§ Where a man who has applied for exemption for military service on the ground of a conscientious objection and, failing to secure such exemption, has been enlisted under the principal Act, or under this Act, refuses on conscientious grounds to obey an order given him by his superior officer, he shall forthwith be tried by court-martial and, if it appears to the Court that there is reasonable ground for believing that his refusal to obey such order was due to conscientious motives, the matter shall be referred for trial to a Civil Court which may order the man to engage in a work of national importance as an alternative to military service, under regulations to be made by Order in Council under this Act, and subject to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding two years if he fails or refuses to comply with the order of the Civil Court.—[Mr. Harvey.]
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
This Clause is of the utmost importance. I do not think there is any proposal of mine that would go further towards getting 1195 rid of the worst cases of difficulty under this Act. What we have all felt troubled about has undoubtedly been the knowledge that a number of sincere men, who, although their opinions may meet with strong disapproval, are men of high character, and men who, in many cases, are giving their lives to the service of their fellow men, are at this moment in military prisons suffering the penalty of disobedience to their superior officers, although from the moment they were technically deemed to be soldiers, they have not ceased to protest that it was contrary to their deepest religious and conscientious convictions. There are a number of other men equally sincere awaiting arrest as deserters, because in their consciences they feel that they cannot undertake this service, although they are willing and anxious to serve their country in other ways. It is very hard to speak unmoved on a question like this when one has personal friends concerned. In a number of cases I know of men for whose character I can vouch absolutely and for whose religious sincerity I can vouch. These men have been placed in this painful and difficult position by the operation of an Act of Parliament which was expressly framed to safeguard such men and to prevent such things happening. I do not like to go into a number of details, but I would like to take three cases which have come from a certain Appeal Tribunal. I will not mention the name of the tribunal, because I do not want to make an attack upon tribunals. These tribunals, I believe, have tried to do their duty under difficult circumstances.
What I want to show is that it is impossible, under the machinery of the Act, to prevent serious miscarriage of justice, and that it is absolutely essential that there should be some provision, whether by legislation or administration, to deal with cases which have passed through the tribunals without being satisfactorily handled. Unless this can be done you will have the most serious cases of injustice, and you will have a growing sense of discontent and indignation throughout, not merely a limited section of the community, but on the part of a very large number of men and women who do not in any way agree with the position taken up by those who are suffering. The particular tribunal I have in view had to deal with a large number of cases. Let me, however, without taking another instance, 1196 deal with the three to which I have referred. These cases are vouched for by people personally known to me, and I can answer absolutely for them. In one case the tribunal refused to consider the evidence of a minister of religion because it was not written on official paper. His testimony as to the character of the man went by the board, because the tribunal said that the evidence might have been forged, and "we have no evidence in the case." The minister himself wrote to me complaining of the injustice of the thing Leave to appeal was refused. He lost his case, although he was a Sunday school superintendent and teacher whose personal character was known very well in his neighbourhood and would not be questioned there.
The second case was also that of a village workman, who was the only support of his widowed mother. This mother is suffering from a fatal disease, and has the utmost need of her son at home. He is aged twenty-one. The tribunal, after ascertaining his age, questioned him on his position, and asked him why it was he had made no protest during the Boer War? If an Appeal Tribunal can conduct a case like that, and take away a youth's certificate—already granted by the local tribunal, after asking questions of that nature—one must, I think, consider that there is a real reason to find some means to redress acts of injustice that are committed after such hurried and imperfect examination. The third case was the case of a man of a different social status, though all were equally cases of injustice. This man was dealt with by the same Appeal Tribunal. He had been granted, by the local tribunal, exemption from combatant service only. He appealed. He claimed to be granted exemption conditional on doing work of national importance, the only form of exemption which would meet his case. The military representative, who had never put a question to him at the local tribunal, appealed at the same time, stating the case was not one of bonâ-fide conscientious objection. This man is known to a number of personal friends of mine. He is still an undergraduate. He has spent part of his vacations in social work in East London. He is a deeply religious man. I have testimonies from various college authorities, who have known him for long, and they speak in the highest terms of his character. His father also writes about him. He says that he does not share his son's views, and he has another son who 1197 is fighting, and has been mentioned in dispatches. He says his son "has worked amongst the poor during the vacations and his life was to be given to their service, "and before God, I vow his sincerity as a conscientious objector." "His whole life," continues the father, "has been that of a peacemaker, and this statement can, if necessary, be proved up to the hilt." This man had his exemption absolutely taken away by this Appeal Tribunal. I have been reading through the evidence. The chief ground for the action of the Appeal Tribunal seems to have been that he was in the habit of taking tea, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco, and therefore, by taking those articles, was responsible for paying duties, some of which might go to the cost of the War. On that ground the Appeal Tribunal, which had already used the same argument in other cases, said: "This man cannot have a sincere conscientious objection, and his exemption must be taken away." It is quite clear that cases like this, which have been dealt with in the way described by the tribunals, can only be remedied by measures which must be taken when those concerned pass into the hands of the Army. We do not want to embarrass the Army with so-called soldiers who can never be soldiers. You may punish them and shoot them. You may put them in prison. You may break down their physical strength. You may, in some rare cases, break down their wills even, but you can never make into good soldiers men of this character.
It is pitiable and miserable to think that the great machinery of the State should be employed upon breaking the will and crushing the endeavour and ideals of men who, if they were only given the opportunity of service in other channels, might be able to contribute something of real value to the life of the nation. They are eager to do it. These men have already, in many cases, shown by their previous life their sincerity and their desire to make sacrifices on behalf of others. It is a great injustice and a great wrong that the State should be doing what it is. These men will not be any good in the Army. They will embarrass the courts-martial, who will constantly be having to try cases of the sort—of lack of discipline, of gross breaches of discipline, as these must technically be on the part of men who have never been soldiers, and who have declared they never can be soldiers. We ought not to put the courts-martial or the Army in this most invidious position. It 1198 is not fair to them any more than it is to the community at large. The Amendment which we have drafted would not give an easy position to these men, but it would give an alternative, in the case of these men, who have been continually protesting that they are not and cannot be soldiers, to go before the military authorities, as this Clause provides If the court-martial is satisfied that they are conscientious objectors it shall hand them over to a Civil Court to be dealt with. That Civil Court may then order these men to be engaged on work of national importance under civil control. This may be under very strenuous conditions. I do not object to that for a moment. If they fail to observe the conditions laid down, or refuse to accept the work, the Court shall be given power to sentence them to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding two years. That is not making an easy position for these men. It is providing an avenue for useful service, and an opportunity by which the Army shall be relieved of this most unwelcome class, and the State will relieve itself of the great stain of injustice that will undoubtedly remain if we allow the kind of thing that is happening to continue.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I beg to second the Motion. I do so in the hope that it may provide some way of dealing with the most serious part of a problem which everyone agrees is a most serious and difficult problem. All of us who have for weeks past — in my case for some months past—taken an interest in this question must be pleased at seeing the difference in tone in the Debate in all parts of the House to that lately evident. I believe the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was well-advised when he said that we all had a desire to dispose of this very serious difficulty. This Clause, or a similar one, may help to dispose of this most serious and difficult part of a serious and difficult question. I am certain, at any rate, that no solution will ever be satisfactory that does not provide for the men who are contemplated in this new Clause. Many of these men are where they are through no fault of the tribunal. Whatever the cause, they failed to obtain exemption in the only way that meets their case. They got either no relief at all, or they got relief only from combatant duties, and were put to what is called non-combatant service, which their conscience 1199 does not allow them to accept. These men, therefore, have been drafted into the Army either as combatants or non-combatants. In the Army they are in the position that they have to decline orders given to them. They decline to take any part whatever in military service, to put on khaki, to sign any papers, and ultimately, of course, they find themselves in the guard-room, and later in prison. It is idle to blame the tribunals for this state of things. The tribunals have had a most difficult task set before them. Even if the tribunals had been much better than they have, been, I think it is true there would still have been a certain number of cases for whom it would have been necessary to provide. At any rate, it is too late to blame the tribunals now as regards these cases. It is for the Government to decide how they are going to deal with these men who are now carrying on a sort of passive resistance after they have got into the Army. They are there. They are being subjected in many cases to harsh and even cruel treatment. It is a very ugly word to cruel treatment. It is a very ugly word to use, but I think there is no doubt whatever—not through the fault of the officers certainly, but owing to the facts of the ease—that the treatment these men receive after they get there does not differ in any material respect from ordinary persecution. I have here a letter which appears in to-day's paper by Dr. Clifford, the Nonconformist minister, who is well known as a strong supporter of the War and cannot be accused of having any favourable leaning to these men, and who has taken a most strong part in recruiting. He says:Day by day for weeks past I have been receiving letters concerning men who have been handed over to military authorities, shut up in cells, some damp and dark; put in irons, badly fed, bullied, roughly handled, threatened with death, bayonet placed against the heart, sentenced to solitary confinement for seventy, or one hundred, or one hundred and sixty two days, or to two years' hard labour, or sent to France with the information that there are two ways of disposing of them there.
