§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Whiteley.]
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I have the responsibility of raising a matter with the 914 Minister of Labour, because of certain answers that he gave to Questions on nth September. The right hon. Gentleman is here to-day. He will be here, we understand, to-morrow, dealing with big issues. To-day, he is not dealing with the same issues as those with which he will be dealing to-morrow. To-morrow, we expect he will be asking for increased manpower, and dealing with questions of that kind. We understand him to be taking a different line to-day. By the attitude that he is adopting towards an important body in this country, he is saying that he does not wish for the agency of that body to provide the man-power with which they have already provided him. He would have been poorer in man-power, his difficulties would have been greater in the industrial sphere, had it not been for the religious challenge, the spiritual challenge, of the members of the Oxford Group.
The question that is raised to-day is one of principle. There is no question of men seeking to evade their duty as citizens, seeking to evade their obligations. There is no question of pleading for conscientious objectors to military service. I might say that I thought it was rather unwarranted of the right hon. Gentleman to make a suggestion that those for whom I am appealing to-day might take that way of dealing with the difficulty in which he had placed them by changes made in the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. No charge of that kind of shirking duty, of evading military service has to any extent been raised in the controversy that has waged around this matter since the right hon. Gentleman made his replies on nth September. Indeed, I find from every section of His Majesty's Fighting Forces a strong appeal that effect should be given to the plea that I am making to-day and strong opposition to the decision of the Minister of Labour. I have had some such representations from men who go down to tackle the unexploded bomb, just as I have had them from men who go up into the air and fight our battle in that way. I have had them from bomb disposal squads and from squadron leaders. In the same way I have had the appeal from those in submarines and those in the Fleet Air Arm.
It is rather interesting to notice that any protest against the so-called, or supposed or alleged shirking of responsibility 915 for military service comes, not from the fighting men but from those who themselves are not in His Majesty's uniform.. As a matter of fact I see the charge that this issue is one of Christianity being used as a cloak of cowardice, coming from the kind of individual who is sitting at home in an easy chair in front of his fire, and whose only contribution to the national effort is to make the "V" sign by putting his feet on the mantelpiece. It will appear why I occupy this position in which I find myself to-day. It is one that I regret to be in. I did not desire to raise this matter and those for whom I speak did not desire that it should be made a public issue of this kind, but if, after the statement by the right hon. Gentleman on nth September, I had failed to accept the challenge—as it seemed to me—that he threw down at that time, I would have thought myself lacking in the spunk and smeddum that a Scotsman should possess.
I have known members of the Oxford Group for a considerable time. I am indebted to the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Herbert) for bringing me into contact with them, because it was his attack upon them that brought me into the field on their side to rebut what, I believe, was his unfair attack upon them at the time when they were seeking their incorporation from the Board of Trade. Much of the strength of the case that I am endeavouring to put to-day arises from the fact that His Majesty's Government, through the Board of Trade, have endorsed this body by giving a charter of incorporation, on the basis of the articles of association of the Oxford Group, as a body for the advancement of the Christian religion. Since that time I have associated with members of the group. I have argued with them and I have found them very agreeable. I have lived with them and I have found them very likeable. I have sheltered with them from falling bombs and I have not found them scared. I have worked with them, walked with them and worshipped with them. I have welcomed them into my home and I have found them worthy of that welcome, and, with my knowledge of them, it befits me to take up on their behalf the challenge on their behalf to-day.
I want to condense what I have to say into the briefest possible compass. One 916 is tempted to enlarge in a case of this kind, but I know that many Members want to speak and I will do my best to be as brief as circumstances will allow. I entered upon this particular matter which is now in dispute with the idea that I was making a small request to a big man. Circumstances have developed in a way that has made that an absolutely wrong picture of the position. I now find myself raising an issue of immense importance which completely overshadows any personality, including that of the Minister of Labour with whom I am raising it. This matter extends far beyond the simple issue that I raised, first of "all, with the Minister, and I have had indications of the very wide repercussions to the attitude that has been taken up by the Minister of Labour.
With regard to some of the discussion that has taken place in the public Press, I would give what I consider to be kindly advice to the hon. Member for Oxford University. We find him writing letters to the newspapers with, as it appears to me, neither punch nor humour in them, which have been very bluntly replied to by very important quarters that are better able to judge of this issue than he is. But I would say to him on one of the main points that he has always made in respect of this particular issue, that I believe it would be better for him and for his constituents if he concentrated less upon the name of the university which he represents in this House and endeavoured to concentrate more upon the motto of that University. A name is a very chance thing; a motto is something that is decided upon after mature deliberation. If the hon. Member, instead of concentrating upon the use of the name "Oxford" for this body for which I am speaking to-day, would take into account the motto of Oxford University which means ''God is my Light," I believe he would be doing a better service than he has been doing up to the present time. The other side of his objection to this body is the fact that they hold as their leader a distinguished American; Dr. Frank Buchman. I want to say to the hon. Member that it ill becomes anyone in this country, especially at a time like this, to attack an American citizen who is highly respected as Dr. Frank Buchman is, from log cabin to White House, and not only from log cabin 917 to White House but in log cabin and in White House.
We have seen the efforts of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert). His efforts in the sphere of international politics are not as successful, let us hope, as his good work in his launch on the Thames. There was a further letter last week on Dr. Buchman and the Oxford Group, and I have in my hand a cable from distinguished American Congressional and Labour leaders, voicing their resentment. Among them is Senator Claude Pepper, President Roosevelt's close collaborator in the Senate, who is often said to be his spokesman and is also regarded by many as the most aggressive advocate in Congress of aid to Britain. These leaders express their own views of the value of the work of Dr. Frank Buchman and his followers in the following quotation:Over two years ago there was launched a nation-wide programme of Moral Re-Armament. The value of that programme was publicly recognised by leaders throughout the country, including President Roosevelt, former President Hoover and General Pershing, as well as by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lord Halifax, and others in Britain and abroad. Since then war has come to Europe and we in America are well advanced on the greatest national defence effort of our history. The spirit of M.R.A., while providing nations with the only possible basis for future collaboration, continues to supply the inner strength and toughness of character without which no nation can survive in war or peace. It is stimulating the personal patriotism, industrial co-operation and national unity so vital to our own defence programme.Equally striking proof of the progress of M.R.A. is the character of the opposition. No force for moral unity which assumes national proportions can long escape attack, open or veiled, from anti-moral, anti-social and anti-American elements. A national emergency is a national breeding ground for rumour and innuendo, and subversive forces are exploiting it to the full. In their whispering campaign against M.R.A. these forces are aided and abetted by the complacency and credulity of well-meaning and otherwise patriotic men and women. But forewarned is forearmed, and to this end we urge that you study with care the enclosed article by Mr. Gould Lincoln, which deals authoritatively with the whole matter.Of Mr. Gould Lincoln, these men say in their cable that he is one of the most widely respected political commentators, noted for his vigorous support of the programme of all-out aid for Britain. His articles appear in the "Washington Star" and are syndicated throughout the Press of America. The recent one in question reads: 918A principal detractor of the Oxford Group in England is A. P. Herbert, a Member of Parliament representing Oxford. In efforts to discredit the Group Mr. Herbert has offered resolutions in the House of Commons to deny the Group its name "The Oxford Group." He proposed such a resolution only a few months ago. It got nowhere nor will it. Other Members of Parliament and men and women throughout England and the British Empire immediately rallied to the defence of the Group. However this form of attack has been relayed to America where enemies of the Group have sought too to discredit it and the work it is doing to build better relations in the home and between labour and management.Mr. Lincoln then goes on to quote an offensive and sneering speech made in public by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University about America and her political attitudes and continues:Mr. Herbert's latest outburst has been an attempt to discredit the Oxford Group in Britain by the fantastic claim that they are 'not religious.' He was promptly put in his place by the combined rebukes of the heads of the Anglican and Free Churches. One hundred and sixty Members of Parliament joined the chorus of indignation against this attempt to throttle religious freedom, apart from 240 civic bodies. But the fact that such a question could arise at all in a country supposedly fighting a world war for Christianity is not calculated to reassure Americans.The Oxford M.P. is also quoted us accusing Dr. Buchman of being 'no friend to Britain' because he is an American and owed no allegiance to the King. Fortunately it is hot yet the official attitude of the British Government that American citizenship constitutes a bar to aid for Britain. At least the American Congress and people are not proceeding on that assumption. If this is Mr. Herbert's latest attempt to be funny, it is a type of humour that few people on this side of the ocean are likely to appreciate just now.I want now to give a short factual narrative of how the position in which we find ourselves to-day has developed. On 23rd December last the Oxford Group was asked to furnish full details regarding the work of their 29 full-time evangelists, who had been reserved. This information was provided for the Ministry of Labour in full. Later certain indications seemed to make it necessary to ask for an interview with the Minister. I put this request to the right hon. Gentleman, and he asked me to see Sir William Beveridge, who at that time was dealing with questions of man-power. I took the Secretary of the Group and two other members to discuss the position of these 29 men with Sir William Beveridge on 10th February this year. Sir William 919 Beveridge indicated that his view at that time, prior to the meeting, was that the Oxford Group was a social organisation with a religious background. I am glad to say that in a later interview, in the presence of the Minister, he receded from that attitude, and, as I understood it, indicated that he accepted the view put forward to him that the Oxford Group was and is a religious body. This question was, therefore, for the time being under consideration by the Minister of Labour, and the leaders of the Oxford Group were waiting for a reply from the Minister.
