Advertisements tell us this, and I do not doubt their veracity. There is, of course, an iron ration, and in war it has to be brought into greater use, but I will see whether in any further manœuvres the Army, which undertakes the almost superhuman task of invading this country, is not starved out, as we should expect an enemy to be in similar circumstances.
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Clause 6—(Amendment Of S 190 Of Army Act)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
I see that there is a slight alteration in the Title, and that for the "Irish Free State" there is to be sub- stituted the word "Eire." I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us the pronunciation of this word so that when we use it we can do so on the authority of the War Office. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is prepared for this question and will be able to give us the proper pronunciation.
I am told that the proper pronunciation rhymes with "Sarah." This is made necessary by events beyond our control, but a change in name does not affect the smell of the Shamrock.
I wish to raise a matter to which I have referred on former occasions. The term "Eire" embraces the whole of Ireland, and there is not any question of Eire meaning the Free State. If the term "Eire" is put in this Bill, then ipso facto the Government of this country recognise Eire, or Ireland, as one and undivided.
The hon. Member is now getting beyond what is contained in the Bill.
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
CLAUSE 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 8—(Courts-Martial To Have Power To Combine Sentence Of Severe Reprimand Or Reprimand With Sentence Of Forfeiture Of Service For Purposes Of Promotion)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
I understand that this Clause makes a slight Amendment with regard to the powers of courts-martial. I gather that its general effect is to bring about some uniformity of courts-martial. I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could give an explanation of this change and the reason for it.
The present law is that forfeiture of service accompanied by a reprimand is a punishment that can be given by a superior authority, but a court-martial cannot order an officer a forfeiture of any part of his service as part of their penal code. This Clause is to bring the practice into line and to remove an anomaly. It becomes more important to institute this Amendment now because the officers are automatically entitled to promotion by time. Therefore, it would be an omission of a common-sense provision if a court-martial, in lieu of dismissing an officer completely, could not order him a forfeiture of service instead. The object of the Clause is to redress an anomaly and an oversight when the previous provision was made.
May I take it that this applies only to the commissioned ranks and makes no difference in regard to the procedure of courts-martial of warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men?
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Clause 9—(Amendment Of S 90 Of Army Act)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
I wish to call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the words,
I want, first, to congratulate my right hon. Friend on extending the time from three months to six months, because I am sure it will be very convenient, when the soldier is due for discharge, for him to remain six months longer until he can find a place in civil life. But the transfer to the reserve is to be delayed in certain cases, and in the "Notes on Clauses," there are, in the reference to Clause 9, the words"transfers to the reserve to be delayed in certain cases."
These words have statutory effect, and that being so, I want to know who is to determine what are certain cases and proper cases. In a court of law, the judge likes to have words that will guide him in carrying out the law as intended by Parliament. The wording in this Clause is very loose, and it is very necessary that the soldiers and others concerned should know what are the cases referred to and who will have power to determine them. I should like to have some explanation from my right hon. Friend, if not, indeed, some new words that would guide both the soldiers and those who have to determine the cases."So as to give time, in proper cases."
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) that this Clause contains a very important improvement from the point of view of the soldiers. Those hon. Members who know anything about the vocational training of soldiers will agree that up to the present, where they have had six months, it has been a great boon to the men. I should like to have a statement this morning as to the relative advantages of training under the Ministry of Labour as against the training which the soldier received when the Army vocational training courses were in full swing; and I should like to be assured that the soldiers are receiving at the present time at least as good training as they formerly received. Those who had an opportunity of seeing the courses in operation must have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the soldiers undergoing them and the relationships that existed between the soldiers and those responsible for the training. I do not want to cast any reflections on any other training, for the training is quite good in other branches and departments, but I must confess that my experience is that there was on the part of the soldiers at the Army vocational training centres an enthusiasm for the training which, I will not say is altogether lacking at other training centres, but which is not expressed to such a great degree.I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to reply will give us an assurance that the vocational training courses are now in full swing, and that the soldiers support them with the same enthusiasm as they did before the change of administration; and also that any soldier who is willing to have the training will have the opportunity of having it and that it will not be confined to certain cases. I gather that the purpose of the Clause is to give six months' training instead of three months, if necessary, and that in all cases, the consent of the soldier is necessary. Those who know anything about the soldier's life must know that it is a handicap to be segregated for some years from civilian life, and, especially when the soldier has been abroad, he needs an opportunity to familiarise himself with the processes of civilian life, particularly on its industrial side when he returns. The alteration from three months to six months is very good indeed, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman would render a service if he assured us, first, that the consent of the soldier is necessary and, secondly, that the soldier is given full opportunity to express himself freely upon this matter.
The Committee will appreciate the difficulty of my position, because I am now the pilot instead of being, as I had expected, merely a passenger, and they will understand that the reason for the change is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has had to leave in order to attend a Cabinet meeting. This proposed amendment of the law is an extension of a provision which was introduced in 1937. At that time a soldier, when he returned from overseas had to be transferred to the Reserve and could not remain with the Colours unless he extended his service. In 1937 it was decided that, with the soldier's consent—and in reply to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) I may say that the principle of the soldier's consent still remains in operation—that he should be allowed to remain in the Service before transfer to the Reserve for a period up to three months. The object was to help the soldier in the task of re-establishing himself in civil life before he ceased to draw his Army pay.Since 1937 it has been found that in some cases, where the time of the soldier who has been engaged for 12 years is about to expire, a man has arrived back in this country to find the circumstances very different from those which he expected. He may find circumstances over which he can exercise no control, but which may be prejudicial to his chance of re-establishing himself in civil life, and he may find himself unable to take a full course of vocational training. I may say here that six months is the maximum period for a vocational training course. A man may find himself unable to take that course before leaving the Service. In such cases the man had alternatives which, I think, the Committee will agree were not really fair. He could re-engage to complete 21 years' service and then get a premature discharge on the ground of the completion of the course or, alternatively, he could takes his discharge and complete the course as a civilian which in most cases would involve financial disadvantage. This Clause extends the 1937 provision so that the soldier may be permitted to delay his discharge for six months and as I have told the Committee, six months is the longest period of vocational training. I should add that this concession will be made in respect of vocational training only and that it is permissive. I cannot give the assurance for which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) asked that the soldier should have a definite right to this concession because there are such limiting factors as the facilities available and various other matters which must be taken into consideration and it would be wrong to give a man a right which it is impossible to fulfil. But I can give my hon. and gallant Friend and the Committee this assurance, that it is the intention that this opportunity of delaying discharge should be in the hands of the soldier and it is hoped that facilities will be available, which will enable every soldier who desires to take advantage of that opportunity to do so where the organisation of vocational training enables him to take the necessary course in full. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked for some assurance regarding the efficiency of vocational training. I do not think it would be in order to give information and statistics as to the number of entrants to courses, the number who have passed out and the number who have obtained employment, that information is not actually at my disposal now. But I think I can say that vocational training is entered into by the men who undertake the courses and by those who administer the courses with one object only and that is to fit the man to re-establish himself in civil life. The answer to the question whether these courses are efficient or not, is that they are becoming more and more popular with soldiers as they leave the Army. I trust I have answered all the points which were raised and explained the reason for this amendment of the law and the form in which it is submitted.
I appreciate the difficulty of my hon. and gallant Friend in taking up this matter and the fact that the Secretary of State for War has had to leave to attend a Cabinet. But it is unfortunate that we have to get through the Report and Third Reading stages of this Bill to-day because otherwise I should have asked the right hon. Gentleman to find some words other than these, "to be delayed in certain cases." I am not satisfied by the explanation which has been given. I have not yet heard who is to determine these "certain cases." If these words appear in the Act of Parliament the soldier will have to ask himself, "Am I included in these 'certain cases '?" and the individual who has to make the determination, and will have to say to the soldier in some instances "You are not one of these 'certain cases.' "It is most unfortunate that words of this kind should creep into a Statute. I could understand such words getting into King's Regulations or into rules of procedure which sometimes are recognised by the Army authorities and sometimes are not, but if these words appear in the Army Act the result will be, to say the least of it, very unsatisfactory. I hope that further consideration will be given to the matter.
The words in brackets which my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) is criticising are merely a short explanation of what Section go of the Army Act does, and are not enacting words. All that this Clause does is to substitute "six months" for "three months" in the new Section go of the Army Act. The words mean nothing else.
That is a lawyer's explanation. Some other lawyer might give the opposite interpretation.
I can only say, after having listened to the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), that though I am delighted to hear his explanation I should like him to give it on a parade ground to a battalion drawn up at full strength, and that then he should have an opportunity of going into the wet canteen to hear the comments of the troops. I can assure him that any comments that have ever been made by an opponent in the course of his very suave explanation of the law would be very mild compared with what he would hear in such a case. One of the inducements now held out to the soldier on recruitment is that this training course will be available for him at the end of his career. I appreciate that the soldier's rights are surprisingly few, and that one needs to have been in the Army a considerable time before understanding the difference between a right and a privilege. People imagine that one of the undoubted rights of the man who enlists in modern times is this opportunity for vocational training before he leaves the service, and I very sincerely hope that the words which have been used by the Under-Secretary of State for Air are not to be taken as an indication that there is to be any lessening of the efforts of the Army to provide courses for all the men who want to have them.I am sure that one of the worst things for any long-range recruiting policy is the spread of a feeling among the troops that promises made on enlistment or after enlistment are in fact broken, especially if words that they interpret as a pledge prove to be unavailing just before discharge. Clearly that would be just the time when a man would go back to civilian life with a grievance in his mind, and he would be the very worst possible recruiting agent for other men who might contemplate joining the service. I sincerely hope that there is nothing more here than the habitual caution of the Army Council, the Admiralty and the Air Council in making promises to the troops, and that they will be at least as good as their word, or considerably better. While the troops do not worry very much about the exact words of an act of Parliament, the hon. and learned Member for Ashford would be surprised at the little attention they have for the ability of his profession-. They have a very great regard for the carrying out of the spirit of the pledges given to them, and also for the relations that ought to exist between the troops and those in high places who have them in such very considerable subjection during their period of enlistment.
Most speakers have spoken as if vocational training is restricted to three or six months. I take it that in many cases the training lasts longer than that and continues for a further period.