§ Mr. MORRELL
There are two ways of disposing of them, either imprisonment or death. I have seen some letters from friends of these people. I could read them out to the House, and they show that these men are being subjected to extremely harsh and extremely cruel treatment. I submit that when men are prepared to suffer for conscience sake what these men 1200 are suffering, it is idle to say they have not a genuine conscientious objection to military service. There is one other point which I should like to make with regard to that. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is a fact that seventeen of these men last Monday were sent over as part of their punishment to France, and if so whether it is not also a fact—I believe it is a fact—that they were sent over to France to take the place of seventeen other men who were withdrawn from a draft going to France, and these seventeen recalcitrants were taken out of their cells and put in their places and sent over to France as a punitive measure? I can prove that these men were sent to France, and I believe it is admitted by the Under-Secretary for War. But the point I want to submit is that, when these men get to France, if they disobey orders, they are liable to be shot for disobedience in the face of the enemy. The Army Act says that any man on active service who—disobeys in such manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority any lawful command given personally by his superior officer in the execution of his office, whether the same is given orally, or in writing, or by signal, or otherwise,is liable to suffer death. And Part 5 of the Act says that—whenever he is attached to or forms part of a force which is engaged in operations against the enemy, or is engaged in military operations in a country or place wholly or partly occupied by an enemy,he is held to be "on active service." Therefore these men, when they get to France, which is a country partly in the occupation of the enemy, will be on active service, and as such, if they decline, however conscientious may be their refusal, to obey any order given by a superior officer, they are immediately liable to be shot. I shall be glad to know whether that is so. At any rate, I think we may fairly say that with regard to all these men, who to-day number over 300, who are refusing to submit to the military authorities for conscience sake, and whose numbers will be increased as time goes on, we see a state of things that is bad for the Army in the first place, and bad for the country, which finds itself engaged in persecuting men it does not want to persecute, and which is entirely contrary to the intentions of this House, and of Parliament, in passing the Military Service Act. There can be no doubt that the intention of Parliament was that men who had genuine conscientious objection to military service should be relieved from the necessity of taking part in the War. 1201 [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] That I believe to be the intention of Parliament. I do not see how you can read the Military Service Act in any other way. The mere fact that it is open to tribunals to give total exemption or conditional exemption shows that it was the intention of Parliament when they passed the principal Act, and I say it is discreditable to the House, and to the country, that genuine conscientious objectors should be persecuted, as these men are being persecuted, and should suffer as these men are suffering to-day for their conscience sake.
As to the question of what is to be done, the proposal made by this Clause would still leave it to the court-martial, before whom these men would be brought, to decide whether there was reasonable ground for believing that the refusal to obey orders on the part of any of these men was due to conscientious scruples, and, if they found there was, then the matter would have to be referred to a Civil Court, and it would be open to the Civil Court, under this Clause, to impose upon such men the performance of work of national importance, subject to a term of imprisonment in the event of it being declined, so that a man would have to come before two Courts, first, the court-martial, and, secondly, the Civil Court, and. having passed both Courts, he would still be liable to what is called work of national importance. That seems to me an extremely moderate proposal, and I have confidence—and I think my hon. Friend has confidence—in the great majority of cases the court-martial will be glad to get rid of these men, and will recognise conscience, which or some reason or other the tribunal has failed to recognise—that this may afford a way out of what is indeed a serious problem. There are already 300 men engaged in this passive resistance, and it is going to become much more serious when the present Bill is passed and as time goes on. If the President of the Local Government Board says, as no doubt he will, because he has done so to every practical proposal made to him, that there are insuperable objections to this, will he tell us—he has never told us—what is his way out of the difficulty with which he admits we are faced? If he thinks this is not a good way, will he tell us whether the Government are proposing to take steps to meet what everybody must know to be a very serious problem? I tell the House that the one way in which you will never solve this problem is by attempting to coerce these men. As I said on another occasion, 1202 you may break their bodies, but you will never destroy the spirit of these men. I do not altogether myself agree with the point of view they take up. In many ways entirely disagree, but it happens that amongst my closest personal friends are men who have taken up this attitude with regard to war. I know these men; I know many of them personally. I know their relatives and friends, and I say it is utterly idle for anyone to come here and say those men are not genuine in the position they take up against war, or still more to say they are influenced by any motives of fear or cowardice. I wish every Member of this House had the courage of some of those men. I say they have shown a courage which may at least command respect if you do not agree with them. If the Government is going to get rid of a difficulty which is really at the moment discrediting us very seriously, I hope they will set about it in a sympathetic spirit, so that those men who have shown by their sufferings their genuine conscientious objection to war, may at least get some relief.
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir George Cave)
The hon. Gentleman who moved this new Clause put forward his view as to the decisions of certain tribunals. I will not go into that, because, with great respect to him, it is not quite relevant to this Clause. This. Clause assumes the decision of the tribunal, and then lays down a new rule after the decision has been given. The proposal is that when a man who has claimed exemption on the ground of conscience has been heard by a tribunal, who had decided that they cannot give effect to the application, possibly because they do not believe in its reality, and when the right of appeal has not been exercised or the appeal has not been allowed—
§ Sir G. CAVE
In some cases the reality may be questioned, and has been questioned, but I agree not in all. At all events, the cases have been heard, and exemption disallowed, or only allowed in a conditional form, and the man is passed into the Army and possibly has been sent abroad, not as a punishment—I do not believe in anything of that kind—but to perform his duty to the State which he is bound to perform. That having happened, a man who then disobeys orders may put the lives of all his comrades in peril. If another man does that who has made no 1203 objection to doing his duty to his country, he is subject to the full rigour of the law, but this man, because he has made his objection before going into the Army, is to be put into a privileged position, and he alone, for disobeying orders, is not to be subject to full military law, but sent home and tried for the offence, with the possibility of a term of imprisonment. That is the proposal. To begin with, is it fair to ask a commander in the field, who has to deal with disobedience of orders, to inquire into the motive why a soldier disobeys? I do not think it is right or fair to ask him, and I do not believe any soldier would willingly undertake the duty of satisfying himself whether a man is disobeying on conscientious grounds, or some other grounds. He knows the order is disobeyed, and that danger is caused to his corps, that discipline is at stake, and he ought to deal with it in the ordinary practical way in which a soldier deals with it. It is not fair or right to ask him to take this into consideration. But if it were, surely the House will not agree that these men, and only these men, who have made this objection to service, shall have a special privilege. I think it is an astonishing suggestion and exceedingly dangerous, and I do not believe the hon. Gentleman can really press it. There is another point. Nothing could more destroy discipline than a proposal of that kind. All soldiers ought to be on the same footing and liable to the same penalty for the same offences.