On 14th March Press statements appeared stating that representations from responsible people had failed to move the Minister and that all the members of the Group who were of military age were required to serve. These newspaper articles were couched in such a way that it might appear that they referred to hundreds if not thousands of members of the Group, but they did in fact refer to the 29 men who had been reserved as lay evangelists up to that time and whose position was under consideration by the Minister. At the interview to which I will refer in a moment or two the Minister of Labour was asked who was responsible for the Press statements that were put out at the time when the Oxford Group were waiting for his official attitude. It did not seem quite right that people who had put the point should have their first information, or what purported to be the information on this matter, from the public Press. I ask the Minister now to say why this means was taken of making that announcement. The Press statements appeared on 14th March, and it was not until 22nd March that the officers of the Group learned of the Minister's decision to narrow the category of lay evangelists so as to apply to men doing work analogous to that of regular ministers of religion. By that means he declared that he was putting outside the Schedule of Reserved Occupations 29 members of the Group who had been reserved up to that time. His letter of 22nd March indicated that in order not immediately to cripple the Group he would reserve 10 men until 30th September I thank the right hon. Gentleman for allowing that number to be raised to 11—the 11 men who are now under discussion. In passing, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what was his object in altering the definition of lay 920 evangelists and what has been the result of the alteration. How many previously reserved lay evangelists has the right hon. Gentleman de-reserved by this means, and how many, other than those of the Oxford Group, has he roped into the Armed Forces?
Although this decision was not made public, it did get known, and from the time the Press notice appeared, hon. Members who are adherents of the Group have been pressing for information. Those who raised the matter in that way were told that the earlier Press reports represented the Minister's intentions. Then there came what the right hon. Gentleman has very much complained about. He complains that pressure was brought to bear upon him, and some hon. Members have indicated to me that they have been pressed in connection with this matter. I will say this about pressure. We who have been in the House for some years are accustomed to pressure on different matters that are of public interest. When we get that pressure and it is in the line that we like, it is helpful encouragement to the attitude that we take. It is only pressure when we do not like it or have our doubts about it. This is a democratic assembly. We are democratic. There is no law in this country against people expressing their point of view to us as Members of Parliament, and, indeed, we welcome such representations because they enable us to be fully representative. If we want to be Members of Parliament, then we must be prepared to receive pressure of this kind. We can go to places where we will not have that pressure imposed upon us, but it will not be in a democratic Parliament, and we will not want to go to the places where we cannot be pressed about matters that are affecting the people. I mention two of those places: one is the cemetery, and the other is the gaol.
As the decision of the Minister became known, clerical opinion was expressed, and the Archbishops, many Bishops and many clergy of the Church of England, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland —my own Church, in which I have the honour to be an Elder—the leaders of the Free Churches, and others, expressed their opinion to the Minister that the step he was taking was a wrong one. He was asked by them to receive a deputation of clergy; he was asked to receive a 921 deputation of civic leaders; in both cases he refused. But the Minister is constitutional and democratic enough to know that he could not refuse—I will give him his due and say that he did not seek to refuse—to see a deputation of Members of Parliament from different parties in the House. That deputation was led by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower), I was a member of it, and the Minister received us on 10th April.
It was a very important deputation, but to me it did not clarify the position very much. My principal recollection of it is that the Minister's indignation about the pressure that had been brought to bear upon him was the principal subject that he wanted to talk about in reply to the deputation's representations to him. He did not seem to think that the indications that he had of opinion from important quarters was a tribute to his importance as a Cabinet Minister. He took it all in another way altogether, and seemed to think that he should not have any impressions of this kind communicated to him, notwithstanding the fact that many people throughout the country —they are numBèred by many thousands —feel this position very acutely indeed. I say frankly that I got the impression that the right hon. Gentleman's judgment was clouded by his indignation on that matter. We got no answer at that time to an inquiry about the statement to the Press being made prior to the reply being given to the officials of the Group. On the question, when we raised it as a matter of very great importance, of the pronouncement that had been made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others, the right hon. Gentleman replied to me, "Of course, I know far more about these things than he does." [Interruption.] When I replied, "I am sorry to see you put yourself above the Archbishop with regard to a matter of this kind," the right hon. Gentleman said, "Of course, I know far more. Theology—I have studied all the theologies."
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I do not object to fair statements, but this is an absolute untruth.
§ Sir Robert Gower (Gillingham)
As leader of the deputation, may I say that my hon. Friend opposite is stating what is absolutely true. The expression used by the right hon. Gentleman was: "I have studied theology and consider that I know 922 more about the subject than the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops and the leaders of the Free Churches in this country." I am surprised at my right hon. Friend denying what my hon. Friend said.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Does the hon. Member mean that the Minister of Labour does know more about theology than the Archbishop?
§ Mr. Mathers
I am not at the moment expressing my own opinion; I am giving an account of what took place at an interview, and I am perfectly clear in my recollection. The right hon. Gentleman may have meant what he said to be taken humorously. I do not deny that that may have been the case, but we were there on a very important and a very serious matter, and I thought it was wrong for him to express his opinion of the Archbishop's declaration in that way. In the matter of theology, I am not so well versed as the right hon. Gentleman is in respect of all the theologies. I gather my simple faith in an easier way than that. I take myself back to the kind of faith expressed by Robert Burns in one of the most sincere poems that he ever wrote, the "Epistle to a Young Friend." After saying,An atheist laugh's a poor exchange For Deity offended,he goes on,When ranting round in pleasure's ring,Religion may be blinded;Or, if she gie a random sting,It may be little minded;But when on life we're tempest-driv'n,A conscience but a canker—A correspondence fix'd wi' Heav'nIs sure a noble anchor.My experience of the Oxford Group is that they help people to establish for themselves that correspondence which is such a noble anchor. I have also a vivid recollection of a question which was put to me by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton) at that deputation: He fired a question at me, asking whether the Oxford Group was a denomination. I thought about it for a moment, and then said, "In my judgment I would not say that the Oxford Group is a denomination." The hon. Member thereupon displayed such jubilation that I thought perhaps I had put my foot in it. I was anxious about this, and when I next came in contact with the Oxford Group I asked whether 923 I was right or wrong, and I was told that I was perfectly right in what I had said. I came away from that deputation feeling disappointed, but comforted in one respect. In the course of the discussion I told the Minister that he was going to destroy this movement, and his reply was, "I am not destroying it. I am leaving 10 to carry on." I pointed out that he was taking them away at the end of September, and that that meant that the movement would be destroyed. The Minister replied, with impatience, I thought, that he could easily meet me on that. I conveyed his remarks to the officers of the Group, and on the strength of the statement I obtained they made no objection to 18 of the 29 men being taken away, in spite of the fact that I indicated that the question should be thrashed out as a matter of principle in regard to the whole 29.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
The hon. Member is giving us a good deal of information about a deputation. May I ask whether this was a private or a public deputation?
§ Mr. Mathers
It was a private deputation to learn from the Minister what were his views about a matter of very great public importance. If you, Mr. Speaker, rule that I should not mention what occurred at this deputation then, of course, I will not pursue the matter. Relying on that promise, the Oxford Group, without protest, allowed 18 of these 29 men to go. On 31st July I asked the right hon. Gentleman how he proposed to give effect to his promise, and to my surprise he indicated that he was reverting to his original intention to call up all the members who had been previously reserved. On that occasion he indicated to me that there was doubt in some minds as to whether or not the Group was a body of a religious character. He said he was not going to take it upon himself to give the Group endorsement as a religious body. I did not say anything about that, but I recalled the granting of incorporation by the Board of Trade and, like the pretty milkmaid, I felt like saying," 'Nobody asked you, Sir,' she said." In order to get the matter perfectly clear, I wrote a letter to my right hon. Friend, and I received a reply indicating that he intended to call up the whole II.
