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Clause 16—(Other Amendments)

Volume 437: debated on Thursday 8 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 10, line 24, at the end, to insert:

"(2) The said Acts shall have effect as if at the end of Subsection (7) of Section six of the principal Act the following words were inserted, that is to say 'and such regulations shall provide for the grant to any person who on the date at which he becomes liable to be called up under the National Service Act, 1947. is serving an apprenticeship or receiving full-time education in a universty, school or other institution, or who satisfies the Minister that he will within one year from that date be so receiving education, of a postponement certificate for the period of such apprenticeship or education.'"
The effect and intention of this Amendment are such that I have no doubt they will have the sympathy of the Minister. Indeed, the object of this Amendment is to put into the Bill substantially what the Minister has said are the intentions of the Government. Briefly, the effect of this Amendment is to provide that a right to postponement shall be granted to students and apprentices for the period of their studentship or apprenticeship. That, with one additional factor, to which I shall invite the attention of the Committee in a moment, is the intention of this Amendment. I do not think I shall be challenged if I say that I believe that is, administratively, the intention of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister is able, after his strenuous efforts of the last 48 hours, to cast his mind back to the day before yesterday, which, I have no doubt, seems a very long time ago to him, he will recollect that he said, with reference to the intention of the Government:
"It is apparent that the hon. Member for Southall has not realised that deferment is not restricted to indentured apprentices, but also covers non-indentured apprentices, and, what is more important, those who are called 'learners,' who have not the privilege of being apprentices, but are being taught a trade. All who are going through a course of instruction for a trade, or who are going to the universities; shall have the right to ask for deferment."
The right hon. Gentleman also said:
"I was making clear what was already indicated on Second Reading, that any apprentice, learner, or student going up to the university, may himself make application for his service to be postponed until after his training has been completed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1947; Vol. 437, c. 237–8.]
That indication of opinion is, I think—so far as any indication of opinion can be—satisfactory to most hon. Members of the Committee. The only variation which this Amendment makes to that intention is to add the provision, which hon. Members will see upon the Order Paper, to the effect that there are also included within this right to postponement, those who can satisfy the authorities that they will,
"within one year from that date, be so receiving education."
The intention of that additional factor will, of course, be apparent to the Committee. Schools, universities, technical colleges, and so on, generally begin their academic year on one date only in the year. It may be that a young man becomes i8 in April, and desires to proceed to a technical college in October. He cannot proceed to a technical college till then, because they will not have him. This further provision is designed to cover that point.

I hope that after what the right hon. Gentleman has said, he will indicate a willingness to accept this Amendment, and will not merely ask the Committee to accept his good intentions in the matter, perfectly genuine, as I am sure most hon. Members will agree, as those intentions are. There are several reasons I suggest to the Committee, why it is much better to have this provision in the Bill. First, there s the psychological one. There is no doubt at all, that to the ordinary citizen of this country, there is a great and inevitable difference between the most reliable Ministerial assurance, and an enactment by the Legislature. People know that the latter is their statutory right, ensured to them by the law of this land, whereas Ministerial assurances have obviously—and I am casting no reflections—less validity and less binding force.

I think that the young men affected by the provisions of this Bill would be somewhat reassured if they knew that their rights under it are actually written into the Bill itself. That is important in enacting what, with the exception' of the Act of 1939, is the first provision for compulsory military service in peacetime in this country. It is equally important that in the Bill there should be full recognition of the need for safeguarding both education and apprenticeship. Then, again, there is the fact that this is obviously a matter of major policy. I imagine that the Committee will agree that it is inevitable, in these days, that minor matters can and must inevitably be dealt with administratively, or even by regulation. But this is not a minor matter; this is a matter of major importance, inasmuch as it affects, not only the whole life of a large section of the younger part of the community, but also fundamentally affects the possibility of this Bill working smoothly, and with the minimum of damage to the community.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who, some hours ago, pointed out that it was important at this moment that the wartime emphasis upon priority for the needs of the State, as against the needs of the individual, should be reversed, and that it should be made clear that, although a compulsory military service was accepted as a regrettable necessity by the majority of the Committee, the wellbeing of the individuals affected by it must come first. If the Committee accept that point of view, I think they must insist that what is, perhaps, the most important provision for the care of the individual concerned shall be written into the Bill. There will be this additional advantage. I will say, quite frankly, that, as far as I am concerned, I am far from happy about this Bill. [Laughter.] I am sorry that some hon. Members laugh. I ask them to accept the view that it is not unreasonable to be reluctant to vote away for a year the liberty of a large section of the population. The fact that I shall give my vote, when necessary, to that effect does not deprive me of anxiety and reluctance on this matter. I believe that attitude will be found to exist among a great many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I am very sorry that any hon. Member should regard that aspect of the matter as one for merriment. It will reassure a great many people, both in this Committee and outside, if they know that the inevitable damage to the education and training of the young, which this Bill involves, is being minimised as far as possible, and minimised by provisions within the Bill itself. It is for that reason that I am moving this Amendment.

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I address myself to the Amendment. It seems to me that there is a great element of misunderstanding in this matter. Briefly, the position is, as I explained yesterday, that there are two methods by which a person's liability to serve is deferred. There is the deferment method, and the postponement method. What the hon. Gentleman is asking for in this Amendment is that the present method of deferring students shall be transferred from the present machinery to the hardship committees. In other words, he is asking for a major Amendment of the provisions of the National Service Act, 1939. But that part of the Act is being retained here. If the Amendment were carried, it would give to every student in the country, whether there was a place for him in the university or not, the absolute right to exemption until he had gone to the university.

I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary does not want to mislead the Committee. Surely, the provision on that point is clear. It provides for exemption during the period of university education, or if the applicant can satisfy the Minister that he will be going through a course within one year. To satisfy the Minister of that, he would obviously have to show proof that the university would take him.

But then we should have the position of a man, who is now liable for 12 months service, having that service postponed, because, in 10 months' time, he can get into a university. He might, indeed, spend such time in the university, under the right given to him by this Amendment, as would take him beyond the age of call-up. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is wrong."] I was satisfied about the confusion which existed concerning the method of granting postponement certificates and allowing deferment under the deferment procedure. It is really all mixed up, and is done in such a way as to make nonsense of the present legislation, and the whole procedure. I will try again to set out the position. The postponement provision in the National Service Act was inserted for a special purpose. The postponement certificate is only granted in cases of personal hardship. The hon. Gentleman is now asking that people should be given a postponement certificate, but such certificates can only be issued by a hardship committee.

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, but I want to get the point clear. We had a Debate on Tuesday last about 18 or 21, and I put to the Committee the very point which my hon. Friend is now putting. At that time, my hon. Friend said that this Bill was to make a change in the law, and that, whereas, under the existing law, the applicant had to prove hardship, under the procedure of this law he would have to do no such thing, and would have an option, provided he proved that he came within those circumstances.

5.0 p.m.

I am sorry to have to press this point, but I am afraid I have not made myself clear. A postponement certificate is granted on the grounds of personal hardship. It is provided that such a certificate shall be issued by a hardship committee. I submit that a hardship committee is the wrong machine for granting deferment. We are now discussing deferment for apprentices and for persons receiving full-time education in a university, or who satisfiy the Minister that within a year they will go to an educational institution. The only body to grant a postponement certificate in this type of case is the hardship committee. The only postponement certificate that can be issued is one issued by the hardship committee. I appreciate the intention of this Amendment; I can see what is behind it, but this is the wrong way of doing it.

I think this is a matter of some importance. Let me indicate what is done in the case of apprentices, learners, pupils and students in full-time attendance at certain technical clases or courses. I propose to quote the headnote of the form N. L. 11 which is issued to every student or every person in this category when he registers at the employment exchange. In the form are set out the conditions which are applicable if he desires to obtain deferment of his service. Let me quote the part relating to apprentices:
"Deferment may be granted by the District Man Power Board if your employment as an apprentice, learner or pupil satisfies all the following conditions:"
It then sets out the conditions. The first material condition is:
"That a period of training after the age of 18 is required in your case in order that you may obtain the necessary skill for the occupation, or a recognised qualification for the profession, you intend to follow."
The second condition is:
"That training begun (a) within the normal limits recognised in a scheme of apprenticeship or similar training for the industry, profession or occupation concerned."
Otherwise, as soon as a person received notice to register, it would be open for him to enter into apprenticeship in order to get the benefit of this deferment. The form then says that this training and apprenticeship shall have commenced before the age of 17. There are other conditions laid down, presumably recognised and understood by the student and apprentice who wants to exercise his option to claim deferment for the purpose of his apprenticeship.

