§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is twofold. The first portion of the Bill introduces compulsory recruitment for the Civil Defence Services on, broadly, the same lines as for the Armed Forces. The second part of the Bill proposes to effect certain amendments of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act which experience has shown to be necessary. The Bill has been found necessary owing to the shortage in certain districts of whole-time workers for Civil Defence. After carefully reviewing the whole of the circumstances, the Government came to the conclusion that it is imperative that these Civil Defence Forces should be kept up to full strength. The House will appreciate that the original conception of the Civil Defences was based on a citizen force made up of local, part-time, unpaid volunteers, who would consent to be trained, equipped and organised by the local authorities, to come to the aid of their neighbours in time of need. And I should like to emphasise that, notwithstanding the necessity that has arisen to 604 introduce this conscripting Measure for Civil Defence Forces, the original conception of the citizen force remains unimpaired. In fact, it is fortified by the response that has been made all over the country to give this great service voluntarily.
I cannot give in public the exact figures of the force, but I am sure it is a matter for congratulation that 90 per cent. are giving service as part-time volunteers at this moment in their spare time, and there is no intention to depart from this principle. In fact, the nation has every reason to be proud of the high sense of duty and the courage shown by this great force. The way in which the service has carried out the stern tasks that have fallen upon it is one of the best demonstrations of the will of the people of this country to achieve victory, but from the start it was found necessary to provide in the more vulnerable areas a nucleus of whole-time personnel, and in other areas to rely almost entirely on part-time volunteers. I have no doubt the Lord President, as he has watched this great force come into operation, must have felt a sense of satisfaction at the conception and the working-out of this great scheme. It is true that there may have been defects here and there, but that is not due to the conception of the scheme, but, rather, to the British trait of not always recognising dangers until we are hit.
The position now has become one of difficulty. The increased call for the Armed Forces and for men and women for vital war industries, together with the intensity of air raids, has increased the demands made upon this force, and, I repeat, in some areas and in some services the nucleus of whole-time volunteers is below the requisite establishment. We are satisfied that this can be met quickly and completely only by adopting the principle of compulsory recruitment. It will be clear to the House that this Bill adopts that principle, and for the first time places the Civil Defence Services on the same plane as other Defence Services in relation to the man-power resources of the country. What has been giving us particular concern has been the shortage of recruits for whole-time service in the Auxiliary Fire Service, first-aid parties and the Police War Reserve.
We have adopted many expedients with a view to filling up these gaps. Some 605 4,000 trained firemen were returned from the Array. Then we tried the expedient of interviewing men who registered for military service on nth and 18th January respectively, individually approaching them at the time of medical examination and giving them the opportunity of joining one of the services which I have mentioned. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Home Security made a personal appeal in the London region to join the Auxiliary Fire Service. With all this the results have not brought the requisite numbers for whole-time service. There are many reasons for this, arising from a variety of causes. There is no reluctance on the part of any of our citizens to take their share in the defence of the country—I want to make that quite clear—but when the men are called up in this way for military service and have been looking forward to the time of medical examination there is a natural inclination that such men should choose one of the traditional Fighting Services. Therefore, without an obligation being placed on them, indeed without the Civil Defence Services being placed on a par with the Fighting Services, the choice does not seem, in their minds, to come within the same category as the old traditional Fighting Services. We are quite satisfied that there are many who have no special inclination towards a particular Service who would welcome the provision now proposed, and others will respond willingly as soon as they are called.
This Bill accordingly proposes to make liable for Civil Defence service men who are liable for service in the Armed Forces of the Crown under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939. It imposes similar liabilities upon men who are registered under that Act as conscientious objectors, on condition that they take up some specified work of a civilian nature under civilian control. Civil Defence work is essential work of a civilian nature, and will continue to be under civilian control, and it is particularly humanitarian. We have taken steps which will safeguard conscientious objectors against being drafted into the police, because the police have sometimes to carry arms. 1 hate to disappoint hon. Ladies, but I have again to announce inequality between the sexes, because women are not included in the Bill.
606 It is not proposed to draft younger men into the Civil Defence Service, but to draw mainly from those over 30 or possibly 35 years of age. There is a proposal under consideration, about which no decision has been arrived at, to review the cases of men who have been placed in Medical Grade 3 on account of certain limited physical defects and who might, nevertheless, be quite capable of rendering Civil Defence Service. Under the instructions given to the medical boards, in reference to the standards that have to be observed for the Army, many things which have caused people to be placed in Grade 3 may not be very important for this Civil Defence Service. In addition, many persons now serving as wardens in the Civil Defence Service are of physical condition on a par with those who have been placed in Grade 3. I need not enumerate the kind of thing it involves, but careful selection will be made.
§ Mr. Bevin
Yes, Sir, certainly. There may be, for example, a man who has a finger off and who therefore is not available for the Armed Forces. He is probably a case for Grade 3, but he might be quite able to drive a lorry for the Civil Defence Service. Limited physical defects which cause men to be placed in a low grade for the Services may not exclude them from serving for Civil Defence. These cases will have to be reviewed very carefully. This proposal taps a source of younger men about which I know the House has been very concerned in the past. The endeavour will be made to place men in their home towns, and in the Services for which they express preference.
We shall utilise exactly the same machinery for calling-up as we use for calling-up for the Armed Forces, and we shall place before those who are called up the same form of preference as now applies for the three other Services. The House will be aware that the person who is called up can say whether he wants to go into the Navy, the Army or the Air Force. There will now be added this additional preference, which he will be allowed to select. The same provisions as to medical examination and application for postponement of calling-up on grounds of hardship will apply, as now apply to the other Services, but penalties are pro- 607 vided in the Bill for men who fail to present themselves when called.
Perhaps I may now turn to the terms of service provided in the Bill. It will be appreciated that men are now enrolled in the Civil Defence Service, on either a whole-time or part-time basis, in the service of the local authority. The difference under the Bill is that men called up under it will be deemed to have been taken into the service of the Crown. A man may be posted to the service of a particular local authority, which means that the liability for him actually rests upon the State and not upon the local authority, although he might be transferred to the local authority. For disciplinary purposes he will come under the local authority first. Another point is that a man may be required to transfer and serve in any part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man may become a popular preference. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I leave hon. Members to guess. The Government are anxious that we should be given power in the Bill to form the Civil Defence Force on a regional or possibly a national basis. It will be noticed that power is sought in the Bill to create that organisation if necessary. That is vital, because mobility is essential in Civil Defence, especially when heavy attacks come in certain districts. In addition, the man-power problem in some parts of the country is extremely acute. The heavy drain for munition workers, the long hours worked and many other causes make it difficult in some cases to fill up the required services.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that there will be two categories—the ordinary local service as at present and a national service parallel with the other?
§ Mr. Bevin
There may be. Power is 'being taken to set it up if necessary. The idea is to get the power in order that the form of organisation may be kept as fluid as possible in order to meet the demand. Another important reason why men should be recruited as in the service of the Crown is that all men called up for the Armed Forces do in fact enter the service of the Crown and it was felt desir- 608 able that the two conditions should be kept as close as possible. It is also intended that opportunity should be given for whole-time volunteers now in the Service, and within the age of liability to be called up under the Bill and to accept general service, as opposed to local service only. While the new force may be on a regional or a national basis, opportunity will be extended, as the organisation develops, to those already in the Forces.
§ Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)
Will the Minister have power under the provisions of the Bill to call upon men up to 41 years of age?
§ Mr. Bevin
Yes, Sir. It is intended that men called up for service shall not receive less favourable treatment as regards terms of service than if they had gone into the Armed Forces. In this service it is extremely difficult to have precisely the same provisions, although endeavours will be made to approximate them. The rate of pay which is provisionally arranged will be £3 10s. per week; that is the basic rate. It will be remembered that the original figure for the Civil Defence was £3, and that £3 was arrived at after careful consideration as to the value that a married soldier with one child was in fact receiving. After that examination, taking it all in, it was determined in the original scheme that £3 was the comparative figure.