924 I want to mention the type of men about whom this question is being raised. Out of the 29 men, 10 are ready for ordination as ministers of a Church. Statements have been put around that these men are evading their military duty, and it has been suggested that they are not men with a serious call to Christianity but are merely idlers anxious to avoid military service. That is a point of view which has been spread about in some quarters and in some sections of the Press. I will give the House three examples. One of these men had his medical examination on 30th September, the very day on which his reservation expired. He is 37 years old, and five years ago was a master at one of the most famous public schools. He had security and a career before him. As a result of meeting the Group he felt called to Christian service, and, after consultation with the Bishop of his Church, he gave up his position, in spite of the fact that he was a married man with three children, to become a member of the Group. He accepted their responsibilities in every sense. As a schoolmaster he would still be reserved, but because he gave up his career and security he has ceased to be reserved and is now to enter the Forces.
Another man, who is 32 years of age, comes from a working-class home in the north. He went to Oxford University on State and other scholarships. Academically he was regarded as brilliant. He was an agnostic, but as a result of meeting the Group he was converted to Christianity. He studied theology and obtained first-class honours. He proceeded to a theological college where he passed all the examinations necessary for entering the Baptist Ministry. For the past seven years he has used this training as a lay evangelist with the Group. Like the other Oxford Group whole-time workers, his days have begun at 5.30 a.m. and have usually lasted until 11 p.m. Now he must discontinue his religious work. Had he still been at his theological college and never given those seven years' arduous service, he would be allowed to continue his vocation unhindered and be reserved from military service.
The third man has already been called up under the Minister's order, and he is now a private in the Royal Armoured Corps. As a lieutenant he has previously 925 served in the Army on the North-West Frontier. In 1936 he became convinced that he was called for spiritual work. He resigned his commission and began training for ordination. At the close of his training, in 1937, with the approval of his bishop, he entered the Oxford Group as a full-time worker, and has worked continually until his calling up. If these men cannot properly be described as lay evangelists, I want to know who can be so described. Statements are made against members of the Group in other countries. I would point out that one of the leaders of the Group in occupied territory, in Scandinavia, has been sentenced by the Nazis to 15 years' hard labour for adhering to his Christian views. The Oxford Group were the first to be attacked by the Nazis in Scandinavia because of their pro-British tendencies. I also wish to put on record a resolution passed by the Free Church Federal Council on 23rd September:That the Free Church Federal Council deeply deplores the decision of the Minister of Labour to take for War Service almost all the small residue of organising workers of the Oxford Group Movement who have hitherto been left to carry on its work. The ground upon which the Minister has based his decision, namely, that the movement is social and not religious, is surprisingly erroneous, since the movement is fundamentally religious and its social activities are merely the consequence of its religious work. At a time when the nation is at war on behalf of the values of Christian civilisation, the decision of the Minister is gravely to be deprecated as unfriendly to the influences from which these values are derived and by which they are sustained.The Minister says, however, that the group is not a religious body. I will leave others—I hope they may catch your eye, Sir—to deal with that on legal grounds. I will give one quotation from a Methodist minister. He says:As a Methodist minister having no connection with the Oxford Group movement, but having had very considerable experience of the invaluable service it is rendering to the moral and social life of the nation, I wish you every success in your effort to reverse Mr. Bevin's amazing decision. I have written to tell Mr. Bevin that if after the results, both social and domestic as well as religious, which I have witnessed in my own church by the ministries of the Oxford Group movement, theirs is not a religious movement, then I could not claim that the Methodist Church, or its 50 millions of members, to which I belong, can be so classified.I protest, too, against the Minister's decision, and indeed I deny the competence. 926 I deny the propriety, of the Minister of Labour, or the Government itself, to decide a matter of this kind contrary to the express conviction of the best obtainable religious opinion in the country. I am appealing to him for a reversal of what I believe to be a wrong decision. I believe it is wrong in law; I know it is wrong in fact; I am positive that it is wrong in equity. If the right hon. Gentleman tries to meet me on legal grounds, on grounds of fact, I shall still claim that he and the Government which is backing him are wrong in equity in taking this decision. I have no peroration. I finish what I have to say by reading part of a letter from a parish minister in my own constituency. He says:I trust that when the matter is brought again before the House of Commons, as I understand it will be, you will find it convenient to tell the House that many of us clergy view with alarm this apparent attack on religious freedom and toleration, and that we hope that the Minister of Labour will see his way clear to revoke his former decision and thus remove any misconceptions on this point. It would be worse than folly to labour and sacrifice and fight for the cause of freedom in other lands only to watch it gradually disappear in our own.I commend that observation to the Minister of Labour, and I hope we shall have a sympathetic reply from him.
§ Sir Edward Campbell (Bromley)
It is many years since I addressed the House, and I should not do so now did I not feel that it is absolutely necessary that someone should state the position of the country. I feel very strongly that every available able-bodied man should join the Fighting Forces, no matter what he is doing. There are, to my mind, far too many young able-bodied men who for some reason or another, upon some pretext, have got exemption from military service, and I think that is wrong. I often think that some people do not realise the seriousness of our position. We are far from victory, and if we are to win, everyone capable of doing so must pull his weight to the very best of his ability now. I have read a great deal about the Oxford Group. I have nothing to do with the correspondence on one side or the other. I believe the Oxford Group is a perfectly genuine group, and I believe it is doing very good work, but in my constituency several shopkeepers, despite all my endeavours to get them 927 exemption, have been called up and had their shops closed down because they were unable to obtain temporary managers. This has caused great inconvenience to many hundreds of customers, and, even worse, in several instances it has caused great distress to families, and in two cases that I know to the widowed mothers of some of the young fellows who have been called up.
With that in mind, how can I support a proposal of this sort? Here are men who have been called up, and the result has been that many people have suffered great distress, or at least great inconvenience, because in these days, when it is difficult to get petrol and we have the black-out and all sorts of inconveniences as the result of the war, it is not so easy to shop as it used to be, and one must take that into consideration. Moreover, I cannot help asking how it is that a movement such as this, which is so well known and so much appreciated throughout the country, cannot find 11 able-bodied men of an older age, old fossils like myself, to support and help to run the organisation.
§ Sir E. Campbell
That is possibly the very reason why they have never asked me to support it. I am to a certain extent a moving spirit in the Boys' Club movement, and the Scouts, another very excellent organisation, and I would not ask for one of them to be exempted. Therefore I feel that, though we have heard an eloquent speech, though rather long for a Scotsman, the Oxford Group, if it wants the sympathy of the country, should arrange among themselves to find someone able to run the organisation just for the term of the war and that the good that is in these men who are sent to the war will have its use at the war.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope (Rye)
I should like to add a few words to the appeal of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) that these last 11 men of the staff of the Oxford Group who have been called up should be reserved. I do so, because I seriously think a mistake is being made. It is a mistake which could easily be rectified, and I think should be rectified, by the Minister to-day. 928 On the 17th of last month I had the privilege of sending to the Minister of Labour a Memorial signed by over 170 Members of Parliament. I will read the concluding sentence of it:We believe that in view of the declared character and purpose of this war this vital Christian movement should be preserved and that the handful of men that remain, now only 11 in all, should be allowed to continue the work to which they pledged their lives years before war began.The Minister replied on 26th September holding out no hope that his decision would be varied, and saying:It should be observed that this decision in no way deprives individuals of their rights as conscientious objectors.My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that this has nothing to do with conscientious objection. These men are not conscientious objectors; they are the remnant of the staff of an organisation which is doing fine work. The rest of the young men of that staff are already on service, and it is the desire to keep what we believe to be a valuable movement going that has induced the officers of the Oxford Group to apply for the reservation of this small nucleus of 11 men. I do not know whether the House is aware that of these 11 no fewer than eight were specially commissioned for evangelistic work in 1937 at a commissioning service by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They are specially commissioned and dedicated for the work they have been doing. We who signed the Memorial to the Minister believe that he has made a great mistake in deciding, contrary to the opinion of the heads of the Churches, that the work of the Oxford Group is not a religious work. I am in a position to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury adheres to his opinion that this is a religious work and that these men should be reserved as lay evangelists.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Do I understand my right hon. and gallant Friend to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury says that this movement is a separate Church?
§ Sir G. Courthope
I did not say anything of the kind. I said that it was a religious work and that in the Archbishop's opinion these 11 men should be reserved as lay evangelists. I understand that he has written that opinion to the Minister, not once or twice, but three times during recent weeks.