Now I come to the conditions of deferment of students attending a full-time technical class. I am taking a little more time over this point than, perhaps, I might otherwise have done, because there are several Amendments later on the Order Paper which cover substantially this ground, and I think the time spent now on this matter will be very usefully spent. The form says:
"Conditions of deferment of a student attending a full-time technical class. If you are a student in full-time attendance at an approved technical class or course (other than a course of the kind referred to in paragraph 8 below), deferment may be granted by the District Man Power Board provided (1) (a) you begin your technical education before the age of 17 or within three months of the end of your whole-time general education; and (b) the course forms a normal part of, or is appropriate to, your training for the skilled occupation or profession you intend to follow; and (c)"—
this is relevant to some of the discussion we have had previously in the Committee—
"the Head of the technical college which you attend, or propose to attend, certifies that you have been accepted as a suitable student for the course in question; (2) you are making satisfactory progress in your studies."
That is of the greatest importance. Otherwise, fellows who are not pulling their weight at the technical college, who are using this as a means of escape, will continue to fail examination after examination, until they have reached the age of 26, and will escape liability completely. In the case of deferment, one does not add to the period of liability the period of deferment. It is only in the case of postponement that the period is added, so that the postponement does not affect the liability of the person to his obligations under the Bill.

The example which the Parliamentary Secretary put of a person deliberately failing an examination implies criminal negligence on the part of the educational establishment. Any such student would obviously be dismissed from the place of education, and would then forfeit the deferment. I think the hon. Gentleman has made a false point.

I have, so far, covered the case of the technical colleges. Now let me come to the case of the students. These are the conditions with regard to the students:

"If you wish to apply for deferment on the ground that you are taking or propose to take, a full-time course at:—(1) a University, or (2) a Medical, Dental or Veterinary College for a recognised professional qualification, or (3) a recognised Agricultural College, leading to an approved qualification"—
in which some hon. Members were interested yesterday—
"or … (5) a Teachers' Training College, you should consult the Head of your school or college regarding the special arangements for the deferment of such students. Pending a decision on your deferment for such a course, you may be eligible for temporary deferment under the separate arrangments referred to in paragraph 9 below."

This is the document which is now issued regularly on registration to any person who desires a deferment on any of the grounds I have mentioned. The date of the document as revised is February, 1947. This is the document which is in operation now.

I now come to the point raised in the Amendment. The Amendment confuses the two positions. It seeks to use the postponement certificate which is issued by the hardship committees for cases of deferment. I warn hon. Members that what they would be doing by their Amendment would be this: If a postponement certificate—and this is a term adequately described in the old Act—were granted to persons who were entitled to deferment, they would lose the benefit which they now have, namely, that their period of liability for service is not extended by the period of their deferment. This is a very difficult matter—

The hon. Gentleman has been very helpful, at any rate, as far as I am concerned, but I would like to see if I have correctly understood the effect. Does he want the effect to he that anybody who goes to a university for three years shall, instead of doing seven years' service under this Bill, do only four years? Does the hon. Gentleman want to produce that effect?

Hon. Members should look more closely into what was done during the night. I know we were not all at our best, but hon. Members should see what was decided by the Committee. I am sorry I have not made myself as clear as I would like to have done, but this is a highly technical matter, as the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) knows, because he is experienced in this matter. The position will be this: Instead of getting a deferment, they will get a postponement certificate. Then their liability to service will be extended by the period of deferment which is now called the period of postponement. I am sure that is not the intention of the Amendment. If that is the intention of the Amendment, it was not the reason given when the Amendment was moved. The reason which was given when the Amendment was moved was that every student and apprentice in the country expecting to go to a university immediately or within 10 or II months, should have the absolute right to be exempted from service, so long as he continued at the university, the technical college or as an apprentice. I submit that this would create a situation which would be capable of very great abuse. A man might fail in one college; he might fail in Cardiff, and he could then go to London. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He would not do so now, at this stage, because of the tremendous pressure to enter the universities, but would hon. Members consider what the position in the educational institutions of this country will be in three years' time when all these men have come out of the universities? It will become a great racket, and that is not the intention of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment.

I am satisfied hon. Members opposite want to do the right thing by the students and apprentices. I do not want their position to be worsened; and at same time, a method ought not to be created which would give rise to substantial abuse. Let me take the position of a student in a technical college. He gets a postponement certificate. He not a bright student, but he is doing his best. Hon. Members would describe him as a hard-working student. We cannot take away his postponement certificate because he is not brilliant, so long as he is conscientious. But this is the postponement method and not the deferment method, and he will go on slogging away. He fails to pass his examinations until he reaches the age of 26, and, as the Bill now stands, he escapes his liability to service. That is all right in the case of the genuinely dull man, but, after all, there is an inducement for a man to be dull, because by being dull he will escape his obligations.

I do not wish to be offensive, but he might even become a Member of Parliament. This Amendment raises issues which will involve greater considerations than were in the mind of the mover. We shall have to discuss the matter later, when we come to the new Clauses, but I have tried to give the general framework, indicating how service is postponed and how it is deferred. They are two entirely different types of machinery and involve two entirely different types of reasons. This Amendment confuses the case of the man who ought to be deferred with the type of postponement which the hardship committee gives to a fellow who has some domestic hardship. Therefore, I ask that the Amendment be withdrawn. Perhaps we shall have further discussion on the matter when we come to the later Amendments dealing with agricultural workers, technical students and so on.

5.15 p.m.

I think the Parliamentary Secretary, who has done his best to explain the difficult position which arises with the present complicated machinery, has really failed, though I am not blaming him for it, to appreciate the true purport and significance of this Amendment. I feel sure that if he had appreciated it, he would not have said some of the hard things that he did say about it. He said, for' instance, that if this Amendment were accepted, it would lead to a great racket. I agree, it would, if the Amendment provided for a right to deferment which could be exercised, and go on being exercised, until the 26th birthday came, when the youth would be free from all liability for compulsory service. But that is the reason—although it may involve certain administrative procedure, to which I will come later—why the reference in this Amendment is not to "deferment" but to "postponement." If the postponement is granted, the liability for service does not disappear. If it were postponement, there would be no incentive to the student or apprentice to engage in "ca'canny" in the hope of obtaining a deferment sufficiently long to free him from liability for service. That is the reason why the word "postponement" is found in this Amendment. It is an important point, because there is no intention on this side of the Committee of enabling students and apprentices to escape liability for national service under the terms of this Amendment.

It seems to me that the hon. and learned Member is not quite clear. It is probably my fault that I have not made the position as clear as I might have done. I thought I had indicated that the granting of a postponement certificate is decided by the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939. It also provides who shall issue it. The postponement certificate has a special technical significance. It must be issued by a committee which is quite incapable of dealing with things of this sort, but which deals with matters of other sorts. It also lays down for what the certificate shall be issued, and it does not cover any of the points in the Amendment. The Amendment does not propose to amend the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939. All the Amendment proposes to do is, to amend the Bill before the Committee, which leaves the 1939 Act intact upon this point.

The Parliamentary Secretary has again made clear what he had already made clear. I was going on to deal with the point which he has raised. I was dealing, first of all, with the arguments he had adduced on this particular Amendment because several times he referred to the Amendment creating the possibility of a great racket. I am trying to satisfy him that the word "postponement" was deliberately put into this Amendment for the very purpose of ensuring that there should be nothing in the nature of a great racket. I was going on to deal with the points he raised as to the difference between a postponement and a deferment. I appreciate the difficulty about that. It may be that if this Amendment were accepted, there would be necessity for some consequential Amendment to the Third Schedule of the Bill. But let us deal first of all with the point of principle.

