HC Deb 15 May 1947 vol 437 cc1841-69
Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 16, line 18, at the end, to insert: and for the word third,' there shall be substituted the word 'thirtieth'. I can put the argument for this Amendment very shortly. In this Bill, there must be 30 days' notice before the training notice becomes effective under Clause 6, perhaps for a week, ten days or a fortnight's training. Under Section 4 of the National Service Act, 1939, which applies to the enlistment notice which will operate for the call-up for the period of 12 months whole-time service, notice can be served at such place and time: not earlier than the third day after the date of the service of the notice. It seems to me rather odd that one can give 30 days' notice to a person if he is required to go for a fortnight's training and to only have to give him three days' notice if he is to be called up to serve for a period of 12 months consecutively. The purpose of this Amendment is to bring these two periods of notice into line. I hope that this can be met in the same spirit as the others have been met this evening.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

There is a real point in this provision. A man does first of all get called for a "medical," and what we feel is that if he disputes his liability to service it is the time to do so when he attends the medical board or before. That is the appropriate time. Some considerable time elapses between his appearance at the medical board and his call-up, and any question as to his liability ought to be taken up there and then with the Ministry of Labour.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I do not think I made the point clear. I am on the question of liability at this moment. What I am saying is that an individual who has to do his service is entitled for the purpose of making domestic, family and employment arrangements to at least as much notice before he is going to be absent for 12 months as if he were going to be absent for a fortnight's training.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I can see that point very well. The present position is that under the Act three days at least must elapse before a man is called up. That is the present position, and as we see it that is what will happen. A man will be called to a medical board. Then he will know that he is liable for whole-time service. He will have a period between the date of his medical examination and the receipt of his notice before he gets his call-up notice. If he thinks that he is being wrongly called up he ought to raise the matter immediately with the Ministry. That is the position at present. As far as we can see there ought not to elapse 30 days between the receipt of the notice and his call up. If that is to be a minimum period what of the man who is unemployed and wants to be called up as quickly as possible. Everyone will know after he has had his medical examination that he is due to be called up to serve 12 months, and he can expect the notice at any time once he has been medically graded and his liability has been fixed. Then, he can start to make his arrangements. The same arrangements will be carried on in the future as in the past, namely, he will get 14 days' notice unless he asks for immediate call-up because he is unemployed. We are arranging in another part of the Bill for that to be done, but we feel that if 30 days are put down as a minimum, we are going to create undue hardship. We much prefer to see the present practice. We think 30 days is unduly long. I take it what the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind is the question of making arrangements. This is a material point. I am not trying to discount it, but the arrangements will commence to be made immediately a man has received his medical grading. Now he gets 14 days. That period will be maintained and he can start to make his arrangements before he is called up, because he knows his call-up is due as his liability has been fixed. I hope that with that explanation the Amendment will be withdrawn.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Boyd Carpenter (Kingston-uponThames)

I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary appreciated the point put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller). The point is not of a man who seeks opportunities to dispute his liability to be called up. That man is taken care of in a subsequent Amendment. The point here is the point of a man who is going willingly and without dispute to his service. That man is being exposed to a complete revolution in his way of life. He is leaving his job, his home and his family. Quite obviously if he is a man with responsibilities he has to make certain arrangements. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to say, as he said three times, that customarily he will have 14 days. The Parliamentary Secretary knows as well as I do that that does not mean he is entitled as a right even to those 14 days. It merely means that the machine of his Department normally operates in that way. He cannot dispute, too, that it can be less. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to say whether it is justifiable in time of peace to take away a man from his family and from his normal job in civilian life in 14 days or less. There is no necessity from a military point of view to do it, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is not under-rating the necessity for a man in those circumstances being given plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements.

The Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the case of the man who is unemployed. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is not going to labour that point very strongly. We are told that we are in an era of full employment, that full employment is going to be guaranteed and so on. A Government that says that cannot at the same time, when it is convenient, call in aid the possibility of large scale unemployment especially amongst young men. The Parliamentary Secretary was very reasonable on the proceedings of this Bill last week. I hope that he has now apprehended that we on this side of the Committee do not feel that the 14 days' notice is any adequate substitute for the statutory 30 days and that it is not nearly a long enough period during which a man is to uproot himself out of his normal way of living. Further, we want that period to be a period to which a man is entitled by right, and about which he is able to say, "I am entitled to this and no Minister of Labour or anybody else can take me in any less." If the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates that point I am not prepared to stress the 30 days as the precise period. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is going to go forward a little on his previous attitude and say that he does appreciate the point.

Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)

I should like to reinforce that argument, which, I think, really goes to the root of the whole problem. What a man requires is a definite period which he knows is going to be his own in which to make his arrangements. I see the point put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to the unemployed man. I imagine that under conscription we are going to get an increase in unemployment, especially amongst the men of under 18. Would it not be possible to establish a statutory period? I would not argue as to the exact duration. I do think that possibly 14 days is not long enough while 30 days may be too long, but could there not be some definite statutory period which would apply to all except those who might ask specifically to be called up earlier? I speak with some experience of this because when I enlisted in 1939 I went along and said, "Can you give me any idea when you are going to take me in?" They replied, "As a matter of fact, old boy, not for a number of weeks because the machine is jammed and we cannot really give you any guarantee. Go home and just wait, and we will let you know. It may be a few weeks or it may be months." In fact, it was about ten days and I then had seven days in which to do everything. That was difficult in war time, but it would be an unfair imposition on the individual in peacetime. While I do not suggest that this is the right Amendment the point does need looking at again.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am sorry I am not more forthcoming, but I would ask the Committee to consider the position as it really is. A man knows that at the age of 18 he is liable. In fact, he knows that when he is 17, and he has plenty of warning of what is coming. He registers, and after registering he is called for medical examination. All this takes place before he actually receives his calling-up notice. I quite agree that a man should have adequate time to make his preparations and due warning of the date on which he is to be called up, and I should like to look at this again. I am not unfeeling on this point, but from all the evidence that I have been given so far I am not saitsfied that under the Bill a man would not receive adequate notice. Normally a man is not called up earlier than a month after his medical examination, and as it is proposed to have fortnightly intakes we want to try to keep the flow going as speedily and as regularly as possible for the purpose of enabling the service machine and our own machine to function properly. However, as I have indicated, I am quite prepared to look at this again, and if I am satisfied that there are not adequate safeguards I will see what we can do to meet the point. Equally, if I am satisfied that there are adequate safeguards, I reserve the right to leave the provision as it stands.

