HC Deb 09 November 1939 vol 353 cc385-7
5. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Minister of Labour whether it is the practice of tribunals dealing with conscientious objectors to discriminate adversely between those who base their appeal on religious and on ethical and political grounds, respectively; and whether an attempt is being made to secure reasonable similarity of judgment among all the tribunals?

Mr. E. Brown

Conscientious objection is not defined in the Act, and local tribunals have to use their own judgment in deciding whether an application, on whatever ground it may be based, is or is not of a conscientious nature. Both the applicant and the Minister have an unrestricted right of appeal to the Appellate Tribunal whose leading decisions will be circulated in order to secure reasonable uniformity among the local tribunals.

Mr. Sorensen

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his answer, is he aware that there is considerable disparity as between one tribunal and another with regard to both ethical and religious grounds and as to decisions?

Mr. Brown

I would not like to accept that, but, as the hon. Member knows, there are many tribunals, and I think at this stage it is quite premature for any general conclusion, because the hon. Member will understand that each case may be in a different atmosphere.

Mr. Lansbury

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the appeal tribunal will sit?

Mr. Brown

There is a question about that later.

Mr. Stephen

Can the Minister say that he agrees that this House, in giving the right to conscientious objectors, meant to do so on all these grounds?

Mr. Brown

That is still the idea.

Mr. Stephen

But the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware that some chairmen of tribunals—

Mr. Speaker rose.

6. Mr. Glenvil Hall

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that Francis Harrison Maw, a Quaker living at Milnsbridge, Huddersfield, was refused registration as a conscientious objector on religious grounds by the north-eastern local tribunal sitting recently at Leeds; and what steps he proposes to take to call the attention of those sitting on these tribunals to the legal rights of those who appear before them?

Mr. Brown

I am aware that the tribunal unanimously decided to register Mr. Maw on condition that he was employed only in non-combatant duties. I have no power to vary this decision but Mr. Maw may appeal to the Appellate Tribunal within 21 days of the local tribunal's decision. I have no reason to think that members of the tribunals are not fully aware of the legal rights of applicants.

Mr. Hall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a very real fear that, if a member of a religious society such as the Society of Friends, cannot establish his claim to exemption, other people equally genuine are not likely to establish their claims and is not that in a way preventing the Act from working and the decision of the House from operating?

Mr. Brown

I think the hon. Member is wrong. It is not a matter of whether an applicant is a member of a particular religious denomination or not, but it is a question of the tribunal's judgment as to his conscience about military service, and, of course, the hon. Member will understand that all members of the Society of Friends do not necessarily take the view that the majority take.

Mr. McGovern

Is the Minister aware that, in many cases, decisions are being made not merely on the basis as to whether the applicants have a conscience or not, but because of the fact that members of the tribunal are trying to browbeat them with tricky questions?

Mr. Brown

I do not think that at all.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member's remark is improper.

Mr. McGovern

I do not see anything improper in that; it is a statement of fact.

13. Major Milner

asked the Minister of Labour the number of conscientious objectors of whom notice has been given; the number of cases heard to date by area tribunals; and the results thereof by areas or tribunals, respectively, all to the latest convenient date?

Mr. Brown

Up to 31st October 9,526 men had been provisionally registered as conscientious objectors and 1,042 cases had been decided by the local tribunals. I am having an analysis made of the decisions by tribunals and will forward it to the hon. and gallant Member.

Major Milner

Up to what date?

Mr. Brown

Up to the last date.

14. Major Milner

asked the Minister of Labour the number of appeals lodged by conscientious objectors; the number of cases so far heard before the central tribunal; and the results thereof to the latest convenient date?

Mr. Brown

Up to date 68 appeals by conscientious objectors to the Appellate Tribunal have been received. The tribunal will be meeting shortly to begin hearing these cases.