The fundamental point of principle, surely, is this. If a young man engaged in an apprenticeship, or a student, or an undergraduate at a university, in the interests of his career and with the advice of his parents, deems it to be to his advantage—and, indeed to the national advantage—to complete his course of education, then surely, so long as he does not avoid liability for national service some time, there is a great deal to be said for his being allowed to postpone—I use that word in its non-technical sense—his military service. I appreciate the difficulty. But, surely, if the principle is accepted, the difficulty then becomes a matter of machinery? One of the difficulties about this machinery is that it tries to divide all these cases into two distinct compartments. Where there are cases which are partly of a compassionate nature and partly of an educational nature in respect of which deferment is obtained—and it is not so easy to get a correct assessment of both—

The hon. and learned Member cannot escape with one, because an aggrieved person can claim the benefit of either machinery.

I quite agree; he can claim the benefit of either. I am not trying to escape from anything, but I am saying, from my experience of working this, that sometimes when a man has not a very strong case before one tribunal, or a very strong case before the other, the sum total of his two cases is a very strong case. I shall not pursue that, or I should probably get out of Order. The postponement certificate, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, is designed to deal with cases of personal hardship. The machinery may want altering. It may, indeed, be a grave personal hardship to a young man to have his career interrupted at the age of 18 when no interruption might ensue if his service could be postponed for one further year. I ask the Committee, in considering this Amendment, not to become too involved in the technical terms "postponement" and "deferment," but to apply their minds to the principle behind the Amendment; that is to say, the principle of allowing the young person the exercise of an option in his own interests, on condition that the exercise of that option will merely postpone and not avoid his liability to national service.

The Parliamentary Secretary, in referring to that particular form, and reading out the conditions, said quite clearly, not that deferment should be granted when those conditions were satisfied, but that it "may" be granted. That, I have no doubt, was entirely right. But I suggest that in peacetime the option should rest more with the individual than with the tribunal to determine whether, in a particular case, liability for national service should be postponed or deferred. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary—I hope I am not taking too long over this—to apply his mind to the principle behind the Amendment, and also to deal with this further point. Some time ago, as it now appears to me, I put him some questions with regard to those engaged in agriculture who are not strictly apprentices, and who can only be described loosely as "students." While listening to him reading that form, I must say I was at a loss to see into what category those people come who are learning agriculture—which is a skilled occupation— and how they could bring themselves within the four corners of that form for the purpose of securing postponement of liability for service. I do not ask for a reply now, but I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into that matter. I accept all he said the other day about agriculture, and I need not remind him of it. But I do not think that form is wide enough to cover the cases which both he and I had in mind.

I am sure there will be a great deal of sympathy on both sides of the Committee with the principle behind this Amendment. I will not go so far as the hon. and learned Member for Daventry. (Mr. Manningham-Buller) in suggesting that it should be left to the young person himself. Anybody who had experience of these matters during the period of the war will agree that the Parliamentary Secretary is not exaggerating when he says this could become a racket. During the early part of the war especially there were quite a number of cases and—although I would far rather not have to say this—it was much more usual among girls than boys during the war. When national service first came into operation, a number of parents were horrified at the idea of their daughters entering national service, and in peacetime that might apply to boys as well. As far as my own work was concerned, there was always considerable pressure being exerted in regard to moving girls from one college to another, or re-examination of the reason why she was not going to be allowed to continue for another year or another term.

I think, however, that the Parliamentary Secretary has perhaps carried it to an illogical absurdity when he says a person could go on till 26 years of age, and then escape the whole thing. It might so happen if it were left to the young person himself to decide, which is what I understand is being asked for. That would, indeed, be very dangerous, and that is something we could not accept. There was a lot of trouble in this regard at the beginning of the war, and at the beginning of national service, until it was established. Believe me, the Parliamentary Secretary really knows what he is talking about in this matter.

I think we have great sympathy with the purpose of this Amendment. The real question in my mind is whether what the Amendment seeks to achieve is not already provided by the provisions of the Bill. In order that I may be quite clear about that, and perhaps to clarify the minds of other hon. Members, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether my understanding is right. A boy is called up at i8 years of age. If he does not intend to enter apprenticeship or a university until after he is 19, then obviously he must do his 12 months' service first. If, on the other hand, he wants to enter the university before he is 19, he can ask for a deferment and proceed with his three years' or, at the most, four years' course. That would take him to the age of 22 or 23. We are then faced with the possibility, I think the fantastic possibility, suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary, that he may manage to spin out his education for three more years so as to escape military service altogether. I cannot believe that is a suggestion to be taken very seriously. It is true that a boy might be willing to and might desire to do that. But is there any reputable educational institution in England or Wales today which would lend itself to that kind of thing?

At one time did not young men stay at Cambridge for many years after they had finished their course? Although there is difficulty in regard to accommodation at universities at the present time, might not they go back, and stay there a good many years?

The hon. Lady has raised the very point on which I intended to touch. I see no prospect of that kind of position in the universities for years to come. We are being asked by Parliament to double the number of university students in this country. It is quite impossible to approach that, and it will be impossible for years and years. I cannot conceive that any university or college would keep within its walls anyone who was not paying proper attention to his education and who had not passed the examinations he ought to have passed at the end of three or four years. But I do not attach any importance to that. It seems to me that the intentions behind this Amendment are fully covered by the present arrangements for deferment.

I should like to expand the question which I put earlier, when the Parliamentary Secretary was speaking, and I apologise if I then seemed slightly discourteous to him. It does appear from what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, that the operation of deferment provisions, as opposed to the postponement provisions of his registration machinery, results in certain exemptions from part-time service under this Bill.

I am not desirous of being discourteous, but I am very anxious that I should understand the point that is being made. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will put it again.

5.30 p.m.

I will try again. It appears to me, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, that the way in which his Ministry operates the deferment provisions results in a form of exemption from part-time service. I will give an example. If a man at the age of 18 is given a four year deferment, to allow him to complete a four year course at a university, as my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) has suggested, he will finish the course at the age of 22; and, if what the hon. Gentleman says is right, he will then have only four years in which he is liable for service under this Bill: whereas this Bill provides for a period of seven years' service. That is, I think, right. There is an example of exemption from part-time service which is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Bill. I always understood that it was a principle upon which the whole Committee was agreed, that there should be no exemptions from service under this Bill, except those set out in Section II of the principal Act, and underground miners, as announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. If the hon. Gentleman is right, and if he proposes to administer the provisions in this way, the Committee should discuss the desirability of this form of exemption from part-time service. I have always believed that, if there are to be exemptions from part-time service, the man in a reserved occupation at the time his exemption applies has a far better case. But I have been persuaded that it is better to have no exemption at all. I put the point to the hon. Gentleman, and I should like to have an answer.

I must confess I have a good deal of sympathy with this Amendment. I cannot, having had some experience in matters of deferment and postponement during the war, anticipate the serious consequences that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has imagined. I do not know where the racket was that was referred to by the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), unless—and here is the reason I speak tonight—unless the racket arose because of the impersonal organisation, which determined this, that, and the other, under deferment during the war.

It is not where we have impersonal organisation that we get the racket. It arises in personal matters, such as those suggested in the Amendment, where the young persons themselves take steps for their deferment.

I am afraid that the excellent efforts made by the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up the confusion on this matter have only added to it, but if hon. Members persist in misunderstanding most of what the Parliamentary Secretary said, I certainly cannot place all the responsibility upon him. Not at all. Let us take the question of deferment, on the one hand, and that of postponement, on the other, as we saw them operate under the National Service Acts. First, deferments were granted by manpower boards situated in different parts of the country. That is the reason why I used the word "impersonal." The applicants, in 99 cases out of every 100, had no opportunity of being present in person before the manpower boards. The whole business was done by correspondence. The pupil could not go there with the headmaster, or another master from his own school; the apprentice could not be accompanied by a representative of the firm to which he was apprenticed.

In the case of the hardship tribunals, the applicant could appear in person, and take a friend along with him. That friend could be his headmaster, or one of the masters in the school, or a representative of the firm. The case for the apprentice or pupil could be placed before a tribunal whose members knew the locality in detail, and knew a considerable number of people there. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that only cases of personal hardship could be brought before the hardship tribunal. I disagree with that. The applicant for postponement who appeared before a hardship tribunal, could put his own personal case of hardship, and that case could be reinforced by his employer, who would argue that, if that particular applicant were taken away from him, the employer himself would experience considerable hardship. I think I should try to show how this worked from the experience I had during the first war, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to remember a good deal of what he and I went through in the first war.

