HC Deb 25 October 1916 vol 86 cc1249-66

Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the '22nd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

9.0 P.M.


I desire to bring to the attention of the House the action of certain tribunals. In doing so I must ask indulgence for bringing before it a subject which has been discussed from time to time at intervals. I am well aware that it is not easy to raise this subject at a time when the thought of the country is occupied with the grave military situation and the measures taken to meet it. At the same time I feel that it is so important that Acts of Parliament that have been passed, with a reliance on the good faith of their administration, should be carried out in the spirit in which they were framed, that it is necessary to bring to the attention of the House two particular cases of serious injustice which are not only important for the men immediately concerned, but significant because they are instances in each case of the ways in which tribunals have been acting in a spirit which I am sure Parliament did not intend. Unfortunately, the position is made very difficult for tribunals at present in dealing with the case of the conscientious objector, because not only have they to face in many cases adverse public opinion, but they are from time to time confronted by men who claim to be conscientious objectors without having sufficient reason, and who make their claim a cloak for getting out of a position of difficulty. One can understand the indignation which is caused by action of this kind. But, however strongly we all feel that men like that are to be reprobated, the existence of men who use the machinery of the law unfairly should not be allowed to prejudice the case of a sincere man who holds extremely unpopular views and whose position is affected by the very fact that his views are unpopular.

The first case which I have to bring before the House is one in which the tribunal has referred the case of a conscientious objector, which it recognised to be genuine, to the Committee on Work of National Importance in order that the Committee may recommend suitable work for the man, and then, when the recommendation has been made by the Committee, the tribunal, dissatisfied with their recommendation, has not suggested any alternative and has not referred the case back to the Committee for further recommendation, but has placed the man in an entirely different position by refusing to allow him to engage in work of national importance and exempting him from combatant service only. That has happened, fortunately, in only a few cases hitherto. The tribunals have made large use of this Committee, and have referred between 1,000 and 2,000 cases to it, and have in only a few cases disagreed with the Committee. They are entitled to disagree, no doubt, when they are masters of their own decisions, but it is important, when they disagree with the decisions or recommendations of this Committee, that they should not visit their displeasure on the unfortunate men. In this case, Mr. Malcolm Sparkes is a lifelong member of the Society of Friends, and highly esteemed by the members of that society. He was managing director of a firm making woodwork for the building trade, or builders' fittings. On the outbreak of the War his firm, in which he had not a controlling interest, decided to do war work and make packing-cases for the Ministry of Munitions. He resigned his position as managing director as a protest, not feeling able to keep it in the new circumstances, but his firm was doing a large amount of civilian work, and in this they still continued to employ him. He was offered a badge, but he declined it, and when he came before the tribunal he was recommended for work of national importance to the Pelham Committee. That Committee, after carefully considering the case, decided to approve and to recommend him to the local tribunal for whole time voluntary work under the direction of an educational trust, in which his time was to be devoted to the study of the relations of employers and employed in the particular trade in which Mr. Sparkes has special experience, and to do practical work in promoting better relations. It was work which undoubtedly, if successful, would have been of great value to the community.

The tribunal did not feel satisfied with this work, and, having decided that it did not approve of it, they called Mr. Sparkes, who had already undertaken this work at the suggestion of the Pelham Committee, and they informed him that they had decided not to approve it. They put him back into the Non-Combatant Corps, and they put him there after he had been previously exempted from all military service. Mr. Sparkes endeavoured to induce them to consider his position, and he sought to put his case before them, but they told him that before he had come into the room they had already discussed and decided the matter, and they could not reopen it. That placed him in what the House must feel was a very unfair position. He appealed to the Appeal Tribunal to give consideration to his case so far as this particular work was concerned, but they also decided that however good the work was they could not recommend it as of national importance, and simply confirmed the decision of the local tribunal. Neither tribunal appeared to consider for a moment the obvious course of referring the case back to the committee to which it was originally referred for a further recommendation, and with a view to the consideration of other forms of work of national importance which might have met with their approval. Dissatisfied with the particular work suggested by the Pelham Committee, they at once, without considering any other alternative, decided that this gentleman must be exempted from combatant service only. The only result of that is to place this man, who is of the highest character, in a position in which he can only, in obedience to his conscience, be prepared, if necessary, to go to prison. Ultimately, no doubt, in that event he would come before the Central Tribunal, to which he is not allowed leave to appeal. I submit that from the point of view of the Local Government Board and of the War Office a situation like that is unsatisfactory. It is most undesirable that the military representative and the tribunal should force a man into a form of exemption which is to him no exemption at all, and compel him to choose between being unfaithful to his convictions, which were intended to be respected by Parliament, and the alternative of having to defy the law or the application of it.