Mr. Byers

The Minister referred to a proper period of notice. I think the point we are trying to make is that a man needs notice of the definite date on which he will be called up, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at it from that point of view.

Mr. Ness Edwards


Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary has adopted this attitude. The Amendment was put down with a view to securing that the individual who was to be called up should have due notice of the date when he would have to go. It may be that in the vast majority of cases there is a long interval between the medical examination and the actual call up, but the point of the Amendment is to secure that there is in fact adequate notice. It was never intended to prevent anyone joining up as speedily even as the very day after he had the notice if he desired to do so. It is quite clear that under Section 4 of the 1939 Act the notice need only be three days, and in my view that is too short. I hope that since the Parliamentary Secretary says he will reconsider the position we shall find an Amendment down on the Report stage extending the minimum period. The present minimum may have been perfectly proper in war time but different considerations apply in peace time, and I hope that the Minister will introduce an Amendment to ensure that the individual concerned shall have due notice of the date when he is to be called up. After all, he might want to plan a party the night before his departure, and if he does not get sufficient notice, he will not be able to make arrangements, or he might be called up the day before he had arranged it. In view of the assurance which has been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The following Amendment stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. H. D. HUGHES.

In page 16, line 18, at end, insert: and at the end thereof there shall be inserted the words— Provided that such enlistment notice shall be served on any person not later than three months after he attains the age of eighteen years, or after the expiry of any period of exemption or deferment to which he may be entitled.

Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)

I do not wish to move this Amendment, in view of the fact that the point has already been covered on a similar Amendment, and the Minister has indicated that he will give it full consideration.

The Deputy-Chairman

Mr. Isaacs.

Mr. Manninghfun-Buller

On a point of Order. Am I to understand Mr. Beaumont, that you are not calling the next Amendment standing in my name? It raises a point of substance which was not considered earlier in our proceedings. If we could take it now and have a short discussion on it, it might save time on the Report stage.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am agreeable, if that is the desire of the Committee.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 16, line 18, at the end, to insert: and after Subsection (4) there shall be added the following words:— '(5) any person upon whom an enlistment notice is served, may if he disputes his liability for service, within fourteen days of the service upon him of the enlistment notice, serve a notice in writing on the service authority concerned, stating the grounds on which he disputes his liability and notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, after service by him of such a notice he shall not be deemed to have been duly entered or enlisted for service unless and until a court of summary jurisdiction has held him to be so liable'. I need not take up much time of the Committee, because the point is somewhat similar to that which was raised in regard to persons being called up for part-time service. Under the law as it stands, a man is deemed to he enlisted in the Forces when he receives his enlistment notice under Section 4 of the 1939 Act. During the war, a considerable number of persons disputed their liability to service. Once they received a notice they were deemed to be in the Army, and if they did not obey it, they were absent without leave. These people were then liable to arrest and to be tried by court martial, and that was the first occasion when they came before anything in the nature of a judicial court to determine the issue of their liability to service.

Perhaps I may illustrate the point in this way. Suppose that a notice was served in error on the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence. He might make all sorts of representations to the Ministry of Labour, but for the purposes of my argument I am assuming that he does not succeed in those representations. He might say that the Act did not apply to him because he was unfortunately not between the ages of 18 and 26, but there is no court of law to whom he can go to have that determined. He would have to wait until the military police or the naval police came to take him along, and he would then have to face a charge of being absent without leave. He would have to put forward his defence at a court martial that the Act did not apply to him. One can instance case after case where this sort of thing happened during the war, particularly in regard to the definition of "ordinarily resident."

As far as the peace-time procedure is concerned, the issue of whether or not a man is liable should not be determined by a court martial, but by a civil court. I saw the Attorney-General shake his head when I said that the course open to the Minister of Defence would be to stand his trial by court martial if he got one of these notices. If he makes inquiries, he will find that there were quite a number of cases of courts martial during the war where persons served with notices disputed their liability on the grounds that they were not British subjects. The object of this Amendment is to arrange that that issue should be determined in the same way as where a man is picked up by the civil police and taken to a court of summary jurisdiction.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We have had a very interesting argument about this very matter in Committee, and I was invited by the hon. and learned Gentleman to get advice as to the legal position. Let us consider the case of the man called upon to serve for full-time military service. What I have to see is that this man gets an enlistment notice from the military recruitment section of the Ministry of Labour. He can dispute that notice, and usually that dispute is cleared up by the Ministry of Labour machine. But supposing that the Ministry's machine does not clear it up, and the man takes no action about the notice, he is arrested by the local police. I have gone into this matter fairly fully, and I find that the man, after arrest, is brought before the local magistrates. They decide whether or not he is technically a member of the Armed Forces. In order to reinforce myself, I was advised to have the relevant Subsection of the Army Act. Section 154 of the Army Act says: Upon reasonable suspicion that a person is a deserter or absentee without leave, it shall be lawful for any constable, or if no constable can be immediately met with, for any officer or soldier, or other person, to apprehend such suspected person, and forthwith to bring him before a court of summary jurisdiction. Then another paragraph says: If the court is satisfied either by evidence on oath or by the confession of such person that he is a deserter or absentee without leave, shall forthwith, as it may seem to the court most expedient with regard to his safe custody, cause him either to be delivered into military custody in such manner as toe court may deem most expedient, or, until he can be so delivered, to be committed to some prison, police station, or other place legally provided for the confinement of persons in custody…. and so on.

