HC Deb 22 February 1940 vol 357 cc1581-631

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £560,010, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, grants to local authorities, associations and other bodies in respect of unemployment insurance, employment exchange and other services; expenses of transfer and resettlement; expenses of training of unemployed persons and, on behalf of the Army Council and Air Council, of soldiers and airmen; contribution towards the expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); expenses of the Industrial Court; expenses in connection with national service; expenses in connection with persons liable to be registered and called up for military training and for service in the armed forces of the Crown; and sundry services.

4.2 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)

This Supplementary Estimate has two main purposes. There is a token Estimate of £10 now presented in order to bring to the attention of Parliament the fact that the provision made in the previous Supplementary Estimates for expenses incurred under the Military Training Act, 1939, is also being used for expenses incurred under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939. In the second place, the Estimate is needed to provide the additional net sum of £560,000 required for other services of the Ministry of Labour and National Service.

With regard to the first of these purposes, it will be within the recollection of the Committee that at the commencement of the present emergency the provisions of the Military Training Act, 1939, were superseded by those of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act,1939. The machinery of the former Act for registration, medical examination, appeal tribunals, hardship committees and calling up were set in motion prior to the outbreak of war and continued under the new Act. In the circumstances prevailing, it was not possible to distinguish the expenditure which was incurred under the respective Acts, and the sum of £250,000 voted by a previous Supplementary Estimate for the purposes of the Military Training Act is accordingly being used for the expenses of the superseding Act. The full estimate of expenditure by the Ministry under the new Act during the current financial year is £430,000; the excess over and above the sum of £250,010 will be met by issues from the Vote of Credit.

The main items which comprise the additional £560,000 are the sum of £235,000 required for the additional staff of the local offices of the Ministry, mainly for work in connection with the National Services (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, and I may point out that the amount would have been larger but for the reduction in the work of the local offices due to an improvement in employment. Secondly, a further sum of £200,000 is required for the Exchequer contribution to the Unemployment Fund, which is also due to an improvement in employment. An additional £525,000 is required mainly owing to the decrease in the sum estimated to be recovered from the Unemployment Fund by way of appropriations-in-aid. That appropriation, of course, is in respect of the administration of unemployment insurance and the payment of allowances, and this decrease also is due to the improvement in employment. The fact is that a large proportion of the work of the local offices of the Ministry is now concerned with duties, such as military recruiting and military service, which are not connected with unemployment insurance or unemployment assistance. There are two small items with which I need not detain the Committee, amounting to £40,000, making the total additional sum which we require £1,000,000. Towards this sum savings amounting to £440,000 are available on certain other items, details of which are given on page 19 of the printed Estimates, and that makes altogether a net total sum of £560,010.

Hon. Members sometimes on Supplementary Estimates want to raise large points and sometimes small points, and I think the Minister in charge does the Committee no service by embarking on a long general explanation at the beginning of the Debate, but I shall be glad to deal at the close of the discussion with any points that Members may want to raise on this very important subject. I think that any doubt that hon. Members might have had as to the competency of a civil Ministry to take over and administer with skill and efficiency these very large and difficult, complex problems will probably have been dissipated by the experience of the last nine months. There will always be, in every large operation, a certain number of complaints, but I think the Committee as a whole will agree that this vast new responsibility which this Supplementary Estimate betokens has been discharged by a civil Ministry with efficiency and with remarkable skill. That is due, of course, also very largely to the full and thorough co-operation which we have had during the whole period from the various Service Departments, in the work of registration, examination and calling up. I thought it was due to all concerned that the country should understand that this work has been done quickly, without much public notice, and that the problems involved are difficult and full of complications. I am sure the experience over the whole period, both before a man joins up and after, has been justified by the results up to date.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I rise to call attention in particular to one item, namely, that which refers to the expenses incurred in connection with the Military Training Act and the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, and I do so in order to discuss two points—the problem of the hardship tribunals and the problem of the conscientious objectors tribunals. With regard to the first, I would remind the Committee that the men who are brought before these tribunals are not in any sense pleading conscientious objection to entering the Services. They come before the hardship tribunals because they claim that there is something particular about their individual case which makes it desirable that they should either not be brought into the Forces at all or that the time of calling up should be postponed in order to enable them to fulfil some particular engagement which, in their opinion, is of vital importance in their own or their family affairs. I am certainly not complaining on a general scale of the decisions taken by the hardship tribunals. All that I would say is that I think that in a certain number of cases their true function is not exercised with sufficient consideration for the individual who comes before them.

Let us realise what the position is to-day. We have carried through this House the provisions of the Military Service (Armed Forces) Act. If there was an absolute and acute shortage of men at this moment, if every other consideration had to be pushed aside, I can quite understand this House, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this aspect of the question, and the tribunals saying, "No individual hardship can possibly weigh with us when every individual man is needed to join the Forces at this particular moment." But that is not the position. I am far from saying that there is not a demand for them, but at the same time it was recognised by this House and by the Minister himself that there would be cases in which certain individual hardships might render it desirable, either that a man should be exempted altogether, or, probably in a much larger number of cases, that the time of his calling-up should be postponed. Here is a case that I would like to mention which has been put into my hands. A boy's father is a chronic invalid with diabetes; there is a younger sister who is an invalid and unable to work, and the mother is forced to go out working during the day to keep the house going. The family doctor confirms all these facts, and yet this is a case in which the hardship committee has refused any redress.

There is another case, of a man who has just finished a London County Council scholarship and come under conscription. The mother has made great sacrifices and is robbed of his prospective earnings. There is another case that I may mention. A man is on the point of taking a special examination for which he has been preparing for a very long time, and he asks that in order that he might take the final examination on which the whole future of his life depends, his calling-up should be postponed until after the conclusion of that examination, so that he could get a position in life when the war is over. That man is again refused by one of these tribunals. Here is another case. There is a family with an aged and crippled father. He has a watch and clock maker's business, which is carried on by the son. If the son is called up, the business must close down, as there is no one else to run it, and the parents' livelihood is gone.

These are sample cases, from many that have come in to hon. Members in all parts of the House, I am sure. All I ask is that it shall be brought to the notice of tribunals that, where total exemption is unnecessary, postponement is a remedy that shall be applied in cases where real hardship is shown. I repeat that I am not suggesting that hardship tribunals have, in every case, failed, or that they have not done what the House wishes them to do; but I am saying that certain tribunals, in certain cases, are missing the mark. That may arise from the limitations that are put on their proceedings. I cannot go into these limitations, because, I understand, they are statutory; but if those limitations are to remain, I think the hardship tribunals ought to use a little more imagination, and see whether, in some of these extreme cases, the request of the applicant should not be granted. I have no doubt that other Members on both sides will bring individual cases to the notice of the Minister and suggest what should be done.

I want to turn to the other branch of this question, relating to individuals with an entirely different outlook. I should like to preface what I have to say with one or two general observations. This country and this House stand, in my opinion, in a very different position from that of the other belligerents; a different position from that which is customary in countries where military conscription is imposed, other than our own land. In other countries, a rigid attitude is adopted, and no exemptions are allowed. I think it is greatly to the credit of this country, and of this House, that we have recognised the individual right to stand out from what is otherwise a universal law. I am quite aware that some Members of this House, and certain people outside, think that what we are doing is soft, and that we are degenerate because we are taking this libertarian view. I do not hold that opinion, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman holds it, and it is certainly not the opinion of the House as a whole. It is because, on a matter like this, we take an entirely different view from that which is taken, in particular, in Nazi Germany, that we have democracy of which we are proud, and they have a system which we abhor.

This House decided that to be a conscientious objector is not to commit a crime; it decided that to be a conscientious objector is not to be contemptible. I am not going to deny that if a man professes conscientious objection for the purpose of evading what, in his heart of hearts, he knows he ought to do, he is taking a most reprehensible line of action, and one which all of us would condemn. I think there are probably very few people who put themselves on the register of conscientious objectors who really stand exactly there. There may be a number of men who, to use a common phrase, "kid themselves" with the idea that they are conscientious objectors when, in fact, they are nothing of the kind; but I think very few men put forward this objection from conscience when, in fact, they are shirking a duty which they know they ought to perform.

The question is, how should this matter be decided? I think there is no means of deciding it other than by asking a number of men to meet these applicants, and to try to sift out what is in their minds. I think that, speaking generally and broadly, we must be grateful to these people who are prepared to serve on these tribunals and perform an exceedingly difficult and exceedingly unpleasant task. I have not got up to attack the tribunals as a whole, or to condemn either their procedure, their conduct or their judgments. I have risen in order to point the attention of the Committee and of the Minister to the fact that the proceedings in some of these tribunals are undignified, unseemly, and not really in accord with the wishes of the House of Commons. It is not very easy either to prove or to refute that charge, because it is a matter of atmosphere. Even if I had been all round the tribunals myself, and was giving a first-hand view to the Committee, I doubt whether, even if I had the eloquence of some Members of this House, I could convey the atmosphere of the tribunals. But I do not pretend to have been, myself, individually, before the tribunals, and I can only try to convey the atmosphere which has been described to me. What I am told about particular tribunals that I shall mention is that, instead of the judicial atmosphere which ought to prevail in a tribunal, there is a carping, bullying, brutal attitude taken up in them, which is not the one which commends itself to people who wish to see judicial decisions reached.

The tribunals that are set up to-day, in this war, differ somewhat from those set up in the last war. I do not know whether the practice was universal, but where I came across tribunals in the last war, the procedure took this shape. There was a representative of the Army, who was trying to get the individual taken into the Army, and who was almost, as it were, the prosecuting counsel; and the applicant was liable to the fire of his cross-examination and criticism. The members of the tribunal were, more or less, in the position of judges, waiting to deliver their verdict. I do not know how far they carried it out, but that was, I believe, the conception. In this war, the conception is somewhat different. The applicant has to face the members of the tribunal, and they themselves have to do the cross-examining. I think that that puts them somewhat in a difficulty, because they are both cross-examining the applicant and arriving at their verdict in the end; and, although some may succeed in maintaining judicial impartiality while doing so, the information which reaches me is that some do not. I will give just two illustrations.

