HC Deb 15 May 1916 vol 82 cc1314-7

The provision in Section two, Sub-section (3), of the principal Act that no certificate of exemption shall be conditional upon a person to whom it is granted continuing in or re-entering into employment under any specified employer or in any specified place or establishment shall not apply to a certificate of exemption granted on the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.—[Sir G. Younger.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move "That the Clause be read a second time."

I moved it in manuscript at the end of the Committee stage of the Bill, and having to some extent explained it in the early part of that sitting I do not think it necessary to say very much about it. Although the House seemed ready to accept the Clause and to include it in the Bill, the Solicitor General thought it would be wiser that it should be on the Paper, and I promised to bring it up on the Report stage. I do not know if my right hon. Friend has made up his mind to accept it or not. I ought to explain to the House that this is a Clause unanimously put forward by the Central Appeal Tribunal, in order, in their view, to enable them, m a proper and reasonable way, to carry out the provisions of the main Act. The Clause which was inserted, and very properly inserted, to prevent any kind of industrial compulsion, was inserted without any regard to the fact that we should have very soon to deal with the case of the conscientious objector, and it seems to us that it is impossible to carry out a particular kind of exemption which we were told to give, and where we think that a man should be relieved of both combatant and non-combatant service. We may, as hon. Members know, give exemption to a shepherd as long as he remains in that particular occupation, but we cannot tie him in any kind of way to the man whom he serves and to that particular position of shepherd which he occupies. That is quite right and proper, and as long as we say he must remain in that occupation, even if he leaves the particular employer, we or the military authorities have a catch over him. In the particular case with which I am now seeking to deal, I do press that the Government, which has granted the right to give total exemption, will also be willing to consider some kind of machinery by which this particular class of employment can be obtained for those who receive an exemption. At present we have to depend on the Friends' Ambulance Union, which naturally desires to restrict its operations to its own people, and the Pelham Committee, which is not a sufficiently large or representative body to undertake the work. They are, at present, rather snowed under by the work they have to do, and would require to be enlarged and strengthened very much to enable them to undertake the much wider operations which I can clearly see before us if this class of man is to be dealt with. Only this morning one of the members of the Central Tribunal said to me that he was reading over a large number of cases of small holders in one of the Scottish counties, where a great many of the tenants, and some of these small holders, who were men very much up in years, and some not in very good health, and so on, had one son on the croft or small holding who was carrying on the work of the holding. Now, it is almost essential to give exemption to these men, under the conditions in which we are working, and yet it is very absurd that we should have to do so. It is, at all events, very unfortunate that it should be so. If by any chance we had a system by which there could be, say, a Corps of Agriculturists^ or something of that sort, which could be turned on to that work under proper discipline—through the Pelham Committee or some such body—you could get rid of the difficulty we feel in dealing with these cases, and you would maintain the productivity of the soil. Therefore the Central Tribunal hoped that the House may allow this Clause to pass. Of course, they may be trusted not to use it in any kind of way which would be harsh, or which would override the original intention with regard to compulsion; but it is really a necessary power which they should have, in order to carry out effectively—as they think they should be carried out—the provisions of the Act.


I beg to second the Motion, and in doing so I should like to point out that admirable as this suggestion seems to me, and important as it must be considered when it is supported by the unanimous voice of the Central Tribunal, yet it is a power which affects not the Central Tribunal alone. This power which is sought to give conditional certificates will, apply to Appeal Tribunals and even to local tribunals also. Therefore, though the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs says-that power can be given safely, he cannot plead for the Appeal Tribunals and' the local tribunals, but only for the Central Tribunal. However, I think It is quite obvious that, put forward in this way, this proposal has a great deal to recommend it, and I hope it may be-accepted by the Government.


Might I ask the right hon. Baronet whether Clause 3, Sub-section (2), of the original Act does not meet the point he desires to raise?


Is that the power of appeal?




Well, it is a little doubtful. Registration could only be done by some such body as I suggest.


I think the object of the right hon. Baronet is one that will command a great deal of sympathy, though whether the particular form suggested is the best way I am not quite sure, as it may give rise to other difficulties. The Pelham Committee has an established system of registration and is arranging for regular reports and, where necessary, for inspection, and I think some system of that kind should be adopted to safeguard the use of this form of exemption from any kind of danger. Some methods of that kind might be adopted with advantage, but whether the method proposed by the right hon. Baronet is the best I am not quite certain.


I am advised that this additional power is required. The Subsection to which the hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) referred is not sufficient. And my advisers also tell me that this Clause is in the best form for the particular purpose we have in view. Its object is not in any way contested by hon. Gentlemen who are so much interested in this particular branch of the case, and I think it is obviously desired that effect should be given to the wider policy they have advocated, that there must be a power of this kind residing in the tribunals. On the whole, I should be prepared to advise that the Clause should be read a second time. If we find, of course, on further examination that there is any weak point in it that requires amendment my hon. Friend will, I am sure, co-operate with us in seeing that it is not allowed to do anything not intended.

Clause added to the Bill.