§ Mr. Bevin
The personnel of the Army, at the moment, is permitted to remain in the unions, and as there is a consultative committee, which advises my right hon. Friend in dealing with these problems, I should think that no objection could be raised on that point. However, perhaps the hon. Member will put his question to the Minister of Home Security later. When the original arrangement was made it was recognised that most of the whole-time volunteers—in fact, all of them, I believe—would have been living within reasonable reach of their homes, but under this Bill, as I have already indicated, they may be sent away, and this obviously creates new problems, which have to be met by new provisions. Therefore, provision must be made for those who must maintain their families in one 609 place and provide for themselves in another.
Then, special arrangements have to be made for men absent from duty through sickness. But I am sure that it will be readily accepted that you cannot deal with all these details in a Bill. Powers have been taken to deal with them, and it is intended to consult the Consultative Committee, which for some time has been the channel through which these matters have been discussed with the trade unions and the men's representatives in the working out of these details. In Clause 3, therefore, it will be noted that the Minister of Home Security is enabled, with the approval of the Treasury, to determine these allowances, and it obviously will be his desire to treat the men on a level with those of the great voluntary forces already established. But if, in trying to approximate to the Service arrangements other problems are raised, especially those dealing with sickness and injury and matters of that character, it may also in time involve adjustments the other way round, in order to try to keep the two sections approximating as near as possible. If men are posted away to another district and are not provided with quarters, it is intended to pay them on the basis now existing in the Transfer Scheme of the Ministry of Labour of 24s. 6d. per week.
Another important point is that we hope to arrange that the men called up for Civil Defence shall be entitled to apply to the War Service Grants Advisory Committee for the relief afforded to soldiers in respect of civil liabilities contracted prior to liability to Military Service. So I think that on the question of conditions, the Government have tried to meet every contingency in a reasonable way. It is further intended to provide that men called up for Civil Defence shall, during periods of temporary sickness—whether on account of injury or otherwise attributable to service, provided that sickness is not due to misbehaviour or is not contracted when off duty—receive allowances enabling them to maintain their dependents and themselves. Hon. Members will note that sickness is brought into the scheme as well as injury. That deals with the main points of the first part of the Bill relating to Civil Defence.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
The Minister mentioned only fire brigades. Could he say whether it is pro- 610 posed to transfer men to any other sections of the Civil Defence services apart from the fire brigades, such as the rescue and demolition sections?
§ Mr. Bevin
It may, and it can, apply to other services, but if these points on the first part of the Bill are raised in Debate or by questions I would prefer my right hon. Friend to deal with them in his reply. While I am responsible for the National Service side of the Bill, the problem of administration is really one for the Ministry of Home Security. The House will appreciate that on the administration side, I am not conversant with every detail.
May I now turn to the other provisions of the Bill, which are intended to amend the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939? These amendments relate to the provisions of the principal Act dealing with conscientious objectors. Thanks to the principles adopted by Parliament in the original Act and the administration of that Act, this problem has given rise in this War to comparatively little controversy. There may have been individual difficulties with some employers and some local authorities, but I can say, from a very close and intimate knowledge since I have been in Office, that in the last months it has been reduced so that there are scarcely any cases of difficulty arising. Of course, you always get somebody who wants to go further than Parliament, and that is not always limited to local authorities. Liberty of conscience as a principle has been accepted by this House and by the nation, and, indeed, it was emphasised again only last week in the words of the Prime Minister who said:Anything in the nature of persecution, victimisation, or man-hunting is odious to the British people."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1941; col. 284, Vol. 370.]If any person in the country, of any party, takes it upon himself to go further than Parliament has decided to go, we must be conscious, in the words of the Prime Minister, that he has acted in a manner odious to the whole nation. The community has shown that it is tolerant and generous towards the conscientious objector, and has given him a double opportunity of proving his case. On the other hand, I think the public and this House have a right to expect that the conscientious objector himself will loyally accept the verdict arrived at by the tribunal, and in the majority of cases this 611 is so. But there are those who refuse to accept. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friend says "Hear, hear." Very well, we may as well shut up Parliament and abolish the law. If you give the citizen a right to a judicial hearing, and proper consideration of his case in the courts of the country, I think the public is entitled to ask that he should accept the decision.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why such a large proportion of those who are associated with this Bill refused to accept that decision in 1914?
§ Mr. Bevin
Experience has shown that there are loopholes in the existing law, and that advantage has been taken of them. The first amendment of the law deals with refusal to submit to medical examination. The present position is that a person who so refuses can be taken before a court and fined £5. It is now found that this is not limited to conscientious objectors; others are refusing to submit for entirely different reasons, and a week or two ago I was asked a Question in the House on this very issue, in regard to which the questioner alleged that a prominent Fascist who had refused medical examination had got off scot free. That is an intolerable position in view of the obligations to which the rest of the citizens of this country have to submit, but at the same time I think that a forcible examination would be repugnant and we have not indulged in that. We have also found that in some cases the courts have sent men to prison, but that there is no power in the present law to let them out. They are therefore imprisoned for an indeterminate time, which also is unsatisfactory. To put a man in prison for an undefined time created an intolerable situation. We therefore propose to lay down a maximum period of two years' imprisonment or a maximum fine of £100.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Before which courts will these men appear? Will they appear before the local benches of magistrates or what?
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this is not a very large extension of the powers of the courts of summary jurisdiction? I do not think that at present they have power to impose sentence of two years' imprisonment; I think six months is the limit.
§ Mr. Bevin
I think it depends on the seriousness of the case whether it will be dealt with by the courts of summary jurisdiction or by conviction and indictment. Clause 5 (4) reads:(4) If a conditionally registered conscientious objector fails to comply with any condition on which he is registered, he shall, unless he satisfies the court that he had reasonable excuse for the failure, be guilty of an offence under the principal Act and liable—
That is, of course, a maximum. This gives the court the power to deal with the matter quite clearly, instead of the present indeterminate position. There remains a second difficulty, which relates to conscientious objectors who fail to comply with the conditions on which they have been registered that they must take up specified work. We have found that conditions have been imposed upon conscientious objectors who have not been able to fulfil them. Either there have been physical reasons, or they have been unable to get the kind of work they have been told to get. In such cases the Minister will have power to refer the case back to a local tribunal. That will avoid any prosecution and if, after such reference back, the local tribunal comes to a decision, the Minister cannot then prosecute provided that the new decision of the Tribunal is carried out. There is also the case of wilful failure to comply with conditions. At present under the Act there is no sanction to meet the case of wilful default. We therefore propose to meet the two situations under the proposed Amendment with the same penalty, which I have already indicated
- (a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, or to both such imprisonment and such fine; or
- (b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months, or to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, or to both such imprisonment and such fine."
613 Still another difficulty has arisen with regard to conscientious objectors in connection with the kind of work for which they are registered. If a person is registered for land work, hospital work, civil defence or similar duties, he remains on the conscientious objectors' register, but if he is registered for non-combatant duties, he is passed into the services and his name is immediately transferred from the conscientious objectors' register to the military register. Representations have been made to me to the effect that there is a feeling, which we are very anxious to meet, that to be transferred willy-nilly from the conscientious objectors' register to the military register implies in the mind of the man, and sometimes in the minds of his friends, that he has ceased to hold his conscientious convictions. Therefore we propose a new method, under which, although a man may be put on combatant service, his name will be retained on the conscientious objectors' register; and those whose names have been transferred from that register will now have their names transferred back. Then there is the case of the conscientious objector who passes the tribunal and afterwards alters his mind, and decides to take up combatant service. At present the machinery is extremely cumbersome. The man must either go back to the tribunal to get sanction to transfer, or he must be given his discharge and an attestation form to volunteer for the Army. If he goes through the latter process, he loses all his rights under the original Act in regard to reinstatement. Having looked into this carefully, we came to the conclusion that the right way was the simple administrative one, under which, if a man decides to change from non-combatant to combatant service, we automatically transfer him, and he retains all his rights under the National Service Act. I think that is a very desirable change.