The manpower board is not an appropriate board to consider individual cases such as are referred to in the Amendment. What I suggest to my right hon. Friend is, that he should broaden the powers of the hardship tribunals, because there, all the personal facts relating to an individual can be brought out. I am trying to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister to this point, and I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary should act as a barrage between the right hon. Gentleman and me. I think the Minister is fully competent to answer anything I say. I notice that this Amendment simply asks for postponement. I am amazed that an Amendment of this kind should come from the Opposition benches. According to this, the student or the apprentice would have to satisfy the Minister. How can the Minister be satisfied by placing the student at the mercy of an entirely impersonal machine? I know what has happened in my own country. Appeals have been made for deferment to the manpower board by an individual living 25 or 5o or even 70 miles from the manpower board, without any personal contact at all between the applicant for deferment and the manpower board. I am confident that the manpower board is not the right organisation.

I will go further. As far as South Wales is concerned, I would rather take any case I felt I could honestly support before the hardship tribunal or the court of referees, where I could get the personal touch and where I would be dealing with individuals who would know the local circumstances, and where the applicant would be there in person, and not placed at the mercy of a machine dealing only with correspondence.

I want to touch on a rather different aspect of this Amendment. There is a danger that by the Amendment we should limit the scope of the application of the Clause. An important statement was made by the Minister on Clause in dealing with Amendments concerning the ages of 18 and 2I. The Minister made it clear that others, besides apprentices and students, are to receive consideration, that is to say, learners. It seems to me that there is a danger, if this Amendment is accepted, of the deferment being limited to apprentices and people who are going to universities or colleges. I think that that would be an exceedingly dangerous state of affairs to bring about. Other sections of the community ought to have this consideration.

I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. The effect of this Amendment is the exact opposite. This Amendment proposes to grant to these people, not deferment, but, as the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out, postponement. Therefore, it will not affect the position of other people who might or might not qualify for deferment.

That may be so, but we shall limit the application of the Clause, by specifying two classes. It is likely to have a bad effect on sections of the community not specifically mentioned in the Clause. Although I am sympathetic with the Amendment, I think there is danger in a limitation of this sort, and I ask the Minister, if he thinks there is anything in this Amendment at all, to reconsider the matter, and bring forward words that will make the Clause apply to all sections of the community, and not merely to these two specified classes.

I would ask the Committee to come to a decision on this matter. We have gone into it in great detail. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Some hon. Members were not here when these points were fully discussed and criticised on both sides of the Committee. We are now beginning to tread on our own tails, and to go over ground already covered. I should like to deal with one or two points which have been put forward, and to show why the Amendment should be withdrawn. In the first place, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) said deferment may be granted. I agree that the word "may" is there. It is because conditions have to be fulfilled, and because no non-Service student can be allowed to go into a university to crowd out an ex-Service student. That is why the word is "may." There must be available adequate accommodation when the deferment certificate is granted. I will consider the point raised about the young men in agriculture.

The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mts. Manning) said there could be a racket in this business. I do not want to criticise the young womenfolk of this country. How many of these young women. when we started calling them up, entered the universities, or undertook apprenticeships, or studentships of any sort, to avoid the call-up? It is said that medical students did the same thing. I am not making any charge against the profession on that ground. In those cases to which reference has been made the procedure is that the young man who wants to go to the university makes his application for deferment on the form which I have described. The matter goes to a competent authority to decide the question of whether or not he will make a good student, whether or not his deferment in order that he may go to the university is justified. His application goes forward to the Joint Universities is Recruiting Board. Surely, that s the body to decide whether, in the national interest, the student should have deferment, rather than the hardship committee, whose chairman may be living next door, in which case the same considerations would not apply as would apply if the matter were dealt with by the Joint Universities Recruiting Board.

5.45 p.m.

On a point of Order. Is the Parliamentary Secretary entitled to make such unwarrantable strictures on these people, the members of the hardship committees. who gave their services for nothing to help the national cause?

It is not the duty of the Chair to assess what are unwarrantable strictures.

I am not indulging in any strictures upon these committees, who did a great job of work. I am only saying that they are not competent to decide this question. I say that they will not be big enough to go into the relevant considerations, but will be inclined to take account of personal considerations, which have nothing to do with it.

Is it not a fact that deferment is granted on the certificate of the headmaster, and that great pressure is brought to bear on headmasters?

We have gone over this matter before, and I have described it in detail. It is unfair to the Committee, at the end of the Debate, to go back over points that have been decided. Let me now deal with one other point. There are no exemptions at all in this Bill. No exemptions are granted to anybody. They are not exemptions, but deferments or postponements and nobody is excluded from liability. I think I have covered most of the points raised. I have done my best to deal with a very difficult piece of technical machinery and administration, and I hope that, in view of what has been said, the Amendment will be withdrawn.

We have had a long and I must say intensely interesting Debate on this subject. I find myself in considerable difficulty to know what to do, because, frankly, I want two things which I cannot get, either under the present system or under the Amendment. I want to get, if I can, the methods of deferment with the results of postponement. All that I have heard has convinced me that the methods of deferment and the procedure adopted for deferment constitute the proper procedure for cases of this kind, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary has been conclusive on that point. On the other hand, I want to get the results of postponement. That is exactly the object of this Amendment, and not what the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway opposite thought it was. The object here is not to create a privileged class. We do not feel that these university students and apprentices should have the double advantage of taking their education at the time they want, and, in addition, the possibility that, by deferment, they may, in the end, escape part of their military service. We think that they should be able to have their education when they want it, and when it is convenient to them, but, when they have completed it, they should be like everybody else and go through their military service.

The right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. If we catch them before they are 25, then we are all right, and the present machinery does catch them before they are 25, but, through this machinery of the hardship committees, we cannot touch them. If we catch them before they are 25, they do not lose their liability, and the important thing is that the present machinery does help us to get the student before he reaches the age of 25, so that he is not, in fact, able to escape.

He may be caught in time, but he may slip through the net, and I understand that, in some part of his speech, the hon. Gentleman told us how it was possible that that might come about. I want it made clear that, in those circumstances, a person cannot have either deferment or postponement and unusual chances of education which will result in his being exempted from any part of his military service. Unless the hon. Gentleman can give us some assurance, between now and the Report stage, that he will look at this Clause again, and give us a further assurance on the avoidance of any possibility of escape from military service, we shall have to press this Amendment to a Division.

I am sorry if hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to resent the continuance of this discussion—

In view of the fact that we have sat continuously for 19 or 20 hours out of the 24, there is one thing I want to say, and I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not here. We have been told more than once, and more often from the other side of the Committee, that this Bill is one of profound constitutional importance and I agree. We all know that it has been agreed between all parties that, in the life of this Parliament, Bills of constitutional importance are to be taken on the Floor of the House, and that pledge is now being kept. All I ask is whether it is being kept in the spirit, or whether we are not now in the difficulty of having this matter discussed either by hon. Gentlemen who have not been here for much of the earlier discussion—and I do not in the least blame them for that—or by those in my situation, who think that, whether or not usually intelligent, they are now much less intelligent than usual. I am bound to say that the Ministers responsible for this part of the Bill have treated us with the greatest courtesy and kindness, and, in my experience of these matters, have been almost unprecedentedly patient with us. The fact remains that, at the point we have now reached, I am not quite clear about this matter, and I would undertake to bet that there are not 6o hon. Members of this Committee who are—I think, it would be fairly safe to say, not even six.

If that is so, is this really the proper way to legislate on a matter of this importance? I cannot believe it is, and I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench think so at this moment. I speak wholly for myself, when I say that I am not quite sure what we ought to do at this stage. I am, rather dubiously, in agreement with my right hon. Friend that what we want is the method of one form of procrastination—if I might use a not very suitable neutral word—with the results of another. I am inclined to think that, perhaps, he is right. Let us see how we can get that result. I think most of us are in great difficulties about what the results of this Amendment would be. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to say now, whether he thinks it proper to go on in this way. I am not blaming right hon. Gentlemen; they are in very difficult circumstances. But, if they do propose to go on in this way, I ask them to consider whether they ought not to give us some unusual assurances in this matter. We have all tried very hard, but I think we ought to have a promise that all possibilities of some new arrangement have been considered, so that we all understand what any suggestion means, and so that the Ministers understand exactly what they can offer towards what we want. I think that unofficial discussions on such points are always undesirable, especially in this case in view of the high level or scope of this legislation. In the absence of any such assurances, the result of this part of the Bill will have no direct connection with the real will of the majority of hon. Members in this Committee, unless some steps towards such an ad hoc arrangement are possible.

The hon. Gentleman referred to an ad hoc understanding. I do not know if what I am about to say comes within that classification or not. I appreciate the point put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). We want to see that nobody escapes their military service. That is the first thing. We will certainly look at the Clause, and, if we are satisfied that anything more can be done with it, we will try to do it. With regard to the second point which was put by the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), we will consider whether we can issue a White Paper or some other document setting this matter out in clear and precise terms, and I hope that, in view of what I have said, hon. Gentlemen opposite will withdraw the Amendment and let us get on.

May I ask the Minister if he can say what numbers he has calculated for deferments, because the Parliamentary Secretary has said that people with deferments could be caught up to the age of 25? Could he say what the average of deferments is to be?

That will be very difficult. If I said that, the whole circumstances would be altered.

In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's double undertaking, first, to look again at the Clause and, secondly, to consider the issue of a White Paper setting out the provisions of this complex matter, I beg to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

I object. I have been up about a dozen times, and have not had an opportunity to speak.

6.0 p.m.

Yes, I want to put a point to which no reference has been made, on this Amendment. I am not so much concerned about the categories of people involved, or about people who may try to secure an easier means of deferment or postponement of national service. I want to urge the Minister not to agree to any change that will make it any easier to avoid service under the National Service Act.

What I cannot escape from in this connection is that this is the first of a number of Amendments which ask that certain categories should be postponed for an indefinite period. Looking at. them, I wonder who will be left for national service if they are carried. It seems to me that the number will be considerably limited. I do not know how many this Amendment would affect if it were carried. With regard to others who are eligible for national service, with nobody behind them, with no likelihood of a profession or of university or technical education—are they to be the only persons who will be called up at 18 or 17½?

I am agreeing to national service because I believe it is essential in the circumstances, and in that I fall out with a great many of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. But let us have national service; let everybody who reaches the age of 18 accept that responsibility, and do not let us be too ready to exempt those for whom these pleas are being made. I am not saying that a case cannot be made out for them, but I certainly do not want to see what went on during the war, when there was an oppor- tunity, which was embraced in many cases, for both boys and girls to get out of service because of the weakness of the machine. I urge the Minister not to give way either on this Amendment or subsequent Amendments. I hope he will keep to it, and make a proper approach to national service, so that it will be national service for everybody, irrespective of the class from which they come.

Amendment negatived.

In calling the Amendment which is on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson)—in page 19, line 24, at the end, to add:

"Notwithstanding anything contained in the principal Act—
  • (a) any person liable to he called up for service by virtue of this Act, who declares himself to be a conscientious objector, shall not be sentenced to suffer penalties imposed by or under the National Service Acts, 1939 to 1946, on more than one occasion; and shall, thereafter, be discharged from any liability to further service under this Act;
  • (b) no person who has declared himself to be a conscientious objector shall be subject to the death penalty for any offence against the provisions of the National Service Acts."
  • —I should point out that the Amendment he will move will cover only paragraph (a), and not the last three lines of which paragraph (b) consists.

    I did not quite understand you, Mr. Beaumont, when you said that this Amendment would cover paragraph (a) and not paragraph (b).

    Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The Amendment to be moved by the hon. Member for West Ealing will leave out the last three lines of the Amendment on the Order Paper.

    But is not this rather a new procedure, that the Chair can call on an hon. Member to move a different Amendment from the one he has on the Order Paper?

    If an Amendment is in the wrong form, it is open to the Chair to advise accordingly.

    I do not wish to make difficulties, but I respect the advice, which I accept.

    I was advised that it would be better for the discussion to take place on the main question that I wish to raise, namely, the conscientious objector, and not to raise the issue in paragraph (b) because it is a separate issue which arises under the National Service Acts.

    On a point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. That is exactly the opposite of what the Chair has said. The Chair has said.that the Amendment would cover only paragraph (b).

    No, paragraph (b) would not be moved. The Amendment to be proposed deals with paragraph (a) as set out on the Order Paper.

    I beg to move, in page 10, line 24, at the end, to insert:

    "Notwithstanding anything contained in the principal Act any person liable to be called up for service by virtue of this Act, who declares himself to be a conscientious objector, shall not be sentenced to suffer penalties imposed by, or under the National Service Acts, 1939 to 1946, on more than one occasion; and shall, thereafter, be discharged from any liability to further service under this Act"
    If the matter raised in paragraph (b) is to be discussed, it will have to be discussed on some other occasion and in some other place. I will proceed to deal with the issue that is left. It has been debated long in the House, and the general points are well understood. I am sorry to say that the commitments made in connection with the administration of national service, especially the commitments made by the Prime Minister in the days when the principal Act was introduced, have not been fully implemented in the treatment of conscientious objectors. I shall make my point best understood if I refer to a case I have brought to the attention of the Home Secretary. It is the case of a young man, a member of the Society of Friends, who on two occasions has been convicted in the courts and given a month's imprisonment because he did not accept the conditions laid down for him by a tribunal under the Military Service Acts. He was given work on agriculture, and declined to accept it. Hon. Members may think he was wrong to do that but, on strict conscientious grounds, he felt that to accept an arrangement even for purely civilian duties, imposed upon him in connection with the prosecution of the war, was in violation of his conscientious convictions. So although the tribunal was clear in its distinction, he declined to accept that distinction. He went through the whole process of being indicted as a conscientious objector, was imprisoned for a month, came out and went through exactly the same process again, and was again condemned to a month. This has happened this year and he is now awaiting—or may be awaiting, we do not know—a further procedure of this kind.

    This case has been presented to me by the clerk of Jordans Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends. They are much impressed with the genuine conscientious convictions of this young man, they stand by him in his scruples, and they have brought his case to my attention. He is one of many others whose cases I do not know as clearly as his, but it is a case in continuance of many similar cases in the last war from which we supposed that we had escaped. We thought that under the National Service legislation which was brought in in 1939, we had taken steps to prevent our falling into this difficulty again.

    I knew a teacher in the last war who was given not work on the land, but work in the school where he was engaged. It was a good school and a pleasant job. There was no question of his dodging military service and looking for a "cushy" place; the "cushy" place was offered to him, it was his own place. But he said to the tribunal, "You are endeavouring to fasten me down under an arrangement so that you may place your finger upon me as a teacher in school to fit up the war machine in a totalitarian position. You are prepared to organise me in that position in order that you may send someone else in my place, and I decline to enter into an engagement which, while it may assist me, will put someone else in the difficulty that I have conscientiously declined to accept for myself." Hon. Members may say again that that was a wrong action, but it was an action conscientiously made by a man moved by his convictions, the consequence for him was a series of imprisonments that went on all through the war—first, three months, then six months, then imprisonment that ran for nearly two years, until he was released at the end of the war.

    It was that kind of case that the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain referred to when, at the time of the introduction of the principal Act, he said that we were in a position where we no longer wanted to face such a difficulty again. To quote his words:
    "But there is a great variation in the way in which people are affected by scruples of this kind."
    that is, of a conscientious objection kind:
    "There is the most extreme case, where a man feels it is his duty to do nothing even to aid or comfort those who are engaged in military operations, although it may well be that those military operations have been forced upon us by the aggression of some other country. Probably that is the smallest of all classes of conscientious objectors. But it often happens that those who hold the most extreme opinions hold them with the greatest tenacity."
    Now that Act was accepted, and Mr. Neville Chamberlain went on to say:
    "We learned something about this in the Great War, and I think we found that it was both a useless and an exasperating waste of time and effort to attempt to force such people to act in a manner which was contrary to their principles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1939; Vol. 346, c. 2097.]
    I submit that at that point Parliament had agreed to accept the convictions of people of this kind and not to continue to imprison them. To be going on today under the Military Service Acts and to be threatened, as we are now in connection with this Bill, with a continuance of this process is something that I am sure my right hon. Friends on the Front bench will want, with all their power, to avoid if possible.