I will give my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) some light on this problem. If he will turn to page 52 of the Army Act, Section 90, in the last paragraph but one he will find these words:
and the last words will now read:"Provided that the competent military authority may, with the consent of the soldier, delay his discharge, so however that he be discharged"
I think my hon. Friend cannot be disturbed by the words in brackets in the Bill, on the ground that they have any bearing on the main fact of the Amendment that we are now passing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked for an assurance that no words of mine to-day indicated that there was to be any slackening in the vocational training efforts of the Army. Doubtless when he comes to this Debate as he does: fully armed he has the Army Estimates for 1939 with him. In that case I would ask him to turn to page 105, Vote 4, dealing with Army education. In sub-paragraph (5) he will see that "since then additional facilities have been made available in the Ministry of Labour's Government training centres, so that it should be possible to pass some 10,000 men through the Army and Government training centres in the course of a year." That figure, compared with the figure of previous years, will show that there is no slackening of effort, but indeed a growth. We are all anxious to see our Army efficient and happy. One of the great inducements of the voluntary system of enlistment is that you should look after the man while he is in your care and try to do that which our system allows us to ensure—that when he passes from our care he can retain his citizenship without any feeling that during his military service he has lost opportunity or lost any of the other attributes which we all value. With that explanation I think I have answered the points which have been raised. I hope that when the Amendment is passed we shall have passed an Amendment which will do something substantial to increase the chances of the man who has returned from overseas to obtain the full benefits of vocational training. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton), the whole course of vocational training at one of these vocational training centres is six months. That does not preclude parallel vocational training while a man is in the Service. We are providing something which will enable a man to have a better chance than in the past to engage himself in a civilian occupation when he leaves the Service."within six mouths from his arrival."
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
CLAUSE 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 11—(Amendments As To Certain Offences In Connection Tenth Flying)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give us an explanation of this Clause, as it peculiarly affects his own Department?
Before my hon. and gallant Friend answers that question, may I say that two of the questions which we had to consider on the Gorell Committee were low flying and flying so as to cause unnecessary annoyance, and we had the fullest evidence, both about the action and discipline of the Air Force and about civilian flying, before us. The outstanding feature of all that evidence was that the discipline of the Air Force is so high that the number of complaints made against pilot officers or any other officers in the Air Force, either for low flying contrary to regulations or for flying so as to commit unnecessary annoyance, almost did not exist at all. I think the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who also sat on the Gorell Committee will agree with me there. Therefore, it would be very unfortunate if, within a few weeks of the publication of the report of that Committee, the first step might be taken to make low flying and flying so as to cause annoyance a specific court-martial offence by itself in the Air Force. The obvious deduction which some people might draw from it is that there had been so much low flying or that there had been so much flying in a manner to cause annoyance that it was necessary that this House should take drastic action in this direction.I understand that anything of that sort is wholly outside the minds of my right hon. Friend and of the Under-Secretary of State, and certainly I should like most emphatically, on behalf of the Committee, to state that no evidence that came before us would justify any necessity of that sort whatsoever. As to whether there should be any tightening-up of the methods of dealing with this, matter, the evidence that we got was that not only were pilot officers in only very exceptional cases breaking any of the regulations, but that the senior officers in command of Air Force aerodromes and depots went out of their way to try and direct the necessary practising of low flying which might cause danger or annoyance, to areas where the minimum possible danger might occur. Of course, there were exceptional cases, but I only want to testify to the generally high standard of the discipline of the force and of the consideration of officers in this matter in so far as the evidence given before the Gorell Committee showed.
Surely the hon. and learned Member is not suggesting that the Gorell Committee report in any part of it suggested that the ordinary methods of discipline in the Air Force are not sufficient?
Certainly not. All that I am suggesting is that the first matter that comes before Parliament after the publication of that report is a provision which makes low flying and flying so as to cause annoyance a new, specific, court-martial offence, which is the effect, I take it, of paragraphs (b) and (c) of this Clause, and I was only trying to prevent the public, and I hope the hon. Member agrees with me, forming any conclusion —because the public does not read the evidence that comes before Departmental Committees save in exceptional cases—that there had been so many breaches of the regulations by pilot officers of the Air Force that it necessitated something of this sort being done. I am waiting to hear why this change is being made.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) as to the evidence that we had before us on the Gorell Committee, which certainly gave one great satisfaction in the sense that there had been so few complaints of low flying or bad discipline from an air point of view. I think it is a good thing, when we think of the number of new pilots in the Royal Air Force and the difficulties there are in the way of getting people of young age not to do things which may sometimes be a little foolish, that there has been so little complaint in this connection.This Clause covers the case of the mechanic who signs the certificate that the petrol tank of an aircraft is full and does not verify that it is so. That is a court-martial offence, as it should be, because it affects the safety of the people in the machine, but I would ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he could not revise form 700, which has been altered several times. It is not a very simple document, and you do not want on it any initials which will not be of real importance. On form 700 you have the signatures of the fitter, the rigger, and the person who fills up with petrol. You have also the flight sergeant's initials. No doubt it is the duty of the last named to see that the tank is full, but he cannot see every machine and that it is done in every case. The pilot also has to sign his initials, which is quite right, but the initials that we must look for are those of the fitter and the rigger, and they have to know that the tank has been properly filled. As this is now to be a court-martial offence, I think it is time to simplify form 700, so that it will be clear what the man has got to do on it and that there are no unnecessary signatures on the form. On the other point, of courts-martial for low flying, I must say that I welcome this provision, because it makes it quite clear in the Air Force to-day that for low flying, which is a severe breach of discipline, you can be court-martialled, as several people have been, and turned out of the Air Force. But before this when you were turned out of the Air Force, you were turned out for
That is a very serious thing, because it means that you are turned out of the Air Force for the rest of your life, and it may have very serious results to a man, whereas this charge of low flying, although it is serious, is obviously not a thing in regard to which you could say that it was a dishonourable thing for some boy of 17 or 18, in some place where aerodromes are, where there are no amusements provided for him, who is given one of these machines and shows off, perhaps, by flying low over sonic relations' house. It has happened in the past and it will happen again in the future. You have to have this very strict power of court-martial, but I am glad that, when such a man is found guilty to-day and may have to leave the Service, everyone will know that it is not for something disgracing him for the rest of his life. I welcome that alteration. As to Sub-section (2) which amends the Air Force Act in respect of officers in charge of aircraft. I agree that the officer who is in command must be superior in those circumstances. Everyone who knows anything about flying will realise that you must have this order. You cannot have dual power or authority in such questions as the control of an aircraft when it is in the air, about to take off or about to land. The proposed alteration explains itself and it will be welcome because it gets rid of difficulties when senior officers are taken up by junior officers and when questions might be raised. I welcome these three additions and I hope that the Committee will accept them."conduct to the prejudice of good order and Air Force discipline."
:The first question to which I would refer is that of the certificates for aircraft or aircraft material, because it is closely related to safety in the air. There ought to be some recognition that any material which is used ought to pass the severest test and somebody ought to be responsible for the aircraft before it goes up. In regard to low flying, I am glad that something is being done. I have had one or two experiences in this matter. Some time ago I went to the air manœuvres to which we had been invited, and one of the things we had to witness was a display of low flying. Pilots may have tried to impress the powers that be, and began to circle around, flying very low indeed. They flew so low that I got afraid, and I said to the people alongside me: "This may be very spectacular, and I suppose the men may know their job, but the slightest mistake will mean all of us passing away." I was not just ready at that time to pass away. When I pass away I want it to be in the ordinary manner, or for something which calls upon me to give my life. I want some credit for passing away. Probably a skilful man was in charge and had the aeroplane in full control, but anyone with knowledge of aircraft would admit that the slightest mistake made at the speed at which they were going, as they would have no chance to recover, would be very serious. They swept along, and everybody cleared out.I went on another occasion and the same thing happened. 1 got so nervous about them that I decided to find a spot at least half a mile away from where the flying was taking place. I have not the courage to face that kind of thing, and as I feel that way about it myself I wonder what the feelings of other people must be when aeroplanes fly low. I welcome some attempt to retard the high spirits of some airmen, who as a whole are a fine set of young men prepared to give their lives for the country, but one has the feeling that they may be faking just a shade too much risk in this spectacular way. A warning to them will draw attention to what is being done, but I do not want mistakes of that kind to debar the young men from any progress afterwards. I would not like to think that a mistake that happened in that regard had been the means of spoiling a young man's whole life, and I should like every case to be thoroughly examined. I am pleased to see that the Clause prescribes, in addition to court-martial,
That means to say that there can be circumstances which may mitigate the full rigour of the law being applied to an offender. A warning is necessary to tell pilots that they cannot do low-flying, as they would like to do, when people are present whose lives may be placed in danger."such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned."
:Like the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) I think the Committee will be glad to pass the Amendments contained in the Clause. There is no doubt that this discussion has ventilated the question of the orders that have been given to the Royal Air Force in the last few years and which have had a very beneficial effect. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) said truly that in the last few years there have been very few cases indeed of wilful breach of the regulations in regard to low flying, but that was not the case some years ago. There were many breaches then, in the shape both of spectacular displays and of individual pilots stunting at low altitudes over villages and houses in order to get a certain amount of excitement. Those cases have now ceased, and I do not think there has been any such low flying in the last two years. Nevertheless, there can be cases of low flying, but they are mostly unintentional. In this Clause there is a line which says:
There are frequent cases of low flying where the pilot is quite unintentionally doing harm, although he can know nothing about it. Perhaps I might give one example. Auxiliary squadrons mostly fly on Sundays and then after the 10 o'clock parade. Frequently they do cross-country journeys, and someone may be cruising against the wind at quite a normal altitude between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. He may be going over high ground and, in passing over villages where church services are taking place, may cause a considerable amount of disturbance. Whenever I am flying on Sunday I make a point of going up well over 5,000 feet, and when against the wind keeping up even to 10,000 feet, between the hours of 11 and 12 in the morning. The other Sunday a worthy gentleman, a layman, was reading the first lesson in church when the whole of the Bristol Auxiliary Squadron came over the church. When he came to the second lesson after the Psalm, and had begun reading the lesson, the whole squadron came back over the church. They were unaware of what they were doing, it being their custom to fly on Sunday, but the disturbance which was caused can easily be avoided if they make a practice of flying a little higher. Another cause, equally unwitting, of the damage which can be done, is during the months of August and September in Scotland when aeroplanes fly over the grouse moors, but in this case the damage is done by flying high and not by flying low. This does not apply to counties where there are no eagles, but in Aber- deenshire, where there are, the effect is fatal. At the sight of an aircraft flying high at, say, 10,000 or 12,000 feet, every grouse in the district at once goes to the top of the hill and packs on the high ground and as soon as the beaters come the whole packs go straight off the ground. It is hardly fair on the shooting tenants who have paid a good deal of money for their shooting and this sort of damage could be quite easily avoided, as I hope it will be in the future. The most common form of low flying is when a pilot is perhaps just learning to go across country when the weather closes down upon him. He gets low cloud while he is flying over high ground. He is soon off the map and off his course, and as he does not know where he is he tries to follow the roadway, the railway or a river, and he goes down because he hopes to pick up some indication of where he is. Visibility is very limited and he is undoubtedly off his course. Unfortunately it may happen that a railway he is following is uphill and not downhill, and he flies into high ground and there is an accident. You cannot say that that is an attempt to break the regulations. It has happened because the man was lost, and, as is usual, he was trying to find his way. I have from time to time suggested to the Air Ministry that they might persuade the railway companies to paint the names of the stations on the station roofs so that lost airmen might have a chance of seeing where they are and not run the risk of flying into high ground or into trees or buildings. If that were done a number of casualties among pupils in the Royal Air Force might be avoided when the pupils are learning to fly across country in bad weather, as they must fly in bad weather if they are ever to learn to fly at all. I think those are the three main causes of low flying, and while we all agree that there must be stringent regulations and that they have had a very good effect so far in preventing wilful breaches of discipline, I am glad to see that in cases where the low flying occurs without the pilot being aware of it some lesser penalty can be inflicted."such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned."
