The following is an outline of the provisions of the bill:-
1. Single men or widowers without children of military age who have no ground or excuse for exemption to be treated as though they had attested for enlistment. The bill is limited to Great Britain and to the period of the war.
Sir John Simon's speech
Its effect on Labour party
Thursday January 6, 1916
The Act to come into operation on a date fixed by proclamation within 14 days after it has received the Royal Assent. The appointed day will be the 21st day after the day the Act comes into operation (i.e. a maximum of five weeks and a minimum of three weeks after the Royal assent).
2. Men in holy orders or regular ministers of any denomination. Applications for exemption may be made at any time before the appointed day in respect of any man or any class of men.
Those entitled to exemption will include men engaged on necessary national work, single men who are the stay and support of their relatives, those suffering from ill-health or infirmity, and conscientious objectors to the undertaking of combatant service.
Sir J Simon's Opposition
"Proposal for compulsion in the dark"
Sir John Simon was received with prolonged Liberal and Labour cheers on rising from a seat behind the Treasury bench. The following were the principal points of his speech:-
It must be somewhat distasteful to the Prime Minister that among those who so effusively assure him now of their perfect confidence that he will keep his word are the very men and the very newspapers who for years past have made it their trade to accuse him without reason of breaking faith.
The real issue is not one of the great statesman's good faith. No honest Englishman doubts Mr. Asquith's good faith. The real issue is whether we are to begin an immense change in the fundamental structure of our society.
The central feature of the Prime Minister's speech of November 2 was his statement that compulsion was only to be resorted to as a practical matter with something in the nature of a general consent. I see little prospect of the general consent being attained.
I did not resign before because I understood Mr. Asquith to deprecate coming to a decision until it was possible to arrive at the accurate results of the Derby appeal.
I believe there are gentlemen seated on the front bench who hold opinions about compulsion which are not distinguishable from my own.
The figure of 650,000 is arrived at by subtracting Lord Derby's figure from a figure which appears in the National Register - two figures which were arrived at by different methods, by different persons, and at different times.
The Register includes criminals, the weak-minded, the inebriates, the blind, the halt and the maimed, and everybody who has got an obvious physical incapacity for military service. When the National Register was taken we were given a pledge that it had nothing to do with compulsion.
When they had excluded everybody who should be excluded who would say that the figure left was going to be more than a negligible minority?
I have the gravest doubt whether shirkers in any substantial number exist in the country.
Some of us regard the principle of voluntary enlistment as a real heritage of the English people, and if we are going to sell our birth-right we should at least make sure that the mess of pottage we were likely to get would provide us with a single meal.