HC Deb 18 May 1939 vol 347 cc1681-97

Where a person has applied under the provisions of Section three of this Act to be registered in the register of conscientious objectors and his application has been either rejected or he has been registered in the military training register as a person liable to be employed only on non-combatant duties, and he refuses on conscientious grounds to obey an order given him by his superior officer, he shall forthwith be tried by court martial, and if it appears to the court that there is reasonable ground for believing that his refusal to obey such order was due to conscientious motives, the matter shall be referred for trial to a civil court which may order the person to engage in some work designated as being of national importance as an alternative to military service subject to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding two years if he fails or refuses to comply with the order of the civil court.—[Mr. Messer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. Messer

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause and the one which follows it—(Penalty for failure on part of conscientious objector to present himself)—are both alike in principle, and I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if I could have your assurance that we can discuss the two together, because, although there are differences in their application, the principle in both cases is the same.

Mr. Speaker

Certainly, if it is for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Messer

I am not sure whether the implication of this proposed new Clause will be rightly understood from its wording. The principle is very important, and I hope that, if it is not possible for the Secretary of State to accept the Clause as it stands, he will be able to give an undertaking that the points raised in it will be considered with a view to dealing with the difficulties that have been envisaged. This new experiment is making an impact on our accepted customs. What we have regarded as a tradition of our social life is being interfered with, and the liberty of the subject with regard to a particular aspect of life is, for the first time in the history of this country, in danger.

In consequence of the new situation which has arisen, we have to have regard to the position in which our ordinary civil law will be placed in relation to this new martial law. We have a tribunal which will examine an applicant to be placed on a register as a conscientious objector. I do not envy that tribunal its job. I know of no greater difficulty than to determine people's consciences. I know of no method that it is suggested shall be used to discover what the conscience of an applicant is. I have sat in the ordinary police courts and heard evidence, as a result of which I have been able to judge to some extent the intention of the person who comes before the court; but if I were placed in the position of a member of this tribunal I should be compelled to have more regard to a man's own sworn declaration than to any evidence that might be submitted, in concluding what his conscience might be.

That being so, it is evident that there are bound to be a large number of people who will slip through the net. I do not think it will be a large number proportionately. I do not think the tribunal will work in such a way that we shall have thousands of conscientious objectors denied the right to register, and compelled to join the Army; but there are bound to be some. An applicant may state his case badly, he may be badly represented, if he is represented by a professional representative; and remember, we are dealing not with men but with boys, and one can conceive the possibility that they will not be able to state their case when they come before the tribunal. We are supposed to be able to express ourselves, but we have all had the experience of not being able to state our case in the way we want to state it, at the time we want to state it, in order to prove our point. If that is true of ourselves, how much more is it likely to be true of a boy of 20 who is called upon to face a tribunal of this sort.

Is there to be any regulation laid down that shall be observed by these tribunals? I was discussing the question only yesterday with a man who represented a conscientious objector during the War. The chairman of the tribunal was one not unknown to Members of this House, Sir Donald Maclean; and the tribunal was held in a Committee Room of this House. There was only one rule applied; one question was put, and that was, "What are you employed at?" It hardly mattered during that period what anybody was employed at: it was in some way connected with the War; and, because of that, the applicant was unable to prove that he had a conscientious objection to service. I do not suppose for a moment that there will be such a rigid attitude as that, but one can see the possibility of a young man attending one of these tribunals and failing to be registered, although he is a genuine conscientious objector. The next step will be that such young men will receive their calling-up notices or notices of medical examination, and they will refuse. Under the Bill, they will have to be proceeded against in the ordinary way, and they will be subject to a penalty up to £5. I do not know what alternative there will be for non-payment of the fine, but I suppose that if they are genuine they will not pay the £5; they possibly will go to prison. But the automatic effect of their not having succeeded will be that they become members of the armed forces of the Crown, they are in the Army; and they refuse to obey an order.

I am disposed to believe all that has been said about the improvement that has taken place in the Army. I do not believe that the officers at the present time are the type of the sergeant-major whose language could be understood only with difficulty by the recruits. The officers are the same as other people; but they will have a duty to perform, and when that unwilling conscript refuses to obey an order he must be subjected to a punishment. No matter how much we may consider these people to be misguided, we have to remember that reason is not the most important factor in human life: emotion plays a very large part. Suppose they refuse to put on uniform; what is to happen? Are they to be forcibly stripped, forcibly dressed, forcibly detained; and, after their period of detention, if they continue to refuse are they to be punished again for a second refusal?

There should be some way out of that difficulty. Some of us remember the cat-and-mouse business during the last War. There can be no question that there were people who suffered in the last War. Perhaps they did not suffer so much as the soldiers. I do not believe in this idea of lauding up the conscientious objector as being something superior to the soldier who risked his life. Anybody who propagates that idea is doing a disservice both to those who showed courage in going into the Army and those who showed courage in refusing to take part in war. It does not do to hold them up to hero- worship, but there were men who were punished repeatedly and the very repetition of the punishment proved conclusively that they had a genuine conscientious objection to doing that which they were called upon to perform. It may be said, "The ordinary soldier who refuses to obey is subject to Army discipline; by what right do you say that the conscript should be exempt?" I think, by every right in the world. One man is a volunteer. He has undertaken a military life. He volunteers with full knowledge of all that that implies. The other man is compelled to do something; and, in this case, to do something to which he has a very strong conscientious objection.

The way out of the difficulty is that suggested in the Amendment. The man should be tried by court-martial. Whether I agree with this Bill or not is another question, but, as a democrat, I am bound to believe that the law should be upheld, and that when it is broken there should be a penalty for its breach. There can be no hope of ordered society unless there is some penalty for such a breach. Because I admit that, I say that the conscientious objector who breaks the law should be subject to punishment when, after trial, it is shown that he has broken the law. This Amendment provides that he can be subject to a very heavy penalty. I am not sure that the Amendment does not go too far. It allows up to two years' imprisonment. I am prepared to believe that that is rather severe for the offence. Let us first remember the dual character of the individual. He is not just a soldier because he is forced to be one; he is something more than that: he is a citizen; and we have no right to impose on him for this breach of the law anything worse than would be imposed on him for breaking any civil law.

The Amendment further suggests that he should first be tried by court-martial, and if that court-martial establishes the fact that his case should be tried by a civil court, the Amendment suggests that he should be sent to the civil court. We have in this House quite recently been considering the treatment of offenders, and, in our capacity as magistrates, some of us realise that there is only one justification for the application of any penalty, and that it should not be imposed in the spirit of revenge against somebody who has broken the law so much as a means to prevent people from breaking the law. I am grateful for what the Government have done so far in improving the Bill. They have shown a great deal of energy in getting this Bill through. One could wish that as much energy had been shown in other directions. One is reminded of these words, which are so expressive and so very fundamental in their meaning: Were half the power that fills the world with terror, Were half the wealth that is spent on camps and courts Given to redeem the human mind from error, There were no need for arsenals and forts.

Mr. Sorensen

I beg to second the Motion.

6.1 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I am sure the whole House will agree with me in paying tribute to the hon. Gentleman who has just moved this Clause for his eloquence and for the reasonableness with which he put forward the case for the new Clause, but, in spite of that, my advice to the House will be not to accept the Clause. Under the Bill as it stands, the question as to whether a person is or is not a conscientious objector, and, if he is, whether his objection excludes him from any military service or makes it right that he should do non-combatant service, as a matter entrusted to the tribunals with an absolute right of appeal to the Appellate Tribunal. The effect of this new Clause would be that, although the tribunal had decided that a man was not a conscientious objector but could reasonably be asked to do military service or non-combatant service, after the issue had been dealt with by the appeal tribunal and the Appellate Tribunal, it could be tried over again. It is an indirect means to a further appeal.

Mr. Silverman

On new evidence.

The Attorney-General

No, not on new evidence, but on a new act by the man. The proper structure is to provide tribunals and appeal courts, and the House should provide the machinery which is intended for deciding this question, and when that machinery is decided it should be accepted as final. In addition to dealing with the matter on general principles, I would examine it a little more closely. I am not going to do it in a pedantic way, but it is right to look at the broad idea which appears in the Clause as no doubt embodying the intentions and purposes of those who have put their names to the proposed new Clause. It assumes that the man refuses to obey an order and claims to do so on grounds of conscience, and that means that he has claimed that the tribunal and the Appellate Tribunal were wrong.