The hon. Member who seconded the Clause took another line, and he alone made an attack upon the commanding officers and men, and attributed to them—I know not on what evidence—cruel and harsh treatment of conscientious objectors, and quoted from a gentleman, Dr. Clifford, some statement which is wholly unverified, and which I could not believe without strong evidence to support it and which for the moment I venture wholly to doubt. Where is the evidence of any such treatment as that of which the hon. Member complains? It is true that a certain number of soldiers who have been conscientious objectors have been drafted into the Army and sent abroad to do their duty—
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MORRELL
The Solicitor-General says they have not been sent abroad as a punishment, but is it not a fact that seventeen of them were sent abroad under escort and taken out of the cells?
§ Sir G. CAVE
If they were in the cells and had to go and do their duty, of course they must be taken out. They have gone with the other soldiers, and I am told that no difficulty whatever has arisen of any kind, and no cause of complaint has arisen. The whole attack made upon the officers rests upon the imagination or upon misconception, for they are just as humane men as anybody else, and are anxious to have the confidence of their soldiers; they are anxious to win their confidence and keep it, and they are quite incapable of many of the acts which the hon. Member for Burnley has attributed to them.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I did not say that. I particularly stated that I attributed no blame to the officers, and that these men have been punished for disobedience to orders. On the contrary, I wish to say that these men speak of the considerate treatment they have received from the commanding officers, although they have had to submit to a certain amount of jeering from others.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think it will be found that the statement which the hon. Member has just made is very different from what he formerly said. It now comes to this, that these men have been punished and properly punished for disobedience to orders, that there is no complaint against the officers, and that some of the men jeered. I think when the hon. Member reads his speech he will find that it is more violent than his present charges warrant. This proposal is really not a practical one. When men are drafted into the Army they must be subjected to military rule in the ordinary way.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The speech of the Solicitor-General shows how unwise we were in accepting the assurance of the Government when the first Act was being considered by this House. Then we were repeatedly assured, not by one Minister but by several Ministers, that the death penalty would not be inflicted upon any of these men, and now, according to the statement of the Solicitor-General, these men, if they persist in disobeying military orders, will be subjected to the death penalty like any other men.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I said nothing of the kind. I did not say that they will be subject to the death penalty. These men will not become subject to that penalty.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Then I have entirely misunderstood the nature of the speech made by the Solicitor-General, which was devoted to showing how unfair it would be to treat these men in France differently to ordinary soldiers. If the right hon. Gentleman's speech means anything it means that if these men persist in their refusal, if they disobey a military order, or if they commit any act which is likely to spread cowardice amongst they comrades, then they will be treated under the Army Rules and Regulations. Of course, we all know that for an offence of that sort committed in the face of the enemy the death penalty may be inflicted. Really it is time that this matter was cleared up. It was only last week, after having put many questions on this point, that I got from the Undersecretary for War an answer which was an admission that these men were not protected by the provision in the existing Act which exempts them from the death penalty for refusing to obey an order calling them up to the Colours. I was responsible for the Amendment in the original Bill, the result of which was the incorporation of the words which now appear, and I remember distinctly, when the Attorney-General read the words that the Government proposed to put into that Bill, I raised this point as to whether it would apply only to the offence of refusing to obey a call to the Colours, or whether it would apply also if they persisted in their opposition to military rule. We got what I quite see now was an evasive reply, and we must have this question cleared up.
These men who have been taken to France resisted. As the Under-Secretary pointed out, they have been taken in many cases to be military prisoners. They have not gone to France willingly, and the fact that they are persisting in their opposition proves the genuineness of their conscientious objection. The Solicitor-General has told us that the commanding officer in the field cannot be expected to distinguish between the motive actuating an offender, and if the offence be the same then the punishment must be the same. I would like to associate myself with what the hon. Member for Burnley said just now in regard to the way in which these conscientious objectors have been treated by the higher officers in the Army. It is, however, undoubtedly true that from the subordinates they have received the most brutal treatment. I have upon the Notice Paper to-day a question, and I make myself responsible for the facts as 1206 stated in that question, and it relates not to isolated cases, but it is typical of the way in which they have been treated in all parts of the country. My question refers to the treatment of a number of conscientious objectors from Darwen, which is a town bordering upon the Constituency that I represent. These men were taken to the military barracks at. Preston and subjected to the grossest ill-treatment. They were treated in the most indecent manner, forcibly stripped, and. marched from the barracks square practically undressed, and after being put in> uniform, one of them was taken into a. room and kicked around the room until, his groans could be heard outside.
This morning I received two letters from young fellows who had been sentenced within the last two days to terms: of two years' imprisonment. I have asked in how many cases similar punishment to this has been inflicted, and it must be a very considerable number-These seventeen men who have already gone to France had been taken out of the military prison, and the sentence which had been inflicted upon them has not yet been served. What we ask is this: The Government, judging from what certain Ministers have said, are beginning to appreciate the seriousness of this question. Surely, whatever the decision of a tribunal may have been, a man who is willing to submit to such treatment as these lads from Darwen have submitted. to, has given the fullest evidence of his conscientious objection to military service. Many of these men have been granted non-combatant exemption, and what does that prove? That the tribunal has admitted the existence of a conscientious objection. What is the Government going to do? Are they going to have these lads shot in France? If they are, all I can say is that throughout the length and breadth of this land a wave of public indignation will be aroused against the treatment of these men. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Let me read a letter in. the "Manchester Guardian" this morning from an eminent Nonconformist who was present at the meeting of the Congregational Union last week. He tells us how that gathering of Nonconformist ministers by unanimous volumes of cheers expressed their indignation at such treatment. That was a letter written by Dr. Munro Gibson. In several daily newspapers this morning there is a letter from 1207 that most revered and influential Non-conformist leader Dr. Clifford, and if Dr. Clifford, comes out and by his power and eloquence and influence supports the outraged Nonconformist conscience of this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—then I tell those who are supporting this War that they have done the very worst day's service they possibly could for a successful prosecution of this War. More than any other man, Dr. Clifford, by his support of this War, has gained the support of an overwhelming number of Non-conformists in this country. The Government may believe it or not, but the volume of national indignation against this persecution and this torture of men who are standing by their consciences is growing, and if one of these men be shot then the ring of that rifle will rouse such indignation in the country that I will not say that we shall not have in this country a repetition of the lamentable state of things which recently existed in Ireland.