I should like to say one word upon low flying. The Committee may not realise that every squadron has a low-flying log-book, and that it is the duty of every pilot who has had occasion to fly at a low altitude to fill in the facts about the flight in that logbook immediately he lands. It is a great safeguard to himself that he should do so. If he had a legitimate reason for flying low and he has entered it in the logbook nothing can be said about it, but if he has not made the entry then, as they say in the Service, "He is for the high jump."
How do they get to know of it?
In all probability if he has flown low and dangerously his number has been handed in and will arrive at the station in due course and he will have to appear before his commanding officer and explain why he has been flying low, and if it is a bad case he may be court-martialled.
There is this trouble about numbers, that while the numbers on civilian planes can easily be seen the numbers on Royal Air Force machines are so long and complicated and in such very small figures that the ordinary civilian finds it difficult to read them.
That is so, but it is not for me to encourage the Air Ministry to make it more easy for my colleagues to be caught. The point I should like to make is that my hon. and gallant Friend should impress upon station commanders, especially at auxiliary stations, how vitally necessary it is, in the interests of the pilots and of the public, that the low-flying log-book should always be entered up.
I respond gladly to the request of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) that I should give some explanation of the new proposals; but before I do so I should like to thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely) and the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who is not here now for the work which they, with others, did on the Gorell Committee, the Report of which has just been published, and also for the tributes which they have paid to-day and which are in the Gorell Committee's Report as to the discipline which exists in the Royal Air Force from the point of view of dangerous and reckless flying, and flying in such a manner as to cause unnecessary nuisance to the general public. Flying discipline is essential, but if one is commanding any body of fliers one is always up against the task of balancing the need not to kill initiative and enterprise by over regulation with the need, on the other hand for such disciplinary regulations as are essential to secure maximum safety. The Amendments to-day are aimed at achieving that objective.I should like to put briefly before the Committee what is the present state of affairs. Section 39 (a) of the Air Force Act sets out specific offences, mainly connected with aircraft which, generally, involve damage or likely damage to aircraft or injury to persons; and if a man charged under Section 39 (a) is found to have acted wilfully, the maximum punishment to which he is liable is penal servitude, although there is provision for a lesser punishment. If the damage or injury has not been caused wilfully the maximum punishment is imprisonment or some lesser punishment as the court may impose. Continuing with the existing state of affairs we come to Section 40, which one might term an "omnibus Section" under which charges are brought of conduct which is prejudicial to good order and Air Force discipline. Under this section the punishment differs as between officers and airmen. For an officer the punishment is cashiering, or some lesser punishment, and for an airman it is imprisonment, or some lesser punishment. That is the state of affairs existing at present. Our proposals are these: It is proposed to set out in Section 39 certain additional specified offences. These are, wrongly-signing certificates, low-flying offences and flying in a way likely to cause annoyance. These new offences will entail, after conviction by court-martial the punishment of imprisonment or such lesser punishment as the court may determine, as compared with penal servitude or a lesser punishment provided for in the un-amended Section 39(a). I think the Committee will ask what are the reasons for this change. The reasons arc that Section 39(a), which has those limited specified offences, is too restricted if damage or likelihood of damage or injury to persons has to be proved, while the alternative to Section 39(a), that is Section 40, is in its turn too wide. For instance, in the case of low-flying likely to cause annoyance to the public, I chink it is illogical to suggest that you should charge someone with conduct which is prejudicial to good order and to military discipline. The point was admirably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick. If, in the interests of flying discipline, a young man is convicted of this offence and his service career is terminated, yet we do not want to spoil the whole of his future life. Because there is a blet against him to the extent that he has acted wrongly and stupidly and possibly endangered others, one would not say that he had done anything dishonourable and that it is a blot which cannot be eradicated by the passage of time This Amendment proposes to define certain further specific offences which are not common in the sense that they are increasing but which we want specific power to deal with. We wish to deal with them apart from that omnibus Section 40 by enlarging the schedule of offences under 39(a). In these days pilots may be commissioned officers or they may be airmen, and the proposed Amendment of Section.39 (a) puts the punishment for officers and airmen on the same level. Whereas under Section 40 a conviction in the case of an officer does not entail the possibility of imprisonment, as in the case of an airman, in future both will be liable to imprisonment or such lesser punishment as the court may impose. Let me take the offences one by one. First, there is the offence of signing a certificate in relation to an aircraft or aircraft material without ensuring its accuracy. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick that it is Form 700 which is thought of mainly in this connection, and I was impressed by the point which he made that too many signatures are required on that form. As he knows, directly an accident has happened and is investigated there is always a natural tendency to introduce new regulations and to complicate existing regulations in order to prevent a repetition of the accident. I think the time may well have come, now we are creating new offences, when we should overhaul the administration machinery and see whether we can simplify it. One of the advantages of these new specific offences is that a young man will now know what he is not allowed to do in a more exact way than when we had the omnibus Section 40. The need for the verification of these certificates is obvious. The more precise power and the more precise knowledge of the seriousness and the possibility of offences should act as an additional deterrent in future. In such matters carelessness may well be fatal whether it be wilful or due to some idle neglect. Therefore, we propose to make no discrimination between wilful and not wilful as it exists in Section 39 (a). I pass to the flying offences (b) and (c). The existing flying regulations in the Royal Air Force, which are contained in the Flying Regulations, King's Regulations and in class instruction, say that flying may not take place below 2,000 feet except with special permission on active service, or in Army co-operation work, or when weather conditions force pilots to fly low. I cannot meet the Noble Lord the Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) very far in that direction. As far as I understand, he wants a special schedule to except Aberdeenshire so that the grouse in that county may be safeguarded.
I did not want any alteration in the Bill. It could be done easily by an instruction to units and to civil aircraft in the vicinity to ask them during the months of August, September and October to avoid if possible high flying, or to fly round the area which is only a small one.
I appreciate what my Noble Friend wants. He wants not legislation but administrative action. I am sure that the appeal he has made to pilots to-day will have its effect both on the pilots so that they will not fly high over Aberdeenshire, and on the grouse who will perhaps accustom themselves to other altitudes.
How long has the regulation about not flying lower than 2,000 feet been in operation?
I cannot say; it is a. standing regulation of the Air Force that cross-county flying is not to take place-below 2,000 feet except in special circumstances.
Then I must have experienced the special circumstances.
There may be special circumstances which people on the ground cannot always determine and assess. The final responsibility for his own life and that of his passengers must always rest on the pilot, who must take into consideration whether he thinks special circumstances should rule his conduct in flying low or not. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Flight-Lieutenant Grant-Ferris) said, no one will blame a man for having flown low if he says afterwards that had to fly low because he considered it necessary. I am sure that even those who reported it will realise that it was done deliberately and in the interests of safety. The low flying offences are dealt with under Section 39 (a) which provides for any act or neglect likely to cause damage to aircraft material or defect in flying or use of any aircraft material which is likely to cause loss of life. That does not cover many low flying offences, and we propose the addition of (b) and (c) in order to close the gap now existing between flying in such a way as to deserve punishment and the difficulty of obtaining convictions under the present Act.Unskilled witnesses may be called to prove dangerous flying under Section 40 as it now exists, and because they cannot prove height a conviction may not be obtained. Flying which is likely to cause unnecessary annoyance is easier to prove by lay witnesses. Flying in certain circumstances which are specially authorised, but not so as to cause annoyance on the ground, would justify a pilot flying low on Army co-operation work, or on a cross-country flight, but it would not authorise him to fly round and round his best girl's house. This new Amendment will enable us to charge under court-martial someone who has flown low without being authorised so to do in a manner likely to cause annoyance.
Would it not be possible to reconsider the height of 2,000 feet, because in my experience it is rather an unreasonable height?
I do not think we could reconsider it. It is in fine weather a reasonable height and there are many modern aircraft which demand a much greater height. I have in mind the case of my Noble Friend the Member for Central Bristol, where a parson was about to read the first lesson in church when an aeroplane flew past, and he got to the second lesson when the aeroplane flew back again. We must not reduce the height, provided we retain the right for pilots to fly below that height should it be necessary. The action we contemplate will, we hope, do no more than obtain convictions for offences in accordance with the spirit of the Gorell Committee's recommendation that amenities should be considered as well as safety. I hope I have given the Committee a review to their satisfaction of the 1 resent situation and its disadvantages, and what we propose to do and the reason why we are doing it.
Would it be possible to indicate when the corresponding alterations to the regulations will be made for civil flying?
What my hon. and learned Friend is asking me is whether the Secretary of State will publish his decisions on various recommendations of the Committee with regard to civil flying and whether they are likely to be implemented. I would refer him to the answer given by the Prime Minister yesterday.
I would like to ask a question with regard to the provision for imprisonment. I understand that as punishment for certain flying offences now both an officer and an airman may be sentenced to imprisonment. After the officer or airman has completed his sentence does he return to the Air Force, or does imprisonment carry with it discharge from the service? The second question I should like to ask is whether, in the case of an officer, he loses the seniority corresponding to the term of imprisonment which is inflicted upon him. For instance, if an officer is sentenced to a year's imprisonment for one of these flying offences, does that also involve the loss of a year's seniority for that officer? I should also like to ask what happens in regard to pay in the case of an officer or airman while he is serving such a sentence of imprisonment, and what will be the effect on his pension of the term of imprisonment that he suffers. Will an officer, for instance, while undergoing a term of one year's imprisonment for one of these offences, be qualifying for pension while he is serving that term?
