HC Deb 25 May 1916 vol 82 cc2279-81

asked the Prime Minister if he has received from the International Bible Students' Association a list of their members who are now undergoing imprisonment for resistance to military orders on conscientious grounds, together with a request that these men should be put to some work of a useful nature under civil authority, which the men are willing to undertake; and what reply has been sent to this request.


I have received various communications from this association, though I cannot trace the list to which my hon. Friend refers. These communications have been duly acknowledged, but I saw no reason to enter into correspondence with one particular association on this question.


asked the Under-Secretary for War if his attention has been called to the action of Lieut.-Colonel Reginald Brooke, commandant Wands-worth barracks, who, on the 19th instant, opened a letter addressed to Mr. H. Goitein, a conscientious objector, and returned to the sender with the inscription: Letter returned. Not of a sort I will pass. If your news re Private Rendall Wyatt is true I am very delighted to hear, and sincerely hope the whole lot of c.o.'s will be treated the same; and will he say-what action he proposes to take?


No, Sir. My attention has not been called to any such action on the part of the officer named.


Has not the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been called to the matter by this question on the Paper, and why has he not inquired into it?


I understand that the letter was not returned in this form.


It was.


(by Private Notice) asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether conscientious objectors who have been drafted into the Army may legally be placed in irons for disobedience to orders; whether it is the intention of the War Office to review the sentences passed on such men; whether the death sentence will be inflicted on such men for disobedience to orders at the front; and whether the treatment of such men is severer than that meted out to other soldiers?


If men have been placed in irons in regimental cells, except for extreme violence or destroying their clothing and equipment, the action taken is illegal, and those responsible would be held accountable for their actions. Men who may have been committed to prison or detention barracks are subject to confinement in cells, and are liable to be placed in irons for certain offences laid down in the rules for military prisons and detention barracks, which have been approved by Parliament. One case has been reported where a man who, it is believed, stated that he was a conscientious objector, was handcuffed for a short time in a regimental cell.

Arrangements were made by the War Office to review all sentences passed on alleged conscientious objectors by courts-martial. In certain cases, courts awarded a sentence of two years' imprisonment, but on review by the War Office such sentences have invariably been commuted to 112 days' detention, which is the punishment laid down by the King's Regulations as suitable for a man's first offence of disobedience of orders brought before a court-martial.

The companies of the Non-Combatant Corps, numbering 341, which are now in France, are rendering useful service behind the front. No trouble has been experienced with any of the men in France. Continued refusal to obey orders there would not involve the penalty of death. The treatment of such men is neither more nor less severe than that of other soldiers who commit similar offences.

Lieutenant-Colonel NORTON GRIFFITHS

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be no distinction between conscientious objectors and other men in the ranks in regard to punishment for disobedience of orders?


Yes, Sir. If my hon. and gallant Friend will refer to the last part of my answer he will see that I state, "the treatment of such men is not more nor less severe than that of other soldiers."