§ Mr. LONG
I will at once without a moment's delay reply to the speech made for the hon. Member for Blackburn. I do not propose to deal with the threats of the hon. Member. With his remarkable abilities it is curious that when he threatens us with the consequences of the action which he imputes to us, he forgets that between two and three million men who are now doing their best to defend the country are liable to be shot if they are guilty of two crimes, desertion or cowardice in the face of the enemy, after they have been tried by court-martial. The hon. Gentleman has not chosen to take the trouble to ascertain what is meant by the phrase "in the face of the enemy." It means in your front trenches, where these men do not go, and why? Because you have sent to France a certain number of people who are conscientious objectors and who refuse to do military service. What are they doing? [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members to laugh. But you have imputed to us time after time and to Members of the Government false statements. The hon. Member for Blackburn declares that we made statements when the Act was passing by which we do not abide now, for which there is not a shadow of foundation. We adhere to every word we said in previous Debates, and it is only by torturing the action of the War Office on any occasion that the hon. Gen- 1208 tleman is able to sustain the charge that he makes against us now. What did the hon. Member who succeeded him (Mr. Morrell) say? I was amazed. He said that these men were sent to France as a punishment. Is it a punishment when it is the honour and glory of men to go? Is that to be regarded as a punishment? These men believe that they have a grievance. They go, as he says, under escort. Why have they got an escort? They have got an escort because they are refusing to go, because they are refusing to give their services. They go there and, as a matter of fact, many of them, I am happy to say from what I have been told, become excellent and loyal and devoted soldiers. Some of them do not. How are they employed? They are employed on certain definite work. I believe work on the roads is one kind, I believe stone quarrying is another, and railway work a third. They are not put in front of the enemy, and it is only in face of the enemy that a soldier can be guilty of the two crimes to which I have referred, and for which, after he has been tried by court-martial, he can be shot, or has ever been shot, during the War. We have kept every letter of the promise which we have made to the House on previous occasions, and we are not in the least likely either to depart from any promises we make or to be frightened by threats.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would ask the House now to revert to the matter which we were considering, namely, the new Clause moved by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey).
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Gentleman raises the question again somebody else will reply to him, and so we shall go on.
I will make no reference to it at all. We have been discussing the case of the conscientious objector for the whole of this afternoon, lasting now some four hours. We have now reached the last Clause, which deals with him, and I believe it is the last occasion on which we shall be able to refer to him before the Bill becomes law. I want to appeal to the Government to tell us how they propose to deal with the problem, the existence of which they recognised fully when the Bill was being read a second time. I have with me a statement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the President 1209 of the Board of Education (Mr. A. Henderson) in his speech on the Second Heading, and I would ask my right hon. Friend just to listen to a short extract. The President of the Board of Education said:The hon. Member for Leeds made what I think was a very appealing speech to the House. I think that most of the W embers present agreed with him that he was pleading for the genuine conscientious objector—And I for one am pleading for no other. There is no one who has a word to say on behalf of the man who is a sham conscientious objector.I think I cannot do less than undertake to ask my colleagues in the Cabinet to consider very carefully the suggestions he was good enough to make, that those genuine cases ought to have the chance of appeal rather than that they should be crowded into our prisons by hundreds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th May. 1916, col. 263.]We have waited until we have come to the last Clause dealing with the conscientious objector, and the right hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill has not yet told us how the Government propose to deal with the cases which admittedly exist, which have passed the tribunal, and which are cases of men who, by their action since they have been forcibly made soldiers, have shown that they have a strong and it seems to me, in many cases, a conscientious objection to being made soldiers. I can well understand the impatience which many hon. Members feel, and "which was expressed by the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) and others, at our being called upon to deal with this question while our fellows are fighting in the trenches in thousands and hundreds of thousands in France. I sympathise with that impatience. One of my main objections to the bringing in of a compulsion Bill was that it raised all these questions in the middle of the War. One of the strongest objections there is to the change of system from a voluntary to a compulsory system is that you are doing it in the hurry and haste of a great war and at a time when we should concentrate on the problems of the War. I noticed that one of my hon. Friends was challenged and asked whether there were any conscientious objectors in Germany? We do not know, but we do know that when compulsory service was first set up in Germany there were many conscientious objectors. Every country which has resorted to Conscription has had to deal with the conscientious objector. Nobody likes the conscientious objector.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
Was there any provision for the conscientious objector in the Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War?
I am quite sure that Abraham Lincoln was the last man in the world to force conscientious objectors to become soldiers against their consciences. If ever there was a man to whom conscience was precious, it was Abraham Lincoln. The hon. Member for Brentford asked what right a man had to set up his conscience against the conscience of the State? That is an idle question. How can I say what right he has? What right had Martin Luther to raise any question of conscience? What right had anyone who has ever stood for the right of individual conscience against society, State, or Church? What right has the individual objector ever had He has had the right inherent in human nature, the right of human nature in the last resort to decide matters of his own will and conscience. I do not ask the question "What right has he?" but, "How is the State going to deal with the case of conscience when it arises?" The real problem is, What are we going to do to get round the difficulty of the conscientious objector? I want to put a point to- the House which, I think, has not been put at all. You are doing in this Military Service Bill a thing which you have done in no other department of our national life. I know of no other case in which you violate the individual conscience and do not provide some alternative. The Minister of Munitions (Mr. Lloyd George), who has recently discovered that compulsory service is a Liberal principle—
The hon. Member for Mansfield may cheer it, but he cannot deny that it is a recent discovery. The Minister of Munitions compared it to vaccination, to compulsory education, to insurance, and to taxation. Take vaccination—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Member that he is now dealing with a number of points which are not relevant to the special enactments of this Clause. The Clause sets up a particular procedure to be followed in certain limited and special cases, and I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to that.
It was only an illustration, and I would venture to say that we are on the Second Reading of the Clause, I was endeavouring to show that there was a principle underlying this Clause which would make it analogous to our procedure under the Vaccination and Education Acts. I will not pursue it at any length, 1211 but I must be allowed to say that under the Vaccination Act you do not compel the parent to have his child vaccinated, but you punish the parent for not having his child vaccinated, and under the Education Act you do not compel the parent to send his child to school, but you punish him for not sending his child to school. I am appealing to the Government to provide some alternative for these men who have shown by their action that you cannot make soldiers of them. You might punish them by fining them, you might punish them by imprisonment, and, as the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cecil) logically and properly pointed out, you might say, "We are at a phase in our country's history where every man ought to serve his own country." That is the view which I take myself, but your remedy is not to put the man in prison, and not to force him to become a soldier, but to banish him from the country. At the present time you do not allow him to go; you forbid him to leave the country; you keep him here and say he shall become a soldier. You will not succeed in your endeavour. You will never make soldiers of these men. They prove by their action that you cannot make soldiers of them. The hon. Member for St. Pancras (Captain Cassel) said that you could not possibly raise this question once the men were in the Army. We are face to face with a practical difficulty, that has arisen from our embarking on new legislation in the middle of the War. You have got the men in the Army, you have called them soldiers, but you cannot make them soldiers, and I do ask my hon. Friend to fulfil, I will not say the pledges, but the expectations, he awakened on the Second Reading and in the Committee stage of this Bill, and to tell us now how the Government propose to deal with these cases, not very numerous, but real and growing, and which will increase very largely. The difficulty is a very real and practical one, and up to this late hour the Government still do not tell us how they are going to deal with it. I do not think it is treating the House fairly. They held out expectatons to us, and said that they would consider this question in the Cabinet. I have read the right hon. Gentleman an extract from the speech of the President of the Board of Education. I will put a straight question to him: Was the matter brought before the Cabinet?
