§ Mr. MORRELL
I intervene in this Debate in order to call attention once again to a matter which has very often engaged the attention of this House—I mean the problem of the conscientious objector. But, before doing that, I would like very briefly, if I may, to express to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War the sympathy I feel, and I am sure all the House feels, in the great anxiety he has had to sumer on account of his gallant son, and our sincere wish that his son may soon be restored to health. I am, glad to say that since this matter of the conscientious objector was last raised there are some signs that it will at last be satisfactorily settled, and though I am far from saying that at the present moment one can consider the position as ended, yet I am sure that the Government are making a serious attempt—an attempt that I hope will be satisfactory—to deal with this subject, and an important step has been taken in the issue, last week, of a new Army Order, dated 25th May. The effect of that Order is to provide that any man who is a conscientious objector and refuses to obey military orders is entitled, in the first place, to have imprisonment in a civil prison rather than detention. That is the first effect of the Order, and, consequently, if he has been condemned by a court-martial to a term of imprisonment he is sent by the 2630 commanding officer to a civil prison. That is a great improvement on anything that has happened before, because it recognises the right of the soldier to plead his conscientious objection to military service as a reason for the breach of military discipline with which he is charged. For the first time the Army recognises the existence of the conscientious objector.
I want to put before my right hon. Friend a certain respect in which I think this Order needs supplementing. Far as it goes, it does not go nearly far enough to deal with this problem. In the first place, as regards the men who are to be brought under it, we have no guarantee at present that large numbers who are suffering to-day on account of their conscience, leading to their being charged with breaches of discipline and punished, will ever be brought under the provision of this Order at all. At present there is nothing to provide that a man shall be brought before the court-martial in respect of the breach of discipline with which he is charged. The man may be punished. The Order only provides for the people brought before the court-martial and sentenced by them. A man may be punished for a long time very severely indeed, solely on account of breaches of discipline committed from conscientious scruples, yet he will receive no relief whatever from this Order. Let me give the case of the seventeen men who were sent out to France on 8th May. Most of them were personally known to Members of this House: they were men whose names vouched for their genuineness, and whose conscientious convictions were not denied. Since they were sent out, certainly fifteen out of the seventeen have been condemned to various field punishments for breaches of discipline. These field punishments are very much more severe than any punishment amongst men who are serving time.
§ Mr. MORRELL
These field punishments are very much more severe. It is not necessary to go into them, but I would mention the case in which a man was punished by tying his hands above his head, after being handcuffed and fastening them to a pit prop. That is a very severe form of punishment. I do not say it is always done, but at all events the point I want to make is that these men are being subjected to 2631 severe punishment and that at present they would not get the benefit of this Army Order. In the answer which he gave me to-day my right hon. Friend said that field punishment was not uncommon on active service, but that it was never intended that any irregularity for which field punishment was awarded should lead to the delinquent being handed over to the civil authorities. I suggest that where it is shown that a man is resisting orders from conscientious conviction he ought to have the right to be tried by court-martial so as to get the benefit of this Order and to make it effective. Otherwise you will have men punished by commanding officers, and receiving, in some cases, worse punishment without getting the benefit of the Order. That point is a serious one, and wants to be dealt with. I have had instances brought to me again and again of men being persecuted, and I venture to say tortured in some cases, by non-commissioned officers. I will withdraw the word "tortured," and say men persecuted in a manner that is, at any rate, very cruel, by non-commissioned officers again end again for disobedience to orders, and who are disobeying orders from conscientious motives because they are asked to do things which in their conscience they cannot do. They are subjected by non-commissioned officers to what I think my right hon. Friend will agree is brutal ill-treatment. I have brought instances to his notice of cases which have occurred in which men have suffered severely in this way, and which will be corroborated. I have given him particulars of the case of three brothers named Walker, and a young man named Llewelyn Hughes at Chatham Barracks. I venture to think any hon. Members who read the particulars would say that these men were subjected to cruel treatment to which no man ought to be subjected, especially men disobeying orders from conscientious motives. There have been a great many other cases, at Dover and other barracks, in which men have been knocked about and brutally ill-treated by non-commissioned officers. These non-commissioned officers have not much knowledge of consciences, and have no sympathy with those men and probably think them little better than shirkers or perhaps cowards, which they certainly are not, and they subject them to very rough usage indeed. I could 2632 give lots of instances of these things. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman wants to avoid anything in the nature of persecution. I hope he will have steps taken to see that these men at the earliest possible opportunity have the advantage of the new Order which was issued last week.
Besides these men who are suffering irregular treatment there are a great many who have been sentenced by courts-martial to various long sentences. I have heard of a case of thirty men undergoing sentence of two years, in some cases two years' imprisonment, in some two years' detention, and in some two years' hard labour. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have been commuted."] If they have that is all right. Will this Army Order be made retrospective, so that these men may have the benefit of being transferred to the civil power, or will something be done to commute what I regard as the severe sentences which have been passed on those thirty men. The third point I wish to refer to is this. It is all very well to put men in civil prisons, but is no provision to be made to have those cases revised. These men who have gone through all this treatment as conscientious objectors and have had to suffer for their resistence to orders are most of them perfectly willing to undertake service of national importance, and, at any rate, it is useless from the broadest point of view to keep them indefinitely in civil prisons. I suggest, after transferring them to the civil prisons, you ought to provide some new committee of a judicial character which will have power to revise the cases just as the tribunals have now, and to give them either absolute exemption, if they think they are entitled to it, or, in the alternative, work under the civil authority, and thirdly, the committee should have the power to remit these men to prison if they refuse for any reason to obey orders. That would do a great deal towards really finding a solution of this very difficult question. I ask the right hon. Gentleman two things: In the first place, that bullying and persecution should at once, as far as possible, be put an end to by some general order. In the second place, I would ask him to say that every man who is in fact a conscientious objector should have the benefit of this Army Order, and that the men in prison should not be kept permanently there, but should have the opportunity of having their cases revised.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I desire to support what has just been said. I am perfectly certain that the Government and the House want to get a settlement of this problem if it is possible. It is extremely painful to us to have to bring these questions before the House. I can well understand the impatience which some hon. Members feel that in the midst of this great conflict these questions have to be discussed, but I am perfectly certain that not only is it to the general advantage of the nation, but also of the military, as well as this House, that the question should be settled if possible. I join with my hon. Friend in thinking that the new Army Order issued on Saturday will go some way towards the solution of this question, but I do hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to extend it in the direction my hon. Friend has mentioned. I think we want to recognise, as far as the treatment of these men is concerned, I suppose in 80 per cent. of the cases that treatment has been good. I am perfectly certain from what I have heard that if you want to get over the difficulties with regard to the conscientious objectors, you can kill them by kindness, and you can almost prevent them from protesting further by kindness, but it is absolutely impossible if bullying is resorted to. I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend feels as strongly as anyone in this House that anything in the nature of bullying should be stopped, and stopped immediately. For instance, a case was brought to my notice on Sunday night of a man in Yorkshire who had been taken to Richmond, and because he resisted he was frogmarched through the town, and came back in a bleeding condition. A minister in the midst of this tried to get the thing stopped, and tried to encourage the man to stop resisting out of kindness. I am perfectly certain everybody in this House feels that that kind of treatment is not the kind of treatment that you want to give to a man like that. Such men may be unwise, and may be foolish, and may be stupid, but it is absolutely un-English to allow treatment of that kind. I do hope that some way will be found once and for all to stop this bullying. I could give instances of extraordinary kindness from the military in connection with these cases, and I do feel that these exceptional cases of bullying somehow want meeting and meeting sternly.