    My Amendment—and I am no lawyer—may not be drafted as it ought to be, but I submit to my right hon. Friends that they ought to be able to give us a clear undertaking today, either by accepting this Amendment or some other designed to do the thing that I wish to happen, that, if a man has been punished once under the law—however big or however little the sentence may be—after declaring himself to be a conscientious objector and declining to carry out what he feels he cannot carry out conscien- tiously, it should be settled once and for all when his sentence has been served, and that thereafter he ought to be discharged from any further obligation of service in the Forces.

    6.15 p.m.

    I interrupt in no captious spirit, but in order to obtain information. As I understand it, the proposal is that he should not continue to suffer certain penalties under the National Service Acts. Would my hon. Friend be good enough to say the nature of offences which he has in mind in respect of which penalties are imposed? There is a world of difference between an offence under the Army Act, and an offence under the National Service Acts.

    The difficulty is in connection with cases such as that of which I have given details.

    It is that kind of case, where a person is required to do certain things by a decision of a tribunal. If he does not do those things, it is an offence against a provision of the National Service Acts, and for offences of that sort I am suggesting that after one sentence has been served, the matter should be finished. I am the more anxious to make this plea, because I know I am on very difficult ground. A remarkable step forward has been made already by the House of Cornmons in national generosity—

    —and justice, on this question. I agree entirely that if we could get the punishment laid down under the provisions regarding conscientious objection, all sorts of dodgers may get out of their obligations to serve. I do not deny that at all. Indeed, I take pretty much the same view as George Bernard Shaw took when dealing with this problem of obedience to the inner voice of conscience in the Preface to "St. Joan," when he spoke about the possibility of the voices such as St. Joan listened to being not at all the voices of the Infinite, but the hallucinations of a madman, or the promptings of a criminal, or of a social saboteur. It may be the case that a person claiming conscientious objection had not those grounds at all. I know that fear exists, but the fact that we have got to a point where the State has admitted in an Act of Parliament that a conscientious objection can be genuine and ought to be accepted, and that persecution of the conscientious objector ought to stop, is, in my judgment, a clear indication that Parliament and the public conscience is now at a point where we can no longer accept the old method of cat-and-mouse punishment, until by some process of oppression the conscientious objector is driven into a position which, if left to his conscience, he could not accept.

    I hope the Committee, if not in the actual terms of the Amendment, will agree that it should be the duty of the Government to prevent such a case as that of the young man mentioned in the Jordans Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends, whose progress through prison, a progress now going on, occurring again. That case, and all cases like it, should come to an end, and I hope the Government will accept a provision by which it will prevent their recurrence in any circumstances.

    I am sorry that my hon. Friend has put this Amendment down so very late. I appreciate the earnestness and sincerity with which he has moved it, and I think he has done so under very great physical inconvenience to himself. I wish he had put it down a little earlier—

    Would my right hon. Friend permit me to explain that I put the Amendment down under Clause I, but it was suggested to me that that was the wrong place? I put it down a number of days ago, and it was suggested that I should move it to this position. I thought it right to accept that. I am sorry to have caused inconvenience.

    I was not making any complaint, because, as I said earlier in the afternoon, we are very much appalled by the idea that it is possible for a man to be constantly going in and out of prison for the same offence. But, the trouble with this Amendment is that it refers to

    "any person … who declares himself to be a conscientious objector."
    There must be some satisfaction that he is a conscientious objector. I cannot accept the Amendment for that, and other reasons, which I will not go into now. But I would like to know what the Committee feels about this matter. I am not very skilled in dealing with these matters in Committee, but I would like to know, as we cannot accept this Amendment, whether it would be possible for me to have a look at this before the Report stage, and bring forward an Amendment then on which the House could say something.

    Does the hon. Member for Ealing West (Mr. J. Hudson) wish to withdraw the Amendment?

    I was looking at several people; I think I desire to withdraw—[Interruption]—I do not ask for anything at the moment.

    I do not wish to prolong the discussion, because it seems that we are all agreed. I suggest that there are two defects in the Amendment from a machinery point of view. One is that it does not define what the one penalty shall be. If passed in this form, there would be a wide variety of penalties for what is the same offence, and the other defect is that the simple declaration could hardly be accepted by anyone as sufficient. I have tried my hand at some sort of suggestion, and I put it forward, in great fear and trembling, for what it may be worth. I suggest that something like this might meet the case, and might be considered between now and another stage:

    "Where any person who has claimed exemption under this Act, or the principal Act, on conscientious grounds, and who has either had his claim rejected, or granted subject to conditions which he refuses to accept, has served a sentence of "—
    My right hon. Friend can consider what period it should be—
    "for failing to fulfil any obligation under this Act, he shall be exempted from further penalty, or further liability to serve."
    That would provide two things which are lacking in the Amendment; that there should be at some stage an examination by the tribunal, even though it be abortive and fail and even though there is to be one penalty, and that it would be a definite and limited penalty, with the sanction of Parliament.

    I do not want to prolong the discussion. I think there is very little difference on principle, but I see a difficulty in the original proposal and in that proposed now. We all want to avoid what is called compendiously but inelegantly cat-and-mouse procedure. Equally, I think the overwhelming majority of us want to prevent any system arising under which a National Service Act, if passed, could he avoided on any substantial scale. Both are important considerations. The difficulty about what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) suggested is that, whatever the period was—and that itself would be a most delicate operation, to select the exact number of weeks, months, or years in prison which has to be served before the man comes out altogether—supposing the period were too short, people who wanted to evade the Act on grounds which could not properly be called conscientious, would evade it deliberately by serving the prison sentence. There would be some such persons, I have no doubt. If, on the other hand, the period was made too long, there would he the opposite and equally catastrophic effect that a number of people who ought to be sentenced lightly for a first offence would, in fact, receive a heavy sentence from the courts precisely because in doing so they would carry in their minds the belief that by doing so that would wipe out the whole thing altogether. I think it would have in practice a bad effect on the mind of the tribunal in imposing a sentence of this sort.

    If a figure is chosen betwixt and between, there would be cases of both sorts, and some courts would impose heavy sentences, while others would impose light sentences, and persons would evade military service for one reason or another, and get out through a loophole. In an Act of Parliament we cannot be certain that we achieve the result desired in this case. This is a case where provision should be made in the machinery for revision after each case when the man is sentenced. The fact that he is sentenced for failing to comply with direc- tions of a tribunal ought automatically to bring his position as a conscientious objector into review, so that he would have his case personally considered at each stage, and so that there would be, as far as one can ensure it, no case where a man was put in and out of prison repeatedly on conscientious grounds. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee would like to see protections inserted in the Bill on behalf of the individual. I hope that the Minister, whose courteous and friendly attitude has impressed the Committee, will not exclude the prospect of achieving his object by administrative machinery.

    6.30 p.m.

    In view of the generosity of the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 10, line 27, at the end, to insert:

    "In Subsection (2) of Section one of the National Service Act, 1942, after the words a notice under this Section, 'there shall be inserted the words' or having been registered under Section fourteen of the National Service Act, 1947:
    This Amendment is necessary because it has now been proposed and agreed that Clause 14 shall be brought into operation on the passing of the Act instead of on 1st January, 1949. That modifies Section 1 (2) of the National Service Act so that men who have been permitted to register for military service before their normal age will now be covered by the provisions of this Clause. This Amendment is necessary so that we can at the same time see that it is removed to the Third Schedule

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 10, line 28, at the end, to insert:

    "(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in the principal Act male British subjects called up for service in the year nineteen hundred and forty-five or the year nineteen hundred and forty-six shall be released after a period not exceeding two-and-a-half years. This Subsection shall come into force on the passing of this Act."
    I hope that I need not detain the Committee for long about this. If my recollection is right, and if it is just right enough I shall be slightly surprised, so far as my recollection goes, we have fairly fully covered this point on an earlier occasion; I hope that the Ministers will correct me if my recollection is not right. The short point may be put easily. I think, and again I hope the Minister will correct me if I get any of the technical details wrong. I think that when this Bill becomes law, presuming it does so without much change, the effect will be that there will be a set of young men whom I call Section C, that is, those coming into the Services under this Bill, who will have a maximum whole-time service of 12 months. Moving backwards, there will be a second section whom I will call Section B, people called up during 1947 and 1948, who, perhaps under statutory authority, or more probably, under Ministerial assurances and the White Paper, will have a maximum of 23 months. Then, moving further back, there will be Section A, those older people who are already in the Forces and have been there for some time, and who will not have, as the matter stands, a terminus put to the amount of service which His Majesty, by his Ministers, may require from them. I hope that that is a correct statement so far as it goes.