I turn to the question of hardship. There have been many cases, especially during the "blitz," where, because of difficulties of transport, or for other reasons, men have arrived to make their appeals before the umpire, and have found that one, or perhaps both, of the assessors have been unable to attend. That involves loss and difficulties for the person concerned, as the case has to come forward again. We now propose that 614 if in an emergency assessors cannot attend, the umpire may decide the case. Then there is the question of a renewed application, for an extension, under the hardship conditions. If a man does not apply within 14 days of the date fixed, he has lost all right of appeal. That has happened in many cases. Hon. Members have written to me asking whether in certain cases discretion could not be used, but, although I have often felt that there was good ground for the exercise of discretion, the Act is absolutely arbitrary. We ask the House now to give us discretion to deal justly with such cases. I do not need to elaborate on Clause 9. It is intended merely to clear up certain ambiguities about people resident in the country.
Clause 10 is rather important. During the passage of the principal Act, an Amendment was introduced which allowed certain people to escape their obligations in regard to reinstatement. Put simply, the Act provides that if a man who receives his calling-up notice has been put off about two days before, there is in fact no obligation upon the employer. I am quite sure that the House never intended that. We seek by this Bill to put right that weakness, in order to carry out effectively what we believe to have been the orgininal intention of the House. I ought to refer to Clause 11, which provides for the simplification of the procedure of prosecutions. The first Sub-section re-enacts the provisions of the Defence Regulations, and extends those provisions to the prosecution for similar offences under the present Bill. I think I have now covered the main essential provisions of the Bill, to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has to leave very shortly for another engagement; but, no doubt, some of the points which we make will be brought to his attention by the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have no objection at all to that, but I think the Minister might have intimated his intention not only to the hon. Member but to the House as a whole.
§ Mr. Ammon
I understand that the Home Secretary will reply to this Debate. I think all the proprieties have been complied with. I think that the House, with one or two exceptions, will agree that, having regard to the present condition of our national affairs and to the need for prosecuting the war, this Bill had to come at some time or another. That being more or less accepted, there can be very little more for us to do than to examine its provisions, to see that, so far as possible, we safeguard those rapidly shrinking liberties which we have, and that it fulfils exactly the purposes for which it is introduced. The first thing that stands out is the fact that there is no suggestion in the Bill as to the number of persons likely to be involved. It is for an indefinite number. The Minister opened up a rather doubtful question when he said that when a man seeks to enter the Armed Forces he has the right to choose whether he will go into the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force, and that now there will be another choice open to him. I do not think that that is quite accurate. It is not a question of allowing a man to chose whether he will go into the Armed Forces or into Civil Defence; it is merely a matter of recruiting additional people for Civil Defence.
The other criticism that I have to make is that this Bill is characteristic of the way in which we do things in this House —and, I suppose, of our national habits generally—in that it takes two bites at a cherry. We may, before long, have to reconsider this whole question. It will be impossible soon to maintain both the voluntary system and the conscription system side by side in the same Service. The Minister has said that there is no intention of departing from the voluntary principle. That means nothing, because you have departed from it; the Bill itself is a departure from the voluntary prin- 616 ciple. We appear to be looking for a good deal more trouble, and probably discontent and friction, by seeking to maintain these two things side by side. Before the declaration of war we had the Army and the Territorial Force, but when war was declared they were combined. If we had kept them separate, we would have been in great confusion and difficulty. That is the major criticism that I have to offer with regard to the Bill, and I ask that even now the Minister should give the matter some further consideration.
§ Mr. Woolley (Spen Valley)
Is the hon. Member now suggesting that part-time voluntary service in all Civil Defence Services should be abolished?
§ Mr. Ammon
I am not suggesting anything of the sort. There is full-time voluntary service, and you cannot run the two things together. It will not be long before certain questions arise and circumstances ensue when such people see that, for instance, "X" is paid for this service and that, therefore, such a person is in an altogether different position. That is a point which must be taken into consideration. I imagine that the answer of the Minister will be that under this Measure the demand will not be uniform throughout the country; that there are some parts of the country where there is a plentiful supply to meet the needs of the Civil Defence forces, and in other parts there is not, and, therefore, I think it will not be necessary to apply this conscription force, although it can be applied throughout the country, to one part as against another. Even that will by no means remove the possible difficulties that may arise.
There are other problems with which, no doubt, the Minister who replies can deal. What is to happen in regard to reserved labour? Will they be broken into by this Bill? What is to happen with regard to difficulties that will be experienced where firms on armament production are already finding difficulty in getting the necessary labour and are complaining about it? Here we have another pull on that same pool which will add to the present difficulties. One of the great difficulties already experienced in some of the factories engaged in the manufacture of armaments is that of getting labourers, and it is very likely that, in regard to the 617 force to which we are now proposing conscription, the difficulties will be extended.
On the question of the discipline of the proposed force, as I read the Bill, it seems to be neither one thing nor the other. Which is to be the real authority—the local government authority, the regional authority, or a central board? It seems to be a mixture of the lot. The difficulty will be, whether it is under the A.R.P. controller or not, that other problems will arise, all of which will cause a certain amount of difficulty and interfere with the smooth working of the Measure. Will the operation of the Bill be extended beyond the three Services? Broadly speaking, I think I am right in saying that the present objective is to meet the demands in the Auxiliary Fire Service, the Police War Reserve, or the first-aid or ambulance service, but I see nothing in the Bill to prevent it from being applied even further. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that matter. The Measure may be very widely applied to the wholesale conscription of labour, for which in present conditions there may be a great deal to be said, but it would be far better to face the issue fairly and squarely than to arrive at it by devious means, thus making it more difficult. It will also raise suspicions and objections in the minds of people which need not be there if people are dealt with fairly and squarely from the outset.
Will the medical examination be on a military standard? I imagine from what the Minister said that certain persons who could not be taken into the military categories might be taken in this connection. Will the penalties for any offences committed by personnel be under the military code or the civil code? I observe that those who may receive injuries in the course of their duties will receive hospital treatment up to 13 weeks, and in that respect the position differs from that in the Armed Forces, where they can go to hospital for an even longer period. I suggest that the latter arrangement should be extended to the force raised under this Bill. Although they will draw actually in cash a larger sum than men serving in the Armed Forces, there should be no difficulty in bringing the services up to something like uniformity.
The Minister also made reference to the possibility of transferring persons unsuitable for service in the Civil Defence forces 618 to the Armed Forces. What does that mean? Does it mean that people may be intimidated or have threats held over them by certain local authorities which may, for the time being, be the controlling authority when they think that they do not quite come up to scratch? I think there have been some wrong terms used, if the same conditions are to be maintained in regard to transfers in the Forces. It is not possible to transfer a man from the Army to the Navy without his consent, and I see nothing in this Bill which gives the Minister a greater power than that already held in connection with the Armed Forces to transfer a person even against his will to some other Service. If that is intended, then Amendments will have to be brought forward to the Bill itself. A question was raised during the course of the speech of the Minister as to the choice of those who are to be brought under the Bill for the Civil Defence Services. I suggest that probably it would be worth while to treat those of the youngest age as being not quite fitted to come into work such as the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Police War Reserve, and it would perhaps be advantageous if a definite age limit were set with regard to these particular categories.
I want to say a word with regard to those who are concerned on the voluntary side. Since I have taken up duties across the bridge, I have signed letters of consolation and comfort to relatives of those who have lost their lives, particularly in the Auxiliary Fire Service, and in other services, giving testimony to the unflinching and devoted services rendered voluntarily by those who risked and sacrificed their lives in defending their homes. The front line of this war so far has been the home front and not in the trenches or overseas, and I think the House might well make a note of the sacrifices which these men have made.