The second case I want to bring before the attention of the House is one where the injustice is perhaps even greater, and where it is still more difficult, no doubt, to get a remedy that would bring to the tribunals concerned a different spirit in dealing with these cases. Unfortunately, in different parts of the country, and before different appeal tribunals, in numbers of cases a man has been; exempted by the local tribunals from combatant service only, and feeling that he could not accept that form of exemption as adequate to his sincere belief, he has appealed against it to the Appeal Tribunal, who, without having any definite evidence to show in any way that he was insincere, decided not merely to dismiss his claim, but to take away his exemption altogether, and put him in the fighting ranks. Unfortunately there is a great number of these cases in different parts of the country, and some of the men to whom the greatest injustice has been done have already proved their sincerity by going through the fire, or through the unpleasant ordeal that many of them have to suffer in the Army, until eventually they are court-martialled and come before the Central Tribunal, to which in vain they had asked leave to appeal before, and being found to be sincere, conscientious objectors, have been handed over to the civil authority. In this second case there is a particularly serious injustice, and it occurred only last week in the section of the County of London Appeal Tribunal which sits at Spring Gardens—a section which has an unenviable notoriety in dealing with these cases. The other sections of the London Appeal Tribunal have shown great care, and as a rule have displayed a conspicuous desire to be just in dealing with very difficult claims. This particular section to which I refer unfortunately more than once has acted in this way.