§ Mr. LONG
Really, this is not quite fair. I said distinctly and as plainly as I could, speaking in the House of Commons when we were in Committee, that we had given our fullest consideration to these problems. I frankly stated the difficulty, and I invited co-operation and received the assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Rowntree). We have discussed this thing, not once but dozens of times, and my hon. Friend has no right to suggest in this light-hearted way that we are breaking our pledges or promises.
I expressly said that the right hon. Gentleman was not breaking any Parliamentary pledge or promise, but I repeat that expectations were held out that this question of the conscientious objector, which is daily growing in importance and magnitude throughout the country, would be dealt with in some proposals which the Government would put forward. We are now within a few hours of the Bill becoming law, and there will be more conscientious objectors to be dealt with, and I do not think the House is being fairly treated in being asked to pass the Bill while left in absolute ignorance as to what the Government intends to do.
§ Captain CASSEL
I should like to press my objection to this Clause on the grounds of the new duty which it proposes to impose on courts-martial. It so happens that since my return I have had to go through the proceedings of many of these Courts, and I say it is altogether impossible to make a court-martial a kind of Appeal Court from the decisions of the tribunals upon whom the duty of dealing with the conscientious objector was cast by the original Act. Yet that is what this Clause proposes to do. What happens at the present moment is that when these objections are raised before the court-martial it replies that it has nothing whatever to do with them. There are two kinds of objectors. There is the religious objector—the objector who hands in ten pages of Scripture with references to chapter and verse—and then there is the objector who says that he objects to the tribunal because he is an atheist, and then he preceeds to say he is a Socialist, he regards all men as brothers, and he objects to making war upon his brother. As I have 1213 suggested, at present the court-martial simply replies that it has nothing to do with that. I submit the one principle which must be recognised is that from the time a man becomes a soldier he must obey orders. No officer can be called upon to decide the question whether there is any ground on which a soldier is entitled to refuse to obey. It is on that ground that I oppose this Clause. I say that it imposes upon a court-martial a duty which it ought not to be called upon to perform.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I want to make an earnest appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to reconsider the attitude he has taken up. I do not know whether it is worth while making the appeal. I hope it is possible now, at this stage, to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some further indication of the attitude which he is going to take up in dealing with this rapidly growing difficulty. I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman that only two or three days ago he—I am sure with perfect sincerity and frankness—invited those actually concerned with this question to frame proposals for the solution of the problem, the gravity of which he asknowledged, and the Order Paper to-day is the reply to the right hon. Gentleman's own invitation.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. He was asked if he would consider proposals that might be made. But we do not want the matter to end there. That does not satisfy those who are trying to get a solution of this problem. It is not sufficient to say that the matter has been considered. That is not a reply to the suggestions we have made. I want to put a practical point to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will not and does not think that this difficulty is going to be got over by men who are conscientious objectors in the Army being tried and imprisoned or sent to France and kept in the hands of the military authorities. Surely all history shows that the more persecution people who are conscientious objectors undergo, the greater their number becomes and the more their 1214 power of resistance grows. I am not speaking to-night in any provocative sense. I deplore more than I can utter the great difficulty that has arisen. I feel a special personal responsibility, because I share entirely the views and feelings which have been exprssed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Harvey). I am not one of those who can say that I do not believe in the conscientious objector. I do believe in him. I would remind the House we have always to the great benefit of mankind recognised the conscientious objector. My right hon. Friend will not be annoyed with me if I say I well remember an occasion when he addressed this House from the benches opposite under circumstances in which he was a conscientious objector. He knows well enough that this difficulty has been with us in all great questions dividing the nation. It is peculiarly with us now, because we are up against men who found their action upon their religious belief. They are willing to undergo anything as a result. We do not want to create martyrs and we do not want to see this trouble extend. I am sure to the sorrow of this War we do not want to add the sorrow of a great domestic conflict. Therefore I suggest the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to give us a partial solution of this difficulty by accepting this very moderate proposal, which, at least, will reduce the passion caused by this controversy by leaving it to the civil Court to find an appropriate method of dealing with the conscientious objector.
§ Major NEWMAN
I beg the House, the President of the Local Government Board, and the Government to stand firm, and not to give way on this Amendment. I really believe the reason why the House has not dealt practically with the conscientious objector long before has been avowed in public in a characteristic sneer by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), who, in speaking to a No-Conscription Fellowship at Burnley, attended by French delegates—it was a characteristic bitter sneer—said:The contemptible spectacle of a House of Commons of aged men forcing conscription upon younger men than themselves.That is cheered from "Amen Corner." May I remind "Amen Corner" of this: We over here are a comparative handful. But 60 or 70 per cent. of our Members are on active service, and do you think that men who, like myself, have been out at the front and are expecting to go back again, 1215 would deal very unkindly with the conscientious objector? We certainly would not. I appeal to the Government to remember that, because a majority of the Members are past military age, except perhaps a few sitting below the Gangway, that is no reason why we should fail in doing our duty. I say, speaking as a regimental officer, that you cannot put on officers or on courts-martial such a duty as this. If there is one person who cannot deal with the conscientious objector it is a court-martial or an officer in charge of troops. Hon. Members opposite have sought to fortify their opinions by quotations from Dr. Clifford. But they have failed to quote one bit of common sense which appeared in Dr. Clifford's letter. It was this:Conscience ought not to be handed over to the military. There is one, law in the Army and only one—obey or be shot. Military rule makes no provision for conscience.These are the reasons which make it impossible for the Government to accept the Amendment and perfectly impossible for us in the Army, whatever our rank, to deal with the question of conscience. You may get another solution. I hope you will, but the solution imposing the duty of the tribunals upon the court-martial will certainly not work.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I want once more to appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to remember what was said earlier in the afternoon by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil). We have suggested this new Clause as the best way of getting the Government out of a very real difficulty. If there is another and a better way, I hope the President of the Local Government Board will tell us what it is. There is abundant proof that there are at the present time large numbers of men who are undergoing imprisonment for conscience sake. They have not got the exemption they feel should have been given them, and now, rightly or wrongy, they hold that they cannot undertake military serviec. The difficulty has arisen because of that fact. We are anxious that there should be some way in which these men who are now undergoing penalties in prison should have a chance of getting back either into civil prisons or into civilian work. The main point surely is that these men who are resisting never should have been sent to France, and then the danger the hon. Member for Blackburn has alluded to would never have 1216 occurred. Men who are resisting in this way cannot be of any service to the Army. Again and again military men have told me it is absurd that these men should ever be sent to France, and it is because of that fact that people are very anxious indeed at the present time.
There is no doubt about it that these men are a very difficult class to deal with. No one knows better than myself the difficulties connected with this matter. There is an attempt being made to frighten these men into submission. I had a letter to-day with regard to a young fellow who bears a name well known amongst Congregationalists in this country. He told me that if he had got exemption he was willing to do work of national service. But he did not get exemption and consequently he felt bound to resist. He says in this letter, and I have no reason to doubt his statement, that the president of the court told him that unless he accepted the conditions laid down the death sentence would eventually have to be passed. I had another letter this morning with regard to a Salvation Army man in the West of England, and this is what the witness, tells me occurred:I was called before the Court, when the presiding officer said, 'I wish to put the position seriously before you. There will be comparatively only a light sentence for the present offence, but if. … continues in his present course there can be only one result, which is the death sentence.'I feel again and again a difficulty in speaking of this matter, because no one recognises more than I do the sacrifices that men are making day after day for us in the trenches in France, and I recognise how specially difficult it is in a House like this, where there is hardly a Member who has not lost one of his dearest friends in that sacrifice. What I find is that these men, while they cannot understand this conscientious objection, have no desire that the conscientious objectors should be persecuted. They have no desire that the will of these men shall be broken, and they are anxious that some way shall he found out of this difficulty. I was stopped three weeks ago by a man at a station near York, who told me that he expected to be called up. He was a Wesleyan who had a conscientious objection. Neither the local tribunal nor the Appeal Tribunal had given him exemption. He is now suffering penalties in gaol for refusing to take any part in military service. I said to that man, "Are you willing to do national service?" He said, "I am willing to do any national service or any work of national importance." I said, "Are you 1217 willing to show that by your sacrifice, are you willing to give up your income?" He said, "I am willing to give up everything but my maintenance." That man's business is having to be closed, and he is now suffering penalties in a military prison. There is no doubt about his conscientious objection.
It cannot be right—I do not believe there is a man in this House who will not so regard these things in days to come—that we who passed an Act, the intention of which was to respect the consciences of these citizens, should now say that we are powerless to overcome these difficulties that have arisen. My hon. Friend (Mr. T. E. Harvey) may be doing the thing in the wrong way, but the President of the Local Government Board, after the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) had spoken, admitted that he thought it might be possible to find some way by which these men should be got out of the Army and got back to civilian jurisdiction once more. If this Amendment is wrong, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to find some other way, because I am perfectly certain that we cannot allow this to go on, though it is nothing to the men themselves—man after man has told me that if they were doing wrong to the State, then the law of the State was that they should be shot—it is not they who are troubling us, it is their parents and friends who are troubling us, it is the leaders of Nonconformity in this country, aye, and some of the leaders of the Church—bishops and others—who are troubling us, and saying that some way must be found to prevent this stain coming upon England during a war when almost every man is fighting for his most cherished liberties and possessions.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
It seems unfortunate that the champions of the cause of the conscientious objector are in the main found among those who from the earliest stages of this War have been against their own country. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not true."] They have been against their own country. One hon. Member has taken every opportunity at every stage of the War to put his own country in the wrong—that is the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), and there are many associated with him. At all events, he has taken not a single step to help towards winning the War. Yet he comes down to the House of Commons to oppose the country getting men, when he has never taken any steps himself to get men to fight the 1218 War. [Interruption.] That is an incontrovertible fact. I said there were many associated with him. I am not going to be led away by that side issue. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the majority of those associated with him have taken the view I have stated. When the hon. Member for Blackburn comes down to the House and makes these vitriolic speeches it is the duty of a private Member to reply to them, because there has not been a single speech made from this side of the House that I have heard except in support of the proposal put forward by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey) and his Friends. So far as the question of the tribunals goes, it is very unfortunate the President of the Local Government Board has not done more than he has to obtain more uniformity in the decisions of the tribunals. Some tribunals have done admirably, but others have formed their own judgments, irrespective of the intentions of Parliament. I agree there is a genuine cause for grievance owing to the way in which the Regulations have been administered.
That, however, is not the point. The point I make is this: The tribunals were, after all, appointed by the local authorities. Hon. Members must remember that. They have always preached in favour of democracy, and now that they are getting a touch of democracy they do not like it. The tribunals having given their decisions and these men having taken it upon themselves to be passive resisters, what are we to do? I believe that nearly all the passive resisters are made by the kind of speeches we have had in this House and the speeches of the hon. Member for Blackburn, who has been going about the country talking at all these meetings in support of the conscientious objector, and with what result? A number of men, I have no doubt, think it is the easier way to become martyrs than by doing their share in the trenches. I have no doubt there is a certain number of conscientious objectors of that type. I am equally aware that there is a number of men who have a conscientious objection. I agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University that we have to reckon with a class of men in this country, known to all of us, who do exist in considerable numbers, but even among the Society of Friends hon. Members must not forget that there are those who have nobly done their duty, and although their chief tenet is against all sorts of warfare, members of that society in my 1219 own Consituency have joined the Ambulance Corps, and, as a matter of fact, a certain number of them are actually fighting in the trenches. A number of them are doing real service to the State. What are we to do in the case of a man who goes out to France in a Non-Combatant Corps? I take it that the Government gave us—I heard it—this pledge. I heard the pledge given in the House of Commons at Question time once or twice, and I take it that there is no question whatever that we have here a pledge given which will be loyally carried out, that in no circumstances will a man in a Non-Combatant Corps be shot because of his conscientious objection.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Yet the hon. Member comes down here with all his street-corner talk and the kind of stuff that he preaches at street-corner meetings. Is this the man who wants to bring the War to a successful conclusion? The President of the Local Government Board and the Under-Secretary of State for War have given, as I understand it, a definite pledge in this House.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
So has the Under-Secretary of State himself. The matter is not worth debating. The right hon. Gentleman is an honest English gentleman, and he has given the pledge here in the House, repeated twice this afternoon in specific terms, that a man will not be shot because he holds religious convictions. Then we have all this clap-trap and humbug and talk about men being sent out to be sacrificed for the military domination of Prussianism, of which the hon. Member on the Labour benches keeps talking. He knows it is untrue. I have risen with the object of making it perfectly clear that any man who is sent out by the tribunals to work in a Non-combatant Corps will not be rendered liable 1220 to the death penalty if he unfortunately persists in following the advice of the hon. Member for Blackburn and those associated with him.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would again point out that the matter which the hon. Member has been discussing does not really arise on this Clause. It is only very remotely connected with it. I would again invite the House to give its attention to the Clause now before it.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I must apologise for not following your ruling, Sir, but I could not listen to the hon. Member for Blackburn without doing what I did.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If others followed the hon. Member's example, everybody would be getting up to reply to him.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Is it not the intention of this Clause to take men out of the control of the military tribunal and place them under the civil tribunal? Therefore, does not the question arise, that under the military tribunal he would be subject to certain penalties and that this is the method of giving relief?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I said that the matter only arises quite incidentally, and that it is not really connected with the Clause. The other matter has been disposed of. It has been raised twice to-day in my hearing, and completely disposed of. It does not seem to me that the House is occupying its time to the best advantage by taking up old issues.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I hope that I shall adhere to your ruling, Sir, and speak to the Clause very briefly. I desire to express the hope that the President of the Local Government Board, nothwithstanding the somewhat angry and pugnacious speech he made a short time ago, will deal with the subject of this Amendment and, if he cannot accept it, will suggest something else which will serve the purpose of utilising the conscientious objector and turning him into a force of importance to the nation. There is good reason why the hon. Gentleman should do this, which I do not think has hitherto been mentioned. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Military Service Act which we passed earlier in the year was his Act and that the present Bill is his Bill, and that neither the Act passed earlier in the year nor the present Bill is a measure which enforces Conscription pure and simple. On the contrary, both measures 1221 introduce Conscription mitigated by exemption on the ground of conscientious objection. That being the case, the difficulty which we all deplore, and with which we are now grappling, is inherent in the Bill before us. I submit, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that it is his duty to this House to find a way of getting rid of the difficulty which greatly impairs the usefulness of the measure before us. I am not speaking in the interests of the conscientious objector, although I confess I have some sympathy with him. I am speaking in the interests of the nation, which is losing a useful force which might be brought into the service of the nation to the national advantage. A number of men might be released who are now engaged punishing, guarding, looking after, and nursing these conscientious objectors who, under present conditions, are of no use to us and of no use to our Allies. It is very desirable that they should be converted into useful men. I cannot accept the description of the conscientious objector which was given by the hon. and learned Gentleman in mufti on the other side of the House. I know the type well. It has been described by Milton—Men whose life, learning, faith and pure intentWould have been held in high esteem with Paul.These are the men whom we are proposing to send to prison, perhaps to shoot, though there seems some doubt about that and I do not lay stress upon it, and we are rendering these men, who are of high character and full of possibilities for usefulness, entirely futile and useless when they might give good service to their country. Under these circumstances I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to find a way out. This is not for the sake of the conscientious objectors. They will suffer, and they will bear their sufferings like heroes, I have not the least doubt. But why should we waste this material? Why should the nation lose these potential forces, which might be yoked into the national service and be of great use to us. I therefore earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us some help, either by accepting the Clause or by introducing something which he thinks would better serve a useful purpose. Then we may all be joined together in supporting him. But, on the other hand, if he persists in his attitude of resistance I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will 1222 go into the Lobby, and I will follow him as cheerfully as I ever followed any hon. Member in this House.