The Parliamentary Secretary has dealt with the offences and the penalties, but he did not go as far as many hon. Members have already gone in this Debate, in assuring the Committee that low flying is practically abolished. We were told that the Committee who considered this matter were satisfied that very little low flying took place—
The hon. Member misunderstood me. I said that there was very little low flying by officers in the Air Force as compared with low flying by civilians.
I want to know whether steps are being taken to avoid low flying, and my reason for asking is as follows. Just as I was falling asleep this morning, an aeroplane went over the hotel in central London where I stay, and awakened me, and I lay awake wondering whether it was going to hit the hotel or not. I wonder whether that comes in in the offence described in paragraph (c):
I take it that I am one of those persons, because that aeroplane, flying over my hotel this morning, was certainly an annoyance to me. Would that be an offence? Looking at this matter as a man in the street, one wonders how the public feel when aeroplanes are flying so low and one of them hits a house and kills some of its occupants. I gather that some steps have been taken to try to prevent such accidents in the future, and, while it may not always be possible to avoid accidents, the man in the street would like to be assured that, as far as the Air Force is concerned, as far as the Department is concerned, every possible step is being taken to avoid accidents. As regards low flying at night, some few years ago a regulation was issued prohibiting motor cars from sounding their horns during the night lest they might annoy people during the time when they wanted to sleep. One can well understand that pilots need to have practice in flying at night, but, while, that may be necessary, is it really necessary for them to fly over crowded areas? Could they not have their night practice somewhere else than over central London and other crowded areas? It seems to me that these matters might be given a little more attention, so that the Department might be able to say, "All right; if it takes place, it takes place, but we are trying to avoid it if we possibly can.""being the pilot of one of His Majesty's aircraft, flies it so as to cause, or to be likely to cause, unnecessary annoyance to any person."
In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) imprisonment, in the case of officers, would carry with it cashiering, and, therefore, the majority of the hon. and gallant Member's questions do not arise. There is an exception, however, with regard to pension, where the effect depends upon the circumstances. There have been times when the pension, or part of the pension, of an officer who has been imprisoned and cashiered has been granted to him ex gratia. As regards airmen, there have been cases in which an airman has not been discharged, but has been taken back to the Service after imprisonment; but during imprisonment his pay ceases.I sympathise with the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) as regards the dislocation of normal life that aeroplanes flying over cities can cause; but I would assure him of two things—first, that, as regards civil aircraft, the matter is now under consideration, the Department having had the benefit of the report of the Gorell Committee; and, secondly, that, as regards Service aircraft, the discipline is good, and we hope to bring home to those who are guilty the foolishness and wrongfulness of acts of annoyance of reckless low flying to a greater degree in the future than has been the case in the past by the very Amendment which we are now proposing. I would only add that on one Sunday morning last summer, when I was in my flat in London, an aeroplane persistently flew up and down over London until it exasperated me—I was trying to do some work; so I rang up the official on duty at the Air Ministry and told him it must be stopped. He replied, "Sir, your call is one of 48 that I have received during the last hour from residents all over London." Having some knowledge of these matters, I happened to know the type of the aircraft in ques- tion though I could not see its registration number, and I knew that such aircraft only came from one or two civil airports round London. I told the official on duty at the Department where to ring up, and we traced the aircraft and sent a wireless message to the pilot. His reply was: "I am sorry if I am causing annoyance, but I am having to do certain Army Co-operation exercises with Territorials, who work during the week-ends. The clouds are at a certain height, and I must keep below them, and I must also keep on a particular course. But I will go home as soon as a can, I will waste no time, and I apologise for what I am doing." That is a typical Instance in which I myself and the general public had assumed that there was unnecessary low flying, but on investigation it was found not to be so. I only give the Committee that instance for the purpose of asking that they, like myself and all civilians outside this House, will be sympathetic when aeroplanes are apparently a nuisance, knowing that the Royal Air Force Regulations are stringent and are strictly administered, while the regulations regarding civil aviation are now in process of being overhauled.
In view of the wide and sweeping nature of these new provisions, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see that they are brought specially to the notice of pilots and everyone else in the Air Force, and are not merely treated as an amendment of which many people do not know?
I will certainly take note of that suggestion, which I think is a very reasonable one in view of these new offences.
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
New Clause—(Amendment Of Army Act, S 76)
The following proviso shall he added at the end of section seventy-six of the Army Act (which relates to the limit of original enlistment):
Provided also that where a person is deemed to have attained the age of seventeen and a-half years and it is proved by his parent or guardian within six months after the date of enlistment that he had not
attained that age when enlisted, he shall be entitled to immediate discharge.—[ Mr. Tinker.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."For a number of years we have been agitating to get some alterations on these lines. When people get into the Army under the specified age and their parents or guardians desire to get them out, they should be allowed to do so. We have been told that the Army has not taken a very harsh line, and that in many cases they have allowed this to happen, but we have not been able to get a definite understanding about it. Last year we moved a new Clause stipulating that a birth certificate should be produced when a boy is enlisted. We put forward the argument that in these days a certificate of some kind is required for almost any employment. Again we did not succeed. It was pointed out, on behalf of the Government, that that would entail a lot of difficulty, would retard recruitment, and would probably bring to light things that the person enlisting did not want known—for instance, illegitimate birth. There were many excuses that did not justify the non-acceptance of the Clause. The Clause was finally rejected on a division, but it was evident that the feeling of the House in general was that something ought to be done. I believe the Secretary of State would have been wise to have accepted it at that juncture, in view of what I believe would have been the decision of the House had the Whips been taken off. Time has gone on, and I believe there will be some accommodation given to us on this matter—I hope so, at any rate. On 14th March, the Secretary of State for War said:
So it is evident that now the Secretary of State is prepared to go some of the way in this direction. I and my hon. Friends feel that it would be much better if we could have it laid down in definite terms, so that we could know the position that a youth is in. We have put this on the Order Paper so that it may be known to parents and guardians that they can get their boys out of the Army in a reasonable time. In my view, this is quite a reasonable proposal. I know that if the hon. Gentleman opposite has been instructed by the Secretary for War as to what he shall say it will be difficult for him to go contrary to his instructions; but this is one of the things we cannot lose sight of, and we intend to persist every time this Bill comes up, until we get this reform. There is an old saying, "Better late than never", and I trust that this morning we shall succeed in our object."Every year on the Army Annual Bill complaint is made that, while our age of enlistment is nominally 18, we refuse to discharge a boy who turns out to be in fact between 17 and 18; now we shall have 17½as the age and I will promise to discharge any boy whose parents prove within a reasonable time that he has falsified his true age. That, I think, will meet the request that has been made for many years from the benches opposite."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1939: col. 350, Vol. 345.1
I beg to second the Motion.I hope to get some indication from the Minister that the Clause is likely to be accepted, so I do not intend to go through all the arguments of last year or meet the reply which was then put forward, which I do not think was creditable to the Minister. Before I spoke last year I had details of some pitiable cases in my own constituency. I think the right of the parent to control the future of his son should be accepted for the Army as in other walks of life. Even in the matter of marriage, which we are told is an honourable state, the law says that, under a certain age, people must have the consent of their parents. If a youngster is entering a factory a birth certificate has to be obtained, and there is no question about the feelings of the youngster because it might become known that he was illegitimate. The practice has been to accept these youngsters considerably under-age in the Army without a birth certificate, and, when parents have drawn attention to the fact immediately afterwards, the authorities have refused to release them unless, as happened, for instance, in one case, a week after the youngster joining the Army £20 was paid for his discharge. We got over that in one case by telling the young man not to allow himself to be vaccinated, and he was then immediately discharged for refusing to carry out the obligation he entered into on joining. It may be that the Department are sympathetic now, but there is no obligation, and the tone of the Department may alter as Ministers change—and in view of the catastrophic changes that have taken place with this Government from time to time we do not know what may happen. I am not going to repeat some of the strong things I said last year, because I have a feeling that the Minister is going to accede to our request.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said that persistence is rewarded—sometimes.
I think it is always.
I think that when I explain the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War, although they may not be in the form which the hon. Member desires it will be seen that they, nevertheless, go beyond the personal undertaking which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Broad) said was insufficient. In deciding to embody an amendment of the King's Regulations, I think that the hon. Member for Leigh will agree that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has met him in spirit if not in the actual form of words.I would like to set out the present conditions governing free discharge. They are: If an application is received before the recruit is 17 years of age he is discharged free. If application for discharge is received when the recruit is over 17 but under 18, he is released if compassionate grounds exist. The authority for such discharges is contained in King's Regulations, paragraph 383, but not in the Army Act. There is no provision in the Army Act that lays down a minimum age for recruits. There has never been such a provision. One of the disadvantages of putting any age minimum for recruits in the Army Act would be that you might want, for some national reason, to alter, either upwards or downwards, the minimum age for recruits, and you would have to have an Amendment of the Army Act before that could be done. The only mention which the hon. Gentleman will find of a minimum age in the Army Act is the age of 18 which is in connection with the starting of pension rights for men who joined the service.
Section 24 of that Act deals with pension rights.
There has never been—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) knows these things better than I do—a minimum age for recruits laid down in the Army Act. But on the Report stage of the Estimates this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War announced that in future the minimum age for recruits would be 17½ instead of 18, and that he proposed to discharge any boy whose parents proved within a reasonable time that he had falsified his true age. My right hon. Friend intends to implement that undertaking by amending the appropriate regulations in that sense. The new rule will apply also in the case of the Territorial Army and the Supplementary Reserve, which are governed not by the Army Act, but by the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907. I think that the hon. Member for Leigh and the Committee will agree that that is another reason against putting down a minimum age in the Army Act in that what my right hon. Friend now proposes to do will cover both the Regular Army and the Territorial Army. Any such amendment of the Army Act, would not cover the Territorial Army, but you would have to have special legislation to amend the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907.My right hon. Friend intends to issue an Army Order very shortly setting out the change in conditions governing the acceptance of recruits, and it will provide for the free discharge of a recruit who is claimed before he is 17, and of a recruit between 17 and 17½if the application for discharge is received within two months of enlistment. This rule, obviously, will not apply to boys enlisted as such with their parents' consent under the various particular provisions. The King's Regulation, the Territorial Regulations, the Supplementary Reserve Regulations and Recruiting Regulations will be amended accordingly. I hope the assurance which I have given to the Committee, though it is not a personal undertaking, to amend the King's Regulations will satisfy the hon. Members who have pressed so constantly on this matter, and who, I now hope, will find their persistence is being rewarded.