That is the material part of the Army Act which I have been advised to quote, and it has been thoroughly looked over by our legal advisers. If a man should not have his liability determined by a civilian court, I would look at the matter most sympathetically, but a man who does not answer the notice for call-up must go before the local magistrates for a decision, and they can decide whether or not he should be handed over to the military authorities. Similarly, they can decide whether or not he should be released as not liable for service. In view of the advice I have been given, which I have tried to give to the Committee, it would be wrong to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I was very interested in the Parliamentary Secretary's statement of the legal position, but I hope he will not think it discourteous if I state that it would have been of assistance if it could have been reinforced by the senior Law Officer of the Crown, the learned Attorney-General, who, by happy coincidence, happens to be on the bench beside him. I can only say to the Parliamentary Secretary that, whether he and his advisers be right or wrong, in point of fact a totally different procedure has, in the experience of many hon. Members of this Committee, been followed in a great many cases. It is undoubtedly the fact, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has told us, that in many cases people who have disputed their liability to serve have found the first legal tribunal before whom they could argue this question was a court-martial. But that is a question not of the strict legal position, but of its application, and I am sure that the Committee will be glad if the Parlia- mentary Secretary can assure them that the procedure which he has outlined, rather than the procedure which many of us know to have happened, is going to be followed under this Bill.

Proceeding from that, may I put this to the Parliamentary Secretary? He apparently accepts as the existing position, and as right, the proposition put to him from this side, that the proper body to determine whether a man is liable to service under this Bill or not is a civil court—a court of summary jurisdiction. He accepts that. If that be so, I think he should consider the acceptance of this Amendment because, while both his procedure and this Amendment provide for the settling of the matter by a civil court, they provide a different procedure. In my view, the procedure set out in the Amendment is very much better than that which he has described. He has described the process under which the person concerned is arrested by the military authorities and taken under arrest before a court of summary jurisdiction. We have set out a procedure under which notices are served—there is no question of arrest—and under which a man goes before the court to have the matter argued out on, shall I say, a more friendly and less penal basis.

If it is right, as the Parliamentary Secretary concedes, that a court of summary jurisdiction should determine this matter, is it not much better, and much fairer to all concerned, whatever the ultimate decision, that the matter should be determined in the way set out in detail in our Amendment by the service of notice, and by the matter then going before the court, as opposed to the somewhat brusque procedure which the Parliamentary Secretary defends, under which a man is arrested by a military policeman and subjected to all the inconvenience and discomfort of arrest, and is hauled as a kind of defaulter in front of the court?

I am prepared to concede that, in time of war, that kind of procedure may be justified, but we are not, at the moment, compelled to use it. We are setting out a procedure for a system of peace time compulsory military service, and when it has to be decided whether a person is, or is not, liable to the military service which we are voting in this Bill, it seems to me that the more civilised procedure set out in this Amendment is more in accordance with both the whole spirit of the Bill and with the whole spirit of the time. I hope, for that reason, that the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to consider that procedural aspect of the matter.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I also would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at this matter again, because I think that the procedure outlined in the Amendment is certainly an advance on the present practice. Having listened to what he said with regard to the present process, I am just wondering whether the court of summary jurisdiction before which the person comes will regard itself as being in a position to decide on the matter as he suggested. Take the case of a person who claims that he is not liable for service because he is not a citizen of this country. A court of summary jurisdiction finds that a notice has been served, that the processes laid down under the Act have been carried out. I believe that the court would say, "That is all we can go upon; the ordinary procedure has been carried out; you have had your notice; we cannot decide what your nationality is; that does not lie within our power." Cases arose during the war when the liability of conscientious objectors for service was in dispute. In those cases, the courts said, "The usual form has been carried out, and we must decide in accordance with that."

Mr. Ness Edwards

I have assured the Committee that disputes as to liability for service shall be settled by civil procedure. I am advised that that is already provided for in the Army Act, but I am prepared to reconsider the matter, and make absolutely certain about it. I think it is possible to include a form of words whereby we can get a non-defence settlement of the point. If we cannot do it on the Report stage by one method, we might have to do it by another.

Earl Winterton

It happened during the war that civilians were arrested by the military authorities, because no police constable was available. It is most undesirable that any person who purports to be a civilian should be arrested by the military authorities.

Brigadier Low

In order to anticipate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden), may I ask if the hon. Gentleman can say anything about the Navy and Air Force?

Mr. Ness: Edwards

I have given an undertaking, and I think the Committee ought to accept that. Disputes as to liability as to whole-time service under this Bill will be settled by a non-service authority.

Mr. Stanley

We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for accepting the principle that liability will be settled by a civil court. We are anxious, however, that that liability shall be settled without having to go through the preliminary of arrest. It may be that, at the moment, liability can be settled in the civil court, but, according to the Attorney-General, the preliminary of arrest first has to be gone through. We are particularly anxious to avoid that, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will promise to take that into consideration.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

There are some difficulties about this. I am quite in sympathy with the point of view expressed, but I would not be doing my duty if I did not point out the dangers of that course. If every person liable to be called up and about whose liability to national service there is no doubt has the right to serve notice upon someone, we could have a whole series of these things which might become so widespread as to delay call-up. It would cause all sorts of administrative difficulties. In a case where there was a clear liability, I think the provision suggested could be abused: and that is the only thing we wish to guard against. I agree with the general principle of what has been said from the opposite side of the Committee, and I will bear the point in mind. But I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this undertaking does not go so far as to say that I will permit widespread abuse by people endeavouring to make improper use of the scheme.

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

The Parliamentary Secretary seems to have changed ground rather in this matter. I do not think the distinction is between a procedure which does not admit of the arrest of a man who does not report for service and a procedure where possibility of arrest lays the initiative on the person who receives notice. I think the point is that the Section which the Parliamentary Secretary quoted, and which applies to the Royal Air Force equally with the Army, was designed to apply to deserters and absentees, and it is highly undesirable that a young man who wants to dispute honestly his liability to the National Service Act should be dealt with under procedure applied in olden days in vastly different circumstances to those alleged to be deserters or absentees.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I do not think that anyone wants to devise machinery to be used for the abuse of this Measure. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, I am sure, are only in favour of trying to devise some machinery whereby, in case of dispute regarding a man's liability, this can be determined by a civil court and he is not, as a preliminary, being deprived of his liberty. It is not difficult to devise satisfactory machinery to this end. This Amendment was one attempt. In principle the Parliamentary Secretary agrees as to the object, and he will have the help of the learned Attorney-General in considering the matter. In the hope that this Amendment will be put on the Order Paper at the Report stage to achieve these objects, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Stephen

On a point of Order, Major Milner. There are two Amendments on the Paper, and with great respect, I would like to submit a point to you in connection with them. They both deal with the position of conscientious objectors. There has been no opportunity so far in the discussion on the Committee stage of this Bill to deal with the procedure under the Act affecting conscientious objectors. I would just like to suggest to you that an opportunity should be given for hon. Members of the Committee to have some discussion on how conscientious objectors have been treated under the machinery of the previous Act. I would submit that one or other of these two Amendments would give us that opportunity, which I think it might be worth while for the Committee to have in view of the many thousands of people who suffered under the machinery of the old Act.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

On that point of Order. The question of liability of conscientious objectors under the various Acts is a matter of great uncertainty, when one takes into account the attitude which right hon. Gentlemen now in this Goverment have taken on it.

The Chairman

I understood that the hon. Gentleman rose to a point of Order.

Mr. Hudson

I am putting a point of Order, that there is great uncertainty about how a conscientious objection shall be defined. Religious objection is well understood, but objection of a nonreligious character, which is provided for in one of the Amendments, has never been satisfactorily settled under the law. I ask you, Major Milner, to consider whether the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) does not raise this point of the law, which has not been discussed in connection with this Bill.

The Chairman

I did fully consider these points and I have decided, in the exercise of my discretion, not to select the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates). There will, of course, be opportunities for discussion by hon. Members, if they wish, when we come to the question that the Schedule be agreed to.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I beg to move, in page i6, line 24, to leave out from the first "of" to the end of line 26, and to insert, "a period of twelve months and sixty days."

This is a drafting Amendment. It makes quite clear what is intended and I ask the Committee to consent to it.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 17, line 13, at the end, insert: In Section eight, the words 'of a tribunal' in both places where they occur shall cease to have effect. Section ten shall cease to have effect."—[Mr Ness Edwards.]

Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

I beg to move, in page 17, line 36, at the end, to insert: In Section eighteen for the words 'by post addressed to that person at his last known address' there shall be substituted the words 'by registered post to that person in a prepaid registered letter addressed to him at his last or usual place of abode, and the service shall be deemed to have been effected at the time at which the letter containing the notice would be delivered in the ordinary course of post, provided that, notwithstanding that a notice has been sent by post in manner authorised by this section, service shall be deemed not to have been effected unless either—

  1. (a) the person complies with the requirements of the notice, or
  2. (b) it is proved to the satisfaction of any authorised tribunal that the notice came to the knowledge of the person to whom it was addressed.
For the purpose of the aforesaid alternative (b) the production of a letter or other communication which purports to be written by or on behalf of the person to whom the notice was addressed shall be prima facie evidence that the notice came to his knowledge'. I move this Amendment for the simple reason that, if something is not done about the point to which it refers much of the argument which has taken place in respect of the rest of the Bill will have been in effective. The position with regard to the service of notice under the 1939 Act is this. Section 18 says: Any notice to be served on any person for the purpose of any provision under the Act may be sent by post addressed to that person at his last known address. What that means is that if an office boy in the Ministry of Labour drops the enlistment notice in a postbox a man is liable to be arrested in the manner of which we have heard in the course of Debates on previous Clauses, He can be put in a prison cell overnight and compelled to appear before the magistrate the following morning. And the practice, as has been correctly stated in this Debate, is that the magistrate sends him to some military centre, where he will be kept under arrest possibly for weeks or longer. He is then brought before a court-martial. It may well be that a man who has never received a notice will find himself in the position of having to pass through that ordeal and ultimately be found not guilty by the court-martial.

The position is an alarming and ludicrous one and I should like to give the Committee the benefit of some experiences I have had myself in acting for clients in this matter. A Cypriot who had come to this country applied for enlistment in the Navy before the war and was refused. Later, during the war he was called up for medical examination. He had his medical examination and was placed in a low category. In the circumstances he thought little more about the matter. He went to work in another town. He left notice of his permanent address wherever he stayed. Unfortunately for him at the time when Italy entered the war he was staying as a lodger in a house occupied by an Italian. They had words which resulted in his leaving that house, and letters which were posted to him, he did not receive. Some two years later he was suddenly arrested by the police, taken to one of the police stations in London, and then sent on to a military tribunal. He was taken up to Bradford, kept there for some time and ultimately discharged.