929 Why do we, or some of us Members of Parliament, mind so much whether the Minister makes this mistake or not? Most of us who signed that Memorial are not members of the Group. I am not myself. All of us, however, in some way or other, in some place or other, have seen the Group's work and been impressed with its value. I first came across its work in South Africa, where I found that a remarkable achievement had been wrought by a number of members of the Group, who were South African Rhodes Scholars from Oxford, in smoothing out the difficulties between the British and the Afrikanders and between white and colour which were causing great trouble. Since then I have known a number of persons, some of them personal friends of mine, whose characters have been completely reformed by contact with the Group. A large number of us have watched with great interest and appreciation the campaign of moral rearmament, as it is called, which has been having a remarkable effect in different parts of the country. Many of the civic heads of our towns and cities have gone out of their way to testify to the value of this work among the populations which are under their control, and leaders of industry and labour have testified that the value of the work of moral rearmament in settling disputes has been great. We feel that in these circumstances there has been definitely unfair discrimination on the part of the Minister against this Group, and anything like unfair discrimination is abhorrent to Members of this House which is the mainstay of liberty in these difficult times.
We feel that the refusal of the Minister to reserve these 11 men is a definite repulse to Christian progress. Many of us feel very acutely that at the present time there is a great need for a spiritual background to our war effort. We have to introduce this spiritual background to our struggle of right against might, of high ideals against the lust of conquest, and of good against evil. Every religious body in the English-speaking world is striving towards this end. The Oxford group, we believe, has played a very notable part in this endeavour to put a spiritual background to our war effort. Recently we have all been thrilled by the thought of our Prime Minister and the President of the United States of America, the heads of the two great English-speaking democracies, joining in prayer and 930 praise on the deck of a British battleship. They emphasised the importance of the Christian elements in the war which we are waging, and they went a long way towards establishing this spiritual background, the need of which, we all feel, is very great. In view of the contribution, I think the splendid contribution, that the Oxford Movement has made to this subject, I feel that its breaking up by the calling up of the last nucleus of its staff will be a definite blow, not only to the movement but to Christian bodies and organisations in general.
I am authorised to state that the Bishop of Manchester, who, as the Minister knows, has been assisting in examining the applicants for reservation as lay evangelists of the Church of England, offered to perform the same duties for these members of the Oxford Group. Up to the present the offer has not been accepted, but it is still open. It has been renewed by the Bishop of Manchester with the full knowledge and approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I am informed by the headquarters of the Oxford Group that if the offer is accepted they are willing to abide without question by the decisions that the Bishop makes. With all the force at my command I urge the Minister of Labour to accept this offer and thus relieve himself of the difficult and invidious position in which his refusal has placed him.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
There has been an attempt in this discussion to drag in the whole issue of religion, and it was a matter of very great regret to me to find an old colleague, for whom I have had the greatest respect ever since he and I have been in public life, trying to drag in from his memory what happened at a private meeting. If he is a member of the Group I hope that he will learn to put his conduct a little higher than that.
§ Mr. Mathers
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you, Sir, whether it was permissible for me to mention, as I did, what actually took place at that interview. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am not a member of the Oxford Group, but I do support their work.
§ Mr. Speaker
The question which the hon. Member has put to me is not a point of Order. It is a matter of taste.
§ Mr. Bevin
Thank you, Sir, that expresses all that I wanted to say. I may be controversial and I cannot help it, for I have lived in a world of fighting all my life, and coming to this House will not destroy my combative spirit. I give, and I take, but I never carry my feelings further afterwards, and I do not think that anyone can say of me during the 17 months I have been in this House, that I have ever been discourteous to anybody on the hundreds of deputations I have received and in the discussions in which I have engaged. This is not a question of religion at all, and if I may answer immediately the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), I would say, speaking as Minister of Labour, and I believe with the full concurrence of my colleagues in the Government, that we are not prepared to abandon our obligations or our duties to the Bishop of Manchester or to anybody else. We are responsible to this House, and it is for the House to determine whether we have done wrong or not.
We have a terrible responsibility under this Act. Both my predecessor and I since I have held office can boast, I think, of a very remarkable record. Here is an Act of Parliament affecting the lives of some 7,000,000 citizens. It vitally concerns their future, their education, their rights, their businesses. All are placed on the altar of the State, with no exemptions except as provided in the Act—I come to that in a moment—and Parliament has placed upon the Minister of National Service the very onerous and responsible duty of holding the scales justly between citizen and citizen. That is a very difficult thing to do. I suggest that in this capacity we are not merely political heads. In the administration of this Act we discharge, if I may suggest it without egotism, a more difficult and delicate responsibility than any judge on the bench to-day, because of the individual claims as between citizen and citizen which we have to adjust day by day and hour by hour. Even minute by minute, the claims are coming before us, as Members of Parliament well know. The two years' working of this Act has involved a tremendous readjustment of the whole of our national life, with the calling up of —I cannot mention figures, but hon. Members can guess them—a very large proportion of the population to serve in the Forces.
932 We direct thousands of other people to change their jobs and possibly to give up large salaries, to incur, as was said in the House the other day, losses of £200, £300, £400, £500, and in some cases thousands of pounds, a year to take other work in the interests of the State. Those orders have to be given clay by day, hour by hour. It is a delicate and difficult responsibility. Let it once get into the heads of the citizens of this country that any Minister ran away because of organised pressure upon him in any form, and you have lost this war. I am glad this Debate has come on, because I do not think the House has appreciated what this National Service Act really means in the lives of our people. That is brought out only bit by bit, when Questions are put to me, when complaint is made that somebody has been taken who ought not to have been taken; but, comprehensively, I do not believe the House has fully appreciated all that that Act means. I would also emphasise that the marvellous way in which the citizens of this country have responded to this Act throws an added responsibility upon anyone who has to administer it.
Let me deal with the details of this matter and emphasise, first, what is the legal position. Under the Act every person between the ages of 18 and 41 is liable to serve in the Forces, except those who are expressly exempted under the Act. That is not in the Schedule; that is in the Act itself. If it is said that I have done wrong under the Act there are the courts to put me right. The Government can be challenged there My own view, and the view of my advisers, is that by no stretch of imagination can these men be brought within the terms of the express exemptions under the Act. In the administration of the Act the Government of the day and my predecessor did a very wise thing, based on the experience of the chaos at the end of the last war. Let the House remember how men were called up and then had to be got back. To meet that difficulty a Schedule of Reserved Occupations was devised. This Schedule of Reserved Occupations is purely an administrative instrument. It confers no legal rights on anybody. It is changed practically every day. You need only look at your newspapers, and you will frequently see announcements from the Ministry of Labour that the age of reservation has gone up or down, or 933 that categories have been taken in or put out. It is part of the administrative machine.
The object of the Schedule was to reserve those who were regarded as absolutely essential to the war production effort. Fundamentally, that is why it was designed. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the spiritual side?"] I will come to that in a moment. I hope that the House will take it that I am trying to deal fairly in this matter. I have no desire to score off anybody. This is a difficult job, and whoever administers it is entitled to the sympathy and the help of the House. The first aim, as I say, was to deal with the productive effort. It introduced a method that was called deferment. I want to emphasise that word. The deferment has to be carried out with strict regard to the claims, responsibilities and necessities of each case.
I come to the spiritual side and to the exemption provision. The exemption says:a man in Holy Orders, or a regular minister of any religious denomination.That is in the Act, and, as far as that is concerned, there is no question. I have already said that if, for any reason, I am held to have failed to observe that injunction in the Act, the remedy can be sought in the courts. Then arose the questions of others not covered by the Act, but engaged in spiritual work which seemed analogous to the work of a minister of religion as described by the Act. This problem was a very difficult one to solve. There is not perfect unity among all the Churches. There is a large number of sects and divisions of all kinds. It was, therefore, rather difficult to settle this matter. It was claimed that some who were left out should be in and some who were in should be left out. We tried to define the position as a guide to administration. I will read slowly to the House what is in the Schedule, so that hon. Members may clearly understand what was intended:A man who has, since before September, 1939, been engaged whole-time by a recognised religious body in religious work analogous to that of a regular minister of a religious denomination, and continues in such work without interruption.There are many religious societies and bodies which claimed reservation for their workers under this definition. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend the 934 Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), for whom I have great respect, did not seriously mean it when he suggested that I, as a Minister, would use discrimination. I really would not do so. I had to consider a large number of people who inquired whether they came within this definition. I examined their claims. It is rather striking that the one which we arc discussing is the only case that has been challenged in this House. Bodies such as the Y.M.C.A. were told that they did not come within this definition, and they patriotically accepted the decision. No one can say that Toc H is not a highly religious organisation. That was not in question, but, on the analogy, we had to say that Toc H did not come within the definition. Toc H did not challenge that decision. I am sure that those two cases, without citing others, will satisfy my right hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Mr. Bevin
This matter was decided, as in the last war. The exemption Clause of the Act is held to cover commissioners and certain other officers analogous to regular ministers and doing religious work. They were not under the Schedule with which I am now dealing. Therefore—to resume my argument—I was in another great difficulty. There were so many of these bodies. When a test had to be taken about the Oxford Group I had to ask myself certain questions. I had to ask, "Is it a recognised religious body in the ordinary sense, and purely in that sense?" I am not questioning its religious basis. "Is it, within the intention of this definition, a religious body?" I can be guided only by the facts of the situation. It has already been mentioned in this House that the Group is registered as a company, but I did not regard that as conclusive. [Laughter.] I mean that seriously. I did not regard the fact that the Group were registered as a company as ruling them out for consideration. It was argued that this did not preclude them from being regarded as a recognised religious body, and I was not going to be drawn into a lot of legal technicalities.
I do not wish to argue the point, but I could not ignore—I do not think this House will say it was right for me to ignore—the very important fact that, in the case of Thackrah versus Wilson in 1939, Mr. Justice Bennett said: 935This Group seeks to combine people together by a religious bond, but that is not the promotion of religion as understood in law. I cannot find the Group existed purely for the purpose of promotion of religion.I do not think any Minister can ignore an important judgment of that character. Since this controversy has been on, and as so many bishops have been quoted against me, perhaps it is not unfair if I bring out one author on my side. I saw his letter in the "Daily Telegraph" recently. He is only an assistant bishop, but, as the boy said, there is hope. There were some very pertinent questions put in this letter, and I should like to quote from it.A few years ago I was present at a meeting attended by Dr. Buchman, who was good enough to answer certain questions I ventured to put to him. These are the questions: 'Is it your intention that the outcome of your evangelistic work should be the formation of a new religious body?'—that is a test I must apply—The answer was 'No.' 'Have you or do you intend to have paid evangelists? ' The answer was ' No.' My third question was as to the objective of his work. Dr. Buchman's reply, after I had made clear my meaning, was that his movement was intended to assist the churches and in no way to set up an organisation to which individuals should look as finally satisfying their spiritual needs.So I am fortified, at least, by an assistant bishop in this controversy. In my examination of this case I had to realise, quite frankly, that there would be tremendous propaganda about my decision. I anticipated that strong representations would be made whatever decision I came to. If I had refused to give consent, or if I had given consent to their being called up, I knew there would be an overwhelming upset on the other side in a controversial issue of this character. So, in this case I took every possible precaution in arriving at my judgment, which I felt would be challenged one day, either outside or inside this House. I had to ask myself various questions. I took into consultation in my examination of this problem—and I am sure they will not mind my mentioning it—my two Parliamentary Secretaries. One of them, happens to be a member of the House of Laity, and the other happens to be a very enthusiastic and energetic local preacher in the Nonconformist world. I thought the two of them would be fairly representative of the type of mind that it was 936 worth while consulting in my own Department. I have their authority for saying that they not only support my conclusion, but that they think I am absolutely right both in the method and the manner in which I have tried to deal with this case. I had to ask myself was the work of these young men analogous to that of a regular minister of a regular denomination? I do not think that that is a claim which will be seriously put forward. From inquiries I have been able to make I do not think it can be maintained that the work of these young Oxford Group men is analogous to that of a regular minister of the Church.
§ Mr. Bevin
It is not for me to question its value. I beg hon. Members who have prejudices against -this or that Church to be like me—impartial. There are, clearly, a number of duties performed by regular ministers which are not performed by Oxford Group workers. I cannot regard the latters' work as sufficiently analogous to that of a regular minister to justify their inclusion within this definition.
§ Mr. Mathers
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to put a question to him? He has indicated to the House that there are 400 lay evangelists reserved. Do any of these 400 lay evangelists completely cover, and are they legally entitled completely to cover, the duties of an ordained minister of religion?
§ Mr. Bevin
Not ordained—I did not apply the ordination test at all. I have made that perfectly clear; we. are dealing with the Schedule. I have been asked a question as to how many organisations would be dealt with. There are 32 religious organisations of one kind or another whose workers have not been reserved. There is a number of others whose workers, as I have announced to the House, have been reserved, and I cannot, from memory, go into the details of every case that has been examined by the Department.
I desire to make this quite clear, with all the emphasis at my command. I am not passing, have not passed, and do not intend to pass judgment as to whether their work is religious or has a religious 937 basis, nor to question in any way what the results of their work are. That is not what is before me, nor is it before the House. I have to satisfy myself, under the obligations imposed upon me by the National Service Act, whether or not they fall under the Act which would give them exemption, or whether, in common with other bodies, they fulfil the qualifications for the moment laid down in the Schedule, which, as I have said, may be subject to alteration at any time. In my examination, by neither of these tests did I feel that these 11 or 29 men should be exempted or reserved. There was no ground for their exemption under the Act, and there was no ground upon which, having regard to the claims made for man power, I could say that they were entitled to deferment. Indeed, had I given in on this matter I should have brought up the position of an enormous number of bodies. I could not have denied to Jehovah's Witnesses what I had granted to them. [Interruption.] I did not say that to raise a laugh, but if I had come to this House and said that I had deferred the officers of Jehovah's Witnesses because they happened to be pacifists and conscientious objectors, I should have raised a storm the other way, and I should have been told I had done wrong to include them in the Schedule. I say this only to point out to the House how difficult it is to judge between one and the other.
Last April, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower), I received a deputation of all parties. I think, if I may say so, that it was a most effective coalition. Attempts have been made to tell you what happened on that deputation. I may have said something about having studied theology. In that, I do not claim to be superior to the Archbishop of Canterbury, because he has had a full-time job of it all his life and I, only dealt with it a little when I was young. But I do not think it is wrong for me to say, as I probably said then, that one of my early studies which has had a great influence on me was, not so much a particular theology as a comparison of the various theologies of the world, and that has made me very tolerant of any theology in the world.
I think it has been very useful at least to have given some elementary thought to the question of theology. After all, religion is a great universal emotion. It 938 is in every man from the aborigine to the highest intellectual. The difficulty and the quarrels come in when we attempt to crystallise it into a ritual, not the great emotion which is the basis of human affairs. I feel that very strongly. Therefore, it is not with an anti-religious bias that I approach this problem. The number of men affected was 29. I took what I thought was a generous view, that I would not act in any unkind or ruthless way. When I had found that they could not come within the Schedule or the Act, and had to tell them that they would have to be called up, I suggested that they might name 11 out of 29 people between the ages of 30 and 37 to carry on for six months in order to give them a chance to get other people to continue their work during the war. Was that an unreasonable thing to do? If I was wrong why was I not challenged then?
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Chislehurst)
May I ask whether it is the Minister who gives the final decision under the Regulations, as to who shall be reserved or de-reserved?
§ Major Cazalet (Chippenham)
Does the Minister really believe it is possible in six months to find alternative men of a particular age for these duties?
§ Mr. Bevin
The hardship courts, I say, are allowed to give only twelve months as a maximum, whatever the difficulty of the circumstances may be. It is very hard for me to believe, and it is hard for the House to believe, that a movement like this is solely dependent on these men. I should need a great deal of convincing on that point. After six months the calling-up time came. I do not resent high-pressure organisation, but this business has gone a little beyond the mark.
939 Mention has been made of two lord mayors. I am not going to raise prejudice but I should advise this Group to be a little more careful. The Lord Mayor of Hull told me that at 8 o'clock in the morning two men arrived, planted a document before him, and called upon him to sign it and send it to Mr. Bevin. The Lord Mayor of Leeds told me a similar story. I have here a letter from the Mayor of Nottingham, who indicates the same kind of policy. A Member of this House, who is prepared to support what I say, brought me a message from the Mayor of Blyth to tell me that they called upon him, told a story and ended by saying, "With Mr. Bevin it can be understood because he is an atheist." That is going a little bit too far. [Interruption.]
I make no further comment. But I do suggest that if you are trying to put pressure on a Government carrying out a policy, that is one thing, but if you try to put pressure on a Minister who has to carry out a judicial function, and hold the scales between man and man, that is another thing. I repeat that these scales have to be held fairly, and I say to the members of the Oxford Group, now that they have heard my explanation: "When you appeal to me to withdraw my decision, my answer is that you will win confidence in the country if you say you are prepared to take your corner in the great struggle" There is a Scriptural text:Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.In this case, as I read this war and the issues involved, happily there is no conflict between Caesar and the Lord. It is a struggle for a righteous cause. What would the House and the nation think of any Minister who, because he was faced with an overwhelming agitation and pressure, took an easy line and exempted or deferred these men, and then proceeded to call up to the Services 11 other unknown men, who had no influence and no one to state their case, but who possibly might be in a more precarious position themselves. Such an act, on the part of any responsible Minister, would got be in accordance with my conception of Christian ethics, justice or fair play.
