HC Deb 05 August 1918 vol 109 cc890-1
102. Mr. SNOWDEN

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if an application has been received from two conscientious objectors in Princetown Settlement, named Walton and Alty, to be allowed to take up the exceptional employment scheme; and, seeing that these two men are qualified by length of service and good conduct, whether steps will be taken to allow them to proceed at once to the new scheme?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)

I am informed by the Committee on Employment of Conscientious Objectors that the cases of these two men will be considered in October next.

103. Mr. SNOWDEN

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that conscientious objectors who have served about two years' imprisonment with hard labour are now being released from prison on the expiration of their sentence and are being re-court-martialled and sentenced to a further period of two years' hard labour; and whether, in view of his own admission that a sentence of two years' hard labour is the hardest known to English law, and in view of the injury to health which has been inflicted on these men, steps can be taken to stop these successive sentences for the same offence, and to liberate these men under suitable safeguards for work of national importance?


If a person who is subject to military law, after serving a sentence of imprisonment, commits a fresh offence, the question of bringing him before a court-martial is one entirely for the military authorities. I have no power to interfere; but, as I have frequently pointed out, genuine conscientious objectors who accept employment under the Brace Committee, are liberated for work of national importance, and are not liable to further imprisonment. In the case of conscientious objectors who prefer to remain in prison, their sentence has been mitigated by the grant of privileges under Rule 243 A.


What happens to those men who are quite willing to undertake work of national importance, but are refused, and, in cases I have recently brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, have been refused for over two years?


I am sure there never has been any refusal where the tribunal were satisfied that the man was a genuine conscientious objector.


Is not the fact that these men have suffered four or five consecutive terms of six months' imprisonment, sufficient to prove that they are conscientious objectors?


That is a matter in regard to which I have no power.


Is not a period of two years' hard labour a savage and excessive sentence, in respect of what is a continuing conscientious objection?


I must refer my hon. Friend to previous answers I have given.


Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the increasing number of men who are undergoing this prolonged labour?


I do not believe that is true.