HC Deb 01 June 1916 vol 82 cc2890-3
41. Sir W. BYLES

asked the President of the Local Government Board whether he is aware that Mr. Frank Elder, of Salford, claiming total exemption on conscientious grounds from military service, appealed from the Salford Tribunal to the Manchester Appeal Tribunal, and was twice told by Sir William Cobbett that they could not grant total exemptions to any conscientious objector; and, having regard to the provisions in the Military Service (No. 2) Act and to his explicit undertaking, will he say what steps he will now take to make the tribunals conform to the law?


My right hon. Friend communicated with the Appeal Tribunal in this case. They are fully aware of their powers under the Act. I have no reason to think that the case was not properly heard.


Did not Parliament pass an Act giving protection to conscientious objectors, and is not this a case where the judicial authority set up by Parliament is deliberately refusing to carry out the Act of Parliament?


I am not in the least inclined to take that view of the case after what I have heard.

74. Mr. E. HARVEY

asked the Home Secretary whether he will make arrangements that when conscientious objectors are transferred to civil prisons by the military authorities their relatives may be informed of the fact, and some opportunity allowed the prisoners to receive letters from their families and to write to them?


When a prisoner sentenced by court-martial is received in a civil prison, he is allowed to send a notice to his friends saying where he is, whether he is in good health, and on what date he will be allowed to write and receive a letter. The intervals at which such prisoners are allowed to write and receive letters are regulated by the ordinary prison rules.


(by Private Notice): I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War whether it is true that sixteen men from Richmond and others from Abergele, who on conscientious grounds were resisting military orders, in spite of instructions to the contrary, were this week sent to France; if so, what steps have been taken to bring them back without delay?


I may say that I have received no notice of the question from my hon. Friend. I can inform the House of the steps that were taken to prevent these men going abroad, and as to what the proposal is now. A telegram was sent, as I have informed my hon. Friend. I think I need not read it. It asked that steps should be taken to send the men back.


Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will read the telegram.


Very well— Copy of telegram from the War Office to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, 30th May: It is understood that there are eight conscientious objectors at Kinmel Park who are being sent overseas. Take steps to ensure that they do not go overseas. If they have already gone, take steps to recall if still in this country or state whereabouts as far as is known. In addition forward a report on the matter. That was repeated to the other commanders by letter. Copy of telegram to General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, 30th May: It is understood that there are sixteen men of Non-Combatant Corps now in detention or recently released at Richmond due to proceed to France with their unit to-day. These men are said to have committed offences against discipline on account of conscientious objection. Take steps to ensure that they do not go to France, but remain to undergo sentence or, if released, are forthwith attached to another unit of the Non-Combatant Corps. If they have already gone, take steps to recall if still in this country or state whereabouts is far as is known. Copy of telegram from War Office to General Officer Commanding Northern Command, 30th May: In addition to particulars required by War Office telegram of this date furnish a report on the matter by letter. The reply that was received was: Copy of telegram from the General Officer Commanding Kinmel Park to the War Office, dated 30th May: Reference your telegram of to-day. No. 1 Western Company Non-Combatant Corps, including nine men under escort, proceeded last night to France, due Southampton to-day. The other telegram was: Copy of telegram from the Officer Commanding Troops, Richmond Barracks, to the War Office, dated 30th May: Reference War Office telegram of to-day. Non-Combatant Company left yesterday for Southampton and the sixteen men are probably now in France. It was stated last night that it is not easy to rescue them, though it is very desirable. These men left for France as free men, and those who commit themselves there will get imprisonment and will be transferred home to civil prisons.


Arising out of the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask him whether he knows that a definite assurance was given to us on Tuesday that these men should not go to France, and that on that assurance no Debate took place in this House in regard to the matter? That being the case, may I ask whether he cannot give orders at once that these men shall be returned? May I also ask him whether, in view of the new Army Order, he cannot give an assurance now that no more of these resisting men shall be sent to France, where they must be a serious encumbrance to the Army?


I am not at all aware that no Debate took place. There was a Debate on the subject for about two and a half hours. I made a long speech, and my hon. Friend made a very interesting speech, so that I do not think he is correct in that matter. But I do not think my hon. Friend ought to press me further than he has already done. It is quite true we tried to get these men stopped, but we were too late. What difference can it make to my hon. Friends if these men are kept in France or if they are brought back to this country? I really do not think it can matter.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a question was put down by Private Notice, and was withdrawn at the express desire of the War Office authorities, conveyed to myself and my hon. Friend through a Cabinet Minister, and on the absolute understanding that those men should be stopped from going to France, and when I placed before the Cabinet Minister the probability that the telegram might be sent to the wrong place I also got the assurance that steps should be taken to bring them back; is he aware that I communicated with a Parliamentary Private Secretary about the matter during the course of that day; and is he also aware that if a telegram had been sent to—


The hon. Member is abusing his right.