    If so, I hope that I carry the Committee with me in saying that it is evidently desirable that some kind of terminus should be put for Section A as well as Sections B and C; I do not say the same terminus, but as we have tried to taper off Section B towards Section C, so we should surely try to taper off Section A towards Section B.

    I hope that the Ministers are fully in agreement with me so far as that point goes. If that is so, the object of this Amendment is to say that Section A ought not to be held for a continuous period of more than 30 months, as contrasted with their slightly younger brothers, who are to have a maximum of 23 months, and the following batch, who are to have a maximum of 12 months. If I may repeat something I said earlier in the day, it seems to me that to resist that suggestion, the main meaning of that suggestion—I am not arguing for the exact form of the Amendment—does involve taking a very odd attitude. It does involve saying that at the moment when we assert that it is not right or proper to ask, by Statute, for more than 12 months, it remains right to go on asking for more than 130 months from people who are at present held under what really has become a legal fiction, the fiction that what was called "the present emergency," the war with Germany, is still, in some sense, going on.

    To resist the substance of this Amendment, it becomes necessary to adopt that proposition. I hope that I carry the majority of Members with me in saying that that proposition is untenable. If so, then my proposition may not be exactly the right one, but something like my proposed Amendment is clearly just. I hope that Ministers will find it possible to tell us how they can find it practicable to assent to the logical result of that, or on what logical grounds they can resist it.

    The Amendment which the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) has just moved has a somewhat similar effect as the previous Amendments which we debated yesterday, or in the early hours of this morning; with this difference, that the hon. Gentleman is seeking, by this Bill, to speed up the demobilisation of men who are not in the same category as those who are specified in the Government's White Paper, which we debated in the early hours of this morning, or yesterday. Hitherto, all men who have been called up under the National Service Act have been released on what is known as the age-and-service release group plan. That, on the whole, has worked very satisfactorily.

    The men to whom the hon. Gentleman seeks to give some speeding up preference are not in the same category as those defined in the White Paper, and they will come out in accordance with the release plans already announced, and other plans which will be announced as time goes on, for completing what the hon. Member called his Class A category—in other words, those men who were called up during the emergency, in the normal way, under the previous National Service Acts. I am afraid it is impossible, by this means, to force the speeding up of their demobilisation. That is a matter with which we have to deal administratively. I am not at all sure that it would not be unfair to those whose release groups are already announced if we did what he suggests, in this Amendment, we should do. For those reasons I cannot include what he wants, which I am sure we all want, and we shall endeavour to do it by administrative action. We cannot do it in this Bill.

    I hope that Members of the Committee will not think that answer satisfactory. whatever they think of my proposition. There was not the least attempt to meet my reasons, which I think were fair reasons. It is not for me to assume that hon. Members agree, but I think that my argument was a fair and fairly exact one. There has been no attempt to meet any part of it. It is the mere assertion of the existing state of affairs. I suppose someone has told the Secretary of State for War that the existing state of affairs was the best possible state of affairs; that is all we are told. Really, I hope the Committee is not prepared to accept that view. Let me make another suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. If it is impossible to say that these men in my Section A may get out at the worst after 30 months, although men in his Section C are to get out after 12 months, if that is impossible because of the necessity of holding them for practical use, that could be got round by having a Clause in the Bill to impose upon these young men what they are at present not having imposed upon them, a certain amount of reserve service. It will be far less an interruption of their careers if they could get out a little sooner now. I should have thought that as far as garrison or tactical use, or eventual use, if there is to be a crisis, or in the next two or three years a renewed emergency, was concerned, that such an arrangement might have been more use to the War Office than what is now being insisted upon.

    It is all very well for the Secretary of State to shake his head. He must do a little more than come here and give us a paraphrase of an existing arrangement as one half of his argument, and a shake of his head as the other half of his argument. There must be something more he can do. I appeal to the Committee. This discussion, which has not been acrimonious, has not, from our side, been more controversial than could be avoided. I ask Members of the Committee to agree with me that, they ought not to allow the Secretary of State to get away with this unless he can put up a reasoned argument. If they choose to think that his reasoned argument is better than mine, or even if they choose to think that if his reasoned argument is not better than mine, that it is not the fault of the available arguments but something else, whatever they may choose to think, let us at least have some reasoned argument before this thing is disposed of, after a continuous debate of nearly 24 hours by what HANSARD or somebody else the other day called the mere "ipse fixit" of the Secretary of State.

    I quite see that the right hon. Gentleman is in a very difficult position here. He is now to get recruits who will come under the Bill, and there is, in between, a section of the community, many of whom have been called up since the end of the war, Then we have the group with whom we are dealing under this Amendment, who will have to serve much longer than the people who come under the provisions of the Bill. I am not saying it is unfair. In anything connected with war and service we try to be fair but circumstances cause great hardships. We do not want to be unfair with the time-and-age principle more than we can help, but there does come a time when there is unfairness inflicted by that. If there comes a time when there are groups having to serve two or three years—men who have served for 18 months or more, with little or no hope of getting out for another 18 months—while others will be serving for under two years, they will have a sense of hardship. It is not an easy matter to decide but one does find a sense of real hardship in these matters. Realising the great difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman, I would ask him, as there is another stage of the Bill, if he will have another look at the matter and see if, in some way or other, he cannot work out something so as to try to remove, at any rate, some of the hardship from these men who today are living in a state of complete indecision as to what service they really have to do. It is that indecision which is causing the real trouble. They do not know where they are, It cannot be good for the Services that they should be in that state. They cannot produce their best. Many are men who have volunteered to get their service done and who have put their education on one side for the time being. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure the Committee that he will consider this matter again I ask him whether he cannot give some assurance that he will try to bring a closer limit to the amount of time which these men have to serve in order to give the men a real idea of where they are?

    6.45 p.m.

    I would like to press upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of the argument used by my hon. Friend. Surely, this Amendment is extremely relevant to the purpose of the Bill. Here we are dealing with men called up under the National Service Acts. In this Bill we have put a definite end to the period of service, instead of a continuation of the principle of age and length of service. It is, therefore, reasonable that we should try to bring a definite end to the service of those who are now serving in the Forces. If it is so reasonable, then I submit to the Committee that, as we have said on other occasions, here is a very strong case for making that end statutory rather than relying upon the so-called pledges or intentions of the Government. I would remind the Committee that apparently even a pledge of the Government on this important matter given in a White Paper can be watered down, it may be, unintentionally.

    The Committee may remember early this morning discussing the pledge given in Command 6831 entitled "Call Up to the Forces in 1947 and 1948." That was a distinct pledge. Though that was accepted as a pledge at that time, the Minister of Labour, probably unintentionally, in reply to one of his hon. Friends, on 4th March, said that it was only the intention of the Government. He did not say that it was a pledge. He was pressed to give a pledge but he watered that pledge down and only gave it as his opinion that it was the intention of the Government. That might have been done unintentionally. The right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten, for the time being, that a definite pledge had been given in the White Paper. It is for that reason that there is a certain amount of uncertainty about these matters.

    I am relying on my memory. Did I not say that it was the intention of the Government to carry out that pledge?

    No. I will read the right hon. Gentleman's words. The question was put:

    "Is it not possible to say, quite frankly, that in no circumstances will a conscript called up after 1st January be released before men called up before 1st January?"
    That question was put by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan.) The reply was:
    "I can only repeat that that is the intention of the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 229.]
    There is a great difference between intentions and pledges. I am not charging the right hon. Gentleman with any illfaith. There is a further difference between pledges and statutory Clauses. It is for that reason that we on this side of the Committee have urged consistently that the Government should adopt a statutory termination of the service of men called up under National Service Acts. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again about this matter. He may not approve of the actual terms suggested in the Amendment. If he does not, could he suggest an alternative? This is merely a ceiling. He may be able to release men before the term is reached. All that we ask is for him to lay down in an Act of Parliament what is the maximum period of service which men now serving in the Forces may be called upon to give.