The other points I wish to make are not in any way meant as hostile criticism but by way of pointing out what one thinks are the defects of the Bill. With regard to the conscientious objectors, whether one wholly agrees with the Minister of Labour or not—and I know he does not wholly accept the position of conscientious objectors—I think we ought to pay tribute to his fair-mindedness and the understanding he has displayed in connection with this matter. There are 619 three categories of service for conscientious objectors, and one section is known as the Friends Ambulance Unit. I think they may fall within two categories—those selected for non-combatant service and those for national service. Some are engaged in hospital work here, while others are prepared to do special work on the field of battle if necessary. I imagine that these people will be allowed to stand undisturbed in the position they have taken up and not to have again to go before any tribunal with respect to this particular Bill. I do not know, however, what will be the position of the absolutists.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
They are not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Ammon
I was wondering whether they might reconsider their position in the face of a Bill like this. Penalties are imposed on conscientious objectors who break the terms of their work, but there are employers, too, who do not play up. Conscientious objectors are sometimes told to continue in their present employment, and it is not unknown that employers refuse to carry out their side of the bargain. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will see that the law as it is at present is administered equitably. My hon. Friend the Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) asked whether members of these Services, particularly the A.F.S., would be allowed to become members of a trade union, and the Minister replied, in effect, that they would be in the same position as those in the Armed Forces who are allowed to maintain their membership, although the ordinary trade-union rules do not operate. But the regular Fire Brigade has a trade union, and it is allowed to approach its employers.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to clear up that point. There will be no objection to a man maintaining his trade-union membership or to a union functioning as regards Civil Defence. We recognise a Consultative Committee of the trade unions for the purposes of mutual discussion, so I think he need have no fear on that point, although he will appreciate that there are certain disciplinary aspects of the matter that may be a little different from the 620 normal industrial regulations and special considerations as regards the police.
§ Mr. Ammon
I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement. I think one must admit that on the whole it is pretty generous. I did not raise the question of the police, because I know their position. It seems to me that the main criticism of this Bill must turn on the endeavour to run the voluntary and compulsory systems side by side. It looks to me that they must break down and that there will be friction, leading to a considerable weakening of the voluntary service. On the other hand, I admit that there are many people who are quite willing, and waiting, to be conscripted, but it will be a great pity if anything is done which may injure the great spirit of voluntarism which has played so large a part up to now. The three Services I have mentioned need strengthening, and I think some way might have been found of trying to maintain the voluntary principle, without smashing it up, as it undoubtedly will be smashed, instead of trying to impose an alliance of voluntarism and compulsion.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I would like to join with the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who has just spoken, in paying a tribute to the spirit in which the Minister of Labour has introduced this very important Measure. I think it is a very remarkable thing that at this great crisis in our history, when it may well be that the whole future of human civilisation will be altered for better or for worse as a result of the struggle through which we are now going, the Minister and the Government and, I hope, the people and Parliament, too, should be earnestly concerned to have regard for the sincere conscientious objections of individual citizens, and that they should take steps to protect the rights of conscience even when it is believed that that conscience is mistakenly informed. One ought to recognise that at the very outset, and I hope that the spirit which the Minister has shown in his speech, and the spirit that his Department have shown in their administration, will be carried out in the administration of this Bill when it becomes an Act. This encourages me to hope that when the Bill reaches the Committee stage it may be possible 621 slightly to modify certain features so as to remove apprehensions that exist somewhat widely in the country. There are points in the Bill which will command all but universal approval. It is a good thing that the great work of Civil Defence should be recognised for the important national service that it is, and that men called to undertake that work, which is often very dangerous and difficult, should be given the rights and privileges, as well as the duties, that are given to their fellow citizens who undertake military service. That is a very important feature of the Bill.
As the Minister has said, it is also a valuable point in the Bill that conscientious objectors who are at present undertaking non-combatant service should have their names removed from the military register and restored to the register of conscientious objectors. This should cause a great deal of satisfaction and will remove misunderstandings. I do not know whether this is a preliminary step, but I gather it is quite likely that there will be transfers of existing members of non-combatant corps, where they are needed, to work in civil national service under the provisions of this Bill.
As I have indicated, there are one or two points which I hope will be further considered by the Government in the Committee stage. The Bill provides for the calling up for national service in Civil Defence of conscientious objectors who have received conditional exemption from a tribunal. In a number of cases these men accepted that conditional registration because the work to which they were assigned was work which they could not only conscientiously do, but for which they felt they had a calling. They believed it was the best service they could render, and admittedly it was useful service, or they would not have been assigned to it by the tribunal. In some cases they could not give up such service for an unknown form of Civil Defence without feeling that they were false to their conscience. Therefore, there will be a real risk that in a number of cases men may be called up from work that is useful, and in the national interest, which they can render gladly and willingly, and be placed in the position of breaking the terms of the Act and incurring its penalties. I do not think the Government wishes this, and consequently, I urge that in such cases there 622 should be an opportunity of appeal either to the present tribunals, or to some other suitable body, before a decision is made. If some amendment of that sort were possible, it would remove a very real sense of anxiety felt by a large number of men who are anxious to serve their fellow citizens and their country, and whose present work is of real help to the community in its time of need.
Another point to which I want to refer is the position of those who have not fulfilled their conditions and those who have failed to register. It is right that there should be penalties when there is a wilful failure to observe conditions and when there is a failure to go up for a medical examination. Those who refuse to do this on conscientious grounds will, if they are conscientious, recognise that it is the duty of the State to enforce its law, and that therefore, they must incur the penalties prescribed by law; but there is a danger that, unless there is in this Bill a provision analogous to Section 13 of the principal Act, the penalty may be incurred again and again, and there will be that "cat-and-mouse" position that existed during the last War, when men were court-martialled and sentenced to imprisonment repeatedly—sometimes as many as four or five times—for what was really the same offence. I do not think it is the invention of the Government that a penalty of this sort should recur again and again, and I suggest that there should be provided in the Bill an opportunity for the Minister to refer to a tribunal the case of a man who goes to prison through a failure to register and is sentenced to a long term of imprisonment. The tribunal could then go into the question of the sincerity of his conscientious conviction. The same thing applies, after a sentence of this kind has been incurred, to those who have failed to observe their conditions of registration. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give consideration to these points with a view to amending the Bill in what are, after all, comparatively minor matters.
I feel that by far the most important thing at this time is that the country should realise the tolerant and broad-minded spirit in which the Government are endeavouring to deal with this very real problem. In supporting the Government in that attitude, I think we are showing that as a nation we stand for a 623 type of civilisation which recognises the worth of human personality everywhere, and respects the right of conscience everywhere, even though that conscience may be ill-informed. That is something immensely precious that we need to preserve. I am glad that the Minister of Labour referred to the intolerant way in which certain local authorities and employers have dealt with conscientious objectors who have given them good service and have fulfilled the terms of their exemption. I hope the Minister will use his full influence to see that instances of this sort do not recur. There are cases of local authorities that have dismissed from their fire-fighting organisation men who have given months, and in some cases over a year, of good service, and who have risked their lives in those services, and that simply on the ground that they were registered as conscientious objectors. Under this Bill, the Minister may send to such authorities conscientious objectors— perhaps the very men whom they have dismissed from their service—and I hope he will see that the local authorities responsible for these local defence services make no unfair differentiation in the treatment of the men who are to serve them at a time of great need. It is a great service that they will be rendering to the community as a whole. I am very glad that the Bill recognises the importance of that service, and I hope it will be rendered whole-heartedly and gladly for the cause of the country, and for the sake of all those things for which it stands.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) in two of the things he said. Firstly, I agree with his reference to the importance of this Bill, and, secondly, I agree with his remarks on the manner in which the Minister introduced it. In particular, I agree with him in the very fine tribute he paid to the spirit of toleration with which the Government have approached this particular subject. This Bill is very necessary, and it is a further recognition of the importance of Civil Defence in the national war effort. For various reasons our Civil Defence forces have been depleted—some of its members have been called up for Army service, and others have been attracted to alternative De- 624 fence services, such as the Home Guard, fire-watching and so on. The result has been that in many areas establishments have fallen below what many would consider as reasonably safe. Therefore, it is all to the good that the Government have realised the necessity of having a Measure which provides and ensures that our Civil Defence, which is so essential for our national security, shall be maintained at its proper strength.
This Bill is framed on generous lines, and it shows fair regard to the views of those who hold conscientious objections to military service. For that reason I have been surprised to receive, as probably have other hon. Members, three or four telegrams asking me to vote against the Bill. I think that those who sent these telegrams must have been under some misapprehension as to the Clauses of the Bill, and also the spirit in which the Government intend to carry it out. It has been recognised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities—and no one has a more sympathetic understanding of the minds of conscientious objectors than he—that the Government have shown a very tolerant spirit and a generous attitude towards this difficult problem. I suggest that that calls for an equally understanding mind on the part of those who hold conscientious objections, and that when they are called upon to serve, under the provisions of this Bill, in work of Civil Defence, which is primarily humanitarian, they should be willing to respond to the calls made upon them.
With regard to the Bill itself, I was glad that the Minister stated the standard of medical examination for those who are to serve under its provisions will not be so high as that for men serving in the Military Forces. It is obvious that there is a great number of people now performing a very fine service in Civil Defence who could not pass the medical examination for the Armed Forces. Therfore, it is necessary that there should be some modified standard of medical fitness acceptable for Civil Defence purposes. From what was said by the Minister, I understand that that is to be classed as Category 3. It may arise that after a period in the Civil Defence Forces some of the men may wish to transfer to the Armed Forces of the Crown, just as one finds that men in one branch of a mili- 625 tary service desire to transfer to another where they feel they can render more useful service. I should like to ask whether it will be possible for anyone serving under this Bill in the Civil Defence Forces, if he so wishes, to transfer to some military service? The Minister says that under this Bill it would be possible for men serving in one particular locality to be transferred elsewhere, and perhaps to serve in some national unit. I should like to have an assurance, before men are transferred from one particular area to another, that the A.R.P. authorities in the area concerned shall be consulted, because it would be a serious matter if the Service in any particular area was depleted without proper consultation with those responsible. As I have said, the Civil Defence Services have already suffered from the competition of other Services, and it may be found, if men are transferred against the judgment of the local A.R.P. authorities, that it will have a disturbing effect. I should like to know who decides whether a man should be transferred to some other district.
Perhaps the most important issue raised by this Bill is the effect it is likely to have upon the voluntary system. I represent a constituency where the personnel of the Civil Defence Services, except in the case of the Fire Services, are entirely voluntary and unpaid. I am wondering what effect a Bill of this kind is likely to have on areas of that kind. The question arises, if we are now taking power to compel people to give full-time service in Civil Defence and pay them accordingly, whether we should not also take power to compel people to give part-time service, as is already possible in the case of fire watching.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Mr. Mabane)
There are such powers.
§ Mr. Lipson
Do I understand from the Minister that it is possible to compel a man to be a part-time A.R.P. warden?
§ Mr. Mabane indicated assent.
§ Mr. Lipson
I thought it was entirely voluntary, and that local authorities had no powers to compel people. In many areas too great a pressure is being put on a limited number of individuals who are giving part-time service, and who also have their ordinary occupations to 626 follow. This is because the number of volunteers is not as large as it ought to be. It throws an unnecessarily heavy burden on those who have volunteered, and I should like to ask whether, in view of the fact that men who serve under this Bill will be paid entirely by the State, the need for economy so far as local authorities are concerned is not very largely removed. It may happen that in many areas where the Civil Defence has been carried out by unpaid personnel they will feel they ought now to ask for men enlisted under this Bill. I should like to ask who is the deciding authority as to whether they should be given the right to have paid full-time people to replace part-time unpaid people. Is that a matter that is to be left to the regional authority, or, if not, who will decide it?
Obviously, it will follow that one result of this Bill will be to make it even more difficult than it has been in the past to get people to give for nothing part-time service in Civil Defence, because there will be the feeling that there ought to be the men available to give full-rime service under the Bill. The important thing is to maintain an adequate Civil Defence everywhere, and I should like to have an assurance that, where an authority finds that its establishment has suffered in consequence of this Bill, it will have no difficulty in obtaining consent to recruit full-time paid service. As the cost of the pay of these people will be forthcoming from the State, I imagine that these requests will be more numerous than they have been in the past, when, no doubt, considerations of local economy have tended to maintain the voluntary unpaid system. But the important thing is to have an efficient system, whether it is unpaid or paid, and it is because I am convinced that the Bill will take us very much further on the road to an efficient Civil Defence Service that I welcome it.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I am afraid I cannot agree with most of what has been said by previous speakers either as to the fine qualities of this Bill or the proposals embodied in it. We propose to attempt to divide the House against it, because we think it a thoroughly bad Measure in its intended effect upon conscientious objectors. I cannot say that I am amazed, but I think 627 it rather singular that it should be sponsored, among others, by three members of the Labour party, who took no part in the last war, and two of whom, at least, had conscientious objections to war in every shape and form. The Minister of Labour was in a reserved occupation, and the Secretary of State for Scotland conducted his battle as editor of an anti-war journal in Glasgow, urging everyone to resist and encouraging conscientious objectors to refuse service of any kind, and supporting them in their objection. As a matter of fact, I should say on reflection that some of the propaganda carried on by the right hon. Gentleman came perilously near being pro-German propaganda rather than anti-war propaganda. Nevertheless, that excess might have been attributed to the zeal of the individual as a war-hater. I suppose he will not be here to-day. I expect he has a pressing engagement. He usually has in these circumstances. At the last Election, he gave a pledge to his constituents that in no conditions would he support war of any kind, no matter what were the alignments of party in the House or in the country.
The Minister of Home Security conducted his struggle in an orchard during the last war and refused to accept anything connected with it at all, so deep was his loathing of war. I can imagine the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, with his shaggy red head, sitting back over a glass of whisky and a cigar enjoying themselves immensely at the position of the three Labour defenders of freedom sponsoring a Bill of this kind against conscientious objectors. I do not know what part the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Home Security played in the last war, but for a number of years previous to this war his spiritual home was in Moscow, which was also the spiritual home of the hon. Lady who is now Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, when she was in the Communist party and flirted with it for many years. We must remember the words of Mr. Priestley, thatLabour is walking into a trap, and the reactionaries will do it across them at the appropriate time.They have them in position now. The Minister of Labour said, previous to this war, "We want to teach our children that resistance to war is more glorious 628 than to take part in it." He said some thing more about his chief—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I must ask the hon. Member to come somewhat closer to the Bill.
§ Mr. McGovern
I am surely entitled, when opposing a Bill, being the only Opposition Member who has spoken, to analyse the conduct of Members who are sponsoring it, and to compare their services in the last war, with their attempt to penalise conscientious objectors in this war. With this small quotation I will pass on to the Bill. The Minister of Labour said, regarding the present Prime Minister,It would be a Godsend for this country if Churchill was out of office for evermore. It is not that he is not brilliant: but it is not safe to leave the destiny of millions of people in the hands of a man of unstable mind.That is what the right hon. Gentleman said as far back as 1926. The Measure seeks to penalise certain conscientious objectors. It first takes power to call them for Civil Defence. Those who are associated with it, especially on the Labour side, should know that there are various categories of conscientious objectors, and very often the man whom you are going to penalise is a complete pacifist, very often a Christian objector, who would have nothing to do with war of any kind. That individual is to be selected for attack and for the brutality of the imprisonment and the fines that will be imposed on him if he is convicted in the courts. There are some people who are political objectors. I, myself, was a conscientious objector in the last war. I appeared before a tribunal, and I had to appear before Labour magistrates, some in Glasgow, who were keen advocates of the war. In that war I was a political objector, but I did not subscribe to complete pacifism. I believe that ultimately it may be necessary at times regrettably to use a measure of force in order to achieve the ends for which I stand. A large number of people are Christian conscientious objectors and some are Socialist absolutists who refuse to have anything to do with war at all.
The Minister of Home Security in an aside said to the hon. Member on the Labour Front Bench who had spoken that the absolutist was protected. That is not true, however. The absolutist who gets through the tribunal is protected, but 629 the absolutist who is refused exemption is not protected and will be an early victim of the application of this Bill. There are men who have gone through the tribunals and have been given conditional exemption. Many men who are determined not to enter the military machine in any way take the view that the best way, sacrificing principle as little as possible, is to get through the war in the easiest manner by accepting the decisions of the local or appellate tribunals. They would be willing to take land, forestry, land reclamation or drainage work, but they would refuse to go into Civil Defence work because they would then become part of the machinery of the war to which they have a decided objection. It would have been well worth while appealing to those who are registered as conscientious objectors to see how many were prepared to serve in some useful capacity in a voluntary way and then to have allotted them the tasks for which they volunteered. That would have recognised the position of the absolutist and would have avoided the imposition of penalities of any kind.
I went to Liverpool three weeks ago and met ten conscientious objectors Nine out of the ten were religious objectors, and I am satisfied that nothing would persuade them to take part in Civil Defence of any kind. They are determined to remain completely aloof from any kind of war service. Men who have been allotted to certain work of a civilian nature will in many cases, therefore, if they are asked to do work on Civil Defence refuse to go any further than they have done in recognising the decisions of a tribunal. Is it to be the opinion of Members of this House that because a man fails to go through a tribunal he is not a genuine conscientious objector? Let me quote the petition of a Member of the House showing the absolutist position:I plead ' Not guilty ' to wilful disobedience. I cannot obey any military order because I cannot recognise the authority of the military. I may be deemed to have enlisted by Act of Parliament, but I do not consider myself a member of any military organisation. I have taken no oath, have refused to sign papers and have obeyed no military orders, and my refusal stated in the charge is but a continuation of the position the Camberwell Tribunal placed me in by failing to administer the Military Service Act and by refusing to grant that form of exemption 630 provided in the Act for persons holding the views I hold.The Tribunals have admitted I am a genuine conscientious objector. and even refused to hear testimonials and evidence on the grounds of their complete satisfaction with my sincerity and long consistency.I cannot obey military orders, on religious and moral grounds; I believe in human brotherhood and in the ' common humanity ' and common interests of the peoples of all nations. I believe in the co-operation, and not competition to the death, between individuals and nations. I view war as merely a test of might resulting from dynastic ambitions, commercial rivalries, financial intrigues and imperialistic jealousies. That is a stupid, costly and obsolete method of attempting to settle the differences of diplomatists in which the common people always pay with their blood, vitality and wealth.For many years I have given the whole of my leisure in earnest work to uplift my fellows; to change the social system so that life may be made a more splendid and noble thing. I cannot, therefore, on moral grounds, form any part in a military organisation.Besides, these considerations are very deep religious objections. I believe God lives Himself through the whole human race. I believe in the inherent worth and sanctity of human personality, and that humanity is bound together in spiritual unity. I cannot, therefore, participate in any military organisation, every part of which is designed to make the machine of militarism efficient, and the method of which is the destruction of human life.Hate is engendered by the use of force. Love and good-will alone will conquer the hearts of mankind. Humanity is my firm allegiance. I claim liberty of conscience, and therefore cannot obey military orders. If your humanity is to be delivered from the horrors and ghastliness of war, man must remain true to the ideal of fraternity and love and peace.I am before you because I remain faithful to my religious and moral convictions. If you deliver judgment against me, I claim to be dealt with by the civil authorities. I could do no more than I have done—to have obeyed would be against the highest spiritual and moral welfare of this nation.That was the statement of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), who is now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Labour. He was an absolutist, and I cannot square that statement with his association with this Bill and this Ministry. His statement represents the point of view of the absolutist who refuses to serve or in any way to be drawn into the machine.
I am amazed at some of the statements made here to-day. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) talked about toleration, but I have not been able to find it. Go to the Glasgow Tribunal, for instance, and see the comfortable, smug, callous individuals 631 sitting on the bench and asking trick questions of the applicants. See their insults being hurled from the bench towards applicants because they have convictions. Principle has never entered into their lives, and they cannot understand other people having principles and consciences. The Minister of Labour, whose attention has been drawn to it, has tolerated people on the tribunals who every day go to great lengths to insult applicants. If an applicant retorts, he is put "down as impertinent, and the last word is with the tribunal, for it can turn him down if he dares to assert his manhood in any way. Cases have happened all over the country of people who have had their heads dipped in buckets of water and their hair shaved, and who have been beaten in secret because they have had consciences.
How far has the Labour party fallen since the days when, as a boy, I was enamoured of its stand for freedom. Now it is handing over every vestige of freedom, giving men and women the false statement that we are engaged in a struggle for human freedom and liberty. That is if they believe that, though I do not believe it, because I cannot see any difference between this war and any other war. It is just a commercial struggle between two competing groups. That has always been the economic position in modern war. But even if they accepted the position and believed that this was a different war, would we not have expected a different attitude from that Front Bench? The Front Bench of the Labour party is expected to house men who are prepared to defend every form of minority, but how many words have been spoken since this war began—outside the few pacifists in the Labour party, or by those who were conscientious objectors in the last war—by Members sitting on the Government benches in defence of men whose principles are involved and who are to be penalised if they refuse to obey the call to Civil Defence? It is to be a fine of £100 and up to a maximum of two years' imprisonment.
I remember the present Secretary of State for Scotland, during the last war, turning his intolerant, narrow, biting pen on the Thomases and the others who had supported that war, writing every word 632 of condemnation he could of those men because they supported the war. I could imagine him, as he did in the last war, turning with all his vitriolic personality against those who have stood aside and allowed these men to be persecuted in this war. I should expect Conservatives to take their present attitude towards conscientious objectors, because is not the war a defence of the interests of the Conservative and Liberal elements in this country? They regard themselves as fighting for their lives against an opponent who is trying to gain commercial and imperialist supremacy, and they will fight like beasts of the jungle to protect their interests. Now the Labour party has been taken into the Government—taken in in more than one sense—and now the whole organisation for the suppression of every form of speech and protest is supported by these individuals who have secured positions in that Government.
It reminds me of a story of the great perturbation which arose in one area over whether a certain Labour Member should be elected to the magistracy, because; it was feared he would be biased in favour of the proletariat. It was decided to chance it, however, and this Labour Member, knowing that there had been this criticism, would pass a sentence of 60 days where another magistrate would have given only 30 days—in order to avoid any criticism from the ruling classes that he was biased in his attitude. This Bill is being presented by a Government of Tories and National Liberals and Labour Members—if there is any difference between them. Some of the Tories have served in the war, and here I would pay my tribute to every man, whether he is in Civil Defence or National Defence, who is fighting for the things in which he believes. But how many Labour M.P.s have fought on the battlefield? How many trade-union leaders? The first thing that was done was to get the Ministry of Labour to reduce the ages in certain reserved occupations from 30 to 25, so that every clerk in their offices should be in a reserved occupation. It was for the proletariat rank and file to die in defence of the freedom that they had decided they wanted to preserve. The average Labour Member of Parliament who is within the age is not prepared to serve, and yet is prepared to sit silent and not even defend the rights of individuals under this Bill. One would expect 633 some generosity to come from them; but no, they are caught up in the trap completely, and they go on and penalise these other men.
Before I finish let me give an example of a man who was a conscientious objector but who succumbed and entered the Army. I had entered into correspondence with this individual. He was an absolutist. He would not serve. He asked me for advice. I said that I would give him information, but I would not give him any advice. On all occasions I have said to conscientious objectors, "You must make up your own minds; decide your course of action for yourself. I am not going to advise you one way or the other." After a time he wrote to me. He said that I should be amazed to see where the letter came from. It came from a military barracks. In it he said, "You know, McGovern, I am afraid you will think I have let you down tremendously, but I found that my whole social environment—in my home, in the district, amongst my companions—was so overwhelmingly anti-conscientious objector that I was compelled to succumb. I had not the necessary courage to be a conscientious objector, only sufficient courage to be a soldier." That was the confession of one man.
There is a large number of people in this country who take the view that conscientious objectors are cowards, simply people who are evading service. They are wrong in that. There may be some people who only try to evade service and are not against offering up other lives. I would say to this House and to Labour Members in the Government that the conduct of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Home Security and the hon. Member for Shipley—that they take this view that they are cowards because they wish to change the attitude of people like these. In one war they are absolutely against the war, and then in the present war, when they are over military age, they are backing the war and inviting repression of conscientious objectors. People say, "Is it not true that this conscientious objection business is only a ramp?" They are encouraged to believe it is a racket because of these people who have been active in opposing war when they were of military age and are backing war when they are over mili- 634 tary age—and you cannot blame them for that.