I would also suggest to my right hon. Friend that, if possible, the Government 2634 should do something to stop the large number of cases that are coming forward. We do not simply want to get over the difficulty with those that are in custody at the present time. We want if we can, in the national interest, to prevent this recurring difficulty. I want to give five or six examples of cases that have come to me within the last few days to show how, as I think, altogether against the national interest, cases are being decided wrongly in the Courts. I had a letter this morning from a friend, a young Wesleyan local preacher, who has been at college and has practically got through the examinations that are necessary. This young man has been trying to work for his living at the same time as passing these examinations and taking part in local preaching. That man was refused exemption except from combatant service, and he does not feel that he can accept that exemption. He is perfectly willing to work under the Pelham Committee, or some civilian committee, and yet that young Wesleyan is now resisting in a military gaol because he cannot get the exemption that he requires, and because he cannot have the opportunity to do the work that he desires. I want, if possible, that the Government should find a way of stopping the large number of cases that are, as I think, decided wrongly, and I think there is a way in which it can be done.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
Just to the first appeal. He was not allowed to go to the Central, and I saw a letter, signed by six of the responsible officers of this Wesleyan chapel, who did not agree with the young man at all in the attitude he had taken, all testifying to his sincerity. We know also at the present time that there is a serious shortage of teachers in the country, but there is the case of a man who was a teacher at Harrow School who thought he ought to leave on account of his views, and who is in gaol now because he cannot accept the exemption that was granted to him. He is willing to teach. I understand he is willing to teach merely on a maintenance basis, but instead of that he is undergoing imprisonment now in a military gaol, and being kept at the expense of the State, whilst in place after place 2635 men are crying out for those who can teach the young. I heard of a case to-day of a young farmer in Yorkshire who, because of the exemption he got, will have to go to gaol. He was just granted the exemption from combatant service. He will have to sell his farm if he can, or that farm will have to be let. I really do suggest that it is not in the national interest to have that kind of thing going on. There are two or three other cases that were mentioned to me to-day of men who are awaiting arrest. There is the case of a Presbyterian deacon in London who has practically been giving his spare time to work amongst boys. That man is awaiting arrest. He is willing to do work of national importance; he is willing to work under the Pelham Committee; but that exemption has not been given to him, and every day he is expecting to be arrested and to have to resist with all these painful consequences. What I want to suggest to my right hon. Friend is this: that in hundreds, I believe thousands, of these cases—because there are a large number coming on—the Government would be spared the extraordinarily difficult work of knowing how to deal with these men if there was an attempt made to see that the exemption that is granted by the tribunals is an exemption that can be accepted by the men who hold it. If instead of the main exemption being exemption from combatant service, the main exemption was conditional on men doing work of national importance under the Pelham Committee, or under some other such body as my hon. Friend here (Mr. Morrell) suggested, I believe the problem would very largely be solved.
§ Mr. TENNANT
May I ask my hon. Friend how he proposes to do that? By issuing instructions to tribunals, or by an Act of Parliament?
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I should hardly have thought it would have required another Act of Parliament, because is it not perfectly clear that in many ways this country is suffering at the present time from want of labour? We could give a dozen instances of the way in which this country is suffering from want of labour. If a clear instruction was sent to a tribunal that in this respect, and this respect, and this respect, labour was wanted by the State, and that if the conscientious objector was willing to do labour of this kind or this character he should be granted an 2636 exemption conditional on doing that work, then it seems to me that most of the tribunals would accept that instruction from the Government, and that the men would be given the exemption they required. My hon. Friend says that this would be facilitated if the military representatives were encouraged to put no opposition in the way of that exemption. In some places the military representatives have done their best to get men that exemption, and I am perfectly certain that if the military representatives generally would encourage exemption of that kind there would be very little difficulty in getting the tribunals to grant it. I think that would require some effective administrative committee to carry the work out. My own feeling is that if at the beginning of this trouble there had been an effective administrative committee to which these cases could have been referred by the different tribunals, we should have been spared very largely the difficulties we have had to meet. What I want to urge on my right hon. Friend is this, that not only should he take steps to stop this bullying that is going on in a certain number of cases within the military barracks or garrisons, but that he should take steps to try and see that the exemption given by the tribunal is an exemption that can be accepted by the men themselves.
§ Major Sir E. COATES
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he suggests that these men should work on soldiers' pay?
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I have always contended, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, that there should be sacrifice, and that we should expect sacrifice. I have been connected, during these months, with an organisation which now numbers 600 or 700 men, and not one man receives a penny. It is entirely voluntary, and I have always taken the ground that if on conscientious grounds a man feels that he cannot fight, he should be willing to sacrifice in other ways in order to give service to his country, and I do not believe that there would be much difficulty with regard to that question. The difficulty is the difference between military control and civil control, and I believe that if there was an effective administrative committee set up, to which the tribunals could refer, these men who had been exempted conditionally on doing work of national importance, the question would be very 2637 largely solved. I apologise for having taken up the time of the House for so long, but I would press on my right hon. Friend in his interest, and I am perfectly certain in the interest of the Government, and in the interest of the nation, to try and meet this matter in the way that has been suggested, so that we can have this question removed, and these painful controversies closed.
Colonel N. GRIFFITHS
I have no intention of delaying the House, except for one or two minutes, but I do want to impress this on my right hon. Friend, and I think he will admit I have been in constant and close touch with the man who is doing what is called the dirty work on the other side. I do want to impress this upon him, with due regard to the feelings of hon. Members, that if you once start to draw distinctions in the British Army you will wreck the whole morale of the British Army, and you will be unable to continue to achieve that great success which we are all bent on achieving. Beyond pressing that on my right hon. Friend, from the soldiers' point of view, I have little to say. With regard to the remarks which have been passed about field punishment, I can assure hon. Members of this: that in most cases, in the majority of cases, the man's work is far less onerous than that which many munition workers in this country are in many cases putting in. Whatever you may do in this country, I think it is very, very important indeed that you do not attempt in this House to interfere with the military rules and regulations, or the King's Regulations, as they exist to-day overseas. If you once start to interfere and bring in the civil law in the overseas forces, wherever they are, you will be looking for endless trouble. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) just stated that he was sure that about 80 per cent. received fair treatment. I venture to think that is very, very satisfactory indeed, and that it pays a high tribute to the efficiency of the British Army in the field. For this reason. We have heard about bullying and ill-treatment, but that has to be boiled down. It is more or less equivalent to what a schoolboy gets. Hon. Members know the conditions where a boy gets a clout on his ear, or gets pushed over, or something of that kind. He gets through that period, and in every regiment it is the same; there is a certain amount of what has been termed ragging, but it is nothing more than —
Colonel N. GRIFFITHS
It is hardly horseplay. These conscientious objectors must realise and appreciate the fact that there must be some feeling amongst those who have to go in day after day to the trenches, while they are working behind doing some soft job, however many hours they work. One other remark which caught my attention was with reference to the conscientious objector who was a school teacher, or was teaching boys. There, again, it is impossible to make any distinction. If you are going to take into consideration as to whether a man is teaching boys, or doing some other kind of work, where are we going to end? I have two or three cases of my own employés at the present time. One went off only the day before yesterday. He had a large family, a good position, but would have gone before if I could have spared him. He had important and serious work, and besides that he was also interested in boys, boy scouts, and looking after the coming generation in just as efficient and able a manner. I daresay, as the man who has been mentioned. How can you make a distinction between that man and the man in question? Personally, I do beseech the House, on behalf of those already in the Army, to take into consideration the appeal I make, that you cannot and do not, if you can possibly help it, make a great distinction between any class—I do not care whether it is the conscientious objector or not—and the others serving in the Army.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
I do not propose to address the House on the general question. I have only risen to ask one definite question in regard to the recent Army Order—as to its meaning, and as to its effect. Before I sit down I shall give one concrete instance, and ask my right hon. Friend how this Army Order will affect the man to whom I shall refer. The Order reads as follows:When an offence against discipline has been committed and the accused soldier represents that the offence was the result of conscientious objection to military service, imprisonment, and not detention, should be awarded.The ordinary interpretation of that Order would be that it does not matter whether the soldier has or has not been found to be a conscientious objector as long as he represents that the offence is the result of conscientious objection. It does not matter, on the ordinary interpretation, 2639 whether he was actually found by the tribunal to be a conscientious objector, or merely represents that his indiscipline was due to conscientious objection. I want to know whether that is a right interpretation of the Order? I ask because my right hon. Friend interrupted the hon. Member for York by saying that a certain man had been exempted only from combatant service. My right hon. Friend interrupted and said: "That is the fault of the tribunals." I want to know, assuming that the man has been found by the local tribunal to be a conscientious objector, whether, after committing an offence against discipline, he represents that the offence was the result of conscientious objection to military service he is or is not going to have the benefit of this new Order? The instance I have in my mind is that of a man, Ithel Davies, who refused to attest because he had a conscientious objection to military service. He went before the local tribunal. They found that he was not a conscientious objector. He appealed, and his appeal was unsuccessful. On 28th April he was taken into custody and brought before the magistrates at Machynlleth, who fined him £2 and handed him over to a military escort. He was thereupon taken to Wrexham Barracks. Here he refused to make the military declaration. On 3rd May he was taken to Oswestry and forced to join the 4th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. When he got to Wrexham he refused to take military service; at Oswestry he refused to go on parade, and he spent that night in the guard room. On 11th May he was court-martialled for refusing to go on parade, and on 15th May he was sentenced to 112 days imprisonment with hard labour. That was commuted by the colonel to 112 days' detention. On 22nd May he was transferred to Mold military prison, and his sentence was reduced from 112 days to one month. He comes out of prison next week, on 10th June.
