The Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has tabled a motion calling on the reintroduction of mandatory National Service in Great Britain saying it could “inspire our youth to learn ‘self-respect, personal reliance, discipline and behavior’… “ I wouldn’t strongly argue against the debate, but is this Defence on the cheap? My colleague Mark Fielding, a retired full Colonel in the Territorial Army commenting to me this morning over coffee was unimpressed. His view is that we have surely moved on from the days of recruiting “cannon fodder” which is what these troops will be. He adds “…are we to be forced into this not out of any altruistic desire to do the best for “the youth of today” but to plug the gaps in the Reserve Forces caused by the governments misplaced decision to draw down regular troops before the Reserves were up to strength……..a decision which was in any event always doomed to fail?”
I thought is useful to have a quick look at the archives and I am indebted to the Royal Nay Museum for this nugget of information. ‘Impressment’ was last used in Britain during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century and although not used again after that period, the right to use impressment was retained all the same. In 1853, the navy introduced continuous service for sailors who wished to make a career in the navy. After a fixed number of years, they would receive a pension. This reduced the need for general impressment and it died out in the form that it had been used previously. However during the Great War 100 years ago this year, and the Second World War, impressment, in the guise of ‘conscription’, was made compulsory and it continued until 1963. I expect many of you have fathers, grandfathers and uncles who ‘did their bit’. I have spoken to mine. Some loved it. Some hated it, but without exception, it gave them each what Mr Hollobone dreams of.
A public e-petition opposing the Bill has already been launched and it has attracted over 35,000 signatures (and counting). It can be found here (https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/uk-government-stop-the-national-service-bill-2013-14). It rejects the bill as “unacceptable” saying “We do not want our children and grandchildren to fight and die in wars, or in training that they or we have no control over”.
So what are your thoughts? Is long term unemployment or doing nothing an option for our disillusioned youth? Should they instead be ‘press ganged’ to enjoy, or endure, a year of marching, bulling boots, learning a spot of Ray Mears bushcraft and, theoretically, taking a life?
Personally, I think it highly unlikely that this Bill will become law in the UK in my lifetime, but its an interesting debate, for sure.
By Grant Evatt, Partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors