HC Deb 04 April 1940 vol 359 cc293-4
4 and 5. Mr. Ralph Etherton

asked the Minister of Labour (1) whether he is aware of the widespread concern and dissatisfaction throughout the country that no statistics or check are kept by his Department to show whether conscientious objectors who have been ordered to obtain work of national importance in fact do so or not; and whether he will have returns kept;

(2) whether he is satisfied that it is sufficient to rely on the services of common informers under Section 5 (8) of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act to ensure that conscientious objectors are in fact performing the work of national importance specified by tribunals; and will he take steps to impose a better control of their activities?

Mr. E. Brown

I am not aware of any widespread dissatisfaction such as my hon. Friend mentions. In the light of the first six months' working of the Act I have issued instructions instituting a system of checking compliance with orders of tribunals directing conscientious objectors to take up specified civilian work, and statistics will be kept. Where conscientious objectors are found not to be taking reasonable steps to obtain the work specified, the cases will be referred by my Department to the local tribunals.

Mr. Etherton

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his reply will give great satisfaction to all patriots in this country, and if I again put down the Question which I previously asked, requesting him to give me numbers, will he be able to give a reply?

Mr. Brown

Statistics are being kept.

Mr. Thurtle

Will the Minister assure the House that the law will be applied to these conscientious objectors in the same way as it applied to people in the Fighting Services?

Mr. Brown

I shall do my utmost to administer the provisions of the Act.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Is it not a direct obligation on these men to obtain work just as much as it is on the men in the Armed Forces to do their work?

Mr. Brown

The law is quite clear?

6. Mr. Ralph Etherton

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will take steps to form a brigade of conscientious objectors to perform non-combatant work of national importance so that their conditions and pay will be similar to the Fighting Services?

11. Mr. Purbrick

asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the fact that conscientious objectors are not taking part in the defence of the country, he will take the necessary steps to ensure that they are conscripted to work for the benefit of the country at military rates of pay?

Mr. E. Brown

The provisions in the Armed Forces Act with regard to conscientious objectors were approved very recently by Parliament and represented, I think I may say, a general measure of agreement on this difficult subject. Conscientious objectors may be required, in appropriate cases, to perform non-combatant service in the Forces. So far as the suggestions made by my hon. Friends go beyond this they would require an alteration in the law and I do not contemplate introducing legislation for this purpose.

Mr. Etherton

Does not my right hon. Friend think it is extremely unsatisfactory that conscientious objectors should be in a more favourable position with regard to pay and conditions?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter of opinion.