    I wish to add my protest against the short speech made by the Secretary of State for War. I listened carefully and I am sure that no one would say that he attempted to answer the argument put so cogently by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is a pressing sense of grievance amongst these men in the knowledge that the chances are that they will not be released until men who have been called up very much later. It is wrong that that state of affairs should exist. In spite of the fact that demobilisation under age and service groups may be working more or less satisfactorily—that is a matter of opinion—it is unfair to say that that must now stand and that there must be no ceiling at a time when there is no war to fight.

    Hon. Members opposite say that there is this sense of grievance amongst members of the Forces. Surely, it is clear, as was reiterated this morning by the Minister of Defence, that the Government gave a definite pledge that men called up for service in 1946 or 1945 will be released before those called up for a two-year period in January, 1947. That is a definite pledge which was reiterated by the Minister of Defence this morning.

    I wonder whether it would shorten the Debate and help hon. Gentlemen if I say that the reason I curtailed my speech was that I thought that everyone had read the White Paper of May, 1946, Command 6831, which has been accepted by the House. The classes of Servicemen to which the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) is referring are specifically dealt with in the White Paper. Perhaps the Committee will allow me—although I thought it was understood—to read what that pledge was:

    "Men already serving in the Forces at the 31st December, 1946,"—
    with certain exceptions which are not material—

    Except those serving on voluntary terms—

    "will be released according to the existing age and length of service scheme, and all such men will be released before the end of 1948, that is to say, before any of the men called up in 1947. Moreover, it will be the aim of His Majesty's Government to release during 1947"—
    that is this year—
    "all men called up before the 1st January, 1944."
    That, I take it, is specific and I should have thought it covered the point.

    I am not sure that I have really followed what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. If he said that what this Amendment seeks to put into statutory form will happen in any case, 1 ask him to accept the Amendment. I hope that he will appreciate the sense of injustice which will be engendered unless some sort of provision is made. In view of the arguments advanced from this side of the Committee, I hope he will consider the matter before the Report stage.

    I do not want to repeat the arguments which I think were so brilliantly put forward by my hon. Friend the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), but to give briefly some of the reasons which prompted him and me to put this Amendment on the Order Paper. I am not seeking to cast any doubt on any pledge given by any right hon. Gentleman opposite. It is of the utmost importance that when we are passing into law a Statute of this novelty and importance we should do justice and appear to be doing justice. It is in the interests of hon. Members in every quarter of the Committee, to whatever party they belong, that on the whole this Bill, when it becomes an Act, should be accepted, as far as possible, as fair. I believe that one of the great blemishes is that in the Bill itself, as in all the discussions that have taken place, hon.. Members are always showing great concern about men who are going to fall within the provisions of this Measure in the future, but they so often seem to forget—though in reality I am sure that they do not—the hardship and sense of injustice felt by those already serving under our present system.

    Possibly because of an occasional Question that I have put to the Minister of Labour, I have had a good deal of correspondence not only from such men, but very often from their parents who are very much concerned with their education and the possibility of their entering a university. I hope I have got it right when I say that one of the evils of not accepting some such principle as my hon. Friend and I have sought to embody in this Amendment, is that eventually there will be far too many people all coming out at nearly the same moment, which will be very adverse to their prospects and their careers and will very much accentuate the difficulties of universities in seeking to provide for them. The advantages in the interests of justice of having something on the face of the Statute are overwhelming. I beg hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider whether something of this sort cannot be achieved. Nobody who knows the technicalities will say with any confidence that the Amendment we have put on the Order Paper is, in its exact form, necessarily right. I dare say that all sorts of technical criticisms could be brought against it. I suggest to hon. Members that it is really no answer to say that if one looks up some non-statutory document issued some time ago and finds some sort of satisfactory pledge, or if a Minister makes some sort of promise in the future, that is any substitute for having something that these men already in the Forces can look to in the very same Statute that enacts the permanent system. I hope that the Committee will bear in mind the interests of justice and the sense of justice which I am sure all are anxious to secure. For those reasons I strongly support the case so ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University.

    7.0 p.m.

    This Amendment, like several previous ones, obviously puts all of us in a considerable difficulty. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) made a very strong case, a case with which we all sympathise if we are trying to do our best to finalise the service of those who have been called up just as in the rest of the Bill we are finalising the service of those who are to be called up under the new Act. All of us must want to stretch as far as we can to give those now serving the same privileges of exact fore-knowledge that will be enjoyed by those called up under the new Act, but at the same time, with a sense of responsibility, we know that we cannot force upon the Minister an Amendment, however just in itself, which might have the effect temporarily of disorganising the Services and leaving us for a period unable to meet our commitments. Both sides have a difficult choice to make.

    We discussed similar matters at an early hour this morning. On that occasion we were trying to put in statutory form the exact terms of the pledge indicated in the White Paper, and there was some agreement that if that pledge were given, it was just as well that it should be reproduced in statutory form. Approval of that was expressed from all sides of the Committee. This Amendment goes somewhat beyond the pledge given in the White Paper. To that extent it is different from the two other Amendments that we moved. My recollection is that on those other two Amendments the Secretary of State for War—

    —the Minister of Defence said that between now and the Report stage he would look at the whole question and see what could be done. I suggest he adds this third Amendment to the other two, because they all fall into the same sort of category, and sees what, if anything he can suggest to the House. If he would promise to do that, I would recommend my hon. Friends to withdraw the Amendment on this occasion on the full understanding that if when we came to the Report stage the Minister of Defence was not in a position to offer any satisfaction on these points, they would be at liberty to raise them again.

    I did say that I would look at those matters again. I think the right hon. Gentleman appreciated our difficulty with regard to the maintenance of a certain strength in the interim period between now and 1949, which is a matter of great concern to those who are responsible for meeting our commitments in every part of the world during that period. Though I promised to look into the matter, I could not make any admission that I would be able to make any provision in the Statute on those matters. I certainly had not seen the proposed Schedule which hon. Members opposite have prepared.

    In this case the right hon. Gentleman is quite right. This Amendment goes even further than the one we discussed early this morning in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), but I would be quite willing to look into the matter to see if there is any way in which we can assist in bringing any further sense of satisfaction to the men concerned. On the point made by the right hon. Gentleman it must be clear from the passage read from the White Paper that the period had been quite clearly finalised.

    The object of the age and service group release system introduced during the war was to ensure that the people who had done their service during the war should be released fairly. The result of that has been that those who are being released under that system have so far felt that they have already done their job and that they are, as it were, ticking over, waiting for their number to come up. They are, in the current phrase, "group happy." We are moving to an entirely different system where there is a defined period of service. There is a very strong case for putting in the Bill something that will tell men who did not actually serve in war but have been called up since exactly how they stand. They will ask how this Bill affects them. It cannot be said that merely because they will be released before the national service men are called up, they are not affected by the Bill. They may be affected by the Bill, for example, under Clause 8, so that argument cannot be advanced. The Minister has said that he has commitments to meet. On the other hand, he has made a pledge. These two things are incompatible, and there is a very strong reason for getting it absolutely cut and dried in the Act.

    We are in some slight difficulty here because we have not HANSARD for the previous Debate. would not for the world accuse the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence of deliberately now saying less than I thought he offered last night. I think it will be found on reference to the words that he was a little less forthcoming this evening than he had been yesterday. I hope he will look at these words very carefully with that in mind. He intimated yesterday that he meant to look at the thing with a real and genuine hope to find something that could be done.

    I have that more particularly in view on two considerations, one being the want of argument we have had from the War Office and the other being the constitutional importance of all this and the fact that we are having this on the Floor of this House in response to a pledge that such things should be taken in Committee of the Whole House. We are having it done in such a way and with such a continuum of sitting as to make real discussion by a full Committee impossible. Ministers ought to find in their consciences that each one of these declarations or pledges—if the right hon. Gentleman has arguments to make, I am willing to give way to him. He seems to have arguments enough to mutter but not arguments enough to utter. Ministers ought to find themselves on these occasions very particularly tied to an extremely conscientious view of the assurances they have given. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

    I wish to ask the Minister of Labour about Section 10 of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, which will continue. It relates to arrangements as to civil servants. The right hon. Gentleman knows all about it.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.