HC Deb 09 July 1942 vol 381 cc912-4
10. Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

asked the Minister of Labour how many men and women, respectively, have registered a conscientious objection to military service in the present war; and what was the number of men to register in the war of 1914–18?

6. Major Petherick

asked the Minister of Labour how many persons claimed, and how many were granted, exemption from military service on the grounds of conscience during the years 1914 to 1918, and during this war to date?

Mr. Bevin

I have only approximate figures for 1914–1918, when about 16,000 men claimed to be conscientious objectors and about 6,000 were refused exemption from military service. During this war between 63,000 and 64,000 men have applied to be registered as conscientious objectors and up to 6th June last tribunals had registered 26,123 of them as conscientious objectors either unconditionally or on condition that they undertook specified civil work and 13,221 others as liable for non-combatant service. Of the women in the age groups being called up under the National Service Acts, 1,714 have applied to be registered as conscientious objectors and up to 6th June last 83 had been registered either conditionally or unconditionally.

Sir A. Knox

Can the Minister account for the enormous increase in the number of people registering as conscientious objectors? Does he not think that generally things are made too easy for them?

Mr. Bevin

I do not think there is any real comparison that can be made between this war and the last war. In the early days of the last war, recruiting was voluntary. The figures I have given for this war cover a period in which compulsion started even before the war. Therefore, the comparison is rather odious. I am quite convinced that the methods and tolerance displayed in this country during this war with regard to this problem have created a very favourable opinion of us all over the world and have been of great benefit.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes

Is the Minister aware that there is a number of societies which encourage so-called conscientious objectors to avoid military service?

Mr. Bevin

I think the tribunals are well aware of the facts concerning those who go before them.

Mr. George Griffiths

Can the Minister give the percentage of conscientious objectors in the last war and the percentage in this war?

Mr. Bevin

No, I cannot.

7. Major Petherick

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will consider introducing legislation to prohibit the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors or any other body or individual from encouraging any person to claim exemption from military service on the grounds of conscience, or from aiding that person in the preparation of his case for exemption?

Mr. Bevin

No, Sir. It is already an offence under Defence Regulation 39A to incite any person to evade service under the National Service Acts.

Major Petherick

Is the Minister aware that some of these societies are definitely subversive and that some have been encouraging persons to evade military service and helping them to prepare their case for hearing before the tribunal? Is not a man's conscience his own affair, which cannot be explained by anybody other than himself?

Mr. Bevin

Any person with a conscience should have the right to clarify that conscience when presenting his case to a tribunal.

Mr. Petherick

How can you clarify your conscience by proxy?

Mr. Bevin

I understand that the legal profession make a great fortune out of it.