The claim which came before them was one by an artist named Mr. Lawrence Deller, who appeared as a conscientious objector, with the result that he was placed in a difficult position. The Kensington Tribunal was satisfied as to his claim as a conscientious objector and granted him exemption from combatant service only, which they considered adequate. He appealed in order to get fuller exemption, and the Appeal Tribunal dismissed his claim altogether. They had had no evidence to justify that decision, and they did not discuss or deal with his conscientious position at all. It was so obviously unfair that they could not refuse the claim that he made for a rehearing, which was granted a few days afterwards, and the rehearing came on last week. I want to give the House a brief resume of the way in which this tribunal dealt with the question whether or not the man had a sincere conscientious objection. Naturally, the applicant had been prepared to bring to that tribunal evidence of his sincerity. He thought the best way he could do so was to bring written evidence from men whose honour could not be doubted, who differed from his views, but knew him well. He also prepared himself to make what sacrifice he could. He hunted round in the few days that intervened, and in an out of the way part in the West of England, where labour was badly needed, a farmer was willing and eager to receive his help. With that he came to the tribunal; he laid before them his letters, and they were read. I propose to read them to the House to show the House the kind of evidence produced, which I should have thought to any man of honour would be fully satisfactory, but which this tribunal brushed aside. The first was from his late headmaster, Mr. Cooper, the Headmaster of Lichfield Grammar School, who wrote: Mr. Lawrence Deller has asked me to give my views on his personal character. I have no hesitation in stating from my knowledge of him as a boy at school, and from my subsequent intercourse with him, that any opinions he now holds are the result of definite, conscientious reasoning, and that he is unbiassed by any physical or material considerations. I may add that my own views are strongly opposed to those he has expressed to me. Mr. Deller formed his views while at school during the Boer War, and has ever since held them firmly. The next letter was from the Bishop of Lichfield; and if the tribunal threw aside, as of no account, the opinion of the headmaster, they might at least have respected the opinion of that eminent man. His letter was as follows: Mr. Lawrence Deller is well known to me, I have a thorough knowledge of his character, and am convinced that he is trustworthy and sincere. I differ absolutely and entirely from him in his views on military questions, but I feel it is only due to him to give my testimony to his worth, and to ask that his case may be reheard and reconsidered."' The third letter was from the man's father, as follows: I regret my inability to attend in person, but I ask you to kindly allow me to bear testimony to the absolute sincerity of my son's claim for exemption as a conscientious objector. His objection to the taking of human life, or the helping of others to do so, is the result of his study of the Bible. My son has always been of a deeply, studious, sensitive and religious temperament. His determination to obey only God's laws and the teachings of Christ as he understands them, to keep true to his faith with God's help, has his mother's and my support. We recognise and admit that it is the duty of everyone, both by sacrifice and work, to render all aid possible to our country. This can be done without violating one's principles, or religious convictions, and my son is willing to give up for the time his profession and home in London, and he has in fact already obtained promise of employment on a farm, thus devoting his time and labour to food production, the most vital necessity to the community. Thus he can serve his country and not violate his principles. I trust your tribunal will now grant him the certificate of exemption, to which I feel he is entitled under the Act. (Signed)"WILLIAM DELLER. There was also a letter from the farmer, stating, owing to the need for labour, his willingness to accept his services. On the reading of those letters the Chairman of the tribunal turned to Mr. Deller, and asked what fresh evidence he had to place before the tribunal to show his sincerity. Mr. Deller replied that those letters were his evidence. The Chairman glanced at them and said, "They merely show you are telling the truth. We want evidence to show you are more like Christ than other men." Mr. Deller replied that he tried to endeavour to follow Christ's teaching, and that his life was the only evidence. He added, "Could any great dignitary of the Church answer such a question in any other way?" A member of the tribunal then sharply said, "You are not here to ask questions, but to answer them." Mr. Deller then said that it seemed to him that the only proof the tribunal would accept of his sincerity would be his going to prison for his principles. The chairman rejoined, "You are threatening the tribunal." Mr. Deller pleaded with them earnestly to allow him to undertake the farm work that he had secured and was willing to do, and said that it was surely for the good of the country that he should be doing work like that, rather than that he should go to prison. It meant him giving up his home and studio in London, and the making of a big financial sacrifice. He would have to rent a little cottage on the farm and live on the labourer's wage of from 16s. to 20s. per week. "Yes," said the chairman, "You are willing to make that sacrifice to save yourself a greater." Another member of the tribunal said, "You would go and steal off the land what others are fighting to protect." The chairman then went on, "What have you done all your life?" "Painting," was the reply. "Yes; for money," said the Chairman. "Of course," said Mr. Deller, "it is my livelihood." The tribunal went on to contrast his position with that of the Christadelphians and Plymouth Brethren, who were making constant sacrifices every day in following Christ. They said, "It is all very well for those men, but you, a member of the Church of England, what business have you to be in this position?" I think it is quite evident if he had been a member of one of those bodies the tribunal might have considered his claim and granted him exemption, but because he was not a member of a body holding these peculiar views his personal individual convictions went for nothing, even when they were backed up by a bishop of high esteem, by his headmaster who had known him since boyhood, and by the father who spoke in the name of both parents. All that was of no effect in the eyes of the tribunal.

What was the attitude of the military representative? One would imagine that if he concurred in the view that the man was insincere, he would have made it his business to find evidence of his insincerity, and that he might have brought proof to show that in his past life Mr. Deller held entirely different views. The only part he took in the tribunal was to intervene in the spirit of a sixteenth century theologian. He asked Mr. Deller, could he explain the text in Numbers "Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?" No doubt that was a very clever debating society point, but is that a point to make by which to test the sincerity of a man's religious conscientious convictions? Mr. Deller replied, very naturally, I think, that he could not explain it without knowing the context, and the military representative then said, "You say you know the Bible, and I would be glad to know." It was the last case before the tribunal, and at the conclusion Mr. Deller and his wife came back into the Court and went up to the military representative. Mr. Deller said to him he would be glad if he would let him know the text and the reference which he had quoted against him, so that he might explain his position. The military representative said, "You know the Bible, Numbers 32, 6. What about ' Vengeance is mine'"? "Yes," said Mrs. Deller, "'Vengeance is mine saith the Lord,' not man's." Mrs. Deller then asked what her position would be if her husband remained faithful to his principles. The military representative replied, "If he fights you will get the separation allowance; if not, you will get nothing, so he has got to fight." Mr. Deller said, "Whatever you, or the tribunal say, nothing can alter God's law, 'Thou shalt not kill.'" "God's law be damned; go and fight," said the military representative. That was not said in the tribunal.


Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that that was in the course of the proceedings before the tribunal?


I was just saying that that was not in the tribunal. It was after the conclusion of the sitting. Mr. Deller had returned to speak to the military representative who, he felt had been so unfair, to get his point of view explained, and that was the spirit in which this excellent gentleman, as I have no doubt he is in many other ways, dealt with one who claimed to be a conscientious objector on religious grounds. I do not know this gentleman at all. I have no doubt he is highly qualified to meet the Germans on their own ground. No doubt he is a very excellent soldier, but I think that a man who would meet a claimant in that spirit is not a man to judge at all of a religious objection to military service. He would have done much better to have kept absolutely silent throughout the proceedings, and it would have been far better from the point of view of the War Office if he had said quite plainly that, however much the War Office wanted every man who was willing and able to fight, they did not want men thrust into the Army who would only cause embarrassment and difficulty to the Army itself. I think that is a point that we can ask the War Office and the Local Government Board to make clearer to the tribunals and to the military representatives. It is no use forcing into the Army men who will only cause trouble and difficulty and the injustice of whose treatment, when Parliament has provided an exemption to meet their needs, arouses indignation amongst people who by no means share their view. This man is known and respected by men who differ entirely from him. He is a quiet, meditative, religious minded man, whose objection is based purely on religious grounds, and yet he has been treated in this abominable way by the tribunal and the military representative. He is now left with only one possibility of proving his sincerity, and that is by defying the way in which the law has been administered and showing in the face of a court martial that he is sincere, and eventually, under the arrangement which has been made, coming over to the Brace Committee. It is wasting the time of the Army and doing very serious injustice that such procedure should go on. I want to read a few words spoken by Brigadier-General Child in September last at the Stratford Police Court. He is the Director of Personal Services and the head of the punishment section of the Army. He was asked by the Public Prosecutor: Do you have in the Army considerable difficulty with those who raise the question of conscientious objection to military service? Certainly. The amount of extra work which this has caused the Army is very great indeed. There have been seventeen hundred courts-martial. Think of the time wasted and the amount of irritation and difficulty caused. The chairman of the Court evidently realised that, for he said: May I suggest that the Press take very careful notice of this, because it might influence tribunals not to send men into the ranks who are likely to cause this trouble. This is a very serious trouble to the Army, and still military representatives and tribunals are compassing heaven and earth to force into the Army one conscientious objector. They are spending hours and hours of time and trouble in some of these cases in order to force into the Army men who will never be of the slightest use to the Army, but only cause difficulty and have to prove their sincerity by their sufferings. It is very hard indeed for Government Departments to deal with individual cases of injustice and hardship. I know how great pains they have taken to do what they can, and how very often they regret action of this kind. But I ask, even if it is not possible to remedy the injustice which has been done—and I believe it ought to be possible to take some steps—that at least the Departments concerned should make it clear that they do not want this kind of thing to go on, that they want a different spirit and a different attitude to be adopted by the tribunals in general and by the military representatives. If that could be made perfectly clear from the point of view both of the Local Government Board and of the War Office, the country and the Army would be saved these very painful scenes; we should also be able to feel that the Act of Parliament was being carried out in the spirit in which it was framed and that injustice as far as possible would be avoided.


I think the whole House must have been impressed by the speech to which we have just listened. My hon. Friend is a man who has done a good service to his country. He belongs to a religious persuasion which looks upon all war as an evil thing. Therefore, he has a claim to be heard in this matter such as I and other Members do not possess. I cannot say I have any sympathy with the view of conscientious objectors in regard to this War, but I have an understanding of their position because I was brought up in the same persuasion as my hon. Friend. Therefore, though I have lapsed from grace in this regard, I still remember the teachings of my youth, and I know how some good honest people regard all war. My hon. Friend has dealt with cases which must have brought home to every man who is capable of judging the real meaning of the position into which we have brought ourselves. I could supplement the cases he has given by other cases if professional etiquette allowed, but as I was engaged as Counsel I cannot. Those cases are not few; they are many. They are not local; they are distributed all over the country. In the interests of this country—if the prosecution of the War is a thing that is in the interests of this country—the attention of Parliament ought to be directed to this question, and the Government ought to put a stop to the injustices and inequalities which exist.

