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War Economy

Proposals for a National Register

Proposals for a National Register

The idea of complete and detailed Government direction of manpower led to consideration of a National Register. Here again thinking at times was fairly extreme, involving registration of every member of the population. Actually, by 1939, a fairly full listing of the population was involved in the issuing of Social Security levy books,3 although the information obtained for this purpose was not comprehensive enough to form a National Register as a basis for manpower direction. If there was to be a National Register it would therefore require an extension of the information obtained in the Social Security levy books,4 unless it was done as a separate undertaking. However, none of the Committee's suggestions received Government support, and it was driven to consider a voluntary register as an alternative, with a view to having any sort of register under way before war broke out.5 The Committee wanted this register to be started without delay, but in February 1939 the Council of Defence directed that no form of special register was required in peace.

The Labour Government's view was that, if conscription did turn out to be necessary, conscription of wealth should precede page 34 conscription of manpower. Suggestions that plans be prepared for direction of manpower or for a national register, which led to the same end, could make little or no progress against this firm stand.

By July 1939 the Manpower Committee had drafted a National Registration Act which, in the event of war, would provide for the registration of all males between the ages of 17 and 60 years and of all females between the ages of 17 and 55. This draft Act had been sent to the Law Draftsman by August 1939, but on the outbreak of war no action was taken to institute a system of national registration, and it was not until March 1940 that provision was made to extend the information obtained from Social Security registrations in an attempt to provide the basis for a National Register.1

3 The Social Security Act 1938 provided for payment of a registration fee of 5s. on 1 April 1939, and thereafter quarterly for men over 20 years of age and annually for all others over 16 years of age. The registration fee was abolished in April 1946.

4 As was eventually done in March 1940.

5 Reiterated in ONS 120 of February 1939.

1 Social Security Supplementary Regulations 1940.