Skip to main content

National Service

Volume 523: debated on Tuesday 2 February 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Civil Employment Act (Extended Service)

1.

asked the Minister of Labour whether youths called up for National Service have their attention drawn to the fact that if they volunteer for a longer period of service they lose the protection of subsequent employment as provided by the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service
(Mr. Harold Watkinson)

:Under present arrangements this may not be done in every case, but I will introduce the necessary changes to ensure that it is.

:I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his answer, but is not statutory power required to make this compulsory?

No, Sir. We think that this is probably done in nearly every case. I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member for bringing it to our notice, and we shall make the slight necessary change in the directions for our own people to see that it is done.

Homosexuality

2.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will introduce legislation to permit a National Serviceman, on registering for military service, to claim exemption on conscientious grounds where the person signing on has grounds to believe that on entering the forces he may be liable to corruption from the practice of homosexuality in the Armed Forces.

:On a point of order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether a Question framed in these terms is within the spirit of the traditions of the House? There is no evidence whatever that the practice of homosexuality is more prevalent in the Armed Forces than outside them. I suggest that this Question is an abuse of the Order Paper in that it is not aimed at protecting the rights of the individual but casts an entirely unwarranted reflection upon the Armed Forces of the Crown.

The answer is "No, Sir," and I must entirely reject the unworthy implication contained in the Question.

If a person signing on for National Service knows that he is being directed to a unit where there has been, or is, someone who has been found guilty of doing this for seven years, surely he should have some grounds for contracting out.

Industrial Production (National Service)

5.

asked the Minister of Labour how many consultations he has had in the last two years with employers in industry concerning the effect of military conscription upon production figures.

:On the assumption that the hon. Member is referring to consultations with employers' organisations as to the general effect of National Service on production, the answer is "None," because the need for National Service is generally accepted by both sides of industry.

:Notwithstanding that reply, is the Minister aware that many employers say that after two or three years'employment with a firm young men become useful, and then they are taken away for two years into the Services and it does not follow that upon their return they are improved for industrial purposes? This is an important matter.

:National Service is a burden in which we have all to play our part, and, as I have said, it is generally accepted by both sides of industry.

Conscientious Objectors

6.

asked the Minister of Labour how many cases have occurred of two or more prosecutions of young men refusing to take their medical examination for the forces in 1951, 1952 and 1953, respectively.

:Does the Minister agree that it is not the practice in this country to sentence people more than once for the same offence, and is it fair that persons should be prosecuted two or three times for the same offence?

The difficulty here is that when a man has been prosecuted he has, of course, not evaded his liability for National Service. Therefore, he has again to be served with his call-up notice for medical examination, and if he refuses that call up, once again the whole machinery goes into action.

Is it not clear from the figures that the Minister has given that there is no relaxation, and would he consider cases like that which I have where a National Service man has been fined £10, £21 and then was given six months in prison? In that case the threat of court proceedings has overshadowed his life for the last two years, and does it not seem contrary to our sense of justice that that should be so? May I ask the Minister to give it reconsideration?

:Does not the hon. Member realise that we have had this argument over and over again for many years and that the House and the country are not content with the technical answer that a man commits a new offence every time he disputes a new notice to attend for medical examination; that, in fact, the offence is the same every time, whatever the technicalities may be; and does he not think it is contrary to British justice to go on hounding a man in this way?

:It is the duty of the Ministry of Labour also to preserve the general fairness of our National Service scheme.

:Would it not be grossly unfair to all the men who fulfil their obligations if a man, by paying a fine on one occasion, could purchase for himself exemption from military service?

18.

asked the Minister of Labour the numbers of conscientious objectors registered unconditionally by each tribunal during 1952 and 1953, respectively.

:As the answer contains a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate them in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

:As my information is that the overwhelming proportion is covered by two tribunals in Scotland, would the hon. Gentleman confirm whether that information is correct, and if so, is it not strange that conscience should be decided on geographical grounds, or is it something to do with the constitution of the tribunal?

:It is not quite like that. The two largest areas are Scotland and Wales, but I think the hon. Gentleman had better look at the figures first.

:Could my hon. Friend say how many separate figures there are in this table?

Following are the figures:

Local Tribunals

1952

1953

London1
Bristol11
Birmingham
Leeds1
Manchester4
Scotland713
Wales115

Appellate Tribunal

London
Manchester
Scotland11

Racing Motorists

9.

asked the Minister of Labour in what circumstances exemption from National Service is granted to racing motorists.

:The National Service Acts do not empower me to grant exemption to any person who is liable under those Acts; therefore exemption from National Service is not granted to racing motorists.

:Can my hon. Friend explain how it is that Mike Hawthorn, described as a British racing motorist, is able to escape his responsibility, and is my hon. Friend aware that it gives very great offence to the parents of decent boys in this country when Mike Hawthorn is paraded in front of the Press and radio as a national hero, and will my hon. Friend say what he is doing about it?

The difficulty is that in this and in other cases of a similar kind the man has to be in this country for us to serve the call-up notice upon him, but I assure him we are not losing sight of the fact.

:Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether any of these racing motorists, who may not have been granted exemption, have been granted deferment?