I think that all of us were very glad to hear the statement made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but, personally, I had hoped that it would have gone even further. I am not quite clear in regard to one or two points. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed rather to stress the words "who is claimed before he is 17." He seemed to lay emphasis on the word "claimed." Does that mean that unless a boy who is 16 years and six months or 16 years and nine months is actually claimed by his parents before he reaches the age of 17, his parents, if they desire to get him out of the Army, will have to pay compensation to the Army, presumably for the training he has received? There appears to be some difference between the boy claimed before 17 and the boy who may join immediately after reaching the age of 17 and may get out free before he reaches the age of 17½. I presume that, under the new Regulations it is proposed to make, anybody joining before he reaches the age of 17½ will have joined fraudulently, he will have told untruths in regard to his age, and consequently, I assume, and, I hope, rightly, that if his parents claim him because he joined under the age of 17½, they will be entitled to get him out without the payment of any compensation to the Army.I like to see honesty in legislation, but frankly, I cannot see very much honesty in this legislation. I never did, and I do not now even with the Amendments that are to be made in the Regulations. It is in the Army Act where it is provided that pension rights shall not commence until a soldier is 18 years of age. If it is possible to provide in the Army Act that a man does not become entitled to pension rights until the age of 18, I see no reason why it cannot be put in the Army Act that a boy shall not be entitled to join the Army until 18, or 17½, or whatever the age maybe. Why make a difference between the time he can join the Army and the time he commences to receive his pension rights? The principle appears to be somewhat similar to that which governs those who come under Unemployment Insurance. There was for a long time a gap in the Unemployment Insurance Act, and that has now been met to some extent. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to consult his right hon. Friend and see whether a further concession cannot be made on the lines of the soldier becoming entitled to commence his pension rights immediately he joins the Army? There does not seem to be any reason in the present arrangement at all. If a boy is old enough to join the Army, he is old enough to qualify for pension rights, and I hope that that anomaly and that injustice which is being done to very young soldiers, will be removed. The age of 17½, I think, is still too young for boys to join the Army. The age ought to be fixed at 18 at the very least. I have always felt that 19 years would be a far more reasonable age. Still I want to express, what I have expressed on several occasions on this Bill, that once a boy has joined the Army he should become entitled to every right that the Army concedes to the older soldier. If a boy is old enough to join, he is old enough to be given the benefits to which soldiers are entitled in regard to pensions. I hope that further consideration will be given to the matter, and that proper provision will be made in the Act. Will he consider putting on the recruiting posters some strong indication that recruiting is meant only for those who are over 17½years of age? Will he make it emphatic so that when the young men see the posters they will know that they are not expected to join under that age, and their parents will know that if they do join under that age they will be able to claim them out of the Army without paying any compensation to the Army authorities?
I can understand the hon. Member for Walthamstow West (Mr. McEntee) desiring that the minimum age of 17½should be put in the Army Act. That is the view of the plain man. It has been my lot during the last few months, as a layman, along with others, to review the whole history and development of Army law. The average person would be much surprised to find how separate the Army is in this respect and how peculiar has been the origin and development of the Army law that applies to-day. The average layman might say that it would be a good thing to recast the whole thing and make it more simple and plain, but in working practice that would not be possible, because of the peculiar conditions of the soldiers' life. Therefore, I can quite see that it has not been possible for the Secretary of State for War to agree that the age of 17½should be put in the Army Act, but he has taken the course that has been outlined by the Under-Secretary of State for Air. The suggestion that he has made does, however, give his proposal practically the force of law, so far as Army law goes, and from that point of view it is satisfactory.I appreciate the words of the Undersecretary with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and others for their persistence in this matter. They have been very loyal to the principle for which they stand. They asked that the minimum age should be 18, but the right hon. Gentleman has compromised at 17½.My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh and others associated with him have been willing to accept the compromise suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. That is a very good thing, as events stand to-day? Year after year on the Army Annual Bill there has been controversy on this subject, but in the circumstances of to-day everybody must admit that it is extremely fortunate that on some of these matters, which have caused great contention in years gone by, a mutual settlement has been arrived at. On behalf of my hon. Friends on this side I may say that we much appreciate the compromise and, speaking as a layman, I am of the opinion that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will give the matter the effect of law. Other points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow, which merit consideration.
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) for what he has said and the spirit in which he has accepted the proposal put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. In expressing my thanks I am sure that I express the feelings of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. It is very rarely that one is in the fortunate position of having had several of the questions addressed to one answered by an hon. Member from the Front Opposition Bench. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street dealt efficiently with the point raised by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) as to why the age should not be put in the Army Act. He pointed out that what we propose will really have the force of law. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow, asked why we used the words: "until he is claimed." Those words are necessary because until a young man is claimed as being under age, we do not know that he is under age. If it is claimed that he was under 17 when he enlisted and he is claimed before he is 17, he can be discharged at once, and if he is claimed between 17 and 17½, there is a period of two months after his enlistment during which a claim can be made for his free discharge.The hon. Member for West Waltham-stow asked me one further question, in reply to which I am in the position of being able to give the Committee one more piece of good news. He asked me why the pension rights begin at a later age that the age at which the recruit is admitted into the Army. My right hon. Friend will consider this matter in connection with the legislation coming forward next year. Meanwhile, any entrants to the Army will not be penalised because of the regulations not being altered before that time. I will mention to my right hon. Friend the suggestion about recruiting posters. The hon. Member will not expect me to say anything more on that subject.
In view of the assurance that has been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.
Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
On a point of Order. I have a new Clause down (Amendment of Army Act, s.77A) which has not been called, and I should be glad if a reason could be given why it is not to be called. There are several reasons why it should be called. My Clause does not bring into operation any new principle, but only seeks an extension of the existing principle and gives the same benefits to other persons who enlist, when they attain the age of 21.
I can assure the hon. Member that we have noted this point carefully. It is an extra emolument which the hon. Member seeks to add, which does not come under the Army Act, and it is a matter which should be raised in Supply on the Estimates. The matter could be raised properly then. In the second place, the Clause deals with enlistment and would enable certain soldiers to continue their period of service. The provision with regard to being placed on the married quarters roll, and the marriage allowance roll could hardly be relevant.
1.45 p. m
A man of 21 years of age-has now certain rights under Section 77A of the Army Act. The point is whether a man who enlists under this Act for a term of 12 years has any right under Section 84 of the Act. As a matter of fact, he has a right under Section 84. The Secretary of State for War pointed out last year that one of the things at which the War Office was aiming was long-term service, so that the Army might be a career. It seems to me that the proposal of my learned Friend will hardly make any charge at all, at any rate it is not a substantial charge, and if the proposal were accepted it would make it possible for a young man 21 years of age to be put on the strength. I want very courteously to suggest that this does not really put any additional charge on the Army which is not contemplated in the Estimates, inasmuch as it is within the power of the authorities to declare who shall be on the strength, and who shall not. I trust, therefore, that, as the point seems to be a substantial one, Colonel Clifton Brown, you will reconsider your decision and allow us to discuss the matter.
It is quite out of Order to discuss it on this Bill. The Army Annual Act is concerned solely with the discipline and regulation of the Army and Air Force and, therefore, marriage allowances are not appropriate for discussion at the present moment. I am afraid there is nothing more to be said.
Do I understand from that decision, that although men may take on for long service and may desire to make the Army a career, they are to be discouraged from making any marriage arrangements?
No, certainly not. My decision is that this is not the proper time to discuss this matter. It can be discussed quite properly on the Army Estimates, but not on the Army Annual Bill.
Perhaps the Secretary of State for War will be able to bring it in in the form of a regulation.
I doubt even whether it would be permissible as a regulation.
I want to thank you for what you have said, and to say that we shall proceed with the matter in another way.
Schedule agreed to.
Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House."
At this point I want to mention the fact that a Departmental Committee has been sitting to consider the question of courts-martial.
That is not a question on which debate can take place.
I was going to ask a question.
I suggest that the- hon. Member should ask his question on the Motion for the Third Reading of the Bill
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill reported, without Amendment.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I was expecting some statement to be made with regard to the Departmental Committee which had been considering the question of courts-martial and discipline generally in the Army. I understand that the report is now complete and is in the hands of the authorities, and I am wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us when it is likely to be available for the convenience of hon. Members.
I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate that I am not in a position to answer that question, but what I will do is to bring the remarks of the hon. Member to the attention of the Secretary of State for War. There are other means by way of question and answer on normal days in this House, and I am quite sure that an answer would be given to the question.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air has referred to other ways by which we can get information, namely, by question and answer. I myself have put down questions as to the time when we might expect the publication of the report of this Committee. I have been given to understand that there are certain technical difficulties in the way, but I would point out that the publication of a report of this character has nothing whatever to do with technicalities which, might afterwards have to be raised. It is quite possible to publish the report. On, a former occasion on which there was am inquiry into the same subject, the report was duly published and no action was taken. I cannot see why there should be any delay in the publication of this report. The right hon. Gentleman might afterwards desire to amend the Army Act in accordance with its recommendations, but surely we may have the report published before any action is taken? We are not yet in a position to know what the Committee recommends, and until we know that we cannot find out whether the Army Act requires any amendment. I am sure my right hon. Friend appreciates that not only this House, but the Army and the country, are anxiously awaiting the publication of the report.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is raising matters which are not contained in the Bill, and therefore, he is out of order on the Third Reading.
I quite agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. My difficulty is that this is something which ought to have been in the Bill.
It is quite out of order to raise it on the Third Reading.
I appreciate your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I have put my main point, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some idea as to when the report will be published.
I wish to express my appreciation of the concession which the Secretary of State has made in regard to young recruits taken into the Army. On one occasion, I had to write a strong letter to the right hon. Gentleman on this matter, and no one can be more pleased than I am with the admirable spirit in which he has met this point, which has been raised by a number of hon. Members from time to time. Many of the lads who run away from home and join the Army turn out to be admirable soldiers, and we have never desired to do anything to stop this; but we have always felt that when a lad went into the Army, against the desires of his parents, and a reasonable request was made, it ought to be considered by the Minister. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman has met the position both from the parents' side and the lads' side, and I want to say how much I appreciate what he has done in this matter.
Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
Local Government Superannuation Bill
Considered in Committee; Reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.
Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.
[Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to promote and facilitate the construction, maintenance and management of camps of a permanent character, it is expedient—
(1) to authorise the Minister of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland to make out of moneys provided by Parliament payments, by way of grant or loan, to companies recognised for the purposes of the said Act, so, however, that the sum of any such grants and of the amounts out standing in respect of the principal of any such loans shall not at any time exceed in the aggregate one million two hundred thousand pounds; (2) to authorise payment to the Unemployment Assistance Fund out of moneys provided by Parliament of such additional contributions as may be necessary, in order to enable the Unemployment Assistance Board to make contributions to a company so recognised as aforesaid in respect of any additional expenditure incurred by the company, by reason of persons being employed by them in pursuance of an agreement with the Board under section thirty- seven of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, as applied with modifications for the purposes of the said Act of the present Session; (3) to authorise payment into the Exchequer of all sums received in repayment of the principal of any loan so made as aforesaid, or in respect of interest on any such loan."—(King's Recommendation signified.)—[Mr. Elliot.]
There are a number of questions I want to raise on this Money Resolution, some of which I mentioned on Second Reading, some of which are more appropriately mentioned now, and some of which are the result of statements made by the Government during the Second Reading Debate and further reflection on those statements. The first matter is simply a reference to the second paragraph of the Money Resolution, which deals with the question of the labour by which the camps are to be built. Once more, I ask the Government to bear in mind the anxiety felt—I think very rightly—on this side of the Committee in that regard.My second point relates to the provisions for the recovery of the loans which are to be made to the statutory companies that are to be set up. These loans amount to £700,000, half the original capital cost, and £200,000 which will be advanced for management and incidental expenses of various kinds. Those £700,000 out of a total provision of £1,200,000 are to be repaid over 20 years, with interest at 4 per cent. I suggest to the Minister—and I ask him earnestly to consider the matter —that a debt charge of £700,000 at 4 per cent. is very heavy. Consider what it means in relation to each camp which the company must run— £14,000 per camp to be recovered on charges which the management are to make to those who use the camps, and at a rate of 4 per cent., which I am bound to say seems to me to be very heavy. I should have thought it ought to be possible for these camps— and ought by the present legislation to be made possible for them—to borrow not only this capital, but if they see fit, further capital at the lowest possible rates at which the Treasury itself can borrow. I hope the Government will consider both the total amount which they are going to ask the camps to repay and the rate of interest which they are to pay on that total. Let hon. Members look at the effect of the arrangement now proposed. The Government told us on Wednesday that the management would have to add a charge of 2s. 3d. per head per week for the repayment of these loan charges. It is true that, in so far as the camps are school camps to be used by local education authorities, their expenditure will, as we understand, rank for grant; that is, 1 suppose that approximately half of the cost—a little more if the Government are generous—will come back on the taxpayer in any case.
The grant regulations allow only 20 per cent. in the case of elementary schools. It is appallingly low.
My hon. Friend's remark adds greater force to the point I am making. I hope the rate of grant will not be as low as 20 per cent., and that the Government will look into the matter, but if that is the rate, it adds force to my argument. In so far as we are to have camps for holidays for adults—and the Minister by no means ruled out that possibility—there will be no grant, and therefore the full charge of 2s. 3d. per week per person will have to be paid. I know that the Minister hopes that this legislation will in due course work a great change in our national life. As I listened to him, I could not resist the feeling that, to his mind, the peace-time social purpose of the Bill was much more important than the temporary provision for war time accommodation. I think we all agree with that view, but the degree to which the camps will be used, that is to say the extent to which they will achieve their social purpose, will depend largely on the basic charge per week made to those who use them. Therefore, I urge again on the Government the desirability of reducing this heavy debt charge, and I hope that before we have parted with the Bill, the Government will be able to bring forward new proposals on that point.The next question I wish to raise is also connected with the basic rate of charge to local education authorities and others who will use the camps. In the Second Reading Debate I said it would be useful if the Government would give some indication of the estimates which they were making under this head. I did not expect any elaborate answer, but, except with regard to the debt charge, I received no answer. It may be that the proposed methods of working the camps are still so vague that it is not possible to make any estimate by which the Government could feel themselves bound. I know that it is difficult to make an estimate and to change it later. At the same time, it is desirable that the discussion of the basic charge should be started as soon as possible for reasons which I shall explain. I think it is desirable because it may call forth from those who have experience in these matters various suggestions, perhaps suggestions of great value, of which the Government will be able to take advantage. I think it desirable because I hope that it will appear, since the camps are not being run for profit, that the basic charge will be incomparably lower than those of commercial camps and the mere fact that this is the case would prepare local education authorities, holiday organisations and individuals who desire camp holidays to make a large and increasing use of those camps which are now to be started. I do not think there would be any difficulty in giving a rough estimate. There are, of course, many items to be considered. The first is diet. A great deal of experience is available in that respect. I understand that the National Council of Social Service run a camp for school-children in South Wales; that the cost of their kitchen is 5s. per week per person and that the physique of children was greatly improved by their visits to the camp. I hope that the diet in these camps will be on the most generous scale and will include fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and everything else required to help the children to grow healthy and strong. I am sure that even if the charge were higher than 5s. a week we on this side would not object. I know that the location and grouping of camps will affect the question of whether bulk purchases will be possible or not, and will also affect the cost of the distribution of food but at the same time a rough estimate ought to be possible. Two other items, namely, heating and lighting are affected by the number of months in the year in which the camps will be used. We hope that they will be used for a large number of months— indeed for the greater part of the year if not all of it. It ought to be possible for the Government to make estimates, varying with the number of months during which the camps will be used and give us some general idea of the cost. There is another item which may not have been considered by the Government and that is laundry, which is much more important than it may appear. Perhaps the Government take the view that the school-children will be only a fortnight in the camp and that they can go for a fortnight without having their clothes washed, and therefore it will not be necessary to have any laundry except what is required for the basic requirements of the camp, such as bed-clothes. I think that is wrong and I hope the Government will not take that view. Experience may prove the desirability of children spending a great deal more than a fortnight at these camps. The people who go on holiday to these camps may want to remain there longer than a fortnight but, apart from those considerations, the camps are primarily for the purpose of providing accommodation in time of war for people who may have to remain in them for long periods. This is a charge, therefore, which must be taken into consideration. There is one other point in connection with the basic weekly charge which may not seem relevant and if I am out of Order in raising it, I hope that you, Sir Dennis, will tell me so at once. I believe that a certain amount of anxiety is being caused on the question of whether teachers who go with children to these school camps will be put to any extra expense by so doing. It will be agreed that the co-operation of the teachers is vital to the success of this plan, and I believe the teachers are unanimously and enthusiastically in favour of the school camps. It would, however, be an extreme injustice if extra expenditure were put upon the teachers because they were doing their share of the work of bringing the children to the camps. The question has been raised, from what source I do not know, but it has come up for discussion and is, I understand, causing anxiety among teachers. Personally, I think our teachers are paid too little and it would be very unfair to place any extra charge upon them in this connection. I hope, therefore, the Government will make it plain that nothing of that kind is contemplated. The Minister spoke the other day on the question of holiday camps for adults. We attach great importance to this matter. The Bill as it stands, makes no provision for such camps, and this Money Resolution makes no provision for the capital which will be required to provide holiday camps for adults if there are to be such. I urge on the Minister that before the Bill leaves this House he should make Amendments in it which will make it possible for the companies to set up camps for adults, and also that he will make adequate financial provision to enable the companies to do so when they have the power. The last point I wish to raise is that of the expansion of the camps in time of war. I shall not inflict upon the Minister arguments which he has already heard on the number of people who may have to be evacuated if an air attack on Great Britain should take place. I say frankly that I was very greatly disturbed by what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said the other day. I am certain that the figures on which the Government are working are wholly fallacious, and that if an attack ever starts—we all fervently hope it will not do so—the numbers will be far greater than those on which the Government are now proceeding. Of course that is all guess work, but I do happen to know that a very well qualified authority who has given great attention to this matter and is very well qualified to form a judgment, did believe some years ago that the total number of people who will have to be evacuated can be hardly less than 10,000,000. Certainly the experience of recent years has not given us any ground for hope that the estimates then made can now safely be reduced. The camps must make some contribution towards this enormous total. I agree that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was quite right in saving that billeting is the first thing to look to. I urged that on the Lord Privy Seal's Committee last summer. I think we should have billeting for numbers far beyond those which are contemplated, and that the scheme should be carried through with ruthless determination if necessary. But the purpose of this Bill is to make some contribution at least towards the authorities. I do urge on the Government that it is really—I was going to say absurd—it is really quite inadequate to foresee only a twofold expansion of the camps in a time of war. Some people think that ten times more is nearer the right figure. I do not hold with that estimate.
The hon. Member has raised a question as to the possibility of something that he said not being relevant. In view of the fact that I gave a definite and strict Ruling the other day against a Second Reading Debate on the Bill when we came to the Money Resolution, I have to draw the hon. Member's attention to that Ruling, but in the present case, if it be the general wish of the Committee that there should be a little extra latitude, I do not want to stop him; but I cannot pass some of the hon. Member's speech without calling attention to the Ruling which has been given.
I apologise if I have strayed beyond the rules of Order. I was about to argue that the provision of a capital sum of £20,000 per camp is quite inadequate in view of the necessity for expanding the camps in time of war. I hope that arguments to that end may be strictly in order. I was saying that I thought the Government ought to provide for an expansion much greater than the mere doubling of the capacity of the camps in time of peace, and that the expansion ought to be more nearly ten times. If such expansion is to take place when an emergency arises, the preparations must be made in advance, they must be fairly elaborate, and must be paid for in advance. What would be required to make an expansibility greater than twofold? I think it would be necessary to have stores on the spot, with sectional parts of the buildings of which the camp is composed. It would be well to store the parts or the materials for the extra buildings. I think the Government should make provision for tents and for double-decker beds. There should be the extra equipment to that end. There would certainly have to be a considerable expense upon the drainage system, though I do not think that is quite as costly as some people imagine. It would be necessary to have extra provision for water supplies, extra kitchen accommodation and equipment, and of course it would be necessary to have extra land.Obviously that means a cost that would be a good deal more than the basic £20,000 which the Government provide. I have heard it said by an expert that if he were aiming at a tenfold expansion he would provide perhaps £35,000 a camp instead of £20,000. I do not hold by that estimate any more than I hold by the figure of a tenfold expansion, but I do urge that the basic provision which the Government make of a capital sum for each camp ought to be a good deal larger. We have said that we think this Bill is desirable but that it is belated and inadequate. It is an experiment where experiment was required, but I hope the Government will consider these financial points and will make the Bill more adequate than it now is for the great purpose that we all have in view.