Three names were called out at the Newcastle tribunal. The names of Donald, Cameron, and Douglas were called out, and at once the chairman, Judge Richardson, remarked, "Good fighting names. I think the holders of some of these names would turn in their coffins if they could hear what some of these people are saying." That is a very improper remark for the chairman of a tribunal to make. The House of Commons has decided that it is not a crime, that it is not even contemptible, to be a conscientious objector if the person is genuine. Yet these insulting remarks are poured out by the chairman as soon as the names of these applicants are announced. In the West London court, Sir Edmund Phipps called out, in the midst of the proceedings, "These miserable creatures"; and later, when they were speaking, he said, "What tosh." Surely those are not judicial remarks. I can quite understand that these people, whose views are peculiar, seem very odd, and naturally provoke a great deal of resentment in the minds of people whose attitude is more in accord with the majority opinion in this country; but people sitting in a judicial capacity ought to restrain themselves from giving vent to these unjudicial remarks. I am sure the opinion of the Committee will be on those lines.

One of these gentlemen, the person to whom I referred last, is an elderly man, and suffers from deafness. Many of us are acquainted with deaf people, and we know that not only cannot they always hear what is said to them, but they are inclined to shout themselves, because, to them, their voices lose their intensity. One of the applicants who was brought into the court was a strange little man, with a very thin voice, and he could not raise his voice above a certain pitch. This gentleman shouted at him, told him to speak up, and when he could not, told him that he was insulting the court.

Mr. McGovern

Who was this?

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I have mentioned the name, Sir Edmund Phipps. It would not be in keeping with what is a judicial function for anyone in that position to treat persons brought before the court, even if they were criminals charged with a vile crime, in that way. I will go further than that. These individuals who come before these courts are young men who, rightly or wrongly, think they have formed a view on moral questions which differs from that of their fellows. In the vast majority of cases they are sincere, at any rate to the extent that they believe they hold these views very firmly and tenaciously. I do not think you are going to arrive at the truth as to their real moral and mental condition by shouting at them, by rushing a number of questions at them in a hurry, and by driving them into making fooling remarks which may or may not be their considered opinions.

I do not know whether it is the view of the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, but it is certainly the view of those who have held office on this side, that it is not any light task when from all sections of the House a number of people hurl questions at a Minister and he has to answer in a hurry. But, after all, we who have to face these interrogations have had a good deal of experience. We have had the experience of the election hustings, and we have sat in this House and have faced up to a barricade of remarks, and we have seen how it is done, and how it ought not to be done, and we have learnt a good deal in the course of our experience. I do not mind saying that, although I first came into this House in the year 1923—and I have been here nearly ever since—it is only in the last year or two that I have risen to my feet without having a certain sense of nervousness in addressing this Assembly. Here you have young men who have this sort of secret in their hearts. They think in some way that they have got something a little different from other people. They have never really been brought face to face with hard-headed men who are to cross-question them, and instead of their questioners trying to arrive at what is really in their minds by a little quiet talk, they are rushed at, and, in many cases, deliberately confused. That is not the way to arrive at the truth, and that is the main point of what I am trying to say this afternoon.

I have brought down with me several cases where people have been refused when apparently their case was made out, but, of course, it is not very easy for us to judge, even if we have a complete verbatim report. It is for those who are actually there and hear the words being spoken to judge whether a man is sincere, or whether it is a put-up job. There is a case, for instance, which took place in the Newcastle Court, to which I have already referred. I do not know, but possibly the Committee may be tempted to smile at the name of the society which the applicant claimed to represent. He said that he belonged to "Jehovah's Witnesses," and apparently he had given up his work and had spent a month going round delivering tracts. The whole attitude of the tribunal was to try and deride what he was doing and to hold him up to ridicule.

Viscountess Astor

How long had he been a member? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us?

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

He had been a member for years, but he had been doing this work, I understand, for the last few months. I am not stressing that fact unnecessarily, but my point is that this man was, rightly or wrongly, quite clearly from the evidence, sincere. I do not put it higher than that, and the tribunal devoted itself to ridicule what this man believed to be his definite lot, and, not only that, they refused him exemption. The man who writes to me on behalf of this organisation says that in the other courts of the country the views of those who are definite members of the organisation have been accepted and their objection upheld, but in this particular court all the cases that have been brought forward have been turned down. I do not want to labour the matter, but I should like a reply on the point.

Colonel Burton

What sort of a job did the court allot to that man?

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I do not know. At any rate, the application was turned down, and I will say a word about that before I sit down. The first point I want to bring before the right hon. Gentleman is whether, in some of these cases, he has any power to review the personnel of these tribunals, because it is clear from the evidence which reaches me—and I believe it will be the same sort of evidence that comes from other parts of the Committee—that a great many of these tribunals are doing their work conscientiously, reasonably and fairly, and are not imposing upon those who come before them any questions but those which they are perfectly entitled to ask, but there are tribunals, and there are individuals in those tribunals, who regard it as their right, and, I suppose, their duty, to try and browbeat and bully the applicant. If it is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to do anything with regard to these tribunals, either openly or by pressure, to stop that kind of thing, I think he will be acting not merely as it is his duty to act, but in the general interests of the good feeling in this country, and he will be promoting the real strength of the armed Forces.

I will say one word further with regard to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton) as to the final decision. I have read through a number of cases, and I find that at the end, it is a very common thing for the tribunal to give a man exemption from the direct armed Forces. They say that he has an objection to killing, but he must go into the non-combatant forces. I think it is quite likely that in a great many cases it is a thoroughly sound decision, and, in fact, a great many men have asked that that should be done. It may be perfectly right in a great number of instances to make that decision, but it is clear from the evidence that there are certain men who have a conscientious objection even to that, and for the reason that by becoming part of the Army, though outside the armed section of it, they consider that they are setting another man free to do the work which they will not do themselves. Whether it appears reasonable to other people or not, they have just as strong a conscientious objection to that as they have to anything else. I do not think that it is much good for the tribunal to impose upon these applicants a course of life, to which they believe, at any rate, they are conscientiously opposed. I do not think that we get much further in that way. They only resist. They come before the appeal tribunal, and the appeal tribunal no doubt in many cases uphold the decision of the first court, and these men face up to the trouble and they are sentenced to imprisonment.

Personally, I think that conscientious objectors, good, bad and indifferent, are probably better out of the Army altogether, from the Army point of view, and if I were a commanding officer in the Army, I would not want to have a man who was a conscientious objector, whether he had a conscientious objection to fighting from the Biblical or Christian point of view, or whether he had a strong political objection to taking part in war, or whether he was an arrant coward trying to shirk his duty, because I believe that all three of them would be subversive to discipline in my ranks. If a point had to be stretched, I would much rather stretch it against sending a man to non-combatant duty than I would stretch it in favour of sending him.

That is the final point I wish to make. I think that conscientious objection, while it is a peculiar sort of thing—and you cannot say that it ought to be this or the other—is just what a man thinks it is. It would be in the better interests of the Army and the country as a whole if these tribunals gave up thinking of these men as criminals or as despicable people and reconciled themselves to dealing with the straightforward facts of the case. They would do better by talking reasonably with a youngman than by trying to knock him off his perch by confusing him and bullying him; and, finally, I think they would come to a better decision if they erred on the side of keeping him out of the Forces altogether, whether non-combatant or combatant, and as far as possible gave him the exemption which his conscience desired them to give and left it to his conscience to decide whether he had been an upholder of his true faith or whether he had been a shirker, knowing his duty to be otherwise.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. Naylor

The question which I wish to raise has reference to Item G, a supplementary sum of £200,000 in connection with the contributions payable by the State to the Unemployment Fund. This is a result, the Minister explained, of an improvement in employment, meaning that more employers and more employed were paying contributions, which made it necessary for the Exchequer to be drawn upon to the extent of a Supplementary Estimate of £200,000. The Minister will agree that it is not a matter of regret but rather one for congratulation that the conditions with regard to unemployment have so improved that it has become necessary for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to produce another £200,000 as a State contribution to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. I want to take the mind of the Minister back to 6th September of last year, when, under Emergency Regulation 1148, he reduced the number of the benefits from 312 days to 180, thus reverting to the old position. I think that he acted rather hastily on that occasion, but no doubt he did it as a matter of precaution.

The Chairman

I am afraid that the hon. Member cannot raise that matter on this Supplementary Estimate. It is a very small increase in a very large Vote, and therefore, under the procedure of the House, it does not justify discussion of the general administration on a particular service.

Mr. Naylor

Am I not entitled, in consequence of that item of £200,000, which means a distinct gain for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, to make are quest to the Minister to reconsider a regulation which would give him the opportunity of reverting to the original number of days' benefit—312 days as against 180? After all, it is a matter of expenditure.

The Chairman

The hon. Member would not be in order in raising the matter on this Supplementary Estimate. It must come on the main Estimate.

Mr. Naylor

That is a great disappointment, but I accept your Ruling.

4.45 p.m.

Viscountess Astor

I have great sympathy with the tribunals and I quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman when he said that they do vary. But, I think, on the whole they do extraordinarily good work. I know a woman, an American, who was married to a German, and who had been watching our tribunals before going back to America. She said to me, "I had lost complete faith in human nature until I came to England and watched the work of your tribunals. Since then I have regained my faith in mankind." I think that is an extraordinary tribute from a foreigner who is married to a German. I do feel, however, that if there are some tribunals which have turned down everybody something is wrong with them and that we cannot be careful enough in selecting them. It is a great pity that responsible women have not been appointed. I do not ask for the appointment of women who do not know the job, who are not educated, or who have not trained minds, but we have some magnificent women in this country and I think the tribunals would be much better if they could have the advantage of women's services. I would appeal to the Minister to look into this matter and to see whether he is making all the use he can of some of these women.

To come to conscientious objectors, I had a very great deal to do with them in the last war. We employed them at our place. Some were political objectors, waiting to choose their own war, and others were Christian objectors. I saw many at Prince town, and when I asked those looking after them to tell me how many they thought were really spiritually-minded Christian conscientious objectors, they said "About 1,000 out of 10,000."

Mr. Silverman

Perhaps a personal reference is out of place, but during the last war I was a conscientious objector. Does that prevent me from being a spiritual Christian?

Viscountess Astor

You were probably a political conscientious objector—

Mr. Deputy

The Noble Lady must remember to address the Chair.

Viscountess Astor

I shall certainly address you, Sir. Most of the spiritually-minded conscientious objectors in the last war went willingly into non-combatant service, and although I have the greatest consideration for such persons I do not think politically-conscientious objectors, who are waiting to choose their own war, ought to get off scot free while the men of this country go out to fight for something which these persons who are left behind will afterwards try to upset. I do not mind people getting off if they are Christian objectors, if their conscience will not allow them to fight, but at least they might be made to do some national work. I think most Members feel that way. I am truly sorry for a man whose conscience is so sensitive that he cannot kill, but I think the country would be annoyed if it felt we were letting off people to do whatever they liked. There are in this country thousands of men who are conscientious objectors in this war. I have never met a single soldier, sailor or airman who wanted to go to war and I spend most of my time among them. That is the most remarkable thing about this war. The whole nation has a conscientious objection to it; they hate it. I have seen men who have returned on the "Ajax" and "Exeter'' and the one thing which has impressed me most is that they are not the slightest bit bellicose or bitter. Is it fair that we should ask them to go on while we let off people who do not care about their country? The young women of this country will not agree to that.

Be kind to the conscientious objector, but not the political objector. The people who do not care for their own country are, like the people who do not care for their own families, no good. If there ever was a war where everybody ought to be made to do his best, it is this war, and I hope the tribunals will be picked with great care, and that we shall get the best of people on them. Be tender with the really spiritually-minded, but not with those like the hon. Gentleman who said he was not spiritually-minded. It is nothing to boast about. In this war we are not only fighting for ourselves, but for civilisation and the things that matter, and you cannot afford to let young men say of others, "They are choosing their own time and have no Christian principles." I say that those people should be made to do jobs, and "darned" disagreeable jobs, too. [Interruption.] Come down to Plymouth and see the sailors and airmen. Last week a sailor told me he had been 76 days on a destroyer and had had only three days off. Has the country so little imagination? If they really realised what our people were already doing the Government would not need to be so careful not to do this or that. If you would only let the country know what the Navy and Air Force are doing already people would be willing to give up more than they do. I feel for the Christian, but I have no sympathy with those who want to shirk this war and to choose their own fighting.

4.53 p.m.

Mr. McGovern

I will not follow the Noble Lady in the statement of prejudices which she has expressed to the Committee this afternoon. The Military Service Act, as I understand it, was passed by this House, and in it there were given certain guarantees of fair consideration for the conscientious objectors' point of view. It laid down that after having heard the evidence, the tribunal, if they desired to raise any evidence in opposition to the claim, were entitled to weigh the evidence of the individual and his witnesses and come to a fair conclusion as to the point of view of the conscientious objector, and to make their decision accordingly. I think it has been accepted in the House that a number of people on these tribunals are performing what I would admit is a very difficult work in a fair manner, but there are others who are allowing their own personal, political and class prejudices to operate to an extent which should not be permitted by the Government of this country, and in a manner which is resented by every decent and fair-minded person. When a boy of 21 to 22 comes before a tribunal you must remember that he has no experience of addressing members of the tribunals. He has no public-speaking experience behind him, with the result that nervousness operates to a considerable degree. Too often a man cannot make a fair defence of his own point of view before a tribunal. A man can often feel better than he can express, and I claim that tribunals are entitled to take into consideration that attitude and not hurry, or to pass observations of a contemptuous kind on the person before them, and make him feel that he is propagating views which are alien either to the tribunal or to the nation.

We must remember that, whether it is right or wrong, everyone brought up in churches or Sunday schools has been taught, "Thou shalt not kill. "It does not say in any teachings or readings I have had, "Thou shalt not kill except when the Government orders you to do so." Therefore, if I accept religious principles and teachings at their face value I am entitled to place my own interpretation on what my religious belief is towards war and my fellow men, and whether I can square my conscience with taking part in a military machine organised to destroy other individuals. With that I, personally, have had no quarrel. But there are individuals who, in many ways, are not getting the fair treatment they are entitled to expect. Such a man is Mr. Ernest Myers, of Halifax. He was treated in a most contemptuous manner by the chairman of the tribunal, and I say that the chairman should be removed immediately from that tribunal as one who is incompetent to deal out fairness to the individual and who allowed his personal antagonisms to overcome his fairness.

I have been asked, "What would you do if somebody attacked you?" I said frankly to the chairman of a Glasgow tribunal "I do not know what I would do in certain circumstances. If a man attacked me it would depend to a large extent on the weapons he possessed." Many a wise man would attempt to escape from a man with a revolver. A stupid man might face up to him and be killed. If a man says, "Yes, I would defend myself," then it is plain he is not a conscientious objector. I put this case to the chairman of the tribunal in Glasgow. Suppose that I am an unemployed man, unable, through financial difficulties, to pay my rent, and an order is given in the Courts by the Sheriff to evict me from my home. If the Sheriff's officer comes to put me, my wife and children and my furniture into the back court, am I entitled to defend myself then? If they are anxious for a man to defend his wife and his own life, am I entitled to shoot the Sheriff's officer? Am I entitled to throw him over the stair-head, because the defence of the individual's home would come right on to his very doorstep and would be more dangerous to him than the foreign invader generally pictured to us by these members of the tribunal. They have no right to condemn a man because he says in an intelligent way, "Yes, I probably would defend myself," and in these circumstances it is held that he is not a conscientious objector at all.

On the other hand, let us take the Christian objector who says he would not take part in any work of military service and would not take part in the machine. He refuses to serve. Quotations from the Bible are thrown at him. Many a man who has an inherent Christian and moral attitude to life has never made a deep study of the Bible. He cannot throw quotations back to the chairman of the tribunal, and they are not entitled to throw them at him to prove that war is being defended by religious bodies. In Glasgow we had a young Jewish lad pleading as a conscientious objector. They sent for a Rabbi to come and give what he believed to be the official Jewish attitude towards war, and the man was turned down, not on his own conscience but because of the Rabbi's interpretation.

There was a case which I brought up and which the Minister defended vigorously. I am not complaining of his defending these chairmen vigorously even when they are doing wrong, because it is done by nearly all Ministers. A Roman Catholic claimed exemption and the chairman said, "Have you consulted your local priest as to whether you should object to military service or not?" The man said: "No, I am appealing here on my belief and interpretation of my religious views. It is not the priest's conscience but mine that is being considered." He was turned down because he did not bring the priest to the tribunal. I was born and brought up and am a Roman Catholic, but I would no more accept the interpretation of an individual clergyman, or even of the head of the Church, than I would accept the definition of the Prime Minister. I have an attitude in life towards war. In fact my impulse towards politics was all born of my earlier religious teaching and belief. My own interpretation and my Christian attitude were to try to improve life, and to leave it better than I found it. But even as a Christian I refuse to foot the bill for the incompetency of Governments throughout the world who have failed to arrive at a just state of society which will prevent war, and then come and ask individuals to go out and fight in that war. This idea of bringing clergymen to the tribunals in order to destroy the claim of the individual is wrong and indefensible and ought not to be allowed, because the conscience of the individual is the thing that matters.

In relation to the political objector, I know that there are a great number of difficulties. Let us take the case made by the right hon. Gentleman. He makes a poor apology for the conscientious objector in presenting the case. Let me give examples of people who are prepared to back war and to oppose war. Take two outstanding cases. The Lord Provost of Glasgow, who is Lord Lieutenant of the County now, is one of the greatest advocates of war against Hitler. That is his attitude to the present war. When he was of military age in the last war he was a conscientious objector. Did he object to taking human life on religious or moral grounds? Was he a political objector or was he simply a coward evading his duty? I am not alleging that he was. I am asking the question. Take the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). He was a conscientious objector in the last war, and, instead of fighting, he accepted a job in an orchard near London. He wants to prosecute this war. I think one of the great dangers in this war is that when the Government get decent peace terms many Members of the Labour party will not allow them to be accepted. They would rather that the war should go on until Hitler and every one associated with him is wiped out, and millions of workers at the same time. I do not object to Hitler being destroyed, but I object to getting through 2,000,000 of the German youth in order to get at him.

The Chairman

The hon. Member is getting a little beyond the scope of the Debate.

Mr. McGovern

Here are two men who were both of military age in 1914, but they refused to serve. They were conscientious objectors. I do not criticise them for that. My criticism is that they are not vigorous in the House in defending other people who hold similar views to what they held in the last war. I am prepared to be as fair as possible, but I would still say to these individuals that they should hold their tongue about what the youth of the nation should do in this war, seeing they did not do it when they were of military age. Were they political objectors, were they Christian objectors or were they simply cowards attempting to save their own skins? I was a conscientious objector in the last war. I

have a son who will be a conscientious objector in this war, because he has been brought up in an environment of hatred of war, because of the belief that we have that war springs from an economic order. I held these views when I was of military age and I still hold them, because I see no reason to change them, when I am over military age. I am a political objector to this extent. The most hateful thing to me in life is the taking of human life. I ask the Committee to accept that. My attitude has even changed within recent years to a considerable extent. I believe in a measure of force to achieve aims and ends that I believe in, but I have seen so much of force and violence and bloodshed and brutality in the world, in Germany, in Russia, in Spain and in other fields, that I begin to doubt whether force ever achieves anything at all. I am being driven logically to that end. I therefore went to the tribunal in the last war and claimed exemption as a conscientious objector, and they treated me perfectly fairly.

On the local tribunal in Glasgow in the last war we had members of the Labour party who were backing the war, but they treated us with the utmost fairness and did not indulge in so much of this denunciation. I walked into the tribunal with my hand in my pocket and the military representative told me to take it out. I reminded him that my hand was in my own pocket. The chairman reprimanded the military representative and said his observation was uncalled for and should not have been made. They told me that I was not a conscientious objector within the meaning of the Act because I said I did not object in certain circumstances to taking human life. I am not trying to lay down a line either for the Minister or for the House, but I should like to see a complete definition. Let me give a case which I read in Mosley's paper, "Action." This individual claimed exemption because he said he was in agreement with the Nazi system in Germany and he objected to being asked to take up arms to overthrow a system that he agreed with. He was exempted from military service as a political objector. I heard no cries in the House about that political objector being exempted. I am prepared to admit that there is a definite difficulty in connection with these political objectors. A man says, "I am pre- pared to take human life in certain circumstances, but it must be a war that I agree with. "For example, one man says he thinks the Government are responsible for the creation of Hitler, and that they had many opportunities of saving the country from a horrible situation, and he cannot be expected to foot the bill after our Ministers have been completely incompetent and inhuman in their treatment of the German people. In the end he is exempted.

The political objector may have gone to fight in the Spanish war but when he comes back here says that he will not fight in this war because he does not agree with it. It reminds me of a story of the Russian Revolution of 1917. A man was asked "Are you going down to the public execution?" He said, "No, I have a private matter of my own on to-night." That may seem the position of a number of people in connection with the present war, and of many other people who could not claim to be conscientious objectors. Many of them tramped the streets of our cities demanding that the Prime Minister be removed because he was not aggressive enough towards Hitler, but afterwards, when he became aggressive and responded to the demand and went to war, they said "It is a bloody, Imperialist war." I am not defending that. I think these individuals should be compelled to face their responsibilities. I myself cannot compromise with any individual in my relationship towards war. It is a genuine, honest point of view. There is, however, a difference between the man who holds that point of view and a man who attempts acts of sabotage against his country in its war effort. I would not do that, and I could not do that. If the nation has decided that war has to be conducted I am entitled to state my views, but I am not entitled to abuse that point of view and attempt to bring greater difficulties in the way of those who are responsible for the country.

A question has been raised about the manufactured conscientious objector. I am not prepared to encourage people to plead conscientious objection because they refuse to play their part in the war and suddenly decide that they have a conscientious objection. A woman came to me with a grievance about her son who had gone into the Army. She said, "John, I think I have a good mind to turn a conscientious objector." I can have nothing to do with cases of that kind. I am prepared to defend those who really feel that they have honest convictions. All I am asking, not in a nasty manner, is that people who have genuine views should not be made to look ridiculous in the eyes of their fellow men, but should be given a fair and square deal, and that the political antagonisms of members of the tribunal should be held in restraint. That is what I am sure every honest and reasonably-minded man demands. While I have no sympathy with the manufactured objector I have every sympathy and support for those who have genuine objections and shall defend them to the uttermost of my power and see that they get justice.

5.20 p.m.

Colonel Burton

I have the greatest admiration for the man who is brave enough to be a conscientious objector at the present time. I admit that I cannot understand his point of view. I am not a conscientious objector myself; indeed, the only regret I have is that so far I have not been able to get back into the Forces. It seems to me that the language of this Debate demands that we should have the presence of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert). The right hon. Gentleman who spoke early in the Debate talked about people "kidding themselves," and then went on to say that one of the judges in the tribunal described the evidence as "tosh." The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) hoped that these men would get "darned difficult jobs," and the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has referred to a "bloody Imperialistic war."

Mr. McGovern

I did not use it as coming from myself, but I was alleging that the Communists have alleged that the war in Spain was a just war, but that now it is said that this is a "bloody Imperialist war."

Colonel Burton

I certainly accept the explanation, and knowing the hon. Member as I do, and his scruples in regard to these matters, I felt that it must be a quotation rather than an original remark. It reminds me of a picture which appeared in "Punch" during the last war. A young subaltern came home and saw his aunt. She asked him what sort of a time he was having, and he said, "I am having a really posh time." His aunt said, "Posh; what does that mean?" He said, "Posh is slang for swish." It seems to me to be getting a little bit away from the Vote of the Ministry of Labour. I feel a certain amount of sympathy with the hon. Member for Shettleston when he says that if he was confronted with a burglar with a pistol he might run away. It reminds me of the Irishman who said that he would rather be a coward for five minutes than a dead man for the rest of his life. It seems to me that this Debate on the conscientious objector is an excrescence on the Vote of the Ministry of Labour, and I would like to bring it back to matters which really do enter into the business of the Ministry.

I want one or two questions answered especially in regard to the courses of instruction for unemployed juveniles. Will the Minister tell us something in regard to the training of young people? There are many who have gone in for this training. We have heard of the land army and that 12,000 girls have been trained. Very few are being employed; and we know that it is almost impossible to get labour on the land in order to get the crops in. Only this afternoon we heard that 5,000 tons of sugar-beet could not be gathered because there is no labour. It seems to me that some of these people might be employed in that way. I should like to know how the Minister is getting on with applications for exemption for agricultural workers. I know many instances where applications have been made for exemption or to get men back from the Army on to the land. Some of them have been replied to by postcard, some by circulars, but very few by a return of the men. This is a matter which should be settled now at the beginning of the season. We shall want every man and woman available on the land, and I think we should get some definite undertaking that these things will be put right. That, I think, is rather more germane to the Vote of the Minister of Labour than academic questions as to whether a man is spiritually-minded or not. Whether a man is spiritually-minded or not, whether he is a conscientious objector or not, he has to eat, and we shall not be able to get the produce of the land unless we get more labour. I would urge the speeding up of the training and also the speeding up of the return of men to the land.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Viant

It is rather unfortunate that this Vote involves such a number of different subjects. The question of the conscientious objector is one of importance to this House and to the Minister of Labour, because his Department is responsible for the machinery which has been set up to deal with these citizens. However much we may disagree with them this House has the responsibility for seeing that its desires are carried out through the machinery. There is no reason whatever for apologising for again asking the House to revert to a consideration of this subject. I have watched the proceedings of a number of these tribunals, and I think I can bear testimony to this extent, that in the main they have undoubtedly carried out the purpose for which they were set up. Like my right hon. Friend I have been rather concerned about the remarks which have been made by some members of the adjudicating body. I think it is unfair to the young men who come before them that these things should be said to men who may owe allegiance to some religious body which is not well-established or thoroughly understood. I do not think that the organisation or the applicant should be made to look ridiculous.

The Minister may not be able to adjust matters but the fact that this question is being raised in the House will serve a useful purpose. The persons who are adjudicating in the tribunals are bound to have their attention drawn to what is occurring in the House, and if the right hon. Gentleman could in any way pass the word along to some of these tribunals which have been reported as making unfair criticisms about the applicant and unfair criticisms about certain organisations, it would serve a useful purpose. I think that, in the main, the tribunals have done their best to create an atmosphere which has enabled the applicants to state their case reasonably, and that, in general, they have to the best of their ability been sympathetic. I hope that the speeches made in this Debate will be noted by those persons who have so in advisedly been making remarks about the applicants and about certain organisations.

There is another matter to which I want to refer. When the hardship committees were set up, we were led to believe that they would consider the real cases of hardship. Undoubtedly, the committees have to cover a great deal of ground, for hardship can be pleaded from a hundred and one different points of view. Is the Minister satisfied that the committees are meeting the real hardship cases? As the age categories of those called up rise, there will come before the hardship committees more and more men who have great hardships in front of them, in the sense that many of them will have the responsibility of running businesses, often their own businesses which they have built up. Probably they will not be engaged on work of national importance, and will come before the committees with a legitimate appeal. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what instructions may have been given as a guide to the hardship committees. When some of the younger men were called up, a widowed mother came to see me in regard to her son having been called upon to register. He was her only son and she had no daughters; she was a widow, and to all intents and purposes, she was an invalid. Her son was the only person upon whom she could rely to act as her nurse, and he did it remarkably well, in spite of his being in business. I suggested to her that she and her son should make an appeal to the hardship committee. Very little consideration was given to her. She stated quite a reasonable case and she produced a doctor's certificate. Her son was called to the Colours almost immediately. The hardship committee said that they would see that he was not sent too far away from his home. His home was in my division of West Willesden, but he was sent to Staffordshire.

Of course, I do not know what may be the difficulties, but I am raising this instance in the hope that the Minister will give us some idea of what are his views on the matter and what instructions may have been given to the committees. I should have thought that it would have been an easy thing to have deferred for a while the mobilisation of that youngman, so as to give his widowed mother an opportunity of making some other arrangements. Being an invalid, she was confronted with the position that the only place for her to go was into a work- house, where she would be cared for. That was a real case of hardship. Yesterday, I had another case, not from a person in my constituency, but from a man who happened to be a member of a trade union with which I am connected. It was a case of an aged father, an invalid, who was wholly dependent upon his son for help in supplementing the income of the home. The son was also acting as a nurse to his father. I am sure that such cases of hardship appeal to the sentiment of the House and the Minister, and I hope we may be told by the Minister whether any guidance is given to the hardship committees with regard to these cases.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

I regret that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) did not find it possible to remain in the Committee very long after she had made her speech. I regret it more particularly because she made some references to me—no doubt, I brought them upon myself, and therefore, I do not complain—which were not accurate, and which I feel call for some explanation from me, especially as they bear very closely upon what has so far been the main subject of discussion. I wish to join with those hon. Members who have pleaded for broad sympathy in dealing with these applicants. I think I am entitled to make that plea because I am one of the Members of the House who, during the last war, took a view very like that which is being taken by these boys to-day. The Noble Lady said that if a man was an out-and-out pacifist on Christian grounds, his objection was spiritual and therefore ought to be respected; and she implied that no objection arrived at in any other way ought to be so respected. In particular, she said that an objection based upon political grounds could not be properly included among the grounds for exemption by the tribunals. I do not understand why an objection which is based upon political grounds should not be conscientious.

I should have liked to have asked the Noble Lady what she would do with a case of this sort. Let us suppose that there was a German citizen, living in Germany in September, 1939, who said, "I am not a pacifist, I cannot say that I believe war to be wrong in itself, and I cannot say that there are not some just wars; but the fact that I believe some wars are just does not necessarily lead me to the conclusion that all wars are just." Let us suppose that such a man said to the authority which called him into the German army to take part in the attack upon Poland, "This is wrong; this war upon Poland is without any kind of moral justification, and whatever may be the consequences to myself, I decline to have any part or lot in it—I will not serve." I want to ask the Minister whether such a man would not be entitled to say that, although he did not object to all wars, he objected to serving, and that his objection was a con scientious objection. If such a man said, "I believe I shall be doing a morally unjustifiable thing if I fire my rifle at a Polish soldier in a war in which I believe the Poles are right and the Germans wrong," would not that bean objection on conscientious grounds? Would not a wise community respect views of that kind? Would it force a man who honestly and conscientiously held that view into a campaign which was an offence to every thing which he held to be right? Of course not. I do not want to engage in controversial history at this moment, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that not every war in which our own country has been involved has been a just one. I can remember the days—

The Chairman

I do not want unduly to interrupt the hon. Member, but I hope that, now that he is coming to the question of the justness or otherwise of wars, he will realise that he is getting beyond the bounds of the subject under debate. I want also to point out to hon. Members a little difficulty I may be in if they stray too far. They must not attempt in this Debate to do the work of the tribunals, and therefore, they must not deal with their ideas as to what is the meaning of "conscientious objection." That has to be decided by the tribunals in each case.

Mr. Silverman

I am obliged to you, Sir Dennis, and I assure you that I am most anxious to keep within the narrow and rather difficult limits of what is proper in this Debate. I did not intend to discuss the rights and wrongs of this or any other war. I intended to make a short reference to the days when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was so active and successful an administrator during the last war, was himself a conscientious objector to a previous war, in order to make the point that where an objection is based upon political grounds, it may nevertheless be a conscientious and indeed a spiritual one. I wanted to inform the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth that in the last war I held that view. I am not a Christian, and nor, at that time, was I a member of any political party. I was very young. Perhaps I may say that my mind was dominated by what I thought were ideals. I had a belief in civilisation as civilisation—as the onward march of the human spirit. I thought that war was a blasphemy and a sacrilege against that onward march, and I thought that the shortest and most effective way in which any individual could make a contribution towards wiping out war, that blot upon civilisation, was to refuse to have any part or lot in it, whenever, wherever, and however it arose. It was not a religious or a political objection in any of the accepted definitions of those words, but I assure the Committee that I held it in conscience.

I believe I could have been exempted otherwise in those days. Certainly, one tribunal after another pressed upon me some kind of alternative service, but I felt it right to say, "No, I cannot make a bargain about it; I object to this thing, and I cannot enter into any sort of arrangement about being excused." I spent some 27 months in prison in consequence. I may have been quite wrong. Certainly, I do not hold those views to-day in quite the same form as that in which I held them then. I think the whole world is a poorer place spiritually now than it was then and I think the war itself contributed to that degeneration. I do not think it would be possible for me now to hold the views which I held then in quite the same form or to act just in the way in which I acted then, but I like to think—again I may be wrong—that I am no worse a man to-day because of the line which I took then, or the opinions which I held, or what happened to me in those days. On the contrary, I think I am better for it and I have, may I say, a certain pride in the recollection of it, even though, as I freely and readily admit, my views now are not altogether those which I held then.

I feel confident that up and down the country to-day there are young men who are not articulate, who do not find it easy to bandy texts and arguments and questions with judges who are trained in the art of cross-examination, while they themselves are probably appearing on the witness stand for the first time in their lives, but who, nevertheless, feel these things deeply, whose minds are obsessed by a great bewilderment. I cannot think that it is right that those men, perhaps because they are inarticulate, perhaps because they are not skilled in verbal fencing, should be damned and condemned and abused as many of them have been—let us admit it—by chairmen of tribunals who ought to have known better. I am not saying that that is the general experience. I am glad to think that it is not, but such cases do occur. I will not mention names, but the Minister knows of one or two cases of chairmen of tribunals who have displayed a lamentable lack of judicial temper in a matter which requires the greatest tact and judgment. I do not wish to say more. I hope I have not strayed too far beyond the bounds of order and that the Committee will forgive me for the personal reference which I could not, in the circumstances, keep out of my speech. I urge the Minister—I know he wants to do so—to keep a close eye on the working of these tribunals, and if he feels satisfied in any case that an appointment to the chair of one of these tribunals is not working out very happily or successfully, I hope he will not be afraid to say so and to act accordingly.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Raikes

I think the Committee appreciate the obvious sincerity with which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has dealt with his own experience in regard to these tribunals, but I do not think it is always sufficiently realised how difficult is the task which the tribunals have to perform. After all, in the House of Commons, rightly or wrongly, we shirk giving any definition of "conscientious objector," and the tribunals are left with an extremely wide and difficult discretion in that connection. There is no use in the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) or anybody else saying that only those who put forward religious ideas as a ground of objection should be exempt. That is not in the Act, and any tribunal which regarded the religious test, important though it be, as the only test would be infringing the very Act under which it was set up by Parliament. On the other hand, it is not enough for a tribunal merely to take at their face value the observations which any conscientious objector, so called, makes when he comes before them. If a gentleman comes forward and says, "I love Hitler," or "I do not like war," or "I strongly object on religious and political grounds," the tribunal has to look into the background of his objection in order to find whether it is genuine or not.

I do not wish to go into the wide question of political objection, except to say that I do not believe any tribunal could take as a conscientious objection the mere observation by a person that on political grounds he disliked war. To accept political grounds alone would lead to the reductio ad absurdum that I might be entitled, when the party opposite, in a year or two, comes into power, to say that on political grounds I objected to paying my taxes, because I did not like the use which the Labour party was making of them. It is necessary to go deeper than that. When people are inclined to be critical of the actions of these tribunals it should be remembered that every tribunal has to keep in mind the fact that it has to do its duty, as far as it can, not to the conscientious objector only, but to the country as well. It has to avoid, if possible, allowing the view to get about that persons can get off simply because they want to shirk service.

The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) referred to the question of clergy being called before the tribunal. I agree that to call a clergyman before a tribunal and to ask him, "Is it not a fact that the official view of your church is in favour of war?" does not take you anywhere. But what I think does take you some part of the way, when somebody has pleaded a religious or even a political objection, is to try to find out where that objection originated, whether it suddenly came into being when the person concerned thought he was in danger of having to fight, or was a view which had been genuinely held by him for a considerable time. In many such cases it has undoubtedly been helpful to tribunals to get the views of a man's own clergyman as to his personal views in the past, thereby enabling some test to be made of the man's word.

Mr. McGovern

I realise that an individual has a right to bring a clergyman to testify for him and I am not against that. Even if an individual states to atribunal that a clergyman knows what his views are and the case is adjourned in order that that clergyman may testify, I do not object to that. But to bring a clergyman to the tribunal and ask him what is the official view of his church and then to condemn a man on that official attitude, is, I say, altogether wrong.

Mr. Raikes

I appreciate the hon. Member's point and I only desire to make clear the difference between the two uses of a clergyman's evidence in these courts. It would be unfortunate if the view got about that this Committee was criticising the use of the evidence of clergymen or of any other persons who knew the objectors pretty well. The task of the tribunals is likely to become more and more difficult as time goes on. In the early days of a war you do not find so much feeling between one household and another as you will get in later stages, when, as may well happen, there are heavy casualties, and a widow, say, has sons killed while she sees other people's sons next door to her, relieved from the obligation to serve. These tribunals will have to be exceedingly careful to make it absolutely plain that each individual case is examined most closely in order to find whether an objection is genuine or not. The criticisms which we have heard to-day have been largely on the ground that the tribunals are too severe. But if they take too easy a view of their task, if they take the statements of all objectors at their face value without close consideration, I am afraid they will act in a manner which will be detrimental to the moral of the nation and not helpful to the winning of the war. They will have to be very careful not to allow the view to get about that all a man has to do is to talk a bit of humbug before a tribunal in order to save his own skin.

5.56 p.m.


My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) said he was doing his best to keep within the narrow confines of this Vote. I was rather astonished at his statement, because I have been struck by the extraordinarily wide range of the Debate so far. I did not anticipate that we should spend such a long time this afternoon in the discussion of pacifism, both theoretical and practical. I do not propose to say much on that aspect of the Vote, but I would like to offer some remarks in regard to the tribunals dealing with conscientious objectors. Everyone in this Committee is an actual or potential conscientious objector. There are circumstances in which a number of the hon. Members opposite would be violent objectors to laws passed by a Socialist Government. We have to realise that there is a real problem in any society, whether capitalist or Socialist, regarding the individual who will not accept the law of the land.

The law may be right or wrong. That is not the point. Inevitably, in any kind of society, you are bound to have individuals who feel within themselves that they must resist the law. In this case unless a man can prove himself to be a conscientious objector he must, at a certain age, be conscripted for military service. Until an individual proves to the satisfaction of the tribunal that he is a conscientious objector, he is held to be liable to military service and the same position would arise in other respects under other Governments and in other societies. It is always possible for an individual or a group of individuals conscientiously to object to certain laws. I can understand, therefore, the difficulty with which the tribunals are confronted and I have pleasure in agreeing that in the majority of cases, the members of the tribunals are doing their work as conscientiously as the objectors themselves would desire.

It is equally true, however, that there have been strange discrepancies and disparities in the decisions of tribunals. The Minister has had his attention drawn to the fact that, apparently, it is assumed that there are more genuine conscientious objectors in the Bristol area than in London. It does not seem to say much for London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Apparently 30 per cent. of conscientious objectors in the Bristol area have been granted absolute exemption, but the number of cases in which the London tribunals have granted exemption has been not more than 1 per cent. at the outside. I mention that in passing, because something ought to be done to secure uniformity in these decisions. I believe the Minister of Labour recognises that there are conscientious objectors who base their objections on broad ethical and moral grounds, as well as those who object on religious and Christian grounds. My own brother-in-law, a former Member of this House, was imprisoned for two-and-a-half years during the last war because he objected on political grounds and we have to realise that a man may be perfectly genuine in objecting on political grounds and may be willing to suffer prolonged hardship in order to vindicate his objection.

I am sure the Minister appreciates that point of view, and I only hope that he will find some means in the weeks and months immediately ahead, of bringing about, first, a realisation of the view that a man may still be conscientious, if he does not hold to a particular theological or doctrinal position, and, secondly, a greater uniformity of decisions as between one tribunal and another. At the present time the number of conscientious objectors is relatively small, but if, unfortunately, we have to extend the age of military service up to 40, as in the last war, it will probably be found that there are approximately 100,000 men in this country who are conscientious objectors. By an easy calculation it is possible to estimate that there are at least half a million people in the country who are pacifists of one kind or another. That is a very considerable number.

It is on no ground of special treatment that I, and others, plead for the just treatment of the conscientious objectors who want to uphold the traditions of this country of freedom and liberty. Obviously, you cannot treat this potential number of 100,000 as consisting of cranks, fools, knaves or idiots. They may hold, not only genuine convictions, but they may have a case to support their convictions. I have noticed the tendency in various parts of the House to accept a man as a perfectly genuine pacifist so long as at the same time he is accepted as being a little simple in the head—like the simple early Christians, pictured in Bernard Shaw's play, "Androcles and the Lion." The fact is that there are many conscientious objectors who have a very strong case, and, included among them, are some of the finest minds in the country. Further, do not let it be thought that a pacifist is holding himself up as a self-righteous person, morally superior to everybody else. Pacifists know, and recognise that there are very great difficulties for the tribunals, and they appreciate that a very great step forward has been made since the last war in that we should be able to establish tribunals who on the whole give fair treatment. Pacifists think that they are also serving the country, even though it may not meet with the approval of this House, or of the majority of the country. I can assure the Committee that those I know are genuinely trying to serve the interests of the country and humanity. They think that at long last their services will be as true as those fighting in the Forces.

Perhaps I may now turn to the question of the hardship committees. It should be appreciated that in some cases very genuine hardship has not always been met with the consideration that, was expected. I can quote, as others have done, many instances of men with small businesses, or in similar circumstances, who have been forced to break up their business and eventually find their way into the fighting forces. Greater consideration might be given to these small business men. It is a very great misfortune that applicants before the hardship committees cannot have a legal representative as can conscientious objectors. Surely, it should be open to applicants on the basis of industrial or business hardship to have a legal representative as well, because many of these business men are just as incapable of effectively expressing their case as some of the conscientious objectors. The Minister of Labour might sympathetically consider the possibility of allowing business applicants to have a legal representative to express their case in an expert way.

Finally, I would express the hope that more postponements of service will be granted by the hardship committees on the grounds of compassion to only sons of widows. I have brought this matter before the House and have personally drawn the attention of the Minister of Labour to it. I hope he will deal with it sympathetically. At the same time, although I have been assured that it is possible to grant postponement to only sons of widows, I know of no case, as yet, where it has been done. I earnestly hope that in the future functions of the hardship committees it will be appreciated that only sons of widows can secure postponement, not only interpreted on the basis of financial hardship, but in other ways as well. In other parts of the world, and I think in France, only sons have been allowed postponement of service and even complete cancellation. Whatever reason we may feel on this matter, I think it is generally accepted that only sons of widows stand in a special category. In many cases they are only sons of widows who lost sons in the last war. I could give many harrowing instances from my own personal experiences of women who have lost their husbands after only a few months of married life during the last war who now are likely to have their only sons called up and taken away from them. Cannot hardship be interpreted to cover cases of this kind not merely from the standpoint of financial difficulty, but of humanity as well?

6.10 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

I am very glad that the House has had this Debate to-day, because it will probably enable the Minister of Labour to introduce the reforms in the regulations which are apparently very essential at the present time. In so far as my experience in the North of England is concerned, regarding the tribunals to which reference has been made, I would say that these have been conducted extraordinarily fairly and dispassionately, and, indeed, generously so far as judgments are concerned. I happen to know the judge, hailing from Newcastle, to whom reference has been made. I can only conclude that his irregular observations were merely a lapse, because he has a reputation for great fairness and consideration. We can only conclude that he was carried away.

The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) would, I think, be very dangerous on a tribunal, for while she expresses her appreciation of the work of the tribunals she states that those who were excused would, if she had her way, be compelled to do most disagreeable tasks—that is to say that those who were excused, against their will would be forced to perform certain national tasks in aid of the nation's work. The main objection, in my judgment, to the administration or the handling of tribunals—the prices of goods tribunals, the aliens tribunals, and the hardship tribunals—is that the regulations seem to ignore the fact that we are living in a democratic age. It is difficult to understand why those appealing before such tribunals are debarred from having a legal representative. All would agree, I think, that it is probably one of the most difficult tasks in the world for an applicant, without previous knowledge and experience, to appear before a tribunal.

We all know the kind of cases. I have experienced them as a magistrate, and have seen that it is difficult for a man to say any word in his defence. In the case of hardship tribunals the situation is more intense because the applicant feels that his very life or liberty is in danger. We can understand his feelings and that his nervousness is likely to prevent him from expounding his own case to his, or anybody else's, satisfaction. It is true that applicants may have trade union representation, personal friends, or relatives, but these are not skilled legal representatives, and they do not, and cannot, make up for the lack of a legally trained mind. With regard to the apprehensions in appearing before their fellows, I have had cases in my own division in which the wives of soldiers, seeking additional relief, have actually forgotten the number of their family and have had to go back again, or make further appeals in writing to the tribunal, on the ground that their nervousness carried them away.

It may be of historic interest, in this connection, to recall Earl Baldwin's ennoblement. I happened to be in the House of Lords at that time after the ceremony had been completed. One would imagine that with all his wide experience nothing would have affected his equanimity, and yet he observed to me, "Adams it is the most nerve-racking experience of my life." Why was that so? It was because in the interregnum between leaving this House and the period of his ennoblement he had had time to reflect upon that forthcoming experience, and it had become a matter of nervous apprehension.

These tribunals are not judicial bodies. Bodies dealing with Income Tax are also administrative bodies, but the law carefully provides that in order that justice shall be done between the Crown and the appellant in the matter of taxation he shall be entitled to the best legal advice that he can provide. It is singular in this connection that, while the National Service (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939, lay down that the applicant is debarred from being represented by a counsel or a solicitor, yet the conscientious objector is put in a privileged position. I do not object to his having all the benefits that can be afforded to him, because some of my friends are honest conscientious objectors. If, however, it is just and proper in their case it must be equally just and proper in the case of applicants to hardship committees. I am satisfied that in my constituency, although applicants can be represented by trade union officials or friends, great hardship arises because they are denied legal assistance. I would ask the Minister to take this matter into serious consideration and introduce the necessary change to enable applicants to have legal representation.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Wilfrid Roberts

I should like to ask the Minister for a further explanation why an applicant before a hardship tribunal is not allowed to have legal advice. He is allowed to bring with him his trade union secretary or a friend, but in many cases the person concerned is not a member of a trade union. His position is thus worse than that of others who have the advantage of having their case put by a person who has more experience in putting cases than the ordinary individual has. Many small business men, shopkeepers and others, may suffer particular hardship if they cannot have a postponement in which to put their affairs in order. The Minister made a concession recently so that the applicant could be represented at the appeal tribunal, and that seems to have admitted the case for allowing them to be represented, while leaving the chief injustice unremedied, because it is at the first hearing that the most important decisions are taken. If the decision of the hardship committee is unanimous no appeal can be made, and it can only be made by leave of the committee.

It is, therefore, important that the applicant's case should be put clearly in the first instance. I have the case of a man who suffers from a serious stutter and was incapable of putting his case clearly. He was allowed to take a friend, but why should he not have been allowed to take the solicitor who normally attended to his business affairs and knew them nearly as well as he did and who could have put his case clearly and simply? I find it difficult to understand what is the general reason for this discrimination against the legal profession. It is trained in putting complicated cases as simply and clearly as possible, and surely it is an advantage that the case of a man who feels that he will suffer real hardship unless his service is postponed should be put as clearly and simply as possible.

6.22 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I hope the Minister will look into the case which has just been put. I cannot understand it, except on the basis that in no circumstances can a counsel be regarded as a friend. It may be due to the necessity of preventing the legal atmosphere permeating a tribunal which ought not to be dependent on legality for the correctness of its decisions. In the court of referees a similar procedure is adopted and I would, from experience, vote against the inclusion of the law and of the legal atmosphere in the proceedings. At the same time, I do not see why in the case of the hardship committee a case cannot go to appeal unless it is allowed by the chairman of the committee which has made the decision. There is little chance of an appeal being allowed in those circumstances, because the appellant has to show that some new evidence can be brought which was not produced in the original claim.

I do not want to go over the interesting arguments as to the conduct of the tribunals, but I know that in the north more than 50 per cent. of the appellants have been dealt with in a way which leaves it possible for them to appeal to another tribunal. My complaint is that the appellate tribunal is held in London. I am not complaining about the treatment of the men who have appealed and have come to London, for they have received railway fares and reasonable expenses, but in the interests of national economy and of transport facilities I think that where a large number of people are given the opportunity of appealing it is only common sense to set up in the north an appeal court to which they can go. I do not think all the legal luminaries are in London. I know something about some who are outside London, and it would not be beyond the power of the Minister to find in Lancashire or Yorkshire a judge of sufficient acumen to try these cases. I would, therefore, appeal to the Minister to set up an appellate tribunal somewhere in the north in order to save the journeyings to and from London.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I think the Committee can feel that we have had a useful discussion on this Vote. We have, I am sure, heard a variety of language and a variety of opinions. I can only say that when the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton) began to repeat the language that had been used by other people, I was a little disappointed that he did not, as a colonel, give us a specimen of what he could do himself. I recall that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) once told the House that in his younger, and, I am sure, what he would regard as his unregenerate, days he was a private in one of the Volunteer regiments in Glasgow and got a prize of £5 for being the smartest and best-turned-out soldier in the regiment. We have heard how far he was prepared to go in the way of quotations, and if that is what a private can do, I would have liked to hear how high a colonel could have risen.

I want to deal with one or two points that have arisen in the Debate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), I regret that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) made her speech and then disappeared so quickly, because I hope that what she said this afternoon will have as little influence on the tribunals as it will have on the Committee. If they were asked to adopt any such rough and ready generalisation for a definition of conscience as she suggested it would be disastrous, because she is, apparently, prepared to exempt spiritual Christians. I suppose that there is nothing more difficult to define than a Christian.

Mr. MacLaren

No, that is easy.

Mr. Ede

I know very religious people who would decline to regard a lady who holds the views that are generally attri- buted to the Noble Lady as a Christian. I know that while I humbly call myself a Christian, and while I realise how far short I am bound to fall from any such real definition, there are people who would distinctly deny to me and to my denomination the appellation of Christian. Therefore, it is very difficult to adopt any such rough and ready generalisation. I suggest that the proper thing for the tribunal to do is to hear the man himself and his witnesses and endeavour to find out in each individual case how far a man's conscience is offended by military service. There can be no other safe ground on which a decision can be reached. We must realise that conscience is a highly individual thing and that we cannot generalise about it. We all know people who, generally, are most scrupulously honest, and yet they apparently have no conscientious objection to trying to get a ride on a bus or in a railway train without paying the proper fare. I have often heard it suggested that there are certain people who are most scrupulously honest with regard to every document they sign, except their Income Tax forms. It only proves how difficult a task this House has set these tribunals in asking them to decide this issue without-giving them any real definition of "conscience" or "conscientious objection."

I have only one other thing to say about the tribunals. I speak as one who was not a conscientious objector in the last war. Were I of military age, I would not be a conscientious objector in this war. Therefore, I hope I shall be regarded as one who has not been individually interested in this controversy. I have been distressed at times at reading the comments that have been passed by members of tribunals on men who in very difficult circumstances, have been called upon to lay before a tribunal their innermost and sacred instincts. It is always easy to make fun of sacred things that another person happens to possess. The Minister is a Nonconformist, and he knows the way in which, in the long and bitter history of past centuries in this country, the Nonconformist denominations have been held up to public ridicule for the way in which they expressed their individual views on matter of conscience. I could hope it were possible for some members of tribunals to refrain on occasion from making the quick comment that comes rather easily to the mind and sometimes far too easily to the lips when one is handling matters of this kind. Let us realise that, trivial and perhaps puerile as some of the statements made by these men may appear to persons sitting on the tribunal, they are statements representing very sacred principles to the persons who make them and to hundreds of thousands of other people in the country. It does not assist to get a good spirit in this matter or a feeling of respect for the tribunals and their decisions when such comments are uttered.

We all know the case of a judge who advised a body of country magistrates that they should not comment on a case and that, while their decisions would probably be right, their comments would almost certainly be wrong. One feels that that general principle should be applied by some tribunals to a much greater degree than has been the case up to the moment; but, on the whole, the tribunals have done their work well and have earned the gratitude of this House, which placed a very heavy burden upon them. Any criticism which I may appear to have made against them is directed mainly to ensuring that they might gain outside this House some of the gratitude that many of us inside this House feel for them.

6.36 p.m.

Mr. E. Brown

The Committee is very much obliged to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for the speech which he has just made. It is frequently the individual criticism which gets the headlines, while the solid appreciation goes unrewarded. I am therefore grateful personally for what the hon. Member has said. It was my responsibility to carry out the will of this House in appointing the tribunals, and I must not be taken as accepting for one moment the criticism which has been levelled at their constitution. I have no doubt that members of the tribunals will read all that has been said. According to my experience, there is a tremendous volume of opinion in this country that is most sympathetic to the conscientious objectors, and I am sure that the handling of the problem in this war is immeasurably superior to that of the last war. That is due, of course, to the wisdom of Parliament in learning from experience. I assure the Committee that I have really tried to face up to my duty—of course in consultation with the Lord Chancellor—in selecting the members of the tribunals.

The Noble Lady hoped that great care would be taken in this matter. I can assure her that great care was taken. Members of long experience have, I am glad to say, expressed their appreciation several times of the difficulties of the problem. It was not always easy to get the tribunals formed. One of the ablest members of a particular tribunal replied to me, when I asked him to serve: "It is a public duty and it is so disagreeable that I cannot refuse to do it." That is a human and intimate story, but it sheds a flood of light upon the position. In regard to the actual conduct of the tribunals it is not for me to judge. Parliament did not attempt in this subtle and individual matter to lay down anything in a hard and fast manner, but put upon the Minister and the Lord Chancellor the responsibility of appointing the tribunals. It asked Members of the Government to try, in doing this duty, to secure a high standard of impartiality. Of all the many duties I have had to undertake in the course of my ministerial life I can honestly tell the Committee and the country that there has not been one about which I have taken more personal care. It was my duty to ask members of the tribunal to undertake a very difficult task.

It is the incidental remark that sometimes gets the headlines, but you want to have been in the court, heard what provoked it, and known the atmosphere of the court before you can realise the situation and give a correct judgment. The right hon. Gentleman who followed me at the opening of the Debate said there appeared to be a lack of uniformity in the decisions of the various tribunals. Analysis of the full results shows that the lack of uniformity is not as great as would appear. I have analysed all the results in regard to the issuing of unconditional exemptions and have put the tribunals into the categories of those who have given that exemption in less than 10 per cent. of their cases, those who have given between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. and those who have given over 20 per cent. It happens that seven, the largest number of tribunals in any of these three categories, are in the middle category. Their decisions vary between 11 per cent. and 18 per cent. That is a very remarkable figure when you con- sider the subtlety of the issue, the difference in people's circumstances and the many different backgrounds between one area and another. There were three tribunals which some hon. Members will think have been too lenient, but other hon. Members will say that they have been just right, while five tribunals have given that exemption in less than 8 per cent. of the cases. That general statement will put the matter more into perspective than some of our discussion could do.

It has been my duty, where there happened to be a difference of principle, to go to the appeal tribunal. It happens that the only point of principle that we have discussed this afternoon is the very one which I have done my best to clear up. The Minister of Labour cannot be the judge in these matters. The tribunals are the judges. It is my duty to elicit from the appeal tribunal a decision upon a difficult point of principle in order to get the matter established as far as possible.

Mr. Silverman

When the Ministry of Health is the authority on a point of principle on which the Ministry expresses no view but invites a decision by an appellate tribunal, does the Minister take care to see that all the reasons for and against on both sides are put forward, or does he identify himself with one side, in regard to the point of principle?

Mr. Brown

He sets the case out and asks for results, in terms of the particular case. There was a case recently of a man who by reason of conscience which was against all war, and the question was whether a man who had a political conscience about a particular war should be exempt. What the appeal tribunal did was to give a decision, but it did not give the judgment on the general point of principle.

Mr. Creech Jones

Is it not a fact that in the particular case to which the Minister has referred the point of principle was not determined; but the man, who had been judged by the lower tribunal as entitled to absolute exemption, has as a result of the Minister's appeal, been passed into the Army for military service; that the man is now awaiting arrest and will consequently go to prison because of his conscientious objection to war?

Mr. Brown

I could not accept that statement, because anybody who is aware of the whole details of the case will know from the setting of the case and the way it was heard, and from the attitude taken by the friends who advised the man, that I am not able to accept the last sentence. It may be unfortunate that the matter was upset on my appeal, but that fact shows the point of difficulty and how wise the House of Commons was not to lay down a definition.

May I put another matter into focus in a very simple way? I want the Committee to know just how things are going. I gather that the Committee may be inclined to think that hardship tribunals are not dealing with the real cause and that there is not a remedy in a particular hard case. The fact is that, up to 31st January, the hardship committees had considered 13,052 cases. They have granted postponement in 7,666 cases, and they have refused postponement in 5,386 cases, so that the majority of the decisions before the hardship committees have been in favour of the applicants in regard to postponement. I think that will relieve the minds of many hon. Members who have merely examined one or two cases. I go further than that. While it is true that there are limitations by regulations about the appeals, there is no restriction upon the Minister in these cases of the type that have been referred to in the Committee this afternoon, including the three cases mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. I would say to the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) that the Umpire is now sitting in the North.

Mr. Tomlinson

I would point out that I was referring to the Appeal Tribunal with regard to conscientious objectors.

Mr. Brown

There is no reason why the Appeal Tribunal should not meet anywhere in the country if the course of business and the general convenience make it necessary to do so. With regard to appeals that have been made, 283 have been made so far, 67 by applicants and 216 on behalf of the Minister. Up to 15th February, there were 50 judgments given, in 33 cases the umpire has granted postponement, and in 17 he has refused it. A large proportion of appeals made by the Minister have been made on behalf of the applicants, and I think that will relieve the minds of hon. Members so far as that is concerned.

Mr. Dingle Foot

Has the Minister any figures showing how many applications have been made for leave to appeal and how many of those applications have been refused?

Mr. Brown

No, I have not the figures now. I do not know whether I could get them, but if I have them in convenient form, I shall be glad to produce them. I am not sure that they are in convenient form.

Mr. Creech Jones

In the case of the hardship tribunal, where the postponement is for a period of six months, would it be competent for the men who receive such postponement to appeal again at the end of that period?