I may bring to the notice of the Financial Secretary one case only as illustrative of the sort of thing that is going on all over the country. In my own Constituency there is a theological college which was started in the year 1662 by an old Cromwellian Independent. It was not actually in Carmarthen itself but in Bridgend. It has survived many changes, and it is now called the Presbyterian College of Carmarthen. The system under which the college is governed is this: In June of every year an examination is held for students who seek admission to the college. In June, 1914, a month before the War broke out, certain students who for a long time had been preparing for the ministry, sought admission to the college by examination. They did not, as a matter of fact, enter the college till September, 1914, a month after the War had broken out. Last August five of these students were called to the Colours. Every one of them was a conscientious objector. Every one of them will refuse to accept military service. Yet these five men, four of them students for the Congregational Ministry, and the other a student for a Baptist Ministry, are to be forced against their will into the Army.

I have brought the matter before the notice of the War Office. I have waited upon Lord Derby. I have waited upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, who knows the circumstances under which ministerial students are admitted into college quite as well as I do. What is the reply? The reply is an absolute non possumus. These men, simply because they were admitted into the college in September, 1914, although they had passed their examination in June or July, are not to be classed as students for the ministry because the War Office, in its infinite wisdom, says they were not in immediate preparation for the ministry. Why should such a decision be taken? In no other theological college in this land are students treated in that way. I am told, on what I believe to be excellent authority, that in every theological college in England students who entered in September, 1914, are exempt. I can vouch for the fact that in every theological college in Wales, with the exception of Carmarthen, every theological student who was there in September, 1914, has been exempted. Yet the tribunal in Carmarthen has sent these men, against their will, into the Army. Though the attention of the right hon. Gentleman who is at the head of the War Office—presumably at the head of the War Office, for I do not know how far he is at the head of the War Office—has been called to this, and though the attention of Lord Derby has been called to it, nothing has been done. All the satisfaction that I have been able to elicit from the War Office is that if it should be proved that other theological students in other parts of Wales or England have been exempted under similar circumstances, steps will be taken to bring them also into the Army.

I am glad to see present hon. Members from Ireland. I hope they will attend all these Debates. There is a proposal to extend Conscription to Ireland. Let them understand how this country is being treated under Conscription. I hope it will strengthen their resolution to put a stop to this evil. I would like to ask my right hon. Friends who are at the moment sitting on the Front Bench what they have to say to these things? I will say this for the War Office: Whenever I have, in matters of the sort, approached the military side of the War Office, they have always been most courteous, and have proved far most sympathetic to civilian grievances. I have been assured by military men in the War Office that they do not want conscientious objectors in the Army. I can well understand why. As my hon. Friend said, what is the good of men going into the Army who proclaim beforehand that they are not going to obey military orders? What is the good of men of that sort in the Army? Do they add to the strength of the Army in the slightest degree? Not a bit of it! And the military men at the War Office have taken that view. I have always received most sympathetic consideration whenever I have approached any of these gentlemen, and I have nothing to say against them in regard to that point. But I do urge upon hon. Members, if they are not going to abrogate every function history has given to them, if the House is not: going to give up its right to be the supreme arbiter in this matter, that this House now, after two years of military rule, should say that common sense shall prevail, and that these men shall not be forced into the Army, not to strengthen but to weaken it. I would ask my Friend to, at all events, pay some attention to the specific matter brought before him.


I am entirely in agreement with the previous speakers in this Debate. I want to draw attention to one point which I think shows absolute stupidity on the part of the tribunals. That is putting men who are doing good and useful work, helpful to the community, to work which they are not in the least accustomed or adapted to do. I have a young relative who is a conscientious objector. He has been the manager of a mill making excellent cloth—I believe some of it on Government contracts. He has been turned down and told that he must go and milk cows at some adjacent farm. I cannot think of anything more stupid than that. I have many other cases on the papers which I hold here. There is the case of a shipping clerk who lives close to my division. He was first refused all exemption by the local tribunal, but granted exemption from combatant service by the Appeal Tribunal. The latter advised that exemption should be granted on condition that the applicant took up agricultural work. Such work was secured. After three weeks the man broke down, the local doctor certifying that his heart was affected and that he was not fitted for heavy agricultural work.