Then the Clause provides that the matter should go, in the first instance, to a court-martial, and, I agree, I do not see how the Clause could do otherwise. Here a situation has arisen in which the man who is under military obligation has refused to obey an order. It may be that the matter can be dealt with by the commanding officer, but, clearly, all serious cases of breaches of order can or should go to court-martial. Anyhow, someone has to deal with the matter, and on the idea in the Clause, it is only to be dealt with, first of all, by military tribunals. The court-martial has to decide prima facie that the appeal tribunal set up under the Act was wrong. It has to decide prima facie that the man should be regarded as a conscientious objector although the appeal tribunal said no. The court-martial having satisfied itself that the appeal tribunal had gone wrong, it is a question of whether the man is a conscientious objector or not. It cannot be a question of whether or not he has disobeyed an order, because there is no doubt suggested about that.

Mr. Benson

I think that the intention of the Clause is not that the matter of the conscience should be tried again, but that if a military order had been disobeyed and a penalty should follow, it should follow from the civil court.

The Attorney-General

I think I am inclined to do more justice to the Clause than the hon. Member. The matter must be a question of whether the man is a conscientious objector because the Clause gives the court power to order work of national importance. Court-martial having decided that prima facie the appellate tribunal is wrong, the matter goes to the court, and, in effect, they are going to sit as a court of appeal on the original decision of the appeal tribunal. While appreciating that the hon. Gentleman put his case very moderately under any machinery that humanity can devise, there may be mistakes. There are a few even in this House, and mistakes made with the best will in the world may be of importance to the individual. But I do not think that we need anticipate mistakes of the kind which will be covered by the Clause, nor indeed did the hon. Gentleman suggest that mistakes were likely.

Dr. Salter

We have the experience of the last War, when over 5,000 men were declared by the tribunals to be not genuinely conscientious objectors. They were tried by military tribunal and subsequently sent to prison, and the Government of the day actually had to set up a further appellate tribunal, which, constituted of judges, declared that those men had genuine conscientious objections and gave them opportunities of leaving prison and having their conditions mitigated by accepting various other kinds of service. The Government had to do that on the last occasion. The Attorney-General has said that we have no reason to anticipate that mistakes will be made, but mistakes were made on a gigantic scale on the last occasion, and there is every reason to apprehend that they may be made again.

The Attorney-General

I am not sure that I can agree with that. The whole atmosphere in which this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be administered will not be the atmosphere inevitably created by war. What the hon. Gentleman has said supports what I have said as a matter of principle. He says that ultimately this House set up another appellate tribunal. If the House were not satisfied with the machinery at present in the Schedule, I can see a case—I do not think it would be a good or a sufficient case, but it would not be illogical—in which it might be said, "We think that one appeal is not enough, and we want a second appeal." That is not this Clause. This is not by way of a further appellate tribunal, but is the setting up of an elaborate, and, I think, an inappropriate and not a very workable scheme by which, and by indirect methods, the decision of the appeal tribunal would be reviewed, in the first instance, by court-martial, and ultimately by the court. On these grounds, I would recommend the House not to accept either this Clause or the following one.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones

I can speak with some very real knowledge of the procedure that was followed on the occasion of the last War. It may be that the conscience Clause was introduced during the period of war on the last occasion, but, nevertheless, the administration of the Act gave rise to an overwhelming sense of injustice in thousands of men who had genuine conscientious objections. I would emphasise the point that it did happen that hundreds of men were refused either absolute exemption or work of national importance because the tribunal felt that they ought to perform non-combatant service in the Army. They refused to form part of the military machine. They had deep objections on ethical, moral, and sometimes political and religious grounds, but the fact remains that there were hundreds of men for whom both the local tribunal and the appeal tribunal refused the kind of service which was deliberately laid down in the Military Service Act. Those men were taken into the Army. They refused to obey orders, and ultimately they were court-marshalled and sent to prison.

It was because the administration had become something of a scandal that a national appeal body was set up. There were literally thousands of men who were taken from Wormwood Scrubs Prison to that tribunal and adjudicated on, and large numbers of these men passed out of prison to Dartmoor Prison, where national work was being provided for them. We are most anxious that, where injustice has been done to the genuine conscientious objector who has been caught up in the Army, he shall not be treated in a military prison but transferred to the control of the civil authorities, and that, if he is to be punished, the punishment shall take place in a civil prison. I also urge that not only should that punishment be in the civil prison, but there should be some finality in regard to the imprisonment.

