HC Deb 10 May 1916 vol 82 cc646-50
28. Sir W. BYLES

asked how many young men are now in military prisons and suffering privations and punishments for conscience sake?


This information is not in possession of the War Office.

29. Sir W. BYLES

asked whether Mr. Rendel Wyatt, a young schoolmaster in a Quaker school, a conscientious objector under the Military Service Act, has been arrested and imprisoned, and made to scrub floors and carry coal for fourteen or fifteen hours a day; whether he has since been given a month on bread and water and put in irons for refusing to drill; whether he is now in a dark cell with twelve others; and whether such treatment is in accordance with Regulations?


The hon. Member for York is putting a question on this question to the Prime Minister to-morrow. Perhaps my hon. Friend will await that reply, as I am unable to supply the information.

30. Sir W. BYLES

asked the Under-Secretary for War whether he is aware that Oscar Gristwood Ricketts, a conscientious objector to military service, was arrested, charged at Brentford Police Court, fined two guineas, and handed over to the military authorities, and that in conveying him to Felixstowe they exposed him to the shame of being handcuffed in the public streets and railways; whether he is now in the Harwich circular redoubt, confined to a cell, and his only food dry biscuits and water; whether this young man has resigned a good post in a city bank and offered himself for any work of national importance that is consistent with his religious and moral convictions; and whether he proposes to take any action in the matter?

33 and 34. Mr. SNOWDEN

asked the Under-Secretary for War (1) if he will make an immediate inquiry into the treatment of a number of conscientious objectors who belong to Darwen, Lancashire, who were taken to the military barracks at Preston and there subjected to the grossest ill-treatment, being forcibly stripped and marched round the barrack square practically undressed, and after being put in uniform one of them was taken into a room and, on the testimony of a person there, brutally kicked around the room until his groans could be heard outside; in view of the fact that statements of similar and worse treatment of conscientious objectors are coming from many other districts, will he take immediate steps to have this brutal conduct on the part of the military stopped and proper punishment meted out to those responsible for it; and (2) what action he has taken upon the allegations of D. S. Parkes, a conscientious objector to military service, who has been convicted by a district court-martial at Winchester on charges of refusal to obey military orders; that on his arrest under the Military Service Act, 1916, he was placed in the guardroom at Whitehall and informed that he would be shot at dawn for refusing to give information demanded; that he was insulted by the non-commissioned officer in charge of the guard-room, who also placed a bayonet to his heart; that he was then taken into another room, where a rifle was pointed at him, and then he was told that he was graciously pardoned; that this action was repeated later, a rifle being loaded in his presence and an order given to a soldier to fire; and, if no action has been taken upon these serious allegations, will he order a thorough inquiry at once into the alleged conduct of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers who tortured this man?


asked the Under-Secretary for War (1) concerning an absentee under the Military Service Act, 1916, named Alan J. M'Dougall, who was handed over to the military authorities on 25th April last, and who afterwards, at Scotland Yard, refused to sign attestation papers and was, notwithstanding this refusal, passed for general service and sent to the depot of the 4/3rd London Regiment, where he was mishandled by some soldiers and who afterwards forcibly put khaki clothes on him, if he will say where Alan M'Dougall is now; whether he is awaiting or has undergone court-martial; if not, what has been done with him; (2) if he is aware that Norman Gaudie, a conscientious objector, of Sunderland, who was fined £2 at Jarrow Police Court and handed over to the military authorities on 19th April and was subsequently taken to Newcastle Barracks and from there to. Richmond Castle, has been subjected to severe treatment, his own clothes torn off and khaki clothes forced on him, and afterwards put in irons on account of his resistance and handcuffed; whether he will cause inquiries to be made into the conduct of the military authorities concerned with the object of preventing the continuance of this method of treating conscientious objectors; and (3) what has become of W. Hammond, a conscientious objector, who was arrested on 17th April last, tried on 18th April, fined £2, and handed over to the military authorities, was afterwards taken to Mill Hill Barracks and from there to Northampton, where he was put in the guard-room for seven days, was on hunger strike and without food for five days, as the result of which he had to be removed to a military hospital, and was due to be tried by court-martial on 2nd May?


I am going to make an appeal to my hon. Friends, and to Members in all quarters of the House, not to press me for answers to these and similar questions involving inquiries into the cases of individuals. The labour involved in procuring answers to such inquiries is enormous. No such staff is available at present, and, if the House considers that answers to inquiries of this kind should be secured, a special staff will become necessary. I am reluctant any further to ask officials, not only in the War Office, but in the various commands, to undertake work of this kind in addition to that with which they are already overburdened. I should be the last person to wish, in ordinary circumstances, to see the curtailment of the rights of private Members to ask legitimate questions, but I must frankly say that, in many instances, among the questions to which I am now specially referring, in place of a legitimate desire for information, the tendency has been rather towards the conveyance of information to me. This seems to me to defeat the legitimate functions of questions in the House.


Are these men then to continue to be tortured because inquiry may involve a little trouble at the War Office? What is to be done if we are not to be allowed to bring these questions; before the House?


Of course, I am entirely in the hands of the House. I only make an appeal to hon. Gentlemen to do anything they can to facilitate the overwhelming burden of the work we have to perform. If they will do that, I shall be glad, but if they press me to get the answers for them I have no other course but to carry out the desires of hon. Gentlemen.


Are we not to put questions to protect the rights of individuals?


Cannot the right hon. Gentleman see that the best way to avoid all trouble is to put a stop to the practice at once by making an example of the men who are guilty of this torture?


Are we to understand that the cases are so very numerous that they require a special staff?


Yes, Sir. The questions are perfectly enormous. You have only to go through the Order Paper to-day to see. I have been kept at the War Office the whole morning trying to get answers to the questions, and I was not able to get through by a quarter to three.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say what means these many individuals can have of obtaining redress of grievances if they cannot be brought to the notice of this House?


Will the right hon. Gentleman say what steps a Member can take when he has brought before his notice what he believes to be cases of illegal and very brutal treatment? Are they to be disregarded because of waste of time?


What do they deserve?


Hon. Gentlemen should make themselves really acquainted with the facts before they put them down as questions on the Order Paper. If they took this trouble my notice list would be very much curtailed.


Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that the questions should be sent to him at the War Office, and not put upon the Order Paper?


The same trouble would be involved in getting answers.


Will the right hon. Gentleman grant facilities to Members to make personal inquiry into the conditions to which these men are being subjected, so that they can find out the facts for themselves?


I am asking the House not to believe all this tittle-tattle.