HC Deb 20 November 1941 vol 376 cc427-9
4. Sir William Davison

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will inform the House of the result of his inquiries into the alleged privileged position occupied by conscientious objectors detailed by the tribunals for agricultural work as compared with other agricultural workers and, in particular, with men of the Armed Forces of the Crown temporarily employed in agriculture; and what steps are being taken to see that persons excused from military service on conscientious grounds are not in a privileged position as compared with men in the Armed Forces of the Crown?

Mr. Tomlinson

The results of the inquiries about the case at Guildford to which my hon. Friend drew attention have been communicated to him since he put down this Question. They do not show that the conscientious objectors in that case were in a privileged position compared with other agricultural workers. As regards the matter generally, it is the duty of the Department to administer the provisions of the Act of Parliament, and coercive measures not authorised by Parliament could not be adopted even if they were thought likely to be of practical value.

Sir W. Davison

Is my hon. Friend aware that the case referred to is only an example of the main question? Is he aware that an agricultural labourer or Pioneer has to work some eight hours a day or more, whereas the conscientious objector receives special privileges and works for only seven hours a day? Naturally there is very great annoyance in the matter, because the conscientious objector not only avoids military service but does less work than the ordinary agricultural worker.

Mr. Tomlinson

All I can say is that an inquiry was made into this case and that on investigation it was found that the allegations were not substantiated.

5. Sir W. Davison

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that the New Zealand Government have made regulations with reference to conscientious objectors in order to secure that these persons are not placed in a better financial position than members of the Armed Forces, it being provided that any excess of income earned by them in the employment to which they are sent by the tribunal should be paid into a social security fund, and that any conscientious objectors refusing to comply with these conditions should be transferred to defaulters' detention camps for useful development work; and whether he will introduce similar measures here?

Mr. Tomlinson

My right hon. Friend has no official information with regard to the arrangements in New Zealand, but inquiry is being made. The adoption of somewhat similar arrangements in this country has been considered and I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of my right hon. Friend's reply of 6th February to the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey), in which he explained why he found it impracticable to proceed with them.

Sir W. Davison

Is not the plan which has been adopted in New Zealand fair? Why should conscientious objectors exempted from military service be put in a better financial position than men in the Armed Forces?

Mr. Stephen

Will my hon. Friend say whether the hon. Member is in a better position than members of the Forces?

Mr. S. O. Davies

Should not the men in the Armed Forces of this country be as well treated financially as members of the New Zealand Forces?