May I illustrate my argument by my own personal case? I was one of those persons whom the local tribunal declared to be an objector entitled to absolute exemption, but that absolute exemption was denied to me because it was argued that other conscientious objectors did not receive that absolute exemption and had gone into the Army. Therefore, it was decided that I should go into the Army. That decision was upheld by an appeal tribunal, irrespective of my past or the work in which I was actually engaged. I went before a court-martial and, being an absolute objector, I was sentenced to a period of six months' imprisonment with hard labour. I served my period of six months' hard labour and was then taken back to my regiment, given a military order, court-martialled afresh and sentenced to one year's hard labour. That sentence I also served. I was again taken back to my regiment, given another military order, refused to obey, was court-martialled again and had to go for two years' hard labour. I served the two years' hard labour and went back to my regiment four months after the War was over. I still refused to obey military orders and was sentenced to another period of two years' hard labour. In point of fact I actually served periods amounting to about three years and six months. All the time the cat-and-mouse rule operated as far as I was concerned. It was recognised all through this course that I was a perfectly genuine person. Nevertheless, I had been caught up in the military machine and the cat-and-mouse arrangement began to operate.

I do suggest that there is some force in this new Clause. There ought to be some arrangement whereby these men, who are perfectly genuine in their opposition to war and in their opposition to being part of the military machine, should get reasonable treatment under the civil code, and that when they have paid the penalty for the crime of having a conscientious objection they should return to civil life. I agree with the Mover of the Clause that it is really absurd that the penalty in these cases for having a conscience should be as much as two years' imprisonment. If that is to be the penalty, the conscientious objector will pay. There ought, however, to be some arrangement whereby these cases could be lifted right out of the military organisation, that the punishment should be in a civil prison, with the right of review, once the man reaches the civil prison, or before, and that once the sentence has been served the man should be no longer a soldier but should return to civil life. I hope that further consideration will be given to this very reasonable Clause.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Benson

I think the Attorney-General is running away from a very real difficulty. He suggested, what is perfectly true, that the tribunals that are to be set up will work in a very different atmosphere from the tribunals that were set up under the Conscription Act in the last War. Granted all that, does he really believe that the tribunals are going to function smoothly and without mistakes? You cannot prove a conscientious objection. It is not susceptible of proof, any more than it is susceptible of disproof. I think it is admitted that a conscientious objection is an entirely irrational point of view. [Interruption.] By that I do not mean that it is wrong; it is irrational because it is not based upon reason. Primarily it is an emotional attitude, and how is it possible to prove or disprove an emotional attitude? All that the conscientious objector can do is to state that he is a conscientious objector, and let it rest there. He may bring evidence to show that he has been engaged in pacifist work, but there are not many people who are engaged in pacifist work, and the fact that they are not engaged in such work is no evidence that they have not a conscientious objection.

Even, to quote the adjective of the Attorney-General or the Minister of Labour, "an honest tribunal," a sympathetic tribunal is in a difficult position. It cannot test what is untestable or accept proof of what is unprovable. What about the prejudice tribunals? Does any one suggest that we are going to have tribunals set up throughout the country, in rural areas and in towns, and that all the men who will serve on those tribunals will be utterly just and balanced? There are bound to be a very large number of tribunals, just as there were during the War, which are prejudiced and are not prepared to give really serious consideration to the claim that a man has a conscience. What are you going to do in those cases? In the last War nearly half the members of the Society of Friends were in gaol. I think it is generally recognised that members of the Society of Friends have for centuries taken a very definite line on this question. You are going to have mistakes made, mistakes even by honest, sympathetic tribunals, and far more mistakes will be made by tribunals which are definitely prejudiced. What will happen then?

The Attorney-General says that the decision of the tribunal must ultimately be final. Suppose the conscientious objector does not accept it as final. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) went before a tribunal during the War and the opinion of that tribunal, according to law, was final, but he did not accept it. I went before a tribunal during the War, and before an appellate tribunal. I did not accept their decision. I was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, but eventually I got before the appeal tribunal which sat at Wormwood Scrubs, and apparently they decided that I was genuine, because I was put on work of national importance. But the only difference was that instead of sewing mail bags in Wormwood Scrubs I sewed them at Wakefield.