I know many genuine men who are conscientious objectors. My own son is a conscientious objector. He would probably not come completely within the terms of the Act. He is a political objector; he makes no bones about it. At the tribunal every form of pressure was used against him. At the tribunal he was asked whether his father backed the Spanish Civil War or not. That is the type of mind that was on the bench. He was asked, "Is it not the case that your father backed the Spanish Civil War, and would you have backed the Spanish Civil War? Did you believe that the Spanish Government were right?" —all that sort of thing. On the Spanish position he was turned down—although the present Lord Privy Seal went out to Spain himself, and they all backed the Spanish Civil War. He was turned down because he said manfully that the Spanish Government were right in resisting Franco. It was on his paper. He did not say, and I have never stated, that I would fight for the Spanish people. All that I demanded was that the Spanish people had the right by international law to purchase arms for their own defence, if they wanted to. I opposed intervention, and his opposition was the same. [Interruption.] I do not object to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) believing that this is a thoroughly proper struggle and that he ought to take a rifle and go out to defend the people of this country.
I have never objected to Labour Members joining the Army, but I have said that they shelter themselves behind the fact that they are Members of Parliament. They were prepared to declare war and encourage the young people to go out to fight in order to keep them and their Parliamentary government going. One of the great arguments against Hitler is that he has oppressed trade unionism and Parliamentary government. It might be true that if he came here, Parliamentary government would have to be defended, and no doubt I should defend it in a concentration camp. That is no reason why I should ask the ordinary men and women to go out and keep me in a privileged position in this country. If I believed that, I ought to go out and defend it myself. Let us put an end to this humbug 635 by people who are persecuting the conscientious objectors and by some of these people who are so versatile that they can change from one position to another in a very short space of time. There is the Noble Lady who is sitting there. [Interruption.] I am sorry. I made a mistake when I said "Noble Lady." I was thinking rather of what she imagines than of what she is. One would expect people like her, according to her professions of a few years ago, to defend the rights of conscientious objectors at the present time. One would have expected her to oppose the Bill, because she has professed to stand for freedom, especially when she was a member of the Communist party.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Miss Wilkinson)
For five years I fought against the Nazis while you people tried to excuse them. Why should I not fight against them now?
§ Mr. McGovern
It is a damned good job. I can quite understand, when people climb into that kind of job at £30 or £40 a week, that they can ask the ordinary soldier to right and do his job for 2s. a day That is the kind of sacrifice we are getting.
§ Mr. McGovern
Yes, but I must express myself. It is very difficult for anybody in my position to keep from personalities. The Labour movement has been built up on personalities.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
May I ask whether it is in Order for an hon. Member to attack the personal honour and courage of Members of this House who, throughout many months, have shown immense bravery in their constituencies by-helping during the air bombardment which has taken place?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is never in Order for an hon. Member to attack the personal courage or conduct of any individual Member by name. One can attack a group or a party. I endeavoured to restrain the hon. Member from attacking individuals.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If the hon. Member avails himself of the Ruling you have just given, is he not acting in a manner which is beneath all contempt?
§ Mr. McGovern
I can understand the hon. Member being annoyed, because truth always annoys a considerable number of people. It was all right when they were lashing across at the Tories before the war began, but not when an hon. Member, who believes in his Socialism, has a conscientious objection and states what he believes to be true. I will stand up for my opinions inside this House, if it is in order to do so, or outside this House, according to my views and beliefs. In my estimation, the Bill is the culmination of a series of acts that have been designed to penalise those who have a genuine objection to this war. We oppose it on the ground of the penalties it seeks to impose upon those who may have a genuine conscientious objection and who have failed to get recognition from the tribunals. The penalties it seeks to impose are very drastic, in our opinion.
Some people may be prepared to do work of a civilian character, but the fact that they are to be ordered to do so by a court and that penalties will be held over their heads will compel a large number of those people to resist to the end. In so far as they resist, our work has always been in their defence, whether in war or in peace. We will, therefore, oppose this Measure, as coming from a Government who, in our estimation, are travelling the Totalitarian road, and are destined in the end to embrace the things which they profess to be out to end. I refuse to believe, as some people do, that the Bill is necessary in order to conduct the war. I believe it is part of the industrial dragooning that has taken place in this country against the workers and against every person with principle and independence.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
We have just listened to a speech which was interesting, abusive, irrelevant and muddle-headed. The hon. Gentleman has taken advantage of the Privilege which this House offers of making slanderous statements which I am certain he would not dare to make outside this House.
§ Mr. McGovern
I will make them in any part of the country you like, and I have made them outside. I will go further than that.
§ Mr. Silkin
It is obvious that the hon. Member has a private grievance and quarrel with certain other Members of this House, and it is scandalous that our time should be wasted by a speech of that kind, in which he never once referred to the Bill.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am certain that the hon. Member has not read the Bill and does not know what is in it.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have read the Bill. As a matter of fact, not only have I read the Bill, but last night I went through it very thoroughly indeed. There was scarcely a comma that I did not look at.
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. Member cannot possibly have a grievance about the Bill, which improves the position of the conscientious objector and does not take away any of his privileges. If the hon. Member has a grievance, it may be against the original National Service (Armed Forces) Act, but the Bill sets right many grievances. The hon. Member made a speech which was irrelevant, and I do not feel moved to take up any of the points which he made; but I think it worth while to say one thing.
§ Mr. Silkin
I would like the hon. Member to say whether he would have the House believe that he wants everybody who alleges that he has a conscientious objection to be taken as such, merely on his own word.
§ Mr. McGovern
The test of conscience must always be the personal evidence of the individual. The conscientious objector is compelled in many cases to supply evidence to the tribunal, and in spite of the overwhelming character of the evidence, prejudiced people refuse to accept it. I am defending these men, who are genuine conscientious objectors.
§ Mr. Silkin
The reply of the hon. Member is quite of the order of his speech. He did not give a categorical answer whether he would have the bare statement of the conscientious objector accepted without any question.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am certain that that would not commend itself to the vast majority of the people in this country. We have set up a tribunal where a conscientious objector can be tested, and the conscientious objector has an opportunity not only of coming before that tribunal but, if he is not satisfied, of coming before an appellate tribunal. By this Bill the conscientious objector is being put in a more favourable position than the ordinary person who is called up for military service, because the ordinary person who appeals for postponement on the ground of hardship has only one appeal and he can get a second appeal only if the hardship tribunal agree that he should have one; if it does not agree, the decision of the hardship tribunal is final. On the other hand, the conscientious objector can go from one tribunal to an appellate tribunal. I had hoped that while the National Service (Armed Forces) Act was being amended the ordinary person called up for military service would be put in the same favourable position as the conscientious objector. I had also hoped that he would be allowed to be represented in his appeal in the same way as the conscientious objector is represented. I hope that even on the Committee stage it may be possible to put the ordinary person in the same favourable position as the conscientious objector.
Coming to the Bill itself, the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill rather condemned himself because he said that 4,000 members of the Auxiliary Fire Service had been released from the Services within recent months, and it seems to me that to a considerable extent the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the need for the introduction of this Bill. He did not tell us how many members of the Civil Defence Services were still remaining in the Forces, but the mere fact that 4,000of them have been released at the 639 request of the local authorities is an admission that something has gone wrong. I want to put this point merely from the point of view of expense. It takes a long time to train an auxiliary fireman. It requires a great deal of skill and involves a great deal of expense. After a man has been trained as an efficient fireman, rescue worker or other Defence worker at the expense of the public, he is called up, and he is then lost to Civil Defence. I hope that at any rate there will be an end to the calling-up from the Civil Defence Services of men who are fully trained and efficient and giving perfect satisfaction. It is quite on the cards that while men will be drafted on to the local authorities for Civil Defence purposes, others who are fully trained may be called up at the same time.
Nevertheless, it is inevitable that my right hon. Friend should be given the powers for which he asks. It is clear, and well known, that a large number of local authorities are short of essential personnel in the Civil Defence Services, and they are having difficulty in making up their numbers. This appears to be in the last resort one of the methods which will have to be employed to secure the necessary numbers. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear to the House that it will be only in the last resort, and that he will, even at this late stage, employ other methods to secure the men he needs. In the first place, I would ask him whether he would endeavour to prevail upon the Services and upon my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service to release all trained Civil Defence workers who are still in the Services and who are willing to go back to Civil Defence. I know that under the provisions of this Bill they cannot be compelled to go, but if they wish to go, I would like him to ensure that every facility will be given to those men to go back.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend has taken powers to compel part-time service in Civil Defence for persons who are not eligible for military service. He has not made any regulations, but he has power to do so, and there is throughout the country a very strong feeling that men over military age who are not playing their full part in the Civil Defence Services in this country should have a measure of com- 640 pulsion put upon them, and that that should be done before other men of military age are compelled to give their full time in Civil Defence. Thirdly, I would ask him whether he cannot secure the men that he wants by a re-arrangement of the personnel of the Civil Defence Services in the various areas. My right hon. Friend has referred to a shortage of personnel in certain of the Civil Defence Services, but I am satisfied that in other Civil Defence Services there is a redundancy of personnel. I am satisfied that many of the various war establishments are far too high. In the early stages of the war it was contemplated that casualties would be very much higher than they have proved to be, and, of course, we can congratulate ourselves upon that fact. I think it is most unlikely that our casualties can ever approach the figures which were originally contemplated. Nevertheless, some of the Services were established on the basis of dealing with the numbers of casualties which were originally expected. Although in some cases there has been a reduction in the authorised personnel, that reduction has not gone very far, and it is a fact that in some places, in some of the Services, there is a redundancy in personnel which could be transfered to other Services where there is a shortage. I hope that my right hon. Friend will explore that position and ascertain to what extent that can be done, before he employs the powers which are being conferred upon him by this Bill.
My hon. Friend who opened the discussion from this side of the House said that we were introducing a new principle by this Bill, but I think he must have overlooked the fact that the Armed Forces have actually been employed on many occasions on Civil Defence work, particularly in London. We have had many thousands of members of the Armed Forces engaged in the clearance of debris. We have had men all over the country assisting in the rescue services, giving first aid and even, I believe, in some cases, undertaking police work. So that my right hon. Friend is not introducing any new principle in calling upon men who have been going to the Fighting Services for use in Civil Defence.
Reference has been made to difficulties which might arise in men conscripted under the Military Service Act working side by side with volunteers, but I think 641 those difficulties are more imaginary than real, because, in fact, whatever we may say about volunteers, most of the men who are now in the Civil Defence Services are conscripts. My right hon. Friend has made an Order by which they are not allowed to leave the service of the local authorities but are compelled to remain in their present jobs. Therefore, there are many who are in the same position as men who have been called up under the National Service Act. I do not anticipate any difficulty arising from these men working side by side.
In introducing the Measure, the Minister of Labour and National Service stated that it would be necessary in certain cases to send men away from home, and that in those cases they would be given a subsistence allowance of not more than 24s. 6d. per week. I would like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to a difficulty which I imagine may arise, namely, the question of billeting. As he knows, they will at times be sent to congested districts, and the Bill contains no provision—and I do not know whether any provision will be made by my right hon. Friend—to ensure that these men are properly billeted. I rather gather that they will be left to find accommodation for themselves. If that is the case, the possibility will exist of their being exploited, of being overcharged, of having to live under unsuitable conditions, and generally of having to live in such a way that their services will not be satisfactory. I hope my right hon. Friend will not hesitate to requisition living accommodation, nor to ensure that they are not overcharged for it—indeed, to see that they are treated in the same way as men who are called up for service in the Armed Forces. Soldiers are frequently billeted, but they do not have to go around and look for accommodation themselves, nor do they have to enter into bargains with their landladies as to the amount they will have to pay. All that is done for them by the Army, and I hope that the men who join the Civil Defence Services instead of the Army will be treated in the same way.
The Bill provides that men will be allowed to express a preference, not only for Civil Defence as against the Armed Forces, but for a particular section or branch of the Civil Defence Services. There is, however, nothing in the Bill which provides that if they are sent away, 642 they will necessarily be put into the particular section for which they have expressed a preference, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether, if a man does express a preference for a particular section of the Civil Defence Services, he will be allowed to joint that section, or whether he may be transferred to carry out any work other than that for which he has expressed a preference.
Then I would like the right hon. Gentleman to explain something which seems to me to be inexplicable, in relation to Clause 3 Sub-section (I, e and f). Subsection (I, e) says:he shall …perform the duties of a member of the Civil Defence force with which he is serving for the time being, …and paragraph (f) says:he shall perform such further duties as may … be required of him …I would like to know what those further duties are. I should have thought that Sub-section (I. e) was all-embracing and quite sufficient to require the man to do what may be required of him, and that the phrase "such further duties" is rather mysterious. The Bill is not self-explanatory, and one wonders whether my right hon. Friend has got something up his sleeve which has not been explained to the House, and which will give him additional powers about which the House knows nothing. I would not, of course, suggest for a moment that my right hon. Friend would deliberately attempt to mislead the House, but this appears to give him mysterious powers which have not so far been explained.
Under the same Clause the members of the Civil Defence Services who are conscripted in this way are given certain privileges relating to relief in respect of liabilities for rent and so on, and I would like to know why these same privileges cannot be given to other members of the Civil Defence Services who have been prevented by my right hon. Friend's Order from leaving those Services. Are they not in exactly the same position as a man who has been conscripted under this Bill? I hope there will not be too much differentiation between the man who is conscripted and the other man who is in the Service and is not allowed to leave it, because the latter is virtually a conscript. I hope no privileges will be given to one over the other.
643 This Bill will, of course, be largely operated by the local authorities, whose staff will be given greatly increased work. Everybody knows that local authorities are having great difficulty in maintaining their staffs, but at the same time as this increased work is being put upon them the age of reservation is being raised, so that they will have a substantial number of men called up for service. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to put some pressure on the Minister of Labour and National Service so that the local authorities' staffs will not be depleted at a time when they are having additional duties put upon them. I can assure him that a real difficulty is facing some local authorities, particularly in London, and if he desires this Measure to be carried out to his satisfaction, he must make sure that the necessary administrative staff is available.
So far, the Civil Defence Services have not proved to be popular among the men who have been called up for service. As the Minister of Labour and National Service stated in his opening remarks, the number of men who have taken advantage of the option to join the Civil Defence Services instead of the other services has been relatively small, and I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend does not want to press men unwillingly and grudgingly into this service. It is essential that the spirit of the men should be maintained. They must be made to regard themselves as part of the Fighting Services. I hope my right hon. Friend will do all he can to maintain their spirit. The man who is forced to join the Civil Defence Services must have no feeling of inferiority in regard to his friend and colleague who joins the Armed Forces. These men must be inspired with a sense of self-respect and dignity; they must feel that the work they are doing is worth while work and is part of the battle which this country is waging against the enemy. Materially, they will probably not be very much worse off, if at all, than members of the Armed Forces, and I should like to know what will be done to make this service a self-respecting service equal in status to the other Fighting Services.
I would suggest one thing, small perhaps in itself, but which I think may be rather important. Why not give these 644 men a uniform? At the present time there is one type of uniform in the Auxiliary Fire Service, no uniform for the warden, another uniform for the police, an overall or something for the rescue squads. and other types of garments for different branches of the services. Why not give the Civil Defence worker a uniform of his own? There is nothing like a uniform to make a man proud of the Service to which he belongs. Another thing is that there must be an opportunity for promotion. The men in the Civil Defence Services must not be allowed to feel that" once a Civil Defence worker, always a Civil Defence worker," is necessarily true. We pride ourselves on the fact that every soldier carries a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. I want to know what the Civil Defence worker is going to carry in his gas-mask case. I feel that unless he is allowed to carry the equivalent of a field marshal s baton, this service will not be the success which my right hon. Friend hopes that it will be. We all wish this Bill well, and we hope that it will make speedy progress. We hope that it will not have to be used very much, but the whole House agrees that it is absolutely necessary.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I have removed myself from the Opposition Front Bench to-day, while making these remarks, in order to show clearly that I am in a minority in criticising this Bill. I have been in this House for some years, and I have noted certain doubtful tendencies in Bills that come before Parliament recently. The House will forgive me if I strike a note that may not please some Members; in the House of Commons, however, everyone should express what he feels.