Mr. Brown

Certainly, they can apply again. Six months is a convenient period, and circumstances may change one way or the other, but there is no limit to six months. I was asked what instructions have been given to the hardship committees. The instructions will be found in 1939 Cmd. Paper 1541, and the chief headings are these: "Domestic position," "Business responsibilities and interests," "Individual circumstances and other cases." I think that these regulations are reasonably clear.

I will now refer to the other points which have been puzzling hon. Members. Three hon. Members have said that they do not understand why there is one procedure with regard to representation before the tribunal and another before the hardship committee. The problem which was set me with regard to tribunals was a double one. The first was to judge a series of human cases, most of them domestic, and some of them affecting men with the business responsibilities. I asked myself what kind of tribunal I should have; was there a tribunal existing which would be suitable to determine, not generally matters of opinion or argument, but matters of fact? It so happens that I had in my mind a well-tried tribunal. Whatever difficulties we may have had in the courts of referees under the Unemployment Insurance Act in the early days, we have had 25 years' experience of them, and I am sure the hon. Member for Farnworth is right when he says that whatever view one might have about the hardship committee, he would not change the system of the court of referees. I am sure that a large number of solicitors who are chairmen of these courts of referees would not change that view.

The composition of the court of referees is that you have a solicitor as chairman; he has with him a representative of local employers and representatives of the trade unions who are chosen from a wide panel in the area. During the 25 years in which they have met the overwhelming majority of the courts of referees have met in private and not in public. Twelve years ago there was a great agitation in order to change the system. A man may have had a friend to represent him, but he could not have a legal representative, and there was a strong agitation. The case was put to a Royal Commission, which heard exhaustive evidence and came to the decision that it was undesirable to make a change. I agree that there are cases where a lawyer can put a case better than other people, but the Commission came to the conclusion that there would be a great advantage in having a human and intimate procedure, not bound by the rules of evidence.

This is not an easy case, and I have considered it sympathetically. I said to myself, "Here is a tribunal of a kind which we should have. It is a well-established tribunal; it is used to determining matters of fact, and it is a tribunal whose members are used to people telling them a simple story in a simple way. It is a tribunal where people are used to coming and giving evidence on behalf of applicants who cannot give evidence clearly, a tribunal which has worked extremely well over a quarter of a century." My alternative was to form a new set of tribunals. That would have been a tremendous task, setting up hundreds of tribunals; finding the personnel to do the kind of work required would have been a formidable task indeed. I came to the conclusion that the tribunal I had in mind had the desirable kind of atmosphere, and the results which I have read to the Committee indicate that at any rate the majority of the applicants have succeeded in making their cases. The Government were asked to consider it; they did so, weighed the arguments, and came to the conclusion that they should do two things. They had to weigh the evidence put before them by the Law Society, and they ought to ask the confederation of employers on the one hand and the trade union representatives on the other as to whether they thought this change should be made. The Government received a reply from both of them saying that they thought the change ought not to be made.

We also considered an argument put forward that before an umpire there was more likelihood of argument than before a court, and that we ought therefore to make it possible to have legal representation before the Umpire. That is being done. I think the House will agree that the problem was formidable. If it had been said that the hardship committee had not been working well that would have been a different story. However, I am happy to say that I have had a mere trickle of letters on this issue. I therefore came to the conclusion that the old well-established atmosphere of the original court of referees now applied to the hardship tribunal is working well, and the Government having considered that have come to the conclusion that there is no reason to change it That is the answer to that case.

Mr. Tomlinson

Could the Minister inform the House how these courts are called together and on what basis the rota is fixed to deal with these urgent cases?

Mr. Brown

The usual practice is to make the rota work as easily as possible. It is a very heavy strain, of course, but what is done is to try and make the whole thing go as fairly and easily as possible.

Mr. Tomlinson

I presume it is the secretary of the committee who decides?

Mr. Brown

Certainly. There is one addition which I should make to my answer. If the hon. Member looks in the Postponement Regulations, he will find that there is one exception to the statement I made that there was no limit to the period of postponement. The exception is with regard to the limit of 12 months to postponement on grounds of business responsibilities.

I now wish to refer to the point put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton). The answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that we are continuing the farm training scheme for boys. Since the outbreak of the war we have altered the Schedule of areas of recruitment to include Margate, Ramsgate, and Southend. The hon. and gallant Member also asked about getting men out of the Army. He will understand that there are two problems. There is first the problem of the men going in. The other problem is more difficult, because it arises out of the fact that a decision was made before the war not to apply the Schedule of Reserved Occupations to the Territorial Forces in its present form. I think it will be understood why this was so. At a time when we had not got full establishment it would have made great difficulties, but now that position has been met. I may say that efforts have been made to expedite this matter.

Mr. Woodburn

Would the Minister permit me to put a question on this matter of the allocation of these men? Who is responsible for the case of, say, motor mechanics who might be very useful in a mechanised corps being sent to do ordinary infantry work, and what steps are being taken to prevent round pegs going into square holes?

Mr. Brown

Three things have been done. An exhaustive examination is being made in the Army. Then there are employers who are asking for skilled men who, they think, should not be in the Army, and in cases where they provide lists of men we forward them to the War Office. The Army make their examination, and in a number of cases men have been released. The last point is this: Some of the trade unions have provided a list of names, and there is an arrangement by which some of the men concerned are being gradually released. It is not always easy to release a man who is overseas.

Mr. Woodburn

I cannot have made myself quite clear. I am referring to a man like a motor mechanic who has been called up, who states that he has certain mechanical skill, and who feels that if he were put into a unit looking after horses, his skill would not be used to the best advantage. I am wondering whether it is the responsibility of the Minister of Labour for allocating him to that particular corps or whether the responsibility is that of the Army itself.

Mr. Brown

It depends on the man's position under the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. A skilled man of the kind the hon. Member seems to have in mind is called up for the Army only if he is going into the corresponding trade in the Army. If he has not correctly stated his trade when he registered, that is his fault. Every effort is made to get not only the occupations of people, but any particular aptitudes or hobbies that they have.

Mr. Woodburn

Is it the right hon. Gentleman's Department or the War Office which allocates them?

Mr. Brown

My Department determines, inside the working of the Schedule, where a man should be allocated; but it is the War Office which decides how he shall be used when he is in the Army.

Mr. Tomlinson

When the Minister of Labour comes into conflict with the Minister of National Service, who decides?

Mr. Brown

We exercise reasonable good will, and always manage to get a reconciliation.

7.2 p.m.

Sir William Wayland

In the last war I was chairman of a tribunal, and I found that in many cases—I am speaking of hard cases—it was quite impossible for men, especially small tradesmen, to put their cases before the tribunal. I found, however, that the conscientious objector was usually well able to do it. I think that every man should be permitted to engage legal assistance for pleading his case before the tribunal. Here you have a committee of about 21, and you can quite understand that a man who is not able to put his case properly has not the same chance as one who has the "gift of the gab." As the liberty of every Englishman, whether he be a conscientious objector, a small trader, or anybody else, is dear to us, every man should be able to engage legal counsel on his behalf.

7.4 p.m.

Major Milner

I had not intended to intervene, but, in view of the fallacious arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, I feel bound to saya word or two. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the reason, in the main, why legal representation was not permitted for applicants appearing before hardship tribunals was that the question before the tribunal was one of fact—and hence not a proper one, presumably, for legal representation. But I would point out to him that all litigation and all criminal trials turn upon questions of fact. If the right hon. Gentleman's reason was a good one, it would be a very good reason for doing without a prosecutor or counsel for the defence in a criminal trial. The argument was completely fallacious. The matter goes further than that, though I have only just appreciated it, because these matters are done by regulation, and, to say the least, have not been brought prominently before the House.

While legal representation is forbidden in the case of hardship committees, and also in the case of prices of goods committees—where an inquiry can lead to a fine of £500 and imprisonment for two years—and also in the case of the aliens tribunals, it is permitted, apparently, for what many people think not the most meritorious class of applicant, namely, the conscientious objector. I should have thought it extremely difficult for a lawyer to express adequately the conscience and feeling of such an objector, although no doubt lawyers do their best in such cases. I should have thought, however, that cases involving questions of life or liberty or cases where the ruin of a business, or the case of the only son of a widow, and all sorts of considerations of that kind, are such that legal representation should be permitted. It would not be compulsory, of course, in any sense of the word; it would be permissible; and, as the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal benches indicated, the fact that it is desirable is recognised by the right hon. Gentleman, since he permits legal representation before the Appeals Tribunal. The position, apparently, is going to be that if one desires to appeal, and can afford legal representation before the Appeals Tribunal, one is entitled to it; but if one desires to put forward one's case in the best form possible before the original local tribunal, one cannot do it. I was impressed by what the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said, in regard to an individual who. suffered from a stutter or something of that sort. In such a case—or, indeed, in any case where a man feels as strongly as he may do when his life or his livelihood may be at stake—he should be; entitled to have legal representation.

I remember that in the last war a suggestion was made that legal representation should be done away with; but the chairmen of all the then appeal tribunals, and I think the present chairman of the conscientious objectors' tribunal, Mr. Fisher, who was then a Minister, all agreed that representation was desirable, and that it affected a great saving of time in the work of the tribunals. While it may be true that comparatively few complaints have occurred so far, the appeals have only been in connection with men of 20 to 24. When the cases of older men, with greater responsibilities, come along, I think there will be a public demand for the right to be represented. If that right is not given, I fear that it will lead inevitably to the feeling that advantage is taken by officials of the ignorance of individuals, and that their elementary rights are being taken away from them. People will possibly lose their faith in judicial bodies, and the rule of law about which we hear so much, and upon which the Constitution rests, may well crumble away.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £,560,010, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, grants to local authorities, associations and other bodies in respect of unemployment insurance, employment exchange and other services; expenses of transfer and resettlement; expenses of training of unemployed persons and, on behalf of the Army Council and Air Council, of soldiers and airmen; contribution towards the expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); expenses of the Industrial Court; expenses in connection with national service; expenses in connection with persons liable to be registered and called up for military training and for service in the armed forces of the Crown; and sundry services.

Back to
Forward to