The Under-Secretary for Scotland, in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, said that to-day the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education would inform the Committee what would be the regulations under which these camps would be administered, as far as the grant from the Board of Education to local authorities is concerned, and he said that as far as Scotland was concerned the grant would be 50 per cent. Since the hon. Gentleman spoke on Wednesday I have taken steps to confirm the view that I formed during the Second Reading debate, that no such generosity will be shown by the Government in dispensing grants to English local education authorities in so far as they are education authorities for elementary education. This expenditure falls within the category for which only 20 per cent. of grants is paid by the Board of Education, although curiously enough if a local education authority is occupying part of a camp for higher education purposes and part for elementary purposes, that part which is used for higher education, let us say for children from secondary or technical schools, will receive 50 per cent., but the part occupied for elementary school children will receive only 20 per cent. If young persons are sent out under Section 86 of the Education Act of 1921, as amended by the relevant section of the Physical Training and Recreation Act of 1937, that expediture will rank for grant at 50 per cent., but the education authorities will be paid only 20 per cent. in respect of the elementary school children.I urge that the Minister cannot expect the education authorities in these areas where these camps are most required to make use of the camps if they are to get as little as 20 per cent. of their expenditure in the way of grants. Take the Tyneside area and the borough repre- sented by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), a small part of which I represent. That borough has just made a rate of 22s. in the £ for the coming year. There can be few boroughs in England where the children would benefit more by a stay in a camp for something longer than a fortnight. Can you expect a borough which has a rate of that size to shoulder 80 per cent. of the cost of taking these children to camp and maintaining them there? I am sure that no Member of the Committee would expect it. In fact if Jarrow did it and put up the rates, I can see the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) and one or two others getting up in this House to denounce the authority for wicked extravagance. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education will, as I asked him the other night oil the Second Reading Debate, bring to the attention of the President what will be the position of these local authorities on Tyneside—Jarrow, South Shields, Hebburn—and in the county of Durham and in South Wales, if they attempt to use these camps under the present grant regulations. I welcome the opportunity for getting children into these camps. Speaking as an ex-teacher, I believe that the more we can get children away from the atmosphere of the classroom into the open air and make them realise that education is not a thing confined to the schoolroom, the better for all of us. It makes their education a great deal more real, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will realise in this connection the very limited range that a child in the elementary school covers, unless it can get these opportunities of going to a school camp. I recall when I was a teacher in Mort-lake, where I taught from 1906 to 1914, giving a lesson on hills and mountains, and I found that not a single boy in my class had ever seen Richmond Hill, which was only two miles away. These camps can be used to make geography and history and a good many of the subjects that do not appeal to every child a great deal more interesting, real, and connected with things rather than with words. But if we are to be rewarded by the Board of Education with nothing more than a 20 per cent. grant, I can see these camps being very largely used only by the authorities whose rateable value per child in average attendance is high. While I hope those will improve, the children who will benefit most will be those from the distressed areas and from the poorer counties, and unless this question of grant is dealt with I am sure the education authorities there will find it very difficult to avail themselves of these opportunities. I do not intend to touch on any other point to-day, because I want the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the one point that I have raised, the anomaly that exists whereby the elementary school child will receive grant at the rate of only 20 per cent., whereas in Scotland every child and in England all children and young persons other than elementary school children will receive a grant of 50 per cent.
There are several small points on which I would like some further information. Reference has already been made to the fact that the loans will have to carry an interest charge of four per cent. I take it that that is with the purpose of reducing the prices at these camps to as low a figure as possible, and although it is clear that 50 per cent. of the capital cost will be borne by the State, the other 50 per cent. will have to be repaid over a period of 20 years at four per cent. It seems to me that it ought to be possible to get money for this purpose at a lower rate than that, because these higher rates of interest on the capital involved press heavily on the charges which the camps are required to meet when they are actually running. If that is true, the same argument applies in respect to the proposals which have been made that in the founding of the camps care should be taken that they should be capable of enormous extension at times of emergency. I suggest that if the revenue-earning capacity of a camp, say, of a capacity of350 has to meet all the capital costs necessary for a camp with a population four, five, or ten times that number, it will be inevitable that a heavy cost will have to be charged on the number of people using the camp during the period of its limited capacity. Therefore, I suggest that some further attention should be given to the financial basis of these proposals, so that in these initial stages the burden falling on the camps is not so heavy in respect of capital charges as to make the prices out of all proportion to what they should be.The second point that I should like to put to the Minister is this, that it would appear that the rate of extension and expansion of the camps is likely to be limited by the terms of this Resolution. I take it that it is the intention to build more than 50 camps, and that if this experiment proves successful, the companies will be encouraged to go ahead with building programmes making increasingly larger provision. If that is the case, it seems that the drafting of the Financial Resolution rather restricts any rapid expansion once the 50 camps are erected, because there is a definite financial limit of £1,200,000, and presumably new camps can only be created in so far as money is recovered from the existing camps, which then might be used for capital purposes for the construction of the new camps. I suggest that if that interpretation of the Resolution is right, it is a very hampering restriction on the increase in the number of camps for which we all hope from this scheme. We were led to believe that this was really the beginning of a much bigger thing, and, therefore, I would like to know whether it is intended that the rate of extension of the camps shall be limited, after the first 50 are erected, merely by the amount of money that is recovered in capital repayments from the existing camps. There is a third point on which I would like to get some information, and that is the relation of any of the camps foreshadowed under the National Fitness scheme. It is a little unfortunate that there should be two parallel schemes in existence—the one that we are considering now and the one under the National Fitness Act, 1936. Under that Act a local authority could create a camp on behalf of its citizens, but it would be likely to receive a grant only up to about 30 per cent. It is obvious that if the company should embark on a camp for family holidays under this scheme, it would receive a grant up to 50 per cent. In that case the holiday camp under the local authority would be considerably handicapped, because of the additional capital charges which that camp would have to provide. One can therefore appreciate the uncertainty in the minds of local authorities in using their powers under the National Fitness scheme, and I would like the Minister to assure me that there will be some way of co-ordinating the activities of camps and their construction under the National Fitness Act as well as under the scheme that is contemplated here.
Just before the Minister replies I should like to take the opportunity to underline what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about the difficulties which distressed areas will have if they are to be allowed only 20 per cent. grant in respect of elementary school children. In all the Bills relating to Defence we have made provisions recently for the raising and disposal of large sums of money. Much of the money will, in the normal course of events, be wasted. We do not want it to be used, but as it will have to be spent in the piling up of munitions that will be a waste of money. Nevertheless, a certain amount can be used for productive expenditure, provided it is used in the right direction.I suggest that the amount of money provided in the Financial Resolution is inadequate to allow even the possibility of a small fraction of the number of elementary school children in the distressed areas to take the advantage that ought to be taken of these holiday camps. I would remind the Minister that in J arrow the rateable value is only £420 for a 1d. rate, and that it will be utterly impossible for Jarrow to find 80 per cent. of the money required for camps. As a matter of fact, at a time when the tuberculosis rate among children in schools is higher in Jarrow than anywhere else in the country, the town council, in order to prevent the rates rising has had to make provision to cut down the amount to be spent on dried milk, free milk and free meals. How will it be possible, under the scheme proposed by the Ministry, for Jarrow to provide 80 per cent. of the money necessary to take these children to school camps? It seems very short-sighted to provide in the Financial Resolution for only so small an amount that children who are most desperately in need of fresh air and sunshine will not be able to take advantage of this opportunity. The Minister is also losing the chance of using a much larger number of the unemployed from these areas to construct camps. I see from the estimate in the Bill that he is providing for an amount in contributions in respect of wages, so that the unemployed can be used to a certain extent. I ask the Minister to give us some idea whether there is any restriction on that amount. Obviously, if a large number of unemployed can be used in this way it would have the double advantage of using unemployed for this necessary work and of providing the badly needed camps. I suggest to the Minister that the amount of money provided by Clause 2 ought to be much greater, to make it possible for consumptive and under-nourished children to benefit under the Bill, because they badly need to be provided for in greater measure than is the case to-day.
It is very pleasant for me to speak upon a Financial Resolution which commands the respect of the whole House. I am replying to this portion of the Debate because when we were discussing the general proposition the other day many hon. Members realised that the educational aspect of these camps was very important, and several speeches related definitely to that side of the Bill. I have been camping myself for the last 20 years, so I am extremely interested in this experimental Bill. The points raised by hon. Members can nearly all be answered by the main contention that the Bill is experimental. The many points which were raised by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) and the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) cannot be solved until we have had some experience with the actual construction of the camps—the points about laundry, food, heating, lighting and so forth.I should like to answer one specific point raised by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), as to why there is a difference between the rate of grant in England and Scotland. I am somewhat interested in both sides of this question. The formula for grant is such that Scotland gets a sum of money equal to 11/80ths of the sum allocated for England. Most of the expenditure in Scotland is on a 50–50 basis, but I can assure the hon. Member that that has nothing to do with the Bill. That is a historical accident. So far as we are concerned, as the hon. Member knows well, 20 per cent. has for many years been the allowance for elementary school buildings in a very complicated formula. Camps for secondary schools have usually been provided by the boys and masters themselves. I know of hardly any secondary school in the country which does not go away to some sort of camp, either an O.T.C. or cadet camp or an ordinary leisure camp. For elementary schools the provision which has been there for some time dealt originally with under-nourished children who could best profit by a stay in the country. The facts are that up to the present time there are only, I suppose, about 20 such camps provided by local education authorities and that of their accommodation for about 1,400 children roughly half is used for weakly and undernourished children. The others are normal children, because the authorities in their case believe in camps for their own sake. This is the situation that existed when the Bill, prepared for an entirely different purpose, came before the House.
The hon. Gentleman said that the camps were to be experimental, but surely he has the experience already.
The size and the nature of the proposed camps are different. In the first place, most camps hitherto, as the hon. Member for South Shields knows, have been much smaller and there has been more chance for intimate contact between teachers and pupils. Some very good unorganised leisure has been allowed, which is not so easy when you have to deal with 350 children. Many of the camps in the past, particularly those provided by local education authorities, have been substantially built, but the proposed camps, are to be wooden huts. Possibly the huts have to be camouflaged and possibly the whole siting problem has to be looked at afresh.I will bear in mind the points made by the hon. Members for South Shields and Jarrow. It is a fact that, if the grant of 20 per cent. had been 50 per cent. in the last 20 years, there would have been more of these camps in existence.