Now this is an attack on the liberty of the person and it is ridiculous that, for the purpose of enlistment, it should be sufficient merely to prove that a notice had been put into a pillar-box. Indeed, I have had experience in another case where all that was done in this regard was that a girl in the labour exchange stated that she had sent out some hundreds of notices on the same day, and that all she had done was to put the letter in a tray near the post-bag. That was held to be sufficient for the purpose of prima facie evidence of service. I do not think that that kind of evidence should be adopted as showing a prima facie case of service.

I am suggesting the adoption of a very simple procedure which has been tried and found to be quite effective. The procedure which I suggest is the one which is at present adopted in respect of ordinary police court cases. The summons is sent by registered letter. To the summons itself, is attached a form which asks the person against whom the complaint is made to reply that he has received the notice. If the person does not turn up at the hearing or has not sent some indication to the court then proper service has to be effected. It is remarkable that under the police procedure for the trial of even trivial offences greater precautions after all, they are not very great precautions—should be taken than are taken in cases like these which involve the liberty of the individual. The result is that not only do some people get arrested but it prevents certain people about whom hon. Members are very concerned from putting forward their pleas in respect of conscientious objection and so on, because it is presumed that the notice has in fact been served once it is in the post. That is, as I have said, an alarming position. I know I shall be told that in the case of several other Acts—the Coal Mines Act and some of the Electricity Acts—that type of service is permitted. But in those cases there is not a question of a man's liberty or honour being at stake. Here a man is to be regarded as a deserter or as being absent without leave when, in fact, he may never have received the notice at all and have no intimation that it has been sent. For those reasons I have put down my Amendment, and although I am not wedded to its particular wording I think something effective should be done to dispose of the anomaly which exists.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I must ask the Committee to reject this Amendment. Does my hon. Friend realise the consequences of what he suggests? They are these. If an ordinary letter is delivered to a house that is no proof, and cannot be proof, that the man concerned has received it. If a registered letter is delivered to the house that, again, is no proof that the man has received it. All that can be proved is that someone in the house has received the letter, and we should be in an impossible situation if we tried to prove that the person liable for call up had actually received the notice. Then there is the further objection that all a man has to do is to move from address to address, to ensure that we can never catch him. While I have sympathy with the point of view that we should not inconvenience people unnecessarily or interfere with their liberty, one must have regard to the fact that normally this procedure works with very little complaint.

Mr. Janner


Mr. Ness Edwards

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to point out to him that we know at the Ministry of Labour what degree of complaint there is concerning mistakes with the procedure which now obtains. The number of mistakes is infinitesimal, and it is astonishing how few errors were made in war time in calling up the huge bulk of people who had to be taken into the Forces then. Under this Bill it is proposed to call up 200,000 at the outside, but this would involve 400,000 registered letters if we adopted my hon. Friend's suggestion. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, there are two notices. On top of that, it would involve an onus upon the Minister to prove that the man himself had received the registered letter that had been delivered to his house. I ask the Committee not to throw this unnecessary burden upon the machine.

Perhaps I can reassure my hon. Friend by telling him the arrangement there is to deal with cases of this kind. If a man has a notice posted to him and there is no reply the police are asked to find out what has happened to him. If the man says he has not had an enlistment notice the police report back to us and we see that one is delivered to him personally. We shall have a much greater opportunity of adopting that method in peacetime conditions, than during the war. In view of the great abuse to which his suggestion is open I hope my hon. Friend will accept my assurance that this provision of the Bill will be carried out in such a way as not to interfere with the liberty of the subject, or inconvenience him unnecessarily.

Mr. Janner

I appreciate the points my hon. Friend has made, but I am afraid he has not been fully informed on this matter, if I may say so with respect. I am referring to cases of which I have had some experience. The fact that most people do turn up when they receive the notice does not detract at all from the importance of the change required by my Amendment. On the contrary I am asking in this Amendment that, if a man turns up as a result of the notice, no further action should be taken. Even if he sends intimation that he has received the notice and for some reason is not complying with it, that is proof of service. What I am complaining about is that if this man does not turn up or if no letter is received from the man it is not proper that he should be regarded as having received the notice. Until it is actually proved that the man has received the notice, he certainly should not be arrested. The Government propose to arrest a man on the strength of what may be a mistake in an office. It has been done. It is not a hypothetical case; it has actually happened in a number of cases. People have been arrested in that way and ultimately it was shown that they had not received the notices. I think in those circumstances I am entitled to ask my hon. Friend to reconsider this matter between now and the Report stage.

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner). As I listened to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary and heard him men- tioning the 400,000 registered letters, I thought to myself that he was making a mountain out of a molehill. There will be only a certain number of cases and in that certain number of cases, it ought to be possible to find the people. We are able to find people when we want them to put them in prison; why not accept some simple method such as this, to deal with people who do not answer the notice in the first instance? The Parliamentary Secretary towards the end of his speech told the Committee that that is exactly what they do. If the Government accepted not necessarily the moving of this Amendment but the principle, and said that they would legislate to that effect, and that people would not be arrested unless there is definite proof that they really received the notice, it would meet the case put forward by my hon. Friend and others who agree with him. Suppose 250,000 notices are sent out originally—and I am not quite sure what the number is—and say, 230,000 reply. Then the police are called upon to make the necessary inquiries to find out whether the notice was given to each of the 10,000 or 15,000 who have not answered. If before making up their minds to prosecute, some such simple expedient as this were followed, it would relieve them of a big burden. Something like this Amendment is needed. It is serious to arrest a man for something which, in fact, he has not done. That has happened, as has been stated by the hon. Member for West Leicester, and an Amendment of this kind would prevent that occurring in the future.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I beg to move, in page 18, to leave out lines 13 to 16.

