HC Deb 15 May 1916 vol 82 cc1190-1

Where a man to whom a conditional certificate of exemption has been granted under the provisions of the principal Act fails to comply with the condition on which the certificate was granted, he may be brought before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and if he satisfies the Court that his failure to comply with the conditions of his certificate is due to a conscientious objection, the Court shall sentence him to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding two years, and he shall not be deemed to have been enlisted and transferred to the Reserve.—[Mr. Harvey.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


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

The object is where an exemption has been granted conditional upon work of national importance, and there is failure to comply with the condition, the punishment should be civil imprisonment up to two years rather than that there and then the man should become a soldier. If the tribunal has rightly decided that he has a conscientious objection, and if there is failure on his part to comply with that condition, it does not follow that the conscientious objection is removed, and the punishment, if there is punishment I maintain should be civil punishment and not punishment declaring the man to be a soldier to which it is admitted he has an objection.


I beg to second the Motion. I think the Clause follows the true line of getting a way out of this difficulty—that is to say, by treating these men as civilians and not attempting to force them to be soldiers against their will, and then put them to work of national importance of a civil character. If they decline to perform that work punish them as civilians. Instead of doing so you treat them as soldiers, and you have now 300 of those men in irons and in imprisonment in military prisons because they will not do what their conscience forbids them to do. The several Clauses moved by my hon. Friend give the only true line of treatment of this subject. Give them work of national importance of a civil character, in agriculture or whatever it may be, and if they do not fulfil it, imprison them by means of the Civil Courts.


I am sure that this Clause is not one that should be accepted. It would mean calling in a Court of Summary Jurisdiction to review the decision of the tribunals, giving them a fresh power of imprisonment and creating a new offence. That would be an immensely complicated machinery. Obviously, it could not be a Court of Summary Jurisdiction; it would have to be some other Court, and if the cases were sent to the Assizes it would lead to immense difficulty and delay, and not lead to the friendly settlement which we all desire.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.