§ Petty-Officer A. P. Herbert (Oxford University)
I hope it will not be 940 deemed impertinent if one of the representatives of Oxford University intervenes in a Debate in which that name is so often mentioned. I do not think the Minister needs any assistance from me. I can only congratulate him on the firm and wise decision he has made, but I wish he had gone a little further. I think that this Government has been weak, as the last Government was weak, in this affair. It will be clear now that this affair was, for once, not due to my machinations, nor would I ever have thought of going about driving these young men into the Forces. I knew nothing whatever about it. I have many other things to do besides that. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) whose sincerity I greatly admire, and I am only sorry that a man of his powers and parts should Have got mixed up in this kind of thing. I thank him for his advice as to what may harm me in what I do. But let me tell him that when I believe that something is right for my country and constituency, I try hard not to bother about what harm it may do me. I know what I am up against with this vast, wealthy and ruthless organisation, able at this moment to flood the country with a four-page leaflet on expensive paper, with a printed covering letter, and by the way, with no printer's name on it according to the law. I know well what I am up against. Believe me, I am as tired of this vendetta as everyone else, but I am also tired of hearing these expressions about vendettas and persecution.
The language and the technique of the Oxford Group Company, Limited, is strikingly and sadly similar to that of the Nazis. Everything which is done against them is "encirclement" and "persecution." But they can ride roughshod over the feelings of everybody in the name of God. It is understandable that ordinary Members of this House and ordinary members of the public should not have understood how deep and bitter was our resentment against what this body did to us and the way in which it was done. But they knew. Now it does not lie in their mouths, when Nemesis has at last come upon those who wish to make the best of both worlds, to talk about vendettas. Hitler, I believe, thinks that the Czechs and the Poles are conducting a "petty vendetta" against him. That is 941 roughly the position between these people and me.
I, so far from voting against the Government for taking too strong a line, would be almost inclined to go the other way. I cannot accept the opinion which seems to be abroad that any body calling itself a religious body can, ipso facto and automatically, come to Ministers and to this House and demand special privileges. In war-time especially, we are entitled to look at them and say, "Are you, in every way, politically above suspicion? Are we quite sure that in your principles and practices, in your personalities and your leaders, you may not be a danger to the State?"
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
I said that we are entitled to ask whether, in the case of a body demanding special privileges of the State, we are satisfied that it is not a danger to the State. I am not seeking to rake up old scores, but during that old controversy in the spring of 1939 I naturally received a great many letters from people who do not regard the Company and its leader with such affection and respect as my hon. Friend does. I did not take them all seriously. We all know that everybody writes letters about everybody else nowadays. I have hundreds of these letters at home which make the most shocking allegations, which I would never dream of mentioning. But I was, quite apart from all the Oxford business, deeply and genuinely concerned about the number of letters which suggested some sort of sinister relationship between the Company—or what was then the "Group "—and the Nazi leadership. We have heard all sorts of stories about Frau Himmler, for instance, being one of them. Many of these stories are not capable of proof, because you cannot have proof in the case of a body of people who are so reluctant to bring a libel action as this organisation—and indeed most of us—are. I do not think that in a matter of this sort what might be called police-court proof is essential. A body coming to this House and asking for special privileges must be, I think, above suspicion.
942 I am not satisfied that this body is above suspicion. I am not going to leave it at that. The charge I make, the charge which I made in the papers the other day, is that Dr. Buchman is not a true friend of this country. I said there was no reason why he should be, because he was an American citizen. But in saying that, I was not sneering at Americans but in a sense excusing him. I meant that I think he loves Hitler as well as he loves us, and secondly, that there is, in his teaching and in his record, a strange tendency towards flabbiness on the one hand and Fascism on the other. That is a queer combination. Both elements are inimical to the war effort. Thirdly, although the great bulk of these boys are good, innocent, brave boys, and will fight, I dare say, better than I shall, in the Forces, there is this dangerous suggestion of flabbiness and Fascism among the very people we are discussing—the evangelists.
I will tell the House the type of thing I have in mind. I have chosen only two or three of the hundreds of letters I have had. I agree that they are not proof of anything but they would lead to proof in a libel action. If anybody wants to bring a libel action, I will hand them to the Press after I leave the House. I have one here from an old clergyman. By the way, I recall the remark my hon. Friend made about the Oxford motto, "The Lord is my Light." I ask that I might humbly remind the House of this. Unworthily and strangely though I may do it, I do represent 5,000 clergymen of the Church of England—I think about one-quarter of the whole body—and, although I quite agree that many of them may shudder at my name—I heard of the Dean of Somewhere, who said that Oxford is to-day represented by a boat builder and a buffoon—I believe I have the majority of them behind me in this matter. This letter is from an old clergyman:Two members of the Group called on me with what seemed to me to be a harmful leaflet on what they called Moral Rearmament, demanding that I, as a clergyman, should give it my blessing. I at once refused. One said to me, in a cow-eyed, mooing fashion, ' If it was God's will that Hitler should conquer, would you not submit'?I think that is the most terrifying sentence in all the documents in my possession. That was the flabby spirit that prevailed in Western Europe at the beginning of the war. It is not the spirit of Europe 943 to-day, it is not the spirit of Britain, or of Colonel Britton. It is not the spirit of the Prime Minister, who said:We shall fight in the streets; we shall fight on the beaches.No young man is going to fight in the streets for long who has that poison in his soul. I will do this boy justice, whoever he was, and say that that was not the spirit of that young man until Dr. Buchman and his evangelists got at him.
I have been challenged by Mr. Peter Howard, whom we used to know so well out there in the Lobby. I am told that he has greatly changed since he became a Buchmanite, and I am sure that that is so. But as an accurate reporter of the remarks of Members of Parliament, as a commentator and controversialist, I must say that the new Peter Howard bears some striking similarity to the one we used to know. I will not go into all the points he made, but he challenged me to produce a single "concrete" piece of evidence that a Grouper or Evangelist was more likely to favour a bogus peace move than anybody else. Well, that letter is the kind of thing I have in mind. But I have something more than that. Here is a letter from a Scottish clergyman. I will first read the last sentence, in which he says:If you want my credentials, I think Mr. Tom Johnston, the new Secretary for Scotland, Mr. Ernest Brown, the new Minister of Health, or the Rev. James Barr will give them.I consulted those gentlemen without showing them the letter. Of course, they are not committed; but they all said that the writer of this letter is an honest man. This was sent to Members of Parliament generally and not to me. He writes:It was my unhappy lot to have among the members of my church "—I will not mention any names unless the House insists—a millowner who claims to be the person who first brought Dr. Buchman to Scotland"—that is to say, he was a friend of the doctor—This local Fuehrer of the Oxford Group demanded that I should refrain from any criticism of Hitler in my church or from the use of any language in my public affairs which might call for his defeat or destruction. Unless I gave an undertaking to refrain from the use of such language and unless I would clarify my attitude towards Hitler, (I) he would find it necessary to interrupt public 944 worship if criticism of Hitler was made, and (2) he would leave the church—which, thank God, he did.Are we not entitled to ask these young men who wish to be released, as evangelists, if that is the kind of gospel they are going to hawk about the country and give to our young men and girls, whether there is "police-court" proof or not? Here is another:I have a guest house here and have come in contact with some of the Groupers. Far from denouncing Hitler and company, one of the leaders sat in my lounge (about the time of the 1938 crisis) and defended Hitler and, the Nazi regime, maintained that Germany was more democratic and more sincere than this country.Here is another letter about Denmark:I was in Denmark before the war and I am prepared to say without question that the Oxford Movement was the main force in spreading defeatism and rotting the morale of the upper and middle classes. I have it on the best authority and I am satisfied as to the authenticity of my information, that in Denmark since the German occupation the whole leadership of youth has been placed under the Moral Rearmament Group. It must be assumed that this is done with the assent of the German authorities as in the other occupied countries.Though not one of these letters may constitute proof there is such a cloud of suspicion, so much smoke, that we are entitled to ask in time of war at least whether there is not a little more.