This is consequential upon the new Amendment we put down safeguarding the unemployed.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 18, leave out lines 23 to 26.—[Mr. Ness Edwards.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Schedule, as amended, be the Third Schedule to the Bill."

Mr. Stephen

I desire, on this Schedule, to raise with the Government the provisions for the treatment of those who take a conscientious objection to military ser- vice. In the 1939 Act there is reference simply to "conscientious objection." During the years, when people have gone before tribunals, they have found that the tribunals took the view that this provision applied only to objections on religious grounds. In the course of time, tribunals were willing to admit that there might be objections on ethical grounds. There was another type of case, that of objection on political grounds, which caused a great deal of trouble to many thousands of people. I suggest that the Government might consider, on the Report stage, inserting words in the Bill to make the position perfectly clear. It would be to the advantage of everyone concerned, if these words were inserted: Conscientious objections on religious, ethical or political grounds. In order to give fair treatment to people who have conscientious objections, an attempt should be made to get the tribunals to act somewhat differently from the way in which they have acted in the past. Everyone in the Labour movement knows how on many occasions tribunals put questions which require the applicant to give a text from the New Testament, or to refer to an event in history. Sometimes they put hypothetical questions, asking what the applicant would do if the Germans came over here and a German threatened to attack his mother or father. The Government should make it clear to the tribunals that they do not want applicants to be subjected to a series of hypothetical questions, or to be examined on their knowledge of history or Scripture. Since the passing of the 1939 Act, there have been many thousands of people who have been refused exemptions on conscientious grounds, who have had to undergo terms of imprisonment to prove their case. The Parliamentary Secretary looks at me as if he were surprised at that statement, but there is no doubt about it at all.

11.45 p.m.

I could mention a number of cases. There is an individual at present undergoing a sentence of two years' imprisonment, and who has been refused exemption several times, even though very strong evidence has been submitted on his behalf. There axe many thousands who have been refused exemption on conscientious grounds, and the Minister of Labour gave me some figures concerning this matter a few weeks ago. It seems to me that a Labour Government which seeks to put peacetime conscription upon the Statute Book should see that men who hold the same views as those held by so many prominent Members of the Government during the 1914–18 war, get a fair deal in future, and are not sent to prison as they were in the past. I hope that I shall get some assurance tonight that, between now and the Report stage, the Minister of Labour will consider this whole question in order to prevent men being made the victims of misunderstanding.

Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)

I wish briefly to support the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). He has pointed out that a number of Members of the present Government were conscientious objectors on political grounds in the first world war. I am sure that they will have an appreciation of those who now take the position which they took some years ago. This matter may also apply to hon. Members of the Conservative Party. After all, there are conscientious objectors in all parties. Indeed, many hon. Members of the Conservative Party were conscientious objectors some years ago when trouble was about to break out between Britain and Ireland.

Earl Winterton

That is a very serious charge for the hon. Gentleman to make against hon. Members of the Tory Party. As we are dealing with past history, can he point to a single case where a Minister, or any hon. Member of the Tory Party, has been a conscientious objector? Will he mention the name?

Mr. Sorensen

I simply stated that it was true. When the noble Lord—

Captain Marsden

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene for a moment? He mentioned Ireland, but I would point out that it was not a question of conscientious objection; it was just a question of the uncertainty about which side to fight on.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) rose to make a plea for some definition of the words "conscientiously objects," and only that matter is under discussion at the moment.

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), in good humour—we all know how good natured he is—accused hon. Members on this side of the Committee of being conscientious objectors. I am certain I am in Order, Major Milner, in asking him to name them, if he can.

Mr. Sorensen

I could mention, for instance, the well-known historic Conservative names of Carson and Birkenhead. I was trying to explain why I think that this particular definition of a conscientious objector, being political, should be accepted by the Government, and, to do that, I must illustrate my point. In fact, the hon. Member for Camlachie did touch upon that point. Therefore, I thought that I was in Order in elaborating it a little more fully. If I may say so, before I return to the subject, it is significant that the majority of conscientious objectors in the first world war were political objectors. I mention this fact in passing because this can apply to right hon. and hon. Members on the opposite side—to members of the Conservative Party—and I am as anxious for them to have as much protection as members of this party.

I can very well envisage certain hon. Members of this Committee, in certain circumstances, objecting, not to fighting in the accepted way, but to refusing to accept some transformation in our society to which they object. There was the case in our own history in which certain officers threw in their commissions and indicated that they had a conscientious objection to fighting a certain cause. One can foresee the same thing happening in future, and we, on this side, do not want any disability imposed on hon. Members opposite. For that reason, as well as for others, I strongly support the plea and I hope that the Government will pay some attention to it, not only for Socialist political objectors who do not object to fighting as such, but to fighting for a capitalist State. I hope that the Government will put in some protection for Conservatives who object to fighting for a State no longer capitalist.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

I would like to say that I appreciate the argument of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). I was brought up in a pacifist home, but I suddenly discovered that my conscience worked the other way and for conscientious reasons I supported the war. That was the opinion and experience of many hon. Members of this Committee. Now that conscription has been found necessary, I submit that it is all the more important that we should have adequate safeguards in this Bill for those who are conscientious objectors. It is a fact that, from the very outset of it, there was a recognition by members of all parties that there should be safeguards for the conscientious objector. The greatest appreciation of that fact came, not so much from within this House, but from members of another place. I think that everyone would recognise that a man might have a conscientious objection to fighting on religious grounds.