I readily concede the point. I will bring to the notice of my Noble Friend the differentiation not only between England and Scotland but between those who go to secondary schools and those who go to elementary schools in England; and also the point in relation to the National Fitness Act which was raised by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones). The fact is that we are only just getting accustomed to the idea that it would pay the country and the education authorities to give a good bit more of their education in the country rather than in the urban areas and in the great congested cities to-day.Some figures have been worked out and I shall be glad to give them to the hon. Member for South Shields. The cost of provision and management of these camps might be put at about 4s. 6d. per child per week, of which the authorities would be expected to pay half, that is 2s. 3d. In addition, the authorities would have to meet the cost of food and attendance—that is the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Derby. On an average this would be about us. 6d. per child per week. Therefore the total would be about 13s. 9.d. per week, and if we take the 20 per cent. of that off it works out at 11s. That is, of course, a rough estimate and I cannot give more approximate figures, but the rough cost to the education authorities would be 11s. per child per week. I have to consider not only the schools but those many juvenile organisations in this country and in Wales such as the boy scouts and boys' clubs. Supposing they could get a holiday for 11s. or possibly 15s. a week, they would be saving up throughout the year for a holiday in which they would be out in the open air and possibly near the sea. Such a provision would be a very great contribution to that rather neglected period between the ages of 14 and 18, between the time when the child is at school, with all the advantages which that means, and the time when it arrives at an adult age. Various other questions were raised. The hon. Member for Shipley, who has had great experience in these matters, asked whether we could not do something now to bring about co-ordination between the various authorities who are providing camps. I think that could be done. At the moment there are local authorities which are going into the camp business. It is well known, for instance, that the borough of Lambeth is to do some pioneer work of this kind, buy a site somewhere down on the South coast and build for the people of Lambeth a camp for adults and indeed for children as well. There are on the Board men of great experience, for example, Dr. Gurney-Dixon, who is well known in the world of education, and also the Deputy Secretary of the Board of Education, Sir Edward Howarth, and when this Bill is in operation I have no doubt they will take advice from the many rambling associations and campers' associations in this country. The hon. Member for Derby raised other questions about the cost. I would tell him that nearly all those points about teachers and their expenses can be raised when the Bill gets into Committee. I hardly think it is for me to go into such details now. He further asked whether the teachers themselves would have to pay extra, feeling that it might be rather a burden upon them. The facts are that in the existing camps they have volunteered and they pay for their food only, which generally works out at a very reasonable figure. The great thing to remember about the camps is that they will be partly for holiday and partly for school purposes. We shall have to work out in practice how far they will partake of purely educational and scholastic activities and how far there will be games, excursions, rambles and less of the ordinary academic activities associated with purely urban schools. As in most things I think there will be a common sense compromise. As these camps will naturally be situated in attractive surroundings, in the heart of the country-side, it will be foolish to keep the children inside with their books. Far better to let them get those advantages which the children are now getting in the rural senior schools. Therefore, I hope there will be school gardens round these camps, and opportunities for every kind of out-door recreation. An important point to remember is that this is one of the few Bills which will have even greater uses in peace time than in war time and I think that is why the Committee, which is so full to-day, will be pleased to give this Financial Resolution its unanimous assent and approval.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [ Captain Margesson.]
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me this morning whether I could make a statement as to the European situation. As I said this morning, His Majesty's Government have no official confirmation of the rumours of any projected attack on Poland and they must not, therefore, be taken as accepting them as true.I am glad to take this opportunity of stating again the general policy of His Majesty's Government. They have constantly advocated the adjustment, by way of free negotiation between the parties concerned, of any differences that may arise between them. They consider that this is the natural and proper course where differences exist. In their opinion there should be no question incapable of solution by peaceful means, and they would see no justification for the substitution of force or threats of force for the method of negotiation. As the House is aware, certain consultations are now proceeding with other Governments. In order to make perfectly clear the position of His Majesty's Government in the meantime before those consultations are concluded, I now have to inform the House that during that period, in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect. I may add that the French Government have authorised me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty's Government.
May I, in one sentence, transgress in order to say that I am quite sure that this House realises the potentialities that might arise from the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made. It may prove to be in its consequences as momentous a statement as has been made in this House for a quarter of a century. It is very difficult with such recent statements before us to say very much, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions which I do not think he has made quite clear in his statement. I would like to ask him whether the statement which he has now read is to be regarded as the first step in a developing policy to deter or restrain aggression, and, if so, will the Government take immediate, active and energetic steps to bring into this arrangement other Powers? Will he especially think of the value of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics together with other Powers, large and small? Will he do so with the wider object of obtaining the maximum amount of co-operation in the defence of peace? Will he consider now the advisability of an immediate conference of those Powers who might be prepared to range themselves on the side of peace as against aggression?
:I will try to answer the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has put to me. I think the statement makes it clear that what I have said is intended to cover what I may call an interim period. The Government, as has already been announced, are in consultation with various other Powers, including, of course, the Soviet Government. My Noble Friend the Foreign Secretary saw the Soviet Ambassador this morning, and had very full discussions with him on the subject. I have no doubt that the principles upon which we are acting are fully understood and appreciated by that Government. The House is aware that we are expecting a visit next week from Colonel Beck, the Foreign Secretary of Poland. There will then be an opportunity of discussing with him the various further measures that may be taken in order, as the right hon. Gentleman has put it, to accumulate the maximum amount of co-operation in any efforts that may be made to put an end to aggression, if aggression were intended, and to substitute for it the more reasonable and orderly method of discussion.
There is a point to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer—the possibilities of a conference. May I put this point, and I want to put it quite frankly, as I think the House will not be without a feeling of responsibility at this moment. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether in his view he would welcome that maximum co-operation from all Powers, including the U.S.S.R.?
Yes, we should welcome the maximum amount of co-operation. On the question of a conference, in our view it is simply a matter of practical expediency. We have no theoretical views about a conference. If it proved to be the best way we should not hesitate to use it. If we find that there is a more effective way of achieving our object, we might dispense with a conference.
With regard to the Prime Minister's original statement, may I ask whether there has been time for full consultation with the Dominions?
The Dominions have been kept fully informed.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that there are no idealogicial impediments between us and the U.S.S.R.?
Yes, I have no hesitation in giving that assurance.
The Prime Minister has made a very important statement, which has been received with great satisfaction in all parts of the House. I would like to suggest to the House whether it might not be desirable, in view of what we have heard to-day, to postpone the Debate on Monday? The Debate was principally aimed at eliciting certain information. The House has now had that information. It is doubtful whether there will be anything new on Monday, and perhaps it will be desirable to put the Debate off for a day or two as a debate in these delicate circumstances might land us in much more harm than good.
May I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that this House, faced with the gravity of the situation, will, I hope, have a Debate on Monday, which will be in accordance with the best traditions of this House.
May I support the right hon. Gentleman in resisting the suggestion made by the noble Lord? I feel that it would be quite improper, having regard to the earlier part of the Prime Minister's statement, to say one critical word, but I would not like to assume that we would not have an early opportunity of surveying the new situation that is created by the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement.
The Prime Minister has made a statement that if Poland is attacked we will go to war. May I draw attention to the fact that what everybody desires is the most immediate unification of the peace forces to prevent us going to war, and I suggest to the Prime Minister that if he wants to give real service to the country in such a critical and dangerous position he will give the opportunity and give the responsibility to some one who all along has believed in the principle of collective security to organise a government that will pursue with the utmost speed a policy that will save us from war? [Interruption.] This is a very serious matter. We have heard from the Prime Minister that in the event of certain things happening this country is going to war, and we from these benches declare that if the present methods are adopted—
I understand the policy of the Labour movement—and I have been a member of the Labour movement all my life—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I pay my dues to the Labour movement, and there is no need for anybody in the Labour party adopting such an attitude as that of the hon. Member. The serious and important thing is that Members on this side of the House have continuously asserted that with collective security peace could be saved. The Prime Minister's policy has collapsed. Now he has led the country to the brink of war and I suggest the time has come when this Government—[HON. MEM BERS: "Sit down!"] If Members on this side had stood with me— [Interruption] —and prevented the Prime Minister from going to Munich, we would not be discussing going to war now. I ask the Prime Minister to do a real service to the country and to give to those who believe in collective security an opportunity of forming a Government and saving the people of this country and the people of Europe from the menace of war.
May I ask the Prime Minister, in view of the tension that undoubtedly exists between Poland and Germany at the present moment, whether he is aware of any approach by the German Government to the Polish Government with a view to securing peaceful discussion of their differences?
I have not any knowledge at present of any such movement.
I should not have risen to make a few remarks if it had not been for the suggestion made by the Noble Lord opposite and the way in which certain remarks which have just been made by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) have been received by Members of the House. Hon. Members know that I am not usually associated with the hon. Member for West Fife in his remarks, but I want to say to the House that we on these Benches realise the gravity of the statement which the Prime Minister has just made. We who have vivid memories of 1914 know what that statement may mean, and probably will mean, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that, if the Debate takes place on Monday, we shall have some critical remarks to make about the right hon. Gentleman and his policy, which I believe has led up to the position in which we are at the moment; and I can assure hon. Members that, just as we on these Benches have fought for our country in the past, and would do so again—[HON. MEMBERS: "So have we!"]—Members on all Benches, shall I say—and we would do it again—nevertheless we are not quite satisfied in our own minds that, if the occasion should come, the Prime Minister is the one to lead this nation.
Since we all seem to be expressing our particular points of view, I would like just to express mine in about two sentences. At the time of the crisis last September, I expressed certain views with regard to the Prime Minister. I thought then that he had made in the past very serious mistakes, but I thought there was every justification, in all the circumstances, for his doing what he did at Munich. I want to say this further. There may be an alternative Prime Minister to take charge of the affairs of this country at this grave hour, but—and this, of course, is an absolute condition— if the Prime Minister is now genuinely and sincerely convinced, without any mental reservation, that it is necessary for him to pursue this new policy of rallying the friends of peace, if he is convinced of that and is quite sincere about it, and is not looking back upon the dead past, then I think, in view of his world reputation as a man for peace, he is probably the best man for the job.
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes after Three o'Clock, until Monday next, 3rd April.