I pass from the disciples to the master. I have never made too much of the famous remark, "Thank God for a man like Adolf Hitler, who will build a bulwark—or whatever it was—against the anti-Christ of Communism." Many of us, all of us said foolish things before the war which we might see fit to retract now. Far more significant is the fact that never once since the war, in spite of challenges, has that remark been denied, retracted or corrected. I do not believe there is on record a single utterance of the master which condemns Hitler or the aggressors or says a really fervent word for this country. I read in the "Oxford Group News" some time ago an article sent to Italy—you will find it in the files—in which this sentence occurred: ''Many people ask what is the attitude of moral rearmament men to the war. The answer is that moral rearmament men go on exactly as before. It never occurred to us to inquire into the origins of the war." Well, I think that a British Youth Movement ought to inquire into the origins 945 of war. Now at this moment, when these accusations have been made most publicly, my hon. Friend has read out a long and interesting reply from Congressional and Labour leaders of America, whom, naturally, I respect. But I want a word from Dr. Buchman himself before I am satisfied about these things. I would like someone to write to him and say, "Really, Doctor, if you are to continue the leadership of a British youth movement it is almost time you sent us a stirring message about what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against, that you rememBèred that you wear the name of Oxford, that your headquarters are in London, and stood up to that position." I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow to send a cable to the doctor to-night saying, "Will you cable the House of Commons in these simple words, with no verbiage about God control and all that stuff, ' You were wrong about me, and I was wrong about Hitler. Hitler must be defeated, and Hitlerism must be destroyed'?" Only when I get that sort of message shall I begin to believe that I am wronging a good man. Even then I shall not be wholly satisfied, because I have here in this great book evidence which I maintain is proof of public character, such that we are entitled to consider very seriously even the worst suspicions.
At the time of the old controversy I consulted "Who's Who." This book contains many other well-known names, such as Hitler and Mussolini. But even they with all their faults have not, I think, gone so far as to make false entries in this book. I am not seeking to raise old scores, but this, I think, is a shocking piece of evidence. I happened to look up the entry of Dr. Buchman in 1939, and I read:In 1921 visited Oxford, where in Christ Church the Oxford Group was founded.I went hot all over. I thought, not only am I in a jam but I have wronged this innocent man by saying that the connection of his Group with Oxford was small. Here, apparently, was evidence that in 1921 a body called the Oxford Group was deliberately founded at Oxford. Then I had the curiosity to look at previous copies of "Who's Who," and I went back to 1928, where the story began. There the record was quite different. It said: 946In 1921, became the centre of a new religious movement called the First Century Christian Fellowship.That remained until 1931, when the name "Oxford" appeared for the first time. In 1933 it said he:… became the centre of a new religious movement, the Oxford Group Movement (A First Century Christian Fellowship).In 1933 the real Oxford Movement centenary was being celebrated, and so in 1934 that dear old First Christian Fellowship disappears for ever. This is all rather difficult to explain, but the point is this. It is one thing to change your name after 13 years from Buchman to, say, Benson, but it is quite another thing to go back and falsify the records so as to make it seem that the name was Benson all the time, especially in the same year when you are by chance going to the British Board of Trade to claim incorporation under the name of Benson.
There is another thing, a smaller thing —though I don't call it smaller because it deals, with Cambridge University. There is written all through the story, under "Education," "Studied at Cambridge University, 1921-22." I took the trouble to ring up the Registrar at Cambridge University, and I find that the facts are that he spent six months at a theological college called Westminster College, which is not part of the University and has nothing to do with it. He might have obtained permission to go to lectures at the University, but on ringing up the Registrar, I found that he did not do any such thing. He has no more right to say that he studied at Cambridge University than anyone who reads a book in a Cambridge pie-shop. These may seem small things, but if Absolute Honesty is so frail in small things, is it likely to stand the test of big ones? In that great book, built by the master's hand, lies for ever the tomb of Absolute Honesty.
On all those counts I now say to the Government that if the hon. Member is kind enough to send that telegram to the doctor and there is not the reply which I demand, within a reasonable time, I shall go to the Prime Minister and ask him to take measures much more severe about this company. I think the Government should say this to the company: "You are, perhaps, on the whole, good, innocent boys, but in this time of war we 947 cannot afford, to take risks. We may not have all the proof that we want, but there is so much suspicion that we cannot take risks. You boys and girls have to choose between Buchman and Britain, and if you do not, we shall dissolve and prohibit you as a society potentially dangerous to the State."
I believe it would be better still if these boys and girls were to make a generous gesture, a wise gesture, themselves. Before they go to the Colours— and I wish them luck—why do they not gather together in that great room in Hay's Mews, and, while regretting the continued absence of their leader—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am doing something rather unusual, but I must tell the House that, although as a rule we do not divide on the Motion for the Adjournment, if the House so wishes to divide, it must do so before the hour appointed for the interruption of Business.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
Why do not they voluntarily write to the leader and say that he is embarrassing their work? And one thing more. I know that the Christian doctrine of reparation is rightly a very popular one among them. It might be that they might do a classic act of Christian reparation and restore that remnant of the banner which we think they have dishonoured, and in so doing, brought dishonour on themselves. If not, I can say no more than this. I know very well how many people point at me the finger of scorn and say, "King Charles' head," "Bees in the bonnet," or "Bats in the belfry," and all the other epithets which these super-Christians have cast upon me; but the safety of my country, the defence of its institutions, the pursuit of humbug, and, if I may be pardoned for mentioning it, the good great name of Oxford, these are bees and bats and King Charles' heads which I will gaily carry about with me until I die.
§ Mr. Denman
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but MR. SPEAKER withheld Ms assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir Robert Aske(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East) rose—
§ Hon. Members: Divide.948
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Major Dugdale.]
§ Sir R. Aske
The Minister has decided, and has so stated to-day, that the Oxford Group is not a recognised religious body. He has relied in support of that statement upon a judgment of a Court of Chancery, given nearly three years ago, before the Oxford Group became an incorporated body. The case arose as a result of a bequest of certain moneys to the group. In that case the judge decided that the Group was not a legal entity capable of taking a bequest, which in itself was sufficient to determine the case. However, a subsidiary question arose as to whether the money bequeathed was given for charitable purposes, and whether the Oxford Group existed for the advancement of religion. In other words, the question was whether the Group were engaged in religious work. That is the case upon which my right hon. Friend relies. Upon that second point the judge could, of course, determine only upon the evidence before him, and that evidence was of a fragmentary character. He did not decide that the Oxford Group was not a religious body. Upon the evidence which was put before him he was unable to find that the Group was a religious body. Of course, that is a completely different thing.
Since that case the position has been completely revolutionised, because the Group set about putting themselves right in both these respects. In the first place, they became a legal entity by being incorporated as under the name of the Oxford Group. In the second place, they set out in their constitution the real purposes for which the Group existed. These are set out in the Memorandum of Association, which, of course, is, in the case of any incorporated body, the constitution of the body itself. I wish to read to the House the objects for which the Group was established, as they have been formally set out:The advancement of the Christian religion, and, in particular, by the means and in accordance with the principles of the Oxford Group founded in or about the year 1921 by Frank Buchman.949 If the judge in that case had had before him the incorporation, which, of course, he could not have at that time, because the Group was not incorporated, and the objects as set out in the constitution, he would have been obliged to come to a different conclusion on both points. He would have been obliged to hold, first of all, that the Group was a legal entity, and secondly that the purposes for which it was established were the purposes set out in the Memorandum, which are for the advancement of the Christian religion. This consideration is absolutely conclusive and unchallengeable. It is impossible, in the face of these objects declared formally in the constitution, for anyone to say now that the Oxford Group is not a religious body. The Group has no power to do anything outside the objects as stated in this Memorandum. If it set about secular objects it would be doing something ultra vires and illegal. It can only do, by the very terms of the constitution, the things which it is given power to do in its Memorandum, namely, the advancement of the Christian religion. So that on this first point the position the Minister has taken up, which was perfectly sound in every way as related to the period before the incorporation of the Group, is now absolutely untenable since the date when the Group was incorporated with its objects so limited in the words that I have described. I put this as a subsidiary consideration. If the Group is not engaged in religious work, it must be engaged in secular work. Where among the matters that the Group is entitled to undertake can the Minister point to one word which entitles the Group to undertake any matter that should be described as secular? So that the fundamental proposition which the Minister has put forward is entirely unfounded.
But the matter does not really rest there, because this item in the Schedule which is now being considered was a new matter brought forward last April. All these men were reserved under a previous Schedule, and that Schedule, in order to give the right of reservation, was in these words, that the man must be engaged whole-time upon religious work for some recognised body. So that it was impossible up to the date of the new Regulation that any of these men should have been reserved unless the Minister himself was satisfied that they were engaged whole-time upon 950 religious work. The whole case on this point was conceded by the Minister, and they recognise that in a formal letter written by the Ministry on 27th March, 1941, to the Secretary of the Group, in which they stated that all these men were then reserved on the ground that their duties fell within the terms of the existing definition of lay evangelists. That formally set forth what was the fact, that all these men were engaged whole-time on religious work. They are doing the same work to-day, and if they were entitled to reservation then because they were engaged on religious work, they are entitled to reservation for precisely the same work now. The reason given in this letter was not that the position of these men would be altered because the Oxford Group was not a religious body, but that under the new regulation they would not be persons who were undertaking work of a kind normally performed by a minister of religion, which is an entirely separate point. Therefore, we submit to the Minister that the argument which he has advanced, good as it might have been before the incorporation and the statement of the constitution of the Group, has no force or validity to-day.