But conscience enters into everything which we do. Conscience must enter into our political life as well as into other aspects of our lives. A man may have a religious objection, but not a political objection, and I should refer, as the hon. Member for Camlachie has done, to the manner in which the tribunals have operated in the past. It is emphasised to us by the fact that the son of an hon. Member of this House appeared before a tribunal; a young man, with a brilliant university career, embarking on a life as a doctor. He was asked, not about the Old Testament, or the New, but what he would do if, as a doctor, he was working in a maternity ward and the decision in the case was whether the mother or the child should die. The answer was that the mother should have, no doubt, the chance to live and the baby might die. It has been the teaching of doctors, but he was refused exemption by that tribunal. That seems such a shocking case that the very possibility of that sort of thing happening should be eliminated, so far as possible, by words in the Statute. I appeal to the Government to see that, by the Report stage, words are inserted in the Bill which will give full protection to the conscientious objector.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

; I am glad that the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) was able to get the tone of his remarks on a rather higher plane than the disgraceful insinuations of the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen).

Mr. Sorensen

On a point of Order. May I ask you, Major Milner, whether made any disgraceful insinuations?

The Chairman

The hon. and gallant Member's remarks were perhaps not out of Order, but I think his suggestion was rather strong.

Earl Winterton

Further to that point of Order. I have never yet heard, in the course of my long Parliamentary career, that a disgraceful reflection was out of Order. Did you rule that that was so, Major Milner?

The Chairman

I did not say it was out of Order, but that in the circumstances the hon. and gallant Member might withdraw the rather strong expression which he used.

Major Legge-Bourke

If I used an unfortunate expression I apologise.

Mr. Sorensen

May I assure the Committee that I did not in any way intend any of my remarks to be a reflection upon anybody?

Major Legge-Bourke

The hon. Member mentioned the name of Birkenhead. I should like to tell him that Lord Birkenhead served in a yeomanry regiment. I was, therefore, rather surprised to hear him accuse Lord Birkenhead of being a conscientious objector.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Accuse?"] I want to deal with a point which arises out of the first and second lines of this Schedule. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) and I put down an Amendment which you, in your wisdom, Major Milner, did not call: in page 16, line 16, to leave out the second "the," and insert, "His Majesty's." The first paragraph of this Schedule amends Section 4 of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act,,1939. It says: . . for the words 'His Majesty's armed forces' there shall be substituted the words 'the regular forces'…. May we consider what the Amendment of that Act, by this Schedule, does? Section 4 (1) of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act says: The Minister may cause to be served, on any person for the time being liable under this Act to be called up for service, who has been examined, a written notice stating that he is called upon to serve in one of His Majesty's armed forces as may be specified in the notice. The Clause goes on to something which I do not think affects—

12 m.

The Chairman

I do not think the hon. and gallant Member is entitled to enter into that. The Amendment, I gather, is one which the hon. and gallant Member wished to make, but which lapsed.

Major Legge-Bourke

On the question that the Schedule stand part, Major Milner, I thought that hon. Members were at liberty to discuss the effect of the Schedule. It is the effect of this Schedule that I am trying to point out to the Committee. It deals with the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, and removes from Section 4 the words, "His Majesty's Armed Forces." It replaces those words with the words, "Regular Forces." I am simply exploring this to find out why that has been done.

The Chairman

If the hon. and gallant Member would ask the precise question why those words have been deleted, it would appear to be in Order.

Major Legge-Bourke

I thought perhaps that it would be of help to the Committee to explain what the particular Subsection of Section 4 of the Armed Services Act, 1939, applied to. I am asking why this deletion has been made in view of the fact that in Section 190, paragraph 8 of the Army Act, it is stated clearly that the expression "Regular Forces" and "His Majesty's Regular Forces" mean precisely the same thing. It seems most unfortunate that we should delete the words "His Majesty" from this Clause for no good reason so far as can see. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say why that has been done; and I would suggest that if it is possible at a later stage, the words should be inserted, in order to keep that happy association which the Crown has always had with our Armed Forces, and help to make it an understood thing that, although the oath of allegiance is not now taken on attestation, His Majesty is the nominal head of the forces. He is in many cases the colonel in chief of regiments of the British Army.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am sure the Committee will join with me in wishing the hon. and gallant Gentleman many happy returns of his birthday just one minute ago. With regard to the point he has raised, the short reply is this, that we thought it would be wrong to say "His Majesty's Royal Navy" or "His Majesty's Royal Air Force." We thought that would be quite wrong. In dropping these words, we intended to give no disrespect at all. We think that the matter is quite in order, and that really there is no reason to make a birthday speech on its account.

Coming to the matter which has troubled the Committee with regard to the conscientious objector. I think that anyone with any knowledge of the treatment of conscientious objectors during the last war, compared with the treatment they received during the first world war, will say that there was during this second world war a tremendous advance in the treatment meted out to them. I have not heard one complaint while I have occupied my present office from any hon. Member. I have had no communication sent to me with regard to one conscientious objector whilst I have been Parliamentary Secretary. Now we are asked—

Mr. Stephen

While the Parliamentary Secretary may have had no complaints made to him, there have been complaints made to the Service Ministers with regard to it

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Ministry of Labour is the Ministry which deals with conscientious objectors. Having regard to the position under the National Service Acts the Ministry of Labour would be the Ministry to whom complaints would be made known. There may have been cases where men who have gone into the Services and have served for some time, have come to the conclusion that their service was wrong, but the whole of these men have been treated very decently after one sentence and after they have shown that they have a conscientious objection. This matter was discussed when we discussed the Bill for the release of conscientious objectors and I think that on all sides there was general appreciation of the way in which these men were treated.