§ Mr. BOOTH rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I think there can be nothing worse than to address oneself to this question in a controversial spirit, and I very much regret the controversial tone of some of the speeches which we have heard. I can assure the House I am not going to approach it from that point of view, and I can assure the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Markham) that I am not going to approach from the point of view of one who, as he says, wishes to decry one's own country and be an impediment in the way of the Army. I look at it from an entirely different point of view. I desire most earnestly that it were possible for every Englishman at present to take his part in the fighting forces of the country, but, after all, it is not possible, and I therefore want the House to look upon it from that point of view, that it is quite impossible to secure absolute unanimity on this matter. After all, it is not very surprising that a number of those who profess the Christian religion should take the precepts of that religion literally. They may be mistaken, but surely we should at any rate respect them, and if we can find work which will enable them to serve their country at the present crisis, why should we try to force them into work which they cannot do, and in which they will not be serving their country, but simply taking up the energies of the people who are guarding them in prison, and inflicting punishment upon them? The Act that we passed in January was distinctly intended to keep these conscientious objectors out of the Army, that is to say, to keep the genuine conscientious objector out of the Army. No one has the slightest sympathy with the shirker, or the sham, but to keep the genuine conscientious objector out of the Army is not only right in his interest, but it is equally right in the interest of the country. We have been assured that those who are put into the Non-combatant Corps will not be shot if their conscience does not permit them to perform the duty assigned to them. That carries us a very long way on the road that we desire to go. But there is a certain number of conscientious objectors who by some miscarriage of 1223 justice—for I cannot call it less, considering the Clause in the Act—have been put into Combatant Corps. We ought to have an assurance that where these men have by this miscarriage of justice been put into Combatant Corps the Government will find a way of getting them out of them. Certainly it is no advantage to the country to keep them there. As far as Non-Combatant Corps are concerned, the pledge that has been given tonight gets rid of the greatest part of the difficulty that I have felt. If a similar pledge could be given with regard to the men who have got into Combatant Corps, we should have gone a very long way indeed to arrive at a settlement of this question, which might not be perfect, but which would, at any rate, relieve us from the chief evil which we fear.
§ Colonel YATE
I cannot say how much I regret that the hon. member (Mr. Morrell) has not had the good feeling formally to withdraw those unfounded charges he made against the Army. The whole thing came down, as we eventually found out, to the fact that some men in the ranks had jeered at conscientious objectors, and can you wonder what they should jeer at them? Who are these conscientious objectors?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to please address himself to the Clause which we are now considering. If he opens up this controversy on every speech which is made with which he does not agree we should never get through the Report stage.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
In the Debate which we have listened to this afternoon the critics may be divided into two parties. One party takes the view taken by the hon. Member (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), who denied the possession of a conscience to any man, and therefore says the whole thing is humbug. But the former Bill recognised the existence of genuine conscientious objectors. We have arrived at this position, that undoubtedly large numbers of men who are entitled to what protection the Act gives them have not received that protection by virtue of the decisions of the tribunals, and large numbers of them are now resisting military law in military prisons. I believe we are by your ruling not allowed to refer to what is happening as regards them, but it must not be thought that 1224 certain hardships are not being inflicted upon them, because we have undoubted evidence that such is the case. That condition of affairs, I am sure, cannot be regarded favourably by the military authorities themselves. I think at first they rather disregarded the protests and objections of these men, because they thought they would be able to break them by the rigour of military discipline, and to force them into subjection. As to myself, I am afraid constitutionally I have very little sympathy with the conscientious objector, if in any way his objection is due to cowardice. I have always rather liked being amongst fighting men in politics and elsewhere, and I have had nothing whatever to do with the pacifist movement before the War.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I was trying to point out that the military authorities—and the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have realised that I was in order if he had been in the House and heard my argument—would probably be glad to get rid of these men because they find they will not be able to break them by the rigour of military discipline. That I take to be the object of the Clause, to remove these men if possible from the jurisdiction and control of the military authorities, and I think I remember the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself, in a very sympathetic speech a night or two ago, taking that line. It was rather noticeable that on the last occasion on which we debated this subject the most sympathetic remarks which were made came from two hon. and gallant Gentlemen, which gratified many of those who have taken up this case. It is already clear that you will not be able to break these men by the rigour of military discipline. They have taken up this stand on conscientious grounds. There is good evidence of their sincerity in coming before the tribunals as conscientious objectors, and they would regard themselves as the sham, fraud, and humbug we are told some of them are if they in any respect gave way. I do not think you will cause them to give way. I am confident of it. Therefore I think it will be very regrettable if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) does not find some way 1225 out of what is recognised on all sides as a very great difficulty. The object must be to withdraw these men from the control of the military authorities. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who just interrupted me told us there are no two laws in the military system, and that there is only one law.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Dr. Clifford said so, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that was the only sensible thing Dr. Clifford said in his letter. I agree with him. I think it is foolish of us not to recognise that fact. There can be no two methods of administration of military law. There cannot be one method for a soldier and another for the soldier who is a conscientious objector and is resisting the law, and I do not think it is any use for us to try to conceal that fact from ourselves. It seems to me that the Solicitor-General pointed out that rule to us. Therefore, if these men continue their resistance and disobedience to military authority, there can and there will be only one result: They must be subjected to the full rigour of military law, and that is death. [Interruption.] An hon. Member talks about bloody revolution. You have one in Dublin. Is that not enough for you?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Will the hon. Member kindly address himself to the Clause which we are now discussing, and avoid all these many irrelevant topics? I have warned him twice.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I was led astray by an interjection. I submit that what I am saying is relevant to the Clause, because I am trying to point out a very grave reason why these men should be withdrawn from the control of the military authority and of military law, because military law can take no recognition whatsoever of the conscientious objector, and we are trying to bring them by this Clause before a Civil Court which can inflict punishment or can send these men to national service. That seems to me to be the object of the Clause, and I am trying to point out the public good which will result from it. Undoubtedly throughout the country there is grave disquiet as regards the treatment of these men under military law. I am surprised that those who desire to keep the people 1226 enthusiastic in support of the continuation of the War do not realise that if they leave these men under the control of the military authorities, and the military authorities have to enforce military law, and if in the end the death sentence has to be passed upon any men who have been sent to the front, that will create undoubtedly a condition of affairs in this country which will not make—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now raising topics which are irrelevant. I have already warned him twice or three times, and I must ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. JOWETT
I should like to press for a reply on the point of difficulty raised by the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Aneurin Williams), who stated that those who have been refused exemption entirely may be sent at any time to France, and when sent to France will come under all the penalties of ordinary military law, which, as has been repeatedly pointed out from the Government Bench and by various hon. and gallant Members who are familiar with Army matters, includes all that military law means. Therefore, it naturally follows, in spite of all that has been said by Ministers, that the death sentence is possible, and that those conscientious objectors who are refused exemption of any sort or kind, and who represent a very large number, may come under all the penalties of military law. This matter was raised when the first Bill was under discussion, and the President of the Local Government Board met the point by saying that the conscientious objectors would not get to France because the very first thing that would happen to the conscientious objector would be that he would be asked to don his military uniform and he would refuse to don his uniform, and when he refused to put on his uniform that would make it impossible to take him to France, because, as the right hon. Gentleman went on to point out, the British Army could not be accompanied to France by a number of men who were not in uniform, either in undress uniform or in Army flannels, and they would not be forcibly dressed. As a matter of fact they have been forcibly dressed. Therefore, the point does arise that they can get to France and, as they can get to France, they can and will in the natural order of things come under 1227 military discipline, where a refusal to obey orders carries all the penalties that have been referred to here to-day. On these grounds alone, I think, everything that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) said is justified, because the death penalty can be inflicted and there is great fear that it may be introduced unless there is a very straight and clear understanding beforehand.