That leaves only the other point, as to whether these men are engaged in religious work analogous to that of a regular minister of a religious denomination. With regard to the words "in religious work," I have pointed out that they were in the former Schedule, and it was recognised by the Minister that these men fulfilled that condition. The only other point is whether they are engaged on work analogous to that of a regular minister of a religious denomination. I submit that if any Member were asked to express an opinion on that point with regard to any individual, he would first require to take counsel with some of the leaders of the Churches in order to ascertain what work these men were doing and whether it was analogous to that performed by a regular minister of religion. On that point the leaders of the Free Churches, every one of whom has had long and extensive experience of the work done by ministers of religion and has knowledge of the work being done by the lay evangelists of the Oxford Group, set out a formal statement to the Minister in March, 1941, which contained these statements: 951These workers have been engaged in whole-time evangelistic work for a period ante-dating the outbreak of the war. These men have legal responsibilities which have developed as the result of their evangelistic work, and they are at present giving leadership and pastoral care to many hundreds of groups throughout the country and many thousands of individuals. In our view their work is a vital part of the Christian witness of this country. The Oxford Group is a definitely religious movement.That statement was signed by the acting Moderator of the Free Church Council, the Secretary of the Free Church Council, the President of the Methodist Conference, the Secretary of the London Methodist Mission, the General Secretary of the Baptist Union and by the Rev. Scott Lidgett, of the Bermondsey Settlement. Those are among the most representative leaders of Nonconformist opinion in this country. I submit to the House that it is impossible to get any expert opinion as to whether people are engaged in work analogous to that performed by a minister of religion better than the opinion of those experienced ministers.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Tomlinson):
I would ask the hon. and learned Member to point out where they are showing the analogy. I listened attentively to what he read, but in no particular instance did they say that the work was analogous to that of a minister.
§ Sir R. Aske
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for asking for this matter to be made quite clear. I will read the statement again:These men have localised responsibilities which have developed as the result of their evangelistic work.That is the first point, that they are engaged in evangelistic work, which is surely part of the work of a minister of religion. Secondly, they are at present giving "leadership and pastoral care." Surely pastoral care is the best test that can be devised as to whether the work is analogous to that of a minister of religion. His work is wholly pastoral care, and that is the work that these lay evangelists are doing. My hon. Friend says that these ministers do not go into detail. Neither did the Minister of Labour. He has not pointed out one single respect in which these men are doing work which is not analogous to that of a minister of religion. 952 They are doing work which the Ministry of Labour, as I have pointed out, formally stated in their letter of March, 1941, was religious work, and if the work is religious work it is work analogous to that done by a minister of religion. Otherwise, we are playing with words. [Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary forgets that "whole time" is in this definition. They must be engaged whole time. These men are engaged whole time in work which the Ministry has acknowledged is religious work. Therefore, in my submission, there is no real substance in either of the points which have been raised, either that the group is not a religious body or that these men are not engaged in religious work analogous to that of a minister of religion.
§ Major Cazalet (Chippenham)
I am not a member of the Oxford Group, and I never have been, and some of their habits, and much of their phraseology, have always irritated me to a very great degree, but for many years now I have seen the results of their work. On account of their religious activities many men and women, young and old, have been made better and happier citizens, and that is no mean record. If we, at the end of our time, can say that we have made one individual happier or more fitted for the Kingdom hereafter, we shall have something to our credit. Why have we had a large number of Members present here to-day? Why is there such feeling— construed by opponents of the proposal as propaganda? Because a principle is involved. Questions of religious discrimination and religious freedom have caused a large number of Members to attend today. People in all walks of life throughout the length and breadth of the country have written, protesting against the action of the Minister. Is it not right in these days, when Ministers are given vast powers, that Parliament should be alert to see that these powers are not abused?
Even though the Minister acted correctly under the terms of the Act, it still seems that he has done it in a most unfortunate way. He has made large numbers of genuine, sincere people, who are as patriotic as anybody, believe that he is prejudiced against the religious beliefs which they hold. I know that he made an extremely good-humoured, technically correct and competent speech, but I was not completely satisfied. I still 953 feel that, from the moment this question arose, the Minister had his prejudices aroused against the Oxford Group. He is not entitled even to give the impression that he has allowed his personal views to influence an administrative decision.
When I have listened to the brilliant speeches made by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert), and often when I read and hear the agitation and the strong feelings expressed about the Oxford Group, I am reminded of what was said 2,000 years ago when a new doctrine was being discussed. It was as follows:If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought;But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest, haply, ye be forced even to fight against God.The Minister, other Members of the House and people in the country outside have other things to which they might devote their energies rather than to trying to bring discredit or unhappiness to people whom I believe to be a wholly sincere, and God-fearing group of people.
§ Dr. Little (Down)
Despite all that has been said to the contrary, I remain unconvinced, and still hold that the Oxford Group is a religious organisation and should be recognised as such by the State. This is no time for needless controversy or for causing friction in our Church or national life. We are engaged in a life and death struggle. We want Church and State to stand together as one, in defence of the rights for which our fathers paid a heavy price. I know there is a good deal of feeling throughout the country, unfortunately, regarding the decision of the Minister of Labour, which he has refused to-day to alter, to my deep regret. I should like to know why there is an exception to be made of the Oxford Group. There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who faces facts that the Oxford Group is a religious organisation, and that it has a perfect right to have its lay evangelists to carry on its work. I am convinced they are doing as good work as if they were in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force.
The leaders of the Protestant Churches who have spoken have every one declared that the Oxford Group is a religious organisation. Is this opinion of the leaders of our Protestant Churches to be treated with contempt from the Front 954 Bench here? It is the prerogative of the Church, and I hope the Church will never resign that prerogative—God forbid—to declare what is a religious organisation and what is not a religious organisation. It is not the prerogative of the State. Our forefathers in this land fought and bled and died to maintain the rights and privileges of the Church when the State interfered with those rights and privileges. Under God they won in the fight for religious freedom and tolerance, and from that day away in the dim past to the present hour, so far as I know the Minister of Labour in this House is the first man in the United Kingdom, in war or peace, to usurp the functions of the Church and declare a body of Christians not to be a religious organisation. I state from the Floor of this House that that way danger lies.
We have had too much controversy in the past between Church and State. Why should we resurrect that ghost out of the past, for our hurt and confusion in these days? The State must keep to its own domain, and the State has neither power nor authority to invade that of the Church. Neither statesmen nor Government have any right to say what is or what is not a religious organisation. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is Head of the Church and Whose kingship as a Christian nation we recognise, I say to-day, as a word of warning, "Hands off, you have strayed into forbidden territory, you are invading the domain where the Church has the. sole right to speak and the sole right to assert authority." For me the decision of the Minister of Labour and those behind him goes far beyond the calling-up of the remaining 11 lay evangelists of the Oxford Group, as it strikes at the very root of the religious freedom for which we as a land have been famous over the world, that freedom which enables everyone to think, believe, and worship according to his own conscientious convictions. When the Minister of Labour was appointed to the important post he holds in the Government, he was not appointed to be religious dictator of the country. Even yet, in spite of all he has said on the Front Bench to-day, I make a strong appeal to him to recognise that and, acknowledging candidly his mistake, to set himself to make amends to the Oxford Group for his error of judgment, for it is a very decided error of judgment.
955 I have no connection with the Oxford Group. They have their way of working, and I have my way, but I believe we are both working for the Kingdom of God, and, as St. Paul said, if Christ were preached, he would not quarrel with those who did not go along his lines. I believe the Oxford Group are doing a good work. It may not be along my lines, but they are doing it for the Kingdom of God. I have no connection with the Group, but I have seen the lives and actions of many of its adherents, and in this land we could do with more of the same stamp—many more. This nation requires spiritual and moral rearmament even more, I would say, than material rearmament, and the 956 Oxford Group is working toward that end. France had material rearmament in abundance, but France lacked spiritual and moral rearmament, with the result we all know: France fell at the first onslaught of the enemy. The Oxford Group has done much for the spiritual and moral rearmament of our nation, and. I say that as one who has no connection with it. I hope that even yet the 11 lay evangelists of the Group will be allowed to continue their good work in the interests of the State and the Kingdom of God.
§ It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.