The judge of the Appeal Tribunal, Mr. Mellor, admitted that it was illogical and wasteful to take a man from work in which he was skilled. But that is what we are doing! Some sacrifice, it is said, must be made by conscientious objectors. Therefore occurs the transference from a man's own usual work to work for which he is utterly unadapted. This, I suppose, is meant as a penal infliction upon him and not in the interests of the nation. Here is the case of a Bachelor of Science who also lives close to my Constituency. He was a teacher in a council school and engaged also in the Manchester School of Technology. He is thirty-eight years of age and married. He was given fourteen days by Judge Mellor to find work on the land. That work he is totally unfitted to perform. I have many other cases of the same kind, but I do not think that it is worth while to trouble the House with them all, and I want to give my hon. Friend ample time to reply. What, however, I do want to suggest is that this sort of treatment of conscientious objectors, this sending of them to unsuitable work, this penalising them for refusing military service, is just as illogical as if we were condemning my hon. Friend the Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones) to drink whisky or champagne or some other liquor of the kind, and compel him to do it. These men are all willing to serve their country. I received a deputation from some of the finest young fellows—spirited men of great courage and bravery, and high-class men—when I was in my Constituency, and I was very much impressed with the things they told me. These men were all of exalted character, living pure lives, and I maintain that they are the very salt of the earth. I know there are sneaks who try to evade military service by pretending to have a conscience, and that is what influences so many men who condemn the conscientious objector, but it is the duty of the tribunals to find out these men. That is exactly what they are for. I do endorse the recommendation of my hon. Friend behind me in asking that some reason, some intelligence, should be used in the manner of treating these conscientious objectors.


If all conscientious objectors were cast in the mould of the hon. Member who has brought forward the subject to-night, this House would not have to waste night after night in discussing the question of conscientious objectors, nor would there be exhibitions occasionally, but not frequently, of somewhat unseemly wrangles between judge and witness and applicant at tribunals, which sometimes make us, perhaps, a little ashamed of some of the tribunals. I say that of some of them, but I wish at the same time to say that there are thousands of tribunals, and, considering the way in which they had to be composed, almost at a moment's notice, and the materials from which they had to be selected, on the whole those tribunals have shown singular impartiality, very great industry, and have effected the main purpose for which they were formed at a crisis in our nation's history, because we must not put this away from our mind, that our nation is in deadly peril at the present moment, and it wants to exert to its utmost the fullness of its man-power. Everybody in this country ought to be only too willing to give to the full his services for his country in some form or another to rescue his country from the peril in which it is placed, fighting the noblest of all causes, fighting for the poor and the weak, for the weaker nations against the strong, and for the cause of liberty and humanity. I believe there are a number of conscientious objectors, although they may object personally to take any part in fighting or in military service, who are perfectly willing to do some national service. But do not let us put out of mind at the same time that there are others who do shirk, who do skulk behind the plea of conscience, and, after all, the picture that is drawn of some of these conscientious objectors is not a very pleasant one. I do not happen to have met one in the flesh. They do not exist among my own friends and followers. My own friends and followers are conscientious objectors to the horrors that are being perpetrated by the German Army acting under Prussianism. They are conscientious objectors to anyone going out and fighting their battles, and making the supreme sacrifice which is being made day by day and hour by hour by some of the noblest of our fellow men. They are anxious not to shelter themselves behind those gallant men, but to do everything in their power to help them, and join with them in the supreme self-sacrifice if necessary.

If, as I say, there is occasionally an unseemly want of temper on the part of some members of a tribunal, after all many of these conscientious objectors when they appear before tribunals are very angular, very arrogant, and very aggressive. I am at this disadvantage compared with my hon. Friend. He has obtained an account from one source of what happened before a tribunal. That is an ex-parte statement. Before I judge of what took place I should have to have the chairman before me and the military representative. There is a good deal of conflicting evidence in this case, and I am not at all prepared to accept the version of my hon. Friend on this occasion. I think probably there is a good deal to be said on the other side. I deplore, and always shall deplore, the loss of temper of those who act the part of judges. I also think the use of Scripture on these occasions is singularly inoppor- tune, and there is no good, as a rule, in quoting one text when another can quote a further text. After all, tribunals and applicants should act up to the spirit of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and if all acted up to that spirit, and not the letter, we should not be occupied in discussing scenes of that kind.