Mr. Stephen

I do not want to take up a lot of time but the Parliamentary Secretary seems unaware of the position. There have been ever so many men who have undergone repeated sentences. When those sentences have taken place we have gone to the Service Ministers and asked them to intervene, and then they have had another opportunity of going to the tribunal.

Mr. Ness Edwards

My advice is that that is quite untrue. I want to give the position as the Department sees it, and say what has been our experience with conscientious objectors under the present National Service Acts. The general position has been this; where a man has been before the tribunal and the tribunal has rejected his claim, the man has been called up. He refuses and is imprisoned. After each imprisonment the man's case is reviewed, and is sent back to the tribunal for the tribunal to review again in the light of the test of the man's sincerity to see what the position is. I am advised that very careful rules have been drawn up under which no man is prosecuted after he has served a sentence or sentences amounting to three months or more. I am advised that, furthermore, a man is not prosecuted more than twice even if such prosecutions result in prison sentences of less than three months except where sentences are derisory—that is, a very small fine. I have heard of cases in many parts of the country where fines of 5s. have been imposed upon a man for failing to answer the call-up on the grounds that he is a conscientious objector. If people are to be allowed to get away with that it means that for ten "bob" a man can buy himself out of the Army, out of his obligations. We do not want abuses of that kind and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee do not want that to happen.

With regard to the constitution of and the questions that are put by the tribunal, the tribunal is an independent institution. It is left completely to them. By and large, their position has, I think, been well established during the war. On the whole, the experience has been one to merit the compliments that have been paid to the tribunals by the organisation of conscientious objectors in this country. I feel that in the circumstances my hon. Friends would be well advised to leave this matter to the administration of the Ministry of Labour. I have watched the thing very closely and I must say that searching my heart and my mind, I can find no real case for complaint as to the treatment meted out to conscientious objectors and in the circumstances, I hope my hon. Friends will let us have the Schedule.

Mr. Stephen

I am sorry, but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary is quite wrong in some of his statements with regard to this matter. There is a case which comes to my mind, of Mr. Stanley Hilton who was, I think, in prison five times. It does not bear out the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary. I gave him the case of Private Harris who is at present undergoing another sentence of two years. They do get an opportunity of going back to tribunals. The tribunal gives the same decision and then they are back into Service again and then they get another term of imprisonment and so it goes on.

Mr. Ness Edwards

That may have been so in the early days of the war but I would like hon. Members to bear this in mind. This would apply to the future as it would apply to the past as it was initiated under the Coalition Government. Very careful rules have been drawn up to deal with the case of any man who is prosecuted, if he has served any prison sentence amounting to three months or more, or to see that a man is not prosecuted more than twice, even if such prosecutions resulted in prison sentences of less than three months, except where the sentences are derisory. With that undertaking, everyone can be satisfied that we are going as far as we can decently go to meet the case of the conscientious objector.

Mr. J. Hudson

I am sorry that I cannot fully accept the view put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary, and I am sorry also that it does not seem to back the attitude that the Minister of Labour himself took in replying to me on an Amendment which he told me would be considered before the Report stage. I hope, despite what the Parliamentary Secretary has stated, that this question of sending men back to prison for a month and then for another month, as in the case which I raised in the House of Alfred Holland, will be reconsidered At the present time, another man is being considered for his third approach to the tribunal—

The Chairmen

I am very sorry, but this case does not arise in the Third Schedule, which has mainly to do with consequential Amendments. Repeated imprisonment does not arise under that.

Mr. Hudson

I will not pursue that matter. I feel it necessary to say a word about it because it had not been dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary. I would rather push on to the view which was expressed that there is greater uncertainty today than was the case some years ago about what constitutes conscientious objection and how the matter is defined by the tribunal. I am sorry to think that there has crept in a new tendency, and it is expressed sometimes by ministers of the Crown, and it certainly is expressed by members of tribunals that unless a man bases his case on religious grounds any other type of conscientious objection is not quite valid. I want that matter to be cleared up, for the guidance of tribunals. I feel that it ought to be dealt with on the Report stage by some precise promise by the Government. The position, as I see it, is this: any man who decides an issue of right or wrong for himself according to the best that he knows within himself, according to the truth that he has discovered—you may ask the question as Pilate asked the question "What is truth?"—but so long as each man is seeking the best that he knows, and arrives at a conviction as to what is his duty and what his actions should be, that ought to be accepted as a genuine conscientious objection. If a man arrives at such a decision on grounds of history or ethics or politics it should be within the power of the tribunals to treat his objection as precisely as valid and as important as the objection advanced by those who base their case for exemption on religious grounds.

12.15 a.m.

I will only say this in conclusion, that the religious community who more than any other have pioneered this question of conscientious objection to war, the Society of Friends, who have been concerned with this matter since 1660 and have never changed their views, say that those who arrive at conscientious objection on intellectual and purely moral grounds should receive from the State the same consideration as is given to the principles for which the Society of Friends stand. Although there is much more which could be said in regard to this matter, in consideration of the lateness of the hour I will refrain from saying anything more, but I would press this case upon the Government and ask them to give us some undertaking so that by the time the Report stage comes round they will do something to meet this matter; otherwise they will leave this whole question in a most unsatisfactory condition, and they will encourage tribunals not to do the right thing.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.