I should like to know whether or not this case comes within the purview of this new Army Order? Secondly, I want to know what is going to happen to the man when he comes out of prison on the 10th June? I do not myself know the young man, though I know some members of his family, and I know a number of men who are personally acquainted with him. I am told that though the local tribunal found him not to be a conscientious objector, that the officers of the battalion 2640 to which he has been forcibly attached, having had every opportunity of judging for themselves whether or not he is a conscientious objector, are convinced that the local tribunal was wrong, and that this man is a conscientious objector. What is that man's position when he comes out of prison? Is he going to spend the rest of the time during which we are unhappily engaged in this War, in a military or a civil prison? Surely there must be some way of dealing with a case of this kind. If my right hon. Friend will consult the officers of the battalion, I am told he will find that, from the commanding officer downward, the officers have no hesitation or doubt about the fact that this man really is a genuine conscientious objector. What is to become of him? Is he going to be taken back to the battalion at Oswestry and to be asked again to go on parade? If he refuses, is he again to be court-martialled and the same thing happen over again? Is there not some more common-sense way of dealing with this matter? No one in this House wishes to make this problem, which is difficult enough as it is, more difficult. I am perfectly certain my right hon. Friend has every sympathy with, and is willing to give every consideration to these cases. This is only one of many similar cases. I ask him, if he can, to give his earnest consideration to this and similar matters, and, if possible, give us some satisfaction in his reply.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
I shall not be accused or suspected of having any sympathy with the conscientious objector as such, but it will, perhaps, be satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn if I say that I have great sympathy with the treatment which he has received. I cannot say that I can go anything like, the length of those who have spoken on his behalf on the other side, but I do believe—rightly or wrongly—that having—rightly or wrongly—passed an Act of Parliament that exemption should be given to certain persons, that they are not having the treatment which Parliament—rightly or wrongly—decided they should have. May I say that I speak with some personal knowledge of the treatment. I have not accepted these things from hearsay, but I have personal knowledge of the treatment the conscientious objector has received at the hands of the tribunals. As I said, I have no sympathy with him as a conscientious objector, but I have great sympathy with him when he comes before 2641 the tribunal, pleads his case before that tribunal, and is treated as I say. Surely a tribunal ought to be compelled to administer the Act which this House has passed! I say, with great respect to the large body of men who are rendering voluntary and valuable services, that there is still a large number who are not administering the Act and not treating the conscientious objector in the way which Parliament—rightly or wrongly—decided he ought to be treated. We have heard the hon. Member for Burnley refer to charges, which, personally, I regret, as to the bullying which goes on on the part of the military authorities. It may go on to some extent, but I really think, and believe, that the hon. Member was answered by the hon. Member for York, whose knowledge of these matters is unquestioned. The hon. Member for York said that in 80 per cent. of these cases the military treated the men well. I would have liked—
§ Mr. MORRELL
I never suggested every one, or any large number, were so treated. What I intended to say, and what, I think, I did say, was that I have made very careful inquiries into a certain number of cases, in which I have taken corroborative evidence, and I have satisfied myself that there has been—not always with the knowledge of the commanding officer—what I have described on the part of non-commissioned officers.
§ Mr. SMITH
I do not think that any officer will quarrel with that. I think that is a natural result of the mistakes which have been made, and the fact that these men who are soldiers, and perhaps—who shall blame them?—rough soldiers. I can quite understand that in certain cases these things have taken place. The complaint which I have is owing to the fact that these men are placed in a position which Parliament has decided they ought not to be placed in. What the hon. Members for Burnley and York have stated shows that the military authorities on the whole have behaved exceedingly well to the unfortunate classes of men with whom they have had to deal. I have spoken about the tribunals. I should first like to say one other matter before I proceed to mention one or two points to the right hon. Gentleman. I do think the tribunals: have had great difficulties placed in their way. In the case of conscientious objectors bodies of men, who are not really conscientious objectors but are against 2642 the War, have banded together, and have even, in a way, almost trained themselves to try and deceive the tribunals into believing that they are, or at any rate for some time have been, conscientious objectors. I do not know who is responsible for that—whether any body or association is responsible for it—but that such a movement exists I have not the slightest doubt. Many men who are not genuine conscientious objectors have gone deliberately to try and deceive the tribunals into believing they are. I mention that in mitigation of what I believe to be the behaviour of some of the tribunals—perhaps a good many!—because it has added very much to their difficulties.
After all, however, the tribunal sits with a judicial mind. Putting aside all prejudices and all personal dislikes, or, at any rate, all personal desires, the tribunal sits simply to administer the Act and Regulations which have been passed. I must say with respect to a great many tribunals which I have attended that, I think, when the conscientious objector comes into the chair that the judicial mind of the tribunal generally ceases. I believe it will surprise the right hon. Gentleman, and I believe it will surprise hon. Members of this House, when I tell them that in spite of the rules giving an applicant the absolute right to be represented, either by a solicitor or a lawyer, by his friend or relative, or by anybody—he has an absolute right in this respect—it is not allowed. It may be, as frequently I have seen, that he is a nervous man, and unaccustomed to deal with the comparatively quick wits of the tribunal sitting in a high place. Many of these men like to be represented, not by lawyers, but by friends, who know their history, and their career, and can elicit information as to their grounds of their objection. Will the right hon. Gentleman believe that the City of London tribunal sitting even so close to here—a tribunal which should set an example to the whole of the country—will not allow the representative of an applicant to ask a single question? It is almost incredible. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will do me the credit of believing that I would not make that very serious charge if I had not had personal experience, and had seen it done myself. I have heard of it being done, and have had complaints about it from practising solicitors in the City of London who have gone there to try and represent men whose duty it is to go thereto represent men. A charge like that 2643 against a tribunal like the City of London is a very serious charge. It is setting a dreadful example to the whole of the country. It is deliberately flouting the wishes of Parliament. It is deliberately refusing to carry out an Act of Parliament and the Regulations.
Of course, I know the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for these tribunals, but I know that he is interested in the question, and I would ask him to imagine the position of these young men of twenty years of age, many of them nervous men, who have not been accustomed to take a prominent place in the chair and to answer questions of educated gentlemen, who are trained in asking such questions. He cannot do himself justice. Very few of these men can do their own case justice. The questions which are asked of them by the tribunal are really not judicial questions, but they are the questions of men, who, perhaps purely out of the spirit of patriotism—I do not want to use an offensive word—but who really give one the impression that they are trying to trick the men to give an answer which would lead them to decide he should not be excluded. That is very wrong, and particularly where a man; owing to his own nervousness, has gone to the expense of retaining a solicitor, a tribunal says to that representative, "You shall not ask any questions, and you shall not make any speech in summing up the facts." I say many of those tribunals are not asking questions which should come from a judicial tribunal, but questions of a tribunal which is obviously hostile to a man before trying his case.
I hope it will not be considered that I am bringing a general indictment against all the tribunals, because such a thing would be absurd. I am not; but I may speak of a good many tribunals of which I have personal knowledge, and I have frequently asked solicitors and others who have appeared before other tribunals and I have received a good many similar reports. But I would, of course, make no general indictment against the whole of the tribunals; but every case, such as that mentioned by the hon. Member, for Burnley, of a man who is to-day standing, first of all, the ridicule, the abuse, the contumely to which he is subjected, and finally imprisonmen—I say, without fear of contradiction, that every such case is a standing example of a mistake which has been made by a tribunal. I think that is unanswerable. 2644 I do not think my right hon. Friend would suggest that a man who has stood the buffeting and ignominy, and finally the imprisonment, and who is prepared to go on with his sentence, even although a year or two of hard labour, is not a conscientious objector, and I cannot help thinking my right hon. Friend must agree that each one of those cases I have in my mind becomes a standing example, I will not say of the inefficiency of the tribunal, but of the mistake which has been made. On that point I would ask my right hon. Friend whether it is not possible for some rehearing to be arranged. Those of us who know the good work he has done in the last year or two believe that he is seriously desirous to avoid having these cases, if possible. Is it not possible, where you find a case like that, for the military authorities, either voluntarily or at the request of the Department which the right hon. Gentleman represents, to state a case? Could not the military authorities voluntarily approach the right hon. Gentleman's Department, or the right hon. Gentleman's Department approach the military when they hear of such a case, and so give us the whole facts of the man's behaviour?
§ Mr. TENNANT
The hon. and gallant Member suggested that the War Office should approach the military. I do not understand what he meant by "the military"?
§ Mr. SMITH
I meant that they should approach the military authorities who have been responsible for the punishment which it is their duty to inflict, those who know what treatment a man has suffered, what he has undergone, and what apparently he is prepared to undergo for his conscience. Let us all be quite clear on the point. Nobody imagines the British soldier, whatever rank he occupies, likes this business. I am sure the hon. Member for Burnley does not for a moment suggest that the British soldier has any attraction for this sort of business, and I think it might be possible either for the military authorities to approach the Department and say, "This is a case which, we believe, requires further attention," or for the Department, when it hears of such a case, to require the military authorities to furnish them with full details of what the man has suffered. If that were done entirely at the discretion of the War Office 2645 I should have thought it was possible for that man's case to be re-heard, if they were satisfied he was an example of a mistake by a tribunal. If they are satisfied there is a man undergoing all sorts of drastic punishment and suffering so much for his conscience, and if they are satisfied that the tribunal, in the case of that man, must have made a mistake, then, surely, there ought to be power at the War Office, having heard the details of the case, to say that that man's case shall be re-heard by anybody the Department likes to appoint. I am sure nobody would quarrel with any authority which was set up for this purpose, because everyone believes that the War Office, like the soldiers themselves, hate the work which is thrust upon them. I care not what authority rehears the case, but I would suggest it should not be either the original tribunal or the Appeal Tribunal, but that it should be retried by a small body of three persons, and that they should be there judicially, with knowledge of the Act and the Regulations, and the record of what the man has suffered for his conscience. With those facts before us, I believe the whole country would be satisfied with the decision, and a tribunal which could boldly say, "We think the tribunal which decided this case decided it without the knowledge we have, without the knowledge of what the man is prepared to suffer for his conscience, and with that further knowledge we recommend that this man be treated as a conscientious objector." I do not think I can usefully add anything to what I have said, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give sympathetic consideration to the suggestions which have been made from various parts of the House.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am quite sure everyone who has heard the most interesting speech of the hon. and gallant Member will be glad to have heard it, and I am sure that those concerned in this matter will attach weight to his suggestion and see whether that cannot be the basis of further desirable action. I rise in the first place to thank my right hon. Friend at the War Office for this new Army Order. I am quite certain that the sooner cases of proved conscientious objection, whether proved in suffering at the end or through the judgment of the military authorities, are removed from military to civil authorities, the better both for the Army and the country generally. I have been much impressed by what has been said to me by several officers, whose time has been 2646 taken up day after day in dealing with these matters, how thankful they would be if the sentence could be such as would remove the whole affair into the purview of civil administration. Therefore, I welcome this, and I would urge upon my right hon. Friend to extend the application of this Army Order as widely as possible as regards the offences committed by those who are conscientious objectors, and to extend it as widely as possible in point of time to cases which have already arisen, but in which the punishment is not already complete.
The other thing I desire to say, and it is generally in support of the hon. Member for York, is that it is most desirable that further steps should be taken to prevent so-called conscientious objectors from coming under the control of the Army at all, and that I am sure can best be done by facilitating in every way their going to work on matters of national concern, particularly on the land. I am conndent that attention would be given by tribunals generally, both immediate and appellant, to instructions from the Local Government Board or the War Office to that end, and the more it is known by tribunals that if a man goes to work on the land his work will there be organised so that it will be genuine work done where it is needed, and the more it is known that that work will be paid for at the rates which are equivalent to those of a man serving in the Army, the greater support that will have. Conscientious objectors in times past have been persons who have objected to courses which might have led to their personal ease and comfort. You may easily judge a man to be a conscientious objector if his objection takes him into difficult paths. If his objection to military service involved, were there no alternative, ease and security, it is a more difficult task for a tribunal to judge with scrupulous fairness, which, I believe, the bulk of them wish to do, whatever may be the errors. Therefore, if the conscientious objector goes to work on the land, and himself does not receive any greater benefit than if he were working in the trenches, then there is a modicum of sacrifice.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am as anxious as the hon. and gallant Gentleman to get as many men into the Army as possible, but if you put a man into the Army who, from 2647 his attitude of mind, be it good or bad, declines to obey any orders, takes up the time of officers, and goes through the whole gamut of objection and refusal, then I say it is better for the Army itself that such a person should be under the civil authority, which has equal powers of punishment, wider powers of discretion, and more facilities. There is nothing in my argument against the wish of my hon. and gallant Friend. I am spending most of my time in trying to get people into the Army, but the case I am putting is that where there is a person who says he is a conscientious objector, there is no proof like that of willingness to incur sacrifice, and where that willingness to incur sacrifice is proved by his doing national work, and his pay is no greater than he would receive in the Army, that, I conceive, is the way out in the great bulk of these cases, and I ask my right hon. Friend and his colleague at the Local Government Board to facilitate by instructions, by machinery, by suggestion, that way out of the great difficulty, and I assure them that would be welcomed by people who sit on tribunals, and would have the result of sending into the Army far fewer of those cases which are so difficult to deal with from every point of view.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley), in the earlier part of the Debate, asked me one or two questions about leave and inoculation. He represented that it was a mistake to keep soldiers who were inoculated in barracks, rather than allow them to go to their friends, although he agreed—or, perhaps, he rather made it as an admission—that there was always a danger of certain developments occurring after inoculation.
§ Mr. TENNANT
No, but after twelve hours. What I want to represent to my hon. and gallant Friend is that there may be wisdom even in the action of the War Office. I should like him to realise that. It may be a great draft upon his imagination, but it is so. Is it not obvious to my hon. and gallant Friend that if a precaution is taken of keeping men in barracks rather than allowing them to go on leave, the reason is that you have more control over their actions, and you are able to see that they do not do foolish things? I think that is the answer to my hon. and gallant Friend's criticism. Then he asked me why 2648 it is that only 5 per cent. of the men in the Southern Command are allowed this leave from Saturday at noon to Sunday night. It is true that 5 per cent. are allowed to obtain week-end leave. Previously 20 to 25 per cent. of the men were allowed leave, but it was found that that seriously interfered with the training arrangements; the position really is that to allow so many men to go on leave interferes with the training. Something was said to-day at Question Time about allowing men to go on parade even on Sundays, and the criticism was made that a certain number of parades are done on Sunday which ought not to be done. The truth is we want to turn out the soldiers as quickly as we can. If training arrangements require that only a small percentage, such as 5 per cent., should have week-end leave, I do not think hon. Members would ask for an alteration.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Surely if the right hon. Gentleman will, consider, he must understand that if you work men seven days a week you will not get the best out of them, you will do better to work them five and a half days hard, for then you will get the best out of them.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend has come to that conclusion, it is one I have already come to on my own account. I would only say this further sentence in relation to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech. I cannot say off-hand whether this rule of 5 per cent. leave obtains in all Commands—I have only made inquiries in the Southern Command, the Command he mentioned—it is conceivable that General Officers-in-Chief in other Commands have been able to arrange the training should take place so that a larger proportion can be allowed on leave than 5 per cent. But I will tell my hon. and gallant Friend what I will engage to do. I will put myself in communication with the General Officer Commanding the Southern Command and see if he cannot allow some increased proportion to go on leave. I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend would not ask me to press the General Officer. Turning to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell), I would like to thank him for the kindly remarks he made about myself, which I greatly appreciate. His first point, I think, was that he was apprehensive that a certain number of men—he said a large number of men—might never get the benefits secured under the new Army Order. I am very glad to 2649 think that the Army Order, at any rate, is a step in the right direction, and that it is acknowledged to be so by the general sense of the House. I should not like any hon. Member to go away from this Debate without realising that the Government has made provision for the recognition of the scruples of conscientious objectors. It has made a provision, and I know that hon. Members think it is not a full provision, but, at any rate, it has recognised the fact that this matter is one that ought to be dealt with. I would like to say on my own behalf that, while the conscientious objector has not made my path easier and has not eased the wheels of the chariot of war, and is not likely to do so I am afraid, I cannot for my part withhold my—I do not want to use too strong a word—but certainly my respect for persons who on religious grounds will undergo privation and even persecution rather than do violence to their consciences. I would make that admission at once, and I hope the House will realise that that is my view.
What I think my hon. Friends who represent the conscientious objector, at any rate, in this House, do not seem to me fully to appreciate is the difficulty which you at once raise up if you provide any machinery which is going to work very smoothly for the conscientious objector, because it is going to do a great many other things besides. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Colonel Norton Griffiths) recognised that difficulty at once. What we have to do is the very difficult task of providing some machinery adequate to deal with conscientious objectors, but which will, at the same time, not create a soft and easy job by which the lot of persons whose consciences have only recently been discovered would be able to escape from duties which are not only very proper duties, but duties which are imposed on them by the State. That is really the problem which confronts us, and it is a very difficult problem. I am sure the House will realise that it is difficult. Let me say that, speaking as I do on behalf of the military authorities, I cannot for a moment condone anything in the nature of persecution; that I must always decline and shall always decline to do. At the same time, the hon. and gallant Member for Wednesbury pointed out very properly that a great deal of this maltreatment is in the nature of rough horse-play, which may be felt very acutely by conscientious objectors who may be persons of acute 2650 imaginations, and they magnify it into something much worse than it really is. At the same time, officially it is very difficult to catch hold of that, and exceedingly difficult for us to take notice of it. I was very glad to hear from the hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) that he acquits the military authorities to the large extent of 80 per cent. from persecution, and I cannot help thinking that the other 20 per cent. is unofficial persecution, and not official. If I can hear of any case of treatment of men who have done nothing which you could really say is disgraceful, I will not go into particulars, or if I hear of any officer giving orders for anything we can call maltreatment, then the military authorities will take a very serious notice of the case.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
What if an officer neglects to check people who are guilty of this maltreatment?
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I recognise that distinction, and it is a difficult matter for me to make a promise on. I can project my mind to a situation of a young officer seeing somebody roughly used, because he was a troublesome man, rather turn his blind eye on the matter, and I do not think that you could say that the young officer was doing a very reprehensible thing; it is one of those things one can easily understand. I would ask hon. Members to try and see the matter from that point of view as much as they can without in the least giving countenance to anything in the nature of brutality, or even something less severe and harsh. I think that is the proper attitude to take. As to the complaint of the hon. Member for Burnley that a number of these men have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment, as soon as these cases are reported to the War Office, and it is known they are first offences, such sentences are always reduced to 112 days' detention under the King's Regulation. The real points that have been raised in this Debate are: "What are you going to do if you have acted upon your Army Order and imprisonment has been given to the men?" I think it is realised that when a man is sent to a civil prison then he passes out of the hands of the War Office, and to that extent I know that hon. Members will kneel down and thank Providence, and so shall we. They will be handed over to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is not for me to answer for my right hon. Friend, 2651 but I think he has got in his mind some scheme, which I cannot elaborate because I really do not know it, but he has in his mind a scheme which, I believe, commands general approval; it is not unlike the scheme which the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Edmund Harvey) knows we had in our minds at one time, but which was not successful. It was not successful because it was not given a trial. I want to say this with reference to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Wednesbury. He warned the War Office against making distinctions in the British Army, and I quite appreciate his warning; but I would disabuse his mind of any danger of our so doing. The truth is that once a soldier is handed over to the military authority as a soldier we make no distinction at all. It is the business of the military authorities to make a soldier of the man in every legal manner they possibly can, and in the best manner, and that is what is always done. These cases we are considering now are cases of men who refuse to obey military discipline and refuse to obey all orders. They will be, under this new Army Order, punished in the manner laid down by the Army Order—that is, given imprisonment instead of detention; and as soon as they are given imprisonment they will be handed over to the civil authority. The hon. Member for Carmarthen Boroughs (Mr. Llewelyn Williams) touched one of the greatest of the difficulties that loom in front of us when he pointed to the difficulty of determining whether a conscientious objector was really a genuine person or a shirker. That is a very great difficulty. We shall have, I think—and I am speaking really without the book; I am imagining what will occur under the Army Order—I think what will happen will be that the commanding officer will be the best judge and see how much a man under his command is prepared to undergo for the sake of his conscience. If he is only asked to undertake some trivial task and is not given any severe punishment, I do not think that will be sufficient ground, first of all, or a trial by court-martial, and, as my hon. Friend says, you have got to have a court-martial before you can have the punishment of imprisonment. Therefore, we must rely on the good sense of our commanding officers, who have a wide experience of men and who can tell, or who ought to be able to tell, who is the genuine man with a con- 2652 science. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Warrington (Mr. H. Smith) that it is true to say in each of these cases that the fact that the man has demonstrated that he is a genuine conscientious objector is in itself an illustration of a mistake toy a tribunal, but the question of what we can do to help that situation is the great difficulty. He has made the suggestion that there should be, first of all, representation of the conscientious objector, and perhaps the elimination of the person of the conscientious objector.
§ Mr. TENNANT
My hon. Friend misunderstood me. I was dealing with the earlier stage at the tribunal, where I thought it would not be improper or impossible for the conscientious objector to be denied appearance in propria persona, but where he should be represented by somebody else. I can quite believe that a tribunal is very often driven, or goaded, to be non-judicial by the appearance of the conscientious objector himself. I quite understand that does occur, and I think it would be an admirable thing if the conscientious objector himself were not to appear but were to be represented by someone, say, for instance, by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Rowntree), who, I think, would do it admirably. If I may come to the next suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend, that is exactly what will occur under the Army Order. It will be for the military authorities to have the person in question tried by a court-martial on any offence he likes—there are sure to be offences—and for him then to be handed over to the civil authorities. The tribunal he suggests is very much the tribunal which I understand my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is going to set up, so that the suggestion he makes is about to be met, and I hope that will satisfy him.
What is to become of the man I mention if, when he comes out of prison, he still refuses?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I think in that case, under the Army Order, the commanding officer, as soon as he becomes satisfied in his own mind that the man is a genuine person, will take care that the necessary preliminaries are observed to handing him over to the civil authorities.
Does that mean that this man, who is already in a military prison, and who has been sentenced by one tribunal to 107 days, although it has been reduced to one month, will have to commit another offence and be sent to a court-martial again before he can be handed over to the civil authority?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not like to say "Yes" or "No" to that question, but I should say "Yes" off-hand. I do not think there would be any great hardship in that, or that there is very much in it. The main point is to get them out. That is what my hon. and learned Friend wants, and that is what the Army wants. They are no good to us in the Army, people who will not obey orders; but we do not want to make it easy for people who really have no conscience. I hope that what I have said will make the House realise that we really have got this problem in our minds, and are endeavouring to deal with it.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Will the right hon. Gentleman take some steps to ensure that what was suggested by the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir Ryland Adkins) will be carried out, and that these conscientious objectors will not make a profit out of their conscience, but will only get the same pay as they would have got if they had gone into the Army?
Mr. E. HARVEY
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the whole spirit of his reply, and I am sure my hon. Friends feel the same. A great many of these cases of difficulty might be avoided altogether and never come to the Army at all if the military representatives could be instructed to take some different attitude before the tribunals when dealing with the question of opportunity of work of national importance, under, of course, suitable conditions. I quite recognise that there must be suitable conditions and some sacrifice. I do not want to see it made easy, but when the man is willing and eager to do work of national importance—which is actually wanted by the country—the military representative in some cases has not only opposed it but has appealed 2654 against it when granted by the local tribunal. I have had cases where the local tribunal has dealt with the matter satisfactorily, and where the military representative has then appealed against the decision. The whole difficulty has been caused by the action of the military representative. My right hon. Friend might be able to save a great deal of trouble if he would take some step in that direction.
§ Mr. TENNANT
With regard to the point of my hon. and learned Friend for York (Mr. Butcher) I think there is every intention to see that a moderate degree of sacrifice is made by persons who are given anything in the nature of work of national importance, and that would certainly include a uniform rate of pay.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, that is the intention so far as I understand it, but I must not be understood to be committing my self. All this will come before the tribunal, whatever it may be, to be set up by the Home Secretary, and, of course, that point will be borne in mind and given prominence. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey) I think it is not really surprising that the military authorities have very often taken up the attitude that they have taken, It is extraordinarily difficult to say to a military representative, "You must take the line that the man who says he is a conscientious objector is a genuine conscientious objector." Really the military representative, the House will realise, is in the position of an advocate, and as an advocate he has really to make the best of the materials at his disposal. If he is able to influence the tribunal, so much to his credit.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The only pity to my mind is that there is not a better representative of the conscientious objector, so that he might meet the military representative on level terms. If my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) will do it, we shall really get something like equality, not of sacrifice, but of representation. It really is not very easy for me to give instructions to military representatives that in no case are they to say a local tribunal has been wrong, and in no case are they to appeal to an Appeal Tribunal.
I would not go so far as to say that, but caution might be given against pressing these cases where they are satisfied of the genuineness of them. The military representative, however, insists that they must take this form of serving, and the only result is to put the man into the Army, and in the end you have to get him out again.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I realise that there is a difficulty and I appreciate the point of my hon. Friend. The best I can promise him is that I will talk it over with the Adjutant-General and see if any instructions can possibly emerge.
§ Colonel YATE
I would just like to say how glad I was to hear the Under-Secretary of State speak in reprobation of what he called the exaggeration of the maltreatment of conscientious objectors in the Army. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) brought some most unfounded charges against the non-commissioned officers in the Army. He charged them with knocking men about, and I say that any man who brings a charge of that sort against the Army ought to be prepared to substantiate it when the man is brought before a court-martial.
§ Colonel YATE
The British Army is the one Army in the world in which there is no such thing on the part of officers and non-commissioned officers as knocking about their men. We all hear of the treatment to which men in the German Army are subjected by their officers, but to say that is current in the British Army is a gross libel, and I resent it accordingly.