Although I have no particular sympathy with conscientious objectors. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is very doubtful wisdom to force these conscientious objectors, so ill-suited to any form of fighting, into the Army; but, at the same time, I wish to say to the House that if we make it too easy for them to put forward conscience as an excuse for not doing duty under difficult and dangerous circumstances, you will undoubtedly have men come forward who, for one reason or another—perhaps a very good reason, such as domestic hardship will say, "I cannot get the tribunal to give me exemption, not even to put me into non-combatant service, by pleading financial or domestic hardship, but if I tell them I have a conscience which will not allow me to fight, then I shall be able to get off, and continue my occupation and carry on my life much as I carry it on now." That is a serious danger. I believe there is a great deal of work of national importance which might be devised into which you might turn these gentlemen who call themselves conscientious objectors.

To deal with the two cases my hon. Friend has brought to my notice, there is first the case of Mr. Malcolm Sparkes. He was exempted conditionally by the local tribunal if he would undertake work of national importance approved by the local tribunal, and they gave him many weeks in which to find that work.


They referred it definitely to the Pelham Committee for recommendation.


Quite so; yet they gave him many weeks to find that work. He was not satisfied with the condition of exemption they made, but he appealed to the Appeal Tribunal, and the Appeal Tribunal heard him. They came to the conclusion that the local tribunal was right and that that tribunal had done him perfect justice. Thereupon the Pelham Tribunal recommended work of a certain kind, but the local tribunal said "No, we do not consider that is work of national importance."'

Now arises the question: Have the local tribunal the right to say whether, when they give A or B a conditional exemption that he is to find work of national importance? The particular work which the Pelham Committee recommend is work of national importance. Of course, it must be left to the local tribunals, and whether rightly or wrongly they said: "We do not consider that is work of national importance, and as you have taken all these weeks to find work of national importance, we are going to withdraw our former decision, and say that you ought to go into non-combatant service." I think that is a very wrong decision, but I am not here to defend all the decisions of these tribunals or to say whether or not I should have given the same decision.

What I am here for is to say that this is no case in which the Local Government Board can be called upon to intervene. The local tribunal has a right to say: "This is not the kind of work we think you ought to do, and as you have taken all these weeks to find work of national importance, and as we think you are fit for non-combatant service, we have decided against you." This man was not satisfied with half a loaf and he wanted the whole loaf. He tried to get the whole loaf and then he found half the loaf taken away from him. It is the same in the other case which was quoted by my hon. Friend. The man was exempted from combatant service, but he was not satisfied. He took his case to the Appeal Court, and they said: "We will not even exempt you from combatant service." Both these cases went to the Appeal Tribunal and were decided against the appellants. They both lost what the local tribunals had given to them, and now my hon. Friend comes here and says that the Appeal Tribunal went one better than the local tribunal, because the unfortunate applicant lost what the local tribunal had given to him.

I could go into more details if it were necessary, but I am here to represent the Local Government Board in the absence of my right hon. Friend, and what I have to say is that in both these cases the tribunals have a perfect right to decide. That power is with them, and I know of nothing they did that violated the ordinary rules of procedure or that was in any way irregular. The decision rests with them, and my Department has no power, and ought not to have power, to interfere in such cases. In both these cases they put their views before two tribunals and before two Courts of their countrymen, and in both cases they unanimously decided against them and against the plea they put forward. In all those circumstances I cannot find fault with the tribunal or pretend to revise or adjudicate upon their decision. I maintain that the Local Government Board has no right to intervene in cases of that kind, and I think this proves on the whole that conscientious objectors are well protected by the Appeal Court—[An HON. MEMBER: "Too well!"]—then by the Central Court, then by the Pelham Committee, and then by what is known as the Brace Committee. There is far more attention given to the cases of conscientious objectors than is given to the thousands of men who are falling day by day in battle, whose widows and dependants are left, and who do not receive half the attention paid to the conscientious objectors. They receive far more attention than is given even to the crippled and the disabled, and those are the men who have my sympathy far more than the conscientious objectors.


The hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion alleged that the military representative of one of the Appeal Tribunals made use of an expression which every right-thinking man must regret if it were true. The military representative denies absolutely and emphatically that he ever said anything of the kind, and I think my hon. Friend is satisfied that, even if any controversy arose between the applicant and the military representative, at any rate it did not occur before the tribunal.

Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

It being one hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February.

Adjourned at Ten o'clock.