Are you to set up an appeal tribunal on the other side of the Army, so to say, as they had during the War? What is the Secretary of State for War going to do when the conscientious objector is turned down and he refuses to accept the decision of the tribunal as final? He will have to handle them somehow. Does he want them in the Army? Does he want these men going through the same business that occurred during the War, receiving military orders, refusing to obey them and then being sentenced by court-martial to C.B., to detention, or to 112 days in a military prison, and then coming back, and the whole process being repeated? Does he want to go through over again all the trouble there was in the regiments in the War? If he does not want that, his alternative is to accept our proposal. Our first new Clause deals with the conscientious objector who is turned down and refuses to obey orders. We suggest that he should be taken before a civil court and not sentenced by the military. Our second new Clause suggests that instead of the man being handed over to the military he should be tried not as a conscientious objector but as a man who has failed to register, and that when he receives a penalty that penalty absolves him from military service. If the man is prepared to accept the possibility of a penalty of two years' imprisonment instead of six months in the Army, I think it is a reasonable assumption that he is genuine in his objection. We have put in what is admittedly a very stiff penalty, because we know that there are men who would rather do two years in gaol than six months in military training. I think that is definitely a test of their genuineness. The Attorney-General and the Secretary of State for War will have to deal with these people, and I suggest that they should accept our two new Clauses which will have the effect of keeping them out of the Army.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Lees-Smith

I do not want to bring the Debate to an end, because some of my hon. Friends have very valuable suggestions to make. The discussion has shown that there is here a difficulty to which the Government have not yet thought out a reply. Let me put to the Attorney-General the difficulty in which we shall find ourselves. Looking at the situation, nobody can doubt that there will be a certain number of men who will find themselves put into the Army and who will undoubtedly refuse to obey orders. They will then be sentenced under the Army Act to six months' or 12 months' imprisonment. Very probably the sentence will run right beyond their six months' service. Suppose it does not, suppose it is only a six months' sentence; then they come out of prison when the six months is over. But that does not end their service. Presumably, they will have to join the Territorial Army, and they will be part of the Special Reserve. After a few months they will be called up in the Special Reserve, and again they will receive military orders and will refuse to obey. This time the sentence may be perhaps a year's imprisonment. When they come out they will still be in the Special Reserve, and may be subjected to another military order and another year's imprisonment. A man in these circumstances, on finding himself in the Army, may be in prison for about four years, or rather more. I do not believe that the public will accept that situation. The Attorney-General has given a reply which has not met the difficulty and has not shown that the Government have yet thought out how they are to deal with this question, which must inevitably arise. I make these observations now because the Debate will continue for a short time and it will give the Government an opportunity of thinking out how they will deal with this matter.

6.29 p.m.

Mr. Stephen

I support the new Clause and I would stress what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman. The Attorney-General pointed out some of the difficulties in connection with the new Clause, but he did not give us any indication how the Government intend to deal with the problem. Obviously, there is a problem. When the machinery under the Act has been exhausted there is nothing, so far as the Government have given any indication, that is provided in the way of dealing with those who are unable to get exemption as conscientious objectors and who will refuse to carry out military orders. The Attorney-General says that it is to be hoped that in a different atmosphere and with a different tribunal these matters will not arise. It is quite obvious, since tribunals are being set up, that the Government think the problem will arise. The very fact that there are courts or tribunals indicates that there will be cases when the court will not be able to give satisfaction, and that there will be difficult cases to deal with. It is only fair to the House that the Government should give us some idea of what is in their minds for dealing with these people. I surmise that what the Government have in mind is that when the problem arises steps will have to be taken to deal with it if it becomes sufficiently great, but in the meantime there is to be no machinery provided because the Government think that if it was provided a larger number would seek to get exemption on the ground of conscientious objection. That is not really a decent way of dealing with the question. I do not think that these people should be put in a position of having to suffer a court martial in order that somebody who the Government think may have no conscientious objection should not be allowed to pass through the door of conscientious objection.