§ Colonel YATE
If any cases have occurred, the hon. Member must substantiate them, otherwise it is a libel. We all know that the men of the British Army have no complaint against non-commissioned officers or officers of being knocked about, as the hon. Member says. I look upon that charge as being a most wanton and unfounded charge, and if any single case has occurred it is the hon. Member's duty to substantiate it, to have the man tried before a court-martial, and prove his 2656 charge. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree) talked in the same strain. He talked about bullying and persecuting these, men. I, as a soldier, resent those charges against the British Army. I do not think that they are founded, and hon. Members have no right to bring general charges of that sort against the British Army. The hon. Member for York gave us two or three most unhappy illustrations of that which he asserted. He talked of a man who was resisting being frogmarched to the Courts. Good heavens! If a man refuses and fights the escort who has to take him to the Court, is he a conscientious objector? The conscientious objector ought to go like a lamb to the slaughter. If he fights an escort, he can fight the enemies of his country. He is not a conscientious objector, he is not a Quaker, and he cannot claim on religious grounds that he cannot fight against the enemies of his country. I want to point out that these are not really conscientious objectors. The hon. Member told us of the case of a young Wesleyan. But a Wesleyan is not a Quaker, and surely the Wesleyan religion does not teach people to shirk their duty of fighting for their country! We do not want men to be taught to refuse to fight and at the same time declare that other men must give their lives in order to defend their wives and families. We want the boys in our schools taught their duty in this respect. We all acknowledge the right of the Quaker to claim exemption as a conscientious objector. He certainly has a right to go to the tribunal and claim to be released from combatant service, but men who are not Quakers, men like those instanced by the hon. Gentleman opposite, are really not conscientious objectors. They have no right to shirk their duty to their country, and I can only express a hope to the Under-Secretary for War that, when the next Registration Bill is brought in, care will be taken that every one of these objectors shall be disfranchised for refusing to do his duty to his country.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not think I can usefully add much to the Debate which has taken place, but I should like to reply to the observations which have fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. He rose apparently to disavow the allegations which had been made in the course of the Debate this afternoon, that certain of the conscientious objectors had been subjected to ill-treatment in the Army.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman demanded that these allegations should be substantiated. He asked that the charges should be submitted. He has not to wait very long for one instance, at any rate. I happen to have in my pocket for use, not in this Debate, but for other purposes, a letter written by the wife of a man who is now in Wandsworth Prison, undergoing punishment for refusing to obey military orders, because he conscientiously objected to military service. I do not associate myself with the accuracy of the complaint, but the man had complained very bitterly in a letter to his wife about the way in which he had been treated. This letter which I hold in my hand was written by the wife to her husband in prison, and in the course of it she said—
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has suggested that these allegations are unfounded and that we are not able to substantiate them. I am reading this letter in order to show the spirit of the men who have charge of the conscientious objectors—and against whom we are making these allegations of ill-treatment and persecution.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Not at all. You will get the authority for it in a minute. The wife says:Of course there are scandalous cases like that of Rendall Wyatt, who was handcuffed in a dark cell and then sent to France with the N.C.C.The officer who received this letter wrote at the foot of it:Letter returned. Not of a sort I will pass. If your news as to Private Rendall Wyatt is true, I am delighted to hear it, and sincerely hope the whole lot of the N.C.C.'s will be treated in the same way. Reginald Brooke, Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant, 19th May, 1916.I could have brought to the House not one case, but scores of cases which have been sent to me giving details of the abominable treatment to which these persons have been subjected. Having made that statement I want to associate myself with those of my Friends who have said that 2658 such instances form only a small proportion of the number of cases of conscientious resistance to military orders. Only two or three days ago I had a letter from a University graduate of Cambridge, an Honours man in Modern Languages, and a conscientious objector, who said he had attended a court-martial, which was being held at the barracks to which he was attached, and he added:If the President of the court-martial had been counsel for the defence he could not have done more in the interests of the prisoner. He did everything he possibly could for him.That letter is not by any means an exception to the number of letters I get. A great many of these men are at the camp at Abergelly, and they almost invariably speak in the highest terms of praise of Brigadier-General Owen Thomas. One of the letters I received the other day said:I feel it very much more difficult to resist Brigadier-General Owen Thomas's kindness than the bullying of the non-commissioned officers.We do not want our allegations or charges to be regarded as wholesale in their character. They are by no means that, but if they constitute 20 per cent. of the cases it is certainly a matter into which the War Office ought to make the very strictest inquiry. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he did not approve of and would not tolerate such conduct, and if such cases were brought to his notice he would give them very careful consideration. But if he will permit me to say so, I very much regret that that satisfactory statement was followed by an observation which made me regard it not as a condemnation, but rather as an encouragement of horseplay. The right hon. Gentleman said he could very well understand that young officers might turn their backs on proceedings of that kind. I hope, however, that these officers will pay more attention to the condemnation which the right hon. Gentleman proferred of this conduct than to his encouragement of rough play. I come now to the question of the Army Order. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say just now that it is not retrospective in its character and that it does not apply to men already in prison as conscientious objectors for resistance to military orders.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I gathered that in the particular case mentioned by an hon. Member the man will not come under the operation of this Order and that he will not be transferred from the military prison 2659 in which he is now confined to a civil prison. There are quite a considerable number of these men now undergoing lengthy terms of imprisonment, and I submit that the Order will fail in its object to a considerable extent unless it is going to apply to men already in prison.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much. There is one further point I should like to put. So far as I understand it, the Order will not apply to those who are under detention and are not in the military prison. That is another weakness in the Order. I take it that the intention of the recommendation that the men should be brought before a court-martial as soon as possible is that they should be brought within the operation of the Army Order by giving them imprisonment. If that could be made to apply to those who are under detention, as well as to those who are in a military prison, there would remain very little of the Order to which we could raise any objection or against which we could make the slightest complaint. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Colonel Norton Griffiths) has left the House, or I should have made one or two observations upon his speech, which was described by the hon. Member for Carmarthen Boroughs as provocative. I do not think it was provocative, but it was very ill-informed. I am afraid the hon. Member has not had much experience of this question of the conscientious objector. He said it was most important, in the interests of the Army, that no special consideration should be shown to these men, and he cited the case of a workman of his own who had this week been taken into the Army. He seemed to regard that as being a case on all-fours with the case of the conscientious objector. The two cases are not comparable at all, because, according to the statement of the hon. Member, his workman was willing to go, and had been anxious to go for some time, but could not very well be spared. The grievance which the conscientious objector has is never likely to arise in that case. The reason I refer to the hon. and gallant Member's observations is that I do not think that, from the military point of view, it is at all desirable, in fact it is the very opposite from the point of view 2660 of the Army, that these conscientious objectors should be mixed up with the other soldiers.
May I divulge something else to the House from the very voluminous correspondence I have had on this question? These conscientious objectors are already infecting men in the Army who never before knew what conscientious objection to military service was. The more numerous they become the greater this infection will grow. I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are yet only at the beginning of this problem. I believe there are now nearly 1,000 men who have resisted. A great many of these cases have not yet been decided by the tribunals. Unless the War Office devises some scheme for preventing the aggravation of this problem, it is going to be a question not of hundreds but of thousands in a very few weeks' time. There is one hopeful way out of it which has been mentioned more than once in the course of the Debate this afternoon, and which I want to emphasise, because I believe it is the way out, namely, to hand over these men to a civil prison with a civil authority; then let the civil authority deal with them, and let it deal with them on the lines of providing them with civil work. I had this morning a letter from a doctor friend of mine about a young man who is a university graduate, a fellow of his university, a specialist in agricultural research, who is, I am given to understand, almost the greatest authority in the country to-day upon pests in agriculture. He studied for some time in America. He was a Carnegie scholar, and he lost his appointment because he applied to a local tribunal for exemption on the ground of conscientious objection. Then he went to a farm. Now he has been taken away from the farm by the military, and a clerk, totally inexperienced in farming and agricultural labour, has taken his place. This man is resisting; he is going to be sent to prison. If we are going to imitate Germany in our military system of conscription, let us, at least, not be guilty of such absurdities as that. Surely that is not national economy. It is not national economy that a man, capablé of rendering such invaluable service as that in such an important national industry as agriculture, should be kept in prison at the expense of the State. That is by no means an isolated case. I think the line upon which we shall have to move, in order to 2661 get out of this difficulty, is to hand over these men to the civil authorities and then let the civil authorities deal with them in such a way as I have indicated. I would conclude by associating myself with the observations already made by the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. T. E. Harvey), who, I am quite sure, expressed the feelings of all those of us whom the Under-Secretary of State for War described as Members for the conscientious objectors. We are extremely grateful for the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has answered us this afternoon, and we are hopeful that the combined wisdom of all of us may by-and-by find a means of extricating us from an extremely difficult situation.