§ Sir A. SPICER
On Thursday evening a suggestion was thrown out whether it would be possible to hand over the conscientious objectors who were not prepared to come under military discipline, and to put them under some civil authority. The President of the Local Government Board, in reply to that suggestion, pointed out very forcibly that if the matter was to be compulsory there must be some force behind to carry out the compulsion. I did hope that to-day he would, at any rate, have told the House whether that question had been considered and whether it would be possible to refer to some civil committee those who have been refused exemption, with power to that committee to put them into work, not in their own districts—work that should be of national importance and which they could be compelled to carry out. Then you come to the question whether they would like going under the police authorities, because the police force seems to be the only other force that we have that could exercise compulsion. I would like to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether the matter has been considered in a way which, I think, he hinted he was prepared to look at, and if a practical scheme can be suggested by which not only work can be given, but for the carrying out of that work compulsory powers can be exerted.
§ Mr. KING
I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and have been struck by the words of the last speaker. The right hon. Member for Hackney (Sir A. Spicer) made a speech on Thursday evening which struck me as showing very little sympathy with the conscientious objector. Now he comes forward and asks, as a result of this Debate, that there should be some method devised by which you can get these men away, when they have absolutely proved their conscientious objection, or when they persist in being an uncommon nuisance to the military authorities. The hon. Member says, and I think very sen- 1228 sibly, get them out of the Army in some way or other, and put them to useful work. That is what has been pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman from all sides, but he has not responded. That is very unsatisfactory. From questions that I have put to the Under-Secretary of State for War it is quite obvious that the War Office are trying to devise various methods of getting these men out of the Army by one subterfuge or another. I drew attention the other day to a case in which men who had been a great nuisance as conscientious objectors, who had caused great difficulties, who had been taken from one place to another under escort in order that possibly different treatment under different methods by different commanding officers might have some effect, had been suddenly found to be totally unfit medically for any further service. What was that? Of course it was a subterfuge, and a very convenient one. After having passed these men for general service a fortnight ago, and taken them up and down the country with escorts of five men each for several hundred miles you suddenly discharge them from the Army as totally medically unfit for any service whatever. That is only one case that I can cite, but it shows clearly that the War Office authorities are wanting to get these men out of the Army by hook or by crook. Why cannot they face the issue fairly, and why cannot the President of the Local Government Board, either now, or, if it is too late, in another place, take some powers by which cases of undoubted hardship and difficulty, and therefore of uncommon nuisance to the War Office and the regimental authorities, may be taken out, put under strict control, strict discipline if you like, strict compulsion to work in the national cause, but not under military law? If some measure like that could be adopted—
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."1230
§ The House divided: Ayes, 52; Noes, 154.1229
|Division No. 16.]||AYES.||[8.28 p.m.|
|Abraham, Rt. Hon. W.||Holt, Richard Durning||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Anderson, W. C.||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Arnold, Sydney||John, Edward Thomas||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Baker, J. A. (Finsbury, E.)||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Snowden, Philip|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Jones, Lief (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Sutton, John E.|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Jowett, Frederick William||Thomas, James Henry|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||King, Joseph||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Lambert, Richard (Cricklade)||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N. W.)|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Clynes, John R.||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Outhwaite, R. L.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Gelder, Sir W. A.||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Glanville, Harold James||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Hancock, John George||Radford, George Heynes||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Raffan, Peter Wilson.||Mr. Edmund Harvey and Mr. Morrell.|
|Hinds, John||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Hogge, James Myles||Richards, Thomas|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Gardner, Ernest||Pollock, Ernest, Murray|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Gastrell, Lieut.-Col. W. Houghton||Pratt, J. W.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||Prothero, Rowland Edmund|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.)||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Greig, Colonel James William||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Gretton, John||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Gulland, John William||Robinson, Sidney|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Lawrence||Rowlands, James|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Haslam, Lewis||Rutherford, Sir John (Darwen)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Durham)||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Hewart, Gordon||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Blair, Reginald||Hibbert, Sir Henry||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Hodge, John||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Bowden, Major G R. Harland||Horne, Edgar||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Boyton, James||Houston, Robert Paterson||Shortt, Edward|
|Brace, William||Hume-Williams, William Ellis||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk.||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, W. R.)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Illingworth, Albert H.||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Burdett-Coutts, William||Ingleby, Holcombe||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Cassel, Felix||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Sutherland, John E.|
|Cator, John||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Swift, Rigby|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Joynson-Hicks, William||Sykes, Col. Alan John (Knutsford)|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Knight, Captain Eric Ayshford||Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)||Larmor, Sir J.||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John|
|Chambers, James||Levy, Sir Maurice||Terrell, George (Wilts, N. W.)|
|Clive, Captain Percy Archer||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Tickler, T. G.|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crew)||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Touche, George Alexander|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Mackinder, Halford J.||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Currie, George W.||Macmaster, Donald||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Magnus, Sir Philip||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Dixon, Charles Harvey||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Weston, John W.|
|Du Cros, Arthur Philip||Millar, James Duncan||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Mills, Lieut. Arthur R.||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Edge, Captain William||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Williams, Thomas J.|
|Fell, Arthur||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles||Neville, Reginald J. N.||Yate, Colonel C. B.|
|Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Fiennes, Hon. Eustace Edward||Nield, Herbert||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Norton-Griffiths, J. (Wednesbury)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Parry, Thomas H.|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Pease, Herbert P. (Darlington)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Forster, Henry William||Perkins, Walter Frank||Mr. Geoffrey Howard and Mr. James Hope.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Peto, Basil Edward|