I do not think it is fair to the military authorities. From what I know of past experience the military authorities were left with a very miserable job which they did not want to undertake. Soldiers themselves felt that they were put in a position for which the civilian authorities should have provided, and that they were given an additional distasteful task to all their other military duties. Here again it is to be left to the Army to deal with. It is not fair to the military. They have their own jobs and difficulties, and it is the duty of the civilian authority to legislate and see that provision is made for dealing with this question. I hope the Government will tell us how they are going to deal with people who have been refused exemption by a tribunal and who, in spite of that refusal, still refuse to carry out a military order. How are the Government going to deal with that situation? I hope the Secretary of State for War will give us an answer if they do not accept the proposed new Clause.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

It has been generally admitted that the Government throughout the discussions of this Measure have shown a desire to be guided by the feelings, and particularly the conscientious feelings, of the House. Notoriously, we are dealing here with the most difficult if not the most insoluble of all questions, because the human conscience obeys no tribunal. It is its own tribunal. Nevertheless we have endeavoured to set up fair tribunals, to establish indeed a tribunal of first instance and an appeal tribunal, and clearly as has been said, the Army expects, when it receives a militiaman, to receive someone who has been through that procedure—if he goes through it at all—and who is free to be treated as all other soldiers are treated. We do not desire to have complications in the Army and to have to deal with persons who have scruples of the character which have been described. That would be a matter of great inconvenience. No one can have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) without feeling the utmost sympathy for the experience he underwent and without being inspired by a desire to discover some means of avoiding an occurrence of that kind happening again. Certainly we do not desire that it should happen again.

How then are we to find a means of doing justice to these genuine feelings without providing an obvious and easy means of escape for those who simulate these feelings in order to avoid an obligation which the rest of the community is to undergo? It is really quite insoluble, as I have said. The fact that the movers and supporters of this new Clause are sincere is shown by the liability under which they would place the conscientious objector to undergo two years' imprisonment if sentenced to that term by a civilian court; they are not trying to provide an easy means of escape for the shirker. They are subjecting the con- scientious objector to a very severe test of his conscientious objection, and the Government would certainly desire to do what they could to show their respect for that point of view.

We had no intention of accepting the new Clauses, for the reasons given by the Attorney-General. We did not think that they were good Amendments, and we thought that we had taken every possible precaution to deal fairly with the conscientious objector. However, there still remains this peculiarly difficult type of case; the man who refuses to accept the verdict of the tribunal and declines to obey a military order on the ground of his conscience. I cannot say that the new Clauses are well drawn, and we did not desire to delay the progress of the Measure by introducing Amendments in another place. But we feel that the case made out is so important and urgent that the House would not delay the passage of the Bill if we inserted an Amendment in another place, if we can discover the proper form of words to meet the type of case in mind. We do desire to deal with the man who is prepared to go to prison rather than obey a military order because of his conscientious views, and if the hon. Member will withdraw the new Clause—it is not perfectly worded—we will consider whether before the Bill is through we can insert a proposal which will cover his desires either in this House or in another place.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Lansbury

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has just said, but I want to bring him back to the very fundamental question we have been discussing and beg him to give an assurance that he will do something. I quite agree that we cannot expect him to do it in the manner we propose, but the real thing we want to prevent is the cat-and-mouse business and any ill-treatment of a man while he is under military service. That took place very often. The Bill itself recognises the conscientious feelings of our colleagues from Ulster. None of us has any doubt as to their conscientious feelings in regard to unity with Great Britain and not unity with Southern Ireland. This is recognised in the Bill, we recognise their conscientious objection that they would rather be connected with this country than with Southern Ireland. As to the other point, there are quite a number of people who out of their own experience understand what an absolutist really stands for. Over and over again in one form or another people have had to take their stand on their conscience. I did not really get up to say that. I got up to ask the right hon. Gentleman that he will be a little more watertight in regard to his promise and that he will not only consider but will draft something which will prevent a man being repeatedly punished for the same offence in the way the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) has described.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

If the House will allow me, I want to say that we will endeavour to meet this case if not in this form, at least in the spirit. If we have to introduce an Amendment in another place I hope that no objection will be taken to taking the Lords Amendments late at night and that we shall not be delayed in the progress of this Bill. I hope we may have an assurance on that point from the right hon. Gentleman opposite.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. Lees-Smith

I am sure that my hon. Friend will withdraw the new Clause and that when the Lords Amendments are here we will deal with them in the spirit in which the Secretary for War has now dealt with this Clause. He is setting an example as to how the business of the House should be conducted in the right way. We do not want to have further discussions when the Lords Amendments come down. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that when a man has refused to obey a military order and is sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment that even then his military service will not be at an end, because he will then be called up to the Special Reserve and the same process might be repeated. I hope he will realise that it is necessary to cover that rather intricate point.

Mr. Messer

In view of the statement of the Secretary of State for War, which is consistent with the attitude the Government have taken up on this Bill right through, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.