§ Mr. KING
I have listened to this Debate with a great deal of interest. If those who have taken part in it had remained in their places I should have had some remarks to address to them. I should specially have liked to say a few words to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Melton Division (Colonel Yate). He seems to think that all the men in the Army are perfect saints and have never done anything wrong at all. I would only say to him that if he will walk home with me the way I generally take when the House is up he will probably see one or two sights which will make him think differently. We have all listened to the Under-Secretary of State for War with a great deal of pleasure. He has given us hope, and has proved himself not only sympathetic but sensible. It is nothing new for the Under-Secretary of State for War to appear in both those characters. He has certainly succeeded in making us all feel to-night that if at the War Office sympathy were found in all the officials as it is found in himself, and if the same amount of common sense pervaded all the officials, their orders and their arrangements, a solution of this very trying question would soon be found. I am only going to touch upon one aspect of the question of the conscientious objector which has not been touched upon at all, but which ought not to be forgotten—I mean the extraordinary wasteful character, from a purely economic point of view, of our treatment of conscientious objectors. I have a number of conscientious objectors among my own friends. I think I may say that there are five of them at the present time now suffering imprisonment or who are await- 2662 ing court-martial and will shortly be suffering imprisonment. The first of these cases is that of a man who carried on in the neighbourhood of my Constituency a large market garden. His market gardening work is brought entirely at an end at the very time of the year when he would, under ordinary circumstances, be sending £100 worth of food into the Bristol market every week. The economic waste in it is extraordinary. The man himself has written to me twice, and he complains of nothing whatever except that he has had his Bible taken from him. He has no word of complaint against the officers or the non-commissioned officers. He accepts the treatment in every way as part of what he has been led to look forward to, but he complains most emphatically of his Bible being taken from him. I am told by the Home Secretary that there is no right whatever to take away a prisoner's Bible, but in many cases this has been done in the case of conscientious objectors, and I hope, whatever the War Office does to these men, if they can get some spiritual and religious comfort from the study of the Bible in their unfortunate circumstances, they will not further be deprived of the one Book to which, I think, every Englishman has a right at all times to have access.
The second case to which I will refer is of another market gardener in the neighbourhood of Bristol. He, in a similar way, has had the whole of his business ruined. His appeal to the tribunal on the ground that he was doing work of national importance and that he was raising food for the country was rejected. The result, I have no doubt, in the case of these two men is that the economic cost, the loss, the waste to the community through making them criminals must be estimated certainly not in tens, but in hundreds of pounds.
§ Mr. KING
I may remind the hon. Member that we are now in the dinner hour, and he will have to wait till a quarter past nine. At a quarter past nine he will be in order. The next case to which I was going to call attention is that of a man whom I know very well. He carries on a small business in a country town in my 2663 neighbourhood, and for the last three years he has visited me and has asked to be allowed to bring the Sunday School, of which he is superintendent, to have its treat in my field. I liked and respected that man. At the present moment he is a prisoner. He is turned into a criminal. His business is ruined, and a man who, I do not hesitate to say, was doing most devoted religious service, is not allowed to do any service whatever to his country. I have no doubt whatever that he will be condemned to two years' hard labour, and for what purpose? To turn a man whom I respect from the bottom of my heart as a sincere, honourable, and good citizen into a criminal. It may be the War Office policy to do this, but it is certainly economic waste.
I will give one more case of a man very well known to me whom I have been in the habit of seeing every week for years past. He is a young man of nineteen, managing a business for his father, and making an extremely good opening for himself in a small country town in my neighbourhood, a man of a singularly retiring and quiet disposition. When he was brought up before the tribunal they cast it in his teeth that he had not gone about preaching the pacificism which he had learnt from Tolstoi. He was a student and a devoted disciple of Tolstoi. But because he had not gone about upsetting everyone with his own doctrines this modest young man of nineteen is set down as not having any conscientious objection at all, though anyone who knew him was convinced that for a couple of years at least he had worshipped Tolstoi as the great prophet of modern civilisation. That man is made a criminal. Of course, his business is likely to be ruined, and a young man whom I cannot help saying I respect, and even feel a strong affection for, is very likely having his health permanently ruined. I am told by his father, who hopes to be allowed to see him shortly, that he is in real anxiety that his brain and nervous strength will not stand the strain of the confinement and imprisonment that he is suffering. I appeal on behalf of the economy of health, strength, energy, resources, and wealth which we ought to observe at this time, I appeal on the ground of economy and common sense, for young men like this. Do not let us go on making them criminals, sentencing them by courts- 2664 martial, condemning them to long terms of imprisonment, and then handing them over to the civil power. It is a very wasteful, extravagant, and useless proceeding to go on in that way, and I hope the solution that has been indicated to-day—though it is very welcome, though we all agree it is put forward with a great deal of sympathy and right feeling—is not the final solution, and that we shall before very long—I hope before we bring the great mass of married men coming into the Army by the second Military Service Act—attain some more economic and sensible solution of this question.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I cannot refrain from saying with what pleasure I listened to the speech of the Under-Secretary for War and the declaration of the issue of the Army Order dealing with the case of conscientious objectors. We must all feel that it is an extremely difficult case. I speak of it with some degree of hesitation. Everyone of us recognises that the acknowledgment of the principle of religious liberty has been one of the elements that has made our Empire great, and we were all anxious when we supported the Military Service Bill that some method should be adopted whereby Christian men who objected to being in a position to take human life might be absolved from any such duty. With that object I supported the Military Service Bill. I have been blamed by some of my Constituents for doing so, but it would be unworthy of the reputation of our country in respect of religious liberty if some such provision had not been made. I quite agree that the difficulties have been increased by the fact that not all the conscientious objectors are sincere in their professions. I believe the majority are sincere, but the position of the tribunals has been much embarrassed by some of the persons who have come forward and made professions of conscientious objection, whose past life gave no evidence that in all probability the view they were taking was sincere. Some of them have taken up the position that if they saw a soldier lying wounded in the street they would not minister to his health and comfort. That sort of thing has made it rather difficult to deal with justice with this question. I believe it is manifest that the Government are feeling their way towards a system which, while it will meet the dffiiculties of the real bonâ-fide conscientious objector, 2665 will prevent other men, whose profession is somewhat doubtful, from being able to shirk their duty to their country.
I feel strongly that this matter should be dealt with largely by the civil authorities. The tribunals on the whole have done their best to act straightforwardly and justly, but in some cases they are not the men well able to judge the conscientious point of view, and I cannot help feeling that there ought to be a Court of Appeal to which these men could apply for reconsideration of their cases. I fail to see why a Court may not be established consisting of a prominent member of the Church of England, a prominent Nonconformist, and the representative of the miltiary authorities, to which body the conscientious objector, if he had been dealt with unjustly by a tribunal, could appeal for redress. I believe the tribunals would hail some such Appeal Court. I certainly think that when the fact has been established that a man is a conscientious objector, he ought to be dealt with by the civil authorities rather than by the military. He could be put, if he is willing to do it, to national service. It is far better that his valuable help should be utilised in national work such as business or agriculture, than that he should be confined in the prisons of our country. I am quite aware that there are difficulties connected with the matter, and it was with pleasure that I listened to the speech of the Under-Secretary for War, and indeed to the whole Debate, which is shown that while those who spoke do not wish to screen anyone from taking a just part in promoting the welfare of the country at this crisis, there is a manifest determination that the services of the conscientious objector shall be utilised in a way that will not offend his conscience. I have had instances in my Constituency which I could quote. One case in particular, of a man who had held farms for years, who happened to be of military age, and had a conscientious objection to taking up arms. Surely that man's services could be utilised in growing crops of food for the people. I agree that a man ought not to be better off than if he was serving the country in the Army, but I do not think that the farmer or the trader who would have the advantage of his work should profit thereby. I suggest that after a proportion of the wages had been paid to the man, equivalent to what 2666 he would earn as a soldier, the balance should go to the State. The man would then feel that his labour was being truly and fully given in service to the State. I do feel grateful to the Under-Secretary for War that he is anxious to respect conscience where it is sincerely manifested, but at the same time to do so in a way that will not encourage anyone to avoid doing their duty to the